TIME Brain

Learning to Read Does Not End in Fourth Grade

Girl learning to read
Cultura RM/Gary John Norman—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM

Do you remember when reading stopped requiring so much effort, and became almost second nature?

Probably not, but researchers have long believed that it probably happened some time during fourth grade. That’s when, they thought, word-processing tended to become more automatic and less deliberate, and you started to read to learn, as opposed to learning to read.

But a new study published in the journal Developmental Science questions that assumption, showing that children are still learning to read past fourth and even fifth grade. The shift to automatic word-processing, in which the brain recognizes whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, allowing fluid reading that helps the reader focus on the content of the text rather than on the words, may occur later than previously thought.

To test when this process develops, researchers fitted 96 college, third, fourth and fifth grade students with electrode caps to scan their brains as they were shown on a screen real words, fake words, strings of letters and strings of random symbols.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders processed real words, fake words, and letter strings similarly to the college students, showing that some automatic word-processing begins as early as third grade. But only the college students processed the meaningless symbols differently from actual words—which suggests that brain activity in the three groups of young children remained the same whether they were processing real words or not. While they showed some signs of automatic word processing, or no longer exerting effort to read, for the most part the younger children still treated familiar and unfamiliar words in the same way.

However, when the researchers switched to a written test, which presumably gave the participants the more time to think about the distinctions, all groups scored above 95 percent, showing that with some effort, or when their conscious brains were involved, the children also realized the difference between real and fake words.

That suggests that for the young children, the processing wasn’t automatic just yet. Study author Donna Coch, associate professor of education at Dartmouth, says that it’s not that fourth graders can’t read well, but rather they aren’t quite as efficient as adults at reading.

“You have a limited amount of resources, and if you’re using them on words that could not be words in your language, that’s taking up resources that could be used in word processing,” says Coch. “If you don’t have to put in effort to sound out words, you can pay more attention to understanding.”

So if fourth-graders aren’t quite reading to learn, then when does the shift toward more complete automatic word-processing occur? According to Coch, that probably happens some time between fifth grade and college—a period she says that hasn’t been studied.

For now, the results strongly suggest that reading skills need to continue to be nurtured during that period. “This certainly does suggest that teachers beyond fourth grade are still teachers of reading,” says Coch.

TIME Brain

Want to Learn a Language? Don’t Try So Hard

If at first you don't succeed, trying again might not help you when it comes to learning languages.

A new study from MIT shows that trying harder can actually make some aspects of learning a new language more difficult. While researchers have known that adults have a harder time with new languages than children do, the latest findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that adults’ stronger cognitive abilities may actually trip them up.

Children have a “sensitive period” for learning language that lasts until puberty, and during these years, certain parts of the brain are more developed than others. For example, they are adept at procedural memory, which study author Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, describes as the “memory system we get for free.” It’s involved in tasks we learn unconsciously such as riding a bike, dancing, or subtle language rules. It’s a system that learns from observing and from experience; neural circuits in the brain build a set of rules for constructing words and sentences by absorbing and analyzing information—like sounds—from the world around them.

“The procedural memory is already in place for an infant and working well, and not interacting with other brain functions,” says Finn. However, as people age, another memory system that is less based on exploratory processes starts to mature, and control the language learning process. “As an adult, you have really useful late-developing memory systems that take over and do everything.”

In essence, adults may over-analyze new language rules or sounds and try to make them fit into some understandable and coherent pattern that makes sense to them. But a new language may involve grammar rules that aren’t so easily explained, and adults have more difficulty overcoming those obstacles than children, who simply absorb the rules or exceptions and learn from them. That’s especially true with pronunciation, since the way we make sounds is something that is established early in life, and becomes second nature.

“Adults are much better at picking up things that are going to immediately help them like words and things that will help them navigate a supermarket,” says Finn. “You can learn language functionally as an adult, but you’ll never sound like a native speaker.”

So how can adults remove their own roadblocks to learning new languages? Finn says more research needs to be done to determine if adults can ever go back to learning languages like children, but linguists are looking at a variety of options. A few include “turning off” certain areas of the brain using a drug or a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which might allow adults to be more open to accepting new language rules and sounds.

Finn also hopes to study adults performing a challenging task while they learn a language, which is another way of distracting the cognitive portions of the brain from focusing on the new language, to see if that can help them to absorb more linguistic information.

TIME Television

Finally, Homeland Season 4 Trailer Revealed!

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland.
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland. Jim Fiscus—Showtime

Featuring Carrie Mathison in the Pakistani danger zone

Homeland fans, rejoice!

The first look at the drama’s fourth season is out today, and it looks just as intense as ever.

The trailer shows Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in Pakistan, still doing what looks like lots of dangerous things and angering her colleagues. There’s not much else we know yet, but you can see lots of explosions, as well as Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) playing their usual selves.

