Sunday, October 31, 2010

Liars' brains 'are not the same'

Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK

Liars' brains 'are not the same'
A deceitful person's brain is different, the study suggests
Habitual liars' brains differ from those of honest people, a study says.

A University of Southern California team studied 49 people and found those known to be pathological liars had up to 26% more white matter than others.

White matter transmits information and grey matter processes it. Having more white matter in the prefrontal cortex may aid lying, the researchers said,

But the British Journal of Psychiatry said there were likely to be more differences in the brains of liars.

Manipulative behaviour

Participants were volunteers drawn from five temporary employment agencies in Los Angeles.

Three separate groups were studied.

The issue is always how much of our behaviour is under voluntary control and how much is innate
Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, Consultant Psychiatrist

The first consisted of 12 men and women with a history of being pathological liars; the second was 21 people who did not have a history of lying or anti-social behaviour.

The third group consisted of 16 people with anti-social personality disorder but no history of pathological lying. They were studied to see if they showed the same brain make-up as liars.

The researchers drew up a list of criteria for lying, cheating and deceiving, including habits such as conning people or behaving manipulatively, and telling lies in order to obtain sickness benefits.

They also assessed how much grey and white matter people had in the prefrontal cortex areas of their brains, using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Liars were found to have between 22 and 26% more white matter than either those with no history of lying or those in the anti-social group.


The findings could not be explained by differences in age, ethnicity, IQ, head injury or substance misuse.

This is the first study to show a brain difference in people who lie, cheat and manipulate others, the researchers said.

They said the study could help research into areas such as people who feign illness.

The findings are in line with previous studies which showed children with autism are less capable of lying than other children.

Brain neurodevelopmental studies of autism show people with the condition have more grey matter than white matter - the opposite pattern to the liars in this study.

The researchers say the link between white matter and a deceitful personality could be that white matter provides a person with the cognitive capacity to lie.

Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the research team led by Dr Yaling Yang, say: "To our knowledge, this is the first study to show a brain abnormality in people who lie, cheat and manipulate others.

"The results further implicate the prefrontal cortex as an important - but not sole - component in the neural circuitry underlying lying, and provide an initial neurological correlate of a deceitful personality."

They add: "Further studies are required to examine changes in brain anatomy during the critical neurodevelopmental period in childhood, alongside changes in lying ability, to test further our preliminary hypothesis on the link between prefrontal white matter and lying."

Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, a consultant psychiatrist in London, said: "The issue is always how much of our behaviour is under voluntary control and how much is innate.

"The finding of brain abnormalities lends weight to the idea that a strong component of such difficulties may well be beyond voluntary control at least in part."

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's good to think - but not too much, scientists say

It's good to think - but not too much, scientists say

Brain People who think more about their decisions have more brain cells in their frontal lobes

People who think more about whether they are right have more cells in an area of the brain known as the frontal lobes.

UK scientists, writing in Science, looked at how brain size varied depending on how much people thought about decisions.

But a nationwide survey recently found that some people think too much about life.

These people have poorer memories, and they may also be depressed.

Stephen Fleming, a member of the University College London (UCL) team that carried out the research, said: "Imagine you're on a game show such as 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' and you're uncertain of your answer. You can use that knowledge to ask the audience, ask for help."

The London group asked 32 volunteers to make difficult decisions. They had to look at two very similar black and grey pictures and say which one had a lighter spot.

They then had to say just how sure they were of their answer, on a scale of one to six. Although it was hard to tell the difference, the pictures were adjusted to make sure that no-one found the task harder than anyone else.

People who were more sure of their answer had more brain cells in the front-most part of the brain - known as the anterior prefrontal cortex.

This part of the brain has been linked to many brain and mental disorders, including autism. Previous studies have looked at how this area functions while people make real time decisions, but not at differences between individuals.

Illness link

The study is the first to show that there are physical differences between people with regard to how big this area is. These size differences relate to how much they think about their own decisions.

The researchers hope that learning more about these types of differences between people may help those with mental illness.

Co-author Dr Rimona Weil, from UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: "I think it has very important implications for patients with mental ill health who perhaps don't have as much insight into their own disease."

She added that they hope they may be able to improve patients' ability to recognise that they have an illness and to remember to take their medication.

However, thinking a lot about your own thoughts may not be all good.

