Category: Uncategorized

Scare away spending this Halloween?

This Halloween, Americans are expected to spend a near-record amount of $8.8 billion on costumes and other decorations. While the holiday traditionally attracts a core of committed fans, many are also peer-pressured to jump into the festivity’s spending. 

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Ori Heffetz, professor of applied economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, is an expert on consumption and studies the psychological, social and cultural aspects of economic behavior. Heffetz says that when it comes to celebrations, Halloween has become the holiday to show off one’s status.

Bio: https://www.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty-research/faculty/oh33/

Heffetz says:

“From a consumer-economics point-of-view, Halloween is unique in at least two ways relative to other holidays. First, in addition to home decorations, which can be reused from year to year (say, like Christmas decorations), Halloween is much more about the costumes. Reusing decorations is relatively easy, but reusing costumes is more difficult, because our children grow fast, and because costumes are often less durable, and kids destroy them quickly.

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“Second, wearables are among the most socially visible items a family could spend on. This unsurprising observation is confirmed and quantified in my research on expenditure visibility. This could make costumes a child’s membership card into some social circles, and the right costume can be an opportunity to display one’s status within a group.

“Even if we gave up on the costumes and stuck to decorations, while a family’s Christmas tree and many of the related decorations are only visible to those guests who are invited to visit inside the home, Halloween decorations are visible to anyone driving down the street.

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“In short, in both decorations and costumes, Halloween is the expenditure-visibility holiday! For some parents this could be a not-to-be-missed opportunity for public display. Other parents may feel that they are reluctantly dragged into this race, or they risk disappointing their children.”

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-6035
cell: 607-793-1025
rv234@cornell.edu

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Narcissism Reduce Chances of Depression

Photo by Amir Geshani

Queen’s University Belfast

People who have grandiose narcissistic traits are more likely to be ‘mentally tough’, feel less stressed and are less vulnerable to depression, research led by Queen’s University Belfast has found.

While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who is Director of the InteRRaCt Lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, has revealed that it could also have benefits. He has published two papers on narcissism and psychopathology in Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry.

Dr Papageorgiou explains: “Narcissism is part of the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. There are two main dimensions to narcissism – grandiose and vulnerable. Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power.”

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He adds: “Individuals high on the spectrum of dark traits, such as narcissism, engage in risky behaviour, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, are overconfident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt.

“However, what this research has questioned is – if narcissism, as an example of the dark tetrad, is indeed so socially toxic, why does it persist and why is it on the rise in modern societies?”

The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlights some positive sides of narcissism, such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.

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A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism can increase mental toughness and this can help to offset symptoms of depression. It also found that people who score high on grandiose narcissism have lower levels of perceived stress and are therefore less likely to view their life as stressful.

The research is a fresh approach to the study of personality and psychopathology, highlighting that there are some positives to be found in terms of potential societal impact.

Dr Papageorgiou comments: “The results from all the studies that we conducted show that grandiose narcissism correlates with very positive components of mental toughness, such as confidence and goal orientation, protecting against symptoms of depression and perceived stress.

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“This research really helps to explain variation in symptoms of depression in society – if a person is more mentally tough they are likely to embrace challenges head on, rather than viewing them as a hurdle.

Dr Papageorgiou says: “While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes.

“This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.

“This move forward may help to reduce the marginalisation of individuals that score higher than average on the dark traits. It could also facilitate the development of research-informed suggestions on how best to cultivate some manifestations of these traits, while discouraging others, for the collective good.”

An event on Mental Toughness and Narcissism is being held at Queen’s on 15 November 2019, for more information visit https://aqrinternational.co.uk/event/mental-toughness-symposium.

Do we trust artificial intelligence agents to mediate conflict?

New study says we’ll listen to virtual agents except when goings get tough

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We may listen to facts from Siri or Alexa, or directions from Google Maps or Waze, but would we let a virtual agent enabled by artificial intelligence help mediate conflict among team members? A new study says not just yet.

Researchers from USC and the University of Denver created a simulation in which a three-person team was supported by a virtual agent avatar on screen in a mission that was designed to ensure failure and elicit conflict. The study was designed to look at virtual agents as potential mediators to improve team collaboration during conflict mediation.

Confess to them? Yes. But in the heat of the moment, will we listen to virtual agents?

