Drinking in moderation may decrease the risk of heart disease
You’ve likely heard that drinking red wine with dinner is good for your heart, and now, new research shows that this may be because the alcohol is consumed consistently.
Researchers from the University College London and the University of Cambridge conducted a study that examined the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) amongst different types of drinkers. The team categorized the different types of drinking as moderate drinkers, heavy, or unstable (meaning inconsistent or sporadic).
The results, published in the journal BMC Medicine, suggest that unstable drinking patterns such as quitting drinking or drinking on and off increase the risk of CHD. Individuals who are consistent in their moderate drinking habits may be better protected against CHD.
“This study uses long-term data to distinguish between persistent non-drinkers and former drinkers, allowing us to test the established theory that only the latter have an elevated risk of CHD,” said Dara O’Neill, the corresponding author of the study. “We did not find this to be the case but we did observe a sex-related difference. Amongst consistent non-drinkers, women showed a higher risk of developing CHD compared to consistently moderate drinkers, but their male counterparts did not.”
The researchers reviewed data on 35,132 individuals from six different studies, five of which were conducted in the UK and one in France. The studies recorded information on alcohol intake for participants over ten years as well as any diagnosed CHD events.
Of the 35,132 individuals examined for the new study, 1,718 developed CHD during the ten year period. CHD events were the highest among former drinkers and surprisingly low for heavy drinkers.
The researchers say that the low cases of CHD among heavy drinkers are not representative of how heavy drinking impacts health and heart disease risk, and any interpretations on how heavy drinking correlates with CHD should be made with caution.
What the results do seem to show is that inconsistent drinking behavior increases the risk of CHD as opposed to moderate drinking. The researchers say that this could be because of external factors associated with inconsistent drinking such as lifestyle changes or stress.
“When we split the sample by age, we found that the elevated risk of incident CHD amongst inconsistently moderate drinkers was observed in participants aged over 55, but not those aged below,” said O’Neill. “It may be that the older group experienced lifestyle changes, such as retirement, which are known to co-occur with increases in alcohol intake and that these could have played a role in the differing risk.”
There are a lot of gaps in the data which prevent the researchers from reaching any definite conclusions on the risks of CHD, and drinking but the study does lend interest to research on how drinking impacts heart health.
Trump admin’s new coal rules will lead to poorer U.S. air quality
The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the guidelines of its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule today. The legislation would replace former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which set ambitious targets to close outdated coal-burning plants and cut back on carbon dioxide emissions.
Instead of shutting down aging power plants, the ACE rule would allow states to lower their pollution standards and keep these plants operational by making minor improvements. In addition, the plan would give individual states the authority to regulate harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
A news release from the EPA states: “Many believed the CPP exceeded EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, which is why 27 states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops, and three labor unions challenged the rule.”
After reviewing the CPP, the EPA made some major changes to allow states “adequate time and flexibility” to develop their own strategies for improving the efficiency at existing power plants and moving toward emissions reductions.
The EPA defends its decision to replace the “overly prescriptive and burdensome Clean Power Plan (CPP)” by insisting that the legislation overstepped its authority. The EPA claims that the ACE rule “instead empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation.”
But, as the details of the proposed ACE rule emerge, not everyone is singing its praises. According to The New York Times, the EPA itself acknowledges in the fine print of its proposal that the devised plan would lead to higher carbon dioxide emissions and could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths every year.
California governor Jerry Brown posted on Twitter: “This is a declaration of war against America and all of humanity – it will not stand. Truth and common sense will triumph over Trump’s insanity.”
The American Lung Association released the following statement in response to the ACE rule:
“With today’s proposal, President Trump and Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler abandon much-needed public health safeguards against power plant pollution, placing the health of all Americans at risk, and especially those who are most vulnerable, including children, older adults, and people with asthma and heart disease.”
“Today’s proposal is a dangerous substitute for the Clean Power Plan and a careless giveaway to polluters that will delay meaningful progress in the future. The United States must aggressively limit power plant carbon pollution to protect human health from the impacts of climate change, including degraded air quality and more extreme weather threats, such as hurricanes, wildfires and floods.”
