Blondes are cleverer but they lie more

IMGP9497.JPGA study has found that the “dumb blonde” stereotype is unfair. American women with blonde hair seem to be more intelligent than women with other hair colours.

An economist studied 11,000 Americans, male and female, who had completed IQ tests.

The average IQ of a blonde white woman was 103.2 compared to 100.5 for a black-haired woman. 4.3% of blonde women had IQs over 125 compared to just 0.2% of black-haired women.

So why are blondes cleverer?

The answer may be simple – they lied about their hair colour. It turned out there were significantly more blonde females than males and yet hair colour is not linked to gender.

Jay Zagorsky at Ohio University who carried out the study thinks 1 in 6 blonde women were lying about their natural hair colour.

Blondes do benefit from their hair colour: blonde female fundraisers collect more money, blonde waitresses get bigger tips. But people think they are less intelligent.

As Pamela Anderson of Baywatch fame said “It’s great to be a blonde. With low expectations. It surprises people”

Photo by KindaDukish

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Fancy a clever women?

BusinesswomanPsychologist have discovered that while men may like the idea of dating a more intelligent women they shy away if it has a chance of becoming a reality.

Men are more likely to rate women more intelligent than themselves as attractive if they have no chance of meeting them.

When they were asked to rate women who they thought they were actually going to meet they suddenly found them less attractive and preferred women who were less smart!

The American researchers asked 105 men to deal with a hypothetical scenario involving a woman who had either outperformed or under performed them in tests of maths and English. Asked to think of them as romantic partners the men ranked the women more highly if they were outperformed by them. “Men formed favourable impressions and showed greater interest in women who displayed more intelligence than themselves“.

In a second experiment the men were asked to complete an intelligence test before being asked to meet a woman who had either done better or worse than them on the test. The researchers found that men about to meet a more intelligent women “distanced themselves from her and tended to rate her as less attractive and showed less desire to exchange contact information or plan a date with her”

The psychologists thought that the mere presence of a more intelligent woman made them feel threatened and diminished their masculinity.

Other studies have suggested that men want clever women to increase the chance of having clever children with a better chance of the mother knowing how to care for them. But some studies have shown the opposite with men looking for less intelligent partners. This latest study seems to support the latter view.

Breastfeeding may not boost baby IQs after all

mom_holding_baby_girl_1600_wht_3455Previous research has suggested that breastfeeding can boost your baby’s IQ and also help develop it as the child grows older.

However research at Goldsmiths College, London, now proposes that “Comparatively small events like breastfeeding are very unlikely to be at the core of something as big and complex as children’s differences in IQ. Instead children’s IQ differences are better explained by long-term factors, for example, children’s family background and their schooling

These findings are based on a study of 11,000 British children (from the Twins Early Development Study) who were tested between the ages of two and sixteen so researchers could see how IQ grew. While there appeared to be a link between breastfeeding and girls’ IQ at two years of agent wasn’t statistically significant and wasn’t present for boys.

The study also found that girls’ IQ was slightly higher than boys at age seven the difference had disappeared by the age of sixteen.

Do not despair however there are other well-known benefits from breastfeeding (source: NHS choices).

  • Less chance of diarrhoea and vomiting and having to go to hospital as a result
  • Fewer chest and ear infections so fewer visits to hospital
  • Less chance of being constipated
  • Less likelihood of becoming obese
  • Less chance of developing eczema

Two ways to stave off dementia

woman_reading_book_1600_wht_7865If you’re already middle-aged then this finding may come too late for you – but you can still help your grandchildren..

1 Children who get good grades at the age of 10 are significantly less likely to develop dementia in later life.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden – who studied 7,500 dementia-free pensioners for at least 20 years and compared their mental health against their education and work experiences – claim that children who stretch themselves in class build up a “cognitive reserve” that makes them more resilient to memory loss in old age.

Children who scored in the top fifth at school and went into jobs that involved complex analysis had a 39% lower risk of developing dementia than the rest of the group.

