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Children’s books with humans have greater moral impact than animals, study finds

Undercutting the ageless tradition of sugaring ethical lessons with endearing animals, new research suggests human protagonists are needed to change behaviour.

aesop character

 

Forget the morals that millennia of children have learned from the Hare and the Tortoise and the Fox and the Crow: Aesop would have had a greater effect with his fables if hed put the stories into the mouths of human characters, at least according to new research from the University of Torontos Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

In the Canadian study, researchers read one of three stories to almost 100 children between four and six years old: Mary Packards Little Raccoon Learns to Share, in which anthropomorphic animals learn that sharing makes you feel good; a version of the story in which the animal illustrations were replaced with human characters; or a control book about seeds.

Before they were read the story, the children chose 10 stickers to take home and were told that an anonymous child would not have any stickers to take home. It was suggested to the children that they could share their stickers with the stickerless child by putting them in an envelope when the experimenter was not looking. After they had been read the story, the children were allowed to choose another 10 stickers, and again asked to donate to the stickerless child.

The study, which has just been published in the journal Developmental Science, found that those children who were read the book with human characters became more generous, while in contrast, there was no difference in generosity between children who read the book with anthropomorphised animal characters and the control book; both groups showed a decrease in sharing behaviour, they write.

The academics, led by Patricia Ganea, associate professor of early cognitive development at OISE, said that existing studies using the same method showed that before they are six, children share hardly any stickers with their friends, and even after age six, children keep most of the stickers for themselves, so the task offers a lot of room for children to change their sharing behaviour after reading the story.

But reading a book about sharing had an immediate effect on children’s pro-social behaviour, they found. However, the type of story characters significantly affected whether children became more or less inclined to behave pro-socially. After hearing the story containing real human characters, young children became more generous. In contrast, after hearing the same story but with anthropomorphised animals or a control story, children became more selfish.

Ganea said that while a growing body of research has shown that young children more readily apply what they’ve learned from stories that are realistic this is the first time we found something similar for social behaviours.

“The finding is surprising given that many stories for young children have human-like animals,” said Ganea.

From Aesop to the Gruffalo via Winnie-the-Pooh, talking animals play a major part in childrens literature. A 2002 review of around 1,000 childrens titles found that more than half of the books featured animals or their habitats, of which fewer than 2% depicted animals realistically, the majority anthropomorphising them.

Ganea felt that it would be useful for childrens authors to be aware of her research. “We tell stories to children for many reasons, and if the goal is to teach them a moral lesson then one way to make the lesson more accessible to children is to use human characters. Yes, we should consider the diversity of story characters and the roles they are depicted in,” she said.

Chris Haughton, author and illustrator of animal picture books including Oh No, George! and Shh! We Have a Plan, felt that while a simple instructional moral message might work short term, the stories that have longer impact are the ones that resonate deeply. “I read Charlotte’s Web as a child and I know that made a big impression on me. I thought about it for a long time after I read the story. I identified with the non-human characters. That, among other things, did actually turn me into a lifelong vegetarian. I think a truly engaging and quality story that resonates with the child will be replayed in their mind and that has the real effect on them and the course of their life,” he said.

Picture book author Tracey Corderoy said that in her experience, where the main characters of a moral tale are animals as opposed to humans, the slight distancing that this affords the young child does a number of important things. “It softens the moral message a little, making it slightly more palatable. Some would feel that this waters it down and makes it less effective. But the initial saving-face that using animals brings quite often results, I feel at least, in keeping a child reader engaged.”

Kes Gray, the author of the bestselling rhyming animal series Oi Frog and Friends, was unperturbed by the researchers findings. “Authors and illustrators have no need to panic here, as long as we keep all of the animal protagonists in all of their future stories unreservedly cuddly. Big hair, big eyes and pink twitchy noses should pretty much nail it,” he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/01/only-childrens-books-with-humans-have-moral-impact-study-finds

Jonathan Raban: I felt pretty happy that I was still alive

The author on his recovery after a stroke and his fears for a dis-United States.

On 11 June 2011, a few days before his 69th birthday, Jonathan Raban was sitting with his daughter Julia at home in Seattle. He’d felt foggy and out of sorts since waking. Having reheated a casserole, he looked down to see that, try as he might, he couldn’t make the knife in his right hand touch the food on his plate.

His voice lifts in remembered surprise. It was very strange. I said to Julia: “I think I’m having a stroke.”

He was. A few hours later, Raban was in a hospital in the north of the city, looking at scans of his brain. The stroke was haemorrhagic, and massive: the damage to the right side of his body would be impossible to erase.

Carefully balancing a glass of red wine with his good hand, he gestures down at the wheelchair he now uses. Not quite instantly, but within a very few weeks, I was transformed into an old man. A second later, he concedes gruffly: I did feel pretty happy that I was still alive.

Appropriately for a man best known for his nautical writing, Rabans home feels rather like the upturned hull of a boat, with coffee-coloured redwood beams and a clutter of charts, sailing photos, engravings and mock-ups of the covers of his books. Every so often theres the drone of a seaplane coming in to land.

