Scientists learn why some children take ridiculous risks

A daily dose of beet juice creates a safeguard against dementia; Ethiopian Olim get medical training.

By
November 27, 2010 23:43
4 minute read.
PARENTS ARE warned to take precautions to keep their children out of harm’s way.

Children 58. (photo credit: Illustrative photo: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Some young children – always ready to take risks – seem to be fearless when facing dangers or challenges. Scientists now believe that at least during infancy, such behavior results from neurological causes and genetic predisposition and not educational processes or parenting practice.

University of Haifa’s Dr. Inbal Kivenson- Baron, who studied such children, says that they also show less empathy and more aggression toward their peers.

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Working in the Education Faculty under the supervision of Prof. Ofra Mayseless, Kivenson-Baron set out to examine whether fearless behavior in children three and four years old is related to specific physiological and social-emotional characteristics, and if there is a connection to aspects of parenting such as socioeconomic status, order of birth, parental well-being and child-rearing practices. She observed 80 children in the lab and at home in the presence of their parents and at preschools with their teachers; she also reviewed reports given by the adults. The study monitored children's tendency to fearlessness and their social-emotional characteristics at the beginning and end of one year so as to determine the stability of this tendency.

First it was revealed that the heart rate in children who showed a high level of fearless behavior was slow to rise when faced by dangers or challenges. Next, when she evaluated a possible correlation between fearless behavior and social characteristics, the researcher found that the more fearless children revealed less empathy toward their peers. They also had difficulty identifying facial expressions of fear, while they had no problem identifying other emotions such as anger, surprise, happiness or sadness. These kids also demonstrated higher levels of general aggression – especially tending toward antisocial behavior such as taking advantage of friends, emotional shallowness and a lack of regret or guilt after doing something socially unacceptable.

Surprisingly, she also found that despite their antisocial tendency, children who show more fearlessness are quite sociable.

“These children connect with other children, are friendly and smiley; but they find it difficult to identify distress in a friend and show less interest in helping that friend. It seems that fearless behavior includes both positive and negative aspects,” Kivenson-Baron notes.

“Since fearless behavior correlates with genetic and neurological characteristics, it is important to find the most effective ways at the preschool and at home to assist these children in developing the ability to recognize social prohibitions.

As a society, we must discern the optimal stimulation that can be provided in a child’s natural surroundings to awaken those emotions that are necessary for the development of empathy toward another and for refraining from aggressive behavior,” Kivenson-Baron concludes.

‘BEETING’ DEMENTIA

Many Israelis don’t eat beets except mixed with horseradish on Passover, but it’s worthwhile eating them year round even though they can be messy.

Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina said a daily dose of beet juice boosts blood flow to the brain, keeping the mind sharp and potentially creates a safeguard against dementia. The research findings appear in the journal Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry.

Beets are rich in nitrates, which the body turns into nitrite; this helps to open up blood vessels and improve blood flow. (In fact, Viagra and other drugs for erectile dysfunction increase nitric oxide, which has this same effect.) “One of the great things about nitrite is that it seems to head straight for the places that need more oxygen supplied by increased blood flow,” said Prof.

Gary Miller, one of the senior investigators on the project. “I think these results are consistent and encouraging – that good diet consisting of a lot of fruits and vegetables can contribute to overall good health.” This study builds on previous research showing that a diet that includes beets and other nitrate-rich foods can lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance. But this is the first to look at how beets might affect the brain. High concentrations of nitrates are found also in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some types of lettuce.

HOSPITAL WORK FOR ETHIOPIAN OLIM

Only two years ago, 15 women immigrated from Ethiopia without knowing the country or Hebrew. Today, after taking a special course at Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, these women from Haifa, Migdal Ha’emek and the Haifa Bay suburbs are ready to work as paramedical and auxiliary workers in medical institutions. The young women left their husbands and children several times a week over the past two months to participate in the course – the first of its kind in Israel. Previous Carmel courses for immigrants included people who came on aliya a decade before.

Dr. Nirit Palevsky, a Carmel social worker who coordinated the course, said all the participants were keen on learning and advancing. “They cooperated enthusiastically and despite all the difficulties leaving their families behind, they spent hours going over their study material,” she said. “We found they were all shy, but this shyness almost disappeared,” added Shalva Giladi, the hospital’s manpower head. “This change really made us happy.” The young women learned about the Patients’ Rights Law, the role of auxiliary workers, hospital diets and medical developments in Israel and abroad. They still don’t speak fluent Hebrew, but they will continue these studies using easy-Hebrew lectures, photos and illustrations.

“My dream is to help my husband support the family,” said an excited Taka Zamani. “I am so happy to graduate, and I thank the hospital for making it possible.”


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