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Mon, 06 Jul 2020
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Sheeple

Study demonstrates remarkable power of social norms

Most people want to be normal. So, when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center.

Marketers know about this impulse, and a lot of marketing makes use of social norms. This is especially true of campaigns targeting some kind of public good: reducing smoking or binge drinking, for example, or encouraging recycling. The problem with these campaigns is that they often do not work. Indeed, they sometimes appear to have the opposite of their intended effect.

Why would this be? Psychologist Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos believes that despite the fact that we want to be normal, most people are very bad at estimating what normal human behavior really looks like. For example, many people probably think it's typical to spew 11 tons of carbon into the world every year, while others might think that a couple tons is probably closer to the mark. But, when Al Gore tells us that the national average is in fact 7.5 tons, he likely is sparking two very different reactions: Some feel guilty for being so gluttonous. But others probably react: whew, did something right for a change.

Arrow Down

Dieting does not work

Will you lose weight and keep it off if you diet? No, probably not, UCLA researchers report in the April issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.


"You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back," said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study. "We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people."

Magic Wand

Genetic Mutation Boosts Memory

Canadian researchers have discovered a gene mutation that actually improves long-term memory and could eventually lead to a memory-enhancing pill.

Working with mice, lead researcher Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a postgraduate fellow at McGill University in Montreal, and colleagues found that rodents that had a defective version of a gene that produces a memory-blocking protein could learn and remember tasks faster than normal mice.

"We discovered a protein that is called eIF2a that, when mutated, mice have an enhanced memory," Mattioli said. "We hope that this could be a good target to develop a compound that will mimic this mutation, and we can enhance memory in humans," he said.

Red Flag

NYC Eyes Circumcision Push to Fight AIDS

NEW YORK - City health officials are considering a program to urge circumcision for men at high risk of AIDS, noting studies that the procedure can reduce the chances of getting the disease.

Clock

Genes help determine how you perform at night

How well people perform on tests after being deprived of sleep depends in part on their genes, new research suggests. After staying awake all night, individuals with a long version of the PER3 gene only scored half as well on cognitive tests as subjects with a short version.

What is more, the greatest differences in performance were seen during the small hours - the time when most tiredness-related accidents happen and when shift-workers have most trouble staying awake.

"It may be there are people who are genetically predisposed against shift work," says Malcolm von Schantz, at the University of Surrey, UK. But he emphasises that gene tests should not be used to discriminate against such individuals. It is very possible that carriers of the long PER3 gene have advantages at other times, he notes.

Magic Wand

Research finds that culture is key to interpreting facial emotions

Study examines how Japan and United States vary in deciphering facial cues.

Research has uncovered that culture is a determining factor when interpreting facial emotions. The study reveals that in cultures where emotional control is the standard, such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where emotion is openly expressed, such as the United States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret emotion.

Across two studies, using computerized icons and human images, the researchers compared how Japanese and American cultures interpreted images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

"These findings go against the popular theory that the facial expressions of basic emotions can be universally recognized," said University of Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. "A person's culture plays a very strong role in determining how they will perceive emotions and needs to be considered when interpreting facial expression"

Display

ISU psychologists publish three new studies on violent video game effects on youths

New research by Iowa State University psychologists provides more concrete evidence of the adverse effects of violent video game exposure on the behavior of children and adolescents.

ISU Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson, Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile, and doctoral student Katherine Buckley share the results of three new studies in their book, "Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents" (Oxford University Press, 2007). It is the first book to unite empirical research and public policy related to violent video games.

Anderson and Gentile will present their findings at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Boston March 29 through April 1.

Magnify

Red meat 'ups breast cancer risk'

Eating red meat significantly increases a post-menopausal woman's chance of breast cancer, research suggests.

Magic Wand

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream: New Insight Into Melatonin Production

In the April 1 issue of Genes & Development, a Korean research team led by Dr. Kyong-Tai Kim (Pohang University) describes how melatonin production is coordinated with the body's natural sleep/wake cycles.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, which helps to regulate our bodies' circadian rhythm (the roughly-24-hour cycle around which basic physiological processes proceed).

Normally, melatonin production is inhibited by light and enhanced by darkness, usually peaking in the middle of the night. Melatonin's expression pattern is mimicked by a protein called AANAT, which is a key enzyme in the melatonin biosynthesis pathway.

No Entry

Stop signs: Study identifies 'braking' mechanism in the brain

As wise as the counsel to "finish what you've started" may be, it is also sometimes critically important to do just the opposite -- stop. And the ability to stop quickly, to either keep from gunning the gas when a pedestrian steps into your path or to bite your tongue mid-sentence when the subject of gossip suddenly comes into view, may depend on a few "cables" in the brain.

Researchers led by cognitive neuroscientist Adam Aron, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, have found white matter tracts -- bundles of neurons, or "cables," forming direct, high-speed connections, between distant regions of the brain -- that appear to play a significant role in the rapid control of behavior.

Published in the April 4 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the study is the first to identify these white matter tracts in humans, confirming similar findings in monkeys, and the first to relate them to the brain's activity while people voluntarily control their movements.