In Brief

Ending mental illness stigma

Young adult with mental illnessA one-hour educational program can reduce stigma around mental illness, finds a study in Stigma and Health. More than 500 students across the United States watched an hour-long slide and video presentation from the National Alliance on Mental Illness called "Ending the Silence," which included information on the warning signs of mental health conditions, videos made by teens to encourage support for peers with mental illness and a talk by a young adult who discussed his or her own experience with mental illness. Students were assessed on their knowledge of and attitudes toward mental illness at three points: before the presentation, immediately after and four to six weeks later. Students who watched the presentation gained more knowledge about what to do if one of their peers showed signs of mental illness and had fewer negative attitudes toward people with mental illness, compared with a control group of peers at the same schools who had not seen the presentation. DOI: 10.1037/sah0000135

Brain injury and Alzheimer's

Patients with a history of traumatic brain injury are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier, finds a study in Neuropsychology. Researchers examined data from 2,153 patients with Alzheimer’s disease who were assessed for their brain injury history. Those who had at least one injury that resulted in a loss of consciousness—and that had occurred at least one year before the start of the study—were found to have had an onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms 2.3 years earlier than those with no history of traumatic brain injury, on average. DOI: 10.1037/neu0000423

Polluted minds

Air pollutionAreas with more air pollution also have higher crime rates, and the underlying reason may be that living in polluted areas causes people to feel more anxiety, suggests research in Psychological Science. Researchers examined nine years of air pollution and crime data for 9,360 U.S. cities and found that those with higher levels of air pollution also tended to have more murders, assaults, robberies and other crimes. The association held even after controlling for population size, demographic factors such as age, gender, race, poverty and unemployment, number of law enforcement officers and many other factors. In a follow-up series of lab experiments, the researchers found that participants who were asked to imagine living in air pollution and breathing polluted air expressed more anxiety and were more likely to cheat on a lab task. DOI: 10.1177/0956797617735807

Anti-vaccine beliefs

People who believe in conspiracy theories are also more likely to oppose vaccinations, according to a study in Health Psychology. Researchers surveyed 5,323 participants in 24 countries about their attitudes toward vaccines as well as their other attitudes and beliefs. People who believed in conspiracy theories were significantly more likely to distrust vaccines, as were people high in reactance (those who disliked any infringements on their freedoms) and those who felt a lot of disgust toward blood and needles. Demographic factors such as age, race and education level were not related to vaccine attitudes. DOI: 10.1037/hea0000586

Teen drinking at home

Drinking beerSome parents believe that allowing teens to drink alcohol at home, under a parent’s watchful eye, will encourage more responsible drinking habits. But a study in The Lancet Public Health suggests that parents who give alcohol to their teens may do more harm than good. Researchers followed almost 2,000 Australian teens and their families for six years, from seventh through 12th grades.

Overall, 81 percent of teens who got alcohol from their parents and from other people reported binge drinking by the end of the study, compared with 62 percent of those who got alcohol only from other people. Similarly, teens whose parents gave them alcohol were more likely to show signs of possible future alcohol abuse and dependence. DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30240-2

For better or for worse

Newlywed coupleNewlyweds’ personalities can change significantly over the early years of marriage, suggests research in Developmental Psychology. Researchers studied 169 heterosexual newlywed couples (338 people) from a Florida community. All were in their first marriages and did not have children when the study began. The participants completed personality assessments and marital satisfaction scales three times over the first 18 months of their marriages. On average during that time, husbands showed significant declines in extraversion and agreeableness and a significant increase in conscientiousness. Wives showed significant declines in agreeableness, neuroticism and openness. These results did not differ by age, other demographic factors, the spouses’ relationship length prior to marriage, their initial marital satisfaction or whether they became parents during that time. DOI: 10.1037/dev0000491

Does immoral equal inept?

People view liars, cheaters and thieves as incompetent as well as immoral, suggests research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In six experiments, with more than 1,500 participants, researchers asked participants to read vignettes about people acting in immoral ways, such as shoplifting or cheating on a lab task. Then, participants rated their perception of each person’s competence in different areas—in one experiment, for example, participants rated how good they thought the person would be at his or her job. In each experiment, participants rated immoral individuals as less competent than those who acted morally. The researchers suggest this may be because people who act immorally are viewed as low in social intelligence. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000097

On the same wavelength

Best friendsDo you and your best friend laugh at the same jokes and share the same outlook on life? That similarity is reflected in your neural activity, suggests a study in Nature Communications. Researchers surveyed 279 students in the same graduate school program about their friendships with their classmates, and they used that information to create a map of friendship ties among the students. Then, 42 of the students watched a range of video clips—comedy sketches, science shows, music videos, political shows and more—while the researchers used fMRI to record the participants’ brain responses. The researchers found that, on average, the closer the friendship ties between two people, the more similar those people’s neural responses to the videos were likely to be in brain areas involved in emotional response, attention and reasoning. The finding held even after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity and other variables. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02722-7

Healthy eating strategies

Healthy foodIt may be easier to choose lower-calorie foods than to eat a smaller amount of food, according to research in Appetite. Researchers asked about 100 participants to eat meals in their lab once a week for four weeks. At each visit, the researchers provided the same foods but varied the portion sizes. About one-third of the participants were overweight and had previously participated in a one-year weight-loss group that emphasized healthy eating and portion control. Another third were overweight and had not participated in the group. The last third were normal weight. Overall, participants in all three groups ate more when they were given larger portions. For example, when the portion size increased 75 percent, the average amount consumed increased 27 percent. However, the participants who had received weight-loss training ate fewer calories overall than those who had not because they chose lower-calorie foods. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.012

Expanding access to treatment

Children and teens with serious emotional disturbance are more likely to receive treatment if they live in states that make it easier for their families to access Medicaid, suggests research in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Nineteen states have programs that allow children with serious emotional disturbance to use Medicaid to pay for treatment, even if they come from middle- to high-income families that may have private insurance and wouldn’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid. The researchers found that mental health treatment centers served more youth in states with these "Medicaid waiver" programs than in states with greater restrictions on Medicaid use, even after controlling for population size and density, income levels, the number of providers in the state and other factors. DOI: 10.1037/ort0000295

Twiddling thumbs at work

Bored workerU.S. employers spend about $100 billion a year in wages for time that employees spend not working, according to an estimate in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 workers across a variety of industries to quantify the amount of time they spent idle and the financial and behavioral consequences of that time. The researchers found that 78 percent of respondents experienced some idle time at work, when they did not have any tasks to perform. In a follow-up series of lab experiments to examine the behavioral consequences of that downtime, the researchers asked more than 100 undergraduates to complete tasks—such as typing sentences—for a small amount of pay. When participants anticipated idle time at the end of the task (i.e., they were told that they could not begin the next task until a set amount of time had gone by), they slowed down their work to fill the entire allotted time. DOI: 10.1037/apl0000294

Capitalism and narcissism

People who grow up in Western, capitalist societies are more narcissistic than those raised in socialist or collectivist ones, suggests a study in PLOS ONE. Researchers asked 1,025 Germans to take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and the Pathological Narcissism Inventory. About two-thirds of the respondents grew up in the former West Germany and one-third in the former East Germany. Among the respondents who were old enough to have started school before German reunification in 1989, those who grew up in the former West Germany scored higher on grandiose narcissism compared with those who grew up in the former East Germany. But for those who started school after 1989, there was no difference in narcissism between the two groups. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0188287

Greek life, in midlife

People who live in sorority or fraternity houses during college are more likely to show symptoms of problem drinking years later, finds a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers analyzed data from more than 15,000 participants in the Monitoring the Future study, all of whom were followed from 12th grade to age 35. By age 35, 45 percent of men who had lived in fraternity houses reported two or more symptoms of alcohol use disorder, compared with 33 percent of nonresidential fraternity members and 30 percent of those who had not been involved in a fraternity in college. Among women, 26 percent of those who had lived in a sorority house had two or more symptoms of alcohol use disorder at age 35, compared with 19 percent of nonresidential sorority members and 18 percent of those who hadn’t joined a sorority in college. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.029

Smoking disparities

Hand holding cigaretteOverall smoking rates in the United States have declined dramatically over the past several decades, but smoking among certain demographic groups has not declined as much, leading to increasing disparities, finds a report in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. In an analysis of data from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found the smoking rate for people with serious mental illness (28 percent) was more than twice that of people without mental illness (13 percent). Nearly 60 percent of people with schizophrenia smoke. Smoking rates were also disproportionately high among people with a high school education or less, people with incomes below the poverty line, military personnel and people of American Indian/Alaska Native descent, among other groups. DOI: 10.3322/caac.21444

