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Lab & Field Notes

September 18, 2009

Women are more sensitive to negative images, such as a snarling pit bull or a loaded gun, than men. Psychologist Ann Kring and doctoral student Marja Germans Gard used electrodes to measure the emotional reactions of male and female undergraduate students as they viewed a series of images chosen to elicit specific reactions: positive (couples kissing), negative (mutilated bodies), and neutral (a rolling pin). The researchers also measured the size of each student’s blink, or “startle response,” and found that women blinked harder than men when viewing negative images.

A report by researchers at Berkeley and Tulane University provides hard evidence against Joseph Kony, the selfproclaimed spiritual leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Up to 38,000 children and 37,000 adults have been abducted and forced to serve in the army— sometimes mutilating and killing their own family members, says the report’s co-author Eric Stover, faculty director of Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. The researchers recommend community-based initiatives to educate former soldiers and give them job and leadership training.

Alcohol is such an integral part of military tradition that preventing binge drinking among Navy personnel requires a “culture shift,” says Genevieve Ames, an adjunct professor of medical anthropology who researched the relationship between booze and the cruise. Her research identified nearly 30 percent of men in the Navy as alcohol abusers— almost double the number of women. Despite Navy policy forbidding coming to work with a hangover, those surveyed said that officer response to heavy drinking varies, with many taking a lenient view of drunken sailors.

Prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Using data collected from nearly 4,000 people during a long-term cardiovascular health study, statistician Thaddeus Haight from the School of Public Health found that people aged 65 and older who had been exposed to secondhand smoke for 30 years or more were 30 percent more likely to develop dementia.

Nuclear power may have taken on a rosy hue as an antidote to carbon-emitting power sources, but Dan Kammen, Berkeley professor of energy and resources, and colleagues from Georgetown and Stanford universities have found it has unexpected costs. Poor plant operation, inefficient plant design, and security costs can make nuclear power more expensive than anticipated, although it is still “a good deal, if you think carbon is an issue,” says Kammen.

Chemist John Bielicki and his team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are trying to mimic the body’s creation of the “good cholesterol” molecule HDL. In a natural process, the HDL molecule clears away “bad cholesterol,” or LDL, in the arteries. If Bielicki et al. can jump-start this process, it can be used in people with atherosclerosis, to reduce plaque deposits in the arteries before the clogs become fatal.

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