Political Donations: How to Use Money as an Extension of Your Political Voice

Today, as women across the country head to the polls for the midterm elections, many of us will also have dedicated time and money as candidates, volunteers, or voters to support the candidates or causes we care about the most. The work doesn’t stop once your ballot is cast. Women are increasingly using their dollars to amplify their political voices—but you don’t need an election year or a massive bank account to make your voice heard.

A report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute revealed that women are the ones leading the charge when it comes to embracing charitable giving as a means of civic engagement. According to the report, women’s giving to top 501(c)3 charities significantly increased compared to men’s in weeks following the 2016 presidential election. The report found that in the week before the election, women gave an average of $1,586 more than their male counterparts. In the week after the election, the difference between women and men’s giving more than doubled to $3,905.

Regardless of your income level, engaging in philanthropy can be a powerful way to actively support the ideas you champion at the polls or within your own activism. For political campaigns or mission-driven organizations, financial resources often make the crucial difference between success and failure. Philanthropy is not the “soft stuff”—it’s the platform women can embrace to wield economic power to create meaningful, purpose-driven change.

Understand the power in your money.

Let’s be honest: Money is a tough subject to broach, and for some of us the idea of using money as a tool to influence change can seem greedy or corrupt. But consider the type of impact money can have when it’s rooted in your values.

When you align charitable giving with your passions, you’re investing to create sustainable impact. Think of it this way: If advocacy is the engine of change, money is the fuel that sustains and propels advocacy campaigns. In addition to the variety of hands-on ways you can support nonprofits or political causes, like volunteering and canvassing, one of the simplest and most effective ways to create impact is through donations.

Through charitable giving—even at small amounts—you are supporting both the real-time actions of nonprofit programs, like after-school activities, as well as the large-scope projects like bringing an advocacy campaign to national scale. (For more on assessing impact, read on.)

You don’t need to be rich to give.

Whether you’re donating $5 a month or becoming a major contributor, your money can go the extra mile to support the causes you care about.

If large donations are like the ice cream in a sundae, then small donations function like toppings. Nonprofits rely on that extra bit of cash to provide paper and pens to classrooms, or print an additional banner or two. The small donations help organizations go that extra mile. The organization Givewell details what a select group of high-impact charities can do with donations as small as a few dollars.

In order to determine what type of giving is within your means, you first need to create a basic monthly budget, which includes set dollar amounts for things like rent, internet bills and a gym membership. With basic costs taken care of, you should have about 30 percent set aside to play with. Try to find room among these expenses—like Starbucks runs and Spotify—to add monthly charitable donations into the mix. On average, people donate anywhere from 3 percent to 10 percent of their income—but there’s no “minimum” required to make a difference.

If a monthly donation does not fit within your budget, try first committing to a once-a-year donation. To make your dollar stretch farther, be on the lookout for matching campaigns, especially around the time of Giving Tuesday on November 27th. You can use your birthday as a chance to fundraise. Facebook’s fundraising feature is an easy way to ask for donations from friends and family. Platforms like Crowdrise or GoFundMe can engage your network in helping you raise money for a cause you care about.

You can also set up an Amazon Smile account where a portion of everything you spend automatically goes to charity, at no cost to you.

Use your gut to guide your giving.

Particularly around elections, you might feel over-stimulated when it comes to requests for donations. When there isn’t just one issue you care about, it can be helpful to focus on the results you want to achieve.

For example, are you interested in supporting a larger, national nonprofit focused on changing federal policies? Or would you rather support a local, community-based organization working to improve the lives of those who live in your city or town? Deciding on the scale can help you whittle down your options at a time when everyone seems to be asking for money.

Once you’ve determined the types of causes you want to support, there are many tools that can take the guesswork out of donations and help you feel secure that your donation will truly have an impact. Websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar provide easy-to-understand, transparent reports on how nonprofits use their funding and how far your dollar will go. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn more about how your money will actually be used.

Go beyond money.

Despite the power that charitable giving can create, nothing can fully replace your own civic engagement. Money is merely an extension of your own voice—a vehicle that can help create long-term, critical change.

There are so many ways to make an impact and shape the world you inhabit. Get out there and vote. Volunteer for a cause you care about. And on top of those efforts, fully embrace the power of money to influence the change you want to see in the world and build the future you want to live in.

