To Turn Up the Heat in Chilies, Just Add Water!

Newswise — Biologists have learned in recent years that wild chilies develop their trademark pungency, or heat, as a defense against a fungus that could destroy their seeds. But that doesn’t explain why some chilies are hot and others are not.

New research provides an answer: Hot chilies growing in dry areas need more water to produce as many seeds as non-pungent plants, but the Fusarium fungus is less of a threat in dryer environments so chilies in those areas are less likely to turn up the heat. In wetter regions, where Fusarium thrives, wild chilies build up their reserves of spicy capsaicin in self-defense.

“Despite the reduced benefit of pungency in dry environments, hot plants still occur there, as does the deadly fungus. That suggests that the greater presence of non-pungent plants that produce substantially more seeds is the result of a fitness-based tradeoff,” said David Haak, lead author of a paper describing the research published Wednesday (Dec. 21) inProceedings of the Royal Society B. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom’s academy of science.

Haak, a post-doctoral researcher at Indiana University, conducted the research as part of his doctoral work at the University of Washington. Co-authors of the paper are Leslie McGinnis of the University of Michigan, who did the work while a UW undergraduate; Douglas Levey of the University of Florida and Joshua Tewksbury, a UW biology professor who leads the research group.

The scientists examined pungency differences by comparing the proportion of pungent plants with that of non-pungent plants in 12 populations of wild chilies in southeastern Bolivia along a 185-mile line that gradually progressed from a relatively dry region to a wetter region. They conducted plant censuses in focal populations five times between 2002 and 2009, and tagged plants in each census so they could determine new seedlings the next time.

They found that, starting in the dryer northeast part of the section, 15 to 20 percent of the plants had pungent fruit, and pungency increased along the line toward the wetter southwest, where they never found a single plant that did not produce pungent fruit.

They also selected three populations of chili plants that each produced both pungent and non-pungent fruit and spanned the range of rainfall and pungency differences. They then grew seeds from those plants in the UW Botany Greenhouse to examine what affect water availability had on pungency.

The 330 plants that resulted from those seeds were grown under identical conditions until they reached their first flowering, then were separated into two groups – one that received plenty of water and one that was stressed by receiving only the amount of water available to plants in the driest area of Bolivia from which seeds were taken.

The scientists found that under water-stressed conditions, non-pungent plants produced twice as many seeds as pungent plants. That suggests the pungent plants trade some level of fitness for protection from the Fusarium fungus, Haak said.

The researchers determined the pungent plants have developed a reduced efficiency in water use, so in dryer areas they produce fewer seeds and are more limited in reproduction. In wetter areas, non-pungent plants are at a reproductive disadvantage because they are much more likely to have their seeds attacked by the fungus.

“It surprised us to find that the tradeoff to produce capsaicin in pungent plants would involve this major physiological process of water-use efficiency,” Haak said.

He noted that over the entire range, 90 to 95 percent of the chili fruits had some level of fungal infection, and pungent plants were better able to defend themselves.

The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation; the National Geographic Society; Sigma Xi, the scientific research society; and the UW Department of Biology.

Released: 12/20/2011

Source: University of Washington

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/to-turn-up-the-heat-in-chilies-just-add-water

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Museum to Visitors: Please Do Touch, for Scientific Purposes

Photo Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Modest Venus, or Venus Pudica, a 10.5-inch bronze statuette cast around 1500 by an anonymous Italian artist, is one of the pieces replicated for museum goers to caress for science at an exhibition in Baltimore.

Newswise — It’s the first rule at any art museum: Do not touch the artifacts. Except at this museum and at this one time.

At the “Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes” exhibition — at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore through April 15 — visitors are invited to disregard that decree and to hold, stroke and even caress the pieces.

In fact, handling the objects d’arts — replicas of famous 16th century statuettes held by the Walters — is one of the reasons for the exhibition, explains neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. The institute is partnering with the Walters on the show, the fourth in a series of projects between the museum and Johns Hopkins.

“We’re challenging people to think about why physical contact with works of art can be so satisfying,” says Hsiao, whose work includes exploring many aspects of humans’ sense of touch. “In fact, as people browse the exhibition, we will be asking them to react to what they are seeing and feeling.”

The installation incorporates 12 works of art from the Walters collection, along with 22 replicas for visitors to touch and rate, providing data for ongoing research.

The project melds the research interests of Hsiao, who specializes in many facets of touch, and those of Joaneath Spicer, the Walters’ curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, who studies the Renaissance penchant for collecting and commissioning small statuettes and other luxury goods that were satisfying to touch and handle.