Cognitive psychologist Dr Tracy Alloway from the University of Stirling, who was not involved in the latest study, said that some people have a tendency to brood too much and this leads to a risk of depression.

More than 1,000 people took part in a nationwide study linking one type of memory - called "working memory" - to mental health.

Working memory involves the ability to remember pieces of information for a short time, but also while you are remembering them, to do something with them.

For example, you might have to keep hold of information about where you saw shapes and colours - and also answer questions on what they looked like. Dr Alloway commented: "I like to describe it as your brain's Post-It note."

Those with poorer working memory, the 10-15% of people who could only remember about two things, were more likely to mull over things and brood too much.

Both groups presented their findings at the British Science Festival, held this year at the University of Aston in Birmingham.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Computers show how wind could have parted Red Sea

Computer simulations show how the movement of wind could have parted the waters of the Red Sea

New computer simulations have shown how the parting of the Red Sea, as described in the Bible, could have been a phenomenon caused by strong winds.

The account in the Book of Exodus describes how the waters of the sea parted, allowing the Israelites to flee their Egyptian pursuers.

Simulations by US scientists show how the movement of wind could have opened up a land bridge at one location.

This would have enabled people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety.

The results are published in the open-access journal Plos One.

The researchers show that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon.

Parting of waters through wind setdown (NCAR) 63mph winds from the east could have pushed the water back at an ancient river bend

With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety.

As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.

The study is based on a reconstruction of the likely locations and depths of Nile delta waterways, which have shifted considerably over time.

"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," said the study's lead author Carl Drews, from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

"The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."

The study is part of a larger research project by Mr Drews into the impacts of winds on water depths, including the extent to which Pacific Ocean typhoons can drive storm surges.

By pin-pointing a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the crossing, the study also could be of benefit to archaeologists seeking to research the account.

A way through

In the Book of Exodus, Moses and the fleeing Israelites became trapped between the Pharaoh's advancing chariots and a body of water that has been variously translated as the Red Sea or the Sea of Reeds.

Moses commands the Red Sea to return The Biblical account says that, as the Pharaoh's army followed, the waters rushed in

In a divine miracle, the account says, a mighty east wind blew all night, splitting the waters and leaving a passage of dry land with walls of water on both sides.

The Israelites were able to flee to the other shore. But when the Egyptian Pharaoh's army attempted to pursue them in the morning, the waters rushed back and drowned the soldiers.

Other scientists have also sought to explain the account through natural processes.

Some have speculated that a tsunami could have caused waters to retreat and advance rapidly. But the scientists behind the latest research point out that such an event would not have caused the gradual overnight divide of the waters or have been associated with winds.

Other researchers have focused on a phenomenon known as "wind setdown," in which a particularly strong and persistent wind can lower water levels in one area while piling up water downwind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to say 'Louis Vuitton' and other designers' names

The hyper-critical gaze of fashionistas around the world focuses on Britain this week for London Fashion Week. But if you're planning to venture an opinion on whether Alexa Chung's liking for long skirts will spark a wider trend, you'd better be able to pronounce the names of the top designers.

It's what separates the dedicated followers of fashion from the casual observers - whether you say Louis Vwee-ton or Louis Vee-ton, or even Lewis Vee-ton.

The international nature of the world of fashion can sometimes complicate researching fashion-related pronunciation for the BBC Pronunciation Unit. Our policy for company names is, where possible, to recommend the pronunciation the company itself prefers.

However, if there is a fashion house with multiple corporate offices around the world (such as Milan, Paris, New York and Tokyo), pronunciations used within the company itself can sometimes differ across languages.

Another point for us to consider is that many companies are named after a particular individual's name, and the pronunciation of the name itself and the company are not necessarily always the same.

With foreign names in general, we consider the opinion of the speakers of the relevant languages and ask them how they pronounce it in the original language and how they might expect it to be anglicised.

For company names, we then consult official sources, such as press offices at the company's headquarters, to enquire about their preferred pronunciation. We also speak to boutiques of the brands in this country to see if there are any established anglicisations that the brands go by in the UK.

A mouthful

(All the pronunciations given below are written in BBC Text spelling; stressed syllables in upper case, -uh as "a" in ago.)

An example of this is the pronunciation of the fashion house Balenciaga. Balenciaga is named after its founder, Basque designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. He was widely know in Spain by the Spanish pronunciation of his name, bal-en-thi-AA-guh (-th as in thin, -aa as in father). The company is now owned by a French company, so a gallicised pronunciation is also a possibility.

