Saturday, July 18, 2009

The links between physical attractiveness and grades

The article below from Newsweak is unusually good for them -- even more so because it is written by the often-batty Sharon Begley. Our Sharon does drift off into nuttiness towards the end of the article but I have left that bit out. Taranto has a comment on that bit, though. What puzzles Sharon and many others is WHY attractive and good-natured people get better grades at school. I don't pretend to have all the answers to that but I want to suggest two things that are probably important:

1). As a former teacher, I think I can assert with confidence that there is an undeniable arbitrary element in marking and, as in life in general, one tends to give the benefit of the doubt to people whom one likes for one reason or another. It is for that reason that all schools once graded students solely on the basis of anonymous formal exams marked by markers who did not know the person they were marking. That procedure now seems to be deemed "unfair", however -- for some reason that is not apparent to me.

2). As I occasionally mention, there does seem to be a syndrome of general biological fitness, such that some people seem to hold just about all the good cards. As Terman & Oden discovered decades ago, high-IQ people also tend to be healthier, taller, more long lived, more attractive and less likely to divorce (etc.). So the more attractive people and the people who are more pleasant to others in general are also likely to be the more intelligent ones -- and that alone could explain much of their advantage at school. I know several very bright people, including my own son, who use their intelligence to help them get on well with people. My son has just gained a distinguished degree in Mathematics and you don't get that through personality alone but using your intelligence to think about how you relate to other people and then applying that to make all interactions with others more pleasant is probably one of the more important uses of intelligence. So more intelligent persons will often be more pleasant people socially as well -- and the advantages of that at school and everywhere else are clearly undeniable.

If you survived high school, or hope to, you probably made your peace with the fact that life is unfair: looks can compensate for a lack of brains and conscientiousness. Or to put it more bluntly, teachers give good-looking kids higher grades than homely ones, all other factors being equal, as numerous studies have found. The phenomenon is so well documented in science it even has a name: the attractiveness effect.

Now sociologist Michael T. French of the University of Miami and his colleagues have discovered yet another reason for plain kids with less-than-winning personalities to feel that the deck is stacked against them. In a paper on "Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School", to be published in the August issue of Labour Economics, they find that the three factors in their title indeed affect students' GPA in high school. (Attractiveness, personality and grooming might affect grades in K-8, as well as college, too, but the researchers looked only at high school.)

Physical attractiveness, they conclude, "has a positive and statistically significant impact on GPA for female students," as other studies have found (the effect also exists for males, but not in a statistically significant way—that is, it may be due to chance). But in a departure from past studies, they find that personality and grooming can boost GPA even more than beauty.

"Being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium," they write. "While grooming has the largest effect on GPA for male students, having a very attractive personality is most important for female students." More specifically:

Physical attractiveness alone boosts GPA for both genders. Nevertheless, physical attractiveness was a weaker predictor of grades than grooming (for boys) and personality (for girls). That suggests that teacher bias plays a significant role in what grades students get. Teachers reward some physical and personality types and penalize others.

The findings raise a host of intriguing questions. For instance, how do "beauty premiums" and "plainness penalties" work?(That's economist-speak for the fact that attractive people get paid more than homely ones—not just actors or waiters: good-looking accountants and even engineers generally earn more than plain ones).

In particular, might the extra earnings reflect not a direct effect of beauty (bosses and customers unconsciously think more highly of attractive people, or are inclined to overlook their mistakes, and thus pay them more than their skills and experience justify) but an indirect one: that years of extra attention and rewards from teachers made attractive people more confident, smarter (because they received lots of positive feedback, they studied more) and thus genuinely more capable? For now, all we can say is that attractiveness and a winning personality boost grades when you're young, and may have an enduring effect once you enter the work force.

But there's something else I'm wondering. In this age of DNA, scientists are hunting for genes associated with intelligence. None have yet been found and verified, and two high-profile candidates recently flamed out (though press coverage of the failure to find a link between the genes, called microcephalin and ASPM, and IQ didn't get nearly the attention as the initial claim). But you can be sure such genes will eventually be discovered, and a study will report that people who carry them have a higher IQ than people who do not.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Daily dose of baking soda ‘can keep kidney patients off dialysis’

Hard to believe but great if a proper double-blind study confirms it. I sometimes take the stuff for indigestion so maybe I have been doing myself more good than I thought

Research by British scientists has found that sodium bicarbonate — otherwise known as baking soda — can dramatically slow the progress of the condition. About three million people in Britain suffer from chronic kidney disease, which can lead to complete kidney failure, requiring regular dialysis. Patients commonly suffer from low bicarbonate levels, a condition called metabolic acidosis.

The pilot study conducted at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, was the first controlled test of the treatment in a clinical setting. In the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers studied 134 patients with advanced chronic kidney disease and metabolic acidosis.

One group was randomly allocated a small daily dose of sodium bicarbonate in tablet form in addition to their usual care. Over a period of one year, the kidney function of these patients declined about two thirds more slowly than that of individuals who were not given the tablets. Their rate of decline was little different from what would be expected with normal ageing. Rapid progression of kidney disease occurred in just 9 per cent of patients given baking soda, compared with 45 per cent of the non-treated group.

Patients taking sodium bicarbonate tablets were also less likely to develop end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis, which takes over the function of the kidneys. Although their sodium levels were increased, it did not lead to problems with raised blood pressure.

An estimated 37,800 patients in Britain receive renal replacement therapy, which may involve dialysis or a kidney transplant. The cost of looking after kidney failure patients accounts for 3 per cent of the entire NHS budget. On average, each patient on dialysis costs the NHS £30,000 per year.

Magdi Yaqoob, professor of Renal Medicine at the Royal London, described the results as “amazing”. “This study shows that baking soda can be useful for people with kidney failure ... as long as the dose is regulated and under supervision,” he said. “This cheap and simple strategy also improves patients’ nutritional wellbeing and has the potential to improve quality of life and of course a clinical outcome that can remove the need for dialysis. Baking soda is not classed as a drug so this study has never been tried before.”

The scientists pointed out that their research was limited by not having a “placebo group” of patients receiving a “dummy” treatment. It was also not “blind” - the researchers knew which patients were receiving the baking soda. “Our results will need validation in a multi-centre study,” Professor Yaqoob said.


The pill that could some day reduce body fat by half in a week

Scientists are working on an anti-obesity pill that could reduce the fat stored by overweight people by almost a half in a week. Tests on mice have shown that the drug could decrease body weight by a quarter and their fat content by 42 per cent after seven days. After a month, the weight of the mice had been reduced by 28 per cent and their fat mass by 63 per cent.

But experts warned that it could take a decade for the potential wonder drug to be developed for use by patients. The researchers, whose findings are published online in Nature Chemical Biology, say further research is needed before the drug is tested on humans. But they say the results point to a new approach for the treatment of obesity and adult-onset diabetes.

The drug is an artificial hormone that regulates glucose metabolism. Previous studies have found this substance can suppress appetite or lead to weight loss by increasing the body's calorie usage. Dr Richard DiMarchi and colleagues at Indiana University in the U.S. created the synthetic hormone and carried out the trials on mice. He said: 'Obesity and its associated consequences, including adult-onset diabetes, remain a primary health and economic threat for modern societies.'

At the moment surgical interventions such as gastric bypass remain the only therapeutic options with the potential for a cure. Dr DiMarchi said acute glucagon administration reduces food intake in animals and in humans, and may also promote weight loss. He added: 'Pharmacological treatment of obesity using single agents has limited efficacy or presents risk for serious adverse effects. 'No single agent has proven to be capable of reducing body weight more than 5 to 10 per cent in the obese population. 'Combination therapies using multiple drugs simultaneously may represent the preferred pharmaceutical approach to treat obesity, and there is ample precedent for combination therapy in treatment of chronic diseases. 'Here we present results that prove the principle that single molecules can be designed that are capable of simultaneously activating more than one mechanism to safely normalise body weight.'

Last night, he said it would be ten years before the drug is available and tests needed to be completed on humans. Cambridge University professor of clinical biochemistry Stephen O'Rahilly said: 'It is important that these are demonstrated to be effective and safe in animal models before going forward with trials in humans.'

He added: 'Many promising drugs fall down when tried in humans either because they don't work sufficiently well or because of side effects. 'It is far too early to tell whether this molecule will be one of the exceptions and become a safe and effective treatment for obesity in humans.' But he concluded: 'I hold out considerable hope for the discovery of safe and effective anti-obesity therapies.' Professor O'Rahilly said that patients being treated with the drug could take one pill a day, or an injection.


1 comment:

Kelle said...

There is good scientific evidence that taking potassium citrate, an alkaline, helps slow the progression of polycystic kidney disease - the most common genetic disease - for much the same reason. I believe gold-standard human trials are currently underway on this but nephrologists with a clue (that is, who keep up with the latest research and actually think) instruct their patients to take it under supervision, as it is unlikely to cause harm.