Science of the SpiritS

Family

Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School

New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.

Ours is an age of pedagogy. Anxious parents instruct their children more and more, at younger and younger ages, until they're reading books to babies in the womb. They pressure teachers to make kindergartens and nurseries more like schools. So does the law - the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act explicitly urged more direct instruction in federally funded preschools.

There are skeptics, of course, including some parents, many preschool teachers, and even a few policy-makers. Shouldn't very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover, they ask? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity - abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run?

Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognition - one from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley - suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

Roses

Want more zest for life? Consider gardening!

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© Tina Marie (Waliczek) CadeResearchers at Texas A&M and Texas State found that gardening contributes to increased life satisfaction in older adults.
Older adult gardeners report enhanced optimism, more physical activity, higher energy levels than nongardeners.

Does gardening contribute to quality of life and increased wellness for older adults? Researchers from the Texas A&M and Texas State Universities asked these questions in a survey of people aged 50 and older. The survey revealed some compelling reasons for older adults to get themselves out in the garden.

Aime Sommerfeld, Jayne Zajicek, and Tina Waliczek designed a questionnaire to investigate older adult gardeners' and nongardeners' perceptions of personal life satisfaction and levels of physical activity. According to Sommerfeld, lead author of the study published in HortTechnology: "The primary focus of the study was to determine if gardening had a positive impact on perceptions of quality of life and levels of physical activity of older adults when compared with nongardeners".

A 2007 Administration on Aging report titled A Profile of Older Americans noted that one in every eight Americans is considered an "older adult" (65+ years). The older adult population is at greater risk for disease as a result of decreased levels of exercise and poor dietary and/or lifestyle choices; a combination of moderate physical activity and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables has been reported to dramatically reduce an adult's risk for many chronic diseases. "Gardening is one of the most popular home-based leisure activities in the United States and has been reported as the second most common leisure activity, after walking, of adults older than age 65 years", the researchers noted.

Butterfly

Courage of the Fukushima fifty: This is suicide, admit workers trying to avert a catastrophe

  • Nuclear workers accept their fate 'like a death sentence'
  • Fears for their health as one expert says it is 'perhaps a suicide mission'
  • Radiation levels rise in Japan as crisis continues
  • Power will be connected to knocked-out coolant pumping system 'within hours'
  • Radioactive steam still billows from reactors and fuel storage pools after helicopter missions
  • Police water cannons move in to spray overheating fuel rods
  • Radioactive plume to hit U.S. west coast tomorrow
  • 17,000 British nationals could be evacuated as last-ditch efforts are made to stop nuclear catastrophe
  • Foreign Office provides free-of-charge rescue flights from Tokyo
  • FO's new 'worst case scenario' says radiation in capital could harm humans
Poignant messages sent home by the workers trying to prevent full-scale nuclear catastrophe at Japan's stricken nuclear plant reveal that they know they are on a suicide mission.

One of the 'Fukushima Fifty' said they were stoically accepting their fate 'like a death sentence'.

Another, having absorbed a near-lethal dose of radiation, told his wife: 'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
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© ReutersDangerous work: officials wearing protective clothing and respirators head towards the Fukushima nuclear plant

Magic Wand

Getting healthy: When does prediction help people change their habits?

If you ask people how much they plan to exercise, they'll exercise more - but only if that's a personal goal, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"When people have set for themselves targets about how much they should engage in a behavior (say, if the behavior is how much to exercise per week), asking them to predict whether they will exercise in the next week makes them think about what they think they should do," write authors Pierre Chandon (INSEAD), Ronn J. Smith (University of Arkansas), Vicki G. Morwitz (New York University), Eric R. Spangenberg, and David E. Sprott (both Washington State University). "This reduces the chances that they will simply repeat their past behavior and hence breaks their habits."

The researchers also confirmed that we are creatures of habit: When people did not have strong personal goals for how much they should engage in a particular behavior (like watching the news), asking them to predict how much they would watch the news resulted in strengthening their existing habits.

