Why people have lateral preferences when kissing and hugging

When touching others in a social context, for example kissing or hugging, people often have a lateral preference; they will, for example, tend to tilt their head to the right rather than to the left when kissing. There are many theories as to the causes. In a review article published in the journal Neuroscience und Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf and Victoria University of Wellington have compiled existing data, which they utilise to verify the theories. The article was published online in October 2018.

The team headed by Associate Professor Sebastian Ocklenburg and Julian Packheiser from the Department of Biopsychology in Bochum has concluded that the observed results cannot be explained solely by right or left-handedness. The handedness does play a role, but so does the emotional context.

Left shift in emotional situations

"In general, the population at large has a preference of tilting the head to the right when kissing, to initiate a hug with the right hand, and to cradle a baby in the left arm," elaborates Julian Packheiser. With regard to kissing and hugging, the assumption is that people have a dominant hand which they use to initiate the motion. According to the theory, the dominant hand is kept unoccupied when cradling a child so that it can be used to perform other tasks.

"As social touches are often associated with a hand motion, it is an obvious assumption to make that the handedness affects lateral preferences," says Sebastian Ocklenburg. In their review article, the researchers have listed numerous studies that substantiate the influence of handedness. However, that alone cannot explain the lateral preferences; the emotional context, too, is relevant.

"In emotional situations, the lateral preference shifts to the right," describes Packheiser. "It doesn't matter if the emotions are positive or negative." As far as the preference is concerned, it is irrelevant if two people hug because they are happy to see each other, or because one is comforting the other.

Emotions are processed asymmetrically in the brain

The researchers explain the left shift in emotional -- as opposed to neutral -- situations by speculating that emotions are primarily processed in the right brain hemisphere, which is responsible for movements of the left side of the body. "There is ample evidence of interaction and interconnection of motor networks and emotional networks in the brain," points out Ocklenburg. The theory of right-hemispheric processing of emotions is backed by behavioural data from studies on social touch as well as by results gained in imaging and neurophysiological studies.

According to the authors, the asymmetry present in human social touch can be best explained by a combination of motor preferences and right-hemispheric emotional dominance.

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Materials provided by Ruhr-University Bochum. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Loss of first baby tooth a positive experience for children

Scared, ashamed, happy or proud -- how do children feel when they lose their first baby tooth? An interdisciplinary research group at the University of Zurich has now found that children's feelings are predominantly positive. The study also reveals that previous visits to the dentist's as well as parental background and level of education affect how children experience the loss of their first tooth.

Deciduous teeth, more commonly known as milk or baby teeth, are the first set of teeth that develop in children. These teeth usually fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth. Children generally lose their first baby tooth when they're about six years old: The tooth comes loose and eventually falls out, leaving a gap which is then permanently filled by its replacement tooth. This gradual process is probably one of the first biological changes to their own bodies that children experience consciously. The emotions that accompany this milestone are extremely varied, ranging from joy at having finally joined the world of grown-ups to fear about the loss of a body part.

Parents report positive reactions

An interdisciplinary team of dental researchers and developmental and health psychologists at the University of Zurich, in cooperation with the City of Zurich's School Dental Services, has now examined the feelings that children experience when they lose their first baby tooth, and which factors are at play. The scientists surveyed parents of children who had already lost at least one of their milk teeth. Of the nearly 1,300 responses received for the study, around 80 percent of parents reported positive feelings, while only 20 percent told of negative emotions. Raphael Patcas, first author of the study, is happy with the findings: "The fact that four out of five children experience the loss of a baby tooth as something positive is reassuring, for parents and dentists alike."

The longer it's loose, the better the feelings

The researchers found that previous visits to dentists played a role when it comes to children's feelings. Children whose previous visits were cavity-related and thus perhaps associated with shame or guilt experienced fewer positive emotions when they later lost their first baby tooth. If, however, previous dental appointments were the result of an accident, and thus an abrupt, unexpected and painful event, then the loss of the first milk tooth was more likely to be associated with positive emotions. According to dental researcher Raphael Patcas, one possible explanation for this is that baby teeth loosen gradually before falling out -- a process that, unlike an accident, unfolds slowly and predictably. This is also supported by the fact that children who experience the loosening of their tooth over an extended period of time tend to have more positive feelings: The longer the preparation and waiting time, the greater the relief and pride when the tooth finally falls out.

