Chapter 16. None
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Scientists who spent years listening to the communication calls of one of our closest ape relatives say their eavesdropping has shed light on the origin of human language. Dr Adriano Reis e Lameira from Durham University recorded and analysed almost 5,000 orangutan "kiss squeaks". He found that the animals combined these purse-lipped, "consonant-like" calls to convey different messages. This could be a glimpse of how our ancestors formed the earliest words. The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. "Human language is extraordinarily advanced and complex - we can pretty much transmit any information we want into sound," said Dr Reis e Lameira. "So we tend to think that maybe words evolved from some rudimentary precursor to transmit more complex messages. "We were basically using the orangutan vocal behaviour as a time machine - back to a time when our ancestors were using what would become [those precursors] of consonants and vowels." The team studied kiss squeaks in particular because, like many consonants - the /t/, /p/, /k/ sounds - they depend on the action of the lips, tongue and jaw rather than the voice. "Kiss squeaks do not involve vocal fold action, so they're acoustically and articulatory consonant-like," explained Dr Reis e Lameira. In comparison to research into vowel-like primate calls, the scientists explained, the study of consonants in the evolution of language has been more difficult. But as Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, a lead author in the study, said, they are crucial "building blocks" in the evolution of language. "Most human languages have a lot more consonants than vowels," said Prof Wich. "And if we have more building blocks, we have more combinations." © 2017 BBC.
by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie If you ask Jill Price to remember any day of her life, she can come up with an answer in a heartbeat. What was she doing on 29 August 1980? “It was a Friday, I went to Palm Springs with my friends, twins, Nina and Michelle, and their family for Labour Day weekend,” she says. “And before we went to Palm Springs, we went to get them bikini waxes. They were screaming through the whole thing.” Price was 14 years and eight months old. What about the third time she drove a car? “The third time I drove a car was January 10 1981. Saturday. Teen Auto. That’s where we used to get our driving lessons from.” She was 15 years and two weeks old. The first time she heard the Rick Springfield song Jessie’s Girl? “March 7 1981.” She was driving in a car with her mother, who was yelling at her. She was 16 years and two months old. Price was born on 30 December 1965 in New York City. Her first clear memories start from around the age of 18 months. Back then, she lived with her parents in an apartment across the street from Roosevelt Hospital in Midtown Manhattan. She remembers the screaming ambulances and traffic, how she used to love climbing on the living room couch and staring out of the window down 9th Avenue. When she was five years and three months old, her family – her father, a talent agent with William Morris who counted Ray Charles among his clients; her mother, a former variety show dancer, and her baby brother – moved to South Orange, New Jersey. They lived in a three-storey, red brick colonial house with a big backyard and huge trees, the kind of place people left the city for. Jill loved it.
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23201 - Posted: 02.08.2017
Squid and their cephalopod brethren have been the inspiration for many a science fiction creature. Their slippery appendages, huge proportions, and inking abilities can be downright shudder-inducing. (See: Arrival.) But you should probably be more concerned by the cephalopod’s huge brain—which not only helps it solve tricky puzzles, but also lets it converse in its own sign language. Right now, you’re probably imagining twisted tentacles spelling out creepy cephalopod communiqués. But it’s not that: Certain kinds of squid send messages by manipulating the color of their skin. “Their body patterning is fantastic, fabulous,” says Chuan-Chin Chiao, a neuroscientist at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. They can display bands, or stripes, or turn completely dark or light. And Chiao is trying to crack their code. Chiao got his inspiration from physiologist B. B. Boycott, who in the 1960s showed that the cuttlefish brain was the control center for changing skin color. Boycott copied his technique from neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who treated epilepsy patients by burning out the misbehaving bits of their brains. While their grey matter was exposed for surgery, Penfield also applied a gentle current through the electrodes in his patients’ brains. You know, just to see what would happen. A zap in one spot above the ears caused a tingle in the left hand. In another spot, tingles in the leg. And so Penfield discovered that the sensory cortex is a homunculus, with specific brain areas mapping onto different parts of your body. Over time, scientists tried the electrical stimulation technique on all kinds of animals—including Boycott’s cuttlefish.
