Why tots shouldn’t watch TV
If you have a baby or a toddler, turn off that TV. A new study finds that when children are exposed to a lot of TV before the age of 2, they are deprived of interaction with adults, which can lead to delays in brain and language development. University of Washington researchers found that for every hour the TV set was on, even if it was just in the background, adults spoke from 500 to 1,000 fewer words to children. When the distraction of the boob tube was present, children spoke less, too, and there were fewer conversations between the adults and the children. This was true whether the show was a kid’s program or an adult show that parents were watching in the child’s presence. Speaking directly to a child, previous research has shown, is critical to brain development. In surveys, 30 percent of Americans admit to having the TV on all day long, whether anyone is watching or not. Television, researcher Dimitri Christakis tells LiveScience.com, “is a poor caregiver substitute. My recommendation is that children under the age of 2 be discouraged from watching television.”
Tracking penguins from space
How do you spot a colony of emperor penguins from space? It’s easy, says biologist Phil Trathan: Just follow the poop. Even when the animals themselves are impossible to see, Trathan tells Science, “the poo just sort of stands out at you.” Trathan and his partner, cartographer Peter Fretwell, are using satellite images of Antarctic ice to track colonies of emperor penguins, to see if they’re being affected by the melting ice caused by global warming. In order to find the 38 colonies they spotted this year, Trathan and Fretwell tracked reddish-brown smears of guano stains that could be seen from space. The penguins “stay in the same space in very large colonies for eight months of the year and the ice around them gets very dirty,” says Fretwell. This year, six of the colonies being tracked had moved to new positions, apparently because of shifting ice patterns. Six previously known colonies disappeared.
The other seven-year itch
Every seven years, a new study finds, you shed about half your friendships and acquire new ones. Though your best friend may seem like your permanent confidant, there’s only a 30 percent chance that you will be that close to the same person seven years from now. As for the rest of your friends, only 48 percent will still be a regular part of your life in 2016. It’s not that most of us are fickle or disloyal, says Dutch sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst, who conducted the study of more than 1,000 people over seven years. It’s simply that people come together in “friendship networks” mostly out of circumstance and context; when they move away, switch jobs, and experience other major life changes, bonds become attenuated and often dissolve. At the same time, new contexts and new people lead to new friendships. We’d all like to believe we’ve chosen friends and mates because of some inherent affinity, Mollenhorst tells ScienceDaily.com, but the reality is that happenstance and sheer proximity play a big role.
That damn cell phone
Everyone hates hearing a cell phone ring in a classroom, at a movie or play, or anyplace where people are concentrating, says the Los Angeles Times. A new study confirms that the ring tone interruption isn’t merely an annoyance. It can ruin everyone’s concentration for many minutes. Washington University researcher Jill Shelton, posing as a student, allowed her phone to ring for 30 seconds during a college psychology lecture, to gauge the impact of the distraction on the students around her. When tested on material that had been presented in the class, the students who had been interrupted by a ring tone scored 25 percent worse than the students who had been able to concentrate on the lecture. “Nuisance noises have real-life impacts,” Shelton says. The biggest effect, she found, came from ring tones that consisted of popular songs, which really grabbed people’s attention in a lasting way.
Why people blush
When some fair-skinned people feel embarrassment, they blush. When they blush, they get more embarrassed, because they feel that it’s a sign of weakness—visible proof that they can’t keep their cool. Stop worrying, says new research: Blushing is actually good for your social reputation. When researchers asked a group of volunteers to judge people’s personalities based on photos, people who were pictured with a pink flush were more likely to be seen as sympathetic characters. In another study, scientists found that blushing can hasten bonding in a fraternity-like setting. “It was a subtle effect, but we found that the frequency of blushing predicted how well these guys were getting along at the end,” psychologist Dacher Keltner tells The New York Times. Blushing signals to others that you have a heart and are sensitive to what other people think of you. It’s therefore endearing. “A blush comes online in two or three seconds,” Keltner says, “and says, ‘I care.’”