Discovered: Troubled kids more likely to become addicts; reconstructed human relative; fallible robots are better teachers; glass shape affects alcohol consumption.
Glass shape can make you drink more. Coping with stress. Happy hour with co-workers. Friends who egg you on. If all your usual excuses for drinking too much are starting to wear thin, here's a new one: the shape of your glass might be causing you to drink in excess without even knowing it. Researchers led by Dr. Angela Attwood at the University of Bristol constructed maybe the most awesome study ever, enlisting 160 moderate drinkers under 40 to participate in an experiment involving much drinking. Attwood and her colleagues discovered that people drink almost twice as quickly when drinking from curved glasses rather than straight-sided glasses. "People often talk of 'pacing themselves' when drinking alcohol as a means of controlling levels of drunkenness," says Attwood. "I think the important point to take from our research is that the ability to pace effectively may be compromised when drinking from certain types of glasses." [University of Bristol]
Perplexed robots make better teachers. Japanese researchers Shizuko Matsuzoe and Fumihide Tanaka from the University of Tsukuba have been studying robots and their potential applications in the classroom. But imagine having a robot for a teacher—it might be able to instruct students with the most pedagogically sound lesson plans out there, but they'd be freaky, wouldn't they? It would be hard to related to anything programmed to such perfection. That's essentially what the Tsukuba researchers discovered that the most competent robots didn't make for the best teachers with 4- to 8-year-old students. When robots taught students how to draw a shape incorrectly, the children actually learned more, because they had to teach the teacher robot how to correct its mistakes. "Anything that gets a person more actively engaged and motivated is going to be beneficial to the learning process," says the Georgia Institute of Technology's Andrea Thomaz, commenting on the research. "So needing to teach the robot is a great way of doing that." [New Scientist]
Denisovans reconstructed through DNA. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany have used recently discovered DNA to reconstruct the genetic library of a Stone Age ancestor to the human. Matthias Meyer and Svante Pääbo extracted genetic data from the fossils of a cave-dwelling Denisovan woman. Denisovans are ancient Siberians that scientists think may help us understand the bridge between modern humans and Neanderthals. The researchers believe to have passed genes on to Papua New Guineans, but not Asians, Europeans or South AMericans. "We can now start to catalog essential genetic changes that occurred after we separated from our closest extinct relatives," Pääbo says. Much more research is needed to fully understand the connection between these 44,000-year-old Denisovan fossils and modern humans, especially since all this research was built entirely off one tiny finger bone and two teeth found in a Siberian cave. [Science News]
Childhood trauma can presage addiction. The prevailing theory on drug addiction treats it as a genetic predisposition that people are either born with or not. But new research from the University of Cambridge suggests that environment—specifically, childhood upbringing—has a lot to do with it too. Researchers led by Dr. Karen Ersche have published a paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry that finds traumatic childhoods predisposing people to drug addiction later in life. They studied 50 people with cocaine addictions, along with their non-drug dependent siblings. The un-addicted siblings may have shared a traumatic childhood with their addicted brothers and sisters, but they all displayed signs of impulsivity and compulsive behavior, which many scientists believe is a predictor of drug addiction. "Not all individuals with these personality traits would have had a traumatic upbringing," says Dr. Ersche. "Nor does everyone with these traits develop an addiction. However, our findings show that some people are particularly at risk and their upbringing may have contributed to it." [University of Cambridge]