Keyword: Animal Communication
Link ID: 23199 - Posted: 02.08.2017
By Anil Ananthaswamy Next time a nurse sticks a needle into your arm, don’t look away: it’ll be less painful. A new study shows that we feel less pain when we are looking at our body – and that this effect works with virtual reality too. In 2009, Patrick Haggard and Matthew Longo of University College London showed that looking at your own body has an analgesic effect. The researchers shone infrared laser light on the skin of volunteers. Those who were looking at their body rather than at a neutral object said that they felt less pain. Scalp electrodes revealed that this analgesic effect was linked to weaker activity in parts of the brain’s cortex that process pain – although why this happens is unclear. Since then, two different teams have tested the effect using the rubber hand illusion – in which a rubber hand is placed next to a person’s real hand, which is hidden from view. Stroking both the real and rubber hands with paint brushes convinces them that the rubber hand is their own. Extending this illusion, the teams wanted to know: can looking at a rubber hand that feels like one’s own alleviate pain in your real hand? The studies were contradictory: one study showed an analgesic effect, but the other did not. Maria Sanchez-Vives at the University of Barcelona, Spain, and her colleagues argue that differences in the position of the rubber hand and real hand may have led to the differing results. To test the effect of the rubber hand’s position, her team used virtual reality to induce the illusion. Instead of seeing a real rubber hand, participants were shown one via a VR headset instead. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23198 - Posted: 02.08.2017
By Lenny Bernstein Forty million American adults have lost some hearing because of noise, and half of them suffered the damage outside the workplace, from everyday exposure to leaf blowers, sirens, rock concerts and other loud sounds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. A quarter of people ages 20 to 69 were suffering some hearing deficits, the CDC reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, even though the vast majority of the people in the study claimed to have good or excellent hearing. The researchers found that 24 percent of adults had “audiometric notches” — a deterioration in the softest sound a person can hear — in one or both ears. The data came from 3,583 people who had undergone hearing tests and reported the results in the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The review's more surprising finding — which the CDC had not previously studied — was that 53 percent of those people said they had no regular exposure to loud noise at work. That means the hearing loss was caused by other environmental factors, including listening to music through headphones with the volume turned up too high. “Noise is damaging hearing before anyone notices or diagnoses it,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. “Because of that, the start of hearing loss is underrecognized.” The study revealed that 19 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 had some hearing loss, a finding that Schuchat called alarming. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post
Link ID: 23197 - Posted: 02.08.2017
By JANE E. BRODY Dizziness is not a disease but rather a symptom that can result from a huge variety of underlying disorders or, in some cases, no disorder at all. Readily determining its cause and how best to treat it — or whether to let it resolve on its own — can depend on how well patients are able to describe exactly how they feel during a dizziness episode and the circumstances under which it usually occurs. For example, I recently experienced a rather frightening attack of dizziness, accompanied by nausea, at a food and beverage tasting event where I ate much more than I usually do. Suddenly feeling that I might faint at any moment, I lay down on a concrete balcony for about 10 minutes until the disconcerting sensations passed, after which I felt completely normal. The next morning I checked the internet for my symptom — dizziness after eating — and discovered the condition had a name: Postprandial hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure when too much blood is diverted to the digestive tract, leaving the brain relatively deprived. The condition most often affects older adults who may have an associated disorder like diabetes, hypertension or Parkinson’s disease that impedes the body’s ability to maintain a normal blood pressure. Fortunately, I am thus far spared any disorder linked to this symptom, but I’m now careful to avoid overeating lest it happen again. “An essential problem is that almost every disease can cause dizziness,” say two medical experts who wrote a comprehensive new book, “Dizziness: Why You Feel Dizzy and What Will Help You Feel Better.” Although the vast majority of patients seen at dizziness clinics do not have a serious health problem, the authors, Dr. Gregory T. Whitman and Dr. Robert W. Baloh, emphasize that doctors must always “be on the alert for a serious disease presenting as ‘dizziness,’” like “stroke, transient ischemic attacks, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 23196 - Posted: 02.07.2017
By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News website Deaf mice have been able to hear a tiny whisper after being given a "landmark" gene therapy by US scientists. They say restoring near-normal hearing in the animals paves the way for similar treatments for people "in the near future". Studies, published in Nature Biotechnology, corrected errors that led to the sound-sensing hairs in the ear becoming defective. The researchers used a synthetic virus to nip in and correct the defect. "It's unprecedented, this is the first time we've seen this level of hearing restoration," said researcher Dr Jeffrey Holt, from Boston Children's Hospital. Hair defect About half of all forms of deafness are due to an error in the instructions for life - DNA. In the experiments at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the mice had a genetic disorder called Usher syndrome. It means there are inaccurate instructions for building microscopic hairs inside the ear. In healthy ears, sets of outer hair cells magnify sound waves and inner hair cells then convert sounds to electrical signals that go to the brain. The hairs normally form these neat V-shaped rows. But in Usher syndrome they become disorganised - severely affecting hearing. The researchers developed a synthetic virus that was able to "infect" the ear with the correct instructions for building hair cells. © 2017 BBC.
