Infants pay more attention to native language cues

London (IANS) Nearly from the moment of birth, human beings possess the capacity to distinguish between speakers of their native language and other language. Thus, they pay more attention to native language cues in deciding where to place their focus as well as adopt to the native speakers’ cultural behaviour, a study has found.

“The study reveals the great importance of cultural and linguistic similarity in how infants choose to direct their attention,” said Hanna Marno from the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. The findings show how infants and young children are tuned to quickly acquire the knowledge of their society and adapt to their cultural environment, Marno added.

In the study, the researchers determined to know whether young babies would selectively pay attention to different speakers in their environment, even when they do not understand the meaning of the words. They conducted an experiment that included forty 12-month-old infants, who first listened to two adult female speakers — one in their native language of Italian, the other in Slovenian — for two minutes.

The infants then observed movies of both women — the native and non-native speaker separately — gazing at two colorful objects. The results showed that the infants focused on the object that had first been presented by the native speaker for a longer period of time. Even though language was not directly related to the objects, infants appeared to be making linguistic distinctions in their object preferences.

The experiment proved that listening to native speakers affects infants’ behaviour, the study observed. Humans have a hard-wired preference for own language patterns, so much so that the cries of very young infants reflect the melodies of their native language, the researchers said, in the paper recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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How kids’ perceptions on truth, lie change with age

Toronto Children have no difficulty and can easily distinguish between truth and lies, regardless of age. However, as they age, they get confused around particular kinds of truths and lies, a study has found.

Younger children see things more starkly. For them, truths are good and lies are bad. But, by the time the children are 10-12 years old, they become more aware that truth and lies are less binary. “Children get a lot of messages from their parents saying that lying is always bad, but at the same time they see their parents telling ‘white’ lies to make life easier. Depending on their age, this is likely to be a bit confusing for children,” said Victoria Talwar from the McGill University in Quebec, Canada.

As children get older, their moral evaluations of both lies and truths increasingly gets influenced by whether they think this behaviour will cause harm to either others or themselves. Younger children saw false confessions to help someone else as being more negative than older ones did. Younger children are less concerned by truth-telling that had negative consequences for someone else, whereas older children were more conflicted about tattling.

“The older they are, the more interested children are in the consequences of these actions. They are also more able to start looking at the intentions behind the speech,” added Shanna Mary Williams, doctoral student at the McGill University.

Further, the study showed that both young and old children had different views when it came to the skill of deciding which behaviours to reward or condemn.While younger children may be reflecting what is taught by parents and caregivers when it comes to tattling (i.e. that honesty in all forms is virtuous), the older children may be less likely to reward tattling because they are concerned with how their peers will perceive this behaviour, the researchers observed.

In both cases, parents and teachers need to have a much more involved conversation about truth-telling or lie-telling with children starting as early as the age six, the researchers suggested. For the study, the team assessed how a child’s moral understanding develops. They studied the behaviour of close to 100 children, aged six to 12. “Looking at how children see honesty and deceit is a way of gaining insight into different stages of moral and social development,” Talwar said.

The study was published in the journal International Review of Pragmatics.

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Fitness trackers do not appear to improve health: Lancet

Singapore, Oct 5 Regularly using a wearable fitness tracker or pedometre that monitors and provides feedback on physical activity does not increase activity levels enough to benefit your health, even with the incentive of a financial reward, says a study.

The findings published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology are based on a randomised trial involving 800 full-time workers.

“Over the course of the year-long study, volunteers who wore the activity trackers recorded no change in their step count but moderately increased their amount of aerobic activity by an average of 16 minutes per week,” explained lead author Eric Finkelstein, Professor at Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School in Singapore.

“However, we found no evidence that the device promoted weight loss or improved blood pressure or cardiorespiratory fitness, either with or without financial incentives,” Finkelstein said.

This trial of economic incentives to promote physical activity (TRIPPA) was designed to assess the extent to which an activity tracker (in this case a Fitbit Zip worn on the waist) with and without cash or charitable incentives could increase physical activity and improve health outcomes among 800 participants (aged 21 to 65 years) recruited from 13 organisations in Singapore.

The researchers also measured the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) minutes per week (aerobic steps) as well as participants’ weight, blood pressure, cardiorespiratory fitness, and self-reported quality of life at the start of the study and six and 12 months later.

The study found that cash incentives helped increase exercise levels at six months, but not enough to benefit health, and 90 per cent of participants stopped using the devices once incentives stopped.

“While there was some progress early on, once the incentives were stopped, volunteers did worse than if the incentives had never been offered, and most stopped wearing the trackers,” Finkelstein said.

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Exercise hormone can help shed, prevent fat

New York, Oct 5 Does working out feels like more of pain to you? Take heart. Exercise releases a hormone that can help your body shed fat and keep it from forming again, which may also act as potential target to fight obesity, diabetes and other health issues, a study has found. 

The results showed that hormone irisin helps convert calorie-storing white fat cells into brown fat cells that burn energy and may be an attractive target for fighting obesity and diabetes.

“Exercise produces more irisin, which has many beneficial effects including fat reduction, stronger bones and better cardiovascular health,” said Li-Jun Yang, Professor at the University of Florida.

The hormone works by boosting the activity of genes and UCP1 — a protein crucial to turning white fat cells into brown cells.

Further, irisin, which surges when the heart and other muscles are exerted, also inhibits the formation of fatty tissue.

For the study, researchers collected fat cells donated by 28 patients who had breast reduction surgery.

After exposing the samples to irisin, they found a nearly five-fold increase in cells with protein UCP1 — crucial to fat “burning”.

“We used human fat tissue cultures to prove that irisin has a positive effect by turning white fat into brown fat and that it increases the body’s fat-burning ability,” Yang said.

Moreover, among the tested fat-tissue samples, the team found that irisin also reduced the number of mature fat cells by 20 to 60 per cent compared with those of a control group.

That suggests irisin reduces fat storage in the body by hindering the process that turns undifferentiated stem cells into fat cells while also promoting the stem cells’ differentiation into bone-forming cells, the researchers said.

The findings about irisin’s role in regulating fat cells sheds more light on how working out helps people stay slender, Yang said.

The study was published recently in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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Mothers find parenting more tiring than fathers

New York, Oct 5 (IANS) Parents generally enjoy being with their kids but mothers enjoy it less than fathers because they do more of the “work” and less of the “fun” parenting duties, says a study.

The researchers found that mothers reported more stress and greater fatigue than fathers due to parenting tasks.

This experience gap is attributed to the differing tasks of each parent.

“Mothers are more likely than fathers to be called on by kids ‘around the clock’. Fathers’ sleep and down-time are less likely than mothers’ to be interrupted by kids. This is part of the reason fathers are less tired than mothers when parenting,” said one of the researchers Ann Meier from University of Minnesota in the US.

Meier and her colleagues Kelly Musick at Cornell University and Sarah Flood at the Minnesota Population Centre used time diary data from more than 12,000 parents that linked to their feelings in the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey.

The team examined the types of parenting activities mothers and fathers performed and individual well-being during the activities.

The researchers found that not only do parenting activities between mothers and fathers differ, the environment surrounding the activity differs as well.

“When mothers are with their kids, they are more often by themselves. When fathers are with their kids, they are more likely to have other adults around, offering some back-up. This helps us understand why fathers are less stressed when with kids,” Meier explained.

Sleep also had an effect on parents’ differing levels of happiness, Meier said.

The findings were published in the journal American Sociological Review

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Oxygen declining from Earth’s atmosphere faster now

New York, Oct 4 (IANS) Driven by burning of fossil fuels, which consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, the rate of oxygen decline from the Earth’s atmosphere has speeded up over the past 100 years, says a study.

Researchers from Princeton University compiled 30 years of data to construct the first ice core-based record of atmospheric oxygen concentrations spanning the past 800,000 years, according to the paper published in the journal Science.

The record showed that atmospheric oxygen has declined 0.7 per cent relative to current atmospheric-oxygen concentrations, a reasonable pace by geological standards, the researchers said.

During the past 100 years, however, atmospheric oxygen has declined by a comparatively speedy 0.10 per cent because of the burning of fossil fuels, which consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide.

