In Brief

An age disadvantage

StudentsStudents who are young for their grades have less academic self-confidence and are slightly less likely to enroll in college than their peers who are a little older, finds research in the Journal of Educational Psychology. Researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study of more than 10,000 Australian students who were surveyed for a decade beginning at age 15. The researchers found that 58 percent of teenagers who were older than most of the other students in their grade enrolled in college, compared with just 52 percent of their younger same-grade peers. The gap could largely be explained by a difference in the academic self-confidence levels of the older and younger students. DOI: 10.1037/edu0000270

Lifelong benefits of childhood friends

Childhood friendsMen who spent more time hanging out with friends as children had lower blood pressure and were less likely to be obese in adulthood, finds a study in Psychological Science. Researchers analyzed data from 267 participants in the Pittsburgh Youth Study, which followed a racially diverse sample of boys starting in 1987. The researchers found that boys who spent more time with their peers (as assessed by parent report) went on to have lower blood pressure and lower BMIs, on average, when they reached their early thirties. The effect remained significant even after accounting for childhood BMI and other measures of childhood physical health, childhood socioeconomic status, extraversion and the participants' self-reported social support in adulthood. DOI: 10.1177/0956797617746510

A chosen name

Many transgender youth choose new names to reflect their gender identities. Now, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that those who are able to use their new names in school, at home and in other settings are less likely to consider or attempt suicide. In a study of 129 geographically and socioeconomically diverse transgender youth in the United States, ages 15 to 21, respondents who could use their chosen names across multiple settings reported 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression than those who couldn't use those names in any setting. They were also 34 percent less likely to report thoughts of suicide and 65 percent less likely to attempt suicide. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.02.003

Microbreaks work

Call-center workers who take more frequent 30-second to five-minute "microbreaks" at work enjoy their jobs more and perform better, finds a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Microbreaks are short, informal breaks to rest, socialize with co-workers, snack or take a cognitive break (including browsing the internet). The researchers collected two weeks of daily surveys from 71 workers at a sales call center in South Korea. They found that participants who took more relaxation, socialization and cognitive microbreaks (but not snack breaks) had increased positive affect while at work, which, in turn, predicted greater sales performance. However, the effect on job performance held only for workers who were not highly engaged or enthusiastic about the work in general. For workers with greater job engagement, microbreaks improved their moods but not their job performance. DOI: 10.1037/apl0000308

Diversity breeds pro-social behavior

DiversityPeople who live in more racially diverse neighborhoods are more likely to help friends, neighbors and strangers, finds research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In the first of five experiments, the researchers analyzed more than 60 million tweets and found that people in more racially diverse metropolitan areas in the United States were more likely to tweet about pro-social concepts like helpfulness and charity. The researchers also analyzed a list of volunteers compiled by the Boston Globe website after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and found that people in more racially diverse neighborhoods were more likely to offer to house or otherwise help strangers stranded by the bombings. And in an online study, the researchers surveyed more than 500 U.S. participants and found that people living in more racially diverse neighborhoods were more likely to say that they identify with all of humanity and were more likely to have helped a stranger in the past month. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000103

Nudging people toward vaccination

VaccinationInterventions that aim to change people's behaviors are more effective at increasing vaccination rates than interventions that aim to educate people or change their opinions, according to a review of the literature in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Researchers found that although there is good evidence that people who believe that vaccines are safe and effective are more likely to get vaccinated, few randomized trials have shown success in changing people's opinions on vaccines. Even those that did change opinions were only minimally effective in increasing vaccine uptake. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that behavioral interventions—like automatic reminder postcards—do significantly increase vaccination rates. DOI: 10.1177/1529100618760521

Soda tax curbs consumption

SodaPhiladelphia's soda tax is working—the city's residents are drinking less soda and more water now that the tax is in effect, suggests a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers surveyed about 900 Philadelphia residents about their daily beverage consumption just before and after the tax went into effect in January 2017. They also surveyed 878 residents of nearby cities that did not have a soda tax. Philadelphia residents were 40 percent less likely to report drinking a soda and 58 percent more likely to report drinking bottled water after the tax compared with before it. No such change was seen among the residents in the nontax cities. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.02.017

Pediatricians uneasy with mental health issues

PediatricianMany primary-care pediatricians see patients who have mental health concerns but do not feel comfortable treating those concerns and do not communicate with those patients' mental health providers as often as they'd like to, suggests a study in Families, Systems, & Health. Researchers surveyed 123 pediatricians in 41 states. Overall, the pediatricians estimated that 28 percent of their patients had mental health concerns. About 30 percent of the pediatricians said that they felt "somewhat" or "very" uncomfortable treating those concerns. About 24 percent said that they never communicated with their patients' mental health providers. Another 24 percent said that they communicated about once a year. About 37 percent said that they communicated every two to six months, and 10 percent said they communicated monthly or more frequently. DOI: 10.1037/fsh0000309

