Vital Statistics

September 26, 2011

A roundup of some interesting studies making news. As always, a mention here doesn’t mean an endorsement.

1 in 25 business leaders may be psychopaths

Over at TIME, STATS fellow Maia Szalavitz discusses a new study that finds 1 in 25 business leaders may be psychopaths, a rate she points out, “that’s four times greater than in the general population.” The research team studied 203 American corporate professionals who had been chosen by their respective companies to participate in a management training program.

Psychopathic traits were evaluated using a standard checklist developed by a psychopathy expert. Psychopaths are characterized as being amoral and concerned with only their own power. It is possible that psychopaths may be overrepresented in the business environment because it caters to their strengths.

Do family dinners keep teens out of trouble?

A new study shows that family dinners may help keep teenagers away from drugs and alcohol:  58 percent of U.S. teens sit down for family dinners at least five times a week. It was found that teens who spend more time with their parents at the dinner table, spend more time with their parents in general.

On the other hand, teenagers who reported infrequent family dinners also reported spending less time with their parents. These teens were more likely to have used alcohol and to have at least one friend or classmate who engages in drug abuse.

 Optimism may be in your genes

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that optimism, self-esteem, and mastery may possibly have a genetic base rooted in the hormone oxytocin (aka the “love” hormone).

The study, which examined 326 participants, involved a survey and the analysis of genetic material in the saliva, looking for a combination of two variants, “A” and “G”.  Those with two “G’s” may be more likely to be optimistic; however, the study found the gene may also backfire. Certain combination of genes, such as one or two A’s may be associated with less optimism and more symptoms of depression.

 The traditional police lineup may need to be altered

According to new research by the American Judicature Society, the traditional police lineup may need some tweaking. The more common simultaneous lineup, when witnesses look at groups of people standing in front of them or in photos, can result in a higher amount of misidentifications. Witnesses tend to compare one person to another and decide who looks most like the suspect; a problem if the suspect is not actually included in the lineup. The researchers say a sequential lineup is more effective. In this method, a person looks at each person individually and says whether he or she is the suspect.

Both procedures had similar outcomes in identifying the suspect; however, the sequential method resulted in less misidentification. In the simultaneous lineups, a suspect was misidentified 18.1 percent of the time compared to 12.2 percent of the time when using the sequential method. The latter also produced fewer “not sure” responses from witnesses.

SpongeBob Squ….Oh look, a butterfly!

September 13, 2011

New research finds that rapidly-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob Squarepants may be associated with difficulty concentrating for preschool children.

The study out of the University of Virginia, finds that preschoolers who watched just nine minutes of SpongeBob were “significantly impaired” in tests that measure a person’s ability to stay on task. These tests measured the child’s ability to problem solve, follow rules and remember information.

One of the study’s weaknesses was its size, only consisting of 60 four-year olds. The children were split into three groups. One group watched SpongeBob, the second watched an educational cartoon (Caillou on PBS), and the third group spent the nine minutes drawing.

The children who watched the fast-paced cartoon did not perform as well in all tasks, compared with the other two groups: 15 percent of the children who watched SpongeBob passed the problem-solving task, compared with 35 percent of those who watched the educational cartoon, and 70 percent of those who spent their time drawing.

According to MSNBC, the authors write SpongeBob may not have the same negative effects on attention in older children. They also acknowledge it is unknown how long the negative effects may last.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the author of a commentary accompanying the study, tells TIME:

  “Too many children watch too much TV… But it’s at least as important to figure out what they should watch. SpongeBob, for what it’s worth, isn’t even supposed to be viewed by kids between the ages of 3 to 5. That alone is a guide for parents: watch age-appropriate content.”


Fear of embarrassment

September 2, 2011

The person you are talking to has food in their teeth. Do you tell them or ignore it to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation? According to new research, whether you say something or not may be associated with your own feelings regarding embarrassment.

The study was small, consisting of only 84 college students. Participants received the opportunity to help an experimenter by pointing out she had ink on her face. Some were told that the experimenter had an interview to go to following the experiment, while others were not. Some participants shared the room with the experimenter and someone else in the study, while others had one-on-one interaction.

Study participants also completed a test measuring certain personality factors and their tendency to feel embarrassed. It was found that those who feel embarrassed easily were slower to point out the ink and less likely to do it with another person present.  If they did mention the ink, it was usually by whispering, MSNBC reports.

The researchers write this study suggests the “… fear of embarrassment is a strong inhibitory factor in social helping situations, and that personality factors can predict who will be inhibited from helping.”

This study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.


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