News Delivered With Humor Makes It More Memorable

A recent study has been done on how to make news content more memorable. The study’s findings may apply to some other types of content too.

In the early decades of televised news, Americans turned to the stern faces of newsmen like Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather as trusted sources for news of the important events in America and around the world, delivered with gravitas and measured voices. The rise of comedy-news programs, helmed by the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee, raised concerns over the blending of entertainment and news. But could the merging of humor and news actually help inform the public?

In fact, new research suggests that humor may help keep people informed about politics. A study from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of Communication at Ohio State University found that, when compared to non-humorous news clips, viewers are not only more likely to share humorously presented news but are also more likely to remember the content from these segments.

“For democracy to work, it is really important for people to engage with news and politics and to be informed about public affairs,” says senior author Emily Falk, Professor of Communication, Psychology, and Marketing at Annenberg. “We wanted to test whether humor might make news more socially relevant, and therefore motivate people to remember it and share it.”

The researchers recruited young adults (18-34 years old) to watch a variety of news clips, which they designed to vary, so that some ended with jokes and others did not. In addition to collecting data on participants’ brain activity using fMRI technology, the researchers administered a memory test to determine how much information participants retained from watching the clips. The researchers also asked participants to answer questions about how likely they would be to share the news clips with others.

Participants were more likely to remember information about politics and government policy when it was conveyed in a humorous rather than non-humorous manner and were more willing to share the information online. The findings also show that humorous news clips elicited greater activity in brain regions associated with thinking about what other people think and feel, which highlights the social nature of comedy.

“Our findings show that humor stimulates activity in brain regions associated with social engagement, improves memory for political facts, and increases the tendency to share political information with others,” says lead author Jason Coronel, Assistant Professor of Communication at OSU. “This is significant because entertainment-based media has become an important source of political news, especially for young adults. Our results suggest that humor can increase knowledge about politics.”

Flavanols Found in Cocoa, Fruits and Vegetables Shown to Boost Cognition and Brain Oxygenation

This study shows the benefits of good nutrition.

The brains of healthy adults recovered faster from a mild vascular challenge and performed better on complex tests if the participants consumed cocoa flavanols beforehand, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports. In the study, 14 of 18 participants saw these improvements after ingesting the flavanols.

Previous studies have shown that eating foods rich in flavanols can benefit vascular function, but this is the first to find a positive effect on brain vascular function and cognitive performance in young healthy adults, said Catarina Rendeiro, a researcher and lecturer in nutritional sciences at the University of Birmingham who led the research with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychology professors Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton.

“Flavanols are small molecules found in many fruits and vegetables, and cocoa, too,” Rendeiro said. “They give fruits and vegetables their bright colors, and they are known to benefit vascular function. We wanted to know whether flavanols also benefit the brain vasculature, and whether that could have a positive impact on cognitive function.”

The team recruited adult nonsmokers with no known brain, heart, vascular or respiratory disease, reasoning that any effects seen in this population would provide robust evidence that dietary flavanols can improve brain function in healthy people.

The team tested the 18 participants before their intake of cocoa flavanols and in two separate trials, one in which the subjects received flavanol-rich cocoa and another during which they consumed processed cocoa with very low levels of flavanols. Neither the participants nor researchers knew which type of cocoa was consumed in each of the trials. This double-blind study design prevents researchers’ or participants’ expectations from affecting the results.

About two hours after consuming the cocoa, participants breathed air with 5% carbon dioxide — about 100 times the normal concentration in air. This is a standard method for challenging brain vasculature to determine how well it responds, Gratton said.

The body typically reacts by increasing blood flow to the brain, he said.

“This brings in more oxygen and also allows the brain to eliminate more carbon dioxide,” he said.

With functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a technique that uses light to capture changes in blood flow to the brain, the team measured oxygenation in the frontal cortex, a brain region that plays a key role in planning, regulating behavior and decision-making.

“This allows you to measure how well the brain defends itself from the excess carbon dioxide,” Fabiani said.

Researchers also challenged participants with complex tasks that required them to manage sometimes contradictory or competing demands.

Most of the participants had a stronger and faster brain oxygenation response after exposure to cocoa flavanols than they did at baseline or after consuming cocoa lacking flavanols, the researchers found.

