In Brief

  • Black men who are committed to working hard as a means to overcome adversity are less prone to depressionBlack men who are committed to working hard as a means to overcome adversity are less prone to depression after experiencing everyday racism, according to research led by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientists. The study's 478 participants — primarily recruited from barbershops in the South and West — answered questions about their demographics, symptoms of depression, frequency of racial discrimination experiences, masculine self-reliance and how they generally cope with stress. Participants reported fewer symptoms of depression when they combined a greater belief in their ability to cope with stressful situations using persistence with active responses to everyday racism. (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, online June 11)

  • Experiencing discrimination while pregnant may lead to low birth-weight babies, suggests a study conducted at Yale University. Researchers interviewed 420 14- to 21-year-old pregnant black and Latina women at 14 community health centers and hospitals in New York about their experiences of discrimination, depressive symptoms and pregnancy distress. Regardless of age, ethnicity or type of discrimination reported, women who experienced more discrimination were more prone to depressive symptoms and ultimately went on to have babies with lower birth weights than women who reported less discrimination. (Annals of Behavioral Medicine, online Aug. 28)

  • Letting babies cry for short periods of time while teaching them to sleep by themselves doesn't cause long-term emotional problems or damage the parent-child relationship, finds a study led by scientists at The Royal Children's Hospital in Australia. Half of the study's 225 7-month-old infant participants and their parents took part in a behavioral sleep program involving several techniques, including "controlled comforting," in which parents respond to their infants' cries at increasing time intervals to teach the child to soothe him- or herself. As late as age 2, the intervention group showed improvements in children's and mothers' sleep and mothers' mental health compared with a control group. The researchers also found that by age 6, children who took part in the sleep program were similar to the control group — who received no particular advice on sleep training — in their mental and behavioral health, sleep quality and relationship with their parents. (Pediatrics, online Sept. 10)

  • Delays in brain development may heighten risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, finds a study led by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Over seven years, researchers conducted a series of four brain scans on 234 children with ADHD and 231 typically developing children. They found that the development of the surface of the cerebral cortex was slower in children with ADHD. (Biological Psychiatry, August)

  • Girls with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are significantly more likely to attempt suicide or to purposely injure themselves Girls with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are significantly more likely to attempt suicide or to purposely injure themselves as young adults than girls who do not have ADHD, according to University of California, Berkeley, psychologists. Researchers assessed 228 girls age 6 to 12 for ADHD symptoms and followed up five and 10 years later with clinical assessments, telephone interviews and home visits that included family interviews. The researchers found that participants who were diagnosed with ADHD as girls were three to four times more likely to attempt suicide and two to three times more likely to report injuring themselves than comparable young women without the disorder. (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, online Aug. 13)

  • Young children can tell the difference between whining and when someone has good reason to be upset, and they will respond with sympathy usually only when it is truly deserved, according to a study with 48 3-year-olds. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recorded each child's reactions as he or she watched an upset adult in one of three contexts: when the distress was justified, when it was unjustified and when the cause of the distress was unknown. When participants witnessed adults being upset due to real harm or injustice — such as having a toy box lid dropped on their hand by another adult — they showed concern, intervened and checked on them later. When witnessing an adult overreacting to an inconvenience, the participants showed lower rates of intervening and checking. (Developmental Psychology, online Aug. 13)

  • Persistent use of marijuana before age 18 may cause lasting harm to a person's intelligence, attention and memory, finds a study with more than 1,000 New Zealanders. Researchers at Duke University found that people who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years afterward showed an eight-point average decline in IQ from age 13 to 38. Participants who did not begin using marijuana until after age 18 showed no such decline. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Aug. 27)

  • Overly shy preschoolers are at greater academic risk than their more social peers, finds research conducted at the University of Miami. Teachers assessed the emotional and behavioral characteristics and academic progress of 4,417 children age 3 to 5 in a Head Start Program in the northeastern United States. The data — gathered at three points during the preschool year — suggest that children displaying shy and withdrawn behavior early in the preschool year started out with the lowest academic skills and showed the slowest gains in academic learning skills across the year. (Journal of School Psychology, online Aug. 24)