Ralph Lauren Ralph Lauren - easy, or is it?

After speaking to the corporate offices in Paris and the boutique in London, we found the company itself prefers the pronunciation bal-en-si-AA-guh (-s as in sit) in English language contexts.

Miu Miu, part of the Prada fashion house empire, is pronounced MYOO-myoo (-my as in music, -oo as in boot). Other Italian designers with names that can be a mouthful include Ermenegildo Zegna, pronounced air-men-uh-JIL-doh ZEN-yuh (-air as in hair, -j as in Jack, -y as in yes), Giambattista Valli, pronounced jam-bat-EE-stuh VAL-i (-j as in Jack, -al as in pal), Francesco Scognamiglio, pronounced fran-CHESS-koh skon-yam-EEL-yoh (-y as in yes) and Gianfranco Ferre, pronounced jan-FRANK-oh ferr-AY (-j as in Jack, -ay as in say).

Designers based in Paris include Christian Lacroix, pronounced kreest-YAA(NG) laa-KRWAA (-aa(ng) as in French blanc, -aa as in father), Lebanese designer Elie Saab, pronounced ELL-i SAAB (-aa as in father) and influential Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, whose name is pronounced YOH-ji yam-uh-MOH-toh (-oh as in no, -j as in Jack, -established anglicisation). The French fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton is sometimes anglicised as LOO-i VWEE-ton by some native English speakers, but we recommend the company's own preferred pronunciation, LWEE vwee-TO(NG) (-w as in wet, -o(ng) as in French bon).

American designers Anna Sui, pronounced, AN-uh SWEE, Isaac Mizrahi, pronounced IGH-zuhk miz-RAA-hi (-aa as in father), and Ralph Lauren, pronounced RALF LORR-uhn (-orr as in sorry), are familiar faces at London Fashion Week.

And finally, here are the pronunciations of some of our own British designers: Jaeger is pronounced YAY-guhr (-y as in yes, -ay as in say) and Hussein Chalayan is pronounced huuss-AYN chuh-LIGH-uhn (-uu as in book, -ay as in say, -igh as in high).

The BBC Pronunciation Unit writes an occasional 'How to Say' column for the Magazine Monitor. To download the unit's guide to BBC Text Spelling, click here.

Stonehenge boy 'was from the Med'

28 September 2010 Last updated at 15:34 GMT

Stonehenge boy 'was from the Med'

Burial of Bronze Age male teenager from Boscombe Down (Wessex Archaeology) The boy was buried with around 90 amber beads

Related stories

Chemical tests on teeth from an ancient burial near Stonehenge indicate that the person in the grave grew up around the Mediterranean Sea.

The bones belong to a teenager who died 3,550 years ago and was buried with a distinctive amber necklace.

Start Quote

The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status”

End Quote Professor Jane Evans British Geological Survey

The conclusions come from analysis of different forms of the elements oxygen and strontium in his tooth enamel.

Analysis on a previous skeleton found near Stonehenge showed that that person was also a migrant to the area.

The findings will be discussed at a science symposium in London to mark the 175th anniversary of the British Geological Survey (BGS).

The "Boy with the Amber Necklace", as he is known to archaeologists, was found in 2005, about 5km south-east of Stonehenge on Boscombe Down.

The remains of the teenager were discovered next to a Bronze Age burial mound, during roadworks for military housing.

"He's around 14 or 15 years old and he's buried with this beautiful necklace," said Professor Jane Evans, head of archaeological science for the BGS.

"The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status."

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, backed this interpretation: "Amber necklaces are not common finds," he told BBC News.

"Most archaeologists would say that when you find burials like this... people who can get these rare and exotic materials are people of some importance."

Chemical record

Professor Evans likened Stonehenge in the Bronze Age to Westminster Abbey today - a place where the "great and the good" were buried.

Tooth enamel forms in a child's first few years, so it stores a chemical record of the environment in which the individual grew up.

Amber beads (BGS) The amber to make the beads almost certainly came from the Baltic Sea

Two chemical elements found in enamel - oxygen and strontium - exist in different forms, or isotopes. The ratios of these isotopes found in enamel are particularly informative to archaeologists.

