Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Weird Science: How do you eat your bunny?

Most chocolate lovers tend to eat their Easter bunnies from the ears down, researchers say. Photo / File
Most chocolate lovers tend to eat their Easter bunnies from the ears down, researchers say. Photo / File

How do you eat your chocolate bunny?

New research carried out online has found that 59 per cent of 28,113 respondents preferred to eat chocolate rabbits starting with the ears, 33 per cent indicated that they had no starting point preference, and 4 per cent indicated that they started with the tail or feet.

US researchers conducting the online search also found increased reports of confectionery lepus auricular amputation - that is, ear amputations of chocolate bunnies - in late March through mid-April for each of the five years studied.

Mapping techniques showed the annual peak incidence in 2012 to 2017 to be near Easter for each year studied, and human adults and children appeared to be wholly responsible for the amputations.

Although several reconstructive efforts might be used to re-attach the ears, this may be a futile effort, since often the rest of the rabbit soon succumbs to a similar fate.

"It was interesting to discover that few other confectionery symbols, such as Santa, succumb to isolated defects, like the chocolate bunnies do," said Dr Kathleen Yaremchuk, an ENT-otolaryngologist with the Detroit-based Henry Ford Medical Group and lead
author of the Laryngoscope study.

Marmite is good for your brain

Marmite is good for your brain function, scientists say. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Marmite is good for your brain function, scientists say. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Scientists have discovered a potential link between eating Marmite and activity in the brain, through the apparent increase of a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function.

Participants in a University of York study consuming a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, compared to a control group who consumed peanut butter, showed a substantial reduction of around 30 per cent in their brain's response to visual stimuli, measured by recording electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

Researchers think this may be due to the prevalence of vitamin B12 in Marmite increasing levels of a specific neurotransmitter, known as GABA, in the brain.

GABA inhibits the excitability of neurons in the brain, with the chemical acting to "turn down the volume" of neural responses in order to regulate the delicate balance of activity needed to maintain a healthy brain.

As Marmite consumption appears to increase GABA levels, this study was the first to show that dietary intervention may affect these neural processes. GABA imbalances are also associated with a variety of neurological disorders.

Anika Smith, PhD student in York's Department of Psychology and first author of the study, said: "These results suggest that dietary choices can affect the cortical processes of excitation and inhibition, consistent with increased levels of GABA, that are vital in maintaining a healthy brain.

"As the effects of Marmite consumption took around eight weeks to wear off after participants stopped the study, this suggests that dietary changes could potentially have long-term effects on brain function.

"This is a really promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes, and a great starting point for exploring whether a more refined version of this technique could have some medical or therapeutic applications in the future.

"Of course, further research is needed to confirm and investigate this, but the study is an excellent basis for this."

Pokemon Go: The secret to happiness?

Pokemon Go players are typically happier, a new study finds. Photo / File
Pokemon Go players are typically happier, a new study finds. Photo / File

Pokemon Go people are happy people.

That's the finding of media researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who leapt to study the wildly popular mobile game shortly after its release in July 2016.

Their work, newly published in the journal Media Psychology, shows that Pokemon Go users were more likely to be positive, friendly and physically active.

James Alex Bonus, a UW-Madison graduate student studying educational media, said he joined the throng playing the game when it was new, but was surprised by the mix of reactions in news coverage.

"There was plenty of negative press about distracted people trespassing and running into trees or walking into the street," Bonus said.

"But you also saw people really enjoying it, having a good time together outside."

Pokemon Go creator Niantic now claims 65 million regular users and more than 650 million app downloads.

Even in the first few weeks following release of the game, in which players "catch" wild, virtual Pokemon creatures lurking in places like parks and public buildings, and train them to do battle against one another, players were easy to pick out on sidewalks.

To Bonus and grad student collaborator Alanna Peebles, the immediately large pool of players presented an opportunity to capture the effects of augmented reality games; apps such as Pokemon Go that make use of mobile technology to lay the playing field and rules over the real world.

"There's this idea that playing games and being on your phone is a negative social experience that detracts from things, but there haven't been many chances to ask large groups of players about their experiences," Bonus said.

The researchers, including grad student Irene Sarmiento and communication arts Professor Marie-Louise Mares, surveyed about 400 people three weeks after the game was launched, asking questions about their emotional and social lives and levels of physical activity before segueing into Pokemon.

More than 40 percent of their respondents turned out to be Pokemon Go players, and those people were more likely to be exercising, walking briskly, at least, and more likely to be experiencing positive emotions and nostalgia.

"People told us about a variety of experiences with differential relationships to wellbeing," Bonus said.

"But, for the most part, the Pokemon Go players said more about positive things that were making them feel their life was more worthwhile, more satisfactory, and making them more resilient."

They were also more social and players were more likely than non-players to be making new friends and deepening old friendships.

- NZ Herald

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