  • Describing one's feelings during a stressful experience may reduce fear and anxietyDescribing one's feelings during a stressful experience may reduce fear and anxiety, finds research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles. Psychologists asked 88 people with a fear of spiders to approach and — if they could — touch a live tarantula. The participants were then shown a different spider and were instructed either to verbalize their fears, describe the spider neutrally, talk about something else entirely or say nothing. When asked to approach and touch the spider again, researchers found that the participants who were asked to verbalize their fears were able to get closer to the tarantula and their hands were sweating significantly less than the participants in all of the other groups. (Psychological Science, online Aug. 16)

  • Child abuse and neglect have long-lasting physical health consequences, according to a longitudinal study led by psychologists at the City University of New York. The researchers examined health-outcome assessment data — based on physical examinations and blood tests — from documented cases of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. They found that, compared with a matched sample, those who experienced child abuse and neglect were more likely to develop diabetes, lung disease, malnutrition and vision problems. (American Journal of Public Health, June)

  • Fathers who sleep closer to their children have lower testosterone levels, finds a study conducted at Notre Dame University. Researchers questioned 362 fathers in the Philippines about their sleeping arrangements and collected saliva samples throughout the day to measure testosterone levels. They found that, compared with fathers who slept in a different room than their children, those who slept in the same bed with their children had significantly lower testosterone levels as well as greater decreases in testosterone throughout the day. Previous research has associated higher levels of testosterone with lower parental involvement. (PLoS ONE, online Sept. 5)

  • Repeated exposure to traumatic images may harm physical and mental health, according to psychologists at the University of California, Irvine. The scientists assessed the mental and physical health of more than 1,300 U.S. adults before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then gathered information about their media exposure and acute stress responses immediately after the attacks, as well as shortly after the start of the war in Iraq and annually for three years. After controlling for pre-attack mental health, demographic characteristics and lifetime trauma exposure, the researchers found that participants who watched four or more hours of terrorist attack- or Iraq war-related television in the weeks after the attacks and at the start of the war were more likely to experience symptoms of acute stress. These participants also reported more physician-diagnosed physical health ailments two to three years later. (Psychological Science, in press)

  • Music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stopMusic lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop, finds a study conducted at Northwestern University. Researchers used EEG to measure the auditory brainstem responses of college students to eight different sounds ranging in pitch. The people who had studied music had more robust neural processing of the different sounds and were more effective at pulling out the sounds' fundamental frequency than people with no musical training. These findings held true even if the lessons had ended years ago. (Journal of Neuroscience, online Aug. 22)

  • Breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy may experience mild cognitive deficits after treatment, finds a meta-analysis of 17 studies with 807 patients. Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center found that study participants on average had mild impairments in verbal abilities — such as difficulty choosing words — and visuospatial abilities — such as getting lost more easily. They also found that cognitive functioning varies across survivors, with some reporting no impairments and others reporting more severe or pervasive deficits. (Journal of Clinical Oncology, online Aug. 27)

  • Scientists have uncovered a gene that appears to make women – but not men — happy, according to a study led by scientists at the University of South Florida. Researchers analyzed data from a sample of 345 participants in a longitudinal mental health study. They found that women with one copy of the low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) reported higher levels of happiness than those without the gene. Women with two copies of the gene reported even greater happiness. While a substantial number of men carried a copy of the "happy" version of the MAOA gene, they reported no more happiness than those without it. (Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, online Aug. 4)

  • Women with Alzheimer's disease show more mental deterioration than men with the condition, even at the same disease stage, according to a meta-analysis. Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom analyzed neurocognitive data from 15 studies, revealing a consistent male advantage on verbal and visuospatial tasks and tests of both episodic and semantic memory. (Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, online Aug. 23)

—Amy Novotney