Posts tagged with "Scientific American"

Strong-arm tactics: Bottle feeding is linked to left-handedness

January 11, 2019

Bottle feeding infants is associated with left-handedness, according to findings of a study conducted at the University of Washington and released on January 7.

The study found that the prevalence of left-handedness is lower among breastfed infants, as compared to bottle-fed babies. This finding was identified in about 60,000 mother-infant pairs and accounted for known risk factors for handedness.

The results provide further insight into the development of complex brain functions which ultimately determine which side of the batter box the infant likely will choose.

“We think breastfeeding optimizes the process the brain undergoes when solidifying handedness,” said Philippe Hujoel, the study’s author, a professor at the UW’s School of Dentistry and an adjunct professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health. “That’s important because it provides an independent line of evidence that breastfeeding may need to last six to nine months.”

The study does not imply, however, that breastfeeding leads to right-handedness, Hujoel said. Handedness, whether it be right- or left-handed, is set early in fetal life and is at least partially determined by genetics. The research does sheds light on when the region of the brain that controls handedness localizes to one side of the brain, a process known as brain lateralization. Possibly, the research shows, breastfeeding optimizes this lateralization towards becoming right- or left-handed.

According to Scientific American magazine, about 15% of people are left-handed—and males are more than twice as likely to be left-handed as females. How does that match up with statistics for breastfeeding and bottle feeding? Based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , among U.S. children born between the years 2009 and 2015, 10% were exclusively bottle-fed for the first six months of life; while 30% were bottle-fed exclusively up to the age of three months.

The good news, according to Daily Infographic, is that left-handers are more likely to be geniuses and left-handed men are, on average, 15% more affluent than their right-handed peers.

Interestingly enough, statistically, the older a mother is, the more likely she is to give birth to left-handed children. But we don’t know how likely older mothers are to bottle-feed versus breastfeed.

Research contact: @UWMedicine

The face is familiar … and a new app will help you remember the name

January 8, 2019

It has happened to all of us. We run into somebody we know, but can’t match a name to the face.

Embarrassing? Yes. But now there’s a way to finesse the situation, thanks to the creators of SocialRecall, an app that uses smartphone cameras and facial recognition software to scan the features of your acquaintances—or even strangers at an event— and tell you their names.

“It breaks down these social barriers we all have in terms of initiating the protocol to meet somebody,” neuroscientist Barry Sandrew told Scientific American for its latest issue. Sandrew’s start-up, also called SocialRecall, created the app,  and tested it at an event attended by about 1,000 people.

There are two versions of the app, the magazine reports: In one version, a user upload selfies that SocialRecall then uses to identify the person for other app users within the bounds of a specific geographic area, such as an event venue. Another version is designed for users with prosopagnosia, better known as face blindness. That version enables a user to tag images of his or her own friends so that the app can remind them of their names on the fly.

Privacy concerns? SocialRecall says it deletes obsolete user data on the event version of the app, and that data for the other version is only stored on a user’s phone.

But, Scientific American notes, privacy experts remain concerned that the app represents a widespread rollout of technology that could have profound implications for the future of public spaces— and that it’s difficult to adequately inform users about the long-term risks of a technology that’s still so new.

“The cost to everyone whom you are surveilling with this app is very, very high,” New York University law professor Jason Schultz told Scientific American, “and I don’t think it respects the consent politics involved with capturing people’s images.”

Research contact: info@socialrecallapp.com

Lost cause: Why do some people lack a sense of direction?

June 27, 2018

Could you get lost in a paper bag? Some of us have no “inner MapQuest.” We have such a poor sense of direction that one wrong turn can take us off the beaten path for hours.

Why can’t we navigate? In 2014, neuroscientist John O’Keefe won a Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with two of his students (May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser) for a study on this very subject, conducted at University College London.

The research team discovered what they called “place cells” in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory. These place cells are activated when we go to a new area, forming a map of the environment. They combine with “grid cells” in the entorhinal cortex— which is next to the hippocampus—to tell us where we are, in relation to where we started out. In addition, the University College London researchers found a third type of “head-direction” cell in the entorhinal region, which fires off when we face in a certain direction.

In fact, the entorhinal cortex has been called the brain’s GPS system, based on a report on O’Keefe’s work in Scientific American. Together, these three types of specialized neurons—place cells, grid cells, and head-direction cells—enable each of us to navigate, but precisely how they do this is unclear.

What’s more, they may work differently in each of us. While our built-in compass is supposed to tell us which way we are facing—and then to provide directions on which way to turn in order to arrive at our chosen destination—if a person has a poor sense of direction, the signals are fuzzier. While the compass is supposed to readjust as a person moves through the environment, if he or she makes too many turns, the brain may not be able to keep up and may provide incorrect directions.

The researchers believe that men may have a slight directional advantage over women. Indeed, Dr. Martin Chadwick who did a follow-up study at University College London, told The Daily Mail UK, “Some studies have shown that women have a better visual memory: You can show them a scene and they will remember it better than men. Men, in contrast, can work with the geometry and rotate things in their mind better.”

Interestingly enough, the Daily Mail reported, when MRI brain scans were used to study the posterior hippocampus of candidates who were ready to take a test to qualify as London cabbies, those who had fully memorized London’s 25,000 streets and landmarks had a larger amount of gray matter in that region of the brain. The scientists think that their brains had changed in order to accommodate an internal “map” of the city, which would be used to direct them to the destinations requested by their riders.

Research contact: j.okeefe@ucl.ac.uk