The EPA will accept comments for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register, and a public hearing will also be held. More information, including a fact sheet, is available at https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/proposal-affordable-clean-energy-ace-rule.
Paid for by Earth.com
People tend to be more honest when speaking a foreign language
A new study led by the University of Chicago has found that people are more likely to tell the truth when they are speaking in a foreign language.
The research was focused on native speakers of English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Korean as they participated in an economic game. The participants were randomly assigned to play the game in their native language or in a foreign language, and were paid according to self-reported numbers that appeared on dice.
The game was designed so that the outcome was private, which means that participants could cheat to gain a larger profit without any risk of consequences.
The study revealed that individuals who were speaking in a foreign language were less likely to cheat compared to people who were speaking their native language.
Study co-author Yoella Bereby-Meyer is a professor of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
“When individuals have a chance to profit from dishonesty with no risk of being caught, their instinctive tendency is to cheat, while they refrain from cheating when they have time to deliberate,” said Professor Bereby-Meyer.
She explained that there is a “natural temptation to lie” when it involves money, such as lying about a child’s age to get a cheaper ticket price.
*Even though there wasn’t much language involved, just being in a foreign language mindset made them more likely to resist temptation,” said graduate student Sayuri Hayakawa.
The fact that the participants were more inclined to inflate their numbers when speaking in their native language was evident in the higher proportion of 5s and 6s reported by this group.
The findings of this study contradict a common misconception that people have about foreigners. Co-author Boaz Keysar is a professor of Psychology at UChicago.
“Studies have shown people with accents are perceived as less credible because they can be more difficult to understand.” The results of this research, however, suggest otherwise.
The study is published in the journal Cognitive Science.
Australian study shows steep decline in belief in creationism
Belief in evolution – or lack there of – has been a major dividing factor amongst populations for centuries. As science education has increased across the globe over time, it seems like it is having a negating effect on the prevalence of evolution denial. A landmark new study published in Evolution: Education and Outreach has found that university students in Australia are much more likely to believe in the science of human evolution over creationism or divine guidance than the previous generation.
The study consists of an overview of the last 32 years of annually-assessed student opinions. In 1986, the majority of students held the belief that god is the ultimate or contributing cause of human origins – but this is no longer the case. Belief that humans evolved without divine involvement has now become the dominant view amongst students.
Starting in 1986, researchers took a yearly poll of first-year biology students at UNSW Sydney, asking them about their views on evolution and creationism. In the first year of the study, 60 percent of students believed god had a role in the origin of humans. When researchers asked students in 2017 the same question, only 29 percent held this view.
“Given that the creationist view (that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years, rather than evolved naturally over millions of years without the involvement of God) is common among American students, we wanted to know how much of a challenge introducing the evidence for evolution to first-year students would be for us in Australia,” says Michael Archer, a professor at UNSW Sydney and lead author of the study. “We also wanted to know if Australian student views about this key issue were changing over time.”
Studies depicting long-term trends in views about the origins of humans are seldom performed, and when they are, they are generally limited to surveys of adult populations in the U.S. Given what studies have been done regarding creationism and the American population, the results of this study from Australia show a significant contrast to the corresponding beliefs among Australian students and the American public.
“In the USA, belief in creationism, while slowly declining, appears to have remained in the 40% range, four times that seen in our Australian survey,” Archer says.
For universities in Australia, this steep decline in the belief of creationism amongst students suggests that professors won’t need to spend much time on convincing students of the scientific evidence for human evolution. However, the researchers do advocate for continued assessment of these beliefs through running similar annual surveys in high schools across Australia.
Paid for by Earth.com
New wave of street drugs are complicating the work of ER doctors
A report from the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) is providing new insight into illicit drug use. The study highlights the complexity of treating patients at hospital emergency rooms for drug overdoses.
The investigation began in 2016 when researchers set out to determine what caused two drug overdoses in patients at separate hospitals in Maryland.
Emergency room doctors were battling a spike in accidental drug overdoses and related fatalities, which were believed to be linked to drugs called synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the chemicals in marijuana. These drugs are known on the street as Spice or K2.
The doctors were observing “atypical overdoses,” in which patients had difficulty breathing and constricted pupils. They responded well to the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone, but then had to be sedated for agitation, violence, and hyperactivity – none of which were related to opiate withdrawal.
