Posts Tagged 'Studies'

Can Babies Understand Dogs?

Here’s a story I thought was kinda cute…

Babies Can Understand Dogs, Study Finds

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but babies might also really understand Fido.A new study found that 6-month-olds can match the sounds of an angry snarl or friendly yap with photos of dogs showing the corresponding body language.

The results, published in the July issue of the journal Developmental Psychology, suggest that babies can decipher emotions even before they learn how to talk.

“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” said lead researcher Ross Flom, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Barking dogs

The study involved 128 infants, with 32 from each of four age groups (6, 12, 18 and 24 months), who had little or no exposure to dogs.

The babies first looked at two images of the same fluffy canine, one showing the dog in an aggressive posture and facial expression while the other showed the dog in a friendly stance.

The researchers wanted to figure out whether infants had a preference for one expression over the other before including the dog barks. They didn’t.

Then, the researchers played a 2-second sound clip of either a friendly or threatening dog bark while the child viewed the two images. In the next trial, the other sound clip (aggressive or friendly) was played.

The 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the matching photograph, so a mean bark would garner a stare at the dog with the vicious facial expression.

“The six-month-olds would look in that direction and kept looking in that direction,” Flom told LiveScience. “The older kids would glance at it and then kind of look away as if to say, ‘Oh yeah, I get it, it goes with that face. The task is ridiculous. I’m going to move on and look somewhere else around the room.'”

Baby smarts

The results suggest both 6-month-olds and babies up to 2 years old could distinguish a rowdy bark from a benign one. But the older babies just showed their correct responses differently than the 6-month-olds.

Interesting study, but I feel like this article might be sensationalizing the findings of the study a little bit…I wouldn’t be surprised.

The headline makes it seem like babies have some kind of intuition that puts them in tune with the dogs’ emotions. However I read it more as providing evidence that babies are able to perceive threats, which makes evolutionary sense to me!

2012…End of the World? Beginning of a New Era?

A rational person would just call 2012 an arbitrary number grasped on to by conspiracy theorists, paranoid people, and the History Channel.

There’s no evidence showing that the world will end in 3 years, but where’s the fun in that? Lets have a look around the internet at what people are saying about 2012…

On May 28th, Jenny McCarthy blogged about 2012:

And I’m worried about sugar with the end of the world coming. LOL. Watching glimpses of the news and seeing nuclear testing scares the crap out of me. Anybody else? Many times I have asked myself about trying so hard to be healthy with food when there is a possible dust cloud that could do more damage than anything we fear now. Then, on other side, I think the people that do care and know how to detox and keep up on their vitamins and care about what they put in their mouths might have a better shot of making it through the big bad cloud. Americans have been worried about the big one for so many years, but after 9/11 happening in our lifetime, we now believe anything is possible. Gee, can you tell I just started PMS. LOL. I usually have dreams of bombs when I’m PMSing, and now I’m talking about them. Can’t wait to see what I dream about tonight! Probably my career going up in flames. LOL!

Jenny McCarthyLOL LOL LOL…yikes…if this is any indication of her critical thinking skills, it’s no wonder she thinks vaccines cause autism. Take your vitamins! They’ll save you from the dust cloud!

Moving along, lets look at an evidence-based prediction of what might happen in 2012. Justin Wolfers predicts that there will be no more Cash in 2012. No, not the green stuff, the name. Truly the end of an era. Based on this study, Wolfers predicts that Cash’s rapid rise to popularity will mean its descent into obscurity by 2012. Can this also be applied to the popularity of Twitter? Wolfers thinks so.

[On a related note, click here to follow me on Twitter!]

My prediction for 2012? Another dimension will open up leading to another Gozerconfrontation with the ancient Sumerian God known as Gozer. I think you’ll find all the evidence you need to convince you I’m right when you see the release date posted here.

Echinacea and the Common Cold

I woke up yesterday morning with a brutal cold. Before I began to learn how to use reason and how to look for the evidence, I would just take health care advice based on popular belief. Something I hear all the time, and something that I used to repeat myself, is that you should take echinacea to fight a cold and to boost your immune system.

But if echinacea is so effective, why isn’t there any in my NyQuil?

According to the Wikipedia entry on echinacea, the idea that echinacea helps treat the common cold began when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was incorrectly told that Native American tribes in South Dakota used it for cold prevention.

But despite its questionable beginnings as a cold medicine, it has still become an extremely popular remedy, at least among my friends and family. So is there evidence behind echinacea to convince me that it is efficacious?

This University of Connecticut study claims that “Echinacea, the most popular herbal supplement in the United States, cuts the chances of catching the common cold by 58 percent and reduces the duration of the common cold by 1.4 days.” Sounds good to me! Unfortunately, this study has come under a lot of criticism.

The problem is that it’s a meta-analysis of smaller studies. Meta-analyses can be useful, however in this case critics say that the smaller studies are too dissimilar to be used accurately in a meta-analysis, so this study is not reliable enough to be taken as solid evidence for the efficacy of echinacea.

The gold standard of evidence in medicine is the large, placebo-controlled, double-blinded study. The closest to this type of study that has been done on echinacea is this one, done by the University of Virginia:

In one of the largest, multi-center clinical trials to study the effectiveness of the popular herbal cold supplement, Echinacea, researchers at the University of Virginia Health System have found that it has no effect on treating the common cold.

Turner and colleagues tested the efficacy of Echinacea on 399 volunteers between 2002 and 2004. The volunteers tested were recruited from UVa and were all susceptible to an experimental cold virus, rhinovirus type 39. They were divided into seven different groups and exposed to the cold virus through the nose.

Each group then received either a placebo or one of three possible Echinacea treatments (extracts of the herb originally used by Native Americans and endorsed by the World Health Organization for cold treatment). Volunteers were ‘blinded’ and did not know what treatment they were given. After five days of being studied in an isolated setting, there were no significant effects with Echinacea on the rates of infection or the severity of cold symptoms seen among the study participants. About ninety percent of all participants were infected with the cold virus.

“The results of this study demonstrate that, as tested, the putative active constituents of E. angustifolia do not have clinically significant effects on rhinovirus infection or illness,” Turner wrote in the study.  Researchers from Karl-Franzens-Universitaet in Graz, Austria; the Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson University collaborated on the research.

So no good evidence yet that echinacea does anything for the common cold.

This large trial has also come under criticism, however this time from Dr. Michael Murray, a manufacturer of echinacea. He says that the study used the wrong type of echinacea and in the wrong dosages.

I wonder why Dr. Murray hasn’t funded a study himself to prove the effectiveness of the herb? If he’s so confident in its efficacy then he would be doing himself a favour by proving that it works. Echinacea would become a part of mainstream medicine if it were shown to be effective, it would be recommended by doctors, and Murray would be able to manufacture and sell more.

For now, the burden of providing evidence lies with its advocates. Until they provide reliable evidence that shows that echinacea is good for my health I’ll continue taking my NyQuil to alleviate my cold symptoms, which is proven by science and which outlines its possible side-effects on the box so I can be informed as to any risks it may carry (unlike my bottle of echinacea pills).

I Love Asparagus…or do I???

A new study done at the University of California, Irvine, found a way to make people love asparagus…through false memories.

AsparagusA group of students were given a questionaire asking what foods they liked as kids. Then a week later, they were given a summary of their results, and in half of the students their summary told them that they loved asparagus. Out of these students, some of them actually came to believe that they love asparagus. They find pictures of it more appetizing, and they were more likely to order it in a restaurant. They were given a false memory of loving asparagus, and as a result loved asparagus…I wonder if this would work on little kids?

An interesting study showing how unreliable our memories are.

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