Magic Wand

Study Shows: Tai Chi Beats Back Depression in the Elderly

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© yorkshireinternalarts.com
The numbers are, well, depressing: More than 2 million people age 65 and older suffer from depression, including 50 percent of those living in nursing homes. The suicide rate among white men over 85 is the highest in the country - six times the national rate.

And we're not getting any younger. In the next 35 years, the number of Americans over 65 will double and the number of those over 85 will triple.

So the question becomes, how to help elderly depressed individuals?

Researchers at UCLA turned to a gentle, Westernized version of tai chi chih, a 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art. When they combined a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, they found greater improvement in the level of depression - along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy - than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.

Bulb

Creativity is an upside to ADHD

creativity
© Unknown
Parents who believe that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder makes their kids more creative got a little more scientific support recently.

A new study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences found adults with ADHD enjoyed more creative achievement than those who didn't have the disorder.

"For the same reason that ADHD might create problems, like distraction, it can also allow an openness to new ideas," says Holly White, assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and co-author of the paper. "Not being completely focused on a task lets the mind make associations that might not have happened otherwise."

Family

'Pre-baby blues' due to lack of support from partner

sad pregnant
© www.123rf.com
Pregnancy is meant to be a joyous time however some women experience overwhelming 'baby blues' before the birth of their child. Anxiety and depression during pregnancy can result in premature birth, or low birth weight, and impact the child's health even into early school years. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Public Health shows that a bad relationship with their husband or partner is the strongest predictor of maternal emotional distress.

A Norwegian study involving almost 50,000 mums-to-be looked at how these women felt about their work, family or partner, and compared their bouts of illness, alcohol and smoking habits. The amount of support women received from their partners had the strongest link with mental health; those women who were most unhappy with their relationships were the most likely to be depressed.

Heart

Compassion: The Elixir of Life?

compassion
© Unknown
New research suggests that compassion might be able to slow the aging process.

Gerontologists (scientists who research aging) probing into why we age have found that a major part of the effects of aging may actually be collateral damage in the body due to inflammation.

On the whole, inflammation is vital. It is part of the immune response that helps facilitate healing of the body. But the problem is that on the one hand inflammation helps us heal, but on the other it can also cause us harm. Over time it can chip away at the body, like waves gradually eroding a coastline. Just as a dripping tap gradually fills a sink and causes collateral damage to the floor, so the effects of inflammation can gradually build up and cause serious harm to the body.

It is now known that inflammation plays a significant role in many serious diseases, and especially so in cardiovascular disease -- a major killer in the western world.

Comment: Try out the Eiriu Eolas stress reduction and rejuvenation program, with breathing exercises designed to stimulate the vagus nerve, thus reduce both your stress, anxiety and depression along with your inflammation!


Info

Dogs Probably Feel Sorry For Us

Dogs appear to empathize with us, to the point that some therapy dogs even seem to take on the emotions of their sick or distressed human charges, according to a new paper in the latest issue of Biology Letters.

cute dog therapy
© badrobot
The matter is more complicated than you might think, because researchers need to tease apart true empathy from a phenomenon known as "emotional contagion."

Magnify

Facebook walls boost self-esteem, finds study

"Mirror, mirror on the wall/Who in the land is fairest of all?" But unlike Snow White's Queen, many people don't feel better after gazing at their wall mirror. Facebook walls, on the other hand, can have a positive influence on the self-esteem of college students, report social media researchers at Cornell.

Visiting-your-Facebook-profile-boosts-your-self-esteem
© Unknown
This is probably because Facebook allows them to put their best face forward, says Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication; users can choose what they reveal about themselves and filter anything that might reflect badly.

Feedback from friends posted publicly on people's profiles also tend to be overwhelmingly positive, which can further boost self-esteem, said Hancock, who co-authored a paper published Feb. 24 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

"Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does not match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves," Hancock said. "We're not saying that it's a deceptive version of self, but it's a positive one."