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A HEARTFELT RESPONSE TO MUSIC

Here’s good news for music lovers: Listening to your favorite music may be good for your heart. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have shown for the first time that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on our blood vessels. In the experiment, participants were asked to select music that made them feel good and gave them a sense of joy. “We had previously demonstrated that positive emotions, such as laughter, were good for cardiovascular health. So a logical question was whether other emotions, such as those evoked by music, have a similar effect,” explained Dr. Michael Miller, who led the study.

The experiment was carried out on healthy, non-smoking volunteers in four phases. In the first phase, volunteers listened to music they had selected that evoked joy. The second phase included listening to music that the volunteers said made them feel anxious. In the third phase, music to promote relaxation was played, and in the fourth, videotapes designed to elicit laughter were shown. After each stage, the researchers used an ultrasound device to measure changes in the volunteers’ blood vessels. The measurements were repeated over several months to check for consistency.

The results showed a clear correlation between the subjects’ attitude toward the music and their body’s physical reaction to it. The researchers found that listening to joyful music caused the volunteers’ blood vessels to dilate, thereby increasing blood flow to the heart. In contrast, when the participants listened to music they perceived as stressful, their blood vessels contracted, reducing blood flow to the heart. The changes were significant. Blood vessel diameter increased 26 percent after the joyful music phase, while listening to music that caused anxiety narrowed the blood vessels by 6 percent. “I was impressed with the highly significant differences both before and after listening to joyful music as well as between joyful and anxious music,” said Dr. Miller.

Interestingly, most of the participants in the study selected country music as the kind of music that evoked joy, while heavy metal music made them feel anxious. “I enjoy country music, so I could appreciate why country music could cause that joyful response,” Miller said. However, Miller, who also enjoys rock, classical and jazz, believes he could have selected other individuals and the favorite could have been another type of music. But would other types of music have produced similar effects on the volunteers’ blood vessels, the researchers wondered. Dr. Miller believes it is possible. “The answer, in my opinion, is how an individual is ‘wired’. We’re all wired differently, we all react differently.” He adds that there is a need for further research.

Nevertheless, Dr. Miller is pleased by the findings of the study: “Needless to say, these results were music to my ears because they signal another preventive strategy that we may incorporate in our daily lives to promote heart health.”

(Adapted from “Joyful Music May Promote Heart Health”, University of Maryland Medical Center / www.umm.edu)

Answer these questions in English according to the article.

1. 
The subject of the experiment (lines 1-8) is the connection between:
2. 
What is the relationship between the first and second paragraphs (lines 1-8 and lines 9-16)?
3. 
Why were measurements taken more than once? (lines 9-16)

The researchers wanted to know if the participants would:

4. 
What does the word “Nevertheless” as used in line 37 mean?

CAN WE INCREASE OUR BRAIN POWER?

Wouldn’t it be nice to understand and remember more, to learn new skills and be more creative – to be, in a word, smarter? The good news is that we can. A new study shows that IQ, long thought to be unchangeable after early childhood, can in fact be raised – and not by a mere point or two. According to the study, IQ can rise by a whopping 21 points over four years – or, conversely, fall by 18. Twenty points is a “huge difference,” says Cathy Price of University College London, who led the research. “If an individual moved from an IQ of 110 to an IQ of 130, they’d go from being ‘average’ to ‘gifted’.”

The study demonstrated that changes in the participants’ IQ were linked to actual physical changes in the structure of their brains. In participants whose verbal IQ improved significantly, brain scans showed a corresponding change in an area of the brain that is responsible for reading and speaking. In participants whose non-verbal IQ rose, there was a change in an area of the brain that is associated with movement. In both cases, the changes had to do with the creation of new connections in the brain – the more connections, the higher the IQ.

So, how do we go about increasing our brain power? Some scientists believe that the answer may lie in improving short-term memory. In a surprising discovery, scientists at the University of Michigan recently found that short-term memory affects reasoning and problem-solving abilities. This suggests that short-term memory may play a greater role in intelligence than anyone previously suspected. If that’s the case, then memory training may be the surest path to a higher IQ. “There is some controversy over whether brain training can enhance cognition,” says Eric Kandel of Columbia University. “But if you really work on memory by, for instance, memorizing poetry, it probably improves some aspects of cognitive function.” This view is supported by psychologist Jason Chein of Temple University, who found that adults who trained on a complex memory task showed significant improvement in reading comprehension as well.