But the special appeal of this exhibition lies in the opportunity to join in comparative experiments with the statuettes (well, the replicas, actually).

“We’ll be asking visitors to handle them and to tell us what sculptures they prefer and to rate how they like sculptures that have been modified in their shape and texture. This exhibition allows us to dissect why some objects feel better than others” Hsiao says.

Visitors will register these preferences, and other reactions, on Apple iPads, and visitors will be able to see a dynamic display of their responses. The data will be used in Hsaio’s and Spicer’s research on tactile aesthetics. (Visitors will not be handling the original 16th century artwork; they will only be permitted to touch replica art exclusively fashioned for the show.)

The Walters Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and is located at 600 North Charles St. in Baltimore.

Related links:
Steven Hsiao:
http://neuroscience.jhu.edu/StevenHsiao.php

The Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/brainscience/

The Walters Art Museum:
http://thewalters.org/eventscalendar/eventdetails.aspx?e=2207

Released: Released: 1/23/20

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/museum-to-visitors-please-do-touch-for-scientific-purposes

Walking and Texting at the Same Time? Stony Brook Study Says Think Again!

A Stony Brook University study that tested cell phone use/texting while walking showed use of the mobile device often results in walking errors and interferes with memory recall.

Newswise — STONY BROOK, N.Y., January 18, 2012 – Talking on a cell phone or texting while walking may seem natural and easy, but it could be dangerous and result in walking errors and interfere with memory recall. Researchers at Stony Brook University found this to be the case in a study of young people walking and using their cell phones. The study is reported in the online edition of Gait & Posture.

Thirty-three men and women in their 20s, all of whom reported owning and using a cell phone and familiar with texting, participated in the study. To assess walking abilities, participants completed a baseline test. Each participant was shown a target on the floor eight meters away. Then, by obstructing vision of the target and floor, participants were instructed to walk at a comfortable pace to the target and stop. They repeated the same walk three times. After each walk, the amount of time it took and the position where each participant stopped was measured.

Participants returned one week later. With vision occluded except for the ability to see a cell phone, one-third completed the exact same task; one-third completed the task while talking on a cell phone; and one-third completed the task while texting.

“We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one’s gait and memory recall of the target location,” says Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, co-author of the study and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Technology and Management, Stony Brook University.

Dr. Lamberg summarized that the changes from the baseline blindfolded walk to testing indicated that participants who were using a cell phone to text while walking and those who used a cell phone to talk while walking were significantly slower, with 33 and 16 percent reductions in speed, respectively. Moreover, participants who were texting while walking veered off course demonstrating a 61 percent increase in lateral deviation and 13 percent increase in distance traveled.

Although walking seems automatic, areas in the brain controlling executive function and attention are necessary for walking. Dr. Lamberg says that the significant reductions in velocity and difficulty maintaining course indicates cell phone use and texting impacts working memory of these tasks.

“We are using the findings to help physical therapy patients improve true functional walking while making them aware that some tasks may affect their gait and/or certain aspects of memory recall,” said Dr. Lamberg. He emphasizes that using a cell phone while walking reflects a “real world” activity, one that recovering patients are likely to engage in sooner rather than later during their recovery process.

Lisa M. Muratori, PT, EdD, study co-author and Clinical Associate Professor in Stony Brook’s Department of Physical Therapy, points out that the study is also being used to help them further understand the underlying mechanism causing the difficulty in performing the dual-task of walking while using a cell phone.

Drs. Muratori and Lamberg believe that these results bring new and important insight into the effects of multi-tasking with mobile devices. Elucidating the cause of this disruption may allow for new physical therapy treatment interventions and modifications in technology – such as voice-activated texts – that may lessen the potential dangers of walking while using hand-held devices.

Both authors describe the results as preliminary, with the need for further studies with larger and more varied populations.

Released: 1/18/2012

Source: Stony Brook University Medical Center

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/walking-and-texting-at-the-same-time-stony-brook-study-says-think-again

We May Be Less Happy, but Our English Language Isn’t

Newswise — “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the cynical saying with television and newspaper editors. In other words, most news is bad news and the worst news gets the big story on the front page.

So one might expect the New York Times to contain, on average, more negative and unhappy types of words — like “war,” ” funeral,” “cancer,” “murder” — than positive, happy ones — like “love,” “peace” and “hero.”

Or take Twitter. A popular image of what people tweet about may contain a lot of complaints about bad days, worse coffee, busted relationships and lousy sitcoms. Again, it might be reasonable to guess that a giant bag containing all the words from the world’s tweets — on average — would be more negative and unhappy than positive and happy.

But new research shows just the opposite.

