Babies Learn What Words Mean Before They Can Use Them

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(Reuters Health) – Babies begin to learn words and what they mean well before they begin talking, and researchers are beginning to understand how they do it.


“I think it’s especially intriguing that we find evidence that for infants, even their early words aren’t ‘islands’: even with a very small vocabulary they seem to have a sense that some words and concepts are more ‘similar’ than others,” Dr. Elika Bergelson from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina told Reuters Health by email. “While they still have a lot to learn before they show adult-like or even toddler-like levels of comprehension, this gives us a peek into how those early words and concepts are organized.”


True word learning requires making connections between speech and the world around us and learning how different words relate to each other.


Bergelson’s team studied 6-month-old babies to see whether they recognized these connections, as opposed to merely recognizing words in isolation.


Using eye tracking, the researchers found that infants looked significantly more at pictures of named objects (“car,” for example) when the objects were paired with unrelated objects (like a picture of a car with a picture of juice) than when the objects were paired with related objects (like a picture of a car with a picture of a stroller).


Infants, the authors suggest, “may know enough about a word’s meaning to tell it apart from the unrelated referent but not the related one. . . . That is, perhaps infants know ‘car’ cannot refer to juice, but not whether stroller is in the ‘car’ category.”


Using home video recordings, the researchers also observed that the infants learned to recognize words better when they could see the objects as the words were being used (for example, when they were told, “here’s your spoon,” when the spoon was actually present).


How often the word was used in the presence of the object seemed to have a greater impact on the development of understanding than who did the speaking, according to the November 20 online report in PNAS.


“I think before figuring out how to enhance vocabulary development, we need to better understand how it proceeds ‘typically’ – this paper is a first step in that direction,” Bergelson said. “That said, I think one thing suggested by our work is that talking more with young babies, and focusing in on what they’re looking at and caring about certainly won’t hurt – and it might even help – with early language development.”


“Treat your baby like a real conversational partner,” she said. “Even young infants are listening and learning about words and the world around them before they start talking themselves, and their caregivers make that possible.”


Dr. Dana Suskind from the University of Chicago, who has studied ways to help parents enrich infant language development but who wasn’t involved in this research, told Reuters Health by email, “From my standpoint, this work continues to reaffirm the critical importance of early and intentional parent language and interaction from day one and that learning doesn’t start on the first day of school but the first day of life!”

November 21, 2017 at 10:14AM

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Navigating Thanksgiving with Difficult Relatives

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Thanksgiving. It’s the only general American feast day. The magazine covers at the checkout counter are filled with colorful pictures of pies and pumpkins, vegetable dishes and, of course, that glorious, huge golden brown stuffed bird. In every hosting household, lists are made of food to buy and dishes to prepare for an annual gathering centered on family togetherness and, let’s face it, enthusiastic gluttony followed by football.

Meanwhile, for many people, Thanksgiving is also fraught with anxiety about family dynamics. Will there be tension between that mother and that daughter-in-law? (Yes. Probably.) Will the kids who usually fight with each other get along? (Probably not.) Will that uncle who always drinks too much do it again? (Yup.) Will the food critic of the group find something to criticize or decline with a grimace? (Also Yup.) Will most of the people try to make it a pleasant day at least most of the time? (Hopefully.) For some families, what should be a day of celebration and warm togetherness is instead fraught with barely contained anxiety.

It’s just true. We can’t change our relatives. We can only change our response to them. If your family is difficult, if you both love and hate the idea of getting together around the turkey table with the whole menagerie called your kin, repeat after me: “You can’t change your relatives.” But — Here’s the good news: You can change your experience of the day.

It’s not only true that what you see is what you get. What we get is often influenced by what we choose to see. If we focus on all the ways that family members will let us down on a holiday, we are actually sensitizing ourselves to seeing them do just that. If instead, we can decide to focus on the positive and generally minimize the negative, chances are we will come away from the holiday meal feeling much better about the group and ourselves.

That does not mean ignoring truly abusive or harmful behaviors. If anyone is sexually inappropriate or verbally or emotionally abusive or violent, the best strategy is to scoop up the kids and leave. But short of that, when some of the people around the holiday table are just their usual disappointing, inappropriate, ill-mannered or obnoxious selves, there are some strategies you can use to change the tone and to save the holiday for yourself and your kids.

Prepare yourself: It’s not new information who is going to do predictable negative behavior. Remind yourself that yes, it will happen and no, it has nothing to do with you.

