March 14, 2010

Science for Sunday

"The great men of science are supreme artists."
 ~Martin H. Fischer

Well I've done it again.  There is a backlog of items in my Google Reader, a good many of them are interesting science stories that I wanted to share.  So here they are, in no particular order, for your Sunday reading pleasure.

All from Science Daily, my favorite source of daily science news!

Nouns and Verbs Are Learned in Different Parts of the Brains - Our brains are just cool.  I was hoping for some neat tricks to help you learn foreign languages.  Like if you learn verbs in the right hemisphere, then you should draw the action of the verb as you think about it, or something.  Unfortunately, the article says there is no practical use for this knowledge in learning languages.  Oh well, it's still interesting.

The team knew that many patients with brain damage exhibit dissociation in processing these kinds of words, and that children learn nouns before verbs. Adults also perform better and react faster to nouns during cognitive tests.

Prayer Increases Forgiveness - When I saw this headline, I thought it would be about people praying about a specific wrong, who would then be more likely to forgive.  That made sense to me, because whenever I think deeply about something, I generally work it out in my head until I feel better.  Once I feel better, I don't want to hold a grudge anymore.  I got it partly right.

They speculated that prayer would increase selfless concern, which in turn would boost forgiveness.

And that's just what they found. But why? How does this common spiritual practice exert its healing effects? The psychological scientists have an idea: Most of the time, couples profess and believe in shared goals, but when they hit a rough patch, they often switch to adversarial goals like retribution and resentment. These adversarial goals shift cognitive focus to the self, and it can be tough to shake that self-focus. Prayer appears to shift attention from the self back to others, which allows the resentments to fade.

I'm not sure I would think of it as moving focus from myself to others.  Well, perhaps prayer does that, but for me, thinking through something would mean I learn to accept it.  Then it would be best for me to let go of any resentment for my own peace of mind.  See it's all about me.

After a Fight With a Partner, Brain Activity Predicts Emotional Resiliency - The part I am particularly interested in is this: may be that lateral prefrontal cortex function provides information about a person's vulnerability to develop mood problems after a stressful event. This raises the question as to whether increasing lateral prefrontal cortex function will improve emotion regulation capacity.

Since I've been learning about emotional intelligence, I think my ability to regulate my mood has improved.  I don't tend to hold grudges as long as I used to, and I think the same can be said for B, although he always got over things more quickly than I did.

Moms Influence How Children Develop Advanced Cognitive Functions - Just another study that reinforces the importance of moms in young children's lives.

Children of moms who answered their children's requests for help quickly and accurately; talked about their children's preferences, thoughts, and memories during play; and encouraged successful strategies to help solve difficult problems performed better at a year and a half and 2 years on tasks that call for executive skills than children of moms who didn't use these techniques in interacting with their youngsters. 

Vitamin D Supplements Could Fight Crohn's Disease - My mom has, or had before her surgery, Crohn's disease.  The doctor said she is Crohn's free right now, but it could come back.  So I suggested she look into this study recommending Vitamin D.  She's going to give it a try.

Dr. White and his team found that Vitamin D acts directly on the beta defensin 2 gene, which encodes an antimicrobial peptide, and the NOD2 gene that alerts cells to the presence of invading microbes. Both Beta-defensin and NOD2 have been linked to Crohn's disease. If NOD2 is deficient or defective, it cannot combat invaders in the intestinal tract.

Zen Meditation: Thicker Brains Fend Off Pain - I want to learn how to meditate.  I don't have chronic pain, but there are so many benefits to being able to find that calmness within.  There is also something appealing to knowing that meditation thickens the brain.  I don't know why, but a nice fat brain just sounds so much better than a thin one.  Maybe that's just me...

As part of this study, scientists recruited 17 meditators and 18 non-meditators who in addition had never practiced yoga, experienced chronic pain, neurological or psychological illness. Grant and his team, under the direction of Pierre Rainville of the Université de Montréal and the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, measured thermal pain sensitivity by applying a heated plate to the calf of participants and followed by scanning the brains of subjects with structural magnetic resonance imaging. According to MRI results, central brain regions that regulate emotion and pain were significantly thicker in meditators compared to non-meditators.

Parents Still Major Influence on Child's Decision to Pursue Science Careers -  Yay!  We love math and science here!    So far, Robotson wants to build robots and be a musician (left and right brain getting used!)  Funny Girl is interested in marine life and says she wants to learn how to dive.  Dimples is our artist.  You know, there is a link between science and art.  I think we are well on our way to science greatness.

According to Miller, "The pathway to a STEMM career begins at home." He said this is especially true in families in which children were strongly encouraged to go to college.


The research also reinforced the role mathematics plays in the pursuit of a STEMM career.

"Mathematics is a primary gateway to a STEMM career," Miller said, "beginning with algebra track placement in grades seven and eight, and continuing through high school and college calculus courses."

From Music to Sports:  Autonomy Fosters Passion Among Kids -  I've heard this before and I find it rings true with my kids.  Robotson loves his piano and guitar, but I know that getting him lessons is the wrong move right now.  He really loves being able to go in the spare room and play a little here and there.  He's never asked for lessons, preferring to figure things out on his own.  I'm often surprised by what he comes up with, with no formal training.  I feel pretty much the same about athletics.  Sometimes I wish my girls were taking dance classes and Robotson was playing soccer, but the truth is that would be more for me than for them.  If and when they are ready, they'll let me know.  That's the way it should be.

While parents do well to support their children to pursue an activity, such encouragement can graduate to unwelcome pressure. "Children and teenagers who are allowed to be autonomous are more likely to actively engage in their activity over time," says Dr. Mageau. "Being passionate should not be viewed as a personality trait -- it is a special relationship one develops with an activity."


  1. All very interesting, thanks for the info. Strangely, my Navajo students tend to know more verbs than nouns (I'm a speech language pathologist on the rez). I think it has to do with the Navajo language. It definately can influence test results. It would be interesting to see if the whole noun before verb thing held up amongst language differences.

    About the moms responding to requests - I think the advantage here has to do with language development as well. When working with my really low functioning or nonverbal students, speech and language therapy is play directed and I verbalize what I think their requests are, like you would a baby - "Oh, I see! You want another toy car!" It's amazing to me how many parents don't seem to talk to their children. Responding to requests is one part of a larger language rich environment that parents can create for their children.

  2. I was one of those parents that didn't talk to their baby. When Robotson was born, it felt forced and silly to be speaking to an infant. No one told me the importance and so we spent most of our time together in silence. I mean I played with him, danced, nursed, I wore him in a sling, we listened to music and slept together. I didn't ignore him, but I didn't talk to him either. The Pedi was the first to point out he had a speech delay. It wasn't until the girls came along and they were talked to non-stop that I realized how important that language is to a young child. I feel terrible about Robotson, but I can safely say that he is well caught up in the language department. The three of them talk constantly :)