As soon as he got home from rehab,Raban did what he has always done: he began to write, and to research accounts of other peoples strokes (mostly unreadable, he grunts), English social history, his parents letters; searching for a way to braid the experience with the other skeins of his life.

I remember a doctor came to the rehabilitation ward, about my age, and said: Oh, youre the one who used to be a writer. I told him: Im still a writer, and I intend to write about this.

Raban talks in unhurried, intricately woven sentences, languid vowels barely touched by two decades in the US; it feels a little surreal to encounter him here in the Pacific Northwest. But Seattle, he goes on to explain, is as close to a home as he has found. Born in Norfolk in 1942 and educated at the University of Hull where he became friendly with Philip Larkin he started out as an academic. But as his anthology-cum-memoir For Love and Money (1989) attests, he lasted only a few years, writing fiction and journalism during University of East Anglia vacations and trying to gain a ticket of entrance to the city at the end of the line. He launched himself as a freelance writer in London in 1969, lodging with the poet Robert Lowell and becoming part of the bibulous in-crowd that centred on Ian Hamiltons magazine New Review.

The
The Mississippi river, the subject of Old Glory. Photograph: Macduff Everton/Getty Images

Even the capital seems to have been a temporary halt. Within a few years Raban was flitting around the Middle East, as recorded in Arabia: Through the Looking Glass (1979); then floating down the Mississippi in an open-topped boat (Old Glory, 1981). Soon after that adventure, be bought a larger boat and piloted it around the British Isles. The project became Coasting (1986), which is as sui generis as Rabans other books part memoir, part rite of passage, part discourse on fluid mechanics, part sly satire on British islomania during the Falklands campaign. In the wake of Brexit, it is a salutary read.

Afloat, Raban writes, he found a sea-distance that matched his sense of estrangement from Britain, and the grounding stability that eluded him on land. But the thing that genuinely fascinates him, and makes his prose leap and surge, is water an eerily still North Sea off East Anglia, as calm and full of mercurial colour as a pool of motor oil; a corner of the north Pacific off British Columbia, like a bolt of grey silk, lightly undulating, that seeps its way into his brooding travelogue Passage to Juneau (1999).

The love affair began early, Raban recalls. Water, one way or another, hasbeen a means of escape for me from pretty much infancy. When Isawa river or a pond or a lake, Isawfreedom and solitude. I could behappy in those places, in a way that I couldnt be at home.

Raban has often written about his tussles with his father, an army captain-cum-cleric whose return from the second world war he brusquely resented as a child, and whose dog collar and cassock, with its greasy antique patina like the sheen on a blowfly, represented everything to rebel against. But his interest in literature is something he owes to his mother, who once wrote short stories for womens magazines.

The
The thing that fascinates Jonathan Raban is water. Photograph: Alamy

She taught me to read, which was my one proficiency. My father gets all the attention, but partly thats because he intruded on this relationship with my mother. There is a curt laugh. I harboured the usual fantasy.

It seems not insignificant that his first published work, printed in John Londons Weekly when he was 17, concerned a child whose father is presented with a shattered china dog as a gift after returning from the war. Rabans writing has grown infinitely more sophisticated since then, but its leitmotifs struggles with overbearing authority, a search for refuge in a world that seems aslant have remained.

He insists his arrival in the US, tracked with droll self-scrutiny in Hunting Mister Heartbreak (1990), wasnt intended to be permanent he retains British citizenship but it seems appropriate that he alighted on the West Coast, the favoured destination for people wanting to slough off old lives and try on new ones for size. One of that books most moving chapters chronicles the time Raban spent with Korean immigrants to Seattle, whose travel-shocked recalibration to wide wide wide America is partly, one senses, his own. The section closes with Raban setting himself up downtown in a former luxury hotel; in his room is a gold-painted desk that had once been used by Elvis, and a name label reading Rainbird on the door.

Marriage to Jean, a dance critic and journalist in the city, swiftly followed; Julia was born not long after that, and is now in her mid-20s. Among the cavalcade of identities Raban has tried out during his 74 years, the one that really seems to fit him is fatherhood, which came late. Its a role he still seems enjoyably astonished by, and which has provided some much-needed anchorage. Though the relationship with Jean came to an end, Julia now lives nearby and the two see each other nearly every day.

Im interested in his thoughts on genre; though his books are filed in the travel sections of bookshops, does he feel himself to be a travel writer? He snorts. I see a travel writer as someone whos sampling other peoples holidays and writing a bright little piece about the glories of Weston-super-Mare or something. Bruce Chatwin bridled at being called a travel writer; when Songlines was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook award, he wrote a stiff letter saying that it was impossible for it to be entered because it was most certainly an invented journey. I feel sympathetic to that.

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A protest march against President-elect Donald Trump in Seattle, Washington, 14 November 2016. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

Wait didn’t Raban himself win the Thomas Cook? His grin is lizardish. “Twice. But I was hungry for prizes.”

