Tanning beds as harmful as smoking

July 31, 2009

New research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that tanning beds are even more dangerous than previously thought. The IARC has moved tanning beds from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to the highest cancer risk category, calling them “carcinogenic to humans”. They will join other Group 1 hazards including cigarettes, asbestos, and arsenic.

This past June, scientists from several different countries met to analyze 20 studies that linked tanning beds and skin cancer. After examining the data, the IARC has found tanning beds can increase the risk of developing skin cancer by 75%, especially if use begins before the age of 30. The IARC also discovered evidence that links tanning beds with melanoma of the eye.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the amount of young women who have been diagnosed with melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer. According to WebMD:

“[IARC’s Vincent] Cogliano said studies conducted over the past decade provide an ‘an abundance of evidence’ that tanning bed use has played a role in this rise, along with direct sun exposure.”

With the release of these results, the World Health Organization hopes to persuade governments to regulate the use of tanning beds, as well as restrict their use to those who are 18 and over.

The report is published in the August issue of Lancet Oncology.

Cash gain = less pain

July 29, 2009

A new study finds that money not only eases physical pain, but also helps lessen the emotional pain caused by feeling socially rejected. The results concluded that participants experienced both psychological and physical effects from either touching money or thinking about expenses.

Through six experiments, the researchers hoped to determine if money can alter how one experiences social acceptance and rejection, as well as physical pain.

One experiment consisted of 84 participants who were divided into two groups. One group was asked to count money and the other counted paper. Each person was then asked to play a computer game called Cyberball. Half of the participants played a rigged version designed to exclude the players from receiving turns. The volunteers who played this version reported feeling snubbed; however, those that had counted the money experienced lower levels of social rejection than the group that had counted paper.

Another experiment also began with one group counting money and the other plain paper. The participants were then asked to immerse their fingers in very hot water. Overall, the group that counted money reported lower levels of pain.

The scientists repeated the experiments without the bills to determine if the money had served as a distraction. This time, one group wrote about their expenses and the other wrote about the weather. Afterward, the participants  either put their fingers in hot water or played the fixed version of Cyberball. The research team found that writing about expenses caused anxiety and intensified the physical pain and the feelings of rejection.

As study co-author Kathleen Vohs told Live Science:

“These effects speak to the power of money, even as a symbol, to change perceptions of very real feelings.”

This study appeared in the June issue of Psychological Science.

Celebrities on the Cerebrum

July 24, 2009

As if taking over the world wasn’t enough for Oprah…now she has to take over our brains. The results of a new study suggest the brain contains “Oprah neurons” — specific neurons that fire when we hear her name or see her face.

The research team, from the University of Leicester in England, claims they have located the part of the brain that responds to images and sounds of a particular person. The researchers studied patients with epilepsy who have electrodes implanted in their brain to help pinpoint the source of their seizures.

As part of the study, the team showed the participants pictures of famous locations around the world, such as the World Trade Center and Eiffel Tower. They also used pictures of celebrities including Oprah, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and even Luke Skywalker.

The results showed that when a participant saw a picture of a celebrity, the same brain neurons would fire each time. It also didn’t matter if the participant saw a picture, heard the name out loud, or read the name. They found the neurons would ultimately fire in the medial temporal lobe. This part of the brain also includes the hippocampus – the area that is associated with memory – indicating that specific neurons are used for remembering a particular person or concept.

According to Professor Quian Quiroga (study author and head of Bioengineering at the University of Leicester):

“The processing of visual and auditory information follows completely different cortical pathways in the brain, but we are showing that this information converges into single neurons in the hippocampus, at the very end of these pathways for processing sensory information. This work gives us further understandings of how information is processed in the brain, by creating a high level of abstraction which is important for perception and memory formation given that we tend to remember abstract concepts and forget irrelevant details.”

This study will be published in the August 11th issue of Current Biology; however, it is available online now.

Study finds babies are the real Dr. Dolittle

July 23, 2009

A new study from Bringham Young University finds that babies as young as 6 months old can understand the meaning of a dog’s bark, even without any previous contact.

The study consisted of 128 babies between 6 and 24 months old. They were each shown two different photos of the same dog – one depicting the dog with a friendly expression and the other with an aggressive stance. The researchers would then play recordings of an aggressive bark and a friendly bark in random order.

The team observed that while hearing each bark, the 6 month old babies would spend most of the time staring at the corresponding picture. Meanwhile,  the older babies would instantly make the connection between stance and bark and then quickly move on to looking at something else. The researchers only conducted one trial on each infant in order to rule out the possibility of the babies learning the experiment.

The study’s news release explains why studies like this are so helpful:

“Though the mix of dogs and babies sounds silly, experiments of this kind help us understand how babies learn so rapidly. Long before they master speech, babies recognize and respond to the tone of what’s going on around them.”

The study’s findings will be published in the journal Developmental Psychology. Click here to see the pictures used in the experiment.

Short changed

July 21, 2009

Some people have all the luck. A new study has found that in Australia tall people make more money, particularly taller men. The researchers, Andrew Leigh and Michael Kortt from Australian National University, set out to determine if there was a relationship between a worker’s size and their salary.

The results indicated that men who were 6 feet tall made an average of $950 more per year than men just two inches shorter. In an interesting twist, the researchers did not find that being overweight was associated with making less money like studies done in several other countries.

The researchers used data from the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey which has respondents provide details about their health. The researchers used responses from the 2006 and 2007 surveys and restricted the ages to 25-54. For more information about the data collection, the report can be found here.

In their report, the researchers ponder possible reasons for body size affecting salary:

“One possibility is that for particular jobs, body size has direct productive payoff.…It is also possible that body size has an indirect impact on productivity. For example, taller and slimmer workers might exude greater confidence in dealing with customers and co-workers, perhaps because others have treated them more favourable in the past. The final possibility is that shorter and more overweight workers might be subject to discrimination from customers, co-workers, or employers.”

The study also found the height and wage pattern to hold true for women; however, the relationship was not as significant as it was for men.

“Does Size Matter In Australia?” will be published in the July issue of The Economic Record.

Till cohabitation do us part

July 17, 2009

A new study has some grim news for the majority of unmarried couples in the United States. According to researchers at the University of Denver, couples who live together before marrying have a higher chance of divorcing than those who wait to be married or engaged. The research team estimates that at least 70 percent of couples in the U.S. live together before marriage.

It has previously been thought that living together can be a good test run for marriage; however, another study conducted by the same team found that living together solely for this reason leads to the most problems. Lead author of the study, Galena Rhoades, explains why:

“We think that some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabitating.”

The researchers conducted telephone surveys of more than 1,000 married men and women between ages 18 and 34 who had been married within the past ten years. As part of the survey, the team asked questions about relationship satisfaction, dedication, and divorce potential.

According to the study’s findings, approximately 43% of couples surveyed lived together before getting married or engaged. These couples reported considerably lower relationship satisfaction, dedication, self-confidence, and greater divorce potential than those who waited to cohabitate until they were engaged (16.4%) or married (40.5%).

This study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. Rhoades’ study examining the reasons couples decide to move-in together can be found in the February issue of the Journal of Family Issues.


July 15, 2009

A new study finds what cat owners have long suspected. The cat wears the pants in the family and humans are merely there to fulfill their every need. The study’s results show that cats know exactly what they want and how to get it, especially when it comes to food.

The Centre for Mammal Vocal Communication Research at the University of Sussex in Britain conducted the study and found that when hungry, cats use a specific type of purr they call “solicitation purring”. The research team discovered cats embed the purr with an insistent cry that sounds similar to the high frequency cry of a human baby. Results indicated that this particular sound is simply harder for humans to ignore.

Lead study author, Dr. Karen McComb, formulated an experiment that would test how humans react to the various types of purrs. The study consisted of 50 people (not all cat owners) and the purrs of ten different cats. Participants consistently found the purr with the high-pitched cry to be much more pressing and unpleasant sounding. The urgency ratings greatly decreased when the participants were played the manipulated purr without the cry.

According to Dr. McComb:

‘The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response – and solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing.”

The research team also determined that this type of purr is more likely to be found in smaller households. There is generally less commotion and therefore, the cat is more likely to receive a response from the owner. This study is published in the July 14, 2009 issue of Current Biology.

Potty mouth provides pain relief

July 14, 2009

Pain and cussing are kissing cousins: yes, it’s wrong, but – heck – it feels appropriate to right a physical wrong with a verbal one. Now, new research points to potty mouthing as a palliative for pain.

A research team from Keele University in England found that cursing actually helps to alleviate pain. The researchers set up an experiment using 64 college students. Their original hypothesis was that cursing would amplify the pain because the participant would be focusing on their injury.

The participants were asked to put their hand in freezing water and leave it there for as long as they could. While their hand was in the water, half of the students were told to repeat their favorite swear word, while the others were asked to repeat a neutral word.  The experiment was then repeated with the groups switching word categories.

According to MSNBC News:

“…the cursing group not only reported lower levels of pain, but also were able to keep their hands in the icy water longer. The men in the study, for example, were able to keep their hands in the water for an average of 190 seconds while swearing, but for only 140 seconds when uttering a neutral word. The difference was even more pronounced in women. While men’s pain scores dropped by a point when they cussed, the women’s dropped by almost two full points.”

The researchers believe that pain is alleviated because swearing can trigger the body’s natural fight-or-flight response which occurs to help an individual deal with an impending threat. The study is published in the current issue of Neuroreport.

What would an ER staffed by homeopaths look like?

July 14, 2009

The award-winning British comedy show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, tries to save a car crash victim whose chakras are fading…

Health Canada survey: BPA in bottled water, baby food jars not a risk to consumer

July 10, 2009

You would have to drink 1000 liters of bottled water a day to approach Canada’s provisional tolerable daily intake for the chemical bisphenol A, according to the latest research by Health Canada.  (Not only is this practically impossible, rapid consumption of even six or seven liters of water in the space of a few hours could kill you, a rather dramatic illustration of the principle that anything can be poisonous if consumed in large enough quantities).

Health Canada tested a total sample of 68 bottles of 54 different bottled water products marketed under 21 brands from 16 companies. Levels of BPA averaged 1.5 parts per billion and it noted that

“The contribution of BPA levels in bottled water to the overall exposure is negligible for the general population, and the consumption of water from polycarbonate carboys does not pose a safety concern.”

A separate survey of BPA in 122 baby food products prepackaged in glass jars with metal lids -

“clearly indicate that exposure to BPA through the consumption of jarred baby food products would be extremely low.  The low levels of BPA found in jarred baby food products available for sale in Canada confirms Health Canada’s previous assessment conclusion that the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the consumer.”

Environmental activists have warned the public that drinking water from plastic water bottles puts them at risk for man boobs and diabetes, while news organizations, such as USA Today have warned that the levels of  BPA in plastic bottles are associated with cancer, early onset puberty, and obesity.


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