Is it good for toddlers to feel a little fear?

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Via newscientist.com

Even at the tender age of 3, children who will go on to be convicted of a crime are less likely to learn to link fear with a certain noise than those who don’t. This may mean that an insensitivity to fear could be a driving force behind criminal behaviour.

Adult criminals tend to be fearless, but whether this characteristic emerges before or after they commit a crime wasn’t clear, says Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

To find out, Raine and colleague Yu Gao turned to data from a 1970s study, collected as part of a decades-long project to understand the biological and environmental factors underlying mental illness.

Back then, researchers led by Raine’s former research supervisor had measured the sweat response of about 1800 3-year-olds in Mauritius when they were exposed to two different sounds. One sound was always followed by a noisy blare, the other by nothing. The children learned to anticipate which sound preceded the blare, and sweated in response to it – an indicator of fear.

Decades later, Raine’s own team looked to see if any of the subjects had criminal records and found 137 that did. The team discovered that, as toddlers, these people had sweated significantly less in anticipation of the blare compared with subjects of similar race, gender and background for whom no criminal record was found.


No, mommy does not love you all the same:

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via nytimes.com

Parents would certainly deny it, but Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.

Researchers at the University of Alberta carefully observed how parents treated their children during trips to the supermarket. They found that physical attractiveness made a big difference.

The researchers noted if the parents belted their youngsters into the grocery cart seat, how often the parents’ attention lapsed and the number of times the children were allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities like standing up in the shopping cart. They also rated each child’s physical attractiveness on a 10-point scale.

The findings, not yet published, were presented at the Warren E. Kalbach Population Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

When it came to buckling up, pretty and ugly children were treated in starkly different ways, with seat belt use increasing in direct proportion to attractiveness. When a woman was in charge, 4 percent of the homeliest children were strapped in compared with 13.3 percent of the most attractive children. The difference was even more acute when fathers led the shopping expedition – in those cases, none of the least attractive children were secured with seat belts, while 12.5 percent of the prettiest children were.

Homely children were also more often out of sight of their parents, and they were more often allowed to wander more than 10 feet away.

Age – of parent and child – also played a role. Younger adults were more likely to buckle their children into the seat, and younger children were more often buckled in. Older adults, in contrast, were inclined to let children wander out of sight and more likely to allow them to engage in physically dangerous activities.

Although the researchers were unsure why, good-looking boys were usually kept in closer proximity to the adults taking care of them than were pretty girls. The researchers speculated that girls might be considered more competent and better able to act independently than boys of the same age. The researchers made more than 400 observations of child-parent interactions in 14 supermarkets.

Dr. W. Andrew Harrell, executive director of the Population Research Laboratory at the University of Alberta and the leader of the research team, sees an evolutionary reason for the findings: pretty children, he says, represent the best genetic legacy, and therefore they get more care.


Is it really “the booze talking”?

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Via nytimes.com

In a series of studies in the 1970s and ’80s, psychologists at the University of Washington put more than 300 students into a study room outfitted like a bar with mirrors, music and a stretch of polished pine. The researchers served alcoholic drinks, most often icy vodka tonics, to some of the students and nonalcoholic ones, usually icy tonic water, to others. The drinks looked and tasted the same, and the students typically drank five in an hour or two.

The studies found that people who thought they were drinking alcohol behaved exactly as aggressively, or as affectionately, or as merrily as they expected to when drunk. “No significant difference between those who got alcohol and those who didn’t,” Alan Marlatt, the senior author, said. “Their behavior was totally determined by their expectations of how they would behave.”


Can talking back lead to smarter kids?

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Via blog.newsweek.com

Moms, dads, or caregivers who mainly talk to their offspring using commands, like Xenia, who was cited in the study, rather than reasoning may get their kids to do what they want, but they also fail to develop their children’s minds, the research out of the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA suggests.

The findings have particular significance for minority communities where do-as-I-say exchanges have long predominated over more nuanced argument. But they may also resonant with policy wonks, as Washington debates whether to expand publicly funded preschool programs. Reading, singing, dancing and other activities at the heart of the government’s multi-billion-dollar Head Start program may help low-income kids aged zero to 5. But a crucial link, these studies suggest, is coaching parents to explain decisions with their children─and letting them talk back, at least just a little bit.

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Can you tell if a man is dangerous just by looking at his face?

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Via slate.com:

Now some of the “new physiognomists” are resurrecting an old claim: that you can gauge a man’s penchant for aggression by the cut of his jib. Last fall University of California-Santa Barbara psychologist Aaron Sell reported that college students could accurately estimate the upper body strength of unfamiliar men after viewing their faces alone. (The men’s necks were obscured.) The students did equally well with fellow undergraduates and men from South American indigenous groups—all of whom had had their strength measured using gym equipment. Interestingly, the toughest-looking undergrads also reported getting in the most fights. Another study by Sell suggests that such formidable men are more prone to use violence—or advocate military action—to resolve conflicts.

And:

So which features might hint at belligerence? Sell suspects the brow ridge and jaw, two structures that are shaped by testosterone in puberty. (High testosterone has been linked with masculine looks as well as with aggression.) Other scientists propose a different measure: the width-to-height ratio of the face, as measured from cheek to cheek and lip to brow. Last year, a team of Canadian psychologists showed that men with wider faces (think Ernie) score higher in lab tests of aggression than slender-faced men (think Bert). They also found that wide-faced hockey players rack up more penalty minutes. Now, two studies in Psychological Science—one from August and another forthcoming—reinforce the notion that stout-faced men appear tougher and are more likely to behave in aggressive and untrustworthy ways.

And:

The psychologist Robert Deaner recently went through the database of mug shots of the Michigan Department of Corrections and measured the facial width-to-height ratios of 688 white convicted criminals. He classified each inmate as either violent or nonviolent based on FBI standards and compared their faces with their crimes. There was no difference in the average width-to-height ratio of violent vs. nonviolent offenders, he says. However, Deaner did find that prisoners’ faces were significantly wider than a population of undergraduates. Curiously, pro hockey players had even wider faces than the prisoners. His conclusion: “Face width does not predict violent crime. … [W]e believe the cliché, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ remains sound advice.”