(University of Chicago News Office)

Faculty research

Chicago researchers investigate the irresistible smartphone temptation, why organs don’t always go to the neediest patients, whether evolution happens head first or tails first, and how long hypertension patients have to get their blood pressure under control.

Tech addiction

Has checking your smartphone become a vice? Research from Chicago Booth suggests that the desire to check e-mail and social media is among the most irresistible temptations—even stronger than the yen for alcohol and tobacco. In an experiment of 205 people aged 18–85 in Würtzburg, Germany, assistant professor Wilhelm Hofmann recorded how often and how strongly participants felt various urges, and when they gave in. In the March Psychological Science, he reported that desires for sex and sleep were the strongest and most commonly reported, but also the easiest to resist. Checking e-mail and Twitter accounts, on the other hand, proved difficult to withstand—perhaps, Hofmann said, because of the activity’s perceived low cost. Moreover, the study found that subjects didn’t build up immunity to their cravings—instead, as the day dragged on and they continually fought back desire, their willpower broke down.

Organ sharing

Organ allocation that favors geography over patients’ severity of condition may unnecessarily leave the neediest patients to die on the wait-list, says transplant surgeon  Mark J. Russo. Russo and colleagues at Chicago and Columbia University used data from the United Network for Organ Sharing and found that out of 580 lung transplants performed in 2009, 480 went to the closest patient while another patient in more critical condition waited outside the “local service area,” sometimes within 20 miles. Ultimately, 185 of the bypassed candidates died on the waiting list. Because the data was limited to double-lung candidates and researchers could not cross-check for blood-type matches, the study likely underestimates the number of lives lost, Russo said. The findings were shared  at January’s annual meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Head first into evolution

When biologists search for clues as to why a species evolves in one way and not another, they generally begin with living species and trace the path backward. Lauren Sallan, a doctoral student in organismal biology, instead consulted the fossil record to see how a species moves forward to evolve. With an Oxford University colleague, Sallan studied fossils of fish from periods immediately after mass extinctions, when resources were abundant and competitors scarce. In these conditions, they found that contrary to existing theories, fish’s heads evolved first, before their tails. The driving factor, the researchers posit, may have been food: the animals evolved new teeth and jaws to exploit the expanded options. The findings were published online in December in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Time and hypertension

When patients struggle with diabetes, any sign of high blood pressure is reason enough to make their physician reach for the prescription pad. But a study by internist and Pritzker instructor Neda Laiteerapong,  published in the January 9 Journal of General Internal Medicine, suggests that patients may have more time than they think to get their blood pressure under control. Drawing on years of published data, Laiteerapong and Chicago colleagues built models to determine how dangerous it is to delay effective treatment for diabetics. They found that patients who postponed medication and lifestyle changes for one year could expect only a two-day loss in quality-adjusted life expectancy. “For newly diagnosed patients, this means we have time,” said Laiteerapong. However, as the delay increases, the risks multiply.