Thursday November 23, 2017

Ever wondered why you Itch when another person scratches in front of you?

The researchers found a chemical in the brain that makes them want to scratch when seeing someone else do it

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A person itching, Wikimedia

New York, March 10, 2017: Ever wondered why you itch when another person scratches in front of you? A new study shows that scratching, just like yawning, is socially contagious and not a psychological response.

According to researchers, itching is highly contagious. Sometimes even its mention could make someone scratch.

“Many people thought it was all in the mind, but our experiments show it is a hardwired behaviour and is not a form of empathy,” said lead investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, director at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, US.

In the study, conducted on mice, the researchers found a chemical in the brain that makes them want to scratch when seeing someone else do it.

Further, the findings, published in the journal Science showed that the behaviour is hardwired in the brains, rather than a form of empathy with the original scratcher.

The chemical, GRP (gastrin-releasing peptide) — a key transmitter of itch signals between the skin and the spinal cord — caused mice to scratch when they saw others doing it. When it was blocked, they stopped.

“The mouse doesn’t see another mouse scratching and then think it might need to scratch, too. Instead, its brain begins sending out itch signals using GRP as a messenger,” Chen said.

“It’s an innate behaviour and an instinct. We’ve been able to show that a single chemical and a single receptor are all that’s necessary to mediate this particular behaviour,” Chen added.

However, when the GRP receptor were blocked in the mice’s brains, they did not scratch when they saw others scratch.

The results may open new ways of treating people who suffer from chronic itching and skin diseases by developing a drug that blocks GRP, the researchers noted.

–IANS

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Contagious yawning: Why we yawn when someone else does? Read to find out

The findings of Research on why is yawning so so contagious?

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Why we yawn when someone else does?
Why we yawn when someone else does? Pixabay
  • Contagious yawning is triggered involuntarily when we observe another person yawn, it is a common form of Echophenomena
  • The  Research findings showed that our urge to yawn is increased if we are instructed to resist yawning
  • Echophenomena isn’t just a human trait, it is found in chimpanzees and dogs too

New York, USA, September 3, 2017:  Ever wondered why even if we are not tired, we yawn if someone else does? Why is yawning so contagious?

It is because the human propensity for contagious yawning is triggered automatically by primitive reflexes in a brain area responsible for motor function, a research suggests.

Contagious yawning is triggered involuntarily when we observe another person yawn – it is a common form of Echophenomena -the automatic imitation of another’s words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia).

The  Research findings showed that our urge to yawn is increased if we are instructed to resist yawning. And no matter how hard we try to stifle a yawn, it might change how we yawn but it won’t alter our propensity to yawn.

Also Read: Ever wondered why you Itch when another person scratches in front of you?

“This research has shown that the ‘urge’  is increased by trying to stop yourself. Using electrical stimulation we were able to increase excitability and in doing so increase the propensity for contagious yawning,” said Georgina Jackson, a Professor at the University of Nottingham.

“The findings may be important in understanding the association between motor excitability and the occurrence of Echophenomena in a wide range of conditions linked to increased cortical excitability and/or decreased physiological inhibition such as epilepsy, dementia, autism, and Tourette syndrome,” added Stephen Jackson, a Professor at the University.

For the study, published in the journal Current Biology, the team used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to analyze volunteers who viewed video clips showing someone else yawning and were instructed to either resist yawning or to allow themselves to yawn.

“If we can understand how alterations in cortical excitability give rise to neural disorders we can potentially reverse them. We are looking for potential non-drug, personalized treatments, using TMS that might be effective in modulating imbalances in the brain networks,” Jackson said.

Echophenomena isn’t just a human trait, it is found in chimpanzees and dogs too. (IANS)

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Can women be brilliant? Little girls are not so sure: Study

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FILE - News anchor Barbie, left, and computer engineer Barbie are arranged for a photo at a New York toy fair. A new study in the journal Science suggests that girls as young as 6 can be led to believe that men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making them less motivated to pursue novel activities and ambitious careers. (VOA)

Can women be brilliant? Little girls are not so sure.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science suggests that girls as young as 6 can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making girls less motivated to pursue novel activities or ambitious careers. That such stereotypes exist is hardly a surprise, but the findings show these biases can affect children at a very young age.

“As a society, we associate a high level of intellectual ability with males more than females, and our research suggests that this association is picked up by children as young 6 and 7,” said Andrei Cimpian, associate professor in the psychology department at New York University. Cimpian co-authored the study, which looked at 400 children ages 5 to 7.

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In the first part of the study, girls and boys were told a story about a person who is “really, really smart,” a child’s idea of brilliance, and then asked to identify that person among the photos of two women and two men. The people in the photos were dressed professionally, looked the same age and appeared equally happy. At 5, both boys and girls tended to associate brilliance with their own gender, meaning that most girls chose women and most boys chose men.

But as they became older and began attending school, children apparently began endorsing gender stereotypes. At 6 and 7, girls were “significantly less likely” to pick women. The results were similar when the kids were shown photos of children.

School performance

Interestingly, when asked to select children who look like they do well in school, as opposed to being smart, girls tended to pick girls, which means that their perceptions of brilliance are not based on academic performance.

“These stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence,” Cimpian said.

In the second part of the study, children were introduced to two new board games, one described as an activity “for children who are really, really smart” and the other one “for children who try really, really hard.” Five-year-old girls and boys were equally likely to want to play the game for smart kids, but at age 6 and 7, boys still wanted to play that game, while girls opted for the other activity.

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As a result, believing that they are not as gifted as boys, girls tend to shy away from demanding majors and fields, leading to big differences in aspirations and career choices between men and women. “These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance,” the authors wrote.

It is still unclear where the stereotypes come from. Parents, teachers and peers and the media are the usual suspects, Cimpian said. But it is evident that action must be taken so that these biases don’t curtail girls’ professional aspirations. “Instill the idea that success in any line of work is not an innate ability, whatever it is, but rather putting your head down, being passionate about what you are doing,” Cimpian said, adding that exposure to successful women who can serve as role models also helps.

Mattel campaign

Toy companies like Mattel, maker of the Barbie doll, have taken steps to try to reduce gender stereotypes. Mattel’s “You can be anything” Barbie campaign tells girls that they can be paleontologists, veterinarians or professors, among other careers. The campaign also holds out the possibility that a girl can imagine herself to be a fairy princess.

Rebecca S. Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, described Cimpian’s study “exceptionally nice work.” She suggested that the stereotypes develop in early elementary school when students are exposed to famous scientists, composers and writers, the “geniuses” of history, who are overwhelmingly men. Bigler said it is important to combine that knowledge with information on gender discrimination.

“We need to explain to children that laws were created specifically to prevent women from becoming great scientists, artists, composers, writers, explorers and leaders,” Bigler added. “Children will then be … more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential and contribute to social justice and equality by pursuing these careers themselves.” (VOA)

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Human Actions Responsible for Arctic Sea Ice Disappearance, says Study

Many animal species in the Arctic heavily depend on sea ice, and it's likely they will struggle to survive with an ice-free Arctic during the summer

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FILE - An iceberg is seen melting off the coast of Ammasalik, Greenland, July 19, 2007. VOA

November 4, 2016: Ice has been disappearing in the Arctic Ocean since at least the 1960. Each year, more and more sea ice vanishes in the Arctic north, and one study says every one of us is personally responsible.

Each passenger taking a flight from New York to Europe, or driving 4,000 kilometers in a gasoline-powered car, emits enough greenhouse gas to melt three square meters of ice on the Arctic Ocean, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

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The study calculates that for every metric ton of carbon dioxide put in the air, there are three square meters less of sea ice in the month of September when the Arctic region is least frozen. Using observations, statistics and 30 different computer models, the study’s authors show heat-trapping gases cause warming and the melting of sea ice in a way that can be translated into a simple mathematical formula.

FILE - A young polar bear walks on ice over deep waters of the Arctic Ocean. (Credit: Shawn Harper) VOA
FILE – A young polar bear walks on ice over deep waters of the Arctic Ocean. (Credit: Shawn Harper) VOA

There’s “a very clear linear relationship” between carbon dioxide emissions and sea ice retreat in September, especially at the southern boundary edges, said study lead author Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany.

“It’s very simple. Those emissions from our tailpipes and our coal-fired power plants are all going into the atmosphere,” said study co-author Julienne Stroeve, a climate scientist at both the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, and University College, London. “It just increases the warming at the surface. So the ice is going to respond to that. The only way it can do that is to move further north.”

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Stroeve and Notz calculated that the average American each year is responsible for carbon emissions that lead to melting around 50 square meters of September sea ice — about the size of small one-bedroom apartment in a U.S. city.

Many animal species in the Arctic heavily depend on sea ice, and it’s likely they will struggle to survive with an ice-free Arctic during the summer, Notz said. For example, polar bears, who spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, could be at risk.

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As for the future of Arctic sea ice, the study said the international target of 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, as spelled out in the Paris Agreement on climate change that goes into effect Friday, will not be sufficient to allow Arctic summer sea ice to survive. At current carbon emission levels, the ocean around the North Pole would likely be ice-free in Septembers in about 30 years. (VOA)