In a matching study of 440 people over the age of 75 over nine years it was found that pupils with the lowest grades at school were 50% more likely to suffer dementia after the age of 75 even if they went on to study at university or had intellectually challenging jobs.

This is more evidence that low IQ scores in childhood is linked to a higher risk of dementia after a similar study in Scotland in 2008 that found that people with poor academic scores as children were at a significantly higher risk of developing vascular dementia.

It is also more evidence that challenging the brain throughout its lifetime gives you more mechanisms to deal with the symptoms of dementia. Although there are mixed views about so-called “brain training”, exercise and a healthy diet can definitely improve your brainpower as you get older.

Having a cognitive reserve doesn’t protect you from the physical damage of dementia but can help people finding ways of minimising the effects.

Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer Research said “With some people there’s something about their brain – the way it works, how many connections they have in the brain, how easily they form these connections – that means in the face of brain damage they can find compensatory strategies and carry on with life as normal”

A neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute said “Our findings highlight the importance of early-life cognitive performance for the late-life risk of dementia. It appears that baseline cognitive ability, even at age 10, may provide the foundation for successful cognitive ageing much later in life. Formation of cognitive reserve is a process that apparently begins early in life”

Dr Phipps was keen to stress that poor school results in childhood didn’t necessarily mean that a child was exposed to a greater risk of dementia or memory loss when they got older. More research was needed to look at other factors such as diet and genetics.

artist_mannequin_brush_1600_wht_66802 If you’re already in adulthood take up life drawing!

30 volunteers took part in an experiment at Newcastle University.

Two groups either took brisk walks or did crossword puzzles or Sudoku. The third group took an art class drawing a nude male.

All the volunteers took a series of tests over eight weeks. The walking group showed the biggest improvement in physical health and a small increase in the cognitive tests, those doing increasingly difficult crosswords and sudoku became better at them and improved their mental skills.

However the art class showed the greatest enthusiasm for the task and showed the biggest improvement in the memory tests.

The art class was also the most sociable which is also an important factor in keeping the brain sharp.

The clinical psychologist who organised the tests said learning a new skill could be a benefit in maintaining brain power. “Learning something new engages the brain in ways that seem to be the key. Your brain changes in response no matter how many years you have behind you. Capturing an image on paper is not just intellectually demanding, it also involves learning how to make the muscles in your hand guide the pencil or paintbrush in the right direction.”

An additional health benefit was that the volunteers stood in the art class for three hours a week which burns calories and improves health.

NB. Recently there has been a health campaign to get more office workers to stand up during the day to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes but there has been no real evidence that it has been effective.

Middle born children do best

9827914according to the latest research.

As a first-born this comes as a shock!

All the research I have seen so far suggests that it is the first-born who tend to be outstanding in their field, natural leaders, and more intelligent to boot!

The youngest children have a reputation as being more creative but there wasn’t a lot of research about the middle child.

A few years ago economists in Norway found that middle born children were less likely to go to prison than their siblings but that was it.

In a book; “The secret power of middle children” psychologist Catherine Salmon and writer Katrin Schumann suggest that we have had it all wrong and that it’s the middle born ones who have all the advantages.

Rather than look at research regarding birth order they looked at middle-borns in their own right. They suggest that middle children are excellent negotiators and justice-seekers and are more successful at effecting change. They also claim they have stronger friendships and longer marriages as well as more fulfilling careers.

Squeezed by their siblings middle children learn to be independent and adaptable early on and to think outside the box. They also seek to achieve compromise and value fairness.

The authors claim that first-borns work on strategies to establish authority whilst last-borns go for the sympathy vote.

Middle children however have more capacity for empathy and are good listeners.

A French study of undergraduates showed that middles were more trusting and co-operative. Other studies show that they may be more generous and concerned with social harmony, care more about injustice and distrust power and authority. They are also likely to make better parents – although they can have disparate styles and be either more permissive or more authoritarian.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, John F Kennedy, the Dalai Lama,  Charles Darwin, David Cameron, Tony Blair, both the Beckhams, and Nigella Lawson, were all middle children.