Linda Davis Taylor is the CEO and chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors in Pasadena, California, and a champion for women’s economic independence and strength. She is a frequent speaker on wealth transition, family governance, and philanthropy, and author of The Business of Family.

13 Thanksgiving Recipes You Can Make in an Instant Pot

The bigigest obstacle I face on Thanksgiving is my limited oven space. As soon as I start roasting my big turkey, I have about one shelf left to devote to the many, many sides and desserts I know my guests will be expecting when they arrive. In the past, I’ve relied on my slow-cooker to help me get dishes on the table when my oven is occupied, but this year I have another partner in crime: My Instant Pot is going to help me save oven space, pick up the pace, and get all of my favorite, classic T-Day recipes on the dinner table.

If you’re wondering if there’s anything an Instant Pot can’t do, the answer is no, and these 13 Thanksgiving recipes prove that. Here, you’ll find quick and easy ideas for all of your Thanksgiving favorites, whether you’re a big fan of sweet potato casserole, or mashed potatoes are your thing. Heck, there’s even a super speedy recipe for a turkey—instead of four hours in the oven, it only needs one hour in your Instant Pot. With some help from this gadget, you might even be finished cooking everything before your guests even show up.

Largely unrecognized role of youth caregivers illuminated in new study

‘I need this — can you grab my pills?’ ‘Can you help me with this?’ ‘Can you go in my bag and get me my medicine?’

For more than half of her 16 years, 10th grader Destiny has answered calls like this to help her grandmother and great-grandmother manage their medications.

“I’ve been helping out basically most of my life,” she said.

Despite the essential role Destiny and other youth caregivers play, little is known about how they learn to manage medications, what they know about the medicine they administer, and what kind of rewards and challenges they encounter day to day.

To find out more, Julia Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., a University of Miami Miller School of Medicine physician-researcher and pediatrician, and colleagues studied 28 middle school and high school students 12 to 19 years old. Their study is the first of its kind to take a comprehensive look at this population; they reported their findings online in the Journal of Adolescence.

Through a series of qualitative focus groups, the investigators asked the youth about medication management. They used semi-structured interviews to assess their responsibilities, medication knowledge, and more. The caregivers were part of the Caregiving Youth Project of the American Association of Caregiving Youth. Their mean age was about 15, and 71 percent were female.

For physicians, greater awareness is the first step. “It is important for all physicians, regardless of specialty, to know that this population of caregiving youth exists. Physicians should take this into consideration when they are making plans for the care of their patients,” said Dr. Belkowitz, who is associate professor of pediatrics.

“One of the things we discovered in this study is that some of the kids reported that not only were they taking on the responsibilities of managing medications at home, they were actually the ones receiving the instructions directly,” said Dr. Belkowitz.

This finding underlines the importance of determining who is responsible for medication management.

“The only way to do this is to ask.”

Proceed carefully, however. “It is important to know that some parents fear that if others know about the medication role and other caregiving responsibilities of their children that their families would be split apart, so these conversations need to be done in a sensitive and nonjudgmental manner.”

Several participants in the study reported difficulty understanding instructions, either written or as instructed in person by a health care professional.

The data from this study also indicates that youth caregivers interact substantially with medical professionals, providing an opportunity for physicians and others to support them and recognize their contribution to the patient’s well-being.

“Back when my grandmother was walking, the doctor offered to help us with installing rails if we needed them,” Destiny said. “And they said they would even install a chair in our shower so she could sit down and wash herself.”

“Once kids have been identified as caregivers, we need to ask them how they are doing,” Dr. Belkowitz said. Inquire about challenges they face and what type of support they need to succeed in school, in their home environments and as caregivers.

“We know from the literature that caregiving can have a significant impact on mental health and school performance of children and young people, and we have heard many stories of kids who have experienced physical injuries as well,” she said. “Of course, we should use available screening tools and guidelines to identify children who may be suffering from conditions such as anxiety or depression.”

One in five youths said their caregiving made them miss a school activity or an after-school activity, 15 percent said it has kept them from doing schoolwork, and 8 percent said it has made them miss homework, according to a 2005 national survey. In addition, young caregivers said they missed school, “38 percent at least sometimes.”

Destiny has managed to find a way to balance caring for her relatives so that it does not detract from her school or social life. “I’ve learned to do really well with time management,” she said.

