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September 13, 2019

Weekend reads: Rats love hide and seek, researchers find

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    Napping might be good for your heart—but not too much. Napping may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, but too much napping in a week might raise it, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. For the study, researchers observed over 3,000 people in Switzerland who were grouped based on the number of naps they take each week. Most of the participants said they never napped, some said they napped once or twice a week, and others—termed "frequent nappers"—said they napped at least three times a week. After following the participants for just over five years, the researchers found that those who took one to two naps a week suffered the fewest heart attacks—but those who napped almost every day had the most heart attacks and strokes.

    How Barcelona saved lives with "superblocks." In 2016, Barcelona in a controversial move closed off a three-square-block chunk of the neighborhood of Poblenou to vehicle traffic and designated it as a "superblock," reserving the streets for cyclists and pedestrians. The idea has started gaining popularity, and a new study published in Environment International suggests that the concept could save lives. The study used known exposure and mortality rates associated with factors such as air pollution, traffic noise, physical activity, and air temperature, and determined that Barcelona could prevent 667 premature deaths each year by establishing a total of 503 superblocks in the city. The researchers projected the greatest decrease in deaths—291 premature fatalities—would stem from decreased air pollution.

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    Rats love hide and seek, researchers find. A lot of animals like to play, but studying play in animals can be difficult since research requires control and conditioning. So to better understand the neuroscience of play in animals, a group of researchers at the Humbold University of Berlin trained a group of rats to play hide and seek. The researchers put six adolescent rats in a 300-square foot room equipped with boxes and other places to hide. The rats learned how to play within a couple of weeks and clearly understood the rules of the game. While it's possible that the rats played along to receive rewards, Annika Reinhold, a researcher in the lab realized that the rats would run away and re-hide after being discovered, which delayed their social reward. "It seemed really playful," she said. This led Reinhold and the other researchers to realize the rats were playing for fun. "It's rare in neuroscience to see rats that are so engaged in a task," Juan Ignacio Sanguinetti-Scheck, a researcher with the lab, said.

    Students learn more through active learning, but they think otherwise. A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that students who engage in active learning learn more than peers in lecture classes, but they feel like they learn less. For the study, students at Harvard University were taught the same course materials in different ways. The groups were either "told directly how to solve each problem," which is common in lecture-oriented classes, "or were first asked to try to solve the problems themselves in small groups," a form of active learning, according to the researchers. The researchers then tested how much the students learned, as well as their perceptions of the class. According to Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, while the students in the active learning group did better on assessments of the material, "[b]ut it just happened that students felt more positive about a highly-polished version of the same lecture." According to the researchers, "when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning," which may have a negative impact on their "motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning."

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