Things to Read - Four Interesting Articles From Around the Web (French parents, Target Knows All, Insomnia Explained, and Smart Parsites)

1. (French Parents) - Why French Parents Are Superior in the WSJ. According to the article, "the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. . . . French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time."

One of the keys to a French style of parenting is teaching children how to wait. French parents emphasize patience, which "is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m). . . . American parents [also] want their kids to be patient, of course. We encourage our kids to share, to wait their turn, to set the table and to practice the piano. But patience isn't a skill that we hone quite as assiduously as French parents do. We tend to view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament. In our view, parents either luck out and get a child who waits well or they don't. French parents and caregivers find it hard to believe that we are so laissez-faire about this crucial ability." Interesting. Very interesting.

(And for more info on "french parenting" check out Constance Reader's review of Bringing of Bebe).

2. (Target Knows All) - How Companies Know Your Secrets in the New York Times explains how Target now knows you're pregnant before your friends know, due to careful analysis of your buying habits (they track EVERYTHING). Part of me thought "this is so cool" and part of me thought "this is so creepy." The article also explains how Febreze used research on habit formation to change their whole advertising campaign, hence making it one of the top-selling products in the world (top selling? really? how is this possible? I digress). The article goes on to note that once you understand how your habits work, you can defeat them. I might have to try this.

3. (Insomnia Explained) - The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep - Apparently our bodies may be naturally programmed to sleep at night in 4 hour chunks, with a waking period of one to two hours in between sleeps. Before the invention of street lighting and other modern-day conveniences, two four hour sleeps operated as the norm. According to the article, people were quite active during the waking period. "They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps. And these hours weren't entirely solitary - people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex." The two sleep pattern ended in the late 1600s when, "night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time." The article hypothesizes that "the waking period between sleeps, when people were forced into periods of rest and relaxation, could have played an important part in the human capacity to regulate stress naturally." So if you experience insomnia, this historical research may help explain why.

4. (Smart Parasites) - An article in the Atlantic called How Your Cat is Making You Crazy details new research linking the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (which exists in cat feces and causes toxoplasmosis - hence why pregnant women are told to avoid cats' litter boxes) to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. The fascinating part about all this research is how a small parasite can alter the brain in ways that significantly change human behavior . . .

"But T. gondii is just one of an untold number of infectious agents that prey on us. And if the rest of the animal kingdom is anything to go by, says Colorado State University’s Janice Moore, plenty of them may be capable of tinkering with our minds. For example, she and Chris Reiber, a biomedical anthropologist at Binghamton University, in New York, strongly suspected that the flu virus might boost our desire to socialize. Why? Because it spreads through close physical contact, often before symptoms emerge—meaning that it must find a new host quickly. To explore this hunch, Moore and Reiber tracked 36 subjects who received a flu vaccine, reasoning that it contains many of the same chemical components as the live virus and would thus cause the subjects’ immune systems to react as if they’d encountered the real pathogen.

The difference in the subjects’ behavior before and after vaccination was pronounced: the flu shot had the effect of nearly doubling the number of people with whom the participants came in close contact during the brief window when the live virus was maximally contagious. “People who had very limited or simple social lives were suddenly deciding that they needed to go out to bars or parties, or invite a bunch of people over,” says Reiber. “This happened with lots of our subjects. It wasn’t just one or two outliers.”

Reiber has her eye trained on other human pathogens that she thinks may well be playing similar games, if only science could prove it. For example, she says, many people at the end stages of AIDS and syphilis express an intense craving for sex. So, too, do individuals at the beginning of a herpes outbreak. These may just be anecdotal accounts, she concedes, but based on her own findings, she wouldn’t be surprised if these urges come from the pathogen making known its will to survive."

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