Parental education and background matter

Moreover, the study also found that sociodemographic factors are related to children's feelings: For example, children were more likely to have positive feelings such as pride or joy if the parents had a higher level of education and came from non-Western countries. The researchers indicate that cultural differences could be at play here: These include education style and norms that parents pass on to their children, as well as transitioning rituals that accompany the loss of the first baby tooth.

"Our findings suggest that children deliberately process previous experiences concerning their teeth and integrate them in their emotional development," says Moritz Daum, UZH professor of developmental psychology. This finding is important for dentists and parents alike: "Especially where cavities are concerned, it's worth communicating with children prudently," says Daum. "This way, emotions in connection with teeth and dentists can be put on the most positive trajectory possible."

Plastics Have Entered Human Food Chain, Study Shows

Paris: Bits of plastic have been detected in the faeces of people in Europe, Russia and Japan, according to research claiming to show for the first time the widespread presence of plastics in the human food chain.

All eight volunteers in a small pilot study were found to have passed several types of plastic, with an average of 20 micro-particles per 10 grams of stool, researchers reported Tuesday at a gastroenterology congress in Vienna.

The scientists speculated that the tiny specks -- ranging in size from 50 to 500 micrometres -- may been ingested via seafood, food wrapping, dust or plastic bottles.

A human hair is roughly 50 to 100 micrometres in width.

"In our laboratory, we were able to detect nine different types of plastics," said Bettina Liebmann, a researcher at the Federal Environment Agency, which analysed the samples. 

The two most common were polypropylene -- found in bottle caps, rope and strapping -- and polyethylene, present in drinking bottles and textile fibres.

Together with polystyrene (utensils, cups, coolers) and polyethylene (plastic bags), they accounted for more than 95 percent of the particles detected.

"We were unable to establish a reliable connection between nutritional behaviour and exposure to microplastics," said lead author Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna.

In earlier studies on animals, the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the stomach and intestines, but smaller amounts have also been detected in blood, lymph and the liver.

"There are initial indications that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances," Schwabl said.

"Further studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplastics for humans."

Schwabl recruited five women and three men, aged 33 to 65, in Finland, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Japan and Austria.

Each kept a week-long log of what they ate, and then provided a stool sample.

All consumed foods wrapped in plastic and beverages in plastic bottles, and six ate seafood. None were vegetarians.

Health impacts unknown

Scientists not involved in the study said it was too limited in scope to draw any firm conclusions, especially about health impacts.

"I'm not at all surprised, or particularly worried by these findings," commented Alistair Boxall, a professor in environmental science at the University of York in Britain.

"Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue, and even in beer," he added. "It is therefore inevitable that at least some of these things will get into our lungs and digestive system."

Much more research is needed, he said, before we can determine the origin of plastics found in the gut, and especially whether they are harmful.

For Stephanie Wright, a researcher at King's College London, the real question is whether plastics are accumulating in the human body.

"What is unknown is whether the concentration of plastic being ingested is higher than that coming out, due to particles crossing the gut wall," she said. 

"There is no published evidence to indicate what the health effects might be."

Global plastic production has grown rapidly, and is currently more than 400 million tonnes per year. 

It is estimated that two to five percent of plastics wind up in the ocean, where much of it breaks down into tiny particles.

When fathers exercise, children are healthier, even as adults

Men who want to have children in the near future should consider hitting the gym.

In a new study led by Kristin Stanford, a physiology and cell biology researcher with The Ohio State University College of Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center, paternal exercise had a significant impact on the metabolic health of offspring well into their adulthood.

Laurie Goodyear of the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School co-led the study, published today in the journal Diabetes.

"This work is an important step in learning about metabolic disease and prevention at the cellular level," said Dr. K. Craig Kent, dean of the Ohio State College of Medicine.

Recent studies have linked development of type 2 diabetes and impaired metabolic health to the parents' poor diet, and there is increasing evidence that fathers play an important role in obesity and metabolic programming of their offspring.