The new season of Showtime’s spy show will premiere Oct. 5.

TIME

Putin’s Approval Rating Reaches Record High in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles while speaking with journalists in Itamaraty Palace in Brazilia, early on July 17, 2014. Alexei Nikolsky—AFP/Getty Images

Russians are also satisfied with their freedom, military and elections

Amid the conflict in Ukraine and growing discord with European neighbors and Western countries, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Russians has climbed to its highest level in years, according to a new Gallup poll.

Eighty-three percent of Russians approve of the job Russia’s president is doing. This ties his top rating in 2008 and marks a 29 percentage point increase from Putin’s rating in 2013.

For the first time since 2008, a majority of Russians say their country’s leadership is moving them in the right direction. In addition, 78% have confidence in their military, 64% in their national government, and 39% say that they are confident in the honesty of Russian elections.

But Russians’ positivity isn’t limited to their government. A record high of 65% of Russians said they were satisfied with their freedom in 2014. A significant group–35 %–also said they thought economic conditions were improving.

While Russians are satisfied with their own government, the poll showed they are increasingly turning away from Western countries. Both U.S. and European Union leadership had single digit approval ratings. One country Russians do approve of is China. The poll showed Russians’ approval for China soared this year to a record 42%. In recent months, the two countries have shown close economic ties, signing a $400 billion gas deal this spring.

TIME Video Games

This Former Dictator Is Suing the Call of Duty Makers

Manuel Noriega of Panama says the game used his image without permission

The former dictator of Panama is not happy with how he looks in the popular Call of Duty: Black Ops II video game.

Manuel Noriega filed suit Tuesday against video game developer Activision Blizzard, according to the New York Times. The 80-year-old former dictator, who is currently in jail in Panama for money laundering, claims the video game company used his image without his permission.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and alleges that Call of Duty wrongly depicted Noriega as a “kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state,” according to the Times. Noriega is seeking lost profits and damages.

Noriega was the dictator of Panama from 1983 until 1989, when the U.S. invaded the country to overthrow him and bring him back to America for trial. He was convicted in Miami of turning his country into a hub for Colombian cocaine traffickers and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Noriega has also been convicted in Panama of embezzlement, corruption and ordering the murder of political prisoners.

An Activision spokesperson declined to comment on the suit. A lawyer for Noriega, Graham B. LippSmith, was not immediately available to comment.

[NYT]

TIME Crime

Prostitute Charged in Google Exec’s Death Pleads Not Guilty

Alix Tichelman
Alix Tichelman, left, confers with public defender Diane August during her arraignment in Santa Cruz Superior Court Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Shmuel Thaler—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alix Tichelman was charged with manslaughter, great bodily injury and heroin possession

A prostitute accused of causing the death of a Google executive by heroin overdose pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, great bodily injury and heroin possession on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors said they will review the case and may bring more serious charges against Alix Tichelman, 26. A defense attorney said Tichelman had no reason to kill the executive.

Google executive Forrest Hayes was found dead on his yacht in November after Tichelman allegedly shot him up with heroin and left him unconscious. The high-priced prostitute did not help the 51-year-old Hayes or call 911, according to police.

Surveillance footage reportedly shows the suspect pick up the heroin, needles and her belongings, then step over Hayes’ body and finish a glass of wine before closing a blind and leaving the yacht.

Tichelman’s bail was set at $1.5 million and the Santa Cruz County judge refused to reduce the amount.

[AP]

TIME movies

See Benicio del Toro as Pablo Escobar in Paradise Lost Teaser

Josh Hutcherson also features

+ READ ARTICLE

Benicio del Toro is known for playing shady villains, but in Paradise Lost, slated to premiere this fall, he plays one of the most notorious drug barons in history.

In the first teaser trailer, released Wednesday, del Toro appears as Pablo Escobar. The film also features Josh Hutcherson as a surfer, Nick. The movie reportedly focuses on Hutcherson’s character as he visits his brother in Colombia and falls in love with a girl named Maria. The drama comes when Nick meets Maria’s uncle (Del Toro), Colombia’s cocaine king.

TIME Sex

Intimacy Addiction Looks Similar to Drug Addiction, Study Finds

Watching porn triggers similar brain activity as drug exposure, study says

There’s still debate over whether sex addiction exists, but a new study on porn and the brain provides more evidence that consuming explicit material is addicting. The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that sex addiction, scientifically known as compulsive sexual behavior, may actually be similar to drug addiction in the brain.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s department of psychiatry discovered that watching pornography triggers brain activity similar to what drug addicts experience when they’re shown drugs.

