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Babies, Even When Premature, 'See' With Their Hands

Image
© Frédérique Berne-Audéoud
A premature baby holding a cylinder.
Even premature babies at 33 weeks post-conceptional age, about 2 months before term (40 gestational weeks), are capable of recognizing and distinguishing two objects of different shapes (a prism and a cylinder) with their right or left hands. This is the first demonstration of fully efficient manual perception in preterm human infants.

The phenomenon was discovered by researchers at two laboratories: the Laboratoire de psychologie et neurocognition (CNRS / University of Grenoble 2 / University of Chambéry) and the Laboratoire de psychologie de la perception (CNRS / University of Paris Descartes) in cooperation with a team from the Neonatology Department of the Grenoble University Hospitals. The findings have been published on the PLoS One website.

The source of all perceptual knowledge, the sense organs and sensory systems of premature babies are less efficient than those of full-term babies, even though the latter are also not yet fully developed. Starting in the very first minutes after birth, a full-term infant is subjected to extensive tactile stimulation: it is washed, held on its mother's stomach, nursed, diapered, etc. Its body almost immediately experiences contact with skin other than its own, with towels, sheets, nipples -- in short, with objects of different textures, shapes and consistencies. It is common knowledge that a baby will flex its fingers tightly if its palm is touched by a finger, but this grasping reaction is not just a simple reflex. Even in the first hours of its life, a full-term newborn already has effective manual perception, a tactile capacity that enables it to make sense of its environment. But what about the premature infant, whose neurological functions are even less developed due to its early birth?

Family

Good Parenting Triumphs Over Prenatal Stress

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© iStockphoto/Gina Neal
A mother's nurture may provide powerful protection against risks her baby faces in the womb.
A mother's nurture may provide powerful protection against risks her baby faces in the womb, according to a new article published online February 25 in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The research shows that fetuses exposed to high levels of stress hormone -- shown to be a harbinger for babies' poor cognitive development -- can escape this fate if their mothers provide them sensitive care during infancy and toddler-hood.

The new study represents the first, direct human evidence that fetuses exposed to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may have trouble paying attention or solving problems later on. But what may be more intriguing is the study's second finding -- that this negative link disappears almost entirely if the mother forges a secure connection with her baby.

"Our results shape the argument that fetal exposure to cortisol -- which may in part be controlled by the mother's stress level -- and early caregiving experience combine to influence a child's neurodevelopment," said study author Thomas O'Connor, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and of Psychology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and director of the Wynne Center for Family Research. "If future studies confirm these findings, we'll need to not only engineer ways to reduce stress in pregnancy, but we'll need to also promote sensitive care-giving by moms and dads."

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Doritos Ads Represent Sick, Demented Nature of Junk Food Companies and Their Products

Junk food advertising has reached a new low with the recent Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" ads which portray Doritos consumers as violent murderers who will kill fellow human beings to get a bag of Doritos.

One Doritos ad portrays a man backing out of a parking lot when his car strikes an innocent person who drops a bag of Doritos and falls to the ground behind the car. Rather than trying to help the innocent victim, this man throws his car into reverse and drives over the victim, killing him with the vehicle and stealing the bag of Doritos.

The message? Doritos are so valuable that it's okay to kill people just to score a bag.

A second Doritos ad shows two loser-looking gym bums being attacked by an insane junk food ninja who uses Doritos chips as throwing stars to murder the guy who stole his bag of Doritos. The message here? Doritos are so valuable that it's okay to kill others to defend your snack.

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Surge in Infertility Tourism Leads to Viking Babies

In vitro fertilization (IVF) has become a popular method by which women who are having trouble getting pregnant are able to use donor sperm to achieve pregnancy. In the UK, however, there is a shortage of donor sperm that is causing British women to have to travel to countries like Denmark in order to find some.

A 2005 British law change outlawed the donating of sperm anonymously. UK law also has a long-standing rule that prohibits men who donate from receiving any sort of monetary compensation. Because of these rules, and the fact that many men fear having to provide their identities with the donation because the children may eventually try to find and meet them, few British men are donating sperm these days. As a result, the waiting list to receive IVF in the UK is several years.

In 2007, Denmark changed its laws and now permits anonymous donors, which has led to a surge in foreign women coming there to receive IVF treatment. Danish donors are also compensated between $60 and $200 for their donations which has helped to facilitate a large number of casual donors. The Danish sperm bank, Cryos, is the largest sperm bank in the world and is a popular destination for "infertility tourists" seeking to have children.

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How to Get Rid of Head Lice Naturally

Head lice are easily transmitted by head-to head contact or by sharing combs, brushes or caps. Infestations are common in school children but this is not an indication of poor hygiene or dirty hair. Lice lay their eggs along the base of the hair shaft, close to the scalp. Conventional cures include the application of strong smelling insecticides or shampoos which can be harmful to health, especially in the case of small children. Go the natural route in preventing and treating head lice infestations.

