Aug 24 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Why do people believe lies after being told the truth?
Sociologists from four major research institutions have published a study in the journal Sociological Inquiry examining how we support our false beliefs. They examined the false belief of many voters during the 2004 general election, which held that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was responsible for the primarily Saudi-conducted attacks on September 11, 2001.
The researchers concluded that the false beliefs were not caused by lies told repeatedly by the Bush Administration and some cable news channels, but by the individuals’ own personal need to justify a war that was already being waged. They named their study “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification,” and claim that their findings offer serious challenge to democracy – in that the people cannot be trusted to discern truth from falsehood.
Now, while it is a trivial observation that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and that they will seek out information sources that support and/or confirm their already-held beliefs, this blogger is not convinced that these sociologists should have so pointedly ignored the fact that it was the Bush-Cheney administration that invented the lies, started the war, and was backed up in that false propaganda effort by the mainstream broadcast and cable news media establishments. Seems like giving political liars and media propagandists a free pass on misleading the public does serious damage to the conclusions of the supposedly scientific study itself.
Jul 10 at 7:07pm by Aileen
If your Mama was anything like mine, you no doubt grew up with the constant admonition that “you are what you eat.” And despite the silly position of the AMA back in the early 1980s that there was no evidence to support the idea that diet has any direct relationship with health, almost all mothers know better. Thus it’s not entirely unexpected that medical science should be learning about the many ways that diet does indeed affect health, but it is welcome to wise Moms everywhere.
First up, a paper published in the journal Science by a research team at the University of Wisconsin demonstrates that simply reducing the amount of food eaten works to blunt the effects of aging and significantly delay onset of age-relatted conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and brain atrophy. The research was conducted over 20 years on Rhesus monkeys at the National Primate Research Center at UW-Madison.
Conclusion? A restricted calorie diet will help you live longer and stay healthier.
The American Dietetic Association has also released an updated position paper on vegetarian diets that concludes a well-planned meatless diet is both healthful and nutritionally adequate and can help prevent or even treat chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease.
Vegetarian diets have long been associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Because such diets are low-fat and generally provide more vitamins and minerals than a meat-based diet, the ADA has concluded that a meatless diet is appropriate for all stages of the human life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy and for athletes.
With ever increasing evidence that fewer calories, less meat and more fruits and vegetables can lead to a longer and healthier life, the number of vegetarians or semi-vegetarians among the population is expected to increase significantly over the next decade. Perhaps the most important take-away lesson from the evidence and research is that indulging in high-calorie processed foods and fatty meats to the point where a majority of the population weighs twice what they should weigh causes a huge chunk of the medical issues people suffer in the U.S.
Mar 20 at 4:04pm by Aileen
Music as Universal Brain-Language
With the return of the sun and spring popping out all over, the season’s long list of open-air music festivals is prepared to launch in cities, towns, parks and fields somewhere near you. Obviously, human beings share a collective appreciation for music and aren’t shy of demonstrating that on a regular basis.
So it is probably not too surprising that biologists from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany published research this week in the Journal Current Biology that scientifically establishes the well-known fact that music really is the “Universal Language.”
Researchers wanted to find out if the expression of emotions in Western music would be appreciated by people who had no exposure to it. They chose as their test subjects the Mafa, an isolated ethnic group in the African nation of Cameroon. Predictably, the Mafa listeners did recognize emotional expressions made through the music, including happiness, sadness and fear. The scientists determined that the clues relied upon by the listeners to types of music they’d never heard were primarily tempo and mode, devices that musicians use to elicit certain emotions even in people who don’t know the language of a song.
Meanwhile, a different group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development used electroencephalograms [EEG] to record the brain activity of eight different pairs of guitarists playing a sort of jazz-fusion melody together. Reported lead researcher Ulman Lindenberger,
“Our findings show that interpersonally coordinated actions are preceded and accompanied by between-brain oscillatory couplings.”
That’s Sci-Speak for what most of the rest of humanity recognizes readily as “getting in the groove.”
So here’s hoping the weather is great for your neighborhood’s spring music fest, and that the groove goes on and on!
Feb 16 at 6:06pm by Aileen
At the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] in Chicago on Friday the 13th, research was presented by a psychology professor at the University of Albany on the subject of kissing.
