Saturday, December 10, 2016

Animations help students with emotional resilience

Wellbeing Practitioners at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have created a series of animated videos for students to help them manage some of the typical difficulties, like anxiety and exam worries, they seek help for.

The videos come out of a successful programme set up by the University, in which students support fellow students in an innovative peer to peer programme (known as a PAL - Peer Assisted Learning - scheme). The students are trained to help others develop Emotional Resilience (ER) skills.

The animations focus on scenarios and experiences of students who took part in the programme and four animations focus on Coping with Anxiety - with Friends, in Lectures, in Crowds and related to Exams. Another film explains how to manage a panic attack. The seven Emotional Resilience skills: Emotional Awareness, Impulse Control, Optimism, Causal Analysis, Empathy, Self-efficacy and Reaching Out are featured, and are also presented in a film for tutors.

The videos have been produced drawing directly on students' own personal struggles and experiences, using their own words to normalise some of the typical difficulties students experience.

Glyn Williams, Wellbeing Practitioner, says the idea for the videos came from the students themselves.

He said, "The ER project showed us that students like short animations that normalise their struggles. The feeling of 'not being the only one' is something they report as being the biggest relief to them when they are anxious and stressed. Talking to students we also learned that they feel information early on would have made a difference to their 'mental wealth' rather than them feeling alone and isolated.

"The number of students experiencing mental health problems is on the increase in the UK. The transition from school to higher education is a huge transition and some seem to struggle, with anxiety and depression being the biggest presenters. We have found that students frequently struggle with face to face social skills and that their feelings in these situations often contrast with their experience of online interactions. For this generation (millennials) their social skills have been forged through the constant use of social media and from my point of view this makes their skill sets different to other generations. This means they may struggle with the leap from school to higher education.

"At UWE Bristol we have taken the initiative and decided to think out of the box in order to meet this need. Based on student experiences we have designed peer delivered workshops to provide coping mechanisms to improve and help students manage their challenges. These new animations complement our peer-led Emotional Resilience workshops so that we can reach more students with small sound bites of advice and other students' experiences.

"The peer to peer work has been hugely successful as students are much more relaxed and open talking to students who 'have been there'. We are providing skills based on the common struggles we see students encounter. The peer to peer model provides experiences and solutions from a student's perspective. We want these animations to normalise the student's struggle and give them the ability to better manage their own mental wealth."

The University is also working with South Gloucestershire Council on using these animations as a tool with sixth formers. Councillor Toby Savage, Chair of South Gloucestershire Council's Health Scrutiny Committee, said, "Mental health is a priority for South Gloucestershire Council. Developing awareness of the real experience of student life and normalising some of the difficulties that students may experience will enable sixth formers to be better prepared for university life. We see these animations as a useful tool to prepare sixth formers for the transition to higher education and provide them with greater awareness of the coping skills that will be useful to them throughout life."

Professor Steve West, UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor, said, "The University is taking an active role in ensuring the wellbeing of our students is a top priority. The work on Emotional Resilience at UWE Bristol is absolutely brilliant, particularly in view of the fact that it is run by students and rolled out on a peer to peer basis. We want to be recognised as a caring university that does not shy away from tackling serious issues but rather acts proactively to support students when they go through difficult times for whatever reason."

Visit the website to see the videos.
Reference: 2016. “Animations help students with emotional resilience”. Posted: October 4, 2016. Available online:

Friday, December 9, 2016

Proteins allow archaeologists to look further back in time

A group of scientists have developed a new method to sequence 3.8-million-year-old proteins. The new method, known as proteomics, makes it possible to analyse samples that are up to 40 million years old.

And with the right material, they could even analyse samples that date back to the age of the dinosaurs, says lead-author Matthew Collins, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

“It’s the most exciting study I’ve ever published,” says Collins.

Prehistoric people loved eggshells

Collins analysed eggshells from famous archaeological sites, including Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

Prehistoric people used the shells to create art and to transport water. The shells are particularly suitable for this type of analysis as they are thick, durable, and survive under a range of environmental conditions.

