Recent scientific studies

Psychology professor Julia Kim-Cohen and her colleagues have found that breast-feeding can raise a child’s IQ by 6 to 7 points. But there’s a catch. The only children who show this benefit are those with a genetic variant that enhances the metabolism of breast milk. Breast-fed babies without the variant (and those reared solely on formula) did not receive the IQ boost. The study appeared in November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Early Edition.

Your initials may be affecting you in ways that would surprise you. In a December Psychological Science study, marketing professor Joseph P. Simmons and a colleague showed that major league hitters whose first or last name began with K—baseball shorthand for strikeout—struck out 18.8 percent of the time; non-K players did so at a rate of 17.2 percent. Students whose initials included an A or B made better grades than those with initials of C or D. The reason? An "unconscious mechanism" that "sabotages success for people whose initials match negative performance labels," the researchers write.

Neurobiologist Charles Greer and graduate student Mary Whitman have discovered how long it takes certain kinds of nerve cells to learn to communicate. They established that new neurons formed in adults must listen to signals from other regions of the brain for a significant period before they can transmit signals of their own. The information prevents the new cells from disrupting existing networks. The finding was published in the October Journal of Neuroscience.

In the November issue of Psychological Science, graduate student Louisa Egan and her colleagues showed that both young children and capuchin monkeys appear to experience cognitive dissonance. The children were asked to choose among equally liked stickers, the monkeys from equally liked colors of M&Ms. After the subjects made their choices, the objects not chosen subsequently lost their attraction—evidently resolving the discomfort of making a tough decision.

Hal Blumenfeld, associate professor of neurology, and his colleagues may have found a way to prevent epilepsy from occurring. The researchers studied a breed of laboratory rat genetically susceptible to developing seizures. The Blumenfeld team discovered that when these rats were fed ethosuximide, an anticonvulsant medication, from shortly after birth until they were five months old, their seizures remained suppressed even several months after the medication was stopped. The work, he writes in the December 7 early online edition of Epilepsia,"hopefully represent[s] an important initial step towards not just treating the symptoms of epilepsy, but curing the disease.”

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