15 August 2011


Issue 135

August 2011

If you report a story, we ask that you credit Elsevier’s journal as the source.

Welcome to the 135th edition of Flash, our monthly alert for science, health and medical journalists. Flash is a courtesy service with access to SciVerse ScienceDirect, Elsevier’s online platform, providing full text access to some 2,000 scientific, technical and medical journals.

Please use your Flash login and password to access each article’s full text on SciVerse ScienceDirect. For a new password, forgotten passwords or if you have any feedback, please contact Sacha Boucherie  at newsroom@elsevier.com or at +31 20 485 3564.



Do Mum’s and Dad’s drinking habits determine whether or not their kids will ultimately drive under the influence? While many studies have examined the role of peer and parental alcohol use on general drinking behaviours among adolescents, few studies have examined parental influences on driving under the influence (DUI) – a major and dangerous health problem.

To assess the potential link, Elsevier’s Accident Analysis and Prevention uses data from a longitudinal study to examine the role of parental alcohol use during adolescence on the risk for DUI among young men and women. Multiple variables were captured, including insights surrounding parental alcohol use, self-reported driving under the influence, demographics, parental involvement in their everyday lives, peer alcohol and marijuana use, their own drinking habits and how safe of a neighbourhood they live in.

Overall, findings suggest the effect of peer alcohol use varied by parental alcohol consumption status for both men and women. When parents did not report drinking alcohol, peer alcohol use predicted DUI. However, when parents did report alcohol use, peer alcohol use was not a significant independent predictor.

“Adolescents who are raised in households where parents consume alcohol may have greater access to alcohol themselves, or model parental DUI by travelling with their parents in a car at young ages,” states lead researcher Mildred Maldonado-Molina. “When adolescents are exposed to both parents and peers that consume alcohol, they are at an even higher risk of DUI.”

Targeted prevention strategies, the authors conclude, are needed to reduce social sources of alcohol associated with increased risk for drinking and driving behaviours among youth.



As you get out of the shower and smooth on some chocolate-scented lotion, are you satisfying your desire for sweets without consuming the calories, or provoking yourself to dive into a gallon of chocolate ice cream as soon as possible?

Living in an era where our senses are often overloaded with food cues, Elsevier’s latest Food Quality and Preference wanted to learn if food-scented products influence eating behaviours. Fifty-eight females participated in a study in which they were randomly assigned to one of three exposure conditions (labelled chocolate lotion, unlabeled chocolate lotion or unscented lotion) and their subsequent intake of chocolate-chip cookies was measured.

Results revealed exposure to chocolate-scented lotion increased intake of the chocolate chip cookies when the lotion was identified as chocolate-scented relative to the same unlabeled lotion. The word “chocolate” in conjunction with the scent appeared to be important in increasing intake.

“Food-scented personal care products have been marketed as a way to enjoy chocolate without the calories,” states lead researcher Jennifer Coelho. “However, the current research suggests conscious exposure to chocolate-related products may increases intake consumption.”



Saving for that first house, a golden retirement or a child’s college fund – all noble goals with hefty price tags. Still, financial planners tell us if we can just sock away some money on a regular basis, anything can be achieved.

Easier said than done, right? In Elsevier’s latest Journal of Economic Psychology, a new study combines the insights from social psychology and economics by examining the role of savings habits in regular saving. Specifically, researchers explore if a program known as the Individual Development Account (IDA), a social-sector based matched savings program offered in the United States and Canada to reinforce and incentivize low-income clients, is successful in fostering the savings habit. The IDA participants were compared to individuals from the general population in counties served by the IDA program, but who were not IDA participants.

Results did show that habit mattered for regular saving, and the structure of the IDA program, which required individuals to save on a regular basis for an extended period of time, proved to be an effective model for creating savings habits.

“Our findings also suggest that habits provide a sense of accomplishment that counteracts feelings of financial distress over and above the security provided by income and household savings,” states lead researcher Cazilia Loibl. “With respect to encouraging savings habits, personal life events, such as the first job, marriage, a new child, or challenging situations, such as an illness, job loss, or divorce, can present effective moments for behaviour change.”