“The levels of maximal oxygenation were more than three times higher in the high-flavanol cocoa versus the low-flavanol cocoa, and the oxygenation response was about one minute faster,” Rendeiro said.

After ingesting the cocoa flavanols, participants also performed better on the most challenging cognitive tests, correctly solving problems 11% faster than they did at baseline or when they consumed cocoa with reduced flavanols. There was no measurable difference in performance on the easier tasks, however.

“This suggests that flavanols might only be beneficial during cognitive tasks that are more challenging,” Rendeiro said.

Participants varied in their responses to cocoa flavanols, the researchers found.

“Although most people benefited from flavanol intake, there was a small group that did not,” Rendeiro said. Four of the 18 study subjects had no meaningful differences in brain oxygenation response after consuming flavanols, nor did their performance on the tests improve.

“Because these four participants already had the highest oxygenation responses at baseline, this may indicate that those who are already quite fit have little room for improvement,” Rendeiro said. “Overall, the findings suggest that the improvements in vascular activity after exposure to flavanols are connected to the improvement in cognitive function.”

Study Shows a Bigger Pharmaceutical Industry is Linked to Worse Health Outcomes

The ridiculously extreme profits of pharmaceutical corporations has allowed them to lobby legislatures and enact laws that further boost their profits — while being detrimental to the public interest. Much of this is due to drug patent monopolies, which are regularly equivalent to harmful, regressive tariffs of hundreds or thousands of percent.

drugincome

While Americans debate the rising cost of health care, a new study of 30 countries over 27 years found that medical expansion has improved overall health — with one major exception.

Researchers found that increased spending on health care and increases in specialized care were both associated with longer life expectancy and less mortality in the countries studied.

But pharmaceutical industry expansion was linked to negative health effects.

“This study isn’t the first to suggest prescription drugs can pose a health risk. But it is the first to find that the growth of the pharmaceutical industry itself may be associated with worse rather than better health,” said Hui Zheng, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

[…]

Two measures of expansion in the pharmaceutical industry — increased sales and more money spent on research and development — were linked to lower life expectancy among women aged 65 and older, and with increased mortality rates. The pharmaceutical measures were not associated with the other health outcomes studied.

The researchers ran tests to confirm that it wasn’t the other way around — that lower life expectancy and increased mortality were causing an expansion of the pharmaceutical industry. But that wasn’t the case.

That wasn’t the only negative finding about the growing drug industry.

“We found that as the pharmaceutical industry expands, there is a decrease in the beneficial impact of medical specialization on population health,” Zheng said.

This study can’t say why expansion in the pharmaceutical industry is leading to negative population health effects, Zheng said.

“It could be due to toxic side effects of drugs, doctors’ prescribing practices, patients’ misuse of prescription drugs, reasons related to pharmaceutical industry’s marketing strategies or some combination of these factors,” he said.

Venomous Animals Found to Sometimes Change Their Venom Recipe

The careful study of animals has often yielded positive results for humans. Studying bats helped lead to the development of radar and also is beneficial for flying aircraft better, for example. These findings on venomous animals are important, however, because there’s actually a fair amount of medicine that’s made from venom. Last year scorpions were found to be able to adjust their venom depending on the situation, so this study with sea anemones adds further evidence to venom being different than thought in past years.

For a long time scientists believed that an animal’s venom was consistent over time: once a venomous creature, always a venomous creature. However, through a close study of sea anemones, Dr. Yehu Moran of Hebrew University’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, found that animals change their venom several times over the course of a lifetime, adapting the potency and recipe of their venom to suit changing predators and aquatic environments.

“Until now, venom research focused mainly on toxins produced by adult animals. However, by studying sea anemones from birth to death, we discovered that animals have a much wider toxin arsenal than previously thought. Their venom evolves to best meet threats from predators and to cope with changing aquatic environments,” explained Dr. Yehu Moran.

To track these changes, Moran’s team labeled the sea anemone’s venom-producing cells and monitored them over time. The researchers also recorded significant interactions that Nematostella had over their lifetime — first as prey and later as predators.