Prepare your responses: I repeat: Problem behavior by problem people is predictable. If there are people who feel free to comment on your parenting style, your weight, your politics or your job choices (as only a few of the myriad topics that critics find to criticize),  prepare and rehearse your responses so you are not, once again, caught like a deer in the headlights. You can always reply something like, “Thank you for your concern” or “Yes, I’ll think about that.” Or “That’s a very interesting perspective.” Such comments acknowledge the person but don’t commit you to changing a thing,

Set the tone at the table: Focus the group on gratitude; It sometimes makes my kids groan but I always insist that we start the Thanksgiving meal with each person stating something they are grateful for. Gratitude is, after all, supposed to be at the core of this day. There is always something to be grateful for – even if it is the fact that we have a place to live and running water when so many people don’t. But I encourage these now young adults to think back on their year and to highlight some of the many positive things that have happened since last Thanksgiving. After the usual, “Do we have tos”, they start sharing important events from their lives for which they are thankful. Often it is serious. Just as often it is funny and fun. Putting the thanks back into Thanksgiving is something we all can do regardless of whatever else is going on.

Limit alcohol: If drinking seems to bring out the worst in people and the celebration is at your house, limit the amount of alcohol served. Let people know ahead of time so those who can’t stand the idea of a family get-together without being intoxicated can make other plans. If the celebration is elsewhere, remember that you don’t have to stay if people become disagreeable when they’ve had too much. There’s no need to get into an argument about how much is too much. Just politely plead a headache or the need to get home for whatever you might need to get home for, say your thank yous and leave.

Avoid setting up kids for misbehavior: Young kids who are not used to sitting through a whole long meal will inevitably get restive. To expect them to be exemplary is a set up. If you haven’t taught and practiced good table manners as a regular part of your family curriculum, they aren’t going to have them just because they are at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. The traditional “kids’ table” is one solution. Another is to stay alert for when the kids have had enough and excuse them before they get antsy. P.S. Make a note to yourself that you have some parenting work to do so that they are more prepared to participate in a more formal setting next year.

Take breaks: There are many ways to get a breather if things are tense. Go to the bathroom. Offer to read to the kids for awhile. Go for a walk. Help out in the kitchen. Ask a teenager to explain an app. Use the time to do some deep breathing and to reground yourself. Go back to the group feeling restored and able to manage for awhile longer.

Have an exit strategy: The goal is to leave while you are feeling fine – or at least mostly fine. Don’t wait until you’ve “had it”. Don’t wait for a kid melt down or a full blown and painful family argument. Stay alert: You can see it coming. Don’t ignore the signs that tell you that it’s time to go while the going is good. Make polite excuses. Stay on the high road even if someone else has gone low. Blame your early departure on needing to feed the dog (it doesn’t matter if you don’t have one) or on a concern that you are getting sick (even if you’re not) or worries about the traffic. Honesty isn’t the best policy. Leaving graciously without blaming or shaming anyone or being upset is.  When you get home (actually when you get in the car), congratulate yourself for handling things well and do something that makes you calm and happy.

November 21, 2017 at 09:54AM

Even Unpalatable Foods Taste Good to the Brain

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When we experience something painful, our brain produces natural painkillers that are chemically similar to potent drugs such as morphine. Now research suggests these endogenous opioids also play another role: helping regulate the body’s energy balance.


Lauri Nummenmaa, a brain-imaging scientist at the University of Turku in Finland, and his colleagues measured endogenous opioid release in the brains of 10 healthy men. The subjects were injected with a radioactive substance that binds to opioid receptors, making it possible to visualize the receptors’ activity using positron-emission tomography.


The study found evidence of natural painkillers in the men’s brains after they ate a palatable meal of pizza. Surprisingly, their brains released even more of the endogenous opioids after they ate a far less enticing—but nutritionally similar—liquid meal of what Nummenmaa called “nutritional goo.” Although the subjects rated the pizza as tastier than the goo, opioid release did not appear to relate to their enjoyment of the meal, the researchers reported earlier this year in the Journal of Neuroscience.


“I would’ve expected the opposite result,” says Paul Burghardt, an investigator at Wayne State University, who was not involved in the work. After all, previous human and animal studies led researchers to believe that endogenous opioids helped to convey the pleasure of eating.


Nummenmaa, too, was surprised. His group’s earlier research showed that obese people’s brains had fewer opioid receptors—but that receptor levels recover with weight loss. “Maybe when people overeat, endogenous opioids released in the brain constantly bombard the receptors, so they [decrease in number],” he says.


