If the mere thought of the dentist's chair makes you shudder, it might be your parents' fault.

And not because they're the ones who used to take you there, but because dental care-related fear and anxiety can be due, in part, to genetic influences inherited from mum and dad.

A pioneering study by West Virginia University psychology researchers has demonstrated genetics can not only play a role in "dental fear" but in fear of pain.

It drew on a novel approach to study dental fear heritability in a large participant sample, based on family-based cohort data.

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In the US, dental fear is relatively common, with significant fears affecting 10 to 20 per cent of adults.

At high levels, it can result in delays or complete avoidance of dental treatment, which has consequences for individuals' oral and overall health.

Study author and doctoral candidate Cameron Randall said the study provided a more comprehensive conceptualisation of dental fear, an understanding that may improve dental care in the future.

"The most important conclusion of this study is that our genes may predispose us to be more susceptible to developing dental fear, perhaps through pain-related variables."

Injured turtle's long cruise home

Koha the turtle is loaded on NIWA research vessel Tangaroa by Kelly Tarlton aquarists Harry Josephson-Rutter (left) and Joseph Woolcott. Photo: Nava Fedaeff.
Koha the turtle is loaded on NIWA research vessel Tangaroa by Kelly Tarlton aquarists Harry Josephson-Rutter (left) and Joseph Woolcott. Photo: Nava Fedaeff.

Niwa's research vessel Tangaroa this week sailed toward the Kermadecs with special cargo onboard.

A hawksbill sea turtle, named Koha by Ngati Kuri, hitched a ride home after having been nursed back to health over the two years since it was found weak and emaciated near Dargaville.

Niwa principal scientist Dr Malcolm Clark said it was an honour to have Koha aboard for the first part of a 20-day voyage he is leading to the Kermadecs.

"It is a rare privilege to be able to return a critically endangered creature to its natural habitat," he said.

"We are very much looking forward to releasing it, knowing we have played a small part in helping the conservation of this magnificent species."

Harry Josephson-Rutter, a turtle expert at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium where Koha recovered, said it was likely the turtle was swimming in New Zealand waters in its early years, when turtles typically travel the world's oceans via major ocean currents.

The hawksbill sea turtle was listed as critically endangered, he said.

"Having already been hunted to near extinction throughout history for its attractive shell, sea turtles are now under threat from ocean pollution and habitat destruction."

Does being richer make your snobbier?

People who consider themselves part of a higher class take less notice of those less well off, a new study indicates. Photo: File
People who consider themselves part of a higher class take less notice of those less well off, a new study indicates. Photo: File

People who consider themselves part of a relatively high social class spend less time looking at passers-by compared with those who aren't as well off, a new study finds.

The research, just published in Psychological Science, suggests this difference stems from spontaneous processes linked to perception and attention.

Previous studies have revealed a variety of behavioural differences among people of various social classes, including levels of compassion, interpersonal engagement, charity, ethicality, and empathy toward others.

New York University psychological scientist Pia Dietze wondered whether these discrepancies might stem, at least in part, from deep, culturally ingrained differences in the way people process information.

To test the hypothesis, they carried out a series of experiments, including having 61 people walk around New York City wearing Google Glass, with the presumption they were only testing the electronic eyewear.

Later analysis of the visual recordings indeed showed that higher-class participants spent less time looking at people in a street scene than did their lower-class peers.

"Our work contributes to a growing knowledge base around the influence of social class background on psychological functioning," Dietze said.

"The more we know about the effect of social class differences, the better we can address widespread societal issues - this research is just one piece of the puzzle."

Why computers deserve credit for discoveries too

Should computers receive legal patents for what they invent? Photo: Sergey Soldatov/123RF
Should computers receive legal patents for what they invent? Photo: Sergey Soldatov/123RF

In innovation today, computers to do much of the heavy lifting for us; so why shouldn't they be allowed credit for what they discover themselves?

UK scientists are arguing that computers should be legally granted patents for inventions - something they're not entitled to under patent law despite the growing role of artificial intelligence in research and development.

But there's a practical reason for the call. Without a change in the law, the findings warn that there will be less innovation, caused by uncertainty, which would prevent industry from capitalising on the huge potential of creative computers.

We're also likely to see disputes over inventorship individuals taking credit for inventions that are not genuinely theirs, they say.

Professor Ryan Abbott, of the University of Surrey's School of Law, cited one example: an AI system called The Creativity Machine that invented the first cross-bristled toothbrush design.

"Soon computers will be routinely inventing, and it may only be a matter of time until computers are responsible for most innovation," Abbott said.

"To optimise innovation - and the positive impact this will have on our economies - it is critical that we extend the laws around inventorship to include computers."

Can fake pills actually help?

Conventional medical wisdom has long held that placebo effects depend on patients' belief they are getting pharmacologically active medication.

But a paper just published in the journal Pain has turned this understanding on its head.

It demonstrated how patients who knowingly took a placebo in conjunction with traditional treatment for lower back pain saw more improvement than those given traditional treatment alone.

In the study, which included nearly 100 patients, those who knowingly took fake pills reported 30 per cent less pain and 29 per cent reduction in disability compared to control group.

The researchers point to the fact that, as they were taking the placebos, the patients were also being immersed in treatment, interacting with a physician or nurse, taking pills, all the rituals and symbols of a healthcare system.

Taking placebo pills to relieve symptoms without a warm and empathic relationship with a health-care provider relationship probably wouldn't work, they said.

Study co-author Associate Professor Ted Kaptchuk, of Harvard Medical School said, it was important to note that placebo intervention clearly still couldn't shrink a tumour or unclog an artery.

But it could help people feel better - and the research showed that placebo had "clinical meaning" and shouldn't be rubbished.

"It's essential to what medicine means."