In Brief

I don’t want to know…

Chocolate cakeMost people would rather avoid information—like calorie counts—that could lead them to act against their intuitive wishes and preferences, finds research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In one study, researchers asked 300 participants to imagine choosing whether to order a piece of chocolate cake. Sixty-three percent said that they wouldn’t want to know how many calories were in the dessert. In another study, researchers gave 150 participants a choice of doing either a fun task (reading jokes) or a boring one (reading an outdated computer manual). The researchers told participants they’d be paid a small amount if they chose the boring task and asked if they wanted to know how much they’d be paid. Again, 63 percent of participants chose not to find out how much they could earn for the boring task. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000100

Money buys (some) happiness

Wealthier people experience more self-focused positive emotions, while people who earn less money find more happiness in their relationships, finds a study in Emotion. Researchers asked a nationally representative U.S. sample of 1,519 people about their household incomes and their experiences with seven positive emotions. Wealthier participants were more likely to experience self-focused positive emotions like contentment, pride and amusement, while people with lower incomes were more likely to experience happy emotions focused on other people, such as compassion and love. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000387

Jazz hands (and classical ones)

Jazz and classical music require musicians to have different mental skills,Classical and jazz pianists show different patterns of brain activity as they play their instruments, which may reflect the different mental demands that the two music styles impose, finds research in NeuroImage. Researchers asked 30 professional pianists—half of whom specialized in jazz music and half in classical—to imitate a hand on a screen as it played a series of chords, while the researchers monitored the pianists’ brain activity with EEG. Jazz pianists reacted more quickly to harmonically unexpected chords within a standard chord progression, possibly because playing jazz requires more improvisation. Classical pianists, however, were better able to follow unusual fingering patterns and made fewer errors imitating the on-screen hands. These behavioral differences were reflected in different patterns of brain waves in the two types of pianists. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.12.058

Climate anxiety

Polar bearPeople who worry about the effect that climate change will have on nature experience more climate-related depressive symptoms than those who focus solely on its possible effects on their own lives, finds a study in Global Environmental Change. Researchers surveyed 342 U.S. adults about their levels of egoistic environmental concern (concern for one’s own health or life), social-altruistic concern (for others or future generations) and biospheric concern (for plants, animals and nature). People who expressed more biospheric concern were more likely to have symptoms of depression. They were also more likely to report pro-environmental behaviors, such as recycling or making an effort to conserve energy. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.11.012

Beautiful words

People find poetry that creates powerful images in their minds to be most appealing, finds research in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Researchers asked more than 400 online participants to evaluate haikus and sonnets. Participants rated the poems for vividness of the imagery, valence (whether the poem’s theme was positive or negative), emotional arousal and aesthetic appeal. No one poem appealed to everyone, but, on average, ratings of vividness were the strongest predictor of aesthetic appeal. DOI: 10.1037/aca0000153

Personality and sleep

SleepingPeople who are more extraverted and less neurotic sleep better than those without such personality traits, finds a study in Health Psychology. Researchers analyzed data on more than 22,000 participants in four longitudinal studies in Japan and the United States. They found that in both countries, people who scored lower on measures of neuroticism and higher on extraversion slept better. They had less insomnia and fewer episodes of night waking and of waking without feeling rested. The study also found that sleeping poorly was associated with personality changes over time—people who slept poorly at baseline showed declines in extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness over periods of four to 10 years. DOI: 10.1037/hea0000577

Alcohol on screen

Young teens who watch a lot of movies with characters drinking alcohol become more susceptible to peer pressure and are more likely to drink at a younger age, finds a study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Researchers analyzed longitudinal survey data from more than 1,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who answered questions about their attitudes about alcohol use four times over three years. The students also reported which movies they had seen, which the research rated for alcohol content. Students who were exposed to more alcohol use in movies at the start of the study were more likely, over time, to believe that their peers were using alcohol and to say they would drink alcohol offered by a friend. These attitude changes predicted a lower age at which participants began drinking alcohol. DOI: 10.1037/adb0000338