When properly supported, these children and teenagers can experience benefits such as pride and a closer personal relationship with their care recipient.

Grandparents were the most common care recipients in the study, followed by parents and siblings. Other relatives, such as cousins and aunts or uncles, as well as unrelated people also relied on the youth for help with their medications.

Neurologic-related diseases topped the list of care recipient conditions at 12, followed by diabetes at 7, and an equal number of people — 4 each — with diabetes, functional decline/mobility loss, asthma, vision loss and other conditions.

“What was also important about this study is that we were able to hear their perspectives directly from youth,” Dr. Belkowitz said. “We learned that these kids take on multiple important responsibilities, often without formal education, surrounding their role.”

Destiny learned on the job. Her grandmother showed her which medicines she needs when to manage her Parkinson’s disease. Her great-grandmother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, did the same, until she passed away in September.

An estimated 1.4 million children and teenagers between 8 and 18 years old help family members take their medicine and perform necessary activities of daily living, according to a 2005 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Since then, experts believe the number of youth caregivers has mushroomed due to the aging of the U.S. population, the opioid epidemic, a shift toward more home care, and other factors.

In terms of solutions, the researchers noted that teenagers are typically tech savvy and those with resources are closely connected to smart phones. Devising strategies to use this technology could be of great potential benefit for adolescents managing medications.

That’s precisely the advice Destiny would offer other youth caregivers. “Have reminders on your phone five minutes before it’s time to give the medicine. That way you can prepare, get a cup of water, and sometimes they need to take it with food, so you need to grab a quick snack or cook something good.”

Many unanswered questions remain, including the current prevalence of caregiving youth in the United States. Future research could expand the age range to include children younger than 12. In addition, Dr. Belkowitz said, “We are currently looking at perspectives of pediatric health care providers about this issue and the impact of poverty on the role of children as caregivers.”

In the meantime, Destiny’s grandmother recently progressed to an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. “My grandmother is now on bed rest. She can’t walk, talk or sit up for a long period of time,” she said. “She has good and bad days. Sometimes I really can’t understand her — and have to get real close to understand what she is saying. Other days are really good days, and she speaks in full sentences and laughs.”

Another piece of advice, based on experience, is telling care recipients that you will always be there to support them. “Constantly remind the person you’re caring for that you love them and that you’re doing this for them — that it doesn’t bother you,” Destiny said.

She said her grandmother apologized once ‘for being a hassle.’ “That was really hard for me, because I don’t want her to think that,” Destiny said. “I do this for her because I want her to be taken care of.”

Always being there is the most important part, Destiny added. “It lets her know I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep her well.”

Margaret Nickels, M.D., M.P.H., a graduate of the Miller School of Medicine; Connie Siskowski, RN, Ph.D., president of the American Association of Caregiving Youth; and Cynthia N. Lebron, a Ph.D. student at the Miller School Department of Public Health Sciences, co-authored the research. The Quantum Foundation through the University of Miami Springboard program funded the study.

A 23-Year-Old College Student Died From Lemierre Syndrome, a Rare Infection She Thought Was Tonsillitis

A college rower at Kansas State University died after experiencing symptoms that she thought were caused by tonsillitis but turned out to be Lemierre syndrome, a rare bacterial infection. The student, Samantha Scott, died on October 27, not long after seeking medical attention.

Two weeks ago, Scott, 23, started feeling pain and swelling in her throat, People reports. She brushed off her symptoms but eventually went to the hospital when they got worse.

She was diagnosed with Lemierre syndrome, a rare infection that starts with a sore throat and fever and causes swelling and infection that can move throughout someone’s body. Scott died just days after she was diagnosed.

“I don’t think I could say a negative thing about her,” Kennidi Cobbley, her lifelong friend who set up a GoFundMe to help Scott’s family with funeral expenses, tells SELF. “She was honestly one of the best people I know.” Cobbley calls Scott’s death “devastating,” adding, “I just talked to her on Tuesday and it seemed like she was doing better.”

Cobbley is hoping to help Scott’s family raise enough money to help cover medical bills and funeral expenses. Any leftover funds will go toward creating a scholarship in Scott’s name.

Lemierre syndrome is a severe infection usually caused by a specific type of bacteria.

The bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum is at the root of the majority of these cases, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), but the infection has been reported with other bacteria as well. The infection begins in the throat and spreads through the lymphatic vessels, thin tubes structured like blood vessels that carry white blood cells and lymphatic fluid throughout the body.

