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Health & Science

Babies cry in their native tongue; Diets that make you grouchy; Splashdown on the moon; The pig in the mirror

Babies cry in their native tongueNewborn French infants cry in French, and German infants wail in German. Long before they learn how to talk, new research shows, infants have learned the intonations, rhythms, and general sounds of the language that their mothers speak. European scientists did a computer analysis of the hungry and fussy cries of French and German babies just 2 days to 5 days old. They found that German infants wail with a notably falling melody—high-pitched to start, and then dropping—remarkably similar to the intonation of spoken German. The French cries, in contrast, started low and then pitched high, akin to spoken French. The results suggest that the babies “are producing sounds they have heard in the womb,” likely during the third trimester, cognitive scientist Debbie Mills tells BBC.com. Previous studies have shown that infants are partial to voices and languages that were spoken in the weeks prior to birth. Lacking the ability to make vowel sounds, the melodic newborns are likely trying to mimic their mothers with the only tool available, “in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding,” says study author Kathleen Wermke of the University of Wurzburg in Germany. “Melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother’s speech that newborns are able to imitate.”

Diets that make you grouchyThe popular South Beach and Atkins diets, which both push a regimen very low in carbohydrates, succeed in helping many people lose pounds. But at what cost to their happiness? In a recent study, Australian researchers took 106 overweight and obese dieters, divided them into two groups, and tracked their weight and mood over time. Both groups had the same modest daily calorie limit, but one followed a diet low in carbs and high in fat, while the second group’s regimen was low in fat but consisted of nearly 50 percent carbs—about 10 times the carbohydrate load of the first regimen. After a year, dieters in both groups had lost an average of 30 pounds, but only those on the low-fat, high-carb diet reported an improvement in their moods, with less anxiety and depression. The South Beach/Atkins dieters were gloomier and grouchier. The reason may be biological: A lack of carbohydrates can reduce serotonin in the brain, spurring depression. It may also be that because a low-carb diet consists of foods that are more calorie-dense, you eat a much smaller volume of food than before, which may trigger feelings of deprivation and frustration. A diet that makes you unhappy, study author Grant Brinkworth tells the Los Angeles Times, is one you’re less likely to stick to, leading to “weight gain in the long term.”

Splashdown on the moonIt’s official: Scientists have found water on the moon. Last month, NASA sent a spacecraft crashing into a crater near the moon’s south pole, gouging out a hole up to 100 feet across, and sending up a plume of lunar dust that a trailing satellite analyzed. The tests, NASA has announced, show that mixed in with the dirt were 220 pounds of ice—the equivalent of 26 gallons of water. It was a stunning result, contradicting the long-held belief that the moon is an arid, dead world with no resources to be exploited by future explorers. “This is painting a surprising new picture of the moon,” space scientist Greg Delory of the University of California at Berkeley tells The Washington Post. “This is not your father’s moon.” The ice, which apparently has been preserved in the dark, frozen craters near the moon’s southern pole for billions of years, may provide a source of water if human beings set up colonies there in the future. Further study may also explain how the moon’s water got there. If it was deposited by icy comets crashing to the surface millennia ago, it could also explain the origin of water on Earth.The pig in the mirrorAny farmer will tell you that pigs are smart. But are pigs so smart that they’re self-aware, like monkeys and other primates? To find out, researchers placed two pigs in a pen with a mirror. While most animals interpret their own mirrored reflection as another animal, the pigs quickly grasped the link “between their own movements and their image in the mirror,” researcher Donald Broom of the University of Cambridge tells ScienceNow. They nuzzled their reflections, moved about, and looked at themselves from various angles. Most impressively, when a bowl of food was introduced that was visible only in the mirror, the pigs quickly turned around to seek out the real thing behind them. The cognitive skills involved in making that leap suggest “some degree of self-awareness,” says Broom. “It’s not conclusive, but it is likely they are self-aware given our results.” Pigs now join the ranks of several other species, including monkeys, dolphins, magpies, and elephants, that recognize their reflections in a mirror.

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