“We’ve known for many years that proteins provide more clues to the past, but when we looked at the breakdown of proteins in eggshells, it gave us unexpected results in comparison with other fossil material, and until now we didn’t really know why,” says Collins.

Colleague: Excellent and ground-breaking study

Professor Mike Richards, an archaeologist from Simon Fraser University in Canada is impressed by the new results, which are published in the scientific journal eLife.

“It’s an excellent, ground-breaking study,” he writes in an email to ScienceNordic. “It shows that the proteins can survive in extremely old samples and at the same time they give a very plausible explanation of how it’s possible.”

“This will be a study that everyone else cites when they use the same method to extract and sequence old proteins,” writes Richards.

Protein and DNA go hand in hand

Proteins do not contain the same information as DNA. So the new method cannot replace DNA in archaeological research. It does, however, offer a useful complementary technique and allows scientists to look further back in time than is possible with DNA alone, says Collins.

Richards agree. Proteins are much more stable over time and so they have great potential to provide phylogenetic information in samples where DNA analysis is not possible.

“Protein sequences are not as informative as DNA sequences and can only give us limited information, but they are still very important. And this is a really exciting new method,” writes Richards.

A key to the past

Collins is clearly excited by the new method, which has been 21 years in the making.

“It allows us to speculate on the factors that are necessary for proteins to survive. Protein decay was delayed in the system that we studied, as water only had access to the surface of the protein. But we might find insanely old proteins in, for example, a system with absolutely no water,” he says.

We can learn a lot about human development in mammalian evolution and potentially go as far back as the dinosaurs.

“We recently published a study on Neanderthals, where there was no DNA material so we only had proteins. I think it’s already revolutionising research,” says Collins.

Persson, Charlotte Price. 2016. “Proteins allow archaeologists to look further back in time”. Science Nordic. Posted: October 13, 2016. Available online:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Medieval cities not so different from modern European cities

Medieval cities -- with their agrarian societies and simple market economies -- seem very different from modern European urban centers. Life in 14th-century cities centered around hierarchical institutions such as the crown, guilds, and churches. Today, companies, technologies, and a global economy dominate our lives.

Despite the dramatic changes in economic and political structures over the last 700 years, a new look at medieval cities' population sizes and distributions suggest that some urban characteristics have remained remarkably consistent.

A paper published this week in PLOS One highlights one major similarity: in both medieval and modern European cities, larger settlements have predictably higher population densities than smaller cities.

The authors write: "This would suggest that the institutions of Western European urban systems ca. 1300 did not substantially constrain social mixing, economic integration, or the free flow of people, ideas, and information."

In short, the social dynamics enabled by medieval cities were fundamentally similar to those of contemporary cities.

The authors analyzed data from 173 medieval cities from across Western Europe, finding that these data show statistically indistinguishable community grouping patterns among medieval capital cities in Italy, England, France, and Belgium and much younger European cities.

On the macro, institutional level, modern and historical cities may look very different, says Bettencourt. We are now finding that what we know about contemporary urban processes may be applicable to the past because of similarities in micro-level behaviors and the effects they have on the larger system, he says.

Science Daily. 2016. “Medieval cities not so different from modern European cities”. Science Daily. Posted: October 11, 2016. Available online:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pacific islanders invented new kind of society at Nan Madol

New dating on the stone buildings of Nan Madol suggests the ancient coral reef capital in the Pacific Ocean was the earliest among the islands to be ruled by a single chief. The discovery makes Nan Madol a key locale for studying how ancient human societies evolved from simple societies to more complex societies, said lead archaeologist Mark D. McCoy, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The finding was uncovered as part of a National Geographic expedition to study the monumental tomb said to belong to the first chief of the island of Pohnpei.

McCoy deployed uranium series dating to determine that when the tomb was built it was one-of-a-kind, making it the first monumental scaled burial site on the remote islands of the Pacific.

