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Health & Science

Beauty is in the sex of the beholder; The lasting damage of child abuse; A better way to attack the flu; Antarctica’s great melt; Don’t take anger to heart

Beauty is in the sex of the beholder
Men and women respond to art and natural beauty differently, using different parts of their brains, a new study says. When standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or in front of Michelangelo’s Pietà, men use the parietal region of only the right side of their brain to judge and appreciate what they’re seeing, researchers at Spain’s University of Beleares found. Brain studies showed that men make a mental map of beautiful scenes, calculating proportions and spatial relations. Women, on the other hand, use the parietal lobes on both sides of their brain, indicating that they’re using words to categorize and identify specific aspects of the image. These differences probably reflect evolutionary adaptations to the roles that men and women played in early hunter-gatherer societies, study author Camilo Cela-Conde tells Wired.com. “In current hunter-gatherer groups, men are in charge of hunting; meanwhile women collect,” he says. These functions, he says, probably explain why men are generally better at orienting themselves
in space, while women focus more on particular objects.

The lasting damage of child abuse
Child abuse doesn’t just scar the psyche, says Science. It can actually alter the functioning of a child’s DNA, making him or her more vulnerable to stress and depression into adulthood. Scientists
at McGill University in Montreal conducted autopsy studies of the brains of men who’d been abused as children, comparing them with the brains of those who had not been abused, and found a telling difference in the genes in the portion of the brain that responds to stress. In most people, these genes respond to stress by ordering the production of special proteins that shield the brain against the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. But in children who have been abused, the researchers found, the flood of stress hormones early in life prevents these genes from “turning on” properly, making life much more stressful and painful. It’s as if their nerves are exposed, with no defense against negative experiences. As a result, abused children have much higher incidence of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
 
A better way to attack the flu
Every year, scientists have to alter the flu vaccine, guessing which strains of the rapidly mutating virus will be prevalent many months in the future. But researchers have found a better way, engineering the vaccine to attack a portion of the virus that is largely the same in every strain, says ScienceNow.com. Researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute discovered that all flu viruses have in common a partially hidden section of protein. They developed a vaccine that targets that protein, and in tests on mice they found that it successfully blocked infection for about three weeks, long enough for the body to manufacture antibodies on its own. Even more exciting is the fact that the vaccine helped mice infected with the deadly avian flu survive, indicating that it could be a treatment for people who already have the flu as well as a preventive measure.

Antarctica’s great melt
Antarctica is melting a lot faster than climatologists had thought—and that could lead to a dramatic rise in sea levels throughout the world, new research says. Scientists from more than 60 countries conducting extensive studies of Antarctic ice found that huge portions of the
glaciers covering the western region of the continent are melting, breaking up, and falling into the sea. One glacier is moving 40 percent faster than it did in the 1970s, and another is sliding into the sea 80 times faster than it did in 1992. This appears to be in response to a 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in Antarctic temperatures in recent decades. If this trend continues, says Colin Summerhayes of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, current projections of sea-level increases by century’s end will have to be doubled, to as much as five feet. A sea-level rise of that magnitude would inundate many coastal areas and cities. 

Don’t take anger to heart
If you sometimes get so angry that you can feel your heart pounding in your chest, beware: It could augur a future heart attack. Yale University cardiologist Dr. Rachel Lampert performed EKG
heart rhythm exams on 62 of her patients, testing their physical reactions to emotional anger. When asked to recall an angry moment, some of the patients showed irregular heart rhythms, while others’ hearts stayed steady. Years later, Lampert found, those patients whose hearts had responded strongly to anger were 10 times more likely to have suffered heart attacks. “Anger causes electrical changes in the heart,” she tells the Associated Press. She suggests that people with strong anger responses take anger-management courses, learn to meditate, or undergo psychotherapy.

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