An ideal career

People whose personality traits match up well with the demands of their jobs earn more than those who are in less ideal careers for their personality types, finds a study in Psychological Science. Researchers examined data on the personality traits, earnings and job profiles of 8,458 employees in Germany. People whose personality traits best matched the demands of their jobs earned more than others. Those whose levels of extraversion closely fit the demands of their jobs earned €2,191 (about $2,700) more per year than their peers, on average, while those whose levels of agreeableness closely fit their jobs earned €3,935 (about $4,800) more and those whose levels of openness closely fit earned €3,231 (about $4,000) more. DOI: 10.1177/0956797617724435

The desire to be perfect

College studentsCompared with past generations, today’s college students put more pressure on themselves and those around them to be perfect, finds a study in Psychological Bulletin. Researchers analyzed data from more than 41,000 American, Canadian and British college students who took the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale between 1989 and 2016. Over that time, the average self-oriented perfectionism score (reflecting an unrealistic desire or expectation to be perfect) increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed perfectionism (feeling pressure from others to be perfect) increased by 33 percent and other-oriented perfectionism (holding others to unrealistic standards) increased by 16 percent. The researchers suggest several possible reasons for the rise, including the advent of social media as well as increasing societal pressure to earn higher degrees and more money. DOI: 10.1037/bul0000138

Opioids and foster care

The U.S. opioid epidemic is driving more children into foster care as their parents succumb to addiction, suggests a study in Health Affairs. The researchers analyzed data on the number of children removed from their homes in Florida between 2012 and 2015, as well as the state’s data on the number of opioid prescriptions written during that time. They found that for every additional 6.7 opioid prescriptions written per 100 people in the state, the rate at which children were put in foster care due to parental neglect increased 32 percent. Overall, about two out of every 1,000 children in Florida were placed in foster care because of parental neglect in 2015, which is a 129 percent increase since 2012. DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2017.1023

Money for justice

Six-year-old children and grown chimpanzees both want to see bad actors punished for their behavior—so much so that they will pay to watch the punishment, finds research in Nature Human Behaviour. In one experiment, researchers asked 72 children, ages 4 to 6, to watch a puppet show in which a "good" puppet gave the child a favorite toy, while a "bad" puppet offered the toy but then refused to hand it over to the child. The children were then given a coin and could choose to pay to watch the puppets get punished, or to exchange the coin for a sticker. Six-year-old children preferred to use their coins to watch the bad puppet get punished, but they didn’t want to watch the good puppet get punished. Four- and five-year-olds preferred the stickers in both cases. In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found that adolescent and adult chimpanzees acted like the six-year-old children: They were willing to expend extra energy by moving a heavy door in order to see a "bad" ­person—one who had offered them food but then withdrew it—get punished. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0264-5

Very superstitious

Spilled saltOlder adults are less superstitious than younger adults are, finds research in Psychology and Aging. In four studies, researchers surveyed more than 560 U.S. participants who ranged in age from their late teens to their 70s, measuring their beliefs in a range of superstitious or magical statements (such as "The chances of bad things happening are greater if a person lives in a home in which the last resident died" or "Spilling salt brings bad luck"). Across all four experiments, younger adults were more susceptible to magical thinking than were older adults. DOI: 10.1037/pag0000208

Autism assessment

Standard autism assessments may not accurately measure the severity of the disorder in girls, suggests a study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Researchers studied 228 boys and girls, matched for IQ and age, who had similar diagnoses of autism. They found that parents of girls were more likely than parents of boys to report that their children struggled with day-to-day tasks, such as getting dressed or making small talk. The results suggest that girls who meet the same clinical criteria as boys may have more severe deficits but are able to camouflage them during brief autism assessments, pointing to a need for assessments that are equally accurate for girls and boys. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3413-9

Gateway to cigarettes?