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While some of researchers (Gale Lucas and Jonathan Gratch of the USC Viterbi School Engineering and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies who contributed to this study), had previously found that one-on-one human interactions with a virtual agent therapist yielded more confessions, in this study “Conflict Mediation in Human-Machine Teaming: Using a Virtual Agent to Support Mission Planning and Debriefing,” team members were less likely to engage with a male virtual agent named “Chris” when conflict arose.

Participating members of the team did not physically accost the device (as we have seen humans attack robots in viral social media posts), but rather were less engaged and less likely to listen to the virtual agent’s input once failure ensued and conflict arose among team members.

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The study was conducted in a military academy environment in which 27 scenarios were engineered to test how the team that included a virtual agent would react to failure and the ensuring conflict. The virtual agent was not ignored by any means. The study found that the teams did respond socially to the virtual agent during the planning of the mission they were assigned (nodding, smiling and recognizing the virtual agent ‘s input by thanking it) but the longer the exercise progressed, their engagement with the virtual agent decreased. The participants did not entirely blame the virtual agent for their failure.

“Team cohesion when accomplishing complex tasks together is a highly complex and important factor,” says lead author, Kerstin Haring, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Denver.

“Our results show that virtual agents and potentially social robots might be a good conflict mediator in all kinds of teams. It will be very interesting to find out the interventions and social responses to ultimately seamlessly integrate virtual agents in human teams to make them perform better.”

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Study co-author, Gale Lucas, Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science at USC, and a researcher at the Institute for Creative Technologies, adds that some feedback from study participants indicates that they perceived virtual agents to be neutral and unbiased. She would like to continue the work to see if virtual agents can be applied “to help us make better decisions” and press “what it takes to have us trust virtual agents.”

While this study was conducted in a military academy with particular structures, the researchers are hoping to develop this project to improve team processes in all sorts of work environments.

Jurassic fossil

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Discovery of a new fossil in China sheds light on when early mammal ancestors first evolved sophisticated thyroid bones that gave them the ability to swallow food like modern-day mammals.

The 165-million-year-old fossil of Microdocodongracilis, a tiny, shrew-like animal, shows the earliest example of modern hyoid bones in mammal evolution The hyoid bones link the back of the mouth, or pharynx, to the openings of the esophagus and the larynx. The hyoids of modern mammals, including humans, are arranged in a “U” shape, similar to the saddle seat of children’s swing, suspended by jointed segments from the skull. It helps us transport and swallow chewed food and liquid – a crucial function on which our livelihood depends.

Mammals as a whole are far more sophisticated than other living vertebrates in chewing up food and swallowing itone small lump at a time, instead of gulping down huge bites or whole prey like an alligator.

“Mammals have become so diverse today through the evolution of diverse ways to chew their food, weather it is insects, worms, meat, or plants. But no matter how differently mammals can chew, they all have to swallow in the same way,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, PhD, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and the senior author of a new study of the fossil, published this week in Science.

“Essentially, the specialized way for mammals to chew and then swallow is all made possible by the agile hyoid bones at the back of the throat,” Luo said.

‘A pristine, beautiful fossil’

This modern hyoid apparatus is mobile and allows the throat muscles to control the intricate functions to transport and swallow chewed food or drink fluids. Other vertebrates also have hyoid bones, but their hyoids are simple and rod-like, without mobile joints between segments. They can only swallow food whole or in large chunks.

When and how this unique hyoid structure first appeared in mammals, however, has long been in question among paleontologists. In 2014, Chang-Fu Zhou, PhD, from the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in China, the lead author of the new study, found a new fossil of Microdocodon preserved with delicate hyoid bones in the famous Jurassic Daohugou site of northeastern China.Soon afterwards, Luo and Thomas Martin from the University of Bonn, Germany, met up with Zhou in China to study the fossil.

“It is a pristine, beautiful fossil. I was amazed by the exquisite preservation of this tiny fossil at the first sight. We got a sense that it was unusual, but we were puzzled about what was unusual about it,”Luo said. “After taking detailed photographs and examining the fossil under a microscope, it dawned on us that this Jurassic animal has tiny hyoid bones much like those of modern mammals.”