Around the same time, researchers at the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) were detailing illicit drug use patterns in criminal justice settings using sophisticated analyses of urine samples. The CESAR researchers decided to use their urine testing technique for the first time in hospital settings, and collaborated with UMMC physicians to do so.
The team tested 175 urine samples for 26 synthetic cannabinoids, 59 designer drugs, and 84 other illicit and prescription drugs. The results showed that the substances used by these emergency department overdose patients were much more complex than expected.
“We were thoroughly amazed that in a study where we thought everyone was having a synthetic cannabinoid-related problem, only one specimen tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids,” said lead investigator Dr. Eric Wish.
The street drugs had been tweaked into new combinations that were still not being detected. Ultimately, only a quarter of the samples tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids, which was much lower than anticipated.
The study also revealed a huge discrepancy between the drugs patients said they had taken, what doctors suspected they had taken, and the actual drugs detected.
“We had cases where the doctors thought so, the patient thought so, but urinalysis showed no use of synthetic cannabinoids,” said Dr Bradford Schwartz
Marijuana was the most common individual drug detected at both hospitals. In addition, as many as a third of patients tested positive for a new psychoactive substance other than synthetic cannabinoids.
Two-thirds of patients tested positive for multiple substances, and some specimens contained as many as six substances, potentially complicating an overdose diagnosis.
In Baltimore, people tested positive primarily for fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that many patients did not even know they had ingested. In Prince George’s County, the main drug detected besides marijuana was PCP, a hallucinogenic drug that can trigger aggression.
“These results suggest that supportive care is safe in patients suffering from acute intoxication from synthetic cannabinoids,” said Dr. Dezman.
He explained that “it is important to inform patients of the risks of their substance use once they are stabilized.”
“Policy makers and public health officials cannot make informed policy decisions about combating fentanyl if we do not know the prevalence of fentanyl use in the community.”
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer
The amygdala plays a complex role in how we experience fear
The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, has been considered central to the experience and perception of fear for many years. But now, new research has revealed that the role of the amygdala is much more complicated than previously thought.
The study’s author, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, is a research scientist at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Scientists originally hypothesized that the amygdala contained the circuitry necessary for fear and its related behaviors,” said Dr. Barrett. “They continually broadened their hypotheses for the amygdala’s role with accumulating research in both humans and non-human animals. The amygdala was then thought to contain the circuitry for negative emotions, for emotions in general, and eventually, for anything broadly effective, such as threat.”
“Through the natural process of systematic scientific investigation, it’s become clearer that the amygdala plays a role in signaling the rest of the brain to information that is important to learn because it is relevant to allostasis – the brain’s process of anticipating the needs of the body and attempting to meet those needs before they arise. Whether threatening, rewarding or novel, this to-be-learned information will help the brain better predict future occasions.”
Ever since a study by University of Chicago researchers Heinrich Klüver and Paul C. Bucy was published in the 1930s, the amygdala has been associated with fear. The authors described transformative behavioral changes in rhesus monkeys after they had this region of their brains removed. The monkeys became unafraid of approaching snakes and other threatening animals.
According to Dr. Barrett, experts had concluded the amygdala was integral to a central fear system in the brain by the early 1990s. However, the perception of the amygdala’s role began to change around 1994, when a team at the University of Iowa College of Medicine began to publish studies of a patient with rare bilateral lesions of the amygdala resulting from a condition known as Urbach-Wiethe disease.
The experts found that the patient was unable to recognize facial expressions of fear, underscoring the earlier conclusions about the role of the amygdala.
Further trials with the patient revealed that she had difficulty perceiving facial expressions of other emotions when those expressions involved a widening of the eyes.
Dr. Barrett explained that these findings led to the development of new theories about the role of the amygdala in the experience and perception of fear. It now seems that the amygdala does not directly control fear, but is involved in a person’s ability to attend to the whites of another person’s widened eyes. This is more important to social functioning.
“The amygdala is not necessary to experience or perceive fear,” said Dr. Barrett. “Amygdala neurons very likely contribute to fear in some instances, but the neurons can’t be said to actually compute fear. More likely, amygdala neurons act as a context-sensitive sentinel for learning threat and reward.”