“English, it turns out, is strongly biased toward being positive,” said Peter Dodds, an applied mathematician at the University of Vermont.

The UVM team’s study “Positivity of the English Language,” is presented in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

This new study complements another study the same Vermont scientists presented in the Dec. 7 issue of PLoS ONE, “Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network.”

That work attracted wide media attention showing that average global happiness, based on Twitter data, has been dropping for the past two years.

Combined, the two studies show that short-term average happiness has dropped — against the backdrop of the long-term fundamental positivity of the English language.

In the new study, Dodds and his colleagues gathered billions of words from four sources: twenty years of the New York Times, the Google Books Project (with millions of titles going back to 1520), Twitter and a half-century of music lyrics.

“The big surprise is that in each of these four sources it’s the same,” says Dodds. “We looked at the top 5,000 words in each, in terms of frequency, and in all of those words you see a preponderance of happier words.”

Or, as they write in their study, “a positivity bias is universal,” both for very common words and less common ones and across sources as diverse as tweets, lyrics and British literature.

Why is this? “It’s not to say that everything is fine and happy,” Dodds says. “It’s just that language is social.”

In contrast to traditional economic theory, which suggests people are inherently and rationally selfish, a wave of new social science and neuroscience data shows something quite different: that we are a pro-social storytelling species. As language emerged and evolved over the last million years, positive words, it seems, have been more widely and deeply engrained into our communications than negative ones.

“If you want to remain in a social contract with other people, you can’t be a…,” well, Dodds here used a word that is rather too negative to be fit to print — which makes the point.

This new work adds depth to the Twitter study that the Vermont scientists published in December that attracted attention from NPR, Time magazine and other media outlets.

“After that mild downer story, we can say, ‘But wait — there’s still happiness in the bank,” Dodds notes. “On average, there’s always a net happiness to language.”

Both studies drew on a service from Amazon called Mechanical Turk. On this website, the UVM researchers paid a group of volunteers to rate, from one to nine, their sense of the “happiness” — the emotional temperature — of the 10,222 most common words gathered from the four sources. Averaging their scores, the volunteers rated, for example, “laughter” at 8.50, “food” 7.44, “truck” 5.48, “greed” 3.06 and “terrorist” 1.30.

The Vermont team — including Dodds, Isabel Kloumann, Chris Danforth, Kameron Harris, and Catherine Bliss — then took these scores and applied them to the huge pools of words they collected. Unlike some other studies — with smaller samples or that elicited strong emotional words from volunteers — the new UVM study, based solely on frequency of use, found that “positive words strongly outnumber negative words overall.”

This seems to lend support to the so-called Pollyanna Principle, put forth in 1969, that argues for a universal human tendency to use positive words more often, easily and in more ways than negative words.

Of course, most people would rank some words, like “the,” with the same score: a neutral 5. Other words, like “pregnancy,” have a wide spread, with some people ranking it high and others low. At the top of this list of words that elicited strongly divergent feelings: “profanities, alcohol and tobacco, religion, both capitalism and socialism, sex, marriage, fast foods, climate, and cultural phenomena such as the Beatles, the iPhone, and zombies,” the researchers write.

“A lot of these words — the neutral words or ones that have big standard deviations — get washed out when we use them as a measure,” Dodds notes. Instead, the trends he and his team have observed are driven by the bulk of English words tending to be happy.

If we think of words as atoms and sentences as molecules that combine to form a whole text, “we’re looking at atoms,” says Dodds. “A lot of news is bad,” he says, and short-term happiness may rise and and fall like the cycles of the economy, “but the atoms of the story — of language — are, overall, on the positive side.”

Released: 1/12/2012

Source: University of Vermont

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/we-may-be-less-happy-but-our-language-isn-t

Workplace News….Employee Recognition Important during Holidays (And the Rest of the Year)

Newswise — Whether it’s a festive holiday party, an end-of-the-year bonus or a thoughtful gift, many employees can expect something from their employers during this holiday season.

Although giving gifts and parties can certainly be appreciated by employees, do they offer employers any long-term benefits?

It seems many organizations think they do.

A recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 4,000 workers and more than 2,600 employers shows organizations are more likely to provide holiday parties and perks this year. According to the survey, 40 percent of employers plan to give their employees holiday bonuses, up from 33 percent in 2010. Fifty-eight percent of employers are planning a holiday party for their employees, up from 52 percent, and 30 percent of employers plan to give holiday gifts to employees, up from 29 percent.

Research on employee recognition demonstrates that sincere, credible recognition is appreciated by employees and can enhance their motivation and performance, said Tom Becker, chair and professor in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Delaware.