In the study, the researchers looked at 19 men with compulsive sexual behavior and 19 healthy men. The participants either watched sexually explicit videos or sports while the researchers monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The imaging showed that three regions of the brain—the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala—were more active in the men with compulsive sexual behavior compared to the healthy participants. Interestingly, these are the same areas stimulated in drug addicts when they’re shown drugs. The ventral striatum helps process reward and motivation and the dorsal anterior cingulate is involved in anticipating rewards and drug cravings. The amygdala processes events and emotions.

After watching the videos, the participants also rated their level of sexual desire and how much they enjoyed the videos. Previous research has shown that at a certain point, drug addicts use their drug of choice because they need it, and not necessarily because they like the feeling. As the researchers expected, the patients with compulsive sexual behavior reported higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos even though they did not necessarily like them more. Their desire was also correlated with higher interactions between the three areas of the brain during the explicit videos than for the sports.

The men with compulsive sexual behavior also reported starting to watch pornography at earlier ages, and they consumed it at a higher rate than the healthy group. The researchers noticed that younger participants—particularly those with compulsive sexual behavior—had greater levels of activity in the ventral striatum after watching pornography. This, the study authors believe, suggests the ventral striatum is involved in the development of compulsive sexual behaviors like it is in drug addiction. Since people’s brains continue developing into their mid-20s, teens often take more risks and are more susceptible to impulsive behavior.

Despite the findings, the investigators still caution against making any conclusive leaps until more research is done. After all, the study sampling was small, and there’s still disagreement over whether sex is really addictive.

“Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn – or that porn is inherently addictive,” lead study author Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at Cambridge, said in a statement. “Much more research is required to understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behaviour and drug addiction.”

TIME Accidents

CDC: Anthrax Scare Caused by Lack of Oversight

Anthrax
BSIP/UIG—Getty Images/Universal Images Group

Another incident occurred after the anthrax exposure

Last month’s anthrax accident was caused by scientists’ failure to follow an appropriate study plan, a lack of standard procedures for documenting when biological agents are properly inactivated and a lack of oversight, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The report, called for by the CDC’s director, reviewed the June incident in which researchers were exposed to potentially viable anthrax. It includes information about what went wrong and details actions the agency is taking to address the incident and prevent similar ones from happening again.

Not only did scientists at the Atlanta lab not follow an approved written study plan when handling the anthrax, but they also used a procedure that may not have adequately inactivated the samples of B. anthracis. The procedure the scientists used inactivates B. anthracis cells after 10 minutes, but the researchers were dealing with spores, which are more resistant to chemical inactivation and so a small percentage remained viable.

While the agency was conducting its internal review, another CDC lab had a separate incident in which a culture of non-pathogenic avian flu was unintentionally cross-contaminated with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. It was then shipped to a Level 3 select-agent United States Department of Agriculture lab. No one was exposed, but the lab is closed pending a review.

Due to the anthrax and the cross-contamination incidents, the CDC has placed a moratorium on the movement of all biological materials, active and inactive, from Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 4 facilities. These facilities handle microbes that can cause fatal infections that are transmitted easily by inhalation.

The review initiated an investigation in to the H5N1 incident, reported the incident to the proper channels, took personnel action, and established several groups to review CDC lab safety. One review group, which sits under the CDC’s Associate Director for Science, will look at the systems, procedures, and personnel issues leading to the anthrax event. A separate working group will report to the CDC director and serve as the point of accountability on lab safety for the time being.

TIME Research

This Scent Can Help Heal Wounds, Study Says

Sandalwood
Getty Images

By activating olfactory receptors in your skin

Get a whiff of this: Skin cells have olfactory receptors, and when those receptors are exposed to sandalwood, a popular ingredient in perfumes and incense sticks, the resulting changes in cell activity could facilitate wound healing, says study author Dr. Hans Hatt of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany. The research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

While people typically think of olfactory receptors as having to do with smell, this isn’t always the case. Humans have about 350 olfactory receptors in the nose, but previous studies have shown they also exist in sperm, in the prostate, in kidneys and in our intestine. This is the first time that olfactory receptors have been found in keratinocytes—cells that form the outermost layer of the skin. And Hatt’s team discovered that when those receptors in the skin—called OR2AT4—were in proximity to synthetic sandalwood, they became activated, prompting cell proliferation and cell migration.

Hatt said it was difficult to convince the scientific community of his team’s findings. “I feel a mission to convince my colleagues, and especially clinicians, that this huge family of olfactory receptors plays an important role in cell physiology,” says Hatt.

Hatt is curious about the other discoveries this research could lead to, including applications for cancer, because some cancer T-cells have olfactory receptors, as well as in cosmetic or wound-healing applications.

“It will be a lot of work to study the function of these receptors, but it may open an enormous group of exciting targets,” Hatt said.

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