TIME Addiction

Habitual Gamblers See Patterns Where There Are None, Study Says

Las Vegas Sands deceived a Nevada court in an attempt to stall a lawsuit by the former head of its Macau operations, a state judge ruled on Friday, fining the casino operator and abridging its right to object in a fight over key evidence. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR386IJ
Siu Chiu—Reuters A croupier sits in front of a gaming table inside a casino on the opening day of Sheraton Macao hotel at Sands Cotai Central in Macau September 20, 2012

"Gamblers are more willing to bet impulsively on perceived illusory patterns," researcher says

Researchers have found gamblers are more prone to find non-existent patterns in completely random sequences — and are more likely to bet on those erroneous perceptions — adding to a large amount of research that suggests pathological gambling is the result of cognitive distortions.

The study, published Wednesday in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies, says that all humans fall victim to illusory patterns — if a roulette ball lands on black five turns in a row, for example, it is normal to think that it must surely land on red next. But compulsive gamblers see more such imaginary patterns and are different to recreational gamblers by their increased likelihood to bet on the false trends.

“Our results suggest that gamblers are more willing to bet impulsively on perceived illusory patterns,” stated co-lead author Wolgang Gaissmaier in a press release.

In a laboratory, the team compared the betting habits of 91 habitual gamblers versus 70 people who were not. Participants were shown pictures of two slot machines and had to predict the winner, but the catch was one had a 67% chance of producing a win while the other machine produced a win only 33% of the time. Participants were not explicitly told of the probability difference but the study said it “could be learned from experience via feedback.”

The results showed that gamblers were more likely than non-gamblers to use ‘probability matching’ — or making predictions based on past results.

“They are overly prone to accept random series of events as, in fact, non-random — and non-random enough to be worth betting on,” said Gaissmaier.

TIME Research

Air Pollution May Make Your Brain Age Faster, Study Says

Air pollution can also increase your risk of a stroke

Long-term exposure to air pollution may cause your brain to age more quickly and put you at higher risk for a stroke, a new study suggests.

Exposure to higher levels of air pollution may be linked to lower total cerebral brain volume, according to a study published in the May issue of Stroke, which analyzed health data from nearly 1,000 men and women over 60 who did not have dementia and had not had a stroke.

Total cerebral brain volume naturally decreases as humans age, resulting in declines in ability to learn new things and retrieve information, but the researchers found that air pollution exposure may be linked to premature brain aging and higher risks for certain brain strokes.

The findings add new knowledge to the impact of air pollution on the structure of the brain, a link that has remained largely unclear in research.

Specifically, a 2 microgram per square meter increase in PM2.5 (particulate matter in the air that is less than 2.5 micrometers wide) was associated with a 0.32% lower total cerebral brain volume, the study said. To put that in context, brain volume decreases at about 0.5% per year after age 40, and PM2.5 levels can vary widely across the world. For example, the PM2.5 in Beijing is about 175 micrograms per square meter, while the PM2.5 in New York City is about 30 micrograms per square meter.

TIME Innovation

Social Justice and the Cellphone Camera

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Technology’s greatest gift to social justice is the mobile phone camera.

By Robinson Meyer in the Atlantic

2. How did America fall so far behind on basic scientific research?

By Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times

3. The U.S. needs a drone oversight board.

By David Medine and Eliza Sweren-Becker in Defense One

4. Here’s how citizen scientists discovered five new supernovas.

By Calla Cofield in Space.com

5. U.S. CEOs are eager to do business in Iran — but they’re not alone.

By Barbara Slavin in Al-Monitor

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Why Girls With Autism Are Diagnosed Later Than Boys

They present symptoms differently than boys, which may result in missed diagnoses

A new study looking at gender differences among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show that girls have different, less obvious symptoms compared to boys, which could be why they are generally diagnosed later.

“There are clearly major gender differences in prevalence of autism, with more than four boys being diagnosed for every girl. However, we have little understanding of the roots of these differences,” says study author Dr. Paul Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. “Are they biological, social, diagnostic, or tied to other factors, such as screening systems?”