The discovery enables archaeologists to study more precisely how societies transform to more and more complex and hierarchical systems, said McCoy, an expert in landscape archaeology and monumental architecture and ideology in the Pacific Islands.

“The kind of society that we live in today, it wasn’t born last year, or even 100 years ago,” McCoy said. “It has its roots in a pre-modern era like Nan Madol where you have a king or chief. These islanders invented a new kind of society — that is a socially creative achievement. The idea of chiefs, someone in charge, is not a new thing, but it’s an extremely important precursor. We know tribes and bands predate chiefdoms and states. But it’s not a straight line. By looking at these intermediate stages we get insight into that social phenomenon.”

The analysis is the first time uranium-thorium series dating, which is significantly more precise than previously used radiocarbon dating, was deployed to calculate the age of the stone buildings that make up the famous site of Nan Madol (pronounced Nehn Muh-DOLL) – the former capital of the island of Pohnpei.

“The thing that makes this case special is Nan Madol happened in isolation, it happened very recently, and we have multiple lines of evidence, including oral histories to support the analysis,” McCoy said. “And because it’s an island we can be much more specific about the natural resources, the population, all the things that are more difficult when people are on a continent and all connected. So we can understand it with a lot more precision.”

Nan Madol, which UNESCO this year named a World Heritage Site, was previously dated as being established in A.D. 1300. McCoy’s team narrowed that to just a 20-year window more than 100 years earlier, from 1180 to 1200.

The finding pushes back even earlier the establishment of the powerful dynasty of Saudeleur chiefs who asserted authority over the island society for more than 1,000 years.

First chief was buried in Pohnpei tomb by A.D. 1200

An ancient city built atop a coral reef, Nan Madol has been uninhabited for centuries now. Located in the northwestern Pacific on the remote island of Pohnpei, it’s accessible via a 10-hour flight from Hawaii interspersed with short hops from atoll to atoll, including a stop at a U.S. military installation. Nan Madol is the largest archaeological site in Micronesia, a group of islands in the Caroline Archipelago of Oceania.

Uranium dating indicates that by 1180, massive stones were being transported from a volcanic plug on the opposite side of the island for construction of the tomb. And by 1200, the burial vault had its first internment, the island’s chief. Manipulate two 3D models of the burial monument, one with foliage and one without, at and

Construction of monumental buildings followed over the next several centuries on other islands not in the Saudeleur Dynasty across Oceania.

McCoy, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Anthropology, and his team reported their discovery in the journal Quaternary Research in “Earliest direct evidence of monument building at the archaeological site of Nan Madol identified using 230Th/U coral dating and geochemical sourcing of megalithic architectural stone.” An inactive volcano that hasn’t erupted in at least one million years, Pohnpei Island is much larger than its neighbouring atolls at 128 square miles (334 square kilometres).

Now part of the 607-island nation of the Federated States of Micronesia, Pohnpei Island and its nearby atolls have a population of 34,000.

Pohnpei monument indicates invention of a new kind of society

How Nan Madol was built remains an engineering mystery, much like Egypt’s Pyramids.

“It’s a fair comparison to the Pyramids, because the construction, like the Pyramids, didn’t help anyone — it didn’t help society be fairer, or to grow crops or to provide any social good. It’s just a really big place to put a dead person,” McCoy said.

It’s important to document such things, he said, because this architectural wonder indicates that independently of Egypt, another group of people put effort into building a monument.

“And we think that’s associated with the invention of a new kind of society, a new kind of chiefdom that ruled the entire island,” McCoy said.

Unlike Egypt and the Pyramids however, Nan Madol was invented much more recently in the big story of human prehistory, he said.

“At A.D. 1200 there are universities in Europe. The Romans had come and gone. The Egyptians had come and gone,” he said. “But when you’re looking at Pohnpei, it’s very recent, so we still have the oral histories of the descendants of the people who built Nan Madol. There’s evidence that you just don’t have elsewhere.”

