By DANIEL AKST
Discarding Ideas (Literally)
Plagued by unwanted thoughts? Try writing them down and throwing the paper away.
A new study finds that this trick works. First, students were asked to write down positive or negative thoughts about their bodies, and half were told to tear up and discard the paper. Then the students were asked to rate their attitudes about their bodies.
Those who had kept the paper were influenced by what they wrote, but among those who had tossed the page, the written comments had no impact at all. Researchers also found that jotting down one's thoughts and keeping the paper in a pocket was especially influential on subsequent judgments, suggesting that this might be a useful plan for good thoughts.
When researchers asked participants to write their thoughts on a computer and drag the file to the trash, the same effects were seen: People were less influenced by negative thoughts.
"Treating Thoughts as Material Objects Can Increase or Decrease Their Impact on Evaluation," Pablo Briñol, Margarita Gascó, Richard Petty and Javier Horcajo, Psychological Science (November)
Forecasting the Flu
Scientists using weather-forecasting techniques have come up with a way to predict, weeks in advance, the peak of flu season, which varies widely from year to year and place to place.
Influenza kills some 35,000 Americans annually. Using previous research associating flu peaks with dry weather, researchers correlated several years' weather and search data from Google Flu Trends (which uses the number of flu-related searches to estimate outbreaks). They were thus able to produce a forecasting technique that can predict new peaks more than seven weeks in advance—at least in New York City, which was the focus of their work. They plan tests elsewhere.
Such early warnings could make it easier to manage outbreaks and possibly reduce their severity.
"Forecasting Seasonal Outbreaks of Influenza," Jeffrey Shaman and Alicia Karspeck, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (November)
The Cute Bears Fruit
In Japan, where the cult of cute—known as kawaii—is a prominent feature of popular culture, scientists have discovered that people shown images of babies and puppies performed better on various tasks than people who were shown adult animals or other neutral images.
In one experiment, subjects were asked to perform a fine-motor task using tweezers. In another, subjects had to search for letters in a matrix. Viewing cute images improved performance in both trials. A third experiment, involving picking out letters as fast as possible on screen, showed that cute images narrowed attentional focus.
Cute images, the authors write, might be useful in inducing careful behavior on the job or behind the wheel of a car.
"The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus," Hiroshi Nittono, Michiko Fukushima, Akihiro Yano, Hiroki Moriya, PLoS ONE (September)
Retinal prosthetics can help some blind people make out large letters, but the process depends on a camera mounted on glasses and lacks sufficient resolution for real reading. Now researchers have developed a faster way for the blind to read text—by directly stimulating the retina.
The technology, developed at Second Sight Medical Products of Sylmar, Calif., and reported in Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics, sends Braille patterns to a grid of 60 electrodes attached to the retina, the tissue lining the inner surface of the eye. A patient with the electrodes correctly identified 70% of words with four letters. Software could someday send Braille patterns directly from a computer or e-reader.