Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2012, 12:00am


Cellphone use drives a wedge

Can mobile phones make you less socially minded? A recent study by researchers from the University of Maryland's business school suggests that is the case. Experiments were conducted on separate sets of college students of both genders and generally in their early 20s. It was found that after a short period of mobile phone use, the subjects were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity compared with the control group. They were also less persistent in solving word problems, even though they knew their answers would translate to a monetary donation to charity. 'The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong,' the researchers say, resulting in reducing one's desire to connect with others or to engage in behaviour that may benefit others.

The hand we use, and the things we choose

Our own bodies can be a powerful influence when it comes to making decisions, according to research reviewed in Current Directions in Psychological Science. It's an idea that Professor Daniel Casasanto, a cognitive scientist at the New School for Social Research in New York, terms 'body-specificity hypothesis'. He has found that, in general, people tend to prefer the things they encounter on the same side as their dominant hand. When participants were asked to choose between two products or job applicants, or which two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, right-handers routinely chose the option on the right side of the page, while left-handers preferred the one on the left. 'People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with,' Casasanto says.

Arsenic and brown rice

Organic brown rice syrup, a sweetener used in many organic foods, may be a hidden source of arsenic, according to a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Dartmouth College researchers tested commercial products containing the syrup - 17 infant formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy shots - and compared them with similar products without the sweetener. Two formulas had listed the syrup as the primary ingredient, and these had arsenic levels that were more than 20 times greater than the other formulas. One of the formulas had a total arsenic concentration that was six times the US Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking water limit of 10 parts per billion. The cereal bars and energy shots using the syrup also had higher arsenic concentrations than those without it. Rice may be particularly prone to contamination because it pulls in arsenic, a natural metalloid, from soil. The risk of certain cancers or heart disease are said to be slightly elevated in drinking water with a certain level of arsenic.

Dogs are a woman's best friend, too

Mothers-to-be trying to maintain a healthy weight may want to consider adopting a dog. A new study that assessed data from more than 11,000 pregnant women in Britain has found that those who owned dogs were about 50 per cent more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of activity per day - through brisk walking. 'We are increasingly seeing that exercising with a dog can lead to improved motivation and effectiveness,' says Dr Sandra McCune, research programme manager at Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, which collaborated on the study with the University of Liverpool. 'Together with a balanced diet, it could therefore help towards ensuring a healthy pregnancy.' The research has been published in the online journal PLoS ONE.