Stay in school, stay healthy

Students at schoolIt’s well established that people with more education generally live longer and healthier lives than those with less education, but researchers don’t know whether more education causes better health or whether some other factor affects both. Now, a study in Nature Human Behaviour suggests that staying in school could cause lifelong health benefits. Researchers took advantage of a "natural experiment": In 1972, the United Kingdom raised the minimum age at which students could drop out of school from 15 to 16. The researchers examined data on about 20,000 people who turned 16 either the year before the change or the year after it. On average, the cohort who turned 16 after the change had slightly lower rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart attack in middle age than their one-year-older peers, even after adjusting for the age difference. The researchers also built a demographic profile of people who would have been likely to drop out at age 15 but stayed in school another year because of the law change, and they found that the health difference between the two cohorts was largest for this group. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0279-y

Fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome may be far more common than previously thought, affecting an estimated 1 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children, according to a study in JAMA. Researchers assessed about 3,000 children in four regions of the country. The children were given neurocognitive evaluations and had their facial features examined by experts, as children with the syndrome often have distinctive features. The researchers also interviewed many of the children’s mothers about their histories of alcohol use. Of the 222 children identified as having fetal alcohol syndrome, only two had been previously diagnosed with it. Many, though, had other learning problems and behavioral challenges, suggesting that the syndrome may often be misdiagnosed. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2017.21896

Love songs, lullabies and dance music

Woman dancingPeople from different cultures around the world can "understand" one another’s music, suggests research in Current Biology. Researchers asked 750 participants from 60 countries to listen to 36 short excerpts of songs from isolated, small-scale societies around the world (such as hunter-gatherer and subsistence farmer communities). The participants then rated on a six-point scale the degree to which they believed each song was used for dancing, to soothe a baby, to heal illness, to express love for another person, to mourn the dead or to tell a story. Overall, participants were consistent and accurate in their judgments, and they were particularly good at identifying lullabies and dance songs. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.12.042

Gene similarities

Widely varying psychiatric disorders may be more genetically similar than previously thought, suggests research in Science. Researchers analyzed RNA from the cerebral cortices of more than 700 deceased patients who had had autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, alcoholism or no mental illness. They found broadly similar patterns of gene expression in patients with autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, even though the disorders have different clinical symptoms. Gene activity associated with alcoholism, in contrast, did not overlap with the other four disorders. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6469

Psychopathy and emotion

Previous research has found that men with psychopathy may lack the ability to accurately read others’ emotions from facial expressions, but a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests that the inability may actually be due to more general deficits in mental ability. Researchers studied 339 German men, about one-third of whom were assessed as highly psychopathic. All participants took a test of general intelligence as well as three tests of emotion perception (deciphering emotions from photographs of faces). Overall, after controlling for general mental ability, there was no significant correlation between the men’s levels of psychopathy and their ability to read others’ emotions. DOI: 10.1037/abn0000340

Reducing dementia risks

Man exercisingLifestyle interventions can reduce the risk of developing dementia, finds a study in JAMA Neurology. Researchers studied 1,260 people in Finland, ages 60 to 77, all of whom had some risk factors for developing dementia. Half were assigned to a lifestyle intervention that included nutrition counseling, cardiovascular risk management, and a physical and cognitive exercise program. Participants in the intervention group showed significantly less cognitive decline over the next two years compared with a control group that received only standard, one-time advice on reducing lifestyle risks. Participants with the APOE4 gene—known to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease—particularly benefited from the intervention, the researchers found. DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.4365

Intricate language

Scholars who study language have long noticed that languages spoken by large numbers of people, such as Mandarin and English, have enormous vocabularies but relatively simple grammatical structures. Meanwhile, languages spoken by fewer people have fewer words but may have more complex grammatical structures. Now, research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences helps elucidate how and why that happens. Researchers built a computer simulation in which artificial agents conversed with one another in smaller or larger groups of 30 to 500 individuals. The agents could invent new words and new ways of saying things and learn these innovations from one another, in an approximation of how human language spreads. The researchers found that, as in the real world, languages that developed in the larger communities evolved with simpler grammatical structures and more words than those that evolved in the smaller communities. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2586

The neuroscience of coaching

Six articles explore current neuroscience research with practical implications for psychologists working as consultants in a special issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Neuroscience perspectives are offered on such topics as resilience, facilitating trust in individuals and teams, goal setting and executive coaching. The issue also discusses the growing popularity and marketing appeal of "neuro" topics in consulting psychology and how psychologists must be careful to avoid overhyping neuroscience-based strategies.

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