Preventing Head Lice

Do not think a problem with lice will not affect you or your family. Inspect your child's head regularly for lice and nits, paying particular attention to the hairline, neck and areas above the ears. If there is an outbreak at your child's school, be even more thorough. To repel lice, comb the hair twice a week with a comb dipped in a mug of warm water containing a few drops of tea tree oil.

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Others May Know Us Better than We Know Ourselves, Study Finds

© iStockphoto/Stas Perov
Since at least the days of Socrates, humans have been advised to "know thyself." And through all the years, many, including many personality and social psychologists, have believed the individual is the best judge of his or her own personality.
Since at least the days of Socrates, humans have been advised to "know thyself." And through all the years, many, including many personality and social psychologists, have believed the individual is the best judge of his or her own personality.

Now a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis has shown that we are not the know-it-alls that we think we are.

Simine Vazire, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, has found that the individual is more accurate in assessing one's own internal, or neurotic traits, such as anxiety, while friends are better barometers of intellect-related traits, such as intelligence and creativity, and even strangers are equally adept as our friends and ourselves at spotting the extrovert in us all, a psychology domain known as "extroversion."

"I think that it's important to really question this knee-jerk reaction that we are our own best experts," says Vazire. "Personality is not who you think you are, it's who you are. Some people think by definition that we are the experts on our personality because we get to write the story, but personality is not the story -- it's the reality. So, you do get to write your own story about how you think you are, and what you tell people about yourself, but there still is reality out there, and, guess what? Other people are going to see the reality, regardless of what story you believe."

Syringe

Why children born by IVF may be more at risk of autism and childhood cancers

The night my daughter was born, I was filled with conflicting emotions. I had dreamed, hoped and prayed for a baby and now here she was, at last. While I was overjoyed, I still could not believe that this longed-for, perfect child was actually mine. Caroline, now 15, will always be extra special to me because I never thought I'd be lucky enough to have her. After years of tests to find out why I was not getting pregnant, followed by invasive medical treatment and devastating miscarriages, my beautiful baby, my own miracle, had entered the world.

Nowadays, the IVF treatment I underwent to conceive her is almost commonplace, but back then women like me still felt like pioneers. The birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, had happened only a dozen years earlier. I didn't know anyone who had had a test-tube baby, as they were then called, and the whole experience felt like a leap in the dark. I was undeterred though: like most infertile women, I was driven by an all-consuming need to hold my own child in my arms, whatever the cost.

Comment: There's nothing in any way "miraculous" about forcing nature to your will.


Health

Stress Raises Risk of Mental Decline in Older Diabetics, Study Shows

Stress raises the risk of memory loss and cognitive decline among older people with diabetes, research suggests.

University researchers studied more than 900 men and women aged between 60 and 75 with type-2 diabetes.

Evaluating brain function

Scientists evaluated mental abilities with a range of tests, including memory function and how quickly participants processed information.

They compared this with general intelligence levels, using vocabulary tests, to work out whether brain function in participants had diminished over time.

They found that brain function slowed in participants with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Health

Why Symptoms of Schizophrenia Emerge in Young Adulthood

In reports of two new studies, researchers led by Johns Hopkins say they have identified the mechanisms rooted in two anatomical brain abnormalities that may explain the onset of schizophrenia and the reason symptoms don't develop until young adulthood. Both types of anatomical glitches are influenced by a gene known as DISC1, whose mutant form was first identified in a Scottish family with a strong history of schizophrenia and related mental disorders. The findings could lead to new ways to treat, prevent or modify the disorder or its symptoms.

In one of the studies, published in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers examined DISC1's role in forming connections between nerve cells. Numerous studies have suggested that schizophrenia results from abnormal connectivity. The fact that symptoms typically arise soon after adolescence, a time of massive reorganization of connections between nerve cells, supports this idea.

The scientists began their study by surveying rat nerve cells to see where DISC1 was most active. Unsurprisingly, they found the highest DISC1 activity in connections between nerve cells. To determine what DISC1 was doing in this location, the researchers used a technique called RNA interference to partially shut off DISC1 activity. Consequently, they saw a transient increase and eventual reduction in size and number of dendritic spines, spikes on nerve cells' branch-like extensions that receive input from other nerve cells.

Health

Treadmill Training Could Help Tots Walk

Using a treadmill could help infants with prenatal complications or who were injured at birth walk earlier and better, according to a University of Michigan researcher.

Prenatal injuries can often result in self-correcting or fixable neuromotor delays, but sometimes toddlers get a more serious diagnosis, such as cerebral palsy, says Rosa Angulo-Barroso, associate professor of movement science at the U-M School of Kinesiology. Some of those diagnoses may come much later, or in mild cases, never, she says.

Angulo-Barroso and colleagues followed 15 infants at risk for neuromotor delays for two years and tested their changes in physical activity and treadmill-stepping in their homes. The infants were assisted using the treadmill by their parents.