In Brief

A drug by any other name

Dose of medicinePeople may take a higher dose of medicine when the drug has an easy-to-pronounce name, suggests a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Researchers gave 70 participants at a German university liquid "medicines" indicated for stomach flu. The bottles were labeled with easier-to-pronounce names, such as Fastinorbine, or more difficult names, such as Nxungzictrop. When asked to estimate the appropriate dose for one week, participants poured significantly more of the easy-to-pronounce medications. When told the medicines were synthetic, they poured 15 percent more of the drug with the easier name; when told the medicines were herbal, they poured 13 percent more. DOI: 10.1037/xap000013

Too little addiction training

Most U.S. clinical psychology programs do not offer enough specific addiction training, finds a survey in the American Psychologist. Researchers surveyed the directors of clinical training at all APA-accredited clinical psychology doctoral programs seven times between 1999 and 2013. In 2013, the researchers found that 36 percent of programs had at least one faculty member with a research interest in addiction, 26 percent had at least one research grant focused on addiction and 32 percent had at least one specialty clinic for the treatment of addiction. Forty-six percent had none of those things. In addition, the percentage of programs offering addiction training did not increase between 1999 and 2013, despite the escalating drug crisis in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses more than doubled during that time period. DOI: 10.1037/amp0000140

Mother-infant bonding

Mothers who breastfeed their babies longer are more sensitive to those children's emotional cuesMothers who breastfeed their babies longer are more sensitive to those children's emotional cues, even many years later, finds a study in Developmental Psychology. Researchers followed 1,272 families, visiting them six times over 11 years to observe parent-child interactions. Researchers rated the quality of the interactions, including the mother's level of support, her respect for her child's autonomy and her level of hostility. Overall, mothers who breastfed longer exhibited more maternal sensitivity throughout the study, even after controlling for factors like the mothers' neuroticism, parenting attitudes, ethnicity and education. DOI: 10.1037/dev0000425

Living in the moment

On average, people spend more time focusing on the present than thinking about the past or the future, finds a study in Emotion. The study also suggests that people who "live in the now" are more likely to become happier over time. Researchers texted 67 participants five times a day for one week, asking them what they were thinking at that moment and whether those thoughts were past-, present- or future-focused. Participants also completed a life-satisfaction scale at the beginning and end of the week. Overall, people spent 66 percent of their time focusing on the present, 26 percent on the future and 8 percent on the past. Those who spent more time focusing on the present were less likely to ruminate on negative thoughts and more likely to increase their life-satisfaction score over the course of the week. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000333

More marijuana=more sex

People who use marijuana more frequently also have more sex,People who use marijuana more frequently also have more sex, finds a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from about 51,000 participants in the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth (average age about 30), and found that women who smoked marijuana daily had sex 7.1 times per month, on average, compared with 6 times per month for those who didn't use marijuana. Men who used marijuana daily had sex 6.9 times per month, compared with 5.6 times for nonusers. The correlation held even after controlling for variables including age, other drug use and whether participants had children. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.09.005

Get moving

Mental health patients want to get more exercise, finds a study in General Hospital Psychiatry. Researchers surveyed 285 patients being treated for depression and anxiety at a mental health outpatient clinic. Eighty percent said that physical activity helped improve their symptoms much of the time. However, fewer than half met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline of getting 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. Eighty-five percent said that they wanted to be more physically active, but 52 percent said that their moods limited their ability to exercise. Only 37 percent reported that their mental health providers regularly discussed physical activity with them. The researchers say that this is a missed opportunity to help patients with depression and anxiety. DOI: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2017.07.004

Super-agers are more social

Super-agers are more socialHaving a strong social network could help stave off cognitive decline in older adults, suggests research in PLOS ONE. Researchers compared 32 "super-agers"—adults older than 80 who have the cognitive abilities of a much younger person—with 19 demographically matched, cognitively average peers. All participants completed a psychological well-being scale that measured six factors: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance. Super-agers scored significantly higher than their cognitively average peers on the "positive relations with others" scale. The groups did not differ on any other aspect of the well-being scale. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186413