Stanford is a member of Ohio State's Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center. Her team investigated how a father's exercise regimen would affect his offspring's metabolic health. Using a mouse model, they fed male mice either a normal diet or a high-fat diet for three weeks. Some mice from each diet group were sedentary and some exercised freely. After three weeks, the mice bred and their offspring ate a normal diet under sedentary conditions for a year.

The researchers report that adult offspring from sires who exercised had improved glucose metabolism, decreased body weight and a decreased fat mass.

"Here's what's really interesting; offspring from the dads fed a high-fat diet fared worse, so they were more glucose intolerant. But exercise negated that effect," Stanford said. "When the dad exercised, even on a high-fat diet, we saw improved metabolic health in their adult offspring."

Stanford's team also found that exercise caused changes in the genetic expression of the father's sperm that suppress poor dietary effects and transfer to the offspring.

"We saw a strong change in their small-RNA profile. Now we want to see exactly which small-RNAs are responsible for these metabolic improvements, where it's happening in the offspring and why," Stanford said.

Previous studies from this group have shown that when mouse mothers exercise, their offspring also have beneficial effects of metabolism.

"Based on both studies, we're now determining if both parents exercising has even greater effects to improve metabolism and overall health of offspring. If translated to humans, this would be hugely important for the health of the next generation," Goodyear said.

The researchers believe the results support the hypothesis that small RNAs could help transmit parental environmental information to the next generation.

"There's potential for this to translate to humans. We know that in adult men obesity impairs testosterone levels, sperm number and motility, and it decreases the number of live births," Stanford said. "If we ask someone who's getting ready to have a child to exercise moderately, even for a month before conception, that could have a strong effect on the health of their sperm and the long-term metabolic health of their children."

Other Ohio State researchers involved in the study were Lisa Baer, Adam Lehnig and Joseph White.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research.

Ocean Research Challenges under Debate at MarCuba 2018

Havana, Oct 17 (Prensa Latina) Specialists from the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Gulf of Mexico are discussing on Wednesday in Havana the ocean research challenges, as part of the 11th Congress on Marine Sciences, to be run until Friday, October 19.

In order to advance in a common debate on the conservation of marine species throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the delegates to the event took up the motto 'Today's sciences in the interest of future coasts and seas.'

The symposium 'Numerical simulation of weather conditions during extreme events and its effect on sea turtle nesting', by Cuban experts, also provokes an intense scientific interchange today.

Those interested in issues related to climate change met in a panel dedicated to the determination of coral reef areas affected by the dispersion of particles at present and for 2100.

Other issuecs under discussion are related to the actions carried out by the Cuban National Aquarium for the protection of marine ecosystems, among which are the technologies applied to maintain living collections, as well as assess structure, abundance and population of the species in their natural environment.

Opened on Monday with the aim of preserving marine ecosystems, MarCuba 2018 brings together delegates from more than 12 countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia, as well as the United States.

Eating with your eyes: Virtual reality can alter taste

Humans not only relish the sweet, savory and saltiness of foods, but they are influenced by the environment in which they eat. Cornell University food scientists used virtual reality to show how people's perception of real food can be altered by their surroundings, according to research published in the Journal of Food Science.

"When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings -- our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings," said Robin Dando, associate professor of food science and senior author of the study.

About 50 panelists who used virtual reality headsets as they ate were given three identical samples of blue cheese. The study participants were virtually placed in a standard sensory booth, a pleasant park bench and the Cornell cow barn to see custom-recorded 360-degree videos.

The panelists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical, and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park bench.

To control for the pungency results, panelists also rated the saltiness of the three samples -- and researchers found there was no statistical difference among them.

The purpose of this project was to develop an easy-to-implement and affordable method for adapting virtual reality technology for use in food sensory evaluation, said Dando.

Our environs are a critical part of the eating experience, he said. "We consume foods in surroundings that can spill over into our perceptions of the food," said Dando. This kind of testing offers advantages of convenience and flexibility, compared to building physical environments.

"This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing," said Dando. "Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed -- making this kind of testing cost-efficient."

Gangrene-causing bacteria could treat late-stage cancers – study

While it may be lethal in high doses, a new study suggests that a gangrene-causing bacteria could prove a promising treatment for late-stage cancer tumours that have become immune to existing treatments.

