TIME Research

Why Autism Is Different in the Brains of Girls Than in Boys

The reasons why girls are less often diagnosed may be both biological and social

Autism, already a mysterious disorder, is even more puzzling when it comes to gender differences. For every girl diagnosed with autism, four boys are diagnosed, a disparity researchers don’t yet fully understand.

In a new study published in the journal Molecular Autism, researchers from the UC Davis MIND Institute tried to figure out a reason why. They looked at 112 boys and 27 girls with autism between ages 3 and 5 years old, as well as a control sample of 53 boys and 29 girls without autism. Using a process called diffusion-tensor imaging, the researchers looked at the corpus callosum — the largest neural fiber bundle in the brain — in the young kids. Prior research has shown differences in that area of the brain among people with autism.

They found that the organization of these fibers was different in boys compared with girls, especially in the frontal lobes, which play a role in executive functions. “The sample size is still limited, but this work adds to growing body of work suggesting boys and girls with autism have different underlying neuroanatomical differences,” said study author Christine Wu Nordahl, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in an email.

In other preliminary research presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, or IMFAR, in Salt Lake City, the study authors showed that when girls and boys with autism are compared with typically developing boys and girls, the behavioral differences between girls with autism and the female controls are greater than the differences among the boys. Nordahl says this suggests that girls can be more severely affected than boys.

A study earlier this year by a separate group found notable differences in symptoms between autistic boys and girls, which could be one of the reasons autism in girls sometimes goes unnoticed or is diagnosed late. Girls generally display less obvious behavioral symptoms at a young age compared with boys, the researchers found.

One of the reasons females with autism are less understood than males is that most research studies do not have equal numbers of boys and girls, says Nordahl. “This is not surprising, given that there are so many more males with autism than females,” she says. “We need to do a better job of trying to recruit females with autism into our studies so that we can fully explore differences between males and females with autism.”

Nordahl says understanding gender differences in autism affects how kids are diagnosed, as well as how they are treated. Understanding what biological differences may be at work can ultimately lead to a better understanding of autism and the best interventions for treatment.

TIME Research

How Self-Promotion Can Backfire

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There are social consequences to tooting your own horn too often

Tuesday in social faux pas news comes a paper showing that when we try to make people like us, we often come across as braggy and annoying.

We often practice a little self-promotion when we’re trying to be impressive. Turns out, it doesn’t always come across the way we want it to. New research published in the journal Psychological Science shows that people frequently overestimate how much their self-promotion works in their favor and underestimate how much it achieves the opposite effect.

“These results are particularly important in the Internet age, when opportunities for self-promotion have proliferated via social networking. The effects may be exacerbated by the additional distance between people sharing information and their recipient, which can both reduce the empathy of the self-promoter and decrease the sharing of pleasure by the recipient,” said study author Irene Scopelliti, a lecturer in marketing at City University London in a statement.

To better understand the phenomena, researchers conducted a few experiments. In the first they asked people to describe in detail a time they bragged about themselves, what emotions they felt, and how they think the person listening to them felt. Then, another group of people were asked to describe a time when they listened to someone brag about themselves, as well as what emotions they felt and how they think the other person felt. The results showed that the people who did the bragging tended to think the people who were listening to them felt happier and more proud of them than they actually did. They were also likely to underestimate how annoying the listener thought they were.

A third part of the study, where the researches asked people to make a positive impression of themselves, showed that, indeed, people tended to brag about themselves to do it. That, too, backfired.

So next time you have something to brag about, consider your audience. Your true friends and family may still want to lend an ear, but that person you’re trying to impress may just find your self-promotion irritating rather than remarkable.

TIME Research

This Fish Can Make Its Own Sunscreen

A new study shows many animals can make their own sunscreen, which could help humans down the line

Many animals, especially marine animals like zebrafish and sea urchin as well as some birds, can create their own sunlight protection compound, according to a new study. It may one day be possible to use this process to create a better method of sun protection for humans.

In a new study published in the journal eLife, Oregon State University researchers show that zebrafish can produce a compound called gadusol which protects them from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Even in the deep blue sea, marine animals can be exposed to sunlight. The researchers looked at how the zebrafish produced gadusol and were able to reproduce the process in yeast. The hope is that one day the science could lead the production of a pill or an ingredient added to cosmetics that would provide the same benefit for humans.

Their study reveals what the researchers call the “unexpected discovery” that fish can produce gadusol themselves, while previously it was believed that the compound was obtained through their diet. They found that the same pathways for synthesizing gadusol is present in other animals like birds and reptiles.

Humans don’t have the same genes that encode for the production of gadusol, but since the process can be replicated in yeast it’s possible that the science could eventually lead the creation of an ingredient that could provide humans with extra sun protection.

TIME Research

The Weird Link Between Celiac Disease and Nerve Damage

A new study on every celiac in Sweden

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes intestinal damage when a person eats gluten, is still something of a medical mystery. But a new Swedish study adds another piece to the puzzle.

