Research Roundup

  • Fathers' empathy and testosterone levels appear to predict their parenting stylesFathers' empathy and testosterone levels appear to predict their parenting styles, finds a study led by University of Michigan psychology doctoral student Patty Kuo. The researchers asked 175 fathers to participate in videotaped activities during which the dad was separated from his baby for a short time and then reunited. Many of the infants became visibly upset during the separation while the dads watched from a place where the infants couldn't see them. Kuo found that fathers' reactions to their distressed infants were linked to hormonal changes: Dads who interpreted the crying as distress felt more empathy and had a decline in testosterone and, when reunited with their babies, these fathers displayed a nurturing response. But dads who interpreted the crying as aggravating had an increase in testosterone and a more negative response when reunited (Developmental Psychobiology, online Oct. 24).
  • Children can remember information two days later better than they can on the day they first learned it, according to a study co-authored by Kevin Darby, a psychology doctoral student at Ohio State University. In the study, 82 4- and 5-year-olds played a picture-association game on a computer three times. Children who played the game three times in one day scored around 60 percent at the beginning of each game. However, kids who had a two-day break between the second and third time playing the game scored 85 percent at the beginning of the game when playing two days later (Psychological Science, online Nov. 2).
  • Faster brain waves allow for shorter gaps in one's visual stream, which could make a difference for people when quick reaction time is important, such as reacting to a fastball, finds research by Jason Samaha, a University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral student in psychology. Samaha and his colleagues examined the connection between a person's alpha oscillations — regular fluctuations in the electrical activity in the back of the brain — and their visual processing system by having participants sit in front of a screen and watch closely spaced flashes of light. Their alpha oscillations were recorded before and during the viewing task. Samaha and his colleagues found that the longer the delay between flashes, the more likely participants could correctly discern two flashes from one. However, people with a faster alpha frequency were able to perceive two flashes with significantly shorter gaps between them — around 25 milliseconds — compared with participants with a slower alpha frequency, who couldn't perceive two flashes until closer to a 45-millisecond delay (Current Biology, online Oct. 29).
  • Taking part in activities outside the classroom — particularly community engagement and sports — may help low-income, urban youth academically as they transition into middle school, according to a study led by Kate Schwartz, a psychology doctoral student at New York University. Schwartz and her co-authors examined a dataset of 625 low-income students from 14 New York City elementary schools. The data included information about students' extracurricular activities, including the activity settings — school, community, religious, or athletic — and frequency of participation. The researchers found that while most of the youth did not participate in extracurricular activities, among those who did, volunteering and other community activities were most associated with better academic performance. Athletic participation was also linked to better grades (American Journal of Community Psychology, December).
  • Late bedtimes can lead to weight gain, according to a study led by University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student Lauren Asarnow. She analyzed the bedtimes and sleep hours of more than 3,300 teenagers and adults, collected over five years. She found that participants who went to bed late on weeknights were more likely to gain weight than their peers who went to bed earlier. For every hour later that participants went to bed, they gained an average of 2.1 points on the BMI index, even after controlling for exercise, screen time and the number of hours slept (Sleep, October).
  • If done mindfully, washing dishes can decrease stressIf done mindfully, washing dishes can decrease stress, finds research co-authored by Florida State University counseling/school psychology doctoral student Adam Hanley. For the experiment, Hanley asked 51 students to wash dishes. Before they started, one half read a mindfulness passage on being present mentally for the task, while the other half read a descriptive passage about dishwashing. Dishwashers who read the mindfulness passage — and focused on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water and the feel of the dishes — reported a decrease in nervousness of 27 percent and an increase in mental inspiration of 25 percent. The other group had no benefits (Mindfulness, October).