Most oxygen in teeth and bone comes from drinking water - which is itself derived from rain or snow.

In warm climates, drinking water contains a higher ratio of heavy oxygen (O-18) to light oxygen (O-16) than in cold climates. So comparing the oxygen isotope ratio in teeth with that of drinking water from different regions can provide information about the climate in which a person was raised.

Most rocks carry a small amount of the element strontium (Sr), and the ratio of strontium 87 and strontium 86 isotopes varies according to local geology.

The isotope ratio of strontium in a person's teeth can provide information on the geological setting where that individual lived in childhood.

By combining the techniques, archaeologists can gather data pointing to regions where a person may have been raised.

Tests carried out several years ago on another burial known as the "Amesbury Archer" show that he was raised in a colder climate than that found in Britain.

Analysis of the strontium and oxygen isotopes in his teeth showed that his most likely childhood origin was in the Alpine foothills of Germany.

Stonehenge People were visiting Stonehenge from afar during the Bronze Age

"Isotope analysis of tooth enamel from both these people shows that the two individuals provide a contrast in origin, which highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe," said Professor Evans.

The Amesbury Archer was discovered around 5km from Stonehenge. His is a rich Copper Age or early Bronze Age burial, and contains some of the earliest gold and copper objects found in Britain. He lived about 4,300 years ago, some 800 years earlier than the Boscombe Down boy.

The archer arrived at a time when metallurgy was becoming established in Britain; he was a metal worker, which meant he possessed rare skills.

"We see the beginning of the Bronze Age as a period of great mobility across Europe. People, ideas, objects are all moving very fast for a century or two," said Dr Fitzpatrick.

"At the time when the boy with the amber necklace was buried, there are really no new technologies coming in [to Britain]... We need to turn to look at why groups of people - because this is a youngster - are making long journeys."

He speculated: "They may be travelling within family groups... They may be coming to visit Stonehenge because it was an incredibly famous and important place, as it is today. But we don't know the answer."

Other people who visited Stonehenge from afar were the Boscombe Bowmen, individuals from a collective Bronze Age grave. Isotope analysis suggests these people could have come from Wales or Brittany, if not further afield.

The research is being prepared for publication in a collection of research papers on Stonehenge.

Not depressed, just sad, lonely or unhappy

28 September 2010 Last updated at 23:55 GMT

Not depressed, just sad, lonely or unhappy

Woman gazing out of window Is sad so bad?

Cases of depression have grown around the world. But while awareness of the illness has helped lift the stigma it once attracted, have we lost touch with the importance of just feeling sad, asks Mary Kenny.

Looking back on my own reasonably serene childhood in Ireland during the 1950s, I recall quiet murmurs about people who suffered from "nerves".

I remember hearing that a neighbour - a well-to-do woman whose larger house and smart appearance was rather envied in the community - had had a "nervous breakdown".

Although when I repeated this to my aunt and uncle, with whom I was living, I was hushed up with a peremptory word of censure. There was, clearly, something slightly shameful about a "nervous breakdown" and one didn't speak about it.

I can see now, though I did not see then, that these were hidden incidents of depression among family and neighbours. But the stigma over depression, or even mental illness of any kind, must have added to their anguish.

How times have changed. It is an accepted truth, in our time, that depression is an illness with a global reach.

Start Quote

Mary Kenny

We are losing old rituals which human beings have practised for eons”

End Quote Mary Kenny

It seems that depression in various guises - whether chronic, uni-polar, bi-polar, clinical, recurrent, major or minor - accounts for a greater burden of disease, world-wide, than war, cancer and AIDS all put together.

This new openness is a good thing. Yet in the process, are we losing something?

Take the word, "trauma," which is now frequently and commonly invoked in conversation today. A person who has suffered a bereavement is said to be "in trauma".

A person who has been subjected to shock is said to be "traumatised". The break-up of relationships - a sad human experience which brings us a sense of loss, and hurts our need for attachment - is, similarly, described as "a traumatic experience".

In his excellent autobiographical study of depression which he so adroitly called Malignant Sadness, Professor Lewis Wolpert employs the concept of "trauma" to describe, for example, bereavement.

Death - part of life

"Trauma" comes from the Greek word for a "wound", and in a medical sense, it is what happens to the body when a wound delivers a shock.

