Were you born a betting man?Read More
Now that the World Cup in Rio is well under way the chances are that you have probably made a bet on one of the games, if you haven’t then there is a good chance you will. For the last World Cup in 2010 over £1 billion was bet on the World Cup in the UK alone.
So why are so many people out there betting money on football games? If you have placed a bet recently then you probably know why. The rush and excitement following the act of gambling is caused by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that is responsible for the reward and pleasure systems in the brain.
A recent study by the University of Berkeley, California and the University of Illinois links the social interactions of gambling to the role of dopamine and regulatory genes. The study identified the areas of the brain and the types of learning that are active when taking part in competitive betting and used mathematical modelling to identify the genes responsible.
When you are making the decision about which team to bet your money on you are likely to call on two main areas of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum. These areas deal with decision-making and motivation, respectively, and are both known to consist of neurons that use dopamine to send signals. These different areas of the brain, as well as serving different functions in gambling, also lend themselves to different types of learning as a result of competitive behaviour. Trial-and-error learning causes you to change your decision and strategy based on past experience. Belief learning causes people to attempt to think like their opponent and anticipate their actions to aid their strategy decisions.
During the study researchers focused on 143 variants of 12 genes regulating dopamine release and looked for relationships between these gene variants and the differences in learning and reactions as a result of betting. Three of these genes were found to be associated with variations in belief learning ability and were all genes that controlled dopamine release in the medial prefrontal cortex. Alternatively variations in trial-and-error learning capabilities were found to be associated with variations in 2 genes that controlled dopamine release in the striatum.
So if you do make a bet on your World Cup favourite your decisions and strategy are, at least partly, controlled by your genes.
Let me know who your world cup favourite is @GabyAtNotch.
Have a baby? There’s an app for that!Read More
As technology and gadgets continue to become integral parts of our everyday life is it right that developers are targeting a market that can’t even say mum yet?
The market for gadgets and technology aimed at new parents is booming and with such a new market opening up everyone from paediatricians to mums have an opinion.
The value of the baby durables industry is at $2.6bn in the US alone so it’s hardly surprising that more and more gadgets aimed at parents are appearing all the time. The Owlet sock is one of many high-tech baby monitors appearing that will keep track of everything you could ever hope to know about your baby, from heart rate and blood oxygen to sleeping patterns and position, all via a mobile app. Other products available to parents include a cocoon forming car seat and Smart diapers that can help you detect urinary infections with a QC code.
Is this new technology ‘best for baby’ or is it just there to tempt overly nervous parents? To some parents the new technology is a helpful innovation that makes the challenge of parenting a bit easier whilst some think it is all a bit unnecessary.
Research by the University of Stirling has shown that technology, as long as it is in the right dosage, doesn’t pose an obvious risk to development. The amount of technology present when growing up isn’t likely to affect you, but the relationship your parents have with technology will. So the worry may no longer be about whether baby gadgets are ‘best for baby’ but if they are healthy for parents.
According to paediatrician Dr Rahul Chodhari, from the Royal Free Hospital, the start of an unhealthy relationship with technology could be a sleep-induced purchase of something like the Owlet Sock. Syncing your baby to your mobile may be a tempting prospect for worried parents, but too much can cause paranoia. There is a worry that being able to monitor your baby 24/7 might cause parents to ignore their instincts and make unnecessary doctors visits.
It’s not all bad news though, providing toddlers with technology is likely to be helpful for their learning. Research from the University of Wisconsin found that by giving toddlers a screen to interact with they were far more likely to respond and learn faster.
So how much is too much? The general message is if you are lost when the batteries run out then you may need to switch off for a bit.
Let me know what technology you can’t manage without @GabyAtNotch
Image courtesy of Owlet – http://www.owletcare.com
Football EcologyRead More
Like it or not, the World Cup 2014 is nearly upon us! June 12 will see the host nation Brazil kick off festivities for the battle of the ultimate honor and bragging rights in International football, the FIFA World Cup Trophy. 32 countries will play off over 64 games, in 12 different cities over a period of 1 month. This is an absolute dream for the football enthusiast amongst us. However, conservationists in Brazil are not sharing the same fervent enthusiasm.
Fuleco, a portmanteau of the Portuguese words “Futebol” (“football”) and “Ecologia” (“Ecology”), has been chosen as the World Cup mascot and marketing tool for merchandise and souvenirs. However, many scientists believe that Fuleco can be used for so much more than just brand licensing.
You see Fuleco is a Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) that has a predatory defense mechanism whereby it rolls up into an almost impenetrable ball. Easy to see really why it was picked as the official mascot. However, this particular armadillo has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a vulnerable species after a >30% decline in population over the last 10 years. Upon recent evaluation the species has been moved from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘in danger’. This increased decline has mainly been due to ongoing exploitation of the dry woodlands habitat where the armadillo is uniquely found, called the Caatinga. Brazil covers nearly half the surface area of South America, with Caatinga covering almost 10% of the country. Only 1% of the Caatinga has been designated as a conservation area making it one of the least protected Brazilian ecosystems. Deforestation for firewood, expansion of livestock ranching and hunting are the chief culprits.
All seemed well back in November 2012 when the official mascot was announced, reported as been a “goal scored for armadillo conservation”. The chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission, Dr Mariella Superina said, “We are sure that the fact that a threatened species is featured in such an important event will not only trigger conservation initiatives to save the Brazilian three-banded Armadillo from extinction, but also help increase awareness for biodiversity conservation in general”. It was believed funding would be put in place to undertake several scientific projects including raising awareness for conservation issues amongst the local population and setting up areas of protection. So far however, FIFA has distanced itself from these conservation plans even though the football governing body said, “the official mascot can play a key role in driving environmental awareness”. It seems crazy to think that none of the millions in revenue that the Fuleco brand licencing creates for FIFA can be reinvested into the maintenance of the three-banded armadillo and its habitat; there is only one side that is winning here.
With the amount of money Russian oligarchs spend on real life fantasy football teams spiraling out of control and footballers taking home more money weekly than the average UK worker takes home in a decade, football is getting a bad reputation and rightly so. With market research from FIFA showing that at least 95% of the Brazilian population are aware of Fuleco, and with the World Cup among the world’s most widely viewed sporting events, it seems so illogical that money generated by the event cannot be used to aid local and global issues and enhance footballs tarnished image. Unfortunately FIFA’s image doesn’t seem to be getting any cleaner with allegations of corruption into the selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup and human right breaches. Lets hope that a governing association with such clout can start to get things right sooner rather than later.
So, who do we want to win the FIFA World Cup 2014 here at Notch? We are all routing for the Brazilian three-banded armadillo to come out on top. Viva Fuleco!!