What’s the News: We may strive for humility, but we benefit from a little hubris, too, according to a study published last week in Nature. Overconfidence in your abilities can help you triumph in competitions you might not have won otherwise, the study found, and can impart an evolutionary advantage when the potential payoff is high compared to the cost of conflict.
What’s the News: Starting in September 2012, the FDA will require every pack of cigarettes sold in the US to be emblazoned with a large, text-and-image health warning, similar to the labels already seen in Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and several other countries. The FDA unveiled the nine label designs earlier this week; several are quite graphic, including photos of cancerous lungs and lips and a man exhaling smoke through his tracheotomy hole.
These graphic images, however, may not be an effective way to get smokers to quit, or deter new smokers from starting. Several neuroscience and psychology studies show that these fear tactics have little effect—and may at times do more harm than good.
What’s the News: Adults and school-age children may understand some basic principles of geometry even without formal math training at all, according to a study published online yesterday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Thirty members of the Mundurucú, an indigenous Amazonian group, could intuitively grasp geometric concepts about angles, lines, and points, the researchers found.
What’s the News: Fitting in is a perennial problem for almost everybody, especially immigrants and their children (for more, see The Joy Luck Club). And anxiety about food is definitely part of it: when your friends think your mom’s home cooking is weird, well, maybe you’ll just pretend you don’t like it either. In fact, maybe you’ll eat more French fries and pizza than is entirely healthy to fit in, something that might explain why newly arrived immigrants balloon to the rest of the U.S. population’s levels of obesity in just 15 years. In a study designed to see how being perceived as un-American changed peoples’ food choices, scientists behaved badly and then brought out the menus.
“Halo: Reach,” the newest installment in the long-running Halo video game saga, comes out today. While players are rampaging around in the digital universe and slaughtering everything in sight, they might be doing something else too: improving their decision-making skills.
Action-packed video games, including first-shooters like those in the Halo franchise, can lead people to make better and quicker rapid-fire decision, according to a Current Biology study by Daphne Bavelier and colleagues.
“What’s surprising in our study is that action games improved probabilistic inference not just for the act of gaming, but for unrelated and rather dull tasks,” Bavelier says. [Science News]
Girls around the country are starting puberty ever younger, says a new study out in Pediatrics.
Researchers led by Frank Biro studied more than a thousand girls between six and eight years old from New York, Cincinnati, and San Francisco. Their findings: By the age of 7, about 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls, and 11 percent of white girls showed enough breast development to be considered pubescent. Those numbers are even more extreme than the findings of a similar 1997 study that seemed to show the age entering puberty was dropping fast.
“In 1997, people said, ‘That can’t be right; there must be something wrong with the study’. But the average age is going down even further” [Los Angeles Times].
The starkness of Biro’s statistics has drawn plenty of attention. But just what it means is a difficult question, because there’s no “ideal” age for entering puberty.
It feels good to win. And it feels even better to win at home.
For a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Matthew Fuxjager and his colleagues investigated the winner effect, wherein animals (and perhaps humans) build up testosterone in advance of a confrontation, and the fight’s winner maintains that elevated level. By studying male mice fighting one another, Fuxjager was able to see what happens in the brains of winners. Not only did victorious mice experience the “winner effect,” but those who won at home—in their own cages—saw the most activity, and wanted to keep on fighting.
To get these results, Fuxjager’s team essentially created a tournament of mouse fights.
If you relax and concentrate, you’re more likely to make a goal. Seems pretty logical, but researchers at Britain’s Exeter University have tracked soccer players eye-movements to make sure. They have confirmed that players who ignore goalies’ distracting antics are more likely to make the shot.
The latest in the why-Britain-hasn’t-won-the-World-Cup-since-1966 line of research–which has also looked at the ball’s surface (smooth is good but some grooves necessary) and the psychological benefits of playing on your home field (it’s better)–Greg Wood’s study will appear in the Journal of Sports Medicine. Hopefully it will be available in time for the World Cup‘s start on June 11th.
Wood says that goalies can make use of a biological instinct to screw up a kicker’s shot.
“We focus on things in our environment that are threatening. In a penalty kick, that threat is a goalkeeper,” Wood said. “If he (the goalkeeper) can make himself more threatening, he can distract the kicker even more. By doing (certain) behaviors, he can make it so the kicker will kick (the ball) near the goalie.” [AP]
The U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, a quarter-century look at the welfare of kids born to lesbian couples, has finally come out in the journal Pediatrics this week with the headline-grabbing finding that those children not only do as well as the rest of the population, they might actually fare better. You can download the paper by lead author Nanette Gartrell for free right now, but here are the key parts:
Select population only
Census data says that there are more than 270,000 American kids in same-sex households, with twice that many having a single gay parent. Gartrell’s study follows a particular slice: Lesbian couples who were together before the child’s birth, identified themselves as a lesbian couple, and went through the artificial insemination process. It didn’t include, for instance, women who may have had a child in a previous heterosexual relationship and then entered into a lesbian one later.
Better than the rest?
The study, which began in 1986, ended up following 78 kids from lesbian couples who were recruited for the study in Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old. They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress [CNN].
The children of these lesbian couples were just as well-adjusted as the kids of heterosexual couples to whom the researchers compared them. Indeed, the kids in the study proved superior in some areas, like academics, self-esteem, and behavior, as shown by the standard “Child Behavior Checklists” that were part of the surveys.
All it takes for some people to be a little less trusting of their fellow humans is a little more testosterone, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers led by Jack van Honk of the Netherlands used a sample of 24 women in their study. The team showed photos of 150 strangers’ faces to the women and asked them to rate the faces for trustworthiness, using a scale from -100 to +100. The scores women gave after receiving a placebo became their “baseline” score. The women also completed a trustworthiness survey after being given an increase in testosterone instead of placebo (they weren’t told when they received which).
Scientists found that women were not so easily taken in by a stranger’s face after receiving a dose of the hormone…. Women who appeared the most trusting after receiving the “dummy” placebo reduced their scores by an average of 10 points when their testosterone was boosted [Press Association].
Why? The researchers point to the social advantages testosterone can confer: