Discovered: Nice baboons outlive mean ones; teens still drinking, but more responsibly; undecided voters 20 percent less likely to vote for Obama due to race; toddlers and the scientific method.
Teenage drunk driving in decline. Trend pieces about reckless, alcohol-crazed teens continue to come out like clockwork. "Butt-chugging," anyone? But new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that while underage drinking remains widespread, the number of teens drunk driving has fallen by more than half in the last twenty years. Dredging the annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1991 onwards, they noted a 54 percent reduction in teenage drunk driving. "We are moving in the right direction. But we must keep up the momentum," says CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. Still, binge drinking remains prevalent and one in every 10 high schoolers admitted to drinking and driving every month. That means that a full 1 million teens drove drunk last year. [NBC News]
Nice baboons live long, friendly lives. It's true that nice guys finish last, if by "guys" you mean "baboons" and by last "finish" you mean "die." Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University studied the lifespans of wild baboons in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana and found that the friendliest female baboons tended to live the longest. The ones who spent more time hanging out with and grooming each other had lower stress hormone levels, and gave birth to more healthy offspring. Social hierarchies between alpha and beta baboons can determine lifespan for males, but which rung they occupied in the social ladder didn't matter as much as friendliness for female baboons. As in humans, strong social networks contributed to better long-term health, whereas increasing isolation corresponded with earlier death. "This is a highly innovative study, says Sarah Hrdy of UC Davis, commenting on the study. "It uses behavioral measures that are meaningful to the baboons themselves to probe the relationship between fitness and personality style." [Wired]
Obama is 20 percent less likely to get independent votes because of race. As Ta-Nehisi Coates recently noted, President Obama rarely talks about race, but race still plays against him with many voters. University of Washington psychology professor Anthony Greenwald conducted a survey of voters unaffiliated with any political party that pegs Obama's race-related disadvantage at 20 percent. The preference for a white president was strongest amongst voters who described themselves as nonpartisan. "Although they may not determine the election outcome, race biases are having a strong anti-Obama effect among the least politically partisan voters," Greenwald says. "If present pre-election polling is accurate, the effect of racial attitudes will have their effect on Barack Obama’s winning margin but not on the election outcome." Eighty percent of the respondents in Greenwald's survey were white. [University of Washington]
Playtime experiments. Preschool playtime is much like scientific experimentation says Alison Gopnik. The psychologist's new paper in Science reviews literature on the way young children learn, finding that in many ways, the scientific method underpins how kids play. Children start playing by devising theories ("smashing up this painstakingly assembled Lego construction could be fun"), which they then test ("theory proven—great fun was had"). It's a rudimentary kind of science, but Gopnik argues that preschool instructors should allow children to follow their play intuition during class rather then hemming them in with more restrictive lesson plans. One of the experiments she cites reveals the benefits of incorporating play into the classroom. In this study, a research allowed some children to explore a squeaky toy on their own, but explicitly showed other children how it worked. The kids left to their own playtime devices ended up learning more about the ball than their more attentively instructed peers. [Discover]