On the prowl: tigers in distress

Its 3:30pm and dinner time for the big cats. The crowd begins to gather outside the glass and inside you can see the tigers pacing back and forth, tails twitching. The heads of the crowd move as one; mesmerized by the toing and froing of the great beasts. Such restless movements are almost synonymous with the proud creatures in front of us.

But, it really shouldn’t be.

The problem

Pacing, along with other activities such as head shaking and chewing each other’s tails, are all stereotypical behaviours. These behaviours are an indicator of poor animal welfare; a coping mechanism for fear or boredom.

And, what is even more concerning is that a recent study found that the captive tigers spent 23% of their daylight hours acting out these stereotypical behaviours.

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1558787814000379

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1558787814000379

These behaviours peak between two times every day; between 10am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm.

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To tan or not to tan; is that even a question?

If there’s anything Slip! Slop! Slap! has taught us, it’s if you don’t want to get skin cancer, you need to protect yourself against the sun. But what the Victorian Council’s message didn’t teach us, was that it’s not only the sun which can give us skin cancer. Tanning beds contribute to an astronomically high 2 in 3 Australians developing skin cancer before 70.

The risks associated with tanning beds have always been a muddy subject with misinformation getting flung around. Whether or not you can develop skin cancer (you can), if it’s a safe way to get vitamin D (it’s not), whether or not base tans will protect you (they won’t), etcetera etcetera.

And it looks like there’s another lesser known, very important risk to add to the list.

A study published last year has revealed that even when you leave the death tanning bed, you can still develop melanoma skin cancer within the next three hours.

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Child Aggression: Prevention is Better Than Cure

Ever heard of child aggression? Or wondered why some children tended to be more aggressive than others?  

angry boyWell, this year, researchers from the United States of America, have managed to pinpoint what the early predictors of child aggression are.

Childhood aggression has been linked to outcomes such as juvenile delinquency and even mental health problems.

The study of 100 families has managed to define the relationship between certain factors, such as a child’s inhibitory control, gender, siblings and maternal education and depression symptoms, and child aggression.

This research will allow early prediction and prevention of aggression in children, so as to curb the problem before it surfaces.

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To your good health: the key to happiness in old age

Health and happiness.

They’re society’s ultimate pursuits. Young or old, we all want them regardless of what stage of life we are at.

But achieving them can become more difficult as we get older. Your physical health can suffer, as you are more likely to become ill or disabled. Factors like loneliness and lack of income after retirement can also increase your risk of developing a mental health condition like depression.

But is there a connection between the two?

Does your level of health affect your happiness in old age?

The scientists behind this study from the University of Bordeaux in France say that it does. They have found there is a very strong link between the physical health of the elderly, and their level of happiness.

Source: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/older-people/obe-campaign

Source: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/older-people/obe-campaign

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How dating technology could be ruining your life in the bedroom.

phone couple bed

You may not have noticed yet but you are most likely in a committed relationship with technology. You spend most hours of your day together, and when you’re apart its regularly on your mind. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and throughout the day you are staring into its bright and beautiful face.

Your phone, your iPad, your computer or whatever the device you use is. You are probably even using it now to read this article.

Studies have shown that Australians spend over 10 hours each day on electronic media. That’s more hours than we sleep!

And unsurprisingly this is negatively affecting us.

It’s the news no one wants to hear.

It hits our fomo and our nomophobia. As who wants to part from technology and be missing out?

Scientists are finding more and more ways in which this excessive use is negatively affecting us. And recently they have found one that greatly affects us all.


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Born to Drink: The Genetic Link to Alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is one of the most commonly occurring mental health issues in the world. The disease is define by the constant desire to consume alcohol. Resultantly, this causes the development of a negative emotional state and leads to the lack of control over consumption.

Research has now shown that the causation of AUD is in fact approximately 50% genetic. Contradicting common misconceptions of a 100% environmental origin.

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari pietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eu

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Facts in fiction: what are you learning?

How accurate should the science in fiction be?

This is a question that has been debated since the dawn of sci-fi. Does it matter if an explosion in space makes a sound? Should we get angry when spaceships travel faster than the speed of light? Should we care if a superhero can warp reality with her mind?

In some instances these scientific inaccuracies may seem harmless, but in some cases they can have serious consequences. Inaccurate science may impact the public’s judgement in response to real world science issues, and can affect the flow of attention and funding for scientific advancements. Inaccurate health information presented in medical dramas even has the potential to endanger lives.


Few methods of communication can reach as wide an audience with as little resistance as fictional books, television and film. The field of narrative persuasion explores how fiction can affect an audience’s perception of the real world. It is important to understand what types of scientific information audiences learn from fiction, and new research is exploring just that.

A recent study at the Australian National University (ANU) has developed a new classification system which could be used to understand the types of science information audiences learn from fiction. The research has given an exciting insight into…

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3 Ways Universities Need to Lift Their Game When it comes to Solving Poor Mobility with Industry

At the end of 2015, Malcolm Turnbull and Wyatt Roy launched the government’s new National Innovation & Science Agenda, calling for greater collaboration between Australian scientists in academia and industry and encouraging university scientists to be more open to moving in and out of industry.