“The original hypotheses about the amygdala’s role in fear turned out not to be supported after careful study across decades. This is a good example of how the scientific method, at its best, works.”
Dr. Barrett’s paper is published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences.
Militarization of police does more harm than good, study finds
A new study published by Jonathan Mummolo, assistant professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, has revealed that militarized policing is not an effective way to reduce crime and protect police. Professor Mummolo has found that the militarization of police may actually weaken the public’s image of them.
Four years ago this month, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Police agencies in the area reacted to protests using a militarized response, which was strongly criticized in the media.
Those who support militarized police units say that this approach helps to protect police officers and prevent violence, while critics argue that these tactics are aimed at racial minorities and weaken the trust that citizens have in law enforcement.
Professor Mummolo set out to test several claims about the costs and benefits of militarized policing. For his investigation, he used administrative crime and officer safety data, survey experiments, and records of where militarized police units were created and deployed.
Professor Mummolo found that militarized policing does not lead to less violent crime or less violence against police officers. In addition, the appearance of militarized police in the news can harm the reputation of the police and change how they are perceived by the public.
The study also revealed that militarized police units are most often created in communities of color. The overall findings indicate that the elimination of militarized police may be the best move for both officers and citizens.
“The routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to further the historic tensions between marginalized groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit,” said Professor Mummolo.
The study was focused on Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) deployments, as the formation of SWAT teams represent an increased commitment to the use of militarized equipment and tactics.
Professor Mummolo built a nationwide panel measuring whether and when roughly 9,000 law enforcement agencies obtained a SWAT team between 2000 and 2008. He also obtained data on all SWAT activity in Maryland over a five-year period, and compared the SWAT deployments with the number of violent crimes and officers who were killed or injured.
The study found that creating more SWAT teams and increasing SWAT deployments had little to no benefits in terms of crime reduction or officer safety.
The results of the analysis also showed that citizens have a negative reaction to the appearance of militarized police units in news reports, which makes them less likely to fund police or to support police patrols in their neighborhoods.
“These results come after a single exposure to militarized images. Repeated public exposure to news items featuring militarized policing may amplify negative views of law enforcement among citizens,” said Professor Mummolo. “This is concerning because past research indicates that negative views of the police hinder criminal investigations and are associated with stunted civic participation.”
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Credit: Egan Jimenez, Princeton University
Paid for by Earth.com
New deadly tick infection could spread from Mexico to the US
A new infection spread by ticks has reached epidemic levels in Mexico near the American border and it could soon spread to the US.
Researchers recently conducted a report examining the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) bacterial infection, which is spread by two kinds of tick, and in the most extreme cases can be fatal.
RMSF has been known to cause flu-like symptoms, common of other tick-spread diseases, as well as a rash. If left untreated, the infection can cause hearing loss and sometimes paralysis.
In Mexicali, a town on the Mexican-American border, at least 4,00 people have contracted the infection since 2008 resulting in several hundred deaths.
In the U.S, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has been reported before and according to the Daily Mail, there are about 3,000 cases every year.
However, new research has found that in the recent outbreaks in Mexico, infected people have higher concentrations of the virus than in previous years.
If this spreads to the United States, it could have devastating consequences.
Currently, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by tick bites from the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, but the recent outbreak in Mexicali and the reason for the higher viral loads was traced back to another carrier, the brown dog tick.
According to recent research, the brown dog tick is more likely to bite people, which is why epidemiologists are concerned about a quick spreading outbreak of RMSF in the US.
Researchers from the University of California Davis and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Mexicali collected blood samples from 16 Mexican patients that had been bitten by brown dog ticks.
The patients’ blood had higher levels of the virus which means the brown dog tick for whatever reason carries a much more potent strain of RMSF than the other ticks known to spread the infection.
Yet, the recent report did not have any explanations for why this might be.
“I was absolutely startled,” Janet Foley, one of the researchers, told NBC News. That’s a very big epidemic of a fatal disease. There are likely thousands of cases.”
