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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

Brains and Birth Order

Posted February 18, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Birth order intelligence

This is less of a blog post and more of a memo to my younger siblings. I was right all along. I am smarter than you.

Oldest siblings everywhere are walking around cocksure and vindicated this week thanks to a study from an international team of scientists that determined oldest children perform better on IQ tests.

Scientists from the U.K., the U.S., and Australia observed the behaviors of roughly 5,000 children (through 14 years old) in addition to parental behaviors. According to the observations, oldest children performed better on verbal, reading, math, and comprehension tests than their younger siblings.

The findings seem to be based on simple logic. Because the oldest child typically starts out as an only child, the parents heap extra attention and focus on that child, often stimulating them with thinking activities that help encourage their cognitive development. This extra time and support are responsible for the successful outcomes of the oldest child. When additional children come along, there is less time to spend on developing these skills in younger children.

This extra attention at earlier ages leads to the phenomenon known as “birth order effect,” where older children tend to be better educated and paid better wages later in life.

It is interesting to note that by the time families expand with additional children, parents tend to be more relaxed and less focused on doing everything “the right way.” Less one-on-one time is spent reading to or participating in activities with younger children.

Also of interest is that emotional support had no bearing on the intelligence outcomes of the study. Each child could receive equal amounts of emotional support from their parents and it didn’t affect test results.

So what does this information mean for younger siblings (of course, beyond having to come to terms with what you have probably long suspected)? According to the study, the only difference for younger siblings is that they might have to work harder in life.

So dear siblings, it bears repeating that the hints of my supremacy over the years were not the stuff of imagination.

Has birth order influenced your professional life? Your personal life?

Image credit: Richard Leeming / CC BY-SA 2.0

14 comments; last comment on 02/20/2017
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Is Sitting Killing Us All?

Posted February 10, 2017 6:00 PM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Health Sitting

Did you know that sitting is allegedly as dangerous as smoking? Well I didn’t, and I have to admit, it has been all that I have been thinking about for the last 48 hours. Well that, and the state of the nation. (I am remarkably well-rounded.)

The concept that sitting for too long is bad for us is not new. Several studies have cropped up, particularly in recent years. One of the most recent being a book by Dr. James Levine entitled Get Up.

According to Levine, not only is sitting more dangerous than smoking, it is also more dangerous than parachuting and it kills more people than HIV. All of this is bad news for Americans who spend a great deal of time seated.

Based on Levine’s research, Americans spend 7.7 hours a day sitting (a combination of work-related sitting, commute-sitting, and recreational sitting). For people between the ages of 60 and 69, that number is higher with 8.5 hours of sitting.

Sitting for long periods has been linked to shorter lifespans, increased risk of dementia, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, depression, and cancer.

A similar study from 2011 also alleges that for every one hour spent sitting and watching television, 22 minutes are deducted from our lives.

And scarier still, another study revealed that prolonged sitting might alter the shape of one’s behind. A condition cheekily referred to as “office ass” is a phenomenon where prolonged sitting makes your tush resemble a pancake because of a breakdown in glute muscles.

So, while the obvious solution seems to be a simple one (stop sitting down!), that isn’t always possible. Especially for people who are required to sit for work.

A few practical solutions for sitting too much in the workplace: take breaks to walk around periodically; when you must communicate with a coworker, walk to their desk instead of sending an email; park farther away from the entrance to your office; create walking meetings; pace during conference calls; take the stairs, etc.

Employers are becoming more sensitive to the health benefits of offering standing workstations and treadmill desks as well, with the benefits of both often overlapping.

Standing desks have been credited with resolving back pain, increasing energy levels, and improving mood, while treadmill desks are credited with reducing stress, promoting strong bones, increasing creativity, lowering blood pressure, maintaining healthy body weight, increasing energy levels, and improving mood.

Unfortunately, the costs associated with both workstations are greater than the cost of a seated workstation. Other possible drawbacks: Particularly for the treadmill desk, the motion might be a distraction to other co-workers and could also challenge an employee’s ability to type accurately. Additionally, an employee might exhaust any available cognitive resources thinking instead of keeping balance on the treadmill.

For standing workstations, there are fewer drawbacks beyond tiring an employee more quickly and the expense.

So the last 48 hours have returned very little in terms of offering a comforting solution to my seating obsession. While I am still concerned with being killed by sitting, I am even more concerned with face-planting off an office treadmill in front of coworkers.

Do you sit for long periods? Have you tried an alternative workstation?

26 comments; last comment on 02/15/2017
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Phantom Phone Vibrations

Posted February 04, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: addiction cell phone

Your cell phone. Do you shake without it? Do you feel nervous when it isn’t in your line of sight, counting down the painful minutes until you are finally reunited? Do you pay more attention to it than you do your loved ones? Are you so consumed with it that you hear its familiar sound everywhere you go?

If you answered yes, particularly to the last question, you might be experiencing a form of cell phone dependency, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, detailed “phantom phone vibrations” as the imagining of the sounds your cell phone might make if it were receiving a text message or call.