Conducted by doctors at the University of Texas, the ground-breaking study saw late-stage cancer patients’ tumours injected with spores of a modified bacterial strain related to the lethal hospital superbug, clostridium difficile.

The first phase of the study involved 24 patients with solid tumours that had become resistant to existing treatments such as chemotherapy.

Known as Clostridium novyi-NT, the strain thrives in the dense cancerous tissues as it doesn’t need high quantities of oxygen to survive. Healthy tissue meanwhile, is rich in oxygen so the bacteria won’t develop.

Two patients who were given the highest doses developed severe sepsis and “gas gangrene.” But, for the remaining 22 patients, this new type of “bacterial therapy” instead attacked the cancerous tissues causing them to become necrotic and shrink.

“Even after a single injection of this bacterial therapy, we see biological and, in some patients, clinically meaningful activity,” said Dr Filip Janku of the university’s Anderson Cancer Center ahead of the study being presented at the International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York on Sunday.

READ MORE: Cancer mapping tech could help UK doctors stay one step ahead of tumors

In 23 percent of cases, the tumours shrank in size by more than 10 per cent and Janku is confident that even greater shrinkage was possible as the initial treatment caused inflammation of the tumours while they were being attacked.

“Extremely encouraged” by the results of this trial, Janku added that even when the spores did not develop, the presence of the bacteria helped to active dormant immune system cells to also attack the tumour.

While the treatment has yet to be published in a scientific journal or go through the significant process of human testing for safety and long-term trails, Janku believes this “bacteriolytic strategy” could be “clinically meaningful” when used with existing immunotherapies.

More than half of parents of sleep-deprived teens blame electronics

It's no secret that many teenagers stay up late to scroll through social media or catch up with friends on phones.

And 56 percent of parents of teens who have sleep troubles believe this use of electronics is hurting their child's shut-eye.

Forty-three percent of parents report that their teen struggles to fall asleep or wakes up and can't get back to sleep, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan. A fourth of these parents say their child experiences occasional sleep problems (one to two nights per week) while 18 percent believe their teen struggles with sleep three or more nights per week.

Not being able to stay off electronics -- including social media and cell phones -- was the no.1 reason parents cited for sleep disturbance.

Other reasons included irregular sleep schedules due to homework or activities (43 percent), worries about school (31 percent), and concerns about social life (23 percent). Ten percent of parents say their teen's sleep problems are related to a health condition or medication, cited more often by parents of teens who experience frequent sleep problems.

The new report is based on responses from a nationally representative household survey that included responses from 1,018 parents with at least one child 13-18 years old.

"This poll suggests that sleep problems are common among teens and parents believe late-night use of electronics are a main contributor," says poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H.

"Teens' hectic schedules and homework load, as well as anxiety about school performance and peer relationships, also are seen by parents as contributing to sleep problems."

Parents polled say they've encouraged their teen to try different strategies at home to help with sleep problems, including limiting caffeine in the evening (54 percent), turning off electronics and cell phones at bedtime (53 percent), having a snack before bed (44 percent), and natural or herbal remedies, such as melatonin (36 percent). A quarter of parents (28 percent) say their teen has tried some type of medication to address sleep problems.

Forty percent of parents of teens with frequent sleep problems, and 22 percent of parents of teens with occasional sleep problems, say they have talked to a doctor about sleep struggles. Parents who have consulted with doctors say the top recommendations from experts included turning off electronics and cell phones at bedtime (72 percent), adhering to a regular sleep schedule (64 percent), limiting caffeine (47 percent), and taking natural remedies (42 percent).

When doctors recommended medication for teens' sleep problems, it was twice as likely to be prescription sleep medication rather than over-the-counter sleep or "nighttime" medicine, parents recalled. Yet parents rated over-the-counter sleep medicine as safer for teens than prescription sleep medicine.

"Parents whose teens continue to have frequent sleep problems, despite following recommendations for healthy sleep hygiene, may want to talk with a health care provider, particularly when considering which type of medication to try," says Clark.

"Inadequate or disrupted sleep can have long-lasting health effects that go beyond moodiness and irritability for teens," Clark adds.

"Sleep-deprived teens may have difficulty concentrating in school and those who drive have an increased risk of auto accidents. Inadequate sleep has also been linked to health problems ranging from obesity to depression.

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