Find out more

Mary Kenny's Medicalising Melancholy is on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 29 Sept at 2045 BST

But bereavement, of which I have much sorrowful experience is, alas, part of the natural course of life's sad events.

As Shakespeare observes, with Hamlet, his father lost a father, and that father lost a father before him, and so on, ad infinitum, through the hinterland of human history.

Grief is desperately upsetting: it hurts you for ages, and the loss of someone you love is emotionally painful, and can be enduringly so. But why not call it by its proper name: bereavement: grief: loss?

One reason may be that we are losing old rituals which human beings have practised for eons.

When I was a young woman in France in the 1960s, you would come across a shop with its blinds drawn, and a notice saying: "Ferme pour deuil": closed for mourning.

Virgina Woolf Virginia Woolf endured a condition of fatigue, loss of motivation and energy

It is still seen in France, and is also a usual response in Italy. Mourning symbols were widespread in all cultures - widows' weeds, black armbands - and the community was expected to respect those who mourn.

Outward signs of mourning have declined, if not been abolished in more secular societies now: but our sense of sadness and loss endure, and instead of this being called mourning, it is called "trauma".

It might be a start to revive or recapture some of the wider, non-medical vocabulary for the gamut of human experience.

Depression may also be melancholy: it may be discouragement, disappointment, abandonment, sadness, sorrow, mourning, rejection, regret, anxiety, grief, obsession, introspection, loss, separation, loneliness, isolation, alienation, guilt, loss of hope, temperamental woe and simple, pure, unhappiness.

It can be forms of low mood now out of date. The Edwardians were very keen on a condition known as "neurasthenia"; Virginia Woolf was diagnosed with it.

It was also known as "nervous debility", or, in its milder form, being hyper-sensitive and thin-skinned.

Yearning for the past

"Anomie" was another condition once favoured in the 19th Century by the sociologist Emile Durkheim, and from a sociologist, a sociological condition. Anomie was defined as an isolated mood caused by the breakdown of social norms, sense of purpose and rules of conduct.

Start Quote

There are romantic-sounding forms of melancholy: the German idea of weltschmerz - a yearning sense of 'world-sorrow'”

End Quote

There was also a spiritual form of depression called "accidie" much brooded on by some of the saints - this was "dryness of the soul". The writer Malcolm Muggeridge also complained of suffering from it at times.

There are even, I think, some romantic-sounding forms of melancholy: the German idea of weltschmerz - a yearning sense of "world-sorrow" and unfocused sadness for humanity: or the French nostalgie du passé, that bittersweet Proustian condition of longing for the past, with a rueful sense of regret for missed chances and lost opportunities.

I also rather like mal du pays - the exile's yearning for the country of childhood, and it comes to me in flashes, both in the spring and autumn, when I think of Irish country lanes, and the smell of fields of mown hay. Ah, bonjour tristesse!

No doubt we are better off for shedding much of the stigma surrounding mental illness - but with it, have we lost some of the variety, the dark poetry of the human condition?

Mary Kenny is an author, journalist and public speaker

Ten 'most threatened' buildings in England and Wales

11 October 2010 Last updated at 14:06 GMT

Ten 'most threatened' buildings in England and Wales

former Unitarian chapel on Upper Brook Street in Manchester The Unitarian Chapel on Upper Brook Street in Manchester is on the endangered list

The Victorian Society has released a list of what it says are the 10 most endangered buildings in England and Wales.

It follows a public appeal by the charity to find the most threatened Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

The buildings are in Leicestershire, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield, Grimsby, Liverpool, Manchester, London and Vale of Glamorgan.

Included is a former ice factory, an old fire station and a school.

This is the fourth year the Victorian Society has run its endangered buildings list, which aims to highlight the problems facing historic properties.

In order to be on the list, a building has to be at risk, whether from demolition, insensitive development or years of neglect, the society said.

The list of 10 was drawn up using nominations from members of the public.

Dr Ian Dungavell, director of the Victorian Society, said: "Our heritage is a finite resource and once historic buildings like this are gone they cannot be replaced."


