Watching the World

Predicting Marital Happiness

A research team in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., videotaped hundreds of couples discussing sensitive issues, such as money and sex. They then worked out equations to predict marital health, taking into consideration “partners’ overall outlook on life, persuadability and the extent to which they let their [partner’s] compliments or snide digs affect them,” reports Science News. Four years later the predictions had come true for 94 percent of the couples interviewed. What factors affected marital happiness? “In successful marriages, positive interactions such as laughing and joking during the taped interviews outnumbered negative ones by a 5-to-1 ratio,” the article states. “The best single predictor of divorce was a contemptuous facial expression by one partner as the other spoke.” One researcher noted: “Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.” The team is using their findings to help save troubled marriages, about two thirds of which improved after a few days of counseling.

 Clever Birds

In recent research, “birds have emerged as rivals to chimpanzees and dolphins for the title of the most intelligent non-human animals,” reports The Sunday Times of London. A Cambridge University team put a hole in the side of a transparent tube, mounted the tube horizontally with the hole facing downward into another tube, and placed food inside it next to the hole. Primates tried to push the food out, losing it down the hole. But woodpecker finches used a stick to draw the food out without losing it. Earlier, Oxford University researchers watched a New Caledonian crow named Betty make hooks from garden wire and adapt the shape of the hook to suit a particular job​—a task that primates have never been known to perform. Such findings “contradict years of received wisdom” that only primates are capable of toolmaking, comments the Times.

TV and Babies’ Mental Growth

Doctors from the Japan Pediatric Association say that children who watch TV for extended periods are more likely to have difficulty communicating, reports the Mainichi Daily News. The problems include impaired ability to remember words, to maintain eye contact with their parents, and to form interpersonal relationships. “Situations where children spend less time playing with their parents and playing outdoors possibly prevent them from healthy mental growth,” stated association member Hiromi Utsumi. The Association recommends that “parents turn off TV sets during meal times and while nursing, and that TVs, videos and computers are not to be set up in children’s rooms,” says the report, adding that communication improved “after parents followed doctors’ advice to ban their children from watching TV and videos.”

“Underground” Lending Library

In an effort to promote interest in reading, a book-lending program has been initiated in Mexico City’s metro transportation system. Inside the stations, a subway passenger can borrow a large-print book containing selections from Mexican literature, read it during his trip, and hand it in when he reaches his destination. “The response has been enormous,” said Aarón López Bravo, director of the program. “This is allowing people to use their dead time for learning and enjoyment.” In the first month, more than 130,000 books were distributed from kiosks installed for that purpose, states the international edition of The Miami Herald. The program was begun in the 21 stations of just one line, but organizers hope to expand it to the entire metro network, which daily carries nearly five million passengers.

Childbirth in Britain

“Normal childbirth has for the first time become a minority activity in Britain, marking a new milestone in the history of medicine,” reports The Independent of London. Figures published by Britain’s Department of Health for 2001-2002 show that only 45 percent of mothers delivered their babies without some kind of medical intervention. Cesarean sections increased from 9 percent in 1980 to 22.3 percent in 2001-2002. This figure reached 56 percent in one maternity unit. “Female pressure for Caesareans is becoming more and more intense,” says Peter Bowen Simpkins of Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians. “Professional women . . . want to come in on a particular date to have their baby. . . . Caesareans are seen as safer. But the truth is there is unquestionably higher morbidity with Caesareans.” Researchers also warn that mothers who deliver their first baby by Cesarean section have more difficulty conceiving again and are less likely to deliver their second baby normally.

Adolescent Dieting and Weight Gain

“Adolescents who diet to lose weight may actually end up gaining weight, setting themselves on a road to obesity,” states the magazine U.S.News & World Report. A three-year study involving nearly 15,000 children aged 9 to 14 showed that “both boys and girls who dieted gained more weight than nondieters, and their body mass index​—a measure of obesity—​increased.” The researchers suggest that “dieting may lead to binge eating,” says the report. Girls who dieted frequently “were 12 times as likely as nondieters to acknowledge bingeing.”

Priest Shortage

“More than half of Spain’s seminaries are threatened with closure” because of a lack of applicants for the Catholic priesthood, reports the Spanish newspaper ABC. During the last year, “14 seminaries did not open their doors to new candidates, while another 18 had only one new candidate.” Why the shortage? Andrés García de la Cuerda, rector of a Madrid seminary, cited the “strong and progressive secularization” of Europe, which entails “a loss of faith and Christianity.” García de la Cuerda also noted that “the social environment is unfavorable toward the [Catholic] Church and what it represents.”