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People

Chaos Begets Chaos: State of Surroundings Can Influence Behavior

© AAAS
A 5-Euro note serves as bait to illustrate a sociological phenomenon
Last month social scientists in the Netherlands empirically demonstrated a phenomenon observed by policymakers and law-enforcement officials for years. When an envelope visibly containing a five-euro note was left hanging out of a mailbox on a sidewalk, 13 percent of the passersby snatched it up. When the same mailbox was covered in graffiti, however, more than double the number of the pedestrians (about 27 percent) stole the envelope.

Graffiti was not the only misdemeanor that fostered a cavalier attitude toward theft. When the ground near the mailbox was covered in litter, 25 percent of the subjects stole the envelope. These results are significant for both social and statistical reasons. Is a disorderly environment responsible for disorderly conduct?
Family

Early Childhood Diet May Influence Future Health

If you have trouble keeping weight off and you're wondering why - the surprising answer may well be the cheeseburgers you ate - when you were a toddler.

Surprising new research by University of Calgary, Faculty of Kinesiology researcher Dr. Raylene Reimer, published in an international journal, indicates a direct connection between an adult's propensity to put on weight and our early childhood diet.

Reimer is a leader in a growing field of study that examines the developmental origins of health and disease. Researchers in this area believe our pre-natal and early childhood environment influences our future risk of developing conditions like cardio vascular disease, obesity and diabetes.
People

Brain Mechanisms of Social Conformity

New research reveals the brain activity that underlies our tendency to "follow the crowd." The study, published by Cell Press in the January 15th issue of the journal Neuron, provides intriguing insight into how human behavior can be guided by the perceived behavior of other individuals.

Many studies have demonstrated the profound effect of group opinion on individual judgments, and there is no doubt that we look to the behavior and judgment of others for information about what will be considered expected and acceptable behavior.

"We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior," says lead study author Dr. Vasily Klucharev from the F.C. Donders Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging in The Netherlands. "However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear."
Magnify

Game of Two Halves Leads to Brain Asymmetry

A tug-of-war between the two sides of the brain causes it to become asymmetrical, according to research published today in the journal Neuron. Asymmetry in the brain is thought to be important to enable the two hemispheres to specialise and operate more efficiently.

Left-right asymmetry is present in the brains of most animals and is first evident at the time of early brain development. However, until now, scientists did not know the mechanisms that bring it about. Now, in a study funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust, researchers have shown that a competition between the two sides causes this asymmetry.

By studying brain development in zebrafish, PhD student Jenny Regan and her colleagues in Professor Stephen Wilson's team at UCL (University College London) have shown that a protein known as Fgf8 acts as a magnet to attract nerve cells to one side of the brain.
Health

Insulin chewing gum

Finding simpler ways to deliver insulin into the blood stream is one important avenue for tackling the diabetes epidemic that is sweeping the developed world.

The preferred option for many patients would be an insulin pill taken orally. But studies have long shown that insulin is easily broken down by the digestive system and that any surviving enzyme is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut.

An insulin inhaler made it as far as the US market in 2006, but was withdrawn a year later because it wasn't cost effective.

But Robert Doyle, a chemist at Syracuse University in New York state, has a potential solution. He points out that the body has specific mechanisms for protecting and absorbing valuable molecules that would usually be damaged by conditions in the gut.

For example, vitamin B12 is protected by a salivary protein called haptocorrin that binds to it in the mouth and protects it in the stomach. Once haptocorrin reaches the intestines, another chemical pathway takes over to help vitamin B12 pass into the bloodstream.
Info

A pill to curb smoking damage?

A pill that could mitigate some of the negative health effects of smoking is a step closer to reality.

Researchers have identified 28 molecules that are produced in abnormal amounts in cells lining the airways of smokers. If the levels of these molecules could be restored to that of non-smokers it might allow chronic smokers who have been unable to quit to improve their health prospects. It might also enable people to smoke without significant damage to their health.

Avrum Spira at Boston University School of Medicine and his colleagues took samples of cells from the airways of 10 smokers and 10 non-smokers and identified 28 microRNAs - molecules that control the expression of whole networks of related genes - that were perturbed in the smokers.
Coffee

High Caffeine Intake Linked To Hallucination Proneness

Coffee beans
© iStockphoto/Ong Kok Keat
People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there.
High caffeine consumption could be linked to a greater tendency to hallucinate, a new research study suggests.

People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there, according to the Durham University study.

'High caffeine users' - those who consumed more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day - were three times more likely to have heard a person's voice when there was no one there compared with 'low caffeine users' who consumed less than the equivalent of one cup of instant coffee a day.

With ninety per cent of North Americans consuming some of form caffeine every day, it is the world's most widely used drug.
Health

Pet dogs rival humans for emotional satisfaction

Dog
© Henryk T Kaiser/Rex
After playing with their pets, dog owners seem to experience a burst in oxytocin - a hormone linked to infant care and romantic love.

Who needs children when a puppy can provide a similar emotional experience? After playing with their pets, dog owners experience a burst in a hormone linked to infant care, not to mention romantic love and friendship, new research finds.

Nicknamed the "cuddle chemical" and the "love drug", oxytocin has been found to dampen stress, combat depression, and breed trust in humans. Studies of voles, mice and rats also point to oxytocin's role in pair bonding and social memory.

For this reason, biologists Miho Nagasawa and Takefumi Kikusui, of Azuba University in Japan, wondered whether social contact between two different species could boost oxytocin levels, as well.

"Miho and I are big dog lovers and feel something changed in our bodies when gazed [upon] by our dogs," Kikusui says.
Magnify

Genetic Variation Cues Social Anxiety In Monkeys And Humans

A genetic variation involving the brain chemical serotonin has been found to shape the social behavior of rhesus macaque monkeys, which could provide researchers with a new model for studying autism, social anxiety and schizophrenia. Humans and macaques are the only members of the primate family to have this particular genetic trait.

"We have found very similar gene-based disruptions in social rewards shared by monkeys and by humans," said Michael Platt, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and an expert in neuroeconomics.

The study appears in the online journal PLoS One on Jan. 13.
Cow

Raw Milk Dairying - A Continental Perspective

Cows
© Paul J. Henderson, Chilliwack Times
Alice Jongerden, Raw Dairy Farmer British Columbia, Canada
Alice Jongerden, a British Columbia dairy farmer, provides her shareholders milk as dividends. And, now she finds herself in a heap of trouble with the Canadian government. Around 250 families are dependent on her for a staple in their daily diet. They believe in raw milk and have invested in a farm to get it. Michael Schmidt, a farmer in Ontario is also being prosecuted for a similar cow-boarding program. In his case, he is facing 20 criminal counts against him.
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