Why more opioids flooded the brain after the goo versus the pizza remains a mystery, but the researchers speculate that faster digestion of the liquid meal may have produced more of the chemicals at the time of the scan, 15 minutes after eating.


The new results may indicate that opioids play a wider role in energy metabolism than scientists previously thought. One possibility is that the opioid system is triggered by the satisfaction of a full stomach and replenished energy, Nummenmaa says.


“If you take a step back and look at conditions that activate opioid release—pain, feeding, pleasure—they are all related to homeostasis,” or keeping the body’s energy in balance, he explains. “The most interesting thing is that eating triggered the system even in the absence of sensory pleasure.”

November 21, 2017 at 09:35AM

Mobile Apps Can Help Manage and Support Mental, Emotional Health

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Mobile Apps Can Help Manage and Support Mental, Emotional Health

Emerging research suggests mobile apps can help an individual learn to improve their emotional and mental health. Moreover, the apps instill confidence that one can use the skills to stay in control and maintain emotional and mental health.

Brigham Young University health science researchers were looking to identify what it is about health apps that influences users’ behavior. Over three studies, they surveyed roughly 600 people who had used diet, physical activity or mental health apps in the past six months.

The findings for diet and fitness app users were as expected: More than 90 percent of users reported an increase in their desire and motivation to eat healthy and be physically active.

But the really good news was the response from mental and emotional health app users: 90 percent reported increased motivation, confidence, intention and attitudes about being mentally and emotionally healthy.

The studies appear in JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

“Our findings show that mental and emotional health-focused apps have the ability to positively change behavior,” said Ben Crookston, associate professor of health science at BYU.

“This is great news for people looking for inexpensive, easily accessible resources to help combat mental and emotional health illness and challenges.”

While mobile mental and emotional health apps are not the most traditional approach, these findings suggest that they may be a worthwhile tool for addressing mental health in individuals and increasing self-efficacy.

Research shows that people who struggle with mental and emotional health problems feel like they lack control. While there are many problems that should be addressed by a professional, users can now feel confident that resources they can use on their own really can be effective.

Understanding how these self-help apps promote behavior change will not only help individuals but also health providers working with those struggling with these kinds of problems, researchers said.

“These apps are engaging and if we can get people to use them more often, the potential certainly exists to help people change their behavior,” said co-author Josh West, Ph.D., M.P.H.

The researchers hope to continue studying this topic by looking into what kind of apps are most effective at improving mental and emotional wellness (meditation prayer, faith-based scripture, medication adherence, mood tracker, stress management or positive affirmation).

Source: BYU

November 21, 2017 at 08:48AM

Materialistic People May Use Facebook More

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Materialistic People May Use Facebook More

A European study suggest that if you’re materialistic, you’re likely to use Facebook more frequently and intensely.

German researchers found materialistic people see and treat their Facebook friends as “digital objects,” and have significantly more “friends” than people who are less interested in possessions. Investigators also found that materialists have a greater need to compare themselves with others on Facebook.

Ruhr-University Bochum investigators believe the study, found in the journal Heliyon, reveals that materialistic people use Facebook to both achieve their goals and feel good. They used study results to hypothesize a new theory to explain the observations: The Social Online Self-Regulation Theory.

“Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends — they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possessions,” said lead author and graduate student Phillip Ozimek.

“Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free — materialists love tools that don’t cost money!”

The researchers first conducted an online questionnaire with 242 Facebook users.

The questionnaire asked participants to rate their agreement with a list of statements in order to calculate their Facebook activity (such as “I’m posting photographs”).

The assertions assessed social comparison orientation (“I often compare how I am doing socially”), materialism (“My life would be better if I owned certain things I don’t have”), objectification of Facebook friends (“Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life”) and instrumentalization of Facebook friends (“To what extent do you think Facebook friends are useful in order to attain your goals?”).

The results suggested that the link between materialism and Facebook activity can be partly explained by materialists displaying a stronger social comparison orientation, having more Facebook friends, and objectifying and classifying their friends (for their benefit), more intensely.

The authors replicated the approach with a separate sample of 289 Facebook users, containing fewer students and more males than the first sample, and they reached the same conclusions.

The Social Online Self-Regulation Theory they developed extends this further, saying that social media is a tool for achieving important goals in life. For materialists, Facebook is a tool to learn how far away they are from their goal to become wealthy.

The researchers emphasize that their results should not cast social media in a negative light; instead, they assume people use platforms like Facebook to feel good, have fun and achieve their goals.

“Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life — they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” Ozimek explained.

“We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: It can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a more neutral perspective on social media.”

Source: Elsevier

November 21, 2017 at 08:13AM