Symptoms usually include a sore throat and fever, followed by swelling of the internal jugular veins (which run along either side of the neck), according to GARD. From there, someone with this infection might develop a blood clot in their jugular vein. Then, if the condition is left untreated, pus-containing tissue moves from the throat to different organs, usually the lungs.

Experts don’t really know why some people develop Lemierre syndrome, especially because totally healthy people may also have Fusobacterium necrophorum without any issues. Some scientists think that Lemierre syndrome may develop when bacteria invades a person’s mucosa, which is the membrane that lines various parts of the body, GARD says. Having viral or bacterial pharyngitis or the Epstein-Barr virus may also increase a person’s risk.

The symptoms of Lemierre syndrome usually feel pretty different from a “regular” sore throat.

Although your sore throat may start out feeling relatively mild, it quickly progresses into something more severe. “You just start feeling poorly all over,” William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF. “You just feel sick and all of a sudden realize that this is not just a simple sore throat.”

For instance, when your tonsils swell, you might find it difficult to swallow, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. It might also make it difficult to breathe, Dr. Schaffner adds, which is definitely worrying.

If the infection makes its way into your bloodstream, it’s possible to develop sepsis, a severe reaction to infection, Dr. Schaffner says. That comes with symptoms that include a fever, high heart rate, and difficulty breathing on top of the initial infection. From there, sepsis can progress to organ failure and septic shock. “It’s not something that happens immediately, but can get progressively worse over a few days,” he explains.

Given that Lemierre syndrome is so rare, a proper diagnosis requires doctors who know about the syndrome and have a healthy dose of suspicion, Dr. Schaffner says. Diagnosis usually involves blood tests and imaging of the neck (such as a CT scan or ultrasound) to look for the presence of swelling or a blood clot in the jugular vein, which often comes with Lemierre syndrome, GARD says.

Lemierre syndrome is often treatable if it’s caught in time.

Patients will usually be given IV antibiotics to try to clear up the infection, GARD says. “Most people don’t die from this, at least in the U.S., but they can get pretty sick,” Dr. Adalja says. However, he adds, the risk of serious complications increases the longer someone waits to seek medical care.

Again, this is rare, and it’s unlikely that your next sore throat will be due to Lemierre syndrome. “Even infectious disease doctors may only see one or two in our professional lifetimes,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Very few people who have sore throats develop complications like this.”

However, if you have a sore throat that seems to be getting worse, or if you’re having trouble swallowing or breathing, those are possible signs that you may be dealing with something more serious than a common cold or flu, so it’s crucial to get medical attention.

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Women who give birth to boys much more likely to have postnatal depression

A University of Kent study into postnatal depression (PND) found the odds of developing this condition increased by 79% when mothers had baby boys compared to baby girls.

Overall the researchers identified that women who give birth to males are 71-79% more likely to develop PND. Furthermore, women whose births had complications were 174% more likely to experience PND compared to those women who had no complications.

As a result of their findings, Dr Sarah Johns and Dr Sarah Myers in the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), conclude that recognising that both male infants and birth complications are PND risk factors should help health professionals in identifying and supporting women who may by more likely to develop this condition.

Their research also showed that while women with a tendency towards symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress were always at increased risk of PND, they had reduced odds of developing PND after experiencing birth complications. This is likely because these women may receive greater post-birth support because their mental health concerns were previously recognised. This finding suggests interventions to support women can be effective in preventing PND developing.

Dr Johns said: ‘PND is a condition that is avoidable, and it has been shown that giving women at risk extra help and support can make it less likely to develop. The finding that having a baby boy or a difficult birth increases a woman’s risk gives health practitioners two new and easy ways to identify women who would particularly benefit from additional support in the first few weeks and months’

Dr Johns and Dr Myers decided to assess whether there was a relationship between the sex of infants and PND because of the known link between inflammatory immune response and the development of depressive symptoms.

Both the gestation of male foetuses and the experience of birth complications have documented associations with increased inflammation, yet, until this study, their relationships with PND were unclear.

Many known risk factors for depressive symptoms are associated with activation of inflammatory pathways, opening up the potential for identifying new risk factors based on their inflammation causing effects — an idea supported by this study.

The study used complete reproductive histories of 296 women from contemporary, low fertility populations.