“This record represents an important benchmark for the study of the history of atmospheric oxygen,” said Assistant Professor of Geosciences John Higgins.

“Understanding the history of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is intimately connected to understanding the evolution of complex life,” Higgins noted.

Curiously, the decline in atmospheric oxygen over the past 800,000 years was not accompanied by any significant increase in the average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, though carbon dioxide concentrations do vary over individual ice age cycles.

To explain this apparent paradox, the researchers called upon a theory for how the global carbon cycle, atmospheric carbon dioxide and the Earth’s temperature are linked on geologic timescales.

“The planet has various processes that can keep carbon dioxide levels in check,” said first author Daniel Stolper.

The researchers discussed a process known as “silicate weathering” in particular, wherein carbon dioxide reacts with exposed rock to produce, eventually, calcium carbonate minerals, which trap carbon dioxide in a solid form.

As temperatures rise due to higher carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, silicate-weathering rates are hypothesised to increase and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere faster.

The study suggests that the extra carbon dioxide emitted due to declining oxygen concentrations in the atmosphere stimulated silicate weathering, which stabilised carbon dioxide but allowed oxygen to continue to decline.

“The Earth can take care of extra carbon dioxide when it has hundreds of thousands or millions of years to get its act together. In contrast, humankind is releasing carbon dioxide today so quickly that silicate weathering can’t possibly respond fast enough,” Higgins noted.

“The Earth has these long processes that humankind has short-circuited,” Higgins said.

The researchers built their history of atmospheric oxygen using measured ratios of oxygen-to-nitrogen found in air trapped in Antarctic ice. This method was established by co-author Michael Bender.

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Antibiotic-resistance making kidney infections more deadly

New York, Oct 5 Medication-resistant bacteria are making it more difficult to treat a common but severe kidney infection, says a study.

Pyelonephritis — infection of the kidney usually caused by E. coli bacteria and which can start as a urinary tract infection — causes fever, back pain and vomiting.

About half of people infected require hospitalisation. If not treated with effective antibiotics, it can cause sepsis and death.

“This is a very real example of the threat posed by the emergence of new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which greatly complicates treatment of infection,” said the study’s lead author David Talan, Professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles.

In an earlier study based on data from 10 large hospital emergency departments in the US, almost 12 per cent of people diagnosed with pyelonephritis had infections resistant to the standard class of antibiotic used in treatment — fluoroquinolone. That is up from four per cent in a similar study conducted a decade ago.

The new study — published in the jurnal Emerging Infectious Diseases — also documents the emergence of infections caused by a specific strain of E. coli that is resistant to additional types of antibiotics, severely limiting treatment options.

That strain, dubbed ESBL for the antibiotic-destroying enzymes it produces (extended-spectrum beta-lactamases), was not detected in the previous study.

Currently, there are only a few intravenous antibiotic options to treat ESBL-related infections, and no oral antibiotics that are consistently effective.

The study included 453 people diagnosed with kidney infection. The study participants were diagnosed between July 2013 and December 2014 in 10 emergency departments at large hospitals in the US.

The rates of ESBL-related infections varied from zero per cent to more than 20 per cent, depending on the location of the emergency room and patient risk factors.

About three of every four people infected with ESBL-producing E. coli were initially treated with antibiotics ineffective against that particular strain of bacteria, placing them at risk for poor outcomes, the researchers reported.

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Suffered acne? You may show fewer signs of ageing

London, Oct 4 Suffering from those itchy red pimples? Take heart, as your skin may age more slowly than those with no history of acne, a study has found.
Signs of ageing such as wrinkles and skin thinning often appear much later in people who have experienced acne in their lifetime.
It has been suggested that this is due to increased oil production but there are likely to be other factors involved, the study said. The findings revealed that people who have previously suffered from acne are likely to have longer telomeres in their white blood cells, meaning that their cells could be better protected against ageing.

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences found at the end of chromosomes, which protect them from deteriorating during the process of replication. The telomeres gradually break down and shrink as cells age, eventually leading to cell death, which is a normal part of human growth and ageing.

“Our findings suggest that the cause could be linked to the length of telomeres which appears to be different in acne sufferers and means their cells may be protected against ageing,” said lead author Simone Ribero, a dermatologist at King’s College London.