Lipkin and his colleagues looked at data on people with ASD and their family members using the Institute’s online registry of 50,000 people. Almost 10,000 of them had reported how old they were when they were first diagnosed, and about 5,000 had undergone a test to identify their severity of social impairment. The study author’s results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego.

The researchers found that in general, girls were diagnosed with ASD later than boys. On average, girls were diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder—an autism spectrum disorder that impacts basic skill development—at age four, and boys were diagnosed with the same disorder at about 3.8 years. Girls were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome around age 7.6 years, while boys were diagnosed around 7.1 years. Interestingly, the researchers noticed that the symptoms reported among the children differed by gender, too. Girls tended to have more issues with the ability to read social cues, and boys had more mannerism-related issues like repetitive behaviors including hand flapping. When boys were older, around age 10-15, they had more social issues like trouble communicating in social settings than girls did.

“These findings suggest that boys’ behavior are more apparent than the girls, with the potential for girls being more difficult to recognize,” says Lipkin. “Since the problems experienced by girls are in social cognition and require social opportunities, they are much more likely to be unnoticed until the elementary school years.”

The researchers say their findings suggest that the symptom differences may not only lead to delayed diagnosis in girls, but potentially missed diagnoses altogether. Understanding the various ways children with ASD present may lead to a better understanding of the disorders.

TIME Research

People With Back Pain May Have Chimpanzee-Shaped Spines

Research shows that people with spines similar to chimpanzees' have more trouble walking upright

People who suffer from lower back pain may have spines that are similar to chimpanzees, new research shows. In a study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers analyzed the spine shapes of modern humans, ancient humans, chimpanzees and orangutans. They found that modern humans who had spine shapes most similar to chimps were more likely to have a small lesion that forms in the disc between vertebrae in the lower back, causing pain. These people’s spines are less well-adapted for walking upright, making them more susceptible to back pain.

The research could help doctors to analyze spine shapes to evaluate which people are most likely to suffer from back pain.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most

Regarding the wellbeing of kids with divorced parents, the debate over what kind of custody arrangement is best rages on. But a new study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both of their parents.

That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

The researchers wanted to see if kids who lived part time with both parents were more stressed than those who lived with just one parent. They looked at national data from almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students—each in either 6th grade or 9th grade—and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% spent time living with both parents and about 13% lived with only one parent.

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys did, and the most frequent problem for girls was sadness. Sleep problems were the most common in kids overall.

In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades; in the 1980s, only 1% of kids of divorced parents lived in joint-custody arrangements, but that number jumped to 40% in 2010. Shared parenting is less common in the U.S., says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization, and he estimates the rate is less than 20%. Still, he says that the research in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming. “You’ll hear opponents say, ‘You’ll turn them into suitcase kids; they don’t want to be dragged back and forth,'” Holstein says. “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

For all the week’s news of interest to families, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

TIME Careers

Women Earn 24% Less Than Men on Average, U.N. Report Finds

New report shows gender pay gap remains sizeable

Women are still earning significantly less money than men, despite working longer hours when paid and unpaid work is taken into account, a new U.N. report reveals.

The U.N. Women report shows that even though more women are in the workplace and taking on leadership positions worldwide, pay levels are nowhere near reaching equality worldwide. On average women around the world earn 24% less than men, the report says, and earn just half of the income men earn over a lifetime. Women in South Asia experience the greatest gender pay gap, earning 33% less than men. The Middle East and North Africa have a 14% pay gap.

Women do nearly 2½ times more unpaid and domestic work compared with men and are less likely to receive a pension. Only half of working-age women are in the workforce compared to three-fourths of working-age men.

As a solution, the report suggests creating an economy that prioritizes women’s needs. It provides 10 recommendations for governments and other key players to adopt, such as creating more and better jobs for women, reducing occupational segregation, and establishing benchmarks to assess progress in women’s economic and social rights.

TIME Research

Health Stores Often Promote Diet Pills to Minors

TIME.com stock photos Health Prescription Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Despite warnings that they are intended for adults

Health store employees will often promote the use of over-the-counter body-changing supplements to minors, despite the fact that they often contain warnings that they are intended for adults.