Immigrants at risk

Immigrants at riskNearly one-quarter of undocumented immigrants who live near the California-Mexico border suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health problems, finds a study of a representative sample of such immigrants in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Researchers analyzed clinical interviews of 248 immigrants and found that 23 percent met the criteria for one or more mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder (14 percent), panic disorder (8 percent) and generalized anxiety disorder (7 percent). Four percent had a substance use disorder. The researchers also found that experiencing more distress from common stressors such as language barriers, fear of deportation and family separation was associated with higher rates of mental health problems. DOI: 10.1037/ccp0000237

Speech patterns reveal stress

The words people use when they speak may give insight into their stress levels, finds a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers asked 143 participants to wear audio recorders that recorded the wearers' speech at random times over two days. Then the researchers compared the speech patterns in those clips with a biomarker of stress, looking at which genes were more or less active in the participants' white blood cells. Participants with more stress-related gene signatures—such as increased activity in genes involved in inflammation—talked less overall but used more words such as "really" and "incredibly" that might signal heightened emotion. The word-use pattern correlated more highly with the stress-related gene signal than participants' own self-reported stress levels did, the researchers found. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.170737311

Teen drinking

Teen drinkingTeens who start drinking alcohol at a young age may suffer neurocognitive damage, suggests a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Researchers examined data from a longitudinal study of 215 teens, all of whom took a battery of neurocognitive tests around age 13 (when none had begun drinking) and again about seven years later. The teens also reported their alcohol use during those years. The researchers found that the teens who started drinking at a younger age scored more poorly on tests of psychomotor speed and visual attention compared with those who started drinking later. Teens who drank frequently (weekly) at a younger age also scored more poorly on tests of cognitive inhibition and working memory. The results could help explain how alcohol affects teen brain function and why early alcohol use may lead to psychosocial, mental health and substance use problems. DOI: 10.1111/acer.13503


Up to one in 20 teens have cyberbullied themselves, finds a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers surveyed a U.S. nationally representative sample of 5,593 students ages 12 to 17 and found that 7.1 percent of boys and 5.3 percent of girls had anonymously posted a mean comment about themselves online. When asked why, boys were more likely to say it was a joke or a way to get attention, while girls were more likely to say it was because they were depressed or psychologically hurt. More research needs to be done on whether cyberbullying self-harm is linked to offline forms of self-harm, such as cutting, as well as to suicide risk, the researchers say. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.012

Pass the veggies

Pass the veggies"Healthy menus" in chain restaurants don't use enticing words to persuade diners to try the healthy options, suggests a study in Health Psychology. Researchers analyzed 26 menus from popular American restaurants. They compared the 5,873 words used to describe "healthy menu" items with the 38,343 words used to describe unhealthy menu items, sorting the words into 22 thematic categories. Overall, healthy-item descriptions included significantly fewer appealing words, like "exciting, fun, spicy hot, artisanal, tasty and indulgent" and more words like "macronutrient, thinness, depriving, fresh, simple and nutritious." DOI: 10.1037/hea0000501

Practice makes perfect

At about age 6, children start to understand that they can improve at a skill by practicing it, suggests research in Child Development. Researchers tested 120 4- to 7-year-old children. First, they showed the children how to play three games and told them that they would be tested on one of them later—a target game—and could win stickers by playing it well. Then, the children were left alone in a room with all three games for five minutes. The 6- and 7-year-olds played the target game more than the other two games. When asked why, they explained that they did it to practice. The 5-year-olds spent slightly longer playing the target game, but did not explain that they did it to practice. The 4-year-olds did not spend longer playing the target game and did not express an understanding of the concept of practice. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12938

College kids are not all narcissists

College kids are not all narcissistsToday's U.S. college students are no more narcissistic than those who attended college in the 1990s, despite previous research to the contrary, according to a study in Psychological Science. Researchers analyzed data from more than 60,000 college students who took the Narcissistic Personality Inventory in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. The inventory measures aspects of narcissism, including vanity, leadership and entitlement. It asks respondents to choose between statements such as the more narcissistic, "I am more capable than other people," versus the less narcissistic, "There is a lot that I can learn from other people." Previous studies found that students' average narcissism scores had increased over the past several decades. But the new research took into account that although the inventory has not changed over the years, students of different generations may have interpreted the items differently, and so the questions did not measure narcissism consistently over time. Adjusting for these changes, the new study indicated that college students' narcissism has not increased. DOI: 10.1177/0956797617724208

