Dance like no one is watching—or so they say. But people often are watching. Truth be told, they’re judging your moves. A study published last week in Scientific Reports used video of a variety of dancing women to pinpoint how observers distinguish good dancers from bad. If you care about such things, there’s one big takeaway: Swing those hips. And if you guessed all this has something to do with sex, you guessed right.
My reporting and writing on science, health, learning, parenting and other subjects has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American Mind, Parents, and Redbook. Here are some selected articles ranging from my latest work to a few old favorites.
Pregnancy doesn’t just leave stretch marks. It changes a woman’s brain in ways that are “pronounced and long-lasting” and that appear to help new mothers bond with their babies. Those are the striking conclusions from a study published this month in Nature Neuroscience that the authors say is the first evidence of its kind.
Picture two female chimpanzees hanging out under a tree. One grooms the other, systematically working long fingers through fur, picking out bugs and bits of leaves. The recipient sprawls sleepily on the ground, looking as relaxed as someone enjoying a spa day. A subsequent surreptitious measurement of her levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and pleasure, would confirm that she is pretty happy.
And why not? Grooming appears to be a pleasurable way to spend time. Many species of apes and monkeys devote long chunks of the day to it. Among other things, grooming can curry favor and strengthen alliances so it is likely that of these two chimps, the female being primped is of equal or greater rank in the troop than the one doing the work.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has put lead back in the news. By now, anyone who’s paying attention must know that lead is a potent neurotoxin that can permanently affect a child’s ability to learn. But I suspect very few understand what it is exactly that lead does to a child’s brain. How else could politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claim that the situation is “overdramatized?”
From the start, it was a provocative theory that ran counter to prevailing beliefs about both the immune system and autism, and in the early days Van de Water was one of its few proponents. “We’ve been swimming upstream — still are,” she says. Her peers criticized Van de Water’s work on the grounds that her results didn’t support her claims. And they were deeply upset when, in 2013, Van de Water formed a licensing partnership with a San Diego-based company called Pediatric Bioscience. That deal was aimed at developing a maternal antibody screen that might allow for early diagnosis of autism or, if performed prenatally, indicate the risk of having a child with autism. “This is very, very premature,” Yale University autism researcher George Anderson told Science at the time.