Category Archives: Science

T.V. kids

Yet another study has confirmed the growing consensus that toddlers watching T.V. is not a good idea.  A blog post cites the following information from the study:

The results, the study authors say, were striking. Based on their analysis, each additional hour of TV that children watched at 29 months corresponded with a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% drop in math achievement, a 13% decrease in physical activity on weekends, a 10% increase in video-game playing and a 10% greater likelihood of getting teased, assaulted or insulted by classmates. The authors say the findings underscore the importance of limiting TV-viewing during the toddler years, which are a critical time for development.

On average, the study found, children were watching nearly 9 hours of TV per week at 29 months, and nearly 15 hours per week by 53 months. (Children with more educated mothers watched less; those from single-parent homes watched more.) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 watch no TV at all; children older than 2 should get no more than 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” each day. Although the TV-watching habits of children in the current study were within or close to the limits set by the AAP, the data suggest the children still suffered negative consequences.

A comment on this posting seems to represent a common response; the comment notes, “As a father of a 3 year old who is obsessed with Dora, I can tell when enough is enough. Some days she gets no TV, other days, she may get 1 or two Doras. Otherwise – it’s outside with the dogs or we play a game.”  But this father seems not to recognize from his rather self-satisfied belief in his parenting skills (which, I am sure are indeed excellent) that not all children are in a position to go outside to a nice yard to play with the family pet nor all parents able to spend an idyllic afternoon playing games with the little one.


Evolving beauty

In a previous post it was noted that physically attractive parents tend to have more daughters than sons.  An article in (via clarifies and draws out the inevitable conclusion that follows from that fact.  Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, observes:

Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons. If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.

The article cites the work of Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, who found that “beautiful women have [16%] more children than their plainer counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female. Those daughters, once adult, also tend to be attractive and so repeat the pattern.”  Thus, “Over generations, the scientists argue, this has led to women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing.”

As for men, “by contrast, good looks appear to count for little, with handsome men being no more successful than others in terms of numbers of children. This means there has been little pressure for men’s appearance to evolve.”

Not compatible with life or I can die now

A Scientific American interview with Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, examined the phenomenon of being “scared to death.”  (Via post in Boing Boing.)  It was prompted by a criminal case going on now:

A Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman whom police said he scared to death. In an attempt to elude cops after a botched bank robbery, the Associated Press reports that 20-year-old Larry Whitfield broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say he didn’t touch Parnell but that she died after suffering a heart attack that was triggered by terror.

Samuels explains that the “fight or flight response” can cause the heart to “go into abnormal rhythms that are not compatible with life.”  When asked if “other emotional states besides fear could lead to these fatal heart rhythm,” he responds:

Any strong positive or negative emotions such as happiness or sadness. There are people who have died in intercourse or in religious passion. There was a case of a golfer who hit a hole in one, turned to his partner and said, “I can die now”—and then he dropped dead. A study in Germany found an increase of sudden cardiac deaths on the days that the German soccer team was playing in the World Cup. For about seven days after the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon there was an increase of sudden cardiac death among New Yorkers.


An article in The Economist (via Arts & Letters Daily) examines the fact that today, 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s ideas are still rejected by so many people.  The article produces a chart showing the level of acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution in various countries.

The article comments:

In the United States a Gallup poll conducted last year found that only 14% of people agreed with the proposition that “humans developed over millions of years”, up from 9% in 1982. Acceptance of evolution varies around the world, with the most ardent believers being in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden (see chart). In general, as you might expect, a country’s belief in evolution is inversely correlated with its belief in God. But there is an interesting twist.

Gregory Paul, an independent researcher on evolution, and Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College in California, have argued controversially that a belief in God is inversely correlated with the level of what might be described as the intensity of the struggle for existence. In countries where food is plentiful, health care is universal and housing is accessible, people believe less in God than in those countries where their lives are insecure. A belief in God, and rejection of evolution, they suggest, is most valuable in those societies that are most subject to Darwinian pressures.

The color of dreams

An article in The Telegraph relates this fascinating tidbit:

Research from 1915 through to the 1950s suggested that the vast majority of dreams are in black and white but the tide turned in the sixties, and later results suggested that up to 83 per cent of dreams contain some colour.

The article presents the results of research done by Eva Murzyn, a psychology student at Dundee University that attributes this change to whether we were exposed to color television as children or only to black & white.  She notes, “What is even more interesting is that before the advent of black and white television all the evidence suggests we were dreaming in colour.”

Her research confirms the t.v. hypothesis.   Her results showed

Only 4.4 per cent of the under-25s’ dreams were black and white. The over-55s who had had access to colour TV and film during their childhood also reported a very low proportion of just 7.3 per cent.

But the over-55s who had only had access to black-and-white media reported dreaming in black and white roughly a quarter of the time.

Wrong yet again

We all know of course that horizontal stripes make you look fat and that to appear thinner you should wear vertical stripes.  Well, like so much we think we know, it appears we were wrong yet once again.  According to an article in Cosmos magazine (via SciTech Daily)

While investigating variation in the architectural design of columns in the temples of Paestum, Italy, Peter Thompson, a psychologist from the University of York, came across an illusion whereby the direction of the stripes determines the overall illusion of height and width.

“It is supposed to make the columns look straighter than they actually are. You might expect these columns to be cylindrical but they rarely are,” he said.

After looking into it further, Thompson discovered that this so-called ‘Opel-Kundt’ illusion was described by a German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz in the mid-19th century. He found that if two identical squares are drawn side-by-side, one with horizontal stripes, the other with vertical stripes, then the square with the horizontal stripes looked taller and narrower than the other with vertical stripes.

“I found that this relates to clothing too,” said Thompson. “In HelmHoltz’s Handbook of Physiological Optics he noted that ladies’ frocks with cross stripes on them make the figure look taller, so this idea has been around for a while.”

To test whether the illusion held true today, Thompson showed drawings of two women, side by side, to 20 individuals. One woman wore a dress with horizontal stripes and the other in a dress with vertical stripes.

After around 200 repetitions over which the body size of either woman was varied, he concluded that the horizontal stripes made the figure look taller and narrower.

You are what you listen to

According to a study conducted by the department of psychology at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, the type of music you prefer says a lot about what kind of personality you have.  The Independent summarizes the results of the study:

Indie: Devotees have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, kind or generous. However, they are creative.

Rock ‘n’ Roll: Fans have high self-esteem and are very creative, hard-working and at ease with themselves, but not very kind or generous.

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.

Classical: Classical music lovers have high self-esteem, are creative and at ease with themselves, but not outgoing.

Heavy metal: Very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.

Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but not very hard-working.

Country & Western: Very hard-working and outgoing.

Dance: Creative and outgoing but not kind or generous.

Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.

The biggest surprise that people have noted is the high correspondence in the personality profile between those who prefer classical music and those who prefer heavy metal.