Researchers enlisted the help of 766 (384 females and 382 males) college undergrads to measure the relationship between phone dependency and the “phantom phone vibration” phenomenon with a personality test and survey.

The personality test measured the participants’ levels of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability, or neuroticism.

Answering yes when asked if the participant had ever experienced a “phantom phone vibration” led to additional questions about the frequency of those sensations.

A final step of the research involved a survey called the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale, which asked students how they felt about their phones. The questions revolved around feelings tied to the phone (i.e., were they anxious without it, did an incoming message improve their mood, etc.).

The results were fairly obvious, with those experiencing the phantom ringing sensation tied to increased feelings of dependence on their phones. According to the study, female students, younger students, and students who exhibited signs of emotional instability (determined by the personality test) had higher occurrences of this sensation.

And, like any true addiction, there are potential negative side effects to being consumed with your cell phone. Some of the side effects listed by researchers include weight gain, depression, and feelings of isolation.

So, how do you curb the dependency? Researchers offered the following suggestions for quitting your cell phone: set a cell phone usage schedule; create activities outside of cell phone usage; get rid of apps that you don’t need; shut the cell phone down during set times, and, ultimately, go on a cell phone fast.

Are you addicted to your cell phone? Do you experience “phantom phone vibrations”? Could you go on a cell phone fast?

12 comments; last comment on 02/14/2017
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Women and Cognitive Decline

Posted January 30, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Aging cognition

Researchers at UCLA have recently discovered something that I could have told you a long time ago: cognitive decline in women happens sooner than previously thought.

Take for instance a story I was telling a rapt audience (well, maybe not so rapt) just last night. As I struggled to recall the name of a “dear” friend, my audience showed evidence of an internal struggle (walk away while she sorts it out, or stay until the story’s completion?).

In a study that followed over 2,000 middle-aged women over the course of 10 years, researchers from UCLA determined that cognitive decline (previously thought to occur no earlier than around age 60) is occurring in women as early as in their 50s.

The study used two different tests to measure this cognitive decline. The first test involved matching numbers and symbols within a certain amount of time (a measure of processing speed). The second test involved listening to and then recalling a story both immediately after the telling of the story and then 10 minutes after the initial telling (a measure of verbal memory). The participants were tested every year or two within that 10-year period.

The study found an overall 5 percent decline in middle-aged female cognitive function with processing speeds declining by 1 percent every two years and with verbal memory declining by 1 percent every five years.

Historically, such declines have been tied to natural aging. And cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process. However, there is no obvious cause for the earlier decline. Some researchers speculate that hormone levels might be to blame.

So while it may be too late for me as I struggle to recall my dear friend “whatsherface’s” name, researchers offered the following list of usual suspects to prevent cognitive decline: meditation, exercise, yoga, healthy diet, and a positive outlook on life.

Do you struggle with memory loss? Do you feel that cognitive decline in women happens earlier than for men?

Image credit:

amenclinicsphotos ac / CC BY-SA 2.0

34 comments; last comment on 02/03/2017
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I Honestly Swear

Posted January 21, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Behaviors language social media

As a lover of all words (well, almost all words; see: moist), I have always had an appreciation for people who could string expletives together in unexpected ways. I’ve felt that the user made a stronger, passionate, more emphatic point with the use of a few colorful expletives.

And it seems that I am not alone in that thinking, as evidenced by a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science that found people who use profanity were less dishonest than their non-swearing counterparts.

At first blush, it would seem that a natural relationship exists between lying and the use of profanity with both being linked to “low moral standards.” Not so, according to researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the US, and Hong Kong who measured views on profanity with a series of questions and interactions with social media users.

Nearly 300 participants were asked to list their favorite or most often used swear word(s) along with a reason for its status in the participant’s vocabulary.

The takeaway from this part of the survey: Researchers believed that those participants with longer lists of “favorite” or “often used” obscenities were less likely to lie; concluding that if the participant didn’t filter their answers concerning their profanity usage, it was unlikely that they would filter their views and opinions on other matters.

A second branch of the survey involved culling the usage and frequency of obscenities in the status updates of close to 75,000 Facebook users. According to a similar study, one measure of dishonesty in language is the overuse of third-person pronouns. For instance, a person telling a lie will limit or avoid referring to themselves. Consequently, language patterns related to honesty will include more personal pronouns (i.e., phrases that begin with “I” and “me”). The Facebook users with more profanity in their online communications also used more personal pronouns.

Another interesting discovery from the study found that where you live in the country might also influence your use of profanity. It was discovered that people living in northeastern states (such as Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York) were more likely to use profanity while people from southern states (such as South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi) were less likely to use profanity.

So, considering the results of this study, people who have ever felt badly about their use of profanity can now console themselves with the knowledge that although they might have a potty mouth, at least it is an honest one.

Do you think people who use profanity are less likely to lie? Do you live in a part of the country that frequently uses profanity?

Image credit: Carolyn Tiry / CC BY-SA 2.0

80 comments; last comment on 01/27/2017
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