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Research notes

Mothers more concerned about threats of terrorism

Mothers, especially single mothers, are most vulnerable to the psychological impact of terrorist threats. That is one of the findings reported by a U-M psychologist at the recent biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Tampa.

A year after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, single mothers were more than three times as likely as single and married fathers to report that their sense of personal safety and security was shaken "a good amount" or "a great deal." They were twice as likely as married mothers to report an increased level of insecurity, even after controlling for their initial levels of depression and stress, along with other factors, including race, income and education, that might heighten vulnerability.

And compared to adults who weren't living with children under the age of 18, both mothers and fathers were significantly more likely to report elevated levels of personal insecurity, says David Featherman, professor of psychology and sociology who directs the Institute for Social Research (ISR). "There's something about just living with children that elevates adult vulnerability to terrorist threats, even when the children themselves are not showing signs of distress," Featherman says.

The data are part of the ISR How Americans Respond Study, which was funded in part by the Russell Sage Foundation. ISR research analyst Jinyun Liu collaborated with Featherman on the analyses reported above.

How do cells signal and attack foreign matter?

New high-speed imaging techniques are allowing scientists to show how a single cell mobilizes its resources to activate its immune response, a new research study shows.

Howard Petty, professor and biophysicist at the U-M Health System's Kellogg Eye Center, has dazzled his colleagues with movies of fluorescent-lit calcium waves that pulse through the cell, issuing an intracellular call-to-arms to attack the pathogens within.
Howard Petty (Photo by Lin Gongs, Kellogg Eye Center)

He explains that these high-speed images provide a level of detail about cell signaling that simply wasn't possible just a few years ago. In the April 15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Petty provides more detail on cell signaling, depicting what he calls the "molecular machinery" underlying the immune response. He has identified a sequence of amino acids (LTL) that controls the calcium wave pathway and, crucially, the ability of immune cells to destroy targets.

The findings are important because they eventually could lead scientists to design drugs based on the amino acid motif. "Our clinical goal," Petty says, "is to characterize the immune cell's signaling function so that we can interrupt it or somehow intervene when it begins to misfire." The process has implications for treating autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and the eye disorder uveitis.

The paper, "Signal sequence within FcRIIA controls calcium wave propagation patterns: Apparent role in phagolysosome fusion," also appears on the PNAS Web site at

When the rain is mainly not on the Plains

A new study suggests that agriculture can coexist successfully with continuing population growth and urban sprawl in some areas of the Great Plains.

The study, conducted by researchers at U-M, Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, found that despite explosive population growth over the last 50 years in Denver, Boulder and other eastern Colorado Plains cities, total harvested area in the region increased by 5 percent and the amount of irrigated land that is harvested jumped by 73 percent.

"These findings underscore the importance of irrigation in sustaining Great Plains agriculture," says U-M historian Myron Gutmann, who directs The Great Plains Population and Environment Project, a multi-disciplinary, federally funded study of the long-term relationships between human population and environment in 12 Great Plains states. Gutmann co-authored the study, which will be published this spring in the journal Great Plains Research, with researchers William Parton from Colorado State University and William Travis from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
—Diane Swanbrow, News Service

Torture in the Mexican criminal justice system still common

Mexico's government has pledged to improve human rights for prisoners and detainees, but torture still persists in Mexican detention centers, a new study finds.

Better monitoring and evidence-gathering, the results suggest, will be crucial in helping the country overcome its criminal justice system's history of torture and abuse. And the study indicates that the incidence of torture may be declining already, as Mexico struggles to emerge from seven decades of repressive and secretive rule.

The study—based on an anonymous survey of all federal forensic doctors who perform required medical examinations on Mexican detainees—was published in the April 23 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association by a team from the Nobel Prize-winning human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the U-M Health System.

The survey reveals that far more torture of detainees is occurring in the Mexican criminal justice system than has been officially reported. Two-thirds of the doctors reported that at least one detainee they had examined in the past year alleged he had been tortured or ill-treated while in police custody. About half the doctors said they had documented evidence of such abuse in at least one detainee in the last year.

The study was initiated by, and conducted with the full support of, the Mexican Attorney General's Office. The Mexican government of President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000 on pledges to respect human rights and the rule of law, including ensuring Mexico's adherence to international treaties against torture. No government officials were involved in the analysis or publication of the study results.

Dr. Michele Heisler, a lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine and an investigator at the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence, was the paper's lead author. She conducted some of the analysis while she was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the Medical School. The study's other authors include PHR researchers Dr. Alejandro Moreno, Dr. Allen Keller, and Dr. Vincent Iacopino, and Sonya DeMonner of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program.

Many investors can beat the market, contrary to popular belief

A new study at the Business School finds that a significant minority of investors can beat the stock market.

"At first glance, it would seem that a search for evidence that individual traders outperform the market is not very promising," says Tyler Shumway, associate professor of finance at the U-M Business School. "Individual traders are often regarded as, at best, uninformed, at worst, fools. However, not all individual traders do poorly in their investments."

Shumway and colleagues Joshua Coval of the Harvard Business School and David Hirshleifer of The Ohio State University examined nearly 17,000 individual accounts at a national discount brokerage firm in which investors bought at least 25 stocks from 1990 to 1996.

They found that the top 10 percent of investors earn excess returns of 15 basis points (a basis point is one one-hundredth of a percent) per day in the week following a tradewhich equates to an individual trader beating the market by roughly 3 percentage points a month. Using a series of statistical tests, the researchers found that about 20 percent of individual investors are skilled in picking high-performing stocks–in other words, their success is not just due to luck. On the other hand, they found that traders among the bottom 10 percent of all investors place trades that can expect to lose up to 12 basis points per day during the subsequent week (a loss of about 2.5 percent per month).

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