By Meredith Wadman The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) today put the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on notice that it intends to use legal tools to force the agency to restore tens of thousands of documents on animal welfare that it removed from its website on Friday. In this letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the animal welfare organization reminded the government that under the terms of a 2009 legal settlement with HSUS, USDA had agreed to make public some of the records it has now scrubbed from its public database. HSUS, its lawyers write, “is exercising its rights under [the 2009 settlement] and intends to take further action unless USDA agrees to reconsider this bizarre reversal of the agency’s longstanding policy” of making inspection records and others publicly available. The animal organization’s letter notes that under the terms of the 2009 settlement, the two parties, HSUS and USDA, now have 30 days to settle their differences. After that, HSUS can ask the court to reopen the lawsuit. A spokesperson for USDA did not in the course of 3 hours return an email and a call requesting comment. The HSUS letter also argues that USDA’s actions violate laws governing the electronic release of data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). One of the laws requires agencies to “make available for public inspection … [By] electronic means” all FOIA requests that it releases to anyone and that it determines are likely to be asked for again, by others. When they were public, many of USDA’s inspection reports, especially those of troubled facilities, were accessed repeatedly by a number of different users. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 23192 - Posted: 02.07.2017
Rae Ellen Bichell By the time Kay Schwister got her diagnosis last summer, she couldn't talk anymore. But she could still scowl, and scowl she did. After weeks of decline and no clue what was causing it, doctors had told Schwister — a 53-year-old vocational rehab counselor and mother of two from Chicago — that she had an incurable disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD. The disease was shrinking Kay's brain, and riddling it with holes. She would likely only live a few more weeks, the doctors said. It was a diagnosis that no one could ever want. But the fact that Schwister was able to get a firm diagnosis while still alive is a relatively new development that represents a step forward in understanding a group of devastating neurological disorders. And, some biochemists say, it could lead to better ways of diagnosing brain diseases that are much more common, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. For Kay Schwister it all started in the spring of 2016, when she started getting headaches and feeling dizzy all the time. Aging, she told herself, just didn't feel very good. Over the next few weeks, she got steadily worse. "She got to the point where she was so nauseous and so dizzy that she stopped driving and actually stopped working," says her husband, Tim Schwister. By the time Kay entered the emergency room last June her speech had changed. She was enunciating things in a strange way, and finishing each sentence on a really high note. Doctors drew blood and spinal fluid and tested it for things like multiple sclerosis and mercury poisoning. Those tests came back negative. Soon, Kay couldn't talk or walk. © 2017 npr
Link ID: 23191 - Posted: 02.06.2017
Diana Steele Generations of gurus have exhorted, “Live in the moment!” For Lonni Sue Johnson, that’s all she can do. In 2007, viral encephalitis destroyed Johnson’s hippocampus. Without that crucial brain structure, Johnson lost most of her memories of the past and can’t form new ones. She literally lives in the present. In The Perpetual Now, science journalist Michael Lemonick describes Johnson’s world and tells the story of her life before her illness, in which she was an illustrator (she produced many New Yorker covers), private pilot and accomplished amateur violist. Johnson can’t remember biographical details of her own life, recall anything about history or remember anything new. But remarkably, she can converse expertly about making art and she creates elaborately illustrated word-search puzzles. She still plays viola with expertise and expression and, though she will never remember that she has seen it before, she can even learn new music. Neuroscientists are curious about Johnson’s brain in part because her education and expertise before her illness contrast sharply with that of the most famous amnesiac known to science, Henry Molaison. Lemonick interweaves the story of “Patient H.M.,” as he was known, with Johnson’s biography. Molaison had experienced seizures since childhood and held menial jobs until surgery in his 20s destroyed his hippo-campus. At the time, in the 1950s, Molaison’s subsequent amnesia came as a surprise, prompting a 50-year study of his brain that provided a fundamental understanding of the central role of the hippocampus in forming conscious memories. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23189 - Posted: 02.06.2017