Monumental city built of coral and stone

Pohnpei was originally settled in A.D. 1 by islanders from the Solomon or Vanuatu island groups. According to local oral history, the Saudeleur Dynasty is estimated to have begun its rule around 1160 by counting back generations from the modern day.

To build the tomb and other structures, naturally formed boulders of basalt, each weighing tons, were somehow transported far from existing quarries on the other side of the island to a lagoon overgrown with mangrove and stretching across 205 acres (83 hectares).

The basalt blocks formed when hot lava cooled and adopted the shape of long, column-shaped boulders and cobbles. Formed from 1 million to 8 million years ago, they came from a number of possible quarry locations on the island.

The city’s stone structures were built atop 98 shallow artificial coral reef islets, each one built by the Saudeleur people. The structures were constructed about three feet above waterline by laying down framing stones, filling the void between them with crushed coral, then laying up double parallel walls and again filling the gap between with crushed coral. The islets are separated by tidal canals and protected from the ocean by 12 sea walls.

“The structures are very cleverly built,” said McCoy. “We think of coral as precious, but for the architects of Nan Madol it was a building material. They were on a little island surrounded by huge amounts of coral reef that grows really quickly in this environment, so they could paddle out at low tide and mine the coral by smashing some off and breaking it up into rubble.”

The largest and most elaborate architecture in the city is the tomb of the first Saudeleur, measuring 262 feet by 196 feet (80 metres by 60 metres), basically the size of a football field. It is more than 26 feet (8 metres) tall, with exterior walls about six feet to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 metres) thick. A maize of walls and interior walkways, it includes an underground crypt capped with basalt.

“The architecture is meant to be extremely impressive, and it is,” McCoy said. “The structures were built to last — this is one of the rainiest places on earth, so it can be muddy and slippery and wet, but these islets on the coral reef are very stable.”

Portable X-ray technology provides clue to source of megalithic stones

McCoy and his team used portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to geochemically match the columnar-shaped basalt stones to natural sources on the island. The uranium-thorium technique calculates a date based on characteristics of the radioactive isotope thorium-230 and its radioactive parent uranium-234.

That enabled them to determine the construction chronology of a tomb that oral histories identify as the resting place of the first chief to rule the entire island.

“We used an X-ray gun, which looks like a 1950s-styled ray gun,” McCoy said. “It allows you — at a distance and without destroying the thing you’re interested in — to bounce X-rays off it and work out what the chemistry is. The mobile technology has gotten much more affordable, making this kind of study feasible.”

Using uranium series dating on coral emerged in the last decade. Accuracy — superior to radiocarbon — is plus or minus a few years of when the coral died. A very good radiocarbon date only will get within 100 years.

“That’s a monumental shift in terms of the precision with which we talk about things,” McCoy said. “If Nan Madol had not been made of the kind of stone we could source, if the architects hadn’t chosen to use coral, we wouldn’t have been able to get this date. So it’s a happy coincidence that the evidence at the site came together.”

McCoy suggests that future research look at finding the cause for this major turning point on Pohnpei, and what sparked this new hierarchy of rule and monumental building in this society.

Past Horizons. 2016. “Pacific islanders invented new kind of society at Nan Madol”. Past Horizons. Posted: October 21, 2016. Available online:

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Student well-being is greater in classrooms with higher emotional intelligence

Group emotional intelligence represents the emotional intelligence shared by the students of a classroom, in other words, "the atmosphere in the group, the way the group addresses a problem, the capacity it has to understand the emotions being experienced in the classroom," explained Arantxa Gorostiaga, a researcher in the department of Social Psychology and Methodology of Behavioural Sciences and member of the UPV/EHU's Qualiker research group. In the classroom context, apart from academic content, adolescents acquire important personal and emotional competences to preserve their present and future well-being, so "it is interesting to analyse the influence of the emotions of the peer group on the well-being of adolescents. Furthermore, in a previous study we demonstrated that group emotional intelligence is related to higher levels of academic performance."

