In Brief

  • Texting, social networking and other media use are linked to poor academic performanceTexting, social networking and other media use are linked to poor academic performance, according to research conducted at The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence, R.I. Scientists surveyed 483 female college freshmen about their use of 11 forms of media: television, movies, music, surfing the Internet, social networking, talking on a cell phone, texting; reading magazines, newspapers and non-school-related books; and playing video games. Participants also reported their grade point averages and completed surveys about their academic confidence, behaviors and problems. On average, the women spent nearly half their day engaged in some form of media use, particularly texting, listening to music, surfing the Internet and social networking, the research found. Media use in general was associated with lower GPAs and other negative academic outcomes. Newspaper reading and listening to music, however, were linked to positive academic performance (Emerging Adulthood, online March 26).
  • Community-based prevention efforts may reduce prescription drug abuse among adolescents and young adults, suggests research by scientists at Iowa State University and Pennsylvania State University. The researchers looked at drug-prevention interventions aimed at middle school students and found that students who participated in them had a 20 percent to 65 percent reduced risk for prescription drug and opioid abuse, six to 14 years after the initial program implementation, compared with students in a control group that did not take part in a prevention intervention (American Journal of Public Health, April).
  • In times of danger, people follow males, finds a study by psychologists at VU University Amsterdam. Researchers showed the study's 49 participants pictures of dangerous and non-dangerous situations and then investigated whether the subjects followed the eye movements of men or women. They found that the participants followed the eye movements of both men and women after seeing non-dangerous situations, but after seeing dangerous situations, they followed only the men's eye movements (PLoS One, April 3).
  • Happily married couples are more likely to gain weight, finds a study led by a Southern Methodist University psychologist. Researchers tracked 169 newlyweds for four years, checking in biannually to assess such measures as height, weight, marital satisfaction, stress and steps toward divorce. They found that the happier a couple was in their relationship, the more weight they gained. In contrast, couples who were less satisfied in their relationship tended to gain less weight over the course of the study (Health Psychology, online March 11).
  • Children who avoid situations they find scary are more likely to have anxietyChildren who avoid situations they find scary are more likely to have anxiety, according to a Mayo Clinic study of more than 800 children ages 7 to 18. Researchers asked the study participants and their parents to answer questions about the children's avoidance tendencies and measured the participants' anxiety levels a year later. They found that even after controlling for baseline anxiety children who described more avoidance behaviors at the study's onset tended to be more anxious a year later than those who didn't avoid — a trend that is consistent with how anxiety disorders often develop (Behavior Therapy, online March 4).
  • We're much more distracted when we overhear a one-sided cellphone conversation than an in-person chat between two people, finds a study led by researchers at the University of San Diego. In the study, participants completed a task while researchers carried out short, scripted conversations in the background. Half of the participants overheard one side of the conversation carried out on a phone, and the rest overheard the discussion as a conversation between two people in the room with them. Not only did participants rate the cellphone conversation as more distracting, they also remembered more words and content from the cellphone conversations (PLoS ONE, March 13).
  • People are less likely to trust and follow the advice of an overweight physician, finds a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University. The researchers surveyed 358 adults about how credible a normal-weight, overweight or obese physician would be. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being highest, study participants ranked their trust level as 4.0 toward a normal-weight physician, 3.4 for an overweight physician and 3.3 for an obese physician. Similarly, they rated their likelihood of following the physician's advice as 3.9, 3.5 and 3.5, respectively, for a normal-weight, overweight and obese physician (International Journal of Obesity, online March 19).
  • Similarly, physicians are less likely to bond with their overweight and obese patients than with normal weight patients, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. In the study of 39 primary-care physicians and 208 of their patients, scientists found that patient weight played no role in the quantity of physicians' medical questions, medical advice, counseling or treatment regimen discussions, but the physicians were significantly more likely to express empathy, concern and understanding with normal weight patients than with overweight and obese patients (Obesity, online March 20).
  • Anxiety and depression put heart disease patients at an increased risk of dying, according to Duke University Medical Center researchers. In the study, 934 adults with heart disease completed a questionnaire measuring their levels of anxiety and depression immediately before or after a cardiac catheterization. The researchers then followed the patients for three years, tracking mortality. After accounting for age, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and other factors that affect death risk, the researchers found that those patients who had anxiety had twice the risk of dying from any cause compared to those without anxiety. Patients with both anxiety and depression had triple the risk of dying (Journal of the American Heart Association, March 19).