Sara Reardon The welfare of research animals, including primates, will be much harder for the public to track after a US regulatory agency removes information from its website. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency charged with ensuring the humane treatment of large research animals, such as primates and goats, has quietly scrubbed all inspection reports and enforcement records from its website. The move has drawn criticism from animal welfare and transparency activists who say the public has the right to know how their tax dollars are being used. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which also oversees animals in circuses, zoos and those sold commercially as pets, says that making the data publicly available posed a threat to individuals’ privacy. USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa would not specify what personal information the agency wanted to protect, but said that it would be impossible to redact it from all the tens of thousands of inspection reports, complaints and enforcement action documents that used to be public. The decision is a result of the USDA’s “commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals”, according to a statement on the agency’s website. The records will still be available in redacted form through freedom-of-information requests. ”If the same records are frequently requested via the Freedom of Information Act process, APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website,” the statement concludes. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 23188 - Posted: 02.04.2017
Ian Sample Science editor As an antidote to one of the ills of modern life, it may leave some quite cold. When the lure of the TV or fiddling on the phone keep you up late at night, it is time to grab the tent and go camping. The advice from scientists in the US follows a field study that found people fell asleep about two hours earlier than usual when they were denied access to their gadgets and electrical lighting and packed off to the mountains with a tent. A weekend in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado helped reset people’s internal clocks and reversed the tendency of artificial light to push bedtime late into the night. A spell outdoors, the researchers conclude, could be just the thing for victims of social jetlag who find themselves yawning all day long. “Our modern environment has really changed the timing of our internal clocks, but also the timing of when we sleep relative to our clock,” said Kenneth Wright, director of the sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “A weekend camping trip can reset the clock rapidly.” To explore the sleep-altering effects of the natural environment, Wright sent five hardy colleagues, aged 21 to 39, on a six day camping trip to the Rocky Mountains one December. They left their torches and gadgets behind, and had only sunlight, moonlight and campfires for illumination. The campers went to bed on average two and a half hours earlier than they did at home, and racked up nearly 10 hours of sleep per night compared with their usual seven and a half hours. Monitors showed that they were more active in the daytime and were exposed to light levels up to 13 times higher than they typically received at home.
Elizabeth Eaton Electronic cigarettes may increase the risk of heart disease, researchers at UCLA report. The team found that two risk factors for heart disease were elevated in 16 e-cigarette users compared with 18 nonsmokers. “The pattern was spot-on” for what has been seen in heart attack patients and those with heart disease and diabetes, says cardiologist Holly Middlekauff, a coauthor of the study published online February 1 in JAMA Cardiology. But because the study only looked at a small number of people, the results are not definitive — just two or three patients can skew results, John Ambrose, a cardiologist with the University of California, San Francisco cautions. Plus, he says, some of the e-cigarette users in the study used to smoke tobacco, which may have influenced the data. Even so, Ambrose called the study interesting, noting that “the medical community just doesn’t have enough information” to figure out if e-cigarettes are dangerous. E-cigarette smokers in the study had heartbeat patterns that indicated high levels of adrenaline — also known as epinephrine — in the heart, a sign of heart disease risk. Researchers also found signs of increased oxidative stress, an imbalance of certain protective molecules that can cause the hardening and narrowing of arteries. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23180 - Posted: 02.02.2017
Jessica Boddy Heading a soccer ball is both a fundamental skill and a dynamic way to score a goal, but research says it could be causing concussions along with player collisions. Players who headed a lot of balls, an average of 125 over two weeks, were three times more vulnerable to concussion than those who headed less than four in that time period, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. These header-happy players reported having concussion symptoms like headache, confusion and even unconsciousness. This adds more cause for concern regarding traumatic brain injury in soccer, a sport already notorious for high concussion rates. The cause of these concussions, though, has been disputed. One study showed player-player contact was to blame for 69 percent of concussions in boys and 51 percent in girls. So some argue that changing the rules to limit heading would only reduce concussion by a small amount. "Before banning heading, the focus should be to enforce existing rules prohibiting athlete-athlete contact," says Dawn Comstock, an injury epidemiologist at the University of Colorado's School of Public Health who was not involved in the study. "That's the main risk for head injury in soccer." Still, others say that the risk that comes with headers is worth limiting as well—especially when the effects of repeated, low-level head impacts aren't exactly crystal clear. "Over a quarter of a billion people play soccer all across the world," says Michael Lipton, a professor of radiology and psychiatry/behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and lead author on the study. "So it's key to understand the long term effects of headers, a skill unique to the sport." © 2017 npr
