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Lightning in a Bottle: A Chronicle of Wonder

Entries in Research (2)


Your Brain, Unplugged

Lately, there's been a steady stream of research, reports and news articles on the perils of media consumption and—more importantly—the benefits of time spent outdoors. Here's a quick recap of just some of the more noteworthy pieces from the last couple of months.

In its series, "Your Brain on Computers," the New York Times has taken an in-depth look at how the use of technology is changing the very makeup and function of our brains—and how our dependence on media and devices diminishes our capacity as parents and ultimately impacts our families. See both Attached to Technology and Paying a Price and Plugged-In Parents for more.

But there's plenty of good news, too.

A report released this spring suggests that exposure to bacteria in the soil may improve learning—good news for all of us who like to get our hands in the dirt. The new findings build upon earlier research that associates exposure to bacteria in the soil with elevated levels of serotonin and a lift in mood. For more, see Can Bacteria Make You Smarter? and Getting Dirty May Lift Your Mood from Science Daily.

And, several pieces confirm the importance of regular exposure to the natural world, even for short amounts of time. UK researchers have found that combining exercise with nature yields a quickly-occurring elevation of mood and self-esteem. A separate study found that simply spending 20 minutes a day in nature—whether a wilderness setting or the local park—boosts feelings of vitality. Lastly, those daily doses of nature—and sunshine—may hold the key to one's personal health, and to reversing the rising trend of Vitamin D deficiency. See Green exercise quickly boosts mental health, A daily dose of nature significantly boosts feelings of vitality, researchers find, and What Do You Lack? Probably Vitamin D for more.


Kids & Media: Tales From the Front Lines

I've stumbled upon a couple of interesting articles recently. Remember "Baby Einstein"—that once-ubiquitous and ostensibly beneficial series of camcorder-grade videos of toys and puppets set to Casio-tone versions of classical music pieces? Seems the founders of the franchise, which had long since been sold to the Walt Disney Company, have sought a court order for the release of records by University of Washington researchers who have linked early television viewing with attention problems and delayed language development. Those findings, the founders contend, don't jibe with other research studies.

And I suppose that may be. But while working on The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids, I found the rising wave of creditable research linking children's increased media consumption to a host of negative outcomes—attention problems and academic achievement being just two of them—to be simply overwhelming.

And the beat goes on. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation just last month released its new report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, which updates the already astonishing figures from its original report released five years ago. Incredibly, the average young person today now spends an average of 7 1/2 hours per day with entertainment media—and, by "multitasking," fits nearly 11 hours worth of media consumption into that time.

Turning the tide won't be easy, when clever products like the Fisher-Price iXL—the so-called "iPad for the pre-school set"—bring their touch screens to a toddler near you this summer.

Getting some fresh air, sunshine, and grass beneath your feet? Well, kids... I'm sure there's an app for that.