These findings are significant for several reasons. First, venom is often used in medicines and pharmacological compounds. This study suggests that for animals with a complex life cycle there are many venom components that have remained unknown to researchers since, until now, researchers have only studied venom from adult sea anemones, missing out on the unique compounds that exist in larvae venom. These “new” compounds could lead to new medicines and drugs. Second, sea anemones, jellyfish and coral play a significant role in marine environments. A better understanding of their venomous output and effect on marine life ecology is crucial.

Nanorobots Successfully Programmed to Seek and Eliminate Tumors in Major Nanomedicine Study

This is a significant nanotechnology advance, although there’s still progress needed for it in further trials. These nanorobots have yet to be tested on humans, which makes them another advance worth looking for the human trial results on when they’re available.

In a major advancement in nanomedicine, Arizona State University (ASU) scientists, in collaboration with researchers from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST), of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have successfully programmed nanorobots to shrink tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

“We have developed the first fully autonomous, DNA robotic system for a very precise drug design and targeted cancer therapy,” said Hao Yan, director of the ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and the Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences.

“Moreover, this technology is a strategy that can be used for many types of cancer, since all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same,” said Yan.

The successful demonstration of the technology, the first-of-its-kind study in mammals utilizing breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian and lung cancer mouse models, was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

[…]

First and foremost, the team showed that the nanorobots were safe and effective in shrinking tumors.

“The nanorobot proved to be safe and immunologically inert for use in normal mice and, also in Bama miniature pigs, showing no detectable changes in normal blood coagulation or cell morphology,” said Yuliang Zhao, also a professor at NCNST and lead scientist of the international collaborative team.

Most importantly, there was no evidence of the nanorobots spreading into the brain where it could cause unwanted side effects, such as a stroke.

“The nanorobots are decidedly safe in the normal tissues of mice and large animals,” said Guangjun Nie, another professor at the NCNST and a key member of the collaborative team.

The treatment blocked tumor blood supply and generated tumor tissue damage within 24 hours while having no effect on healthy tissues. After attacking tumors, most of the nanorobots were cleared and degraded from the body after 24 hours.

[…]

Yan and his collaborators are now actively pursuing clinical partners to further develop this technology.

“I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology,” said Yan. “Combinations of different rationally designed nanorobots carrying various agents may help to accomplish the ultimate goal of cancer research: the eradication of solid tumors and vascularized metastases. Furthermore, the current strategy may be developed as a drug delivery platform for the treatment of other diseases by modification of the geometry of the nanostructures, the targeting groups and the loaded cargoes.”

The “Weight Loss Ripple Effect” Among Couples

Communities that people care about enough to be involved in have a considerably large impact on their regular activities. This research into weight loss — showing the social effects on human behavior — is a different but similar variant on that truth.

People who make an effort to lose weight aren’t just helping themselves, they may be helping others too.

That’s the finding of a new University of Connecticut study that tracked the weight loss progress of 130 couples over six months. The researchers found that when one member of a couple commits to losing weight, the chances were good the other partner would lose some weight too, even if they were not actively participating in a weight loss intervention.

In the study, approximately one third of the untreated partners lost 3 percent or more of their initial body weight after six months despite not participating in any active intervention. A three percent loss of body weight is considered a measurable health benefit.

“When one person changes their behavior, the people around them change,” says Gorin, a behavioral psychologist. “Whether the patient works with their healthcare provider, joins a community-based, lifestyle approach like Weight Watchers, or tries to lose weight on their own, their new healthy behaviors can benefit others in their lives.”

The study, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Obesity, also found that the rate at which couples lose weight is interlinked. In other words, if one member lost weight at a steady pace, their partner did too. Likewise, if one person struggled to lose weight, their partner also struggled.

[…]

Previous findings of a weight loss ripple effect were limited to patients who participated in closely monitored, clinic-based interventions and those who had bariatric surgery. Most of those studies relied on couples self-reporting their weight loss, raising the possibility of error.

The UConn study is the first to use a randomized, controlled design to look at couples’ progress in less structured and widely available weight loss programs. Researchers recorded objective measurements of participants’ weight and examined couples’ weight loss trajectories over time.

Comprehensive Study of E-Cigarettes

While e-cigarettes sometimes helping people quit smoking (which is one of the leading causes of preventable death) is beneficial, a lot of them do contain chemicals that are clearly toxic. These chemicals are probably less harmful than the chemicals in other cigarettes, but the supposition that e-cigarettes aren’t harmful (periodically found among misinformed youth) shouldn’t be perpetuated.

A new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine takes a comprehensive look at evidence on the human health effects of e-cigarettes. Although the research base is limited given the relatively short time e-cigarettes have been used, the committee that conducted the study identified and examined over 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies, reaching dozens of conclusions about a range of health impacts.

Evidence suggests that while e-cigarettes are not without health risks, they are likely to be far less harmful than conventional cigarettes, the report says. They contain fewer numbers and lower levels of toxic substances than conventional cigarettes, and using e-cigarettes may help adults who smoke conventional cigarettes quit smoking. However, their long-term health effects are not yet clear. Among youth — who use e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults do — there is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases the risk of transitioning to smoking conventional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are a diverse group of products containing a heating element that produces an aerosol from a liquid that users can inhale via a mouthpiece, and include a range of devices such as “cig-a-likes,” vape tank systems, and vape mods. Millions of Americans use e-cigarettes, and e-cigarette use is generally greatest among young adults and decreases with age. Use varies substantially across demographic groups, including age, gender, race, and ethnicity. For example, among youth and adults, use is typically greater among males than females.

Whether e-cigarettes have an overall positive or negative impact on public health is currently unknown, the report says. More and better research on e-cigarettes’ short- and long-term effects on health and on their relationship to conventional smoking is needed to answer that question with clarity.

“E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful,” said David Eaton, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and dean and vice provost of the Graduate School of the University of Washington, Seattle. “In some circumstances, such as their use by non-smoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern. In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”

The report offers conclusions about e-cigarette use and a range of health impacts, including the following, and it notes the strength of the evidence for each conclusion.

Exposure to nicotine

  • There is conclusive evidence that exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes is highly variable and depends on the characteristics of the device and the e-liquid, as well as on how the device is operated.
  • There is substantial evidence that nicotine intake from e-cigarettes among experienced adult e-cigarette users can be comparable to that from conventional cigarettes.

Exposure to toxic substances

  • There is conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarettes contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.
  • There is substantial evidence that except for nicotine, exposure to potentially toxic substances from e-cigarettes (under typical conditions of use) is significantly lower compared with conventional cigarettes.

[…]

Research Into Giving Gifts

The research found that people often prefer sentimentally valuable gifts instead of superficial gifts. Younger generations generally are also being found to have a high appreciation for receiving meaningful experiences.

Have you ever faced the daunting task of deciding what gift to give a significant other, friend or relative? And once you finally find a gift, will it be well received?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study to investigate whether recipients are getting the gifts they want, and their findings suggest that the answer is no. When given the choice of receiving a gift that has sentimental value — such as a photograph of a special memory — versus a more superficial gift — such as a jersey from a favorite sports team — givers opt for the superficial gift more often that their recipients expect.

Why are gift givers missing the mark? The researchers found that most people are unsure whether a sentimental gift will be well-liked, but they are confident that a superficial gift aligning with someone’s interests and preferences will be enjoyed.

“Essentially, givers seem to view sentimentally valuable gifts as having the potential to be either home runs or strikeouts, but they view preference-matching gifts as a sure single,” says Julian Givi, lead author of the study. “Rather than risking a strikeout, they go for the sure thing, when what recipients truly desire are sentimentally valuable gifts.”

The researchers discovered this mismatch between givers and receivers in two separate experiments. In the first, participants were told to write down the name of a friend, and those who were “givers” were asked to select a gift for the friend. Some were told it would be a birthday gift while others were told it was for a going away party. They could choose either a framed photo of their friend’s favorite musician, or a framed photo of the two friends on a day they had a lot of fun together. The participants who were “recipients” were asked to select which of the two gifts they would prefer to receive.

The study results provided evidence that people do not give sentimentally valuable gifts as often as recipients would prefer.

[…]

“People spend billions of dollars every year on gifts, and the data suggests that they’re not spending money in the best way possible,” Givi says. “We are also finding evidence in a different project that people feel closer to givers when they receive sentimental gifts, so people should keep this in mind the next time they’re making gift-giving decisions.”