But new research has found that university researchers may already be set up to fail at achieving the aims of this ambitious new policy due to a vicious cycle plaguing academia.
Low job security, universities’ high expectations and poor training are cited as the reasons why significantly fewer researchers consider a job in industry when than in academia. This casts doubt on whether Turnbull’s “ideas boom” will be able to succeed in a country where academics are so focused on producing publications that they aren’t willing to take risks and make this ‘innovation’ thing happen with industry.
Despite the policy’s focus on the issue of poor intersectoral mobility of university researchers, few explorations have been conducted in Australia, and no theory has been developed to explain the overarching reasons for why academics don’t feel like they can transition to industry. This vicious cycle is attributed to 3 main factors:

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Your Eyes are Lovely, but they Startle my Amygdala…

Eye-contact for most people is a normal part of everyday life; something which is not given conscious thought, something which usually elicits connection between people. However, for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, eye-contact can mark the beginning of a destructive neurological and emotional process.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an often severe and debilitating mental illness triggered by a traumatic life event (eg. witnessing death, having a near death experience, being violently assaulted or sexually abused). Symptoms include; intrusive and disturbing flashbacks (and thoughts), nightmares, anxiety, trouble sleeping, suicidal ideation, dramatically increased and sensitive fear responses, having an abnormally increased resting heart and breathing rate.

People with PTSD often avoid and have difficulty with establishing and maintaining eye contact with people. I, the author of this blog, have been diagnosed with PTSD and have often been accused of being rude or uninterested, or showing a lack of respect when, instead of holding eye contact when talking with someone, I look at the ground or into the distance or notice my eyes are darting around the room at a million miles an hour looking at everything in the space apart from the other person’s eyes. But I can tell you now that those of us with PTSD are not rude or uninterested or disrespectful. Why believe me? Well, now I can prove it with hard biological evidence. Yay for science!

A study was undertaken last year (2014) which measured functional brain activity during direct eye contact. This was measured through neuroimaging. Women with PTSD were compared to women without the mental illness. Both groups were shown several manipulations of faces and eyes. The way the faces were positioned, the emotion they were exhibiting and whether they were holding a direct gaze or not, were all manipulated.
photo for sandpaw

A clear difference was found between the brains in both groups of participants. In fact, several areas of the human brain reacted far differently in the PTSD brains, compared to the ‘healthy’ brains. For the brains with PTSD, the study showed that during (perceived) direct eye-contact there was an increased activation of brain regions involved in emotion processing. This was specifically associated with the fast subcortical pathway. One of the emotion regulation areas of the brain shown to be activated by eye-contact is called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is the fear centre of the brain. It deals with switching on our ‘fight or flight’ responses in an emergency situation, which also directly relates to the arousal of our sympathetic nervous system.

In short, this study concluded that PTSD brains perceive direct eye-contact as a threat which begins a neurological and emotional fear response, causing people with PTSD to avoid eye-contact. For people without PTSD, direct eye contact elicits the opposite; positive emotional connection.

Interesting, huh?
So next time someone avoids eye contact with you, please remember there may be a heck of lot more happening behind their eyes than you think.

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I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords

The time is coming for us to make a choice, and we need to make this choice before it is too late.

An international team of scientists has, for the first time, successfully created a brain to brain interface, allowing humans to communicate with each other using nothing more than their thoughts. The experiment involved successfully transmitting the words “hola” and “ciao” from a person in India to another in France, with neither of them needing to move a muscle. One participant wore a device which measures brain activity, known as an EEG. They imagined performing an action, and the brain activity associated with this thought was picked up by the EEG and sent to a computer. The participant translated the alphabet into binary code, using either zeros or ones, and had a specific thought represent each value. The computer ‘heard’ these thoughts, and sent the values via email to another user. This person interpreted these zeros and ones as flashes of light, but instead of the signal arriving in the brain from the eyes, they used another device to plant the signal directly into their brain via magnetic stimulation.

The experimental set-up. Source: PLOS One.

The experimental set-up.
Source: PLOS One.

This may seem like a horribly inefficient process, it would be much easier to pull out your phone and type the message. But it’s the first big step down a troublesome path. No more will we suffer attempting conversation with someone glued to their smartphone. Soon, they will be able to instantly message someone without ever taking their eyes off you.

But the issues get much more serious than an inattentive conversation partner. These technologies open a whole new world of possibility, allowing those with access to the technology to be able to access a wealth of information, directly into their brains. This technology will allow those who are wealthy enough, or privileged enough, to become ‘plugged in’ cyborgs, able to store memories, send and receive massive amounts of information, and augment their thoughts. Those who resist these technologies, those who cannot afford them, or those who aren’t chosen to receive them will be left behind. People will be divided, the augmented will gain intelligence, become people with the highest employment prospect, allowing them more access to these technologies, driving the wedge deeper into the divide between the augmented, and those who remain unplugged.

But if you can’t afford to gain access to this technology, never fear. There will be corporations looking to profit, so why not get the free model, with pay-to-remove advertisements subliminally pushed straight into your mind? But at what risk? When companies are able to place information directly in your mind, they will do it cleverly, subtly, so you don’t even realise that you are being manipulated. What is to stop governments demanding access to your thoughts, to surveil all connected to the network for ‘security’ reasons? When we can’t even effectively protect our computers from hackers, we would be connecting our brains to the same networks, where the risks are far more severe.

Is this the world we want, the path we wish to tread down? A divided world, where the privileged become augmented, at the cost of their own thoughts, while those that resist giving up their freedom of mind be left behind as unemployable, slow, uninformed. The technology may currently be in its infant stages, but we need to move, and stop it taking the wrong direction, before it’s too late.

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