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American Psychological Association, Aug. 7-10

Last Updated: August 12, 2014.

The 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association

The annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) was held from Aug. 7 to 10 in Washington, D.C., and attracted more than 10,000 participants from around the world, including psychological scientists, practitioners, and educators. The conference featured the latest advances in psychological knowledge, with presentations focused on immigration, racism, bullying, eating disorders, clinical practice, social networking, and psychotherapy.

In one study, Camilo Ruggero, Ph.D., of the University of North Texas in Denton, and colleagues found that physical fitness in sixth grade girls was associated with less new depression by the seventh grade, with a similar but smaller trend seen in boys. The investigators also found that the association remained even after controlling for weight or preexisting depression.

"We cannot say fitness caused less depression -- our study was not an intervention, it simply followed students -- but this type of longitudinal evidence is important because it suggests fitness is leading to less depression rather than simply being a consequence of it," said Ruggero. "Our main conclusion is that, beyond the physical health benefits, fitness may benefit children's mental health as well. It's important to find ways to keep kids engaged in physical activity. This won't solve the problem of depression in adolescents -- in fact, effects might even be small -- but it's one more tool in this effort."

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In another study, Nina Kraus, Ph.D., of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and colleagues evaluated two cohorts of children longitudinally to evaluate the impact of music education in at-risk youth.

The investigators found that disadvantaged children who engage in music lessons maintain their reading and language performance relative to their peers whose reading skills decline. The investigators also found that two years of music education in school improved auditory brain function.

"Music education has a unique potential to engender improvements in brain functions, including neural processing and language skills, in at-risk youth. However, we only saw changes after a prolonged period of training. Two years of music training, in particular, has the potential to positively impact brain function," said Kraus. "These results are a testament to the fact that music education should be part of every child's life. We can't think of music education as a quick fix, but if it's an ongoing part of children's education it can have a major impact on their lives of listening and learning."

Press Release

Noelle LaVoie, Ph.D., of Parallel Consulting in Petaluma, Calif., and colleagues found that parents play a direct role in teen distracted driving. The investigators found that more than half of teens who talk on the phone while driving are talking with a parent.

"We interviewed teen drivers and were surprised that all of them receive calls from their parents when driving. So we designed a survey to see if this was true for a larger number of teen drivers," said LaVoie. "The survey found that teens talk to their parents on their cell phone while driving more often than they talk to their friends. Among teens who talk on a cell phone while driving, 53 percent talk to their parents."

"Parents need to understand that this is not safe and emphasize to their children that it's not normal or acceptable behavior," LaVoie added. "Ask the question, 'Are you driving?' If they are, tell them to call you back or to find a spot to pull over so they can talk."

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Krista Lisdahl, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and colleagues found that regular marijuana use in teenagers and young adults is associated with poorer cognitive functioning, including reduced IQ, verbal memory, processing speed, cognitive control, and sustained attention.

"The differences seen are associated with abnormalities in brain structure and function, especially in areas associated with executive function, emotional control, and memory (prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala)," said Lisdahl. "Overall, the differences are small to medium, like a difference of 5 to 10 percent or one grade (A to B). Still, to me they are of concern because I do not believe regular teenagers and young adults are reaching their full potential."

Press Release

In a presentation about the pursuit of true happiness, Miriam Tatzel, Ph.D., of Empire State College at the State University of New York in Nanuet, suggests that the pursuit of happiness can lead people to lifestyles that will not only be satisfying but will be better for the environment.

"For decades, consumerism has been on a collision course with the environment, with consumer appetites draining the planet of natural resources and accelerating global warming. One view is that we need to change consumption in order to save the planet," Tatzel said in an APA news release. "But what if we approached it from the other way around? What if what's good for the consumer meets what's good for the environment?"

Noting that several studies have determined that the basic psychological needs of humans are competence, autonomy, positive relationships, self-acceptance, and personal growth, Tatzel cited supporting research that suggests people are more likely to be happy by nurturing personal talents and relationships more than having money and fame. Emotional well-being does appear to rise with income, but research has found that there is no further benefit beyond an annual income of about $75,000.

"A society in which some people are idolized for being fabulously rich sets a standard of success that is unattainable and leads us to try to approach it by working more and spending more," Tatzel said in a statement. "Cooling the consumption-driven economy, working less, and consuming less are better for the environment and better for humans, too."

Press Release

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