As regards adolescent attachment, "there are many studies in the scientific literature proving that this variable is a predictor of psychological well-being," remarked Gorostiaga. "At that age, youngsters experience distancing from their parents and move closer towards their peers, their friendships. So attachment provides them with protection, and is used as a support when facing problems. So it is related to adolescent well-being".

Since producing and adapting tools for evaluation and diagnosis purposes is one of the lines of research of the Qualiker group, they firstly created a tool to measure group emotional intelligence and translated into Basque a tool for determining attachment so that they could conduct the study explaining and predicting psychological well-being through a combination of them. After that, using a methodology known as multilevel analysis, they conducted an analysis of group and individual variables, simultaneously studying peer attachment and group emotional intelligence. The study was carried out on 2,182 adolescents (1,127 girls and 1,055 boys), students grouped into 118 classrooms at 14 secondary education schools.

Interconnected variables

As the results showed, attachment and group emotional intelligence emerge positively related to psychological well-being; in other words, "the students with the greatest attachment have the highest well-being, just as the students in classrooms with greater emotional intelligence do," explained the researcher. But beyond this they saw that group emotional intelligence influences the relation between the other two variables: "in the classrooms with greater emotional intelligence the relation between attachment and psychological well-being is stronger," she added.

This research could be used to identify the classrooms that need intervention. This is how Gorostiaga explained it: "In the diagnosis we can spot the classrooms that need to reinforce their emotional intelligence, and design some intervention. Having proved that group emotional intelligence helps not only to achieve better results but also to improve student well-being, it may be interesting to implement a programme to work on it".

Additional information

The Qualiker research group of the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Psychology is led by Professor Nekane Balluerka. To obtain the sample of adolescents participating in the study they had the collaboration of the Basque Country's Federation of Ikastolas (Basque-medium schools) and the results have been published in the Journal of Adolescence, a publication that functions as a discussion forum for professionals and academics in the study of adolescence from various perspectives.

EurekAlert. 2016. “Student well-being is greater in classrooms with higher emotional intelligence”. EurekAlert. Posted: November 10, 2016. Available online:

Monday, December 5, 2016

Research examines rights of older people in Pakistan

University of Southampton research is investigating the well-being and human rights of older people in Pakistan, addressing issues such as age discrimination, access to pensions and the provision of healthcare.

Lead researcher Professor Asghar Zaidi comments: "With the world marking the United Nations' International Day of Older Persons (1 October), we are reminded that people should not lose their human rights as they grow older. It should not be acceptable to deny people the opportunity to work or receive medical services they need, purely because of their age. They should be allowed the ability to remain independent and in control of their own lives."

In 2013, Professor Zaidi developed the Global AgeWatch Index with the global network HelpAge International to make comparisons of quality of life in older age for people around the world and identify policies that improve the lives of older people in different contexts. Another aim is to identify what additional data, evidence and research are necessary for effective policymaking.

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country and in 2015 it had an older population of approximately 12.5m. This places Pakistan in a group of only 15 countries worldwide that have more than 10m older people. By 2050, the number will have risen to a staggering 40m. Researchers believe there is an urgent need for understanding the state of the human rights of older people in the country and developing policies to protect and promote these rights.

In response, the British Council in Pakistan is addressing this through the study Moving from the Margins: Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Older Persons in Pakistan in collaboration with HelpAge International Pakistan and Professor Zaidi – the project's advisor. This is a first of its kind project generating unique knowledge on how aware older people are of their social and economic rights and what actions they are willing to take to demand them. The challenges facing Pakistan are echoed around the globe and it's hoped the study will provide valuable lessons for countries with similar issues.

Professor Zaidi comments: "In the future, a continued rise in life expectancy will lead to an increasing number of old and very old people in Pakistan. There is no evidence that the years added to our lives will be spent in good health. Therefore, families, especially poor families, will not be able to sustain this for so many additional years, so research is required on how lives of older men and women will continue to be affected by lack of public services in Pakistan.

"This new research project will aim to provide evidence of which human rights are neglected in Pakistan for the older population and what policies and programmes are required, at the national and sub-national levels, to promote and protect the rights of older citizens in the country."

