If you worry that people today are using social media as a crutch for a real social life, a new study will set you at ease.

The paper, in the journal New Media and Society, finds people are actually quite adept at discerning the difference between using social media and having an honest-to-goodness social interaction.

It drew on three previous studies, one of which demonstrated that when using social media, most of us are engaged in passive behaviours that we don't consider social interaction, like browsing others' profiles and reading news articles.

Another found most of what we consider social interaction with people in our close circle of friends happens face to face.

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When interaction with these close others was through social media, it was not something passive like browsing or "liking", but rather using chat or instant message functions.

"There is a tendency to equate what we do on social media as if it is social interaction, but that does not reflect people's actual experience using it," said study leader Associate Professor Jeffrey Hall, of the University of Kansas.

"All of this worry that we're seeking out more and more social interaction on Facebook is not true. Most interactions are face-to-face, and most of what we consider social interaction is face to face."

Ageing all downhill for your brain? It seems not

With age comes wisdom, at least when it comes to knowing that things aren't always as they appear.

A just-published US study led by Professor Frank Durgin, of Swarthmore College finds older adults are better at interpreting the correct slope of a hill than young adults - something he believes is because of greater life experience.

In an experiment, he asked about 50 college students and 50 adults from the surrounding community ranging from age 18 to 72, to properly gauge the slope of a hill near the Pennsylvania college.

They discovered that among participants with no knowledge of slope, older participants gave significantly more accurate estimates of the hill than younger adults.

"Our research helps to provide new ways to try to dissociate differences in judgment from genuine differences in perception," Durgin said.

"And whereas much research on ageing emphasises perceptual decline, when it comes to space perception for navigation, older adults do well."

Could weaker beer be better for society?

Researchers say a small drop in alcohol content of beer could help slash the harmful effects of booze on society.

Worldwide, alcohol accounts for nearly a quarter of the deaths of people aged 20 to 39, but a new review in the Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology suggests this could tackled by a decrease in ethanol, the most harmful ingredient in alcoholic beverages.

Lower blood alcohol levels in drinkers would reduce injuries or accidents, as well as alcohol-related chronic diseases that develop over time, such as liver cirrhosis or cancer.

The researchers noted there was more incentive for the alcohol industry to get on board with this proposal, compared to other policy measures such as higher taxation, limited access and marketing restrictions.

But a key concern was that drinkers would notice the difference in alcohol content, and consume more to compensate or switch to other beverages with more alcohol.

The storm that might have ended the world

A solar storm that jammed radar and radio communications at the height of the Cold War could have led to a disastrous military conflict if not for the US Air Force's budding efforts to monitor the sun's activity.

On May 23, 1967, the air force prepared aircraft for war, thinking the nation's surveillance radars in polar regions were being jammed by the Soviet Union.

Just in time, military space weather forecasters conveyed information about the solar storm's potential to disrupt radar and radio communications, the planes remained on the ground and the US avoided a potential nuclear weapon exchange with the USSR.

Retired US Air Force officers who were involved in forecasting and analysing the storm have spoken about the event for the first time in a new paper in Space Weather.

Had it not been for the fact that the US had invested very early in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact likely would have been "much greater", lead author Professor Delores Knipp said.

"This was a lesson learned in how important it is to be prepared."