This new insight gave Luo and his colleagues added context on how to study the new fossil. Microdocodonis a docodont, from an extinct lineage of near relatives of mammals from the Mesozoic Era called mammaliaforms. Previously, paleontologists anticipated that hyoids like this had to be there in all of these early mammals, but it was difficult to identify the delicate bones.  After finding them in Microdocodon, Luo and his collaborators have since found similar fossilized hyoid structures in other Mesozoic mammals.

“Now we are able for the first time to address how the crucial function for swallowing evolved among early mammals from the fossil record,” Luo said. “The tiny hyoids of Microdocodonare a big milestone for interpreting the evolution of mammalian feeding function.”

New insights on mammal evolution as a whole

Luo also worked with postdoctoral scholar Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, PhD, now on the faculty at Yale University, and April Neander, a scientific artist and expert on CT visualization of fossils at UChicago, to study casts of Microdocodonand reconstruct how it lived.

The jaw and middle ear of modern mammals are developed from (or around) the first pharyngeal arch, structures in a vertebrate embryo that develop into other recognizable bones and tissues. Meanwhile, the hyoids are developed separately from the second and the third pharyngeal arches. Microdocodonhas a primitive middle ear still attached to the jaw like that of other early mammals like cynodonts, which is unlike the ear of modern mammals. Yet its hyoids are already like those of modern mammals.

“Hyoids and ear bones are all derivatives of the primordial vertebrate mouth and gill skeleton, with which our earliest fishlike ancestors fed and respired,” Bhullar said. “The jointed, mobile hyoid of Microdocodoncoexists with an archaic middle ear — still attached to the lower jaw. Therefore, the building of the modern mammal entailed serial repurposing of a truly ancient system.”

The tiny, shrew-like creature likely weighed only 5 to 9 grams, with a slender body, and an exceptionally long tail. The dimensions of its limb bonesmatch up with those of modern tree-dwellers.

“Its limb bones are as thin as matchsticks, and yet this tiny Mesozoic mammal still lived an active life in trees,” Neander said.

The fossil beds that yielded Microdocodonare dated 164 to 166 million years old. Microdocodonco-existed with other docodonts like the semiaquatic Castorocauda, the subterranean Docofossor, the tree-dwellingAgilodocodon, as well as some mammaliaform gliders.

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The study, “New Jurassic mammaliaform sheds light on early evolution of mammal-like hyoid bones,” was published in Scienceon July 19, 2019. The research was supported by the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences (Luo); the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Martin); and the National Natural Science Foundation and Ministry of Land Resources of China, Shenyang Normal University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology (Zhou).

Autism Study Stresses Importance of Communicating with All Infants

Photo by Zoltan Tasi

Language Skills Can Benefit from Parents’ Early Support, Interactions.

University of Texas at Dallas

Dr. Meghan Swanson, assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, is the corresponding author of the study, published online June 28 in Autism Research. It is the first to extend research about the relationship between caregiver speech and infant language development from typically developing children to those with autism. The findings could inform guidelines for earlier action in cases of developmental difficulties.

A new language-skills study that included infants later diagnosed with autism suggests that all children can benefit from exposure to more speech from their caregivers.

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“You can diagnose autism at 24 months at the earliest; most people are diagnosed much later. Early intervention, from birth to age 3, has shown to be effective at supporting development in various cohorts of children,” said Swanson, who joined the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences in January as the director of the Infant Neurodevelopment & Language Research Lab, known as the Baby Brain Lab.

She said there has been a push to identify autism earlier or demonstrate that the same techniques that help most children develop language skills also benefit those eventually diagnosed with autism.

The study involved 96 babies, 60 of whom had an older sibling with autism. Swanson said that this “baby-sibling” research design was necessary.

“How do you study autism in infancy when you can’t diagnose it until the kids are age 2 at least?” she asked. “The answer relies on the fact that autism tends to run in families. These younger siblings have about a 20% chance of being diagnosed eventually with autism.”

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Indeed, 14 children from the high-risk subset of 60 were diagnosed with autism at 24 months.

The study results directly tied the number of words an infant hears, as well as the conversational turns he or she takes, to the performance on the 24-month language evaluation — both for typical children and those with autism.

“One conclusion we’ve come to is that parents should be persistent in talking with their babies even if they aren’t getting responses,” Swanson said.