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Subtle visual cues nudge users to reveal more in online forum

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but icons may be even more powerful in nudging people to disclose more information online, according to an interdisciplinary team of Penn State researchers.

In a study, researchers found that people using an online sexual health forum featuring computer graphics, called icons, that implied a sense of crowd size and connectivity, revealed more sensitive information than visitors to a site without those visual cues, said S. Shyam Sundar, James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. Pictures meant to convey a sense of community on the web forum did not significantly affect the user’s disclosure, he added.

The subtle power of these cues could both help people build stronger online communities, as well as possibly lure them into revealing personal information, according to the researchers.

“This shows that little changes can mean a lot and it could help sites, such as online health forums, stay alive and help support their users,” said Sundar. “If people don’t reveal information in an online forum, the vitality of that forum decreases because not enough people are sharing details that make the forum worthwhile. On the other hand, if spam sites use these cues, they may be able to get more people to reveal sensitive information about their personal life, and that would be a bad thing.”

The researchers used a dynamic graphic representation of people standing in a crowd to convey crowd size. The size of the crowd suggested by the icon changed randomly for participants so that they were not merely jumping on the bandwagon of a

large crowd, according to the researchers. The connectivity icon showed a network map with one circle labeled “You” to suggest the participant’s place in the network. This icon also changed randomly.

The researchers, who report their findings today (November 6) at the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Jersey City, NJ, tested the icons on a sexual health forum because while people tend to be reluctant to share information about their sexual behavior, disclosure is important to help them access health information, as well as help them make better health decisions.

“In a marginalized — or stigmatized — group, it’s often hard to get people to talk or to reveal personal information. However, we found that once the users got the sense that they were in the same boat as others, or that they were connected to others in the same network, they were more willing to disclose their private information and revisit the forum.” said Andrew Gambino, doctoral student of mass communication, Penn State. “What we’ve found is a very basic design solution to increase participation in this group. This might be a way for small groups, particularly ones that deal with stigmatized or marginalized topics, to survive.”

The cues of both the crowd and connectivity icons may be stronger for people who have a desire to be part of an effort to build a community, according to the researchers. For instance, users of the site who indicated they were willing to share information to build a community were also more likely to disclose more highly sensitive information when they saw the crowd and connectivity icons.

A website with pictures that suggested a sense of community — for example, group pictures, or people holding hands — did not significantly affect the user’s sense of community or disclosure behavior.

“Sense of community may be a relatively stable attribute of forum participants, which would make it difficult to influence with a short-term intervention,” said Mary Beth Rosson, professor and associate dean of information sciences and technology, and a collaborator on the project.

The researchers recruited 218 participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online task platform. The volunteers were randomly assigned to one of six different websites that were designed to reflect a site with a crowd cue or one without the crowd cue, a site with a connectivity cue or no connectivity cue, or a site that reflected the community framing or no framing.

Participants were asked to join a site described as “an online community open to anyone interested in exploring their sexuality and learning about sexual health and well-being.” The participants were then asked to share information about their sexual behaviors and health. They were also told that information would be used to connect them to similar people in the community.

Participants were given the option to not disclose information in every question, as well as the option to leave the website at any time.

“Offering many small opportunities to disclose or not disclose was intended to approximate the ubiquitous requests for sharing that users get from Web and smartphone apps in their everyday lives,” said Rosson.

In the future, the researchers may see if these cues influence disclosure on other types of online media, such as social media sites.

“We may see similar effects in social media, for example,” said Gambino. “If anything, we intentionally chose a very difficult subject, a difficult context, and found people sharing more information due to these simple cues and mindsets.”

Sundar, Rosson and Gambino worked with Jinyoung Kim, a doctoral student in mass communications at the time of the study, and Chulakorn Aritajati, Jun Ge and Christine Fanning, students of information sciences and technology.

The National Science Foundation supported this work.

Family tree of 400 million people shows genetics has limited influence on longevity

Although long life tends to run in families, genetics has far less influence on life span than previously thought, according to a new analysis of an aggregated set of family trees of more than 400 million people. The results suggest that the heritability of life span is well below past estimates, which failed to account for our tendency to select partners with similar traits to our own. The research, from Calico Life Sciences and Ancestry, was published in GENETICS, a journal of the Genetics Society of America.