  • Hammerton School, Ouseburn Road, Darnall, Sheffield
  • Grimsby's former ice factory, Gorton Street, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire
  • Wedgwood Institute, Queen Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Bradgate House Stables, Bradgate Hill, Groby, Leicestershire
  • Royal Liverpool Seamen's Orphanage, Newsham Park, Tuebrook, Liverpool
  • 30 Euston Square, London
  • The Unitarian Chapel, Upper Brook Street, Manchester
  • Old Fire Station, Court Road, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan
  • Normansfield Hospital, Kingston Road, Teddington, Greater London
  • Former Moseley School of Art, Moseley Road, Birmingham

Also on the list is a boarded-up former orphanage in Liverpool, designed by Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse and built in the 1870s, and a former Unitarian chapel on Upper Brook Street in Manchester.

The roof of the Grade II-listed chapel, which dates back to the late-1830s, has been taken off for safety reasons and the Victorian Society wants Manchester City Council to ensure the rest of the building is protected.

"Time is running out for the chapel, as the longer it lies empty and exposed to the elements the harder it will be to save," said Dr Dungavell.

"We urge Manchester City Council to take the lead and bring this eye-catching ruin back into use."

Manchester City Council said it had been working to re-develop the site and was currently in negotiations with a developer to renovate the building.

A council spokesman said: "Discussions are at an early stage but we hope to make an announcement about the future of the chapel within the next few months."

'Eye-catching ruin'

Also on the list is the former Moseley School of Art in Birmingham, built in 1898, which is now the headquarters of the British Association of Muslims.

The Victorian Society is concerned about the building's "deteriorating condition".

Dr Dungavell said: "Even in harsh economic times historic buildings like the former art school need to be cared for or they won't survive for future generations.

"This is a nationally significant building and we urge the council to use its powers and make sure urgent repairs are carried out."

Former Moseley School of Art, Birmingham The Moseley School of Art in Birmingham is now home to the British Association of Muslims

The former Wedgwood Institute in Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent has also been included on the list.

Until recently, it was home to Burslem's public library, but closed two years ago due to structural problems, the society said.

The library books have been moved elsewhere but the building remains at risk of further deterioration.

The Victorian Society's list is different to the At Risk Register organised by English Heritage, but some of the buildings, such as the Grimsby former ice factory, features on both of them.

The ice factory was built in 1900/1901 and produced ice for Grimsby's fishing industry for 90 years, before closing in 1990.

Ice-making machinery remains inside the building, even though the factory is now derelict.

Earlier this year, the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust was set up to campaign for its restoration.

Vicky Hartung, chair of the trust, said: "It's one of the few remaining buildings from our heritage.

"We were a glorious fishing port at one time, we are no longer that, but it's a spectacular building and we think it can be brought to life again and contribute to the town."

Background noise affects taste of foods, research shows

Background noise affects taste of foods, research shows

Empty table overlooking vineyard This might be the best place for the tastiest meal

The level of background noise affects both the intensity of flavour and the perceived crunchiness of foods, researchers have found.

Blindfolded diners assessed the sweetness, saltiness, and crunchiness, as well as overall flavour, of foods as they were played white noise.

While louder noise reduced the reported sweetness or saltiness, it increased the measure of crunch.

The research is reported in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

It may go some way to explaining why airline food is notoriously bland - a phenomenon that drives airline catering companies to heavily season their foods.

"There's a general opinion that aeroplane foods aren't fantastic," said Andy Woods, a researcher from Unilever's laboratories and the University of Manchester.

"I'm sure airlines do their best - and given that, we wondered if there are other reasons why the food would not be so good. One thought was perhaps the background noise has some impact," he told BBC News.

"Nasa gives their space explorers very strong-tasting foods, because for some reason thay can't taste food that strongly - again, perhaps it's the background noise.

"There was no previous research on this, so we went about seeing if the hunch was correct."


In a comparatively small study, 48 participants were fed sweet foods such as biscuits or salty ones such as crisps, while listening to silence or noise through headphones.

Meanwhile they rated the intensity of the flavours and of their liking.

In noisier settings, foods were rated less salty or sweet than they were in the absence of background noise, but were rated to be more crunchy.

"The evidence points to this effect being down to where your attention lies - if the background noise is loud it might draw your attention to that, away from the food," Dr Woods said.

Also in the group's findings there is the suggestion that the overall satisfaction with the food aligned with the degree to which diners liked what they were hearing - a finding the researchers are pursuing in further experiments.