Swanson emphasized how important large, longitudinal studies — tracking the same individuals across an extended period — like this one are in her field.

“You have to follow the same children for years to learn anything conclusive about development,” she said. “You can’t simply shift from a group of 2-year-olds to a different group of 3-year-olds and so on.”

Correcting the misunderstanding of parents’ influence in autism has been a gradual fight against outdated conceptions, Swanson said.

“When parents receive an autism diagnosis for a child, some might wonder, ‘What could I have done differently?’” she said. “There is no scientific backing for them to think in these terms. But there is a dark history in autism where parents were wrongly blamed, which reinforced these thoughts. To do research involving mothers as we have, you must approach that topic with sensitivity but also firmly reinforce that the logic that parenting style can cause autism is flawed.”

The children’s interactions with caregivers were recorded over two days — once at nine months and again at 15 months — via a LENA (Language Environment Analysis) audio recorder. The children’s language skills were then assessed at 24 months.

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“The LENA software counts conversational turns anytime an adult vocalizes and the infant responds, or vice versa,” Swanson said. “The definition is not related to the content of the speech, just that the conversation partner responds. We believe that responding to infants when they talk supports infant development, regardless of eventual autism diagnosis.”

The project was undertaken by the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) network, a consortium of eight universities in the United States and Canada funded by the National Institutes of Health as an Autism Center of Excellence. Before joining UT Dallas, Swanson was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of IBIS’ study sites. The other study sites are Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

Dr. Joseph Piven, the IBIS network’s principal investigator, is the director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC-Chapel Hill. For parents, the results should highlight the long-term effect of initiating conversations from an early age, he said.

“Talking to your kids makes a big difference,” Piven said. “Any impact on early language skills will almost certainly have an impact on a wide range of later abilities in school-age children and significantly enhance their probability of success.”

Swanson said the most important takeaway from this work is that parents can make a significant difference in language development, even in children who are eventually diagnosed with autism.

“Parents can be amazing agents of change in their infants’ lives from as early as 9 months old,” she said. “If we teach parents how to provide their children with a rich communication environment, it helps support their children’s development. I find that incredibly hopeful — the power that parents have to be these positive role models.”

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In addition to UT Dallas and the IBIS study sites, researchers from Temple University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, McGill University and the University of Alberta contributed to this study. The Simons Foundation also supported the research.

Why Males Are More at Risk Than Females For Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

Newswise — Researchers have recently begun to realize that biological sex plays a key role in disease risk. Sex plays a role in hypertension, diabetes, arthritis – and in many neurological and psychiatric disorders. Depression and anxiety affect females more, while neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, early onset schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity, affect more males. Males are also more sensitive to prenatal insults, such as gestational stress, maternal infection and drug exposure.

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//cdn.chitika.net/getads.jsTo better understand the molecular underpinnings of this disparity, Tracy Bale of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, along with several colleagues, focused on a molecule that plays a key role in placental health. In a study of mice, they found that the molecule, O-linked N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT) works by establishing sex-specific patterns of gene expression. The study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications. OGT seems to work via an epigenetic modification that broadly controls transcription, H3K27me3. Epigenetics is the study of changes in how genes are expressed. Dr. Bale showed that high levels of H3K27me3 in the female placenta produce resilience to stress experienced by the mother. This indicates at least one molecular pathway that allows females to be more resilient to maternal stress than males. “This pathway could help explain why we see this profound neurodevelopmental difference in humans,” said Dr. Bale. “OGT and H3K27me3 in the placenta are crucial to a lot of protein encoding that occurs during pregnancy, and so this process has a lot of downstream effects. The OGT gene is on the X chromosome, and seems to provide a level of protection for the female fetus to perturbations in the maternal environment.” Dr. Bale has focused much of her research on the links between stress and subsequent risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia in offspring. Her previous work on the placenta has found novel sex differences that may predict increased prenatal risk for disease in males. She has previously found that, in mice, a father’s stress can affect the brain development of offspring. This stress can alter the father’s sperm, which can alter the brain development of the child. Dr. Bale has also found that male mice experiencing chronic mild stress have offspring with a reduced hormonal response to stress; this response has been linked to some neuropsychiatric disorders, including PTSD. This suggests that even mild environmental challenges can have a significant effect on the health of offspring.