“We can potentially learn many things about the biology of aging from human genetics, but if the heritability of life span is low, it tempers our expectations about what types of things we can learn and how easy it will be,” says lead author Graham Ruby. “It helps contextualize the questions that scientists studying aging can effectively ask.”

Ruby’s employer, Calico Life Sciences, is a research and development company whose mission is to understand the biology of aging. They teamed up with scientists from the online genealogy resource Ancestry, led by Chief Scientific Officer Catherine Ball, to use publicly available pedigree data from Ancestry.com to estimate the heritability of human life span.

Heritability is a measure of how much of the variation in a trait — in this case life span — can be explained by genetic differences, as opposed to non-genetic differences like lifestyle, sociocultural factors, and accidents. Previous estimates of human life span heritability have ranged from around 15 to 30 percent.

“Partnering with Ancestry allowed this new study to gain deeper insights by using a much larger data set than any previous studies of longevity,” said Ball.

Starting from 54 million subscriber-generated public family trees representing six billion ancestors, Ancestry removed redundant entries and those from people who were still living, stitching the remaining pedigrees together. Before sharing the data with the Calico research team, Ancestry stripped away all identifiable information from the pedigrees, leaving only the year of birth, year of death, place of birth (to the resolution of state within the US and country outside the US), and familial connections that make up the tree structure itself.

They ended up with a set of pedigrees that included over 400 million people — largely Americans of European descent — each connected to another by either a parent-child or a spouse-spouse relationship. The team was then able to estimate heritability from the tree by examining the similarity of life span between relatives.

Using an approach that combines mathematical and statistical modeling, the researchers focused on relatives who were born across the 19th and early 20th centuries, finding heritability estimates for siblings and first cousins to be roughly the same as previously reported. But, as was also observed in some of the previous studies, they noted that the life span of spouses tended to be correlated — they were more similar, in fact, than in siblings of opposite gender.

This correlation between spouses could be due to the many non-genetic factors that accompany living in the same household — their shared environment. But the story really started to take shape when the authors compared different types of in-laws, some with quite remote relationships.

The first hint that something more than either genetics or shared environment might be at work was the finding that siblings-in-law and first-cousins-in-law had correlated life spans — despite not being blood relatives and not generally sharing households.

The size of their dataset allowed the team to zoom in on longevity correlations for other more remote relationship types, including aunts and uncles-in-law, first cousins-once-removed-in-law, and different configurations of co-siblings-in-law. The finding that a person’s sibling’s spouse’s sibling or their spouse’s sibling’s spouse had a similar life span to their own made it clear that something else was at play.

If they don’t share genetic backgrounds and they don’t share households, what best accounts for the similarity in life span between individuals with these relationship types? Going back to their impressive dataset, the researchers were able to perform analyses that detected assortative mating.

“What assortative mating means here is that the factors that are important for life span tend to be very similar between mates,” says Ruby. In other words, people tend to select partners with traits like their own — in this case, how long they live.

Of course, you can’t easily guess the longevity of a potential mate. “Generally, people get married before either one of them has died,” jokes Ruby. Because you can’t tell someone’s life span in advance, assortative mating in humans must be based on other characteristics.

The basis of this mate choice could be genetic or sociocultural — or both. For a non-genetic example, if income influences life span, and wealthy people tend to marry other wealthy people, that would lead to correlated longevity. The same would occur for traits more controlled by genetics: if, for example, tall people prefer tall spouses, and height is correlated in some way with how long you live, this would also inflate estimates of life span heritability.

By correcting for these effects of assortative mating, the new analysis found life span heritability is likely no more than seven percent, perhaps even lower.

The upshot? How long you live has less to do with your genes than you might think.

Mothers prefer daughters and fathers prefer sons

Finnish and American researchers in evolutionary biology conducted an online experiment and survey which reveals that women prefer and are more likely to invest in their daughters and men in their sons. The study was designed to test the impact of parental resources on offspring sex preferences.

Specifically, the authors sought to test the Trivers-Willard hypothesis which predicts that parents in good conditions will bias investment towards sons, while parents in poor conditions will bias investment towards daughters.

“However, our study failed to show that the parents’ preferences for the offspring’s gender are affected by their status, wealth, education or childhood environment. Instead, parental preferences were best predicted by their sex. Women from all socioeconomic backgrounds expressed implicit and explicit preferences for daughters: they chose to donate more to charities supporting girls and preferred to adopt girls. In contrast, men expressed consistent, albeit weaker, preferences for sons,” explains lead author, Postdoctoral Researcher Robert Lynch from the University of Turku, Finland.