  • Sound stimulation during sleep can enhance memory, according to a study at the University of Tübingen, in Germany. Researchers exposed 11 sleeping participants to light rhythmic noise both in sync and out of sync with their brain's electrical readings. They found that the in-sync sounds strengthened the brain rhythms as well as memories: Participants were better able to retain word associations they had learned the night before. The out-of-sync sounds didn't have any effect (Neuron, April 11).
  • Effective leaders' brains may be "wired" to leadEffective leaders' brains may be "wired" to lead, suggests a study from Wake Forest University. Researchers asked 103 West Point Military Academy officers to picture themselves as leaders of a combat unit and then describe the roles they saw themselves filling and the knowledge, skills and abilities they used in those roles. They also tested the participants' leadership and decision-making abilities in a hypothetical tactical military scenario. Then half of the participants underwent an electroencephalography scan so researchers could track activity in particular brain areas. The researchers found that officers who had a more complex sense of their leadership skills, described themselves as filling more leadership roles and showed greater neural complexity were more adaptive and effective leaders. In addition, brain networks in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the most complex and adaptable leaders — areas associated with self-regulation, decision-making and memory — were more complex and differentiated compared with those of leaders who were determined not to be very complex (Journal of Applied Psychology, online April 1).
  • Mindfulness training boosts test scores, suggests research from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In a study, 48 undergraduates were randomly assigned to two weeks of meditation or nutrition courses.The researchers found that students who were given mindfulness training had significant improvements in performance on reading comprehension tests and working memory capacity (Psychological Science, online March 28).
  • People with serious mental illnesses can lose weight and keep it off, finds research out of Johns Hopkins University. Scientists randomly selected 291 participants with mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression — from 10 psychiatric rehabilitation outpatient centers around Maryland. Some received "usual" nutrition and physical activity information; others received six months of intensive intervention, including exercise classes three times a week and weight loss classes once a week. After a year, participants in the more intensive intervention lost seven pounds more than the participants in the "usual" care group. In addition, people in the intensive group continued to lose weight and did not regain, even after their classes and counseling sessions were reduced (The New England Journal of Medicine, online March 21).
  • Prior marijuana use could increase the addictive power of nicotine, suggests a study with rodents led by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For three days, one group of rats received twice-daily injections of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, while a control group received an equivalent injection of a placebo. One week after the final THC or placebo injection, the rats were trained to work for intravenous injections of nicotine. The researchers found that rats that were previously exposed to THC were far more likely than the control rats to self-administer nicotine. In addition, the THC-exposed rats worked much harder to obtain nicotine than the control group, suggesting that the value of nicotine was far greater after THC exposure (Neuropsychopharmacology, Feb. 6).
  • Feeling powerful may protect against debilitating effects of negative stereotypes, suggests research conducted at Indiana University. Researchers conducted three experiments examining how feelings of power can protect women from decreases in cognitive resources when they are confronted by the stereotype that women are bad at math. The participants were asked to unscramble five-word sentences with words related to either high or low power — such as "dominant" and "controlling" vs. "subordinate" and "dependent." Each group was then given a math test in which the instructions either invoked the negative stereotype about women and math or were gender neutral. The women who were exposed to high-power words performed better in math than those exposed to low-power or neutral words (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, March).
  • Couch potatoes may be genetically predisposed to laziness, suggests a study of rodents conducted at the University of Missouri. The researchers put rats in cages with running wheels and measured how much each rat willingly ran on its wheels during a six-day period. They then bred the top 26 runners with each other and bred the 26 rats that ran the least with each other, and repeated that breeding process through 10 generations. The researchers found that the line of running rats chose to run 10 times more than the line of "lazy" rats. They also found 36 genes that may play a role in predisposing a rat to physical activity motivation (American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, online April 3).
  • Hearing the sounds of arguments affects how a baby processes a voice's emotional tonesHearing the sounds of arguments affects how a baby processes a voice's emotional tones, according to a study at the University of Oregon. The researchers used fMRI to scan the brains of 20 sleeping infants, ages 6 months to 12 months, while an adult male spoke nonsense sentences in very angry, mildly angry, happy or neutral tones. Some of the babies came from high-conflict homes, while others came from low-conflict homes. The researchers found that the babies from high-conflict homes had a greater response to the very angry voice in brain regions involved in stress and emotion regulation (Psychological Science, in press).

—Amy Novotney