Memorizing lines of poetry may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but there are other ways of boosting IQ. It may seem strange, but a number of studies have found that practicing motor skills can improve cognitive ones. Aerobic exercise, for example, gives both the muscles and the brain a workout. Walking just 30 minutes a day stimulates the production of a substance in the brain which in turn promotes learning.

On the other hand, rest is beneficial too. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that napping not only restores brain power but also raises it. In one study, students were asked to learn the names of 120 faces they had never seen before. Those who took a 90-minute nap after learning the names remembered more names than those who hadn’t taken a nap. They also remembered more names than before their nap. Apparently, it isn’t necessary to read a 20-volume encyclopedia to be smarter. All you need to do is get some shut-eye, do aerobics or memorize a poem.

(Adapted from “Buff Your Brain”, Newsweek, January 1, 2012)

Answer these questions in English according to the article.

1. 
What does the new study mentioned in lines 1-8 show?

It shows that IQ:

2. 
What is the connection between the first and second paragraphs (lines 1-8 and lines 9-15)?
3. 
What do we learn from the study described in lines 9-15?
4. 
What can we conclude from the study on napping? (lines 34-41)

SEARCHING FOR THE ROOTS OF ADDICTION

For years, scientists have been trying to discover why some people become addicted to drugs while others manage to resist them. Studies of drug addicts’ brains have revealed certain abnormalities, but scientists have not been able to determine whether these differences are the cause of the addiction, or the result of it. Not, that is, until now. A new study of siblings has shown that some of these differences may be the cause.

The study compared the brain structure and function of 47 addicts and their non-addicted siblings. These were also compared with a control group of unrelated, drug-free volunteers. All of the participants were tested on the ability to control impulses, a factor directly linked to addictive behavior. It is this ability that stops us from telling our friend what we really think of her new hairdo or helps us resist that second piece of chocolate cake. To test how well they could control their impulses, the participants were asked to press a button repeatedly in response to a signal on a screen – and then told to resist that behavior. The results were surprising: Both the addicted participants and their non-addicted siblings performed significantly worse than the drug-free volunteers. Results like these are typically found only among people who are addicted. This finding suggests that poor impulse control is not caused by drug use, but rather by hereditary factors.

Brain scans supported this evidence. Certain areas of the brain are responsible for self-control. The stronger the connections between these areas of the brain, the greater the person’s ability to control his or her impulses. The scientists discovered that these connections were weaker in both the addicted participants and their non-addicted siblings than they were in the volunteers. Which raises the question: If the siblings’ brains are so similar, why did one become an addict and not the other? Environmental factors did not provide an answer; when the researchers looked into the siblings’ early lives, they found that all of the same risk factors were present.

Additional brain scans, however, did reveal differences between the siblings. Those who were addicted showed less activity in an area of the brain that allows us to be flexible and adapt our behavior to changing conditions. “In addicted people, we consistently see decreased activity in this area,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “That is likely to explain why they repeat and repeat drug-taking even when they tell you that it doesn’t make them feel good anymore,” she says.

All of this is good news for drug addicts. While it may not help them break their habit, it may help change the way others relate to them. Karen Ersche, a researcher at Cambridge University, believes that drug addicts may be viewed less negatively if people understand that addiction is “related to the brain and not a failure of character or lifestyle choice”.

(Information from “Siblings Brain Study Sheds Light on the Roots of Addiction”, TIME.com, February 3, 2012)

Answer these questions in English according to the article.

1. 
What is the purpose of the first paragraph?
2. 
What do we learn about the study in lines 7-18?
3. 
What do we learn from the study described in lines 9-15?
4. 
What can we conclude from the study on napping? (lines 34-41)
5. 
What did the scientists learn from the study? (lines 7-18)
6. 
What do we learn from lines 19-27?