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23179 - Posted: 02.02.2017
Meghan Rosen New X-ray crystallography images reveal how an LSD molecule gets trapped within a protein that senses serotonin, a key chemical messenger in the brain. The protein, called a serotonin receptor, belongs to a family of proteins involved in everything from perception to mood. The work is the first to decipher the structure of such a receptor bound to LSD, which gets snared in the protein for hours. That could explain why “acid trips” last so long, study coauthor Bryan Roth and colleagues report January 26 in Cell. It’s “the first snapshot of LSD in action,” he says. “Until now, we had no idea how it worked at the molecular level.” But the results might not be that relevant to people, warns Cornell University biophysicist Harel Weinstein. Roth’s group didn’t capture the main target of LSD, a serotonin receptor called 5-HT2A, instead imaging the related receptor 5-HT2B. That receptor is “important in rodents, but not that important in humans,” Weinstein says. Roth’s team has devoted decades to working on 5-HT2A, but the receptor has “thus far been impossible to crystallize,” he says. Predictions of 5-HT2A’s structure, though, are very similar to that of 5-HT2B, he says. LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was first cooked up in a chemist’s lab in 1938. It was popular (and legal) for recreational use in the early 1960s, but the United States later banned the drug (also known as blotter, boomer, Purple Haze and electric Kool-Aid). |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23175 - Posted: 02.01.2017
Homa Khaleeli The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again”, might need rewriting. Because, according to new research, even if you do succeed, you should still try, try again. “Overlearning”, scientists say, could be the key to remembering what you have learned. In a study of 183 volunteers, participants were asked to spot the orientation of a pattern in an image. It is a task that took eight 20-minute rounds of training to master. Some volunteers, however, were asked to carry on for a further 16 20-minute blocks to “overlearn” before being moved on to another task. When tested the next day, they had retained the ability better than those who had mastered it and then stopped learning. Primary school encourages pupils to wear slippers in class Read more The lead author of the paper, Takeo Watanabe, a professor of cognitive linguistic and psychological sciences, pointed out that: “If you do overlearning, you may be able to increase the chance that what you learn will not be gone.” But what other tricks can help us learn better? According to researchers at Bournemouth University, children who don’t wear shoes in the classroom not only learn, but behave better. Pupils feel more relaxed when they can kick their shoes off at the door says lead researcher Stephen Heppell, which means they are more engaged in lessons. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23173 - Posted: 02.01.2017
By Roni Jacobson The psychedelic drug ibogaine is known for two things: its reputation in some circles as a panacea for addiction and the visceral hallucinations it induces. Positive anecdotes abound from people who have sought out the illegal drug at underground clinics. Just one dose, they say, brings near-instant relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms, a veritable miracle for seemingly intractable addictions. But the side effects of this plant-derived substance can be dangerous or even deadly. Now, with encouraging evidence from animal studies, drugs are being developed to replicate ibogaine's impact on addiction without the side effects. A drug that is chemically related to ibogaine but lacks its hallucinogenic properties is set to begin phase II clinical trials in California early this year. If the results continue to be promising, addiction treatment as we know it could change radically. For decades research on ibogaine has been stymied by its classification as a Schedule I drug, the most tightly regulated category. Yet the results of animal studies have been intriguing. In May 2016 a meta-analysis examining 32 such studies, mostly in mice and rats, found that ibogaine reduced self-administration of cocaine, opioids and alcohol. An earlier study from 2015 found that noribogaine, the substance that ibogaine breaks down to when ingested, reduced self-administration of nicotine in addicted rats by 64 percent. Now Savant HWP, a pharmaceutical company in California, has developed a drug called 18-MC, a compound chemically related to ibogaine, which it hopes will produce the antiaddictive properties without triggering hallucinations. They are betting that the “trip” is not a necessary component of the therapy—an idea shared by some academics. © 2017 Scientific American,
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23170 - Posted: 01.31.2017
