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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Watching television and films 'can make you mean'

The study, conducted in the UK but published in the United States, found that watching mean actions on screen makes people just as prone to violence as sitting through footage of violence itself.

The findings will fuel the controversy about the link between onscreen violence and real life behaviour.

Violence in films has long been blamed for physical aggression among children but the revelation that watching cruel and malicious behaviour is just as damaging could transform the debate about the age ratings applied to films.

The research was conducted by Dr Sarah Coyne, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, but it focused on British women she observed while working at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

The students who took part in the experiment had their behaviour tested after watching one of three films: a knife fight from Kill Bill, which features Uma Thurman as an assassin; Mean Girls, which focuses on a character played by Lindsay Lohan who turns the tables on three bitchy female school bullies; and a calming séance scene from the romantic film What Lies Beneath.

Dr Coyne told The Sunday Telegraph: "We showed them the clips and then monitored their behaviour afterwards.

"They were told they were competing in a game against someone online and the loser would get a really loud blast of noise. They were able to set the level of the noise."

Those who watched Kill Bill or Mean Girls turned the noise up much louder than those who did not.

A second test used an actor who pretended to be a rude job applicant seeking a reference.

"Those who watched Kill Bill or Mean Girls were more aggressive on both tests than the third group."

Dr Coyne said the study is important because mean behaviour is far more prevalent than extreme violence. "Most of us are not physically violent. We don't go and kill somebody or stab somebody," she said. "But after watching they might just beat up their wife or talk down to their kid or spread a rumour. We see these lower level forms of aggression, this meanness, all the time."

Dr Coyne said the findings might drive some parents to push for episodes of aggression in films to be taken into account in assigning their ratings.

The study is in November's Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Dr Coyne's earlier work probed incidences of aggressive behaviour resulting from watching British soap operas, which feature up to 15 incidences of bitchy behaviour each hour.

UCLA mathematicians discover a 13-million-digit prime number

UCLA mathematicians appear to have won a $100,000 prize from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for discovering a 13-million-digit prime number that has long been sought by computer users.

While the prize money is nothing special, the bragging rights for discovering the 46th known Mersenne prime are huge.

"We're delighted," said UCLA's Edson Smith, leader of the effort. "Now we're looking for the next one, despite the odds," which are thought to be about one in 150,000 that any number tested will be a Mersenne prime.

Prime numbers are those, like three, seven and 11, that are divisible only by themselves and one. Mersenne primes, named after the 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne, who discovered them, take the form 2P - 1, where P is also a prime number.

In the new UCLA prime, P = 43,112,609.

Thousands of people around the world have been participating in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, or GIMPS, in which underused computing power is harnessed to perform the complex and tedious calculations needed to find and verify Mersenne primes. The prize is being offered for finding the first Mersenne prime with more than 10 million digits.

Smith and his UCLA colleagues have, since last fall, harnessed the power of the 75 machines in the university's Program in Computing/Math Computer Lab, which is used by students for computer projects. Smith, a system administrator, realized that the lab was using only a fraction of its available CPU power. Rather than let it go to waste, he and his colleagues decided to use it for the GIMPS project.

The new Mersenne prime was discovered Aug. 23 on a Dell Optiplex 745 running Windows XP. The number was verified by a different computer system running a different algorithm.

The new prime is the eighth Mersenne prime discovered at UCLA. In 1952, mathematician Raphael Robinson found five of them using UCLA's Standards Western Automatic Computer. They were the 13th through 17th Mersenne primes discovered, the first ones found in more than 75 years, and the first to be discovered using a digital computer. Each had a few hundred digits.

In 1961, mathematician Alexander Hurwitz discovered two more, each with more than 1,200 digits, on the university's IBM 7090 mainframe.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is an activist group supporting individual rights on the Web. The group established a series of prizes in 1999 to promote cooperative computing on the Web.

The prize will be awarded when the new prime is published, probably next year. By prearrangement, half of the money will go to UCLA, a quarter of it will go to charity and the rest will go to other GIMPS participants and the organization itself.

Nine in 10 women 'cheat' to look good

.Actress and singer Jennifer Lopez attends the Dolce & Gabbana women's Spring/Summer 2009 fashion collection
Jennifer Lopez recently revealed her magic pants during a performance Photo: AP

A survey has found the vast majority of the female population are happy to resort to tricks such as wearing "magic pants" to appear slimmer.

The study found the most common cheats were push-up bras, with almost half of women using them to boost their cleavage.

More than four in 10 admitted they have worn oversized Bridget Jones-style pants because they help hide unwanted bumps and give the impression of a flatter stomach and a more pert bottom.

Even celebrities resort to slimming underwear, with Jennifer Lopez recently revealing her magic pants during a performance, and Susannah Constantine, from Trinny and Susannah showing off her own push-up corset during a charity event this week.

The survey of 1,300 women, carried out by the Lakeside Shopping Centre, also found more than a third of women dim lighting to enhance the romantic mood, while others admitted to more unusual methods.

Some said they used vaseline on their eyelids to appear more awake, while it was also suggested haemorrhoid cream under the eyes gets rid of dark circles and bags.

And one in 10 admitted using breast-enhancing "chicken fillets".

Personal shopper Angela Poplett said: "Feeling and looking sexy is high on UK women's list of priorities but it's surprising how many women try to cheat their way to a sexier look.

"It's amazing to see how popular magic pants have become considering they were only launched a couple of years ago.

"I often recommend them to clients."

The poll also revealed the perils of attempting to look beautiful.

Top of the list was the visible panty line, followed by smudged mascara and unshaven legs.

Others included lipstick smudged on teeth and streaky fake tan, while falling over in high heels was also embarrassing.

Men meanwhile were asked what outfit they believed women to look sexiest in.

While women believed a classic black dress or snug fitting jeans was the best, men thought short skirts and low-cut tops were the way to go.

How Many 'Bogus Coal Moments' Will There Be At Tonight's US Presidential Debate?

coal industry blowing smoke around debates photo

The coal industry wants to buy your love.

Having sponsored nearly every debate in the presidential primaries, the coal industry is stepping up its $40 million election advertising bombardment starting today with an ad blitz of the upcoming general election debates.

The Sierra Club's national coal campaign director, Bruce Nilles, just let me know that his team will be watching the debates like a hawk, keeping an eye out for "bogus coal moments" and ferreting out their attempts to spread misinformation.

That's where you come in. Sign up to receive a mobile alert when a "bogus coal moment" occurs during the debates. Get "real time" alerts via a mobile reality-check text message every time the coal industry tries to spread more lies. You can either use our online form to sign up or, heh, text DIRTY to 69866 using your mobile phone.

Coal corporate fat cats are desperate to stop our progress toward a clean energy economy. They will spend as much money as they can to convince us that coal is a more important investment than renewable energy.

That's why they've spent tens of millions of dollars on slick advertising to mask the facts about coal. The truth couldn't be simpler: coal is expensive, detrimental to our health and communities, and is a distraction from real comprehensive clean energy solutions that include wind, solar and greater efficiency practices.