Hitler's relationship with Germany explored

15 October 2010 Last updated at 04:07 GMT

Hitler's relationship with Germany explored

Posters of different 'German races' and a Nazi era warning poster on inter racial breeding The new exhibition in Berlin has Adolf Hitler as its focus for the first time

The title is important: Hitler and the German People. The first ever big exhibition in a major German museum to focus on Hitler is not just about him but about his relationship with the people.

And that, of course, makes for discomfort. After all, the people who come to the German Historical Museum in Berlin are the grandchildren and, occasionally, the children of those who participated in the poisonous relationship in the 1930s and early 40s. This is not an exhibition where the visitors view coolly from outside. It is one where they look into themselves, too.

Start Quote

I find the exhibition of Hitler not a good idea. I believe the neo-Nazis will come”

End Quote Hans Coppi, whose parents were hanged by the Nazis

What they will find as they walk the rooms is that Hitler and the Nazis permeated ordinary German life. There are tiny toys depicting him, children's models of him in uniform with his arm outstretched in salute.

There is a quilt where the inhabitants of a village have depicted their homes in delicate needle-craft - alongside the Nazi symbols also stitched with great care. There is a cup and saucer with a swastika, and a lamp shade with the same symbol. There is a deck of playing cards showing Hitler and other Nazis. There is a gravestone from 1938 with a swastika.

Click to play

Museum director Hans Ottomeyer on why the exhibition was put together

There are also exhibits that give the game away, as it were. There is a very ordinary amateur painting, but on the back you see the Torah, the implication being that the sacred Jewish text was just taken and used for material for a hobby. Who now knows where it came from or what became of the original owners?

As you look, you wonder.

One of the few bits of personal memorabilia is a vast wooden desk with an eagle and snake on the front, and used by Hitler. The conclusion the organisers want you to draw is about his obsession with aggrandisement. It is a desk that is useless except for what it says.

There are paintings of the masses as just that: the masses - regimented, indistinguishable one from the next. There is a painting from before the war which depicts the masses hauling their leader - depicted as a monstrous giant - in adoration. The organisers said they want the viewer to conclude: don't say nobody knew it was coming because here it is foretold.

Swastikas on display The depiction of the swastika remains illegal in public places

The exhibition is ground-breaking because it breaks a great taboo in Germany - and remember that the depiction of the swastika or the Nazi salute remain illegal in public places (the museum is exempt because it's technically for research purposes). But previous attempts at exhibitions focusing on Hitler came to naught because of the fear of attracting neo-Nazis.

Six years ago, for example, a similar exhibition entitled Hitler and the National Socialist Regime was rejected because it was felt to be too personalised - too focused on the man.

It's the images of Hitler that remain the problem, and in this current exhibition they are sparse. There are the busts of him, which were turned out industrially for mantelpieces throughout the land. And there are pictures of him in rows on the front covers of today's news magazines, perhaps to make the point that Hitler sells.

But there isn't personal memorabilia. The clothes he wore are not here. The German museum has not, for example, borrowed one of his uniforms from a museum in Moscow.

Simone Erpel, the curator of the exhibition, said: "Something worn by Hitler, even if it was just twice, could become a fetish."

There's no doubt it is all very thoughtfully done, but people remain uneasy. On the one hand, there are people who say that Hitler is not studied enough in schools so the more serious contemplation and sheer information there is, the better.

Busts of Adolf Hitler Busts of Hitler were turned out industrially for mantlepieces

But there are also those who see dangers. Also in the week when the exhibition opens, three small brass plaques on cobble stones were laid in a quiet street a short distance from the museum.

On them were the names of three people executed by the Nazis for organizing resistance and saving Jews. One of the people at the street ceremony was Hans Coppi whose parents were hanged.

"I find the exhibition of Hitler not a good idea. I believe the neo-Nazis will come," he said.

To which the director of the Museum on Unter den Linden, Hans Ottomeyer replies: "We are not haunted by neo-Nazis because we are a place of enlightenment. They don't read books and they don't go to exhibitions".

"Hitler was a poor tramp and it needed the acclaim of the Germans to make Hitler what he became. This the exhibition tries to reflect. It is about propaganda and it is about the means of his attraction."

So does the holding of the exhibition mean that Hitler is now in the past, a person for museums but remote from today's reality?

"He is not past and remote. He is still everywhere to be feared," says Mr Ottomeyer.

"Our cities and our public buildings are still destroyed and not rebuilt - and the same is true of the minds and the values of the people which were heavily hampered by the Third Reich and its effects."