People with celiac disease have a 2.5-fold increased risk of developing neuropathy, or nerve damage, found a new study published in JAMA Neurology. In the new nationwide study, pediatrician Dr. Jonas F. Ludvigsson, professor of clinical epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and his team wanted to look at the risk of developing neuropathy in a sample of people diagnosed with celiac disease. They gathered data from every person diagnosed with celiac disease in Sweden between 1969 and 2008—28,232 celiac sufferers in all. Each of them had been tested with a small-intestine biopsy.

(Most of them, interestingly, were women. About 60% of people with celiac disease are women; more females than males are diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, Ludvigsson says, for a reason researchers haven’t yet determined.)

For every celiac patient, Ludvigsson also found five people identical in age, sex, birth year and place of residence in Sweden as controls. He followed them for an average of 10 years to see who developed a diagnosis of neuropathy.

MORE: You Asked: Do I Have a Gluten Allergy?

The researchers found that having celiac disease was associated with a significant increased risk of developing nerve damage later. “It’s quite a high figure, compared to many other outcomes in celiac disease,” Ludvigsson says. Having a diagnosis is automatically a risk factor for getting a diagnosis for any other disease, he explains, since going to the doctor for one thing boosts the chances the doctor will find something else—a phenomenon known as surveillance bias. But the increase here is too high to merely be due to bias, he says. “There is a real association between celiac disease and neuropathy…we have precise risk estimates in a way we haven’t had before.”

Previous work has shown that in the U.S., 39% of people with celiac disease also had symptoms of neuropathy. About 1% of the population has celiac disease, and that number is similar in Sweden and the U.K.

“I think this paper could actually change clinical practice somewhat,” Ludvigsson says. When a neurologist diagnoses a patient with neuropathy but finds no obvious cause, he might consider screening that patient for celiac disease, Ludvigsson says. “Some of these patients will be diagnosed with celiac disease, will have a gluten-free diet and will actually feel better and be healthier.”

TIME Health Care

How a New Study on Premature Babies Could Influence the Abortion Debate

Pro-life advocates say the research supports their arguments

A new study showing that a tiny percentage of extremely premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive with extensive medical intervention could change the national conversation about abortion, though the research is unlikely to have a major effect on women’s access to abortions in the short term.

Anti-abortion advocates said the study—which was published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday and found that 3.5% percent of 357 infants born at 22 weeks could survive without severe health problems if hospitals treated them—could benefit the anti-abortion movement by sparking discussion about the viability of premature babies.

“Some people are strongly committed to pro-life, some are strongly committed to the other side,” but many fall somewhere in the middle, said Burke Balch, director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee, the non-profit advocacy organization. “The fact that those children could survive will affect those in the middle.”

The anti-abortion movement has tried to shift attention away from women who seek abortions—as in, debates on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest—and instead focus on the unborn baby, using the argument that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks to justify state bans on abortion after that time. Some 13 states have banned abortion after 20 weeks, according to Naral Pro-Choice America, a non-profit advocacy organization. Other states, such as Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia have started debating such measures this year. The 20-week bans, Balch said, are partially designed to bring the focus back to the child—and the new data on premature babies will make that easier. “It strengthens the persuasiveness argument, even if it doesn’t impact the legal argument,” he said.

While anti-abortion advocates hope the study will shift public opinion, the fact that a small number of babies can survive at 22 weeks with extraordinary interventions will likely not have a large impact on a woman’s ability to get an abortion today, experts said.

The Supreme Court has held that states can restrict abortions if the fetus is viable—able to survive outside the womb—even if the mother’s health is not threatened by the pregnancy. But there is no strict legal definition of viability; instead, it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual doctor. While it is possible that the study could affect a doctor’s decision about the viability of a pregnancy, doctors would usually focus more on the details of the specific case. And few doctors and clinics offer abortions at such a late stage anyway, experts added.

“Viability has never been a set number,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the reproductive health non-profit. “It is determined by each doctor based on the woman and the pregnancy and it varies. That’s what the medical community has said and what Roe v. Wade says, and that’s unchanged by this study, which is about the extremely intensive care that is provided in some places.”

Though the new research has sparked discussion of abortion, its real relevance is for expectant parents researching the medical treatment available for premature babies, particularly those who may want to find out whether their hospital provides interventions to save babies at 22 weeks.

“I think it’s important information, especially for women excited about having a baby,” says Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state laws governing reproduction at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. “It’s much more tangential to abortion, except that abortion opponents will look to this information to try to restrict access, and that’s where we have to pay attention.”

TIME Research

Here’s What Time of Day Babies Are Born

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Just in time for Mother's Day, a new report shows when babies are most likely to be born

According to new data, American mothers-to-be aren’t having too many late night surprises. A new report shows the highest percentage of U.S. births in 2013 (the most recent data available) happened during morning and midday hours.

The new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics looked at 2013 birth certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), and found that the highest percentage of births took place occurred during the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon. Less than 3% of babies were born during each hour from midnight to 6:59 a.m.

Though most births happen during the day, the latest findings report that when babies are born on a Saturday or Sunday, they are more likely to happen in the late evening or overnight—11:00 p.m. through 5:59 a.m.—compared to births that happen between Monday to Friday.

