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:: By Lydialyle Gibson

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Investigations ::


The obsessive-compulsive gene

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tends to run in families, and researchers are beginning to understand how. Building on a 2002 genome scan that linked the disorder to glutamate-transporter gene SLC1A1, Chicago geneticist Nancy J. Cox and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan analyzed genetic samples from 71 OCD patients—both children and adults—and their parents. In the July Archives of General Psychiatry, the researchers report a strong association between early-onset OCD and genetic variations at several SLC1A1 sites.

Follow the pitch

Hand-waving, shoulder-shrugging, and finger-pointing get plenty of scholarly attention at Chicago and elsewhere, but what about the gestures people make with their voices? In a report published in the August Journal of Memory and Language, psychology chair Howard Nusbaum documents some of the “analog acoustic expressions” that help speakers hammer home their meaning. In one experiment, 24 Chicago undergraduates stated whether they saw animated dots moving up or down on video screens, while 43 others simply read sentences describing the action. In both cases, their vocal pitch rose and fell with the dots. Another test found that research subjects unconsciously spoke faster or slower depending on the speed of the dots’ progress across the screen.

photo:  an overdose of regulation
An overdose of regulation, Epstein says, threatens drug innovation.

A liberterian prescription

Law School professor Richard Epstein believes Americans need protection not only from drug companies, but also from overzealous pharmaceutical regulation. In his book Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation (Yale University Press, 2006), released in October, Epstein discusses the industry’s conflicts of interest, pricing issues, marketing practices, liability, and intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical patents. While safety and purity regulation are essential, he says, ever-growing government supervision threatens to damage American public health.

New residents, old racial attitudes

Immigrating Latinos often bring with them negative stereotypes about African Americans, say researchers at Chicago, Duke University, and four other schools. Analyzing a 2003 survey of Durham, North Carolina, residents—160 whites, 151 blacks, and 167 Latino immigrants—U of C political scientist Jeffrey D. Grynaviski and eight other scholars found that 58.9 percent of Latinos believed few blacks are hard-working, 56.9 percent believed few blacks can be trusted, and 32.5 percent agreed that few blacks are easy to get along with. (Those feelings were not reciprocal: 72 percent of blacks called most Latinos hard-working, and 42.8 percent said most Latinos are easy to get along with.) Published in the August Journal of Politics, the study also showed that only 9.3 percent of whites said few blacks are hard-working, 9.6 percent said few blacks can be trusted, and 8.4 percent reported that few blacks are easy to get along with.

Business model matters

It’s well-documented that extreme heat kills more elderly living alone in poor neighborhoods than those in wealthy ones, but research published in the August American Sociological Review by health-studies assistant professor Kathleen Cagney, AM’90, suggests that uninviting businesses like bars, liquor stores, and boarded-up storefronts constitute an added danger. Studying data from Chicago’s 1995 heat wave, which killed 800 people in a single week, Cagney and colleagues found mortality linked more strongly to business type than to crime or graffiti. Rather than venture out where they felt uncomfortable, older residents stayed in sweltering homes.