VapingTeens who use e-cigarettes or other noncigarette tobacco products are more likely than their peers to start smoking conventional cigarettes within one year, finds a study in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers surveyed more than 10,000 U.S. teens, ages 12 to 17, about their use of e-cigarettes, hookahs, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products. At the start of the study, none of the teens had ever smoked a conventional cigarette. When the researchers followed up after one year, 4.6 percent of the teens overall had gone on to try a cigarette. But among those who had used e-cigarettes or other tobacco products at the beginning of the study, 18 to 19 percent had tried a conventional cigarette. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.4173

Work travel risks

Traveling frequently for work can harm your health, finds a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers analyzed health records from 18,328 employees who received health assessments through their employer. Employees who traveled for work more than two weeks per month were significantly more likely to have depression and anxiety, smoke, show signs of alcohol dependence and have trouble sleeping compared with workers who traveled only one to six nights per month. DOI: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001262

Delayed gratification

A study in Nature Neuroscience links delay discounting—the tendency to undervalue future rewards—to a genetic signature that’s also related to attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conditions. Researchers examined genomic data from more than 23,000 European customers of 23andMe, a commercial ancestry-tracing company. The participants answered questions that measured delay discounting, such as "Would you rather have $55 today or $75 in 61 days?" The researchers found that about 12 percent of the variation in people’s delay discounting could be accounted for by their genotypes, and that the genetic signature of delay discounting overlapped with that of ADHD as well as schizophrenia, major depression, smoking and body weight. DOI: 10.1038/s41593-017-0032-x

Play ball!

Professional baseball playerProfessional baseball players’ abilities are evident not just on the playing field but also in computerized tests of basic visual and motor skills, finds research in Scientific Reports. In a study of 252 minor- and major-league players, researchers found that players who scored higher on a series of nine vision and motor tests were less likely to strike out, more likely to get on base and more likely to draw walks than their peers. Specifically, players with better eye-hand coordination and reaction times had more walks, while those with better spatial recognition scores struck out less often. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-18565-7

Predicting criminal recidivism

A widely used commercial software program is no better—and no less biased—than untrained human judges at predicting criminal recidivism rates, finds research in Science Advances. Researchers asked 400 online participants to read about a real criminal case, and using only seven pieces of information (such as sex, age and previous convictions) decide whether the person was likely to reoffend. These untrained raters accurately predicted recidivism 67 percent of the time, compared with a 65 percent success rate for the commercial system that many jurisdictions use to help make bail and other judicial decisions. Both human participants and the software system were also more likely to incorrectly predict that black offenders would reoffend more than white offenders, even when not directly told the offender’s race. The researchers suggest this may be because a combination of other factors, including the number of previous convictions, acts as a proxy for race in both human and computer judgments. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao5580

Tailoring ads to personalities

It is possible to infer aspects of people’s personalities from what they "like" on Facebook—and then to design psychologically targeted ads to appeal to them based on that information, finds a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers used Facebook "likes" to sort more than 3 million Facebook users into those who were higher and lower in extraversion and openness to experience. Then, the researchers designed ads to appeal to those traits. For example, an "extraverted" advertisment for makeup had the tagline "Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are)," while a makeup ad for those low in extraversion read, "Beauty doesn’t have to shout." The researchers found that showing people ads that matched their personality traits resulted in about 40 percent more clicks than ads that were mismatched. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.171096611

A walk to remember

Child walkingChildren as young as 8 can learn complicated routes after walking them just once, finds research in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Using a virtual reality setup, researchers guided 80 participants (20 8-year-olds, 20 10-year-olds, 20 12-year-olds and 20 adults) on a "walk" through a complicated virtual maze. Then the researchers asked participants to retrace the route on their own. After only one exposure, about three-quarters of the adults and the 12-year-olds, half of the 10-year-olds and a third of the 8-year-olds were able to retrace the route accurately on the first try. DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.08.012

Prenatal vitamins and autism

Women who take prenatal multivitamin supplements may reduce their infants’ risk of developing autism, suggests a study in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers followed more than 45,000 children born in Israel from 2003 to 2007, and gathered data from prescription records on whether their mothers had been prescribed prenatal multivitamins with folic acid and vitamins A, B, C and D. Compared with women who did not receive the vitamins, women who were dispensed the vitamins at any time before pregnancy had a 61 percent lower chance of having a child with autism. Those who were dispensed the vitamins during pregnancy had a 73 percent lower chance, even after controlling for factors such as the child’s sex, socioeconomic status and parents’ age. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.4050

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