Though travel often features in his non-fiction and the three novels Raban has so far written, he most often uses the verb intransitively, with no obvious destination in mind. I always thought of it as escaping from genre together, the mixture of memoir and travelling not going to get anywhere, but going for the goings sake. Perhaps the notion is pretentious, but its of what a journey could really be: a miniature scale-model life, which you would survive miraculously at the end.

Though he talks with wit and candour, there is a reserve about him that Englishness, perhaps that seems at odds with the intimate scrutiny of his prose. I ask if he’s ever regretted committing something to the page. The grin reappears. “I want to say, je ne regrette rien. Not much.”

Even in Passage to Juneau, which chronicles in agonising detail the death of his father and the collapse of his marriage to Jean? Even that.

The books only begin to make sense in long recollection, he adds: Writing about journeys, I have to forget the memory in its too-precise form and dive into the experience as if it were happening almost fictionally. Its a getting away from the experience in order to be able to write about it.

I’m curious about what happened to the boat. Oh, it was sold, even before the stroke. I’d written as much as I could about sailing. Also, my appetite for it diminished sharply after 2001. Want to meet Republicans in this part of the world? They all have boats.

It is impossible to avoid the subject of Donald Trump, whose victory Raban had been dreading for months, and which still plainly nauseates him. He’s been rereading Ian Kershaws biography of Hitler, an unlikely but nevertheless effective source of consolation: The consolation comes in the very different state of Weimar Germany and the contemporary US. For all Trump’s blustering authoritarianism, he would run straight into the checks and balances of America’s state and city governments.

Jonathan
Jonathan Raban is best known for hs nautical writing. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Soon after the election, Seattles mayor, Ed Murray, held a press conference to say that the city would remain a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, and similar statements have been made in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

So he’s optimistic, in a way?

“Trump may well turn out to be more of a danger for the rest of the world than for the dis-United States. But whatever happens is going to be a bloody, bloody mess.”

These days his journeys may be moreimaginative than real, but he fights shy of the idea that I’ve encountered Raban at rest. His thinking is as restless and ambulatory as ever; the wheelchair is another kind of narrative vehicle, a fine place in which to write and read. When we meet he’s halfway through the proofs of a biography of Jan Morris, whom he encountered in Cairo: A proper traveller, he writes in Arabia, atouchruefully.

Most of all, though, he’s mapping out the territory of the new book, and the connections he wants to draw between his early life and the lightning bolt that hit him in 2011. Progress is slower than he’d like; more meandering. There are far too many threads.

He sighs faintly, and reaches for thebottle of red. But then, a friend reminded me over email, there always are.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/30/jonathan-raban-author-recovery-stroke-fears-dis-united-states

Sugar lobby paid scientists to blur sugar’s role in heart disease report

New report highlights battle by the industry to counter sugars negative health effects, and the cushy relationship between food companies and researchers

Influential research that downplayed the role of sugar in heart disease in the 1960s was paid for by the sugar industry, according to a report released on Monday.

With backing from a sugar lobby, scientists promoted dietary fat as the cause of coronary heart disease instead of sugar, according to a historical document review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Though the review is nearly 50 years old, it also showcases a decades-long battle by the sugar industry to counter the products negative health effects.

The findings come from documents recently found by a researcher at the University of San Francisco, which show that scientists at the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), known today as the Sugar Association, paid scientists to do a 1967 literature review that overlooked the role of sugar in heart disease.

SRF set an objective for the review, funded it and reviewed drafts before it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which did not require conflict of interest disclosure until 1984. The three Harvard scientists who wrote the review made what would be $50,000 in todays dollars from the review.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition, food studies and public health professor at New York University, said the food industry continues to influence nutrition science, in an editorial published alongside the JAMA report.

Today, it is almost impossible to keep up with the range of food companies sponsoring research from makers of the most highly processed foods, drinks, and supplements to producers of dairy foods, meats, fruits, and nuts typically yielding results favorable to the sponsors interests, Nestle said. Food company sponsorship, whether or not intentionally manipulative, undermines public trust in nutrition science, contributes to public confusion about what to eat, and compromises Dietary Guidelines in ways that are not in the best interest of public health.

The cushy relationship between food companies and researcher has been captured in recent investigations by the Associated Press and New York Times. The AP revealed in June that candy trade groups were funding research into sweets. And in 2015, the New York Times showed how Coca-Cola has funded millions in research to downplay the link between sugary beverages and obesity.

The Sugar Association said in a statement that SRF should have exercised greater transparency in its research, but also accused the study authors of having an anti-sugar narrative.

We question this authors continued attempts to reframe historical occurrences to conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative, particularly when the last several decades of research have concluded that sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease, the Sugar Association said. Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research were disappointed to see a journal of JAMAs stature being drawn into this trend.

The findings were based on documents found by Cristin Kearns, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, in library archives.

The scientists and executives involved are no longer alive.

In recent years, the link between fat and heart disease has become a more contentious topic a 2010 review of scientific studies of fat in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. The role of sugar in heart disease is still being debated.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/12/sugar-industry-paid-research-heart-disease-jama-report

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