Entries in Germany (2)


Vicarious Embarrassment a Pain in the Brain

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Ever wonder why some people can't stand the over-the-top awkwardness of characters on The Office while others love it? It may have to do with the ability to feel empathy, according to new research from the Philipps-University Marburg in Germany.

Researchers analyzed how people experience vicarious embarrassment -- that cringe we feel when the host of a party makes a toast with a piece of spinach in his teeth -- and found that it was closely tied to feelings of empathy and empathy centers in the brain.

A group of 619 German 20-somethings were shown a series of vignettes depicting a stranger getting into embarrassing situations, and then asked to rate how much embarrassment they felt for him. Sometimes the stranger was oblivious to their faux-pas, like the spinach-in-the-teeth example. Sometimes they were painfully aware -- one showed a person bending over and splitting his pants.

Though empathy is usually thought of as pain we experience with someone -- they suffer and we suffer with them -- researchers found that the subjects felt vicarious embarrassment even when the strangers in question were blissfully unaware of their pratfalls.

"We are wired for empathy," says Dr. Marco Iacoboni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. "Human instinct is to be empathic. We can't help it."

For centuries, he says, scientists thought of empathy upside-down: that we were animals fighting for survival and it was only our higher brain functions that allowed us to feel cooperative emotions such as empathy. Neuroscientists are now finding that our brains are wired on a very basic level to feel empathy for others, though obviously the capacity for empathy varies from person to person.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cows Working Nights to Help Insomniacs

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MUNICH) -- German cows are working nights to help insomniacs.

A herd of 1,400 cows is being milked between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. under the theory they will produce more sleep-inducing melatonin in their milk at a time when they are usually lying down in the dark.

To further boost the melatonin production, the cows are fed clover and soothed under warm red lights to lower stress levels while being milked. During the day when the weather is good, the pampered animals are turned out in a pen with grass and deep, cozy sand, which the workers call "cow beach."

By giving the cows special treatment, the Milchkristalle company says it's getting special milk with 10 times more of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin than normal milk. The milk is freeze-dried and turned into a product known as Nightmilk Crystals, which can be mixed with regular milk or with yogurt and consumed before going to bed.

After six years of research, the Munich-based company says its studies show giving cows different care and milking them during the middle of the night changes the level of nocturnal melatonin in their blood and the milk they produce.

Milchkristalle began selling the Nightmilk Crystals in German pharmacies and through its website in March. Recently, the company's had orders from India, Austria and the U.S.

Melatonin, which is widely available without a prescription in the U.S., is under much stricter restrictions in Europe where it's only available at pharmacies. The hormone is naturally produced by the body and used by the brain to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Doctors often recommend supplements of melatonin for people who have jet lag or work odd shifts.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio