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Science Notes / Psychology, physiology

Human life is all in the eyes

What makes a face look human? Some research says it's all in the eyes.

"There's something fundamentally important about seeing a face and knowing that the lights are on and someone is home," said Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College. She co-wrote a study with graduate student Christine Looser that was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Wheatley said humans can see faces in the moon, a piece of toast, two dots and a line for a nose. But no one believes they are truly alive.

For the study, the women photographed doll faces. They paired them with similar-looking human faces and used morphing software to blend them in a series of photos.

Volunteers were asked which ones were human and which ones were dolls. The tipping point, when they decided they were alive, was about two-thirds of the way along the continuum, closer to the human side. Another experiment found that the eyes were the most important feature for determining life.

Researchers said the results suggest that people scrutinize faces, particularly the eyes, for evidence of life.

"I think we all seek connections with others," Wheatley said. When people see life in a face, they think, "This is a mind I can connect with."

-- Baltimore Sun

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New breast-feeding benefits

Breast-feeding infants for at least six months appears to give children an advantage in school, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Many other studies have also found a small effect on school performance from breast-feeding. This study, however, was unique in that boys appeared to benefit the most. The researchers, from the University of Western Australia in Perth, have followed 2,868 children since the early '90s. The study showed that, at age 10, boys who were breast-fed for six months or longer scored higher in math, reading and spelling compared with boys who were breast-fed for less than six months. Girls who were breast-fed for at least six months showed a small improvement in reading. The researchers controlled for other factors that could influence school performance, such as family income and education and how often the child was read to.

Breast milk is rich in long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids that are critical to brain development. It's not clear why boys showed the largest gains from being breast-fed, but the authors explain that male babies are known to be more vulnerable in infancy than females. They speculate that breast-feeding "accelerates the rate of maturation in boys."

Boys may also benefit more from the mother-child relationship facilitated by breast-feeding. "A number of studies have revealed that male infants are more reliant than female infants on maternal attention and encouragement for the acquisition of cognitive and language skills," the authors wrote.

-- Los Angeles Times

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