The researchers tested the Trivers-Willard effect with an online experiment by measuring implicit and explicit psychological preferences and behaviourally implied preferences for sons or daughters both as a function of their social and economic status and in the aftermath of a priming task designed to make participants feel wealthy or poor.

The results of the research help to make sense of the often contradictory findings on offspring sex preferences. The effects of parental condition and status, competing genetic interests between males and females, economic constraints on families, and the effects of cultural practices all conspire to complicate the evolutionary outcomes of parental investment strategies.

“Frequently, the impact of one factor, for example, the genetic sexual conflict between males and females, can mask the impact of another, such as the Trivers-Willard Hypothesis. This can make it difficult to parse their effects and make clear predictions about ‘optimal’ parental investment strategies from an evolutionary perspective. We hope that our study can shed new light on these strategies and provide a better understanding of evolutionary biology in humans,” states Lynch.

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Emotional vulnerabilities shape complex behavioral arrangement of toddlers with ASD

At the time when autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be first reliably diagnosed, toddlers affected by ASD are already displaying emotional vulnerabilities potentially foreshadowing the emergence of co-morbid affective and behavioral conditions highly prevalent in older children, reports a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).

The authors found that toddlers with ASD display enhanced anger and frustration and decreased fear in response to naturalistic situations. They also found that the capacity to experience joy appears intact in the early stages of the disorder.

“ASD onsets in most cases within the first two years of life and affects approximately 1 in 59 children,” said lead authors Suzanne Macari and Katarzyna Chawarska, PhD, at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA. “This study documents, for the first time, that at the earliest age when the disorder can be reliably diagnosed, toddlers with ASD already display emotional vulnerabilities signaling risk for co-morbid affective and behavioral problems.”

The findings are based on a study of emotional development in toddlers referred for a differential diagnosis of ASD in the Northeastern United States and includes 43 toddlers with ASD and 56 non-ASD controls.

Toddlers aged 21 months were recruited between December 2013 and March 2017. Using a multi-modal approach, the researchers examined intensity of emotional responses across vocal and facial channels to naturalistic situations aimed to elicit anger, fear, and joy.

“The vulnerabilities are unrelated to autism symptoms and thus, contribute independently to the development of complex and highly heterogenous autism phenotypes,” added Drs. Macari and Chawarska. “In addition to targeting social and communication concerns, clinicians should also focus on assessing and treating affective symptoms in young children with ASD with the hope of ameliorating the severity of comorbid disorders so common in ASD.”

The researchers found that when a desired object is put out of reach of the toddler, toddlers with ASD displayed elevated levels of intensity of anger and frustration. However, when faced with novel and potentially threatening objects, their fear intensity is lower than in the comparison groups. While an elevated anger response may challenge the developing emotion regulation system, the attenuated fear response suggests atypical appraisal of threat and risk for safety concerns.

Although there is a prevailing notion that children with ASD do not experience joy as much as other children, the study found that levels of joy in response to playful situations was comparable in toddlers with ASD and the control groups. This suggests that in the early stages of the disorder, the capacity to experience joy may be intact. Harnessing this intact emotional competence for therapeutic purposes is essential as activation of positive emotions promotes learning and exploration and counters stress. Together, the study reveals a surprising and complex emotional landscape of toddlers with ASD and provides strong motivation for investigation of early emotional development in ASD and its role in emergence of autism.

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Alzheimer’s Disease: Can Exercise Prevent Memory Loss?

Can exercise prevent memory loss and improve cognitive function?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

Possibly. Exercise has many known benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, strengthening the bones and muscles, and reducing stress.

It also appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:

  • Keep thinking, reasoning, and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
  • Improve memory, reasoning, judgment, and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment
  • Delay the start of Alzheimer’s for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease

Physical activity seems to help the brain not only by keeping your blood flowing but also by increasing chemicals that protect the brain. Physical activity also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with aging.

More research is needed to know to what degree adding physical activity improves memory or slows the progression of cognitive decline. Nonetheless, regular exercise is important to stay physically and mentally fit.

Updated: 2014-10-22

Publication Date: 2014-10-22