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October 7, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

The Week in Health

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

Saturday, October 1, 2011
Embarrassment Makes People More Likeable

You feel hot and your face flushes. Your palms sweat and you laugh nervously. You can’t bear to look anyone in the eye. You feel a little like crawling under a rock.

Sound familiar?

Embarrassment is just one of the downfalls of being an intelligent social creature, wanting to impress our peers, but falling short with a stumble, an awkward statement or release of bodily gases. It’s not a good feeling by any measure, but a new study this week may provide some comfort.

In it, people were asked to describe an embarrassing situation on tape and these tapes were then evaluated by others. Participants rated by how embarrassing their stories were and how humiliated the person telling them seemed to feel. Based on these videos, evaluators were also asked to rate the personality of the embarrassed storyteller. 

The results showed a direct link between embarrassment and sociability.

The most easily embarrassed people were perceived as kind and generous, while the least easily embarrassed were thought of as untrustworthy and selfish. "Observers can feel safe that an embarrassed individual will be less likely to take advantage of them or be unfaithful," explained lead study author, Mathew Feinberg.

A Reader’s Digest poll revealed the top ten most embarrassing moments:

1. Having a Wardrobe Malfunction

2. Being Lost for Words

3. Wrongly Assuming a Woman is Pregnant

4. Romantic Rejection

5. Saying or Doing the Wrong Thing

6. Social Rejection

7. Being with a Friend or Partner that Is Embarrassing

8. Bad First Dates

9. Getting Caught

10. Doing Something Clumsy

Do you agree with this list? Would you rank any of these moment higher or lower? Do you have an embarrassing story of your own to share?

It will only make you more likeable! ;)


Sunday, October 2, 2011
Nose Power - The Newest Source of Renewable Energy??

The nose, or more specifically the nasal breath, is the power behind a new self-sustaining energy system – a system using the same “piezoelectric effect” a gas grill uses.

To explain it as simply as possible, the piezoelectric effect works through the application of some stressor to a conductive material in order to creating an electrical charge. In this particular case, researchers wanted to harness the nasal breath as their “stressor”, but were challenged to find a material that was light enough to gain a charge from the normal force respiration.

“The airflow of normal human respiration is typically below about two meters per secondWe calculated that if we could make this material thin enough, small vibrations could produce a microwatt of electrical energy that could be useful for sensors or other devices implanted in the face.” explained engineering professor, Xudong Wang who helped develop the device.

Wang and his team had to work with extreme precision. They used ion-etching technology to thin down a material enough that it could be disturbed by a soft breath, but not so much that its piezoelectric properties were depleted – and, in doing so, successfully created a the first device to harness nose power!

What’s next? Nose powered cars?! Homes heated with nasal breath?!

Well...not quite.

The energy obtained by this device isn’t much. Certainly not enough to power anything big. Rather, this invention is being proposed as an alternative to the battery in a pacemaker or similar implant. Though the power needed to run these is miniscule, the batteries that currently run them still eventually need replacing. By implanting this system, Wang and his team hope to eliminate the need for batteries and battery changes in these devices.


Monday, October 3, 2011
Music-Based Brain Training Cartoons Upped Preschooler IQ in Just 1 Month

In a recent study, preschoolers ages four to six were first assessed for their verbal IQ and then placed into one of two different cognitive training programs. Using animated cartoon characters to teach lessons on a large classroom wall, one followed a visuo-spatial approach while the other was musically based.

Both groups received their training session for one hour, twice daily over a month of school (20 days) after which, their verbal IQ was tested again and brain imaging techniques were used to detect any functional brain changes that may have occurred.

What they found was remarkable. After just one month of training, an astonishing 90% of children in the music based program had a higher verbal IQ!  On the other hand, the visuo-spatial program offered no measurable benefit.

Said senior scientist, Dr. Chau,"The results of this study strongly affirm the resonance between music and child development, and encourage us to think of music not just as a medium or tool through which treatment might be delivered, but as the treatment itself…”

The music based program improved their accuracy, reaction time and vocabulary knowledge.

Professor of psychology Dr, Bialystok shared in Dr. Chau’s enthusiasm saying, "These results are dramatic not only because they clearly connect cognitive improvement to musical training, but also because the improvements in language and attention are found in completely different domains than the one used for training. This has enormous implications for development and education…”


Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Scientists Use a Hormone to Fight Fat with Fat

Did you know there is actually more than one type of fat in our bodies?

White fat is the fat most of think of when we think of fat. It’s the stuff that clings to our bellies, butt and thighs and the foe to a great many of us. But then, there’s also “brown fat”.

Though scientists have known about brown fat for some time, this type of fat has only recently been discovered in human adults through the use of the most advanced imagining technology. Before then, it was thought we lost our brown fat shortly after infancy.

As the name implies, this fat is actually brown in color. The shade is caused by an abundance of blood vessels and mitochondria inside it which, consequently, makes it very good at converting calories into energy (a process which malfunctions with obesity).

With the discovery that adults could have this same calorie burning stuff, the obvious question became “How do we get more of it?!” Now, studies indicate a hormone called “orexin” may be the answer.

Orexin is commonly deficient in obese people and researcher genetically engineered mice with this deficiency to test its effects.  Before supplementation these mice weighed more than your average mouse, but actually ate less than your average mouse as well! Their problem was not overconsumption, but rather a failure to dissipate excess calories through heat production in the body.  This effect could be prevented by supplementing their mother’s diet with orexin before they were born.

With one third of the U.S. population considered obese, these finding bring great promise.

Said Dr, Sikder, senior author of this study "We're now taking the next steps in determining how orexin -- or a chemical that has the same effect -- might be used in humans to therapeutically prevent or treat obesity."


Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Depression Unwires Hate Circuits

A few years back, in 2008, scientists identified the “hate circuit” in our brains.  By monitoring the brain activity of study participants while they viewed pictures of someone they hate, they found there were a few distinct areas of activity associated with feelings of hate. These were surprisingly different than those activated by fear, threat or danger, and different also than areas activated by romantic love – although interestingly, the hate and romantic love circuits share at least two common structures.

Now, a new study builds upon this knowledge as scientists found irregularities in the “hate circuits” of depressed people.  92% of depressed people had “decoupled” hate circuits.

"The results are clear, but at first sight are puzzling as we know that depression is often characterized by intense self loathing and there is no obvious indication that depressives are less prone to hate others. One possibility is that the uncoupling of this hate circuit could be associated with impaired ability to control and learn from social or other situations which provoke feelings of hate towards self or others. This in turn could lead to an inability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and an increased likelihood of both uncontrolled self-loathing and withdrawal from social interactions. It may be that this is a neurological indication that is more normal to have occasion to hate others rather than hate ourselves."


Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wash Away Your Troubles – Literally

A new report released today is a testament to both the power of the mind and the power of the metaphor. It seems we can, literally, wash away our troubles!

Explains co-author Spike Lee of the University of Michigan, "Cleansing is about the removal of residues…. people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues.”

Their report compiles a variety of studies on the subject. One that the authors recounted showed that after being exposed to a dirty room or bad smell, people judge the moral wrongdoings of others more harshly than they would sitting in a clean room.

Another found that simply using an antiseptic hand wipe assuaged some of the guilt people had about their OWN wrongdoing, while at the same time, made them less likely to volunteer for a good deed (and relieve their guilt that way). It also helped relived post-decision doubt after participants were asked to choose between one of two food choices.

The “clean conscience” effect was even shown to work when removed from reality. Just IMAGINGING yourself as fresh and clean will make you view yourself as more moral and judge others more harshly than you would if you imagined yourself dirty and smelly!

Yet, cleansing can have some negative affect as well. Washing your hands after a good experience or a bout of good luck will reduce the time that positive glow will stay with you. Whether positive or negative, Lee explained "Cleansing removes the residual influence of earlier experience.

Yet, despite the recency of these studies, the idea is not a new one. Washing away guilt is an act that’s been around almost as long as human history. Just think of baptism!  

Try it for yourself. Just be sure, suggests Lee, the part you are cleansing is the guilty part. One further study showed that while hand washing was the best method for cleansing wrongdoings of the hands, mouthwash was more effective at relieving guilt caused by lies of other oral wrongdoings.


Friday, October 7, 2011
False Memories May Have Some Evolutionary Benefit

"False memories tend to get a bad rap… But false memories are a natural outcropping of memory in general. They must have some positive effect, too."

Those are the words of psychologist Mark Howe, author of a new report in Current Directions in Psychological Science which argues that while the development of accurate memory has been important, even critical to our survival a species, false or “illusory memories” may have had given us some evolutionary advantage as well!

It should be made clear, however, that we’re not talking about “lies” here.  False, illusory memories feel as real to us as true, accurate ones. Determining which is which is much more difficult than it may seem. Memories are not a static thing. An accurate memory may be added to as we take in new relevant information and over time, as portions of this memory slip away, the gaps may be filled in by our own imagining, what makes sense.

According to Howe, not only is false, illusory memory creation something we all do regularly, these "false" memories have more staying power than true memories do. As Howe points out, our own part in the memory’s creation helps to cement it more firmly in our mind – something that may have helped our earliest ancestors.

"The animal that goes to a favorite food-foraging location and sees signs that a predator was there -- but not the predator itself -- may be on guard the next time. But the creature that falsely remembers the predator was actually there might be even more cautious…Memory is designed to extract meaning from experience: At the foraging place, something bad was going on. You don't need the exact information to get the meaning." explains Howe.

And on the other hand, falsely positive memories can make us more happy and self confident. Says Howe “Memories true or false can have a negative or positive effect, depending on the context. The key point is: Just because a memory is false, doesn't make it bad."


                    NEXT WEEK IN HEALTH -->

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  • Love these blogs, keep them coming! :)

    The post about how embarrassment can make someone more likeable makes me feel a lot better. I can experience a "lost for words" feeling. I stand up and go to talk to someone and my brain just goes blank. Also, I am very clumsy and tend to randomly trip on myself, so I will be walking along with friends or co-workers and out of nowhere my ankle gives out and I stumble a bit. It's kinda funny to see. ;)

    Also this idea of nose breathing power "being proposed as an alternative to the battery in a pacemaker or similar implant," is amazing. I was just told this week the battery in my pacemaker is unstable and will wear out sooner than expected, so this would be great! (I am lucky tho and only use my pacemaker 5% of the the battery will still last longer than most)

  • so glad to hear there are people with the same problems....kinda makes me feel better! LOL

  • My favorite was the "Wash Away Your Troubles - Literally!" piece. I'm a big psychology nerd, so it's really neat to see another example of the mind's power. I found it particularly interesting that you should use wash the body part most responsible for the misdeed.

    Another interesting takeway for this week came from "Depression Unwires Hate Circuits". Both that depressed people are less likely to hate others and that the circuit used for hate in the brain has some commonalities with the love circuit. Makes sense in a way though. Dislike is one thing. Real hate requires passion.

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