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Entries in Games (3)

Monday
Jan232012

Brain Games May Help Thwart Alzheimer’s: Study

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Worried about Alzheimer’s disease? You may want to finish that game of sudoku before you read this.

Researchers behind a study in this week’s Archives of Neurology say they have a found a link between “brain-stimulating activities” and levels of protein thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

“Your lifestyle over the course of your lifetime may be critical in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” University of California-Berkeley researcher and study author Dr. Susan Landau said.

The Alzheimer’s Association said the study “contains some valuable new data regarding the possible relationship between modifiable lifestyle risk factors and the brain changes that are indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and memory loss in adults, particularly those above the age of 60. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of a particular protein called amyloid in the brain. Most normal people have a small amount of this protein in their brain, and it is thought that the accumulation over one’s lifetime may result in the disease.

The researchers of this study interviewed 65 healthy people about their reading, writing and game-playing habits throughout their lives starting at age 6. These same adults went through a special brain scanner that can detect amyloid.

They found that people who did more reading, writing and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Landau explains that game playing can be anything that stimulates the brain -- whether it is a game of sudoku, a crossword puzzle or even Angry Birds.

“There was no emphasis on what games were played, but just at what age and how often people were participating in brain-stimulating activities, including reading, writing and games,” Landau said.

With people living longer than ever before, Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a bigger -- and more common -- problem. So far, most researchers have focused on treating the disease. But studies such as this one may point to ways we can prevent the disease altogether.

Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said that while the study’s findings seem to make sense, they still “cannot be considered definitive evidence that can be prescribed to patients” and that more robust randomized clinical trials are required.

Gandy said, however, that physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is “conceivable that the benefits of physical exercise are partially or wholly due to the increased brain activity used to control muscles.”

So should we all join the sudoku trend?

While the study emphasizes that these results pertain to a lifetime's worth of brain stimulation, most experts believe that it is never too late to get active.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul212011

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Secret to Winning

Photodisc/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- A new study involving the game Rock, Paper, Scissors suggests that the human tendency to mimic may not always be advantageous, and that instinctive involuntary copying, once inherited and learned, may be nearly impossible to override.

The study observed a variety of subjects playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, the children's hand-gesture game, during which time either or both players were blindfolded to determine if being unable to see their opponent's movements had any bearing on how they played. Players were given a small cash incentive to win.

The rules of probability predicted players had a 1 in 3 chance of a draw in any given round, and the results when both players were blindfolded corresponded to this, with 33.3 percent draws.

When only one player was blindfolded, however, that number jumped to 36.3 percent -- not a huge difference but, the study authors said, a significant one.

The study found the blindfolded players gestured milliseconds before the sighted ones, suggesting the sighted players were unconsciously imitating their sightless counterparts. It also suggested the instinct to mimic can be counterproductive, because a player can only win the game by making different hand gestures than an opponent.

"'Research has already shown people imitate actions around them," said the study's lead author, Richard Cook of University College London. "This study confirmed that in the sense of that imitation being unconscious. The report also confirmed that the imitation is hard to stop, even when it's beneficial to stop."

So the sighted players mimicked the actions of the blindfolded player almost as an involuntary, knee-jerk reaction.

Many scientists believe that humans possess "mirror neurons" -- cells that prompt us to imitate actions, language, dress codes and numerous other habits that we pass on from generation to generation. But do mirror neurons mean the automatic predisposition to mimic is an unavoidable part of our genetic code -- something about which, try as we might, we can do nothing?

Cook believes mimicry isn't simply inherited but is contributed to by nurture, as well as nature. He believes humans actually acquire mirror neurons through learning. We learn to mimic our parents when we're younger, we associate seeing with doing, and it becomes an instinct that stays with us and, Cook said, even when we mimic in an undesirable context, it is difficult to inhibit.

The study, Cook said, suggests this learned behavior could be altered if new associations are fostered early. In theory, you could train your child in counter imitative responses, which would make it more likely that one gesture would elicit the opposite gesture in the child in the future. That sort of instinct is useful, for example, to boxers or tennis players who -- like anyone playing Rock, Paper, Scissors -- must offer a counter response in order to win.

Marisa Carrasco, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU, cautions that people shouldn't necessarily draw dramatic conclusions about instinctive mimicry from the study.

"The deviations in results are fairly small," she said, "and there was nothing really big at stake here so maybe in more real circumstances one would be able to not have such an automatic imitation that was unbeneficial."

But mirror neurons aside, other than the obvious benefits to survival, an urge to physically mimic can be our friend in other ways, too.

According to a 2009 study by Nicolas Gueguen, a professor at the University of South Brittany, small, possibly involuntary gestures of mimicry -- such as crossing your legs when your date crosses theirs -- can be attractive to potential partners and decrease social anxiety.

"Mimicry is one way of expressing empathy because you're showing similarities," Carrasco concurred. "You're perceiving something and you're acting on it, as well."

On a small scale however, while we may still be waiting for definitive facts about whether we instinctively copy and why, next time you're playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, you might want to up the stakes -- and bring out the blindfold.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr192011

NY Health Department Will No Longer Regulate Fun

Christopher Robbins/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New York State health officials have yanked a new set of rules that would have regulated freeze tag, capture the flag and more than a dozen other classic childhood games. The regulations were meant to close a loophole to a law passed in 2009 that allows indoor summer camps to operate without the same oversight that applies to outdoor camps.

The retracted rules placed these childhood rites of passage on the same list of risky recreational activities as archery, scuba and horseback riding. Any program that offered two or more organized recreational activities, with at least one of them on the risky list, would have had to pay a registration fee and provide medical staff.

Many parents were incredulous that such measures were even considered.

"Was this dreamed up by the video game industry?" asked Melissa McNeese, a mother of two in upstate New York.

"Wow, Wiffle ball isn't even a contact sport," said Dayna Diamond, a Manhattan mother of two young children. "Should we lock our kids up in order to protect them from a scrape now and then?"

Child psychologists echo these concerns. "It seems counterintuitive to regulate fun. It's already hard enough to keep kids active," noted Jeff Brown, a Harvard psychologist and author of The Competitive Edge.

Brown notes that these games teach children important lessons about things like cooperation, focus and competition. Even if the games were regulated, he thinks kids would probably play them on their own. "It probably makes more sense to continue adult supervision," he advised.

Some parents have reached their threshold for this sort of childhood micromanagement.

Recent attempts to ban chocolate milk in the school lunch room were met with a less than enthusiastic response. And earlier this year, parents in Edgewater, Fla., staged a protest and won a rollback of strict guidelines like mandatory mouth rinsing and a daily sweep of the school by a peanut-sniffing dog that were put in place to protect a single student with a peanut allergy.

Although many people may feel overly protective legislation has gone too far, playgrounds can be perilous. Each year emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries, to the tune of more than $1.2 billion in medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since statistics don't drill down into specific detail, it's unclear how many of these injuries are the result of an over-spirited tag or a Wiffle ball to the face.

With the retraction, New York State Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said officials would continue to gather information during a comment period that ends May 16 and will formulate new safety regulations that are broader. But for now, red rover and steal the bacon are still legal.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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