Guilty pleas, innocent teens

Teenagers are more likely than adults to plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit, suggests a study in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Researchers asked 149 children and teenagers (ages 9 to 17), 200 college students (ages 18 to 22) and 187 adults to consider a hypothetical scenario in which they had to decide whether to plead guilty to a crime. Participants were asked to imagine they were either guilty or not guilty and were told the likelihood of conviction at trial and how much their sentence would be reduced if they pleaded guilty rather than being convicted at trial. Innocent children and teenagers decided to plead guilty about one-third of the time, while innocent adults pleaded guilty only 18 percent of the time. DOI: 10.1037/law0000156

"Wealth shock"

MoneyPeople who lose a lot of money in a short amount of time—something known as "negative wealth shock"—while in midlife are at increased risk of dying in the ensuing years, finds a study in JAMA. Researchers analyzed data from 8,714 participants in the Health and Retirement Study, all of whom were ages 51 to 61 when the study began. Over the 20-year study, participants who experienced negative wealth shock—defined as losing more than 75 percent of their net worth during a two-year period—were 50 percent more likely to die from all causes than participants who did not lose their assets. The effect was consistent across income levels. The researchers note that further work is needed to understand the specific mechanisms underlying the effect. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.2055

Helping the homeless quit smoking

Homeless man smokingHomeless people in the United States smoke at four times the national rate. A study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors suggests that a contingency-management (i.e., reward-based) program could help members of this population quit. In the study, 70 homeless participants completed either a standard smoking-cessation program (four weeks of twice-weekly counseling, plus nicotine-replacement therapy) or an intervention that also offered a small reward at each counseling session if a breath test revealed that they had abstained from cigarettes. At the end of the four-week program, participants in the reward intervention had a 22 percent abstinence rate, compared with only 9 percent in the standard treatment group. However, that advantage faded after six months, with only about 10 percent of smokers in both conditions abstinent, indicating that methods need to be developed for extending the effects of contingency management. DOI: 10.1037/adb0000350

Hiding "g" in plain sight

Most people cannot recognize the most common print version of the lowercase letter g despite seeing it every day, finds a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. In print handwriting, people write g with an open hook at the bottom, but in many common fonts, such as Times New Roman, the bottom of the letter is a closed loop. In one experiment, only seven out of 25 participants were able to correctly identify this closed-loop g in a multiple-choice test with four similar options. In another experiment, researchers asked 16 adults to silently read a paragraph with 14 closed-loop g's and to say each word with a g aloud, in order to focus their attention on the letter. Immediately afterward, participants were asked to write the g exactly as they had seen it. Half wrote an open-hook g; the others attempted to write a closed-loop one, but only one participant did so correctly. The researchers conclude that even massive exposure to stimuli does not necessarily result in learning and point to the role of practicing writing, as well as reading, in learning the details of letters. DOI: 10.1037/xhp0000532

Of course I exercise!

Running shoesPeople have different ideas of what "active" and "inactive" mean depending upon demographic and other characteristics, suggests research in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Researchers asked 748 participants in the Netherlands, 540 in the United States and 254 in England to wear wristband fitness trackers for seven days and to estimate their activity on a five-point scale from "inactive" to "very active." Overall, just as many Americans believed that they were active as Dutch and English respondents. However, the fitness-tracker data revealed that Americans tended to have lower levels of activity, suggesting that the American participants had a different idea of what "active" meant than did the British and Dutch participants. Also, the fitness-tracker data showed that, in all countries, activity levels were much lower among older compared with younger participants. However, the self-reports did not reflect that decline. DOI: 10.1136/jech-2017-209703

Picturing women in science

Girl dreaming of being an astronautGood news for those working to fight stereotypes: When asked to "draw a scientist," children today are more likely to draw a woman in that role than children were in the past, finds a meta-analysis in Child Development. The researchers analyzed 78 studies, with data collected over the past 50 years from more than 20,000 U.S. children and teenagers. In data collected in the 1960s and 1970s, less than 1 percent of children drew women scientists; among studies conducted from 1985 to 2016, that number was 28 percent. However, stereotypes still hold sway, and they become more pervasive as children get older—the researchers found that even today, teenagers are less likely to draw women scientists than young children are. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13039

ADHD in the preschool brain

The brains of preschool-age children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show significant structural differences compared with the brains of children without the condition, finds a study in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. Researchers used high-resolution MRI scans to study the brains of 90 4- and 5-year-olds, 52 who had ADHD and 38 who did not. Preschoolers with ADHD had significantly reduced brain volume across regions of the cerebral cortex involved in attention and motor control, including the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes. In addition, children with more severe symptoms had larger reductions in cortical volume. DOI: 10.1017/S1355617718000103

Red with anger (or happiness)

Subtle changes in facial coloring can telegraph our emotions to other people, even when we aren't giving obvious signals like smiling or frowning, suggests research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers used a computer program to analyze hundreds of facial expressions of emotion and found that each emotion produced unique color patterns on the face. Then, the researchers superimposed the emotional color patterns on pictures of faces with neutral expressions. Participants shown those pictures of neutral faces were able to identify the correct emotion from just the color pattern at a rate greater than chance—they could identify happiness about 70 percent of the time, anger about 65 percent of the time and sadness about 75 percent of the time. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716084115

Finding yourself, far from home

TravellerLiving abroad can prompt self-reflection that helps people better understand their own motivations, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, suggests research in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. In one experiment, researchers surveyed almost 300 Americans—about half of whom had lived abroad—and found that those who had lived in another country had a clearer sense of self. They expressed more agreement with statements like "I have a clear sense of who I am and what I am" and less agreement with statements like "Sometimes I think I know other people better than I know myself" or "My beliefs about myself seem to change very frequently." In a follow-up experiment, researchers found concrete evidence for this increased self-awareness: They asked 551 MBA students to rate their own decision-making abilities, skill at managing conflict, communication skills and other attributes. Then they asked the students' peers to rate them on the same skills. Students who had lived abroad were more likely to make self-assessments that agreed with their peers' assessments, the researchers found. DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.01.002

Slowing the march of time

Americans today are aging more slowly than they did in the past, finds a study in Demography. Researchers examined data from more than 21,500 participants in two waves of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. One data set was collected from 1988 to 1994, and another from 2007 to 2010. The researchers looked at biomarkers of aging that reflect metabolism, inflammation and organ function, as well as data on blood pressure and breath capacity. Overall, they found that participants in the more recent wave of the study had a younger "biological age" relative to their chronological age compared with members of the earlier cohort. The results suggest that recent increases in life expectancy are due not only to new treatments for serious diseases like cancer but also to improvements in health behaviors related to smoking and medication use. DOI: 10.1007/s13524-017-0644-5

Curbing loneliness through volunteerism

Volunteering can help alleviate the loneliness that comes with losing a spouse, finds a study in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. Researchers analyzed eight years of data from 5,882 adults, ages 51 and older, who were married when the study began. They found that loneliness increased in people who became widowed during the study period, compared with those who remained married. However, starting to volunteer 100 hours a year (about two hours per week) or more decreased that loneliness—widowed participants who volunteered frequently had levels of loneliness similar to those who remained married. DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbx092

Physical fitness delays dementia

Active woman

Women who have better cardiovascular fitness in middle age are less likely to develop dementia, finds a study in Neurology. Researchers analyzed data from 191 Swedish women who were ages 38 to 60 (average age 50) when the study began in 1968. At that time, the researchers measured the women's fitness with a cycling test. Over the next four decades, 32 percent of the women at a low fitness level, 25 percent of those at a medium level and 5 percent of those at a high level eventually developed dementia. Also, among participants who did develop dementia, the average age at which it was diagnosed was 11 years older in the high-fitness group than in the medium-fitness group. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000005290

Cultural considerations in psychotherapy

A special issue of the journal Psychotherapy (Vol. 55, No. 1) focuses on cultural processes in psychotherapy. The issue includes 11 articles reporting quantitative, narrative and case study research that examines how clients' and therapists' cultural values, identities, beliefs and worldviews shape the way they engage in psychotherapy. Articles, among others, include:

  • "The Feasibility of a Culturally Informed Group Therapyfor Patients With Schizophrenia and Their Family Members"
  • "Extending the Multicultural Orientation (MCO) Framework to Group Psychotherapy: A Clinical Illustration"
  • "Cultural Processes in Psychotherapy for Perinatal Loss: Breaking the Cultural Taboo Against Perinatal Grief"
  • "Psychotherapy With American Indians: An Exploration of Therapist-Rated Techniques in Three Urban Clinics"
  • "Affirmative LGBT Psychotherapy: Outcomes of a Therapist Training Protocol"

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