For me the problem with studies like this is that there are lots of middles (and first-borns for that matter) who aren’t outstanding and identifying people in the public eye as examples isn’t necessarily comparing like with like.

And now the film of the book 

Original version published 2011

Breast best for boys

Breast feeding improves academic performance – but only in boys.

Previous studies showed that breast-fed children had higher IQs but no-one had looked at gender differences. (Pediatrics 2009-3489) until researchers at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Australia tested over 1,000 ten-year olds.

Stress and poverty are know to have a long-term impact on a range of health outcomes and mothers who breast feed tend to be better-educated and wealthier.

Allowing for that they found that: boys who had been mainly breast-fed for at least 6 months scored 9% higher in mathematics and writing tests, 7% higher in spelling, and 6% higher in reading, compared with boys fed with formula milk or breast-fed for shorter periods.

There were no similar significant results for girls

Breast milk contains the optimal nutrients for brain and central nervous system development but why it should have more effect on boys is still not understood.

Following research published in the British Medical Journal, the government is reviewing WHO advice that mothers should breastfeed for the first 6 months.

Scientists now think that babies should also be given solid food as well otherwise they might develop iron deficiency, food intolerance and  allergies later in life.

More recently researchers at UCLA say they found the “mama bear” effect when comparing breast-feeding mothers with those that weren’t.

Nursing mums were twice as aggressive as bottle-feeders or women without children.

The researchers think that breastfeeding gave the Mums more courage to defend themselves. They published the study in September’s Psychological Science and noted that similar aggression has been found in other species which lactate.

I don’t know if researcher Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook has any kids of her own but I think most women would agree that they would do anything to protect their babies. Although I am a psychologist I have to agree with most of the comments posted on the Mail online web-site about this latter story. They do seem to be stating the b******g obvious!

Post first published in September 2011

Talk to your children and have a social life

Middle class children benefit from hearing 33 million more words before starting school than children from deprived families who hear 23 million fewer.

This is according to Frank Field the government’s poverty czar. He also claims that by the age of three these children will have heard nearly half a million more positive comments from their parents than children from dysfunctional families.

The US research on which he based his comments found that the amount of talk between a parent and child predicts a child’s future achievements more than class, race or income.

Field believes poor parenting skills damages a child’s prospects by the age of three and that every parent can give their children a good start.

Among his ideas are a “highway code” for parents in which they promise to provide practical and moral support for their children; a “parenting curriculum” at school so that children learn about babies’ brain development in science classes; “rites of passage” such as naming ceremonies for children not being christened; and a formal ceremony attended by the mayor when children move to secondary school.

Some of this is common sense but having to have a highway code shows how much we have lost the support of families and friends. We might be more connected technologically but not socially. When we pulled down the terraced houses and replaced them with high rise flats we lost the sense of local communities.

A recent review set up by John Bercow, now the Speaker of the Commons, recommended that children should be tested for their language skills at the age of 2. Jean Gross, the Communications Champion, said that “those with poor speech at age two are doomed to a life of failure unless they receive help”. 

Children who are inarticulate at age 5 have little chance of catching up. They are twice as likely to be unemployed in their thirties and at greater risk of going to prison. Cuts to speech therapists and  reduction on school spending are not helping tackle this problem.

Earlier research at the University of Sheffield found that children whose parents were sociable eg members of sports clubs, church or voluntary groups, residents’ associations and similar, were brighter. They scored better on literacy, numeracy and verbal tests at age 5, compared to children whose parents led more solitary lives, taking into account differences in education and social class. It may be that more sociable parents are more positive when they speak to their children and speak to them more often. The children in turn develop social skills earlier which helps them do better at school – and in life generally.

With fewer real local communities parents have to make an effort to network and socialise which takes some organising.

A study carried out by the University of Michigan over a 25-year period found that children brought up in cleaner homes did better at school and earned more than children brought up in dirtier homes – regardless of race, social class, and level of parental education. The researchers put this down to efficiency, organisation and family values about helpful skills at school and work.

So the evidence is clear: talk to your children as much as you can in a positive manner and it will help them do well in life, especially if you are sociable parents.