CNN reports in its coverage that the science of kissing is called “philematology.” Rutgers professor Helen Fisher says kissing is “a major escalation or de-escalation point in a powerful process of mate choice.” Kissing, says the study’s leader Gordon Gallup, Jr., transmits sensory information – smells, tastes, sound and tactile signals – that affect the couple’s perceptions of each other and whether they want to continue the relationship. In a survey of more than a thousand college students, Gallup and his colleagues found that 59% of men and 66% of women reported that after the first kiss their attraction ended.
The subconscious processing of the sensory information received in a kiss reveals some very interesting details about mate choices, too. The researchers found that women tend to be attracted to partners with a different immune system makeup than their own – information that is transmitted by the sense of smell. They also looked at increases and decreases in hormone levels before and after kissing, particularly oxytocin (the “love hormone”) and cortisol.
Kissing can quickly determine the success or failure of a potential mate choice, and that first kiss seems to be the most important in that respect. So all us fans of the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy 50 First Dates get some scientific explanation for why we feel it’s so sweet that Barrymore’s brain-damaged character who forgets Sandler every night falls in love with him all over again every day at the first kiss.
Dec 8 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Researchers at the University of Manchester in England have discovered that the herpes simplex virus – the virus that causes cold sores – is a major cause of the beta amyloid protein plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers, suggesting new methods of treatment.
A majority of people are infected with the herpes simplex virus, which remains in the peripheral nervous system for the life of the person, occasionally showing up to cause cold sores. It is treated, usually when the sores show up, with antiviral agents such as acyclovir, and outbreaks can often be shortened by taking L-Lysine amino acid supplements. The discovery of a connection between herpes simplex and the amyloid plaques of AD lends hope to the idea that Alzheimer’s may one day soon be treatable with antiviral drugs, or even that a vaccine could be developed against both the herpes infection and AD.
The research team examining plaques and neurofibrillary tangles from AD patients discovered that HSV1 viral DNA was found in 90% of those abnormal protein structures. The same team had previously found that HSV1 infection of nerve cells induces deposition of the plaques. Previous treatments for this dread disease of aging have focused on symptoms of the disease rather than any root causes. As the population ‘bump’ known as the “Baby Boom” generation ages, this discovery may help to prevent a great deal of suffering both for victims of the disease and their families.
The Manchester team hope to receive funding that will enable them to investigate in detail the effect of treating early Alzheimer’s patients with antiviral agents. The paper was published in the Journal of Pathology, Volume 217, entitled Herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA is located within Alzheimer’s disease amyloid plaques.
Nov 12 at 8:08pm by Aileen
Scientists at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that some people who have the plaques in their brain associated with AD still manage to score well on tests of cognitive ability if they spent more years in school, and put their cognitive abilities to work on a regular basis. Those with less education, who may not regularly exercise their brains than better educated people, tend to display more symptoms of cognitive decline.
“As expected, those whose brains showed little evidence of plaque buildup scored high on all the tests. But while most participants with high levels of brain plaque scored poorly on the tests, those who had done postgraduate work still scored well. Despite signs that Alzheimer’s might already be ravaging the brains of this subgroup, their cognitive abilities had not declined and they had not become demented.”
So get busy, all you aging Boomers! Now that the nation’s economy is tanking and the government’s printing enough money to deforest the Amazon basin [snark], it’s time to go back to school! Or just audit some courses that interest you. Or take some online courses, just for fun. Download that computerized Scrabble game, do crossword puzzles, join a book discussion clutch, whatever. I want to see you put the burn to that flabby brain, whip it into shape!
…and the payoff just might be that you keep more of your mind later in your life than you otherwise would!
Jul 24 at 9:09pm by Aileen
In an unprecedented move, the head of a prominent cancer research institute issued a warning to his faculty and staff on July 23, that cell phone use may pose a cancer risk to users.
There is no consensus in science that electromagnetic radiation in radio frequencies – such as is emitted by cellular phones and is absorbed by the user’s head – causes or increases the risks of brain tumors. Yet Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said he issued the warning because the question is still being researched, and it is better to err on the safe side than to be sorry later on.
Of particular concern to Herberman is the increasing use of cell phones by children, whose brains are still developing. The body of research on the question is ongoing, but so far has demonstrated no firm link between cell phones and cancer. The fact that it takes a relatively long time for cancers from environmental sources to show up in a population leaves risks of cancer from long term exposure to the radiation an unanswered question.
One bit of interesting research on cell phone radiation recently came from Clermont-Ferrand University in France, where it was found that…
…tomatoes, when exposed to the magnetic waves of mobile phones, get stressed within ten minutes. They start secreting a molecule which usually only occurs when they get damaged.