James Gorman What fly is famous on TV? Think corpses and detectives wanting to know how long that body has been in a storage locker or suitcase. It’s the blowfly, of course. Its larvae, a.k.a. maggots, feed on rotting flesh, which could be that spouse or business partner who got in the way. Or, in a good police procedural, both the spouse and the business partner, sent to the great beyond together for their transgressions. By seeing whether the eggs have hatched and how big the larvae are, forensic scientists can get an idea of how much time has passed since the victims met their end and began the final chapter in the way of all flesh. By the way, if you have a problem with a spouse or business partner, it’s worth keeping in mind that the flies can indeed get into a suitcase. They stick their ovipositor through the gaps in the zipper. Or the newly hatched larvae themselves can sneak through. But there are aspects of the maggot’s life that have remained somewhat obscure. Martin Hall, a forensic entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London, thought that one part of the fly’s development in particular needed further study. The maggots are a bit like caterpillars in that at a certain point in their development they wrap themselves up in a case and go through one of the most astonishing events in the natural world: metamorphosis. In 10 days, the maggot, which has no legs or eyes and is something like “an animated sock,” Dr. Hall said, turns into the extraordinarily complex blowfly. No doubt blowflies are not as appealing as butterflies to most people, but chalk that up to a human bias for pretty fluttery things that land on flowers. It’s certainly not the fly’s fault. Any close-up image of its multifaceted, jewel-like eye shows that it is marvelous in its own way, even if it does feed on the dead. Science Times © 2017 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23169 - Posted: 01.31.2017
By JAMES HAMBLIN In 1997, a few hundred people who responded to a job posting in a Pittsburgh newspaper agreed to let researchers spray their nostrils with a rhinovirus known to cause the common cold. The people would then be quarantined in hotel rooms for five days and monitored for symptoms. In return they’d get $800. “Hey, it’s a job,” some presumably said. Compensation may also have come from the knowledge that, as they sat alone piling up tissues, they were contributing to scientific understanding of our social-microbial ecosystem. The researchers wanted to investigate a seemingly basic question: Why do some people get more colds than others? To Gene Brody, a professor at the University of Georgia, the answer was “absolutely wild.” (Dr. Brody is a public-health researcher, so “wild” must be taken in that context.) He and colleagues recently analyzed the socio-economic backgrounds and personalities of the people in the Pittsburgh study and found that those who were “more diligent and tended to strive for success” were more likely than the others to get sick. To Dr. Brody, the implication was that something suffers in the immune systems of people who persevere in the face of adversity. Over the past two years, Dr. Brody and colleagues have amassed more evidence supporting this theory. In 2015, they found that white blood cells among strivers were prematurely aged relative to those of their peers. Ominous correlations have also been found in cardiovascular and metabolic health. In December, Dr. Brody and colleagues published a study in the journal Pediatrics that said that among black adolescents from disadvantaged backgrounds, “unrelenting determination to succeed” predicted an elevated risk of developing diabetes. The focus on black adolescents is significant. In much of this research, white Americans appeared somehow to be immune to the negative health effects that accompany relentless striving. As Dr. Brody put it when telling me about the Pittsburgh study, “We found this for black persons from disadvantaged backgrounds, but not white persons.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
By ADAM BEAR and JOSHUA KNOBE What’s normal? Perhaps the answer seems obvious: What’s normal is what’s typical — what is average. But in a recent paper in the journal Cognition, we argue that the situation is more complicated than that. After conducting a series of experiments that examined how people decide whether something is normal or not, we found that when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. Normal, in other words, turns out to be a blend of statistical and moral notions. Our key finding can be illustrated with a simple example. Ask yourself, “What is the average number of hours of TV that people watch in a day?” Then ask yourself a question that might seem very similar: “What is the normal number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day?” If you are like most of our experimental participants, you will not give the same answer to the second question that you give to the first. Our participants said the “average” number was about four hours and the “normal” number was about three hours. In addition, they said that the “ideal” number was about 2.5 hours. This has an interesting implication. It suggests that people’s conception of the normal deviates from the average in the direction of what they think ought to be so. Our studies found this same pattern in numerous other cases: the normal grandmother, the normal salad, the normal number of students to be bullied in a middle school. Again and again, our participants did not take the normal to be the same as the average. Instead, what people picked out as the “normal thing to do” or a “normal such-and-such” tended to be intermediate between what they thought was typical and what they thought was ideal. © 2017 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 23165 - Posted: 01.30.2017