Image Credit: CDC
When tourists get too close to wildlife, it won’t end well
Seeing animals in the wild can be an exciting and awe-inspiring tourism opportunity. From cruising on an African safari to whale watching in the expansive sea, vacations and wildlife encounters often intertwine. These interactions can make for a great photo and even spark an interest in wildlife conservation, but they can also have a dark side.
On a recent vacation to San Diego, California, I experienced wildlife tourism firsthand. All of the travel blogs I read urged me to head up the coast to see the neighborhood of La Jolla which is known for their seals and sea lions, so I decided to make a pit stop.
I first watched the seals atop a stone bridge which looked down onto the beach, providing a physical barrier between the tourists and the wild animals. The seals slept, played and swam through the water, seemingly indifferent to our presence as tourists cooed and snapped photos.
As I walked towards the rocks where the sea lions sunbathed, I noticed numerous signs warning visitors that it was against federal law to feed or harass the sea lions. When I reached the top of the rocks, it was clear why the signs were there.
There were at least a half dozen tourists walking up to a small group of sea lions, within feet of the wild animals smiling for selfies. The sea lions were clearly distressed and tried to scurry away from the tourists as the tourists kept following them. One mother sea lion ran off, leaving her newborn pup behind alone. The pup laid lifeless on the rocks while people posed for photos next to him.
While the mothers may leave their pups to find food, The Marine Mammal Center in California warns visitors not to take selfies with newborn animals as the mothers can get scared and abandon their pups. Thankfully during my visit, the mother eventually returned to her pup as the crowds thinned out but I still left the beach feeling deflated. The fun day of sightseeing had slowly turned into a glimpse into the potential problems with human-wildlife encounters.
The sea lions I saw that day are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The act prohibits the feeding, harassment, hunting, capture, collecting and killing of marine mammals. Despite the signs displayed all throughout the beach outlining the act, tourists proceeded without caution. A local activist has filmed hours of footage of tourists petting, chasing and taking pictures with seals and sea lions at La Jolla beaches.
These close encounters not only stress out the animals involved but put the public at risk. According to NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, “Getting too close to a wild animal puts you—and the animal—at risk. Seals have powerful jaws, and can leave a lasting impression. We have received reports of a number of injuries to humans as a result of getting too close to an animal during a quick photo op.”
Wildlife attacks can occur when humans encroach upon wild animals’ habitat. Last month, a polar bear was shot to death by cruise officials after the boat docked in the animals’ territory. Cruise ship workers exited the ship to survey the area and encountered a polar bear. The workers ended up shooting the animal after attempts to scare him off were unsuccessful.
This occurred on an island where the 3,000 polar bears outnumber the locals. In addition to being a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the polar bear is also listed as “vulnerable”.
When tourists travel to a destination, they are a visitor. In cases of human-wildlife encounters, they are a visitor to the animals’ natural habitat. As visitors, we need to remain respectful and courteous as our actions may mean life or death for the animal.
The science of beauty is simpler than you might expect
Famed poet John Keats once wrote, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever,” though he certainly was not the only writer to illustrate our fascination with beauty in words.
Poets, philosophers, writers, and psychologists have long looked at what draws us to beauty, but recently a new study examined the concepts beauty with science.
Researchers from New York University conducted an analysis of beauty and found that the driving factors behind how we respond to and process something aesthetically pleasing are much simpler than was previously realized.
“It is widely assumed that the experience of beauty requires prolonged contemplation. But our primer reveals that a fraction of a second is enough,” said Aenne Brielmann, the lead author of the study.
The results were published in the journal Current Biology.
The research is part of a growing field of study called empirical aesthetics which is a branch of psychology that delves into the experiences of beauty and art.
Trends by themselves can’t dictate consumer buying motivation, as companies must also work to create products and services that appeal to the public’s drive to own beautiful things or improve personal features.
For the study, the researchers analyzed writings on beauty from Plato, Oscar Wilde (19th-century novelist and playwright), Alexander Baumgarten (18th-century philosopher), and Gustav Fechner (psychologist).
“Beauty is famously subjective and supposed to be intractable by science, but some of its key properties follow simple rules,” said Denis Pelli, a co-author of the paper. “Philosophers have long supposed that the feeling of beauty is a special kind of pleasure. Yet, our analysis of research in the field shows that the feeling of beauty may merely be a very intense pleasure, not otherwise special”
The researchers found that while symmetry can enhance beauty, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for personal tastes and subjectivity.
