Living Well: Health and Wellness Tips

Released: 1/28/2008 8:55 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Indiana University
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Citations Cognition, Psychological Science; Cognition, Psychological Science

TODDLERS AS DATA MINERS?

Newswise — Indiana University researchers are studying a ground-breaking theory that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining.

Their theory, which they have explored with 12- and 14-month-olds, takes a radically different approach to the accepted view that young children learn words one at a time -- something they do remarkably well by the age of 2 but not so well before that.

Data mining, usually computer-assisted, involves analyzing and sorting through massive amounts of raw data to find relationships, correlations and ultimately useful information. It often is used and thought of in a business context or used by financial analysts, and more recently, a wide range of research fields, such as biology and chemistry. IU cognitive science experts Linda Smith and Chen Yu are investigating whether the human brain accumulates large amounts of data minute by minute, day by day, and handles this data processing automatically. They are studying whether this phenomenon contributes to a "system" approach to language learning that helps explain the ease by which 2- and 3-year-olds can learn one word at a time.

"This new discovery changes completely how we understand children's word learning," Smith said. "It's very exciting."

Smith, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington, and Yu, assistant professor in the department, recently received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund this research for five years. Here are some recent findings:

*In one of their studies, published in the journal Cognition, Yu and Smith attempted to teach 28 12- to 14-month-olds six words by showing them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring out which word went with which picture.

*In the adult version of the study, which used the same eye-tracking technology used in the Cognition study, adults were taught 18 words in just six minutes. Instead of viewing two images at a time, they simultaneously were shown anywhere from three to four, while hearing the same number of words. The adults, like the children, learned significantly more than would be expected by chance. Many of the adult subjects indicated they were certain they had learned nothing and were "amazed" by their success. Yu and Smith wrote in the journal Psychological Science, "This suggests that cross-situational learning may go forward non-strategically and automatically, steadily building a reliable lexicon."

Yu and Smith say it's possible that the more words tots hear, and the more information available for any individual word, the better their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together word-object pairings, thus learning what's what.

Yu, who has a doctorate in computer science and writes much of the software programming for their studies, said that if they can identify key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier, through training DVDs and other means, for children and adults. The learning mechanisms used by the children to learn words also could be used to further machine learning.

WARMING UP TO COLD WEATHER

The cold winter months can challenge the exercise resolve of the most dedicated among us, but there's no reason for our exercise habits to go into hibernation.

"The important thing is to stay active," said Andy Fry, a fitness expert in Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Fry discusses common mistakes people make when exercising outside in the cold:

*Inactivity. It becomes darker earlier and it's cold. "People are more likely to exercise if they are having fun, and many people don't have fun when it's cold," said Fry. "If bundling up isn't your style, try an indoor activity like a group exercise session or ballroom dancing."

*Hydration. "Those that do brave the elements often do not drink enough water," said Fry. "People tend to associate dehydration with hot weather, but you should continue to drink the same amount as in warmer weather."

*Dress. Outdoor exercisers should dress in several light layers. This allows you to trap hot air close to your body. A good formula would be to wear a windproof outer layer with cotton layers on the inside.

*Inaccurately assessing the weather. "This is a big one," said Fry. Precipitation, wind, sunset and sunrise can all greatly affect the temperature. Take these into careful consideration before leaving the house. Fry suggests leaving with the wind and coming back with it. "If you get tired, it's easier coming back and most of your exposed skin is on the front so your perspiration won't be chilled by the wind."

*Warm-up. When exercising in colder temperatures, individuals are more apt to sprains and strains. A good warm-up is especially important. Fry suggests warming-up and stretching inside if at all possible. Jogging in place for five minutes should do the trick. If this is not possible, try to at least ease into your workout.

Fry, assistant director for fitness and wellness at HPER's Division of Campus Recreational Sports, also notes that it is important to consult one's doctor when starting a new workout plan or moving an existing plan outdoors.

"Someone with a history of heart problems should definitely consult their doctor due to the vascular constriction that takes place in colder weather," he said. "Often times doctors will clear patients to exercise with the assumption that they will be working out either indoors or in warmer temperatures and have not cleared them with the thought they will be in cold temps."

WHAT NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS?

Here we go again -- a new year and another round of New Year's resolutions. While this annual ritual could be a faded memory come spring, some practical steps can set you on the path toward success and satisfaction.

"I think that human beings have a need for self-examination, for renewal, and to some extent, for ritualistic examination of their lives and things they might like to change," said Nancy Stockton, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the Indiana University Health Center. "In that sense, New Year's resolutions can be a useful ritual, and there are things people can do to increase the chances or increase the probability of them working."

Among the most common New Year's resolutions are quitting smoking, eating healthier and exercising regularly -- piece of cake, er, carrot sticks, right?

"Healthy change is hard," reminds Stockton. "It frequently takes more work to form healthy habits. For example, healthy eating -- it takes more work to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, clean them, store them and prepare them than just grabbing a sack of fast food. Yet, our bodies and waistlines will thank us. The greater work will be rewarding in the long run!"

Stockton suggests these tips to give your resolutions a fighting chance:

*Get real. Be realistic about your goals, and don't place overly high expectations on yourself. If you want to lose weight, consult experts and commit to a sensible weight-loss plan that is based on medical research and fits you.

*Get the facts. Seek out valid sources of information, such as medical experts and researchers. Check out Clarian Tobacco Control Center Services and Programs (formerly known as IU Nicotine Dependence Program) http://www.clarian.org/portal/patients/clinical?clarianContentID=/clinical/healthandwellness/CTCC/services_programs.xml. Another good source of information is the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/).

*Are you really ready to change? Think of resolutions as lifestyle changes and find out what kind of support you have to maintain a new lifestyle. It might be helpful to ask yourself, "Do I see myself doing this in two months?"

*Baby steps. Do it gradually, prepare yourself psychologically for changes you plan to make.

*Visualize. Imagine yourself doing what you want to do. For example, see yourself doing an exercise and imagine how you would feel after doing the exercise.

*Strength in numbers. Form a support group around a certain resolution.
"Sometimes it is easier to live up to commitment we make to other people as apposed to commitments we make to ourselves," says Stockton.

Visit this Web site at the IU Health Center for links to information that could bolster your resolve -- and improve your health, http://www.indiana.edu/~health/healthlinks.shtml.


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