In new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego, researchers had study participants call 244 health food stores in 49 states and identify themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls. The researchers discovered that even though testosterone boosters are not recommended for kids and teens under age 18 without a medical reason, 9.8% of sales associates recommended them. Testosterone boosters contain messaging indicating they are for adults only, but 41% of the sales associates told the callers they thought were 15 that they could buy them on their own.

Health store employees would frequently recommend supplements for callers posing as teen girls who said they were looking to lose weight.

“Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results,” says Dr. Ruth Milanaik of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results’ are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body.”

Though the research is preliminary and still a relatively small study size, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says dietary supplements have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in kids. Despite the research and warnings, though, the study authors note that it is still legal for minors to purchase these supplements in 49 states.

To keep up with all the news that affects your kids, sign up TIME’s free weekly newsletter here.

TIME Research

This Is What Happens When You Read to a Child

child reading book
Getty Images

Reading activiates an important part of a child's brain

For years, child advocacy groups have recommended that parents read to babies, even though research hasn’t been clear on what the practice does to a child’s brain. Now, a new brain scan study explains that reading to a child early and often activates the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language.

The study, presented last weekend at a meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, looked at 19 preschoolers and their interactions with their parents. Nearly 40% of the children came from low-income backgrounds. Parents filled out a questionnaire that assessed their habits for raising their children and included questions asking whether the parents had taught their children skills like counting, how often the parents talked with their kids and how early and often parents read to their children.

MORE: Kindergarteners Watch More Than 3 Hours of TV a Day

Researchers then attached brain scanners to the children as they listened to stories. Reading at home with children from an early age was strongly correlated with brain activation in areas connected with visual imagery and understanding the meaning of language.

“For parents, it adds credence to the idea of reading with kids,” says study author John S. Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Getting a peek into the brain, there seem to be some differences there that are pretty exciting.”

MORE: 6-Month-Old Babies Are Now Using Tablets and Smartphones

The study adds to past research showing that reading has many positive effects on young children, like teaching the rules of syntax, expanding children’s vocabulary and helping children bond with their parents, Hutton says. But the new study is among the first to add real understanding of what actually happens to young brains.

Hutton says he hopes that further research will help us provide parents with guidelines on best practices for reading to children.

“This is sort of an early signal,” Hutton says. “In terms of how much and how often, that’s the kind of thing we’re hoping that future studies will look into.”

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TIME Research

6-Month-Old Babies Are Now Using Tablets and Smartphones

smartphone-front-view
Getty Images

Babies are using mobile media

Over a third of children under the age of 1 have used a device like a smartphone or tablet, according to a new study.

The study, which was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, showed that by age 2, most kids have used mobile devices. To reach these findings the study authors surveyed 370 parents of kids between the ages of 6 months to 4 years about their exposure to media and electronics.

Overall, technology in the home was common. The survey results show 97% of the families’ homes had TVs, 83% had tablets, 77% had smartphones and 59% had Internet access. According to the parents’ responses, 52% of kids under the age of 1 year had watched TV, 36% had touched or scrolled a screen, 24% had called someone, 15% used apps and 12% played video games. The amount of time the children spent using devices rose as they got older, with 26% of 2-year-olds and 38% of 4-year-olds using devices for at least an hour.

Given the ubiquity of electronics, it’s not so surprising that children come across media and devices in the home. Still, the researchers note that the children in this study were often very young and that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) frowns upon television and other media exposure for kids under the age of 2. The AAP says excessive media use can contribute to school trouble, attention problems and obesity, according to studies, and that Internet and cell-phone use can be platforms for risky behavior.

The survey results also suggest that parents let their children use media or mobile tech as distraction. For instance, the study showed 73% of surveyed parents let their kids play with mobile devices while they were doing chores around the house. Sixty percent said they let children use them while running errands, 65% to calm their child and 29% to put their kid to sleep. Just 30% of the parents in the survey said they spoke to their pediatrician about media use.

“A better understanding of the use of mobile media in young children and how it varies by population groups is critical to help develop educational strategies for both parents and health providers,” the study authors write.

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