Data Bites: News You Can Use

One of the pleasures of writing psychological science is learning something new nearly every day, from the continual stream of information that flows across my desk or up my screen.  Some quick examples from the last few days:

Nudging nutrition. Joseph Redden, Traci Mann, and their University of Minnesota colleagues report a simple intervention that increases schoolchildren’s veggie eating.  In a paper to appear in PLOS One, they report—from observations of 755 children in a school cafeteria—that, for example, offering carrots first in the serving line (in isolation from other foods to come) quadrupled their consumption. For more on healthy eating nudges, see Mann’s forthcoming book, Secrets from the Eating Lab.

Hugging prevents colds.  In new research by Sheldon Cohen and his team, social support, indexed partly by the frequency of experienced hugs, predicted fewer and milder infections among 404 healthy people exposed to a cold virus.  A hug a day keeps sickness away?

Finger digit ratio predicts national differences in gender inequality?  It’s not news that nations vary in female political representation, workforce participation, and education.  It was news to me that they reportedly also vary in 2D:4D—that’s the ratio of the index (2D) and ring finger (4D) lengths.  Nations that purportedly show relatively high female fetal testosterone exposure (supposedly manifest as low 2D:4D) and relatively low male fetal testosterone exposure (high 2D:4D) have higher rates of female parliamentary and workforce participation. Hmmm.

How effective is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for treating depression?  A few well-publicized studies suggested it was effective. But a new meta-analysis of all the available studies indicates this treatment actually provides only “minimal clinical improvement.” And this is why teachers and authors need to consider all of the available research, and not just isolated studies.

It’s not all in our genes: Exercise really is healthy. Finnish researchers studied 10 identical male twins—one of whom regularly exercised, the other not. Despite having similar diets, the sedentary twins had more body fat, more insulin resistance, less stamina, and less brain gray matter. The moral to us all:  join the movement movement.