If tomatoes can physiologically go into stress mode when cell phones are present in their vicinity, it’s certainly possible that physiological effects may occur in animals – including humans. I’d like to see some mouse studies. But in the meantime, remote use of the device (so it’s not sitting on your ear) isn’t that bad an idea.
A pretty strong warning can also be made that if you grow tomatoes, don’t take your cell phone when tending them. The world won’t stop turning if you’re out of communications availability for a little while. Honest.
Jul 21 at 6:06pm by Aileen
USPS Alzheimer’s Stamp
The open access journal BMC Neurology published research this week detailing some amazing results from the use of the anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha [TNF-alpha] drug to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease from a novel immune system approach. Researchers documented improvement in language function within minutes of administering the drug, tending to confirm preliminary evidence that disrupted neural communication in Alzheimer’s patients may be reversible.
This is a very hopeful development, as are results from clinical drug trials in recent years slowing the progression of the disease in elderly patients as well as ongoing research into substances that may help clear the beta amyloid placques in the brain tissue, characteristic of the disease. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, it is estimated that up to 10 million of them will get this awful disease.
Some doctors are expressing concern about unduly raising hopes in patients and their families on these very early findings. Dr. Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association’s medical and science council, has expressed suspicion due to the private nature of the research because the lead researcher has a financial interest in the drug. It is hoped that other laboratories and scientists will be able to duplicate the results, but that more rigorous clinical work remains to be done.
UCLA associate professor of neurology John Ringman and colleagues have reported in the journal Neurology that there may be a way to detect Alzheimer’s even before symptoms appear by measuring the level of certain proteins in the blood and spinal fluid. These proteins are potentially useful biomarkers to identify and track progression of the disease before the patient shows any signs of deteriorating mental acuity.
The amount of suffering for the families of those 10 million people could be reduced drastically if there were effective treatments, so there is a good deal of public and private research ongoing. Hopefully when the Boomers reach an age where they have ready access to medical care via Medicare, diagnosis and treatment will be available to them.
Jul 8 at 3:03pm by Aileen
Most parents know very well how heart-warming their baby’s smile can be, to the point where just doing something silly to get that smile-fix becomes a regular way of life. I’ve heard all sorts of weird philosophies about baby smiles – “it’s just gas,” “they’ve got the intelligence of rats,” etc., etc., things that only non-parents would ever think of.
So it’s cool that researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have finally demonstrated the addictive quality of baby smiles, as reported recently in the journal Pediatrics. Turns out that baby smiles actually ‘light up’ the reward centers of the human brain, particularly in Moms – it’s what they call a “Natural High.”
The researchers hope their work will help scientists understand the unique mother-infant bonding so critical for proper child development (and mothers’ mental health).
No doubt this is fine research, and it’s gratifying to know that science is actually looking at phenomena they could have known all along if they’d just asked a Mom. Oh, well. That famous scientific skepticism needs physical ‘proof’ of physical phenomena before it will believe anything most regular people know from direct empirical experience. Maybe they’ll now come up with a pill that mimics this high, which will no doubt be a big item on the black market for pharmaceuticals…
Jun 19 at 4:04pm by Aileen
Way back in 2005 researchers at Texas A&M determined that humor – an appreciation of the absurd hilarity of life – can significantly increase Hope, and that hopefulness helps people cope with stresses in daily life and during illnesses as well.
In January of this year a communications professor at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, demonstrated that in a medical setting, laughter is the best medicine. Humor helps both the doctors and the patients cope. The finding was extended to the workplace and to educational situations as well, eventually reaching the conclusion that regardless of the content, humor seems to be beneficial and productive. It helps to get the point across in almost any situation.
Then on June 12, 2008 Alastaire Clarke published his Pattern Recognition Theory of Humor, which purportedly explains the reason that humor is common to all human societies. In Humor Shown to be Fundamental to Our Success as a Species, Clarke claims that humor is fundamantal to the evolution of human beings, and continues to be important in the cognitive development of infants and children.
Alas, Clarke’s Pattern Recognition Theory can’t tell us what’s funny or why, so it probably won’t be used by comedy writers or clowns to formulate their skits any time soon. And while humor can progress from basic slapstick to childish jokes to ridicule to satire, he does not attempt to explain why slapstick still makes us laugh even if we’ve progressed all the way to dry British satire. A clown would have a handy explanation for that, but I don’t think Clarke asked one. Oh, well.
The articles do make a strong case for the survival value of humor to human beings, and that may be all we really need to know about it.