Previous studies have shown that white blood cell telomere length can be predictive of biological ageing and is linked with telomere length in other cells in the body.

“For many years dermatologists have identified that the skin of acne sufferers appears to age more slowly than in those who have not experienced any acne in their lifetime. Whilst this has been observed in clinical settings, the cause of this was previously unclear,” Ribero said.
‘Longer telomeres are likely to be one factor explaining the protection against premature skin ageing in individuals who previously suffered from acne,” added Veronique Bataille from King’s College London.
In the study the team measured the length of white blood cell telomeres in 1,205 twins.
A quarter of the twins reported having experienced acne in their lifetime.

Statistical analyses which adjusted for age, relatedness, weight and height showed that telomere length in acne sufferers was significantly longer, meaning that white blood cells were more protected from the usual deterioration with age.
The researchers also examined gene expression in pre-existing skin biopsies from the same twins to identify possible gene pathways linked to acne.

One gene pathway (the p53 pathway), which regulates programmed cell death, was found to be less expressed in acne sufferers’ skin.
This requires further investigation to identify other genes involved in cell ageing and how they differ in acne sufferers, the researchers noted, in the paper published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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Late pregnancies may increase risk of autism in kids !

London, Oct 4 (IANS) Parents who reproduce later in life are more likely to have children who develop autism disorders, a study finds.

The study, published in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, suggested that late reproduction was not associated with increased risk for schizophrenia in offspring. The authors used a sample of about 1.7 million people out of which approximately 6.5 per cent were diagnosed with autistic or schizophrenic disorders during this time.

Their data included autistic and schizophrenic diagnoses for up to 30 years of age and over 20 potentially confounding medical and socio-economic factors. Above-average paternal and maternal ages were associated with increased risk of most autistic disorders in offspring and this effect was magnified in offspring of very old fathers.

However, advanced maternal and paternal ages were not associated with higher risk of any schizophrenic disorder. In contrast, children of young parents had reduced risks of autism and only children of very young mothers had increased risks of schizophrenia.

More dissimilarly aged parents meant enhanced risk for both autistic and schizophrenic disorders in offspring compared to parents with similar ages at childbirth, but only up to a certain point where risks levelled out. “The magnitude of these increases and decreases in statistical risk need to be scaled against the fortunately rather modest absolute risks of being diagnosed with a mental disorder,” said Sean Byars, researcher at the Copenhagen Centre for Social Evolution, in Denmark.

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Cheers! Your evening drink may work as anti-depressant!

New York Can having a few drinks help people with clinical depression feel better and behave normally? Yes, at least in terms of biochemistry. Researchers have found that alcohol produces the same neural and molecular changes as drugs that have proven to be rapidly effective anti-depressants.

“Because of the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder and alcoholism, there is the widely recognised self-medication hypothesis, suggesting that depressed individuals may turn to drinking as a means to treat their depression,” said principal investigator Kimberly Raab-Graham, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“We now have biochemical and behavioural data to support that hypothesis,” he noted, adding that this, however, does not suggest that alcohol can be regarded as an effective treatment for depression. “There’s definitely a danger in self-medicating with alcohol. There’s a very fine line between it being helpful and harmful, and at some point during repeated use self-medication turns into addiction,” Raab-Graham pointed out in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

In the study using an animal model, Raab-Graham and her colleagues found that a single dose of an intoxicating level of alcohol worked in conjunction with an autism-related protein to transform neurotransmitter GABA from an inhibitor to a stimulator of neural activity. In addition, the team found that these biochemical changes resulted in non-depressive behaviour, lasting at least 24 hours.

GABA is the most potent depressive neurotransmitter in the human brain. It regulates many of the depressive and sedative actions in brain tissue and is critical for relaxation. The study demonstrated that alcohol followed the same biochemical pathway as rapid anti-depressants in the animals, while producing behavioural effects comparable to those observed in people.

“Additional research is needed in this area but our findings do provide a biological basis for the natural human instinct to self-medicate,” Raab-Graham said. They also define a molecular mechanism that may be a critical contributor to the comorbidity that occurs with alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder, the authors noted.

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