Misremembering It Well

Older adults are much more likely than their younger counterparts to make mistakes in memory—and to insist that they are right, according to research by UVA psychology professor Chad Dodson. His recent study, published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, found that people between 60 and 80 were “alarmingly” likely to commit errors when details were suggested to them and, compared to other age groups, they were the most confident about their responses.

“There are potentially significant practical implications to these results as confident but mistaken eyewitness testimony may be the largest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States,” says Dodson.

The study’s participants watched a five-minute video reenacting a burglary and police chase. They were then asked a series of questions about what they had seen.

Gene Replication

A team of UVA Health System geneticists has uncovered a major secret in the mystery of how the DNA helix replicates itself time after time. It turns out that it is not just the sequence of the building blocks that is critical, but also how loosely or tightly the chromatin—the material that makes up the chromosomes—is packed at different points. The degree to which DNA is bound within the chromosome’s chromatin structure influences whether that gene can express, or produce, a protein. Packing that is too loose or too tight can cause changes in how a gene functions, much like a mutation.

The UVA research was part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project, a four-year, $41 million international venture largely funded by the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute. Its aim: to take an exhaustive look at just 1 percent of the human genome.

Church Attendance

Fathers who are churchgoing tend to have better marriages and better relationships with their children, according to new research by UVA sociologist Bradford Wilcox. “Religion seemed to foster a code of decency encompassing sobriety, fidelity and hard work among urban parents, especially fathers,” he notes. Wilcox analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, sponsored by Columbia and Princeton universities.

Nature vs. Nurture Revisited

Behavioral problems in children may have less to do with strife in the home environment than with their parents’ genes. Although the effect of marital conflict on kids has received a lot of research attention, a new study published in the journal Child Development finds that parents who argue a lot may pass on those querulous genes.

Psychologists at UVA and several other universities studied 1,045 twins and their 2,051 children. Some of the parents were identical twins and shared all of their genes, while some were fraternal and shared only half their genes. “The study suggests that marital conflict is not a major culprit, but genes are,” says K. Paige Harden, the study’s lead researcher. “Our findings have potential implications for treating conduct problems—focusing on a child’s parents, as is common in family therapy, may not be as effective as focusing on the child.”