Excess screen time affects academic achievement, study finds


flickr photo by Funky64 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

According to a new study by Cambridge University, 15 year olds who spend an additional hour watching TV, surfing the web or playing computer screens showed a marked reduction in ability at GSCE level at 16.

In a paper published by the Journal of Behavioural nutrition and physical activity, researchers also found that an additional hour of study or reading improved academic success.

Researchers also analysed whether a link existed between academic success and physical activity. No such link was found.

A team of researchers looked at 845 secondary school children measuring levels of activity and sedentary behaviour at age 14.5 then comparing to their attainment at gcse the next year.

Researchers measured objective levels of activity and time spent sitting as well as asking pupils how long they spent on screens.

The team found that screen time was related to achievement at GCSE. Each additional hour spent on a screen led to 9.3 less points at GCSE level, the equivalent of two grades in a subject (i.e., a  B to a D). Two extra hours was seen to lower points by 18.

The study found that even if students did a lot of reading, screen time still affected achievement. Of all the screen activities, TV watching was the most detrimental.

Dr Esther van Sluijs, from CEDAR:

“We believe that programmes aimed at reducing screen time could have important benefits for teenagers’ exam grades, as well as their health. It is also encouraging that our results show that greater physical activity does not negatively affect exam results. As physical activity has many other benefits, efforts to promote physical activity throughout the day should still be a public health priority.”



Use of TV, internet and computer games associated with poorer GCSE grades


Brain Trickery, Body Ownership and the Sense of Self Gone Awry

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Image by Coscurro of RGB Stock

Neuroscientists at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science have created a virtual reality version of the classic ‘rubber hand illusion’ to explore consciousness and body trickery.

A virtual-reality hand, set to pulse in time with a heart beat, created the illusion of body ownership with the brain ‘accepting’ the virtual hand as part of its own body.

Easily hoodwinked, the brain was first proved to accept a foreign hand as its own in 1999 in the now classic rubber hand illusion.

The trick involves an inflated washing-up glove and a feather. With the participant’s real hand out of sight and only sensory stimuli to go by, the brain perceives the rubber hand as it’s own when stroked at the same time as the real hand.  Continue reading

Pain empathy increases with other-race contact, study shows


flickr photo by geofones shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

When a person in pain is of the same race as the observer, a greater response is activated in the observer’s brain associated with empathy.

Queensland University investigated if other-race empathy levels were affected over time. Chinese students who had first arrived in Australia within the past 6 months to 5 years were recruited for the study. Each Chinese student’s level of contact with other races across different social situations were compared using rating scales.

During fMRI (a neuroimaging  procedure used to measure brain activity by measuring blood flow), participants were asked to observe videos of own-race and other-race individuals receiving painful or non-painful touch.  Continue reading

New Neuromorphic chip mimics human brain


Synapse: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by tsevis: http://flickr.com/photos/tsevis/9501837486

The neuromorphic chip – so called due to its brain-like processing abilities – has been created on a production-scale in a joint project by IBM and Cornell University.

The new chip acts like a brain, of sorts. Each chip is made up of 5.4 billion transistors with 1 million electronic neurons that talk to each other via 256 synapses.

Today’s world

Today’s computing is based on the computer chip created by John von Neumannover 70 years ago. The humble chip performs two tasks; processing data and holding memory. Just the job for many simple data processing tasks, however, yet not able to perform advanced tasks, such as language or vision. Continue reading

Not Just a Pretty Face: Intelligence Perceived in Males and Not Females

male face


A study at Charles University, Prague, has found that individuals can accurately assess the intelligence levels of men but are unable to accurately detect the same trait in women.

The human face is complex and able to communicate the nature of our sex, health, ethnicity, social rank, attractiveness, political affiliation, and now even the intelligence of the bearer is up for reckoning –  but only if they are male.

According to research, human beings have the most well-developed facial structures. In terms of communication, no other mammalian species can match the expressive function of the human face. Continue reading

Not Just a Pretty Face: Intelligence Perceived Accurately in Men But Not Women

male intelligence

The human face is complex and able to communicate the nature of our sex, health, ethnicity, social rank, attractiveness, political affiliation, and now even the intelligence of the bearer is up for reckoning, but only if they are male.

A study at Charles University in Prague has found that individuals can accurately assess the intelligence levels of a man from their face but are unable to accurately perceive intelligence in a woman’s face.

According to researchers, human beings have the most well-developed facial structures. There is no other mammalian species that can match the expressive function of the human face.

Intelligence Perception Test 

Researchers used static facial photographs of 40 men and 40 women viewed by 160 participants to test the relationship between measured IQ, perceived intelligence, and facial shape.

Male and female participants were both able to evaluate the intelligence of men by viewing their facial shape but unable to judge intelligence from a woman’s face.

Researchers used geometric morphometrics – the qualitative measurement of form – to determine the facial traits associated with the perception of intelligence, as well as those features that are aligned with actual intelligence, as measured by IQ testing.

Facial Features and Perceived Intelligence

According to the findings, faces perceived as highly intelligent have the following features:

  • more prolonged
  • have a broader distance between the eyes
  • a larger nose
  • a slight upturn to the corners of the mouth
  • a sharper, pointing, less rounded chin.

Facial signs of lower intelligence

The perception of lower intelligence is associated with:

  • broader, more rounded face
  • eyes closer to each other
  • shorter nose
  • declining corners of the mouth
  • a rounded and massive chin

The ability to ‘read’ and ‘assess’ individuals intelligence is present in every day social interactions and, according to the researchers, has important evolutionary consequences.

Unreliable IQ Indicators

A perceiver can accurately estimate the real intelligence of men but not women when viewing photographs of faces.

However, the facial clues that indicate intelligence in males do not act as reliable indicators for actual IQ.

The clues were only indicators of perceived intelligence – not actual intelligence. A researcher commented on the findings:

“This means that our raters accurately assessed intelligence from faces of men based on visual cues that simply are not explicable from shape variability in men’s faces.”

Why does perceived intelligence reflect measured intelligence in men but not women?

Three reasons were considered for the discrepancy between perceiving male and female intelligence: (excerpt)

  • One possible explanation is that cues of higher intelligence are sexually dimorphic (different in men and women) and are thus apparent only in men’s faces, e.g. due to some genetic and developmental association to sex steroid hormonal agents during puberty.
  • Another option is that women are pervasively judged according to their attractiveness. The strong halo effect of attractiveness may thus prevent an accurate assessment of the intelligence of women.
  • The third possible explanation is that facial indicators of intelligence are signals rather than cues and that the honest signalling of intelligence is adaptive for men but not for women

The correlation between these geometric traits and perceived attractiveness suggests that there is an intelligence ‘stereotype’ at work when people judge others faces for intelligence.

“These faces of supposed high and low intelligence probably represent nothing more than a cultural stereotype because these morphological traits do not correlate with the real intelligence of the subjects.”



Plos One : Perceived Intelligence Is Associated with Measured Intelligence in Men but Not Women (link to original report).

Photo credit: with thanks to Flickr creator Photo Extremist.

Image kindly made available under the Creative Commons license (BY ND).


High Levels of Stress Hormone Linked to Changes in the Brain

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DNA modifications in the stress response gene FKBP5 found in the blood of mice exposed to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been directly linked to changes found in brain tissues.

Scientists at John Hopkins University made the discovery in relation to the stress response gene FKBP5, which has been previously linked to depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The findings point to a future when mental illness can be detected in blood, leading to better detection and treatment of mental disorders, as well as more accurate ways of testing whether medications are working. Continue reading