When it comes to how women gave birth, there were also some distinct patterns in timing. The researchers reported that compared to with induced and non-induced vaginal deliveries, cesarean deliveries were the least likely to occur during evening and early morning. Non-induced vaginal births were more likely to happen in the early morning compared to cesarean and induced vaginal births. Births in out-of-hospital settings were most likely to happen in the early morning hours starting at 1:00 a.m.

“As the use of medical interventions for childbirth (i.e., induction of labor and cesarean delivery) has increased during the last few decades, an increasing proportion of deliveries occur during regular daytime hours,” the study authors write. Understanding when women are most likely giving birth and what types of births are occurring when, can help hospitals better prepare to ensure mother and child are healthy.

TIME Research

Some Premature Babies Can Survive After Only 22 Weeks, Study Says

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Roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the U.S. each year

A new study has found that some premature babies can survive outside the womb with medical treatment as early as 22 weeks into pregnancy.

The study, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises questions about treatment practices for premature babies while also adding a new layer to the abortion debate.

Hospitals vary in how they approach treatment for babies born before 24 weeks, widely viewed to be the minimum age of viability, the New York Times reports. But the study, which analyzed almost 5,000 babies born at between 22 and 27 weeks, found that a small number of babies born at 22 weeks could survive with treatment, some with long-term impairment. Those that were not treated died.

Each year, roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the US, according to the Times.

[NYT]

TIME Careers & Workplace

You’re More Likely to Be Enthusiastic at Work If You Have a Female Boss

That applies whether you're a man or a woman

Women managers have an advantage over their male peers when it comes to motivating employees, researchers say.

A Gallup study, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, found that 33% of employees are engaged when a woman runs the show, compared to 25% with a man at the helm.

Female managers also tend to be more enthusiastic about their own jobs than their male counterparts.

Gallup found 41% of female managers feel engaged at work compared to 35% of male managers.

The study also found that women managers were more enthusiastic at work than men, regardless of whether they had children.

When it came to same-sex management, the study found that female employees were on average more likely to feel involved in their work (35%) if their boss was a woman, compared to just 25% of male employees who show enthusiasm with a male manager.

The study also found women were better at encouraging their subordinates’ development, checking in on their employees’ progress and tended to provide more positive or constructive feedback.

Gallup says it hopes the results will encourage organizations to hire and promote more women managers. Currently only one third of Americans have a female boss.

TIME Music

Hip-Hop Was the Biggest Revolution in American Music and That’s Backed By a Study of 17,000 Songs

Photo of Public Enemy Jan. 1, 1991
Ebet Roberts—Redferns/Getty Images Photo of Public Enemy , on Jan. 1, 1991

Forget the British invasion of the 1960s or the synth-pop of the 1980s

The explosion of hip-hop onto the music scene in the 1990s was the biggest musical revolution in American pop history.

That’s according to a team of scientists who, for the first time, have analyzed the evolution of Western pop music, spanning from 1960 to 2010, and published their findings in the Royal Society Open Journal.

The team, from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, looked at 30-second snippets from about 17,000 songs from the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 over a 50-year period. The researchers studied trends in style and diversity as well as how harmony, chord changes and tonal quality changed over time.

“We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed,” said lead author of the study Matthias Mauch.

Mauch’s team found that there were three distinct music revolutions: 1964, 1983 and 1991.

1964 was the start of “British invasion” when bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones flooded the American charts. But contrary to popular belief, these bands didn’t initiate the rock revolution, they were merely following existing trends.

The rise of new technologies — such as synthesizers, samplers and drum machines — in the 1980s ushered in a new style of music, personified in bands like Duran Duran or the Eurythmics.

But then hip-hop exploded into the mainstream in the 1990s, sparking the biggest music revolution in 50 years.

“The rise of rap and related genres appears, then, to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied,” Mauch said.

TIME Research

How Onions May Be Used as Artificial Muscles

Onions can bend, contract and elongate just like muscles

Imagine getting an onion transplant to replace an injured muscle. It may sound absurd, but new research published in the journal Applied Physics Letters suggests that onions have ideal properties for use as artificial muscles.

Researchers from the National Taiwan University in Taipei put onions through a variety of tests to measure their potential as artificial muscles. First, the researchers removed a single layer of the inside of the onion. They then freeze-dried the cells to remove water that could cause rupturing later on. Finally, they added small layers if gold to allow the onion to respond to electric current prompting it to move.

In the end, they found that onions bend, contract and elongate in response to external action, just like muscles. When the researchers applied the right voltage to the onion, it would contract and grip a ball of cotton.

Vegetable cells are promising for use in the body because they can perform many of the same functions when they are no longer living, unlike many other cells. “People have tried to use live muscle before. But then how to keep the muscle cells alive becomes a problem. We use vegetable cells because the cell walls provide muscle strength whether the cells are alive or not,” Wen-Pin Shih, a study researcher, told Smithsonian magazine.

Still, researchers say issues remain that may make it difficult to use onions in human beings. For one, the voltage required to trigger the movement may be too high.

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