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Reading to a toddler-aged child does more than just get them to sit still for a few minutes.
Led by James Law, Professor of Speech and Language Sciences in Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, researchers found something interesting. According to a new study, when parents and other caregivers routinely read with small children, the result is a language advantage of eight months.
The researchers carefully reviewed sixteen reading intervention studies from the past 40 years, conducted in the USA, South Africa, Canada, Israel, and China. Some children were read to by a parent; some were read to by another caregiver. Some were read to from books; some were shown electronic readers. The average age of the child involved was 39 months.
The goal was to examine the effects on receptive language (the ability to understand words), expressive language (the ability to translate thoughts into words), and pre-reading skills (the ability to see how words are …

Depressed? Check Your Gut

As if depressed or anxious people needed another thing to worry about, a new study from UC San Francisco suggests that depression and anxiety may be as bad for the health as smoking or obesity.
First author Dr. Andrea Niles and senior author Dr. Aoife O’Donovan of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and the San Francisco VA Medical Center examined the records of 15,000 adults over four years. Of that sample, 16% were found to be noticeably depressed or anxious. Compared to their non-depressed, non-anxious counterparts, those 16% of respondents were 65% more likely to have a heart condition, 64% more likely to have had a stroke, 50% more likely to have high blood pressure, and a whopping 87% more likely to have arthritis.
(They were not found to be at greater risk for cancer, but that’s not much of a silver lining, considering.)
Clearly, depression and anxiety are not a simple bad mood, or a weakness of character, but a serious medical condition. Clearly, something must be done. But where …

Meet the Monkeys at the Forefront of Discovery

Science news is full of what certainly sound like promising new studies featuring lab mice or lab rats as the test subjects. New treatments are assessed, and psychological truths are mined. Reading about this research, it’s easy to feel like we are witnessing the first steps of something big, something impactful.
However, you are not a mouse (we assume). If you have ever read a conclusion from a mouse behavior study and wondered at the exact practical implications to your life, it turns out you had a pretty good point. For instance, more than 80% of medical treatments tested on animals—usually mice—fail when tested on people.
Mice are cheap, easy to genetically modify, and we share 99% of our genes, but that one percent holds some crucial differences, especially when it comes to neuroscience research. For example, mice lack a dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved with human learning, memory, and cognition. It’s hard to model, let’s say, a mental illness, by manipulating a …

Grey Matters

Parents of teenagers won’t run out of things to worry over any time soon. A 2016 Pew Research Center report surveyed Americans with children under 18 and found that 60% of these parents worry about their child getting bullied, while 54% fear their child might at some point suffer from anxiety or depression, and a full 50% of responding parents fret over the possibility of their child getting kidnapped. However, here’s one danger the concerned parents might not have considered: high school football. Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently finished examining the impact of full-contact football on the adolescent brain, and the results are well, troubling. Using a new kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) called diffusion kurtosis, the scientists scanned the brains of 16 high school football players, all between the age of 15 and 17. The young brains were scanned before and after playing a sea…

Placebo Power

Imagine that scientists have discovered a painkiller that is incredibly cheap to make, has no dangerous side effects, and performs at a level comparable to—or even better than—90% of drugs developed in the United States. You might find yourself wanting to reach for a bottle the next time you sprain your back.
There’s just one problem: the medication doesn’t, in the traditional sense, work. It’s a sugar pill.
The Placebo effect has been a known entity since at least the days of Ben Franklin, when French King Louis XVI tasked an elite panel of scientists and thinkers—Franklin included—with debunking claims made by Mesmerists. For instance, that a properly trained Mesmerist could cure people’s afflictions by manipulating an invisible force called “animal magnetism.” Patients did seem to respond to the treatments, sometimes crying out or even falling unconscious, and at least some reported positive results.
However, the commission ultimately found that none of the Mesmerist practices coul…

Strolling Towards a Better Brain

You already know that exercise is good for you. You may already know that exercise is good for your mind. For instance, you may have encountered studies which show how half an hour of vigorous exercise gives you a boost in brain-derived neurotropic growth factor or BDNF, what’s sometimes referred to as “miracle-gro for the brain.” That’s not the kind of nickname that comes casually; BDNF stimulates the production of new brain cells and increases your neuroplasticity, which allows the components of your brain to work more smoothly with each other. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that the top quartile of older individuals who kept active retained noticeably more grey matter than the others, specifically in areas related to memory and higher-level thinking. And those with more grey matter were also shown to be 50% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other memory problems over the next five years. “If we want to live a long time but also keep our memor…

Never See a Bat the Same Way Again

As Halloween approaches, let’s pause for a moment to consider a common piece of creepy iconography in Western culture: the bat. Associated as they are with darkness, caves, leathery skin stretched over bony wing bones—and yes, in the case of the vampire bat, blood-sucking—it’s no wonder they’ve become a symbol of all things spooky. Yet, there’s more to these humble non-rodents than thrills and chills. Scientists hope their brains might hold the key to a human mystery: just how do we track the relative position of people around us? Luckily, "A bat's hippocampus is very similar to a human's,” Professor Nachum Ulanovsky of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel told “The hippocampus is very important for things like spatial and social memory." And while bats are not the smartest member of the animal kingdom—they don’t have the tool use of elephants or the trickery of corvids—they are highly social creatures, as well as famously good navigators. How social a…