Instead, the researchers found that, as philosophers from centuries past claimed, beauty is a feeling of pleasure. When we’re faced with something beautiful, it stimulates activity in the pleasure centers of our brain.
The results, according to the researchers, could help better explain what motivations drive consumer spending and decision making.
Belief in creationism, conspiracy theories follow similar thinking
People commonly embrace the idea that things we experience in life are “meant to be,” or that “everything happens for a reason,” which is referred to as teleological thinking. Researchers have now found that this type of reasoning is linked to two beliefs which are seemingly unrelated – creationism and conspiracism.
Creationism is the belief that life on Earth was purposely created by a supernatural agent, while conspiracism is the tendency to explain events in terms of conspiracy theories.
“We find a previously unnoticed common thread between believing in creationism and believing in conspiracy theories,” said Sebastian Dieguez of the University of Fribourg. “Although very different at first glance, both these belief systems are associated with a single and powerful cognitive bias named teleological thinking, which entails the perception of final causes and overriding purpose in naturally occurring events and entities.”
Dieguez said that, for example, a teleological thinker finds truth in statements such as “the sun rises in order to give us light” or “the purpose of bees is to ensure pollination.”
“This type of thinking is anathema to scientific reasoning, and especially to evolutionary theory, and was famously mocked by Voltaire, whose character Pangloss believed that ‘noses were made to wear spectacles.’ Yet it is very resilient in human cognition, and we show that it is linked not only to creationism, but also to conspiracism.”
Dieguez and his team determined that conspiracism does not reject the idea that the world is random and complex, and that it still could be linked to the belief that events are actively designed to serve a purpose.
The experts also noticed that the notion of conspiracism seemed to be “strikingly similar” to creationism. They proposed that conspiracism should be associated with teleological thinking and creationism.
To investigate, the researchers presented over 150 college students in Switzerland with a questionnaire that included teleological claims and conspiracist statements. The individuals also reported on magical beliefs and were tested for analytical thinking skills.
The survey data showed that the tendency toward creationism was significantly correlated with conspiracist belief levels. A strong association between creationism and conspiracism was also discovered in data from a large-scale survey of people in France. The experts followed up with an online survey that involved over 700 participants, and these results also confirmed their proposed theory.
“By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events,” said Dieguez. “We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called ‘post-truth era.’”
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.
Paid for by Earth.com
Nearly 40 percent of teen drivers text while behind the wheel
Across 34 of the 35 states included in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it is illegal for drivers under the age of 21 to text. Regardless, the study revealed that nearly two out of every five teen drivers age 14 years and older had texted while driving at least once in the month prior to the survey.
Cell phone use while driving has been estimated to increase crash risk by up to nine times. Texting while driving is particularly risky because it involves three types of driver distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive. This means that while drivers are texting they take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and their attention away from driving.
The incident of texting while driving varied by state from a low of 26 percent in Maryland to 64 percent in South Dakota. Among states with a lower minimum learner’s permit age, texting while driving was more prevalent among teenagers. In all five states where more than 50 percent of teen drivers reported texting while behind the wheel, the learner’s permit age was 15 years or younger.
The study also revealed that white teens were more likely to text while operating a vehicle than those of other races or ethnicities. Between the ages of 15 and 16, the incident of driving and texting doubled, before continuing to increase substantially for ages 17 years and up.
“The increase in texting while driving at the age when teens can legally begin unsupervised driving was not surprising,” said study lead author Dr. Motao Zhu. “Graduated driver licensing laws could have an impact on texting while driving behavior: the earlier teens start driving, the earlier they start texting while driving.”
Teens who were engaging in other risky driving behaviors were also more likely to text while driving. For example, teens who reported drinking and driving were almost twice as likely to text while behind the wheel.
“Risky driving behavior is known to be much less common with an adult in the car,” said study co-author Dr. Ruth Shults. “The association between age and texting while driving highlights the need for parents to pay attention to their child’s texting while driving throughout the teen years – not just when their children are learning to drive.”
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.