Previous research has shown obese people get paid less for the same job, are less likely to be hired, more likely to be fired, less likely to get into better schools and receive poorer service in their medical care. In short, many view fat as a sign of laziness, lack of self-control and undesirability – and they suffer in multiple ways as a result.

“So powerful and salient are these anti-fat messages that some Americans say they would rather die years sooner, or be completely blind, than be thought of as obese,” writes lead researcher Alexandra Brewis.

In short, the fat-stigma hurts, especially women, so Elsevier’s Social Science & Medicine elected to take a closer look at women’s vulnerabilities to feeling “fat-stigma” in relation to their interpersonal relationships. Focusing on interview data for 112 U.S. women aged 18 to 45 years, the researchers then linked follow-up interviews with 823 of the women’s social ties. The hypothesis was that some of the relationships would reduce feelings of stigma and others would amplify it.

Results showed that closeness and contact frequency are clearly associated with women’s perceptions of negative judgement by others. Women were most impacted by the perceptions of those closest to them and family members. But in general, the researchers uncovered that what others say about women has only a very limited influence on how women judge others’ negative views of their weight, especially once actual body size is taken into account.

So while there is some influence of specific relationships on felt stigma, the influence of social networks may be less important overall in shaping perceptions of felt stigma than previously theorized. The authors suggest the possibility that negative public messaging about obesity, such as in popular media, is so powerful that the opinions of friends and family might have relatively little effect on how people feel about being obese.



Visit any airport and its evident stress levels can run high in this bustling environment. From customers clamouring to make their flights on time, to baggage claims to long lines at the ticket counter, it should come as no surprise that airline workers come across their fair share of “unruly passengers.”

In Elsevier’s latest edition of Tourism Management, a new study explores ground staff competence and difficulties in dealing with Unruly Passenger Behaviours (UPBs) by questioning almost 500 employees from three multinational airlines. The most challenging UPBs were identified, and the staff was assessed as to how they managed the issues.

Several findings emerged from the data:

  • Two of the three airlines did a significantly better job in terms of handling UPBs, so corporate policies, educational training and other factors should be periodically reviewed.
  • Ground staff members who were older and had more experience handled UPBs more effectively, so it could be beneficial to have senior staff participate in establishing training programs to deal with UPBs.
  • Front-line staff usually has limited authority, so policies should be reviewed to offer them more flexibility and discretion when dealing with demanding customers.
  • It would be beneficial to design feedback systems for both employees and passengers to assist managers in identifying ongoing and potential problems so best practices can be established in terms of resolving UPBs.
  • A passenger profiling system to help identify UPB risks, as well recording frequent abnormal behaviours and complaints of specific unruly passengers, should be considered to prevent issues from escalating.

“While customer complaints provide opportunities for enterprises to improve the service they provide,” write the lead researchers, “if a customer is unreasonable and crosses a dividing line, and a reasonable assessment of their customer lifetime value proves to be significantly lower than the cost of providing services to them, then the customer concerned may be deemed unworthy of the establishment or maintenance of the long-term relationship.”



Data shows that victims of rape and sexual assault are overwhelmingly young. But what if the crime of robbery is involved? Are young women who are robbed also at greater risk for experiencing a sexual assault at the same time?

In Elsevier’s Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers Richard Felson and Patrick Cundiff wanted to examine the effects of offender and victim age on whether male offenders commit sexual assault while robbing women. Using data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, they compared robberies that involved a sexual assault and those that did not over an eight-year period (34,000 robberies total) in order to find out the age preference of sexual assault offenders.

While only two percent of the robberies involved a sexual assault during the assessed time period, data revealed strong evidence that offenders have a preference for young, sexually mature women.

“The risk of sexual assault for female robbery victims increases as they reach sexual maturity and begins to decline in the late twenties,” states Felson.

In terms of statistics surrounding the offender, sexual assault is most likely to occur when the men are at ages when their sex drive is strongest. Still, it was noted that all of the men tended to target young, but sexually mature women.

1. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.06.012
2. doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.06.008
3. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2011.04.004
4. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.048
5. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.07.001
6. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.04.002