When antidepressants don't work

A commonly prescribed antidepressant is not effective for people with chronic kidney disease, finds research in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a randomized clinical trial with 201 participants, researchers found that sertraline (Zoloft) did not improve depression symptoms in patients with chronic kidney disease who have at least moderate depression, compared with a placebo. Previous research has suggested that common antidepressants may be ineffective in people with chronic heart disease and asthma as well, the researchers say, and the results indicate that clinicians should use caution when prescribing antidepressants to people with chronic diseases and consider effective alternatives like cognitive-behavioral therapy, when indicated. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2017.17131

Sleep deprivation

Brain cells show degraded activity following a sleepless night, finds a study in Nature Medicine. Researchers studied 12 epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains to pinpoint the origin of their seizures. The patients also stayed awake all night to bring on a seizure. Before and after the sleepless night, the researchers asked the patients to categorize various images while the electrodes recorded the real-time firing of nerve cells in their brains. After the sleepless night, the participants performed significantly worse on the task, and data from the electrodes showed that individual nerve cells were responding more slowly and firing more weakly compared with when the patients were more alert. The finding could help explain how fatigue affects many brain functions, the researchers say. DOI: 10.1038/nm.4433

Female CEOs

Female CEOsWomen who are CEOs of public companies are more likely than male CEOs to be faced with "activist investors" who seek to change their companies, finds a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Activist investors are shareholders who try to acquire enough stock to transform a company outside the control of the CEO. Researchers analyzed Securities and Exchange Commission filings for more than 3,026 public companies from 1996 to 2013. They found that female CEOs had an almost 50 percent greater chance than male CEOs of facing an activist investor filing, and a 60 percent greater chance of facing more than one activist investor threat at a time. DOI: 10.1037/apl0000269

Toxic pollution

Toxic pollutionBad air quality could contribute to poor mental health, suggests a study in Health & Place. Researchers analyzed data from about 6,000 respondents to a U.S. nationally representative survey, cross-referencing participants' self-reported psychological distress symptoms (such as sadness and hopelessness) with block-by-block pollution data from their neighborhoods. In areas with high levels of particulate pollution, psychological distress scores were 17 percent higher than in areas with low pollution. The correlation between pollution and distress held even after controlling for physical, behavioral and socioeconomic factors such as chronic health conditions and unemployment. DOI: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2017.09.006

Depression and disaster

People who have some depression symptoms may suffer worse health effects than others when a disaster strikes, suggests a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. Researchers followed 124 people who lived in a Texas city before and after a nearby petrochemical plant explosion. Before the disaster, participants had completed measures of mental and physical health for a different study. After the disaster, people who had reported even minor depressive symptoms beforehand, or who were concerned about their physical health, had a 75 percent increase in immune system markers that signal inflammation, a risk factor for such health problems as heart disease. People who had not reported depression or health concerns before the disaster did not show any increase in those immune markers. DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000514

Women in medicine

Women in medicineFemale patients benefit when women are part of medical research teams, suggests a study in Nature Human Behaviour. The researchers examined about 1.5 million medical research papers published between 2008 and 2015. Papers with at least one female author were significantly more likely to explore potential sex and gender differences in disease risk, treatment and outcomes. Papers with women as the lead or first author were even more likely to include such sex and gender analyses. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0235-x

Health expenses

Most people with high-deductible health insurance plans don't shop around for the best deals in health-care services as they might for other products and services, finds a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Some policymakers believe that high-deductible plans—which require people to pay for thousands of dollars of health care before insurance kicks in—encourage enrollees to use health care more efficiently. But in a survey of 1,652 adults under age 65 with high-deductible plans, researchers found that only 25 percent had talked to a health-care provider about the cost of a service, 14 percent had compared prices on a service or product and 6 percent had tried to negotiate the price of a health-care service. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.6622

Music appreciation

Music appreciationIt is possible to increase the pleasure listeners feel when listening to music by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to excite or inhibit particular areas of the brain, according to a study in Nature Human Behaviour. Previous research had suggested that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved in the emotional response to music. In the new study, researchers used TMS to either excite or inhibit that brain area in 35 participants. Afterward, participants listened to music and rated their enjoyment of it while the researchers measured their psychophysiological responses. Finally, researchers offered participants the opportunity to buy the music using real money. Compared with a control group, participants who received the excitatory TMS liked the music more, had greater psychophysiological responses and were more likely to buy it. Participants who received the inhibitory TMS liked the music less, had fewer psychophysiological responses and were less likely to buy it. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0241-z

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