“This is likely to be true whether the recognition is provided during the holidays or at other times,” Becker said.

Providing parties, bonuses and other forms of acknowledgement, including gifts, for employees’ work has symbolic value beyond the objective value that may be attached. “They send a message that the employment relationship is more than simply a transactional one. That message is especially important to convey if employees have endured a year of no raises, extra workloads, threats of layoff or many of the other conditions common in workplaces right now,” said Kimberly Merriman, an assistant professor of management and organization at Pennsylvania State University.

The key to gift giving and other forms of recognition around the holidays is being sincere, explained Robert Eisenberger, a professor in the psychology department at the University of Houston. He studies perceived organizational support—what makes employees feel supported and cared about—and has recently published a book titled “Perceived Organizational Support: Fostering Enthusiastic and Productive Employees.”

“What’s important is the genuineness of what you do,” he explained. “If the employer just goes through the motions of giving a gift that doesn’t really indicate they value employees, then it doesn’t count for much. What, really is important is a genuine indication of valuation and caring.”
What type of a gift or recognition will seem genuine to employees?

“One is the amount of time you are willing to spend on indicating you care about employees. For example, taking employees or subordinates out for a meal shows you really care about them, because it’s easy to give them a few dollars, but taking the time to treat employees to a meal involves effort and planning,” Eisenberger said,
It’s important to know employees’ needs and values, said Becker. “That’s a key principle of management. This allows managers and others to select a form of recognition or reward that employees will welcome. For some it might be money and for others a simple and sincere verbal acknowledgement of a job well done.”

Becker said non-monetary recognition can be just as effective as a bonus. “Forms of recognition besides money include written or verbal praise; symbolic rewards, such as plaques and certificates; small, meaningful gifts; or anything else that employees perceive as sincere recognition of their contributions and accomplishments,” he explained.

It’s important to be consistent, according to Merriman. If gift giving is eliminated after years of doing it without a credible explanation, employees are likely to be upset. “The motivational effects may be most obvious in the absence rather than presence of such recognition, since employees anticipate receiving something,” she explained. “For instance, one organization I know of experienced employee backlash when it stopped giving out holiday turkeys. The company wisely reinstated the tradition the following year.”

In order to manage employee entitlement perceptions, like the turkey example, organizations should separate financial rewards from the tradition of holiday recognition and instead provide a form of recognition that can be maintained each year, Merriman added.

“The trick is finding something that can be maintained—even in lean years—but still has value to employees. Here are two creative things a company might consider: providing free on-site car washes to employees for the day or providing free on-site gift wrapping. Of course, most employees would most value some extra paid time off during the holiday season if possible!”

Although general recognition such as parties and gifts can be expected to improve morale and help employees feel support from their organization, most of the benefits come in the form of positive assessment and appreciation, said Robert T. Brill, an associate professor psychology at Moravian College.

Because this show of holiday recognition is general and not tied to any one employee’s work, employers should not expect it to impact employees’ work habits, Brill said.
“It will go a long way toward morale and the worker’s sense of commitment and gratitude to the employer, but changing performance usually will require a more ongoing, systematic approach to performance feedback and management. A one-time reward for basically being a part of the organization does a great deal for attitude and emotional connection, but little for long-term performance change.”

Although many organizations may not have time for it during the hectic holidays, Brill said individual recognition—such as performance bonuses instead of blanket holiday bonuses—by employers would be most effective at improving motivation.

Eisenberger stressed that it is important for employees to feel supported all year, not just around the holidays.
“If people aren’t supported and card about the rest of the year and then a show of that is made just around holiday time, it isn’t taken very seriously,” he explained. “If you just do it on one occasion during the year, it’s not going to have much effect. It needs to be part of a pattern of indicating that employees are valued and cared about. It’s just like with relatives, you can’t be nice to relatives on the holiday and not be nice to them the rest of the year.”

Released: 12/12/2011

Source: The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/employee-recognition-important-during-holidays-and-the-rest-of-the-year

Why Young Couples Aren’t Getting Married – They Fear the Ravages of Divorce

Newswise — With the share of married adults at an all-time low in the United States, new research by demographers at Cornell University and the University of Central Oklahoma unveils clues why couples don’t get married – they fear divorce.

Among cohabitating couples, more than two-thirds of the study’s respondents admitted to concerns about dealing with the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of a possible divorce.

The study, “The Specter of Divorce: Views from Working and Middle-Class Cohabitors,” is published in the journal Family Relations (December 2011) and is co-authored by Sharon Sassler, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management, and Dela Kusi-Appouh, a Cornell doctoral student in the field of development sociology. (http://bit.ly/sJqeFa).

Roughly 67 percent of the study’s respondents shared their worries about divorce. Despite the concerns, middle-class subjects spoke more favorably about tying the knot and viewed cohabitation as a natural stepping stone to marriage compared to their working-class counterparts. Lower-income women, in particular, disproportionately expressed doubts about the “trap” of marriage, fearing that it could be hard to exit if things go wrong or it would lead to additional domestic responsibilities but few benefits.

The study also found working-class cohabitating couples were more apt to view marriage as “just a piece of paper,” nearly identical to their existing relationship. They were twice as likely to admit fears about being stuck in marriage with no way out once they were relying on their partners’ share of income to get by.

The authors hope that their findings could help premarital counselors to better tailor their lessons to assuage widespread fears of divorce and to target the specific needs of various socioeconomic classes.

Released: 12/18/2011

Source: Cornell University

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/why-young-couples-aren-t-getting-married-they-fear-the-ravages-of-divorce

Professor Offers Holiday Tipping Advice During the Economic Downturn

Newswise — DURHAM, N.H. – With pocketbooks stretched even more during the holidays this year, Americans may find it difficult to tip their service providers as much as they would like to, but according to a University of New Hampshire professor who researches service expectations, consumers should do their best to give something.

“Giving a gift during the holiday is a fundamental part of every joyful season, and one such holiday extra is the giving of a ‘tip’ to those individuals that have provided a service during the year. However, extra money for many Americans has been tight this year due to the economic times which many have not recovered from. So this time of year, when we feel obligated to buy presents and tip our various service providers, it may be difficult to decide who to drop from your gift list or reduce in tips if money to spread around is limited,” said Nelson Barber, associate professor of hospitality management at UNH.

“During the holiday season, tipping is more a gesture of thanks to individuals who provide services on a regular basis to you and your family,” Barber says. “We all know that both gifts and tips are great, and for many, holiday tips can make a huge difference in their annual income.”

How important are tips? According to a survey by PayScale, personal-care workers, including makeup, barbers, hairdressers, nail technicians, and cosmetologists, receive 25 percent of their income from tips.

Barber offers the following tipping advice:

How Best to Tip?
Prioritize your most important service providers by considering those who have provided you services and the extent of interaction with them, particularly those who may not be that obvious, even if you may not have tipped them regularly. “Do not make your tipping decision solely based upon ‘an implied obligation.’ At the top of your list should be those individuals that enhance your life considerably,” he says.

Think about the valued housekeeper or the barber that squeezes you in or the individual that delivers your newspaper to the front door when it is raining or snowing saving you the walk down the driveway. “These are the people that should receive the top dollars rather than infrequently used service providers,” Barber says.

How much should I tip?
When deciding how much to tip, remember that tipping is discretionary. Consider the length of time you have been receiving the service and whether you live in an urban or rural setting where tipping levels may vary. Consider the relationship to the service provider. Are you close? Is the relationship informal?

“If you don’t think tipping is necessary in a particular circumstance, then don’t tip. The following is a guide and amounts have been adjusted for today’s economic conditions. It is not implying a moral duty to tip. If you are using a service that is widely known to be a tipped service, such as hair salons and valet parking, then tip for good service,” Barber says.

Some suggestions for minimum tipping are:
• Day care provider: $20 and a gift from your child
• Parking garage attendants: $20 or a gift
• Housekeeper: no more than one week’s pay or a gift
• Nanny: no more than one week’s pay or a gift from you and your child
• Newspaper carrier: $15 or a gift
• Package carrier: a gift of no more than $15
• Home caregiver: no more than one week’s salary or a gift
• Pet groomer: 25 percent the cost of a session or a gift
• Baby sitter: no less than half one evening’s pay
• Hairstylist for women: minimum half the cost of one visit. Tipping the owner who provides you the service: yes at your discretion.
• Hairstylist for men: minimum half the cost of one haircut.
• Manicurist: $10
• Sanitation worker: $5 to $10
• Mail carriers working for the United States Postal Service may not accept cash gifts, checks, gift cards, or any other equivalent.

If consumers need to reduce their tipping amounts, Barber suggests adding a note of thanks with the tip.

“I find, depending on the service provider, including a note expressing how much you appreciate them adds value and can make the gift mean more even if the amount given is less,” Barber says. “Service workers depend on these gifts as part of their income. So unless you’ve lost your own job, or are having financial troubles of your own, try to give.”

Released: 12/5/2011

Source: University of New Hampshire

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/unh-professor-offers-holiday-tipping-advice-during-the-economic-downturn

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