Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Young children–just 4 or 5 years old–may be better at college students at catching on when it comes to operating mobile apps, remote controls, and other tech gadgets that often leave adults scratching their heads and fumbling through manuals. According to new research from the University of California at Berkeley, it’s the tots’ openness to thinking about new challenges in multiple ways that enables them to problem-solve their way to success with gadgets and games.
In the study, more than 100 preschoolers and more than 170 college students were given a music box game and shown how the placement of differently-shaped clay pieces on top of the box might make it turn on. The subjects were then asked to turn the box on. NPR reports on the findings:
“What we discovered, to our surprise, was not only were 4-year-olds amazingly good at doing this, but they were actually better at it than grown-ups were,” [psychologist Alison] Gopnik says.
So why are little kids who can’t even tie their shoes better at figuring out the gadget than adults? After all, conventional wisdom contends that young children really don’t understand abstract things like cause and effect until pretty late in their development.
Gopnik thinks it’s because children approach solving the problem differently than adults.
Children try a variety of novel ideas and unusual strategies to get the gadget to go. For example, Gopnik says, “If the child sees that a square block and a round block independently turn the music on, then they’ll take a square and take a circle and put them both on the machine together to make it go, even though they never actually saw the experimenters do that.”
This is flexible, fluid thinking — children exploring an unlikely hypothesis. Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik. Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one,” says Gopnik.
Gopnik went on to say that this openness may disappear early in childhood–even by kindergarten, it may be diminishing.
Image: Confused college student, via Shutterstock
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Monday, June 30th, 2014
The number of pregnant women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes is on the rise–recent data from the CDC reported that 1 in 10 pregnant women has the condition. Those women may be relieved to learn of a small but promising new study that has found that taking certain supplements–vitamin D and calcium, specifically–can actually lower blood sugar readings and improve other measures of metabolic health that can suffer with gestational diabetes.
The study, which was conducted in Iran, was published in the journal Diabetologia and compared blood levels of women with gestational diabetes, some of whom had been given vitamin D and calcium supplements, and some of whom were given placebo pills. The New York Times has more on the findings–and a cautious word from the researchers:
In the supplement group, fasting blood glucose and cholesterol levels improved, measures that deteriorated in the placebo group. There was no effect on triglyceride levels.
The senior author, Dr. Ahmad Esmaillzadeh, an associate professor at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, said that these supplements are not suitable for all women.
“Vitamin D has some toxic effects on women and their babies, so we cannot recommend that all women should take it,” he said. “But we can recommend it for people with gestational diabetes who are vitamin D deficient.”
Image: Pregnant woman holding supplements, via Shutterstock
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Monday, June 30th, 2014
The bizarre story of a live-in nanny who reportedly refused to leave a California family’s home for weeks after she was fired appears to have concluded, as news sources are reporting that Diane Stretton has left the home.
Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte of Upland, California say they fired Stretton a few weeks after they hired her, claiming she was refusing to work because of health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The story took its strange turn at that point, when the Bracamontes allege that Stretton refused to accept her firing, remaining in her room in the family’s home and only coming out to eat. When the Bracamontes presented her with a letter requiring she leave their home within 30 days, they say Stretton, who is 64 years old, responded that she would sue the family for elder abuse and wrongful firing. A call to the police by the family proved fruitless, as police declined to get involved in a “civil matter.”
The Bracamontes have three children, who are ages 11, 4, and 1. Their agreement with Stretton was reportedly that she would care for the children and do some housework in exchange for room and board.
According to ABC News, the story took yet another bizarre turn when Stretton went to a local police station after leaving the Bracamontes and said she was being followed (she was–by a photographer). She left the station but allegedly hid in her car outside the station for hours before leaving.
More from ABC on the story, including emerging details about Stretton’s history of filing lawsuits that are later deemed to be frivolous (she is on California’s Vexatious Litigant List):
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Lt. John Moore of the Upland Police Department confirmed to ABC News that there is no immediate action that can be taken against Stretton, saying “generally, once somebody has established residency, you have to go through a formal eviction process.”
While Stretton initially refused to leave the Bracamonte home, Marcella Bracamonte confirmed to ABC News that Stretton disappeared from the home early Thursday morning.
“She left around 7 a.m. yesterday morning and she never came back,” Bracamonte told ABC News on Friday.
The former nanny was not seen until Friday, when she was spotted by the press as she arrived at a local police station according to KABC-TV.
It was unclear whether Stretton would return for her belongings or file suit against the Bracamonte family as they claimed she threatened to do.
Court documents obtained by ABC News revealed that Stretton was involved in at least six lawsuits in Riverside, Calif., since 2005, four in which she was the plaintiff, one in which she was the defendant and one in which she was the petitioner.
Monday, June 30th, 2014
Many men who are facing “male factor infertility” because their sperm’s size and shape is not of a high enough quality to fertilize a woman’s egg and help her become pregnant turn to lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking or drinking alcohol. But a new study published in the journal Human Reproduction has found that those lifestyle adjustments–while a good idea for men who want to be healthier and lower their risk of other health conditions–aren’t likely to help solve their sperm quality issues.
Other factors, including smoking marijuana, were found to lower sperm quality, as was collecting samples during the hot summer months. And the size and shape of sperm–known as “morphology”–was better among men who had abstained from sexual activity for a few days before collection. Reuters has more:
The researchers found that men were about twice as likely to have abnormal sperm if the sample was collected during the summer. They were also more likely to have abnormal sperm if they were young and smoked marijuana.
Although most other medical and lifestyle factors, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, didn’t seem to be linked to sperm morphology, Smith said he still would advise his patients to be as healthy as possible.
“Marijuana is certainly a potential worrisome risk factor for hurting sperm quality,” he said. “I’d tell my patients to stop smoking marijuana. I wouldn’t say to my patient to go out and do whatever you want because it won’t make a difference. To me, that would be overstating those results.”
The researchers also caution that the men included in the study may not be representative of all couples with fertility problems.
Smith said a better study would be to focus on whether the couples went on to conceive a child.
Image: Man eating a salad, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, June 26th, 2014
A Harvard University survey of school-aged kids has found that 80 percent of children believe that their parents care more about happiness and academic and athletic achievement than moral attributes like kindness. The survey collected opinions from 10,000 children from 33 school districts nationwide, and though researchers were not surprised that kids reported parental concern about their happiness, they were taken aback by how strongly children perceive their parents’ attention to be focused on achievement as a priority. More from Today.com:
Students said that achievement was the most important value and thought their peers would agree. More importantly, students reported that their parents appreciated achievement much more than happiness or kindness. They were three times as likely to agree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member.”
This means kids think much less about being nice than they do about getting an A on a test, winning a swim meet, or being best camper. Yet, all this focus on accomplishment doesn’t lead to content kids.
“The achievement pressure can have a bunch of negative results,” says Weissbourd, who is co-director of the Making Caring Common project. “I’m concerned that it makes kids less happy.”
Weissbourd says living up to this standard causes stress and depression and can lead to bad behaviors, such as cheating. Studies have found that 50 percent of students admit to cheating and 75 percent say they have copied someone else’s homework, possibly in an attempt to live up to expectations.
But, teaching children about caring can enrich their lives.
“I think that the irony is that when kids are caring and really able to tune in and take responsibility for other people, they are going to have better relationships,” he says. “And those relationships are probably the most important aspect of happiness.
Image: Straight A’s report card, via Shutterstock
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