Through the research, the British Council will generate the knowledge to help identify problems faced by the elderly in Pakistan. A mixed method of research is being used for the project, including secondary data analysis of a newly conducted quantitative survey on older people, as well as qualitative interviewing, and consultations with key stakeholders. The project will make recommendations towards developing stronger, formal institutional arrangements to protect and promote the rights of Pakistan's older people.

Professor Zaidi adds: "The pledges made by the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, 'no one will be left behind' and 'to reach the furthest behind first', imply that every individual in the world should benefit from the rights and opportunities on offer from the development process and that the most vulnerable subgroups (such as the elderly) will get the highest priority in the human development agenda."

This research in Pakistan is undertaken alongside a wider research project at the University of Southampton's Centre for Research on Ageing, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), during 2015-2016, undertaking analysis of quality of life of older persons in Bangladesh, China, India and Pakistan. Findings from these projects will be published in 2017.

2016. “Research examines rights of older people in Pakistan”. Posted: October 4, 2016. Available online:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Understanding of norms: Children overeagerly seeking social rules

Three-year-olds quickly absorb social norms. They even understand behaviors as rule-governed that are not subject to any norms, and insist that others adhere to these self-inferred "norms," a study by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich psychologist Marco F. H. Schmidt reveals.

Children should say "hello" and "thank you," share and not snatch anyone's bucket out of their hand. From an early age, they learn from adults the rules that determine everyday social interactions. These norms are like a "social glue" and have played a key role in the evolution and maintenance of human cooperation and culture, states Dr. Marco F. H. Schmidt, Head of the "Developmental Origins of Human Normativity" research group at LMU Munich. Together with his team, he investigates from what age and how young children develop an understanding of norms and what psychological and motivational mechanisms allow for this development.

In a study, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, Marco F. H. Schmidt, in collaboration with Lucas P. Butler (Assistant Professor at University of Maryland), Julia Heinz and Professor Michael Tomasello (Co-Director at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig), now shows that three-year-olds not only learn social norms from direct instruction and prohibition -- as traditionally assumed, but also seek norms themselves -- even inferring them where adults see none. "Preschool children very quickly understand individual behaviors and spontaneous actions of others as generalizable, governed by rules, and binding," states Schmidt.

Intimate relationship to social norms

In this study, which Schmidt headed at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, from where he transferred to LMU in October 2015, the developmental psychologist had three-year-olds incidentally watch spontaneous actions of adults. In one situation, the children watched as a person unknown to them took tools and other items out of their bag, and -- in another variant -- even useless junk objects out of a trash bag. The person then spontaneously performed a brief, goal-directed action with these objects, without making any comments. For example, a piece of bark was pulled a bit along the table with a branch. In other variants, the same action was performed spontaneously with minimum pedagogy (with the call "Look!") or unintentionally (with a loud "Oops!"). Irrespective of what the children saw: they judged singular, spontaneous, and apparently purposeless behavior as generalizable and absolutely right -- provided that it was not unintentional according to their observation. They even expected another person to do exactly the same and protested when this person did something different with the objects, thus violating the "social norm" inferred by the children. "Preschool children commit the fallacy originally pointed out by the Scottish philosopher David Hume to derive what ought to be from what is. This is even the case when they have incidentally observed a simple action only once, and there is nothing to suggest any underlying norm or rule," states Schmidt. "Thus, these findings suggest that, even without direct instruction, young children draw far-reaching conclusions about the social world they live in," says Lucas P. Butler.

From a psychological perspective, according to Schmidt, this basic tendency exhibited by children at an early age to perceive the social world as inherently normative and rule-governed, could be an expression of their motivation to do things together, identify with their cultural group and acquire cultural knowledge. "It is possibly our common 'intimate relationship' with social norms that holds human societies together at their core," states Marco F. H. Schmidt.

Science Daily. 2016. “Understanding of norms: Children overeagerly seeking social rules”. Science Daily. Posted: October 5, 2016. Available online: