Tag Archives: tv

What Can Quartz Crystals Really Do?

Image in public domain.

Crystals and quartz

Crystals have caught the eye of humans since the dawn of time. Some scientists have even speculated that the origins of life on Earth may trace its origins to crystals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these gleaming mineral formations appear frequently in pop culture often as having supernatural powers (even though they don’t). A few examples of this reoccurring theme are the Silmarils in the Lord of the Rings universe and the sunstones in James Gurney’s Dinotopia.

The atoms which make up a crystal lie in a lattice which repeats itself over and over. There are several methods for generating crystals artificially in a lab, with superheating being the most common process. Likewise, in nature, a hot liquid (eg: magma) cools down, and as this happens, the molecules are attracted to each other, bunching up and forming that repeating pattern which leads to crystal formation.

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals found on the planet. This mineral is known to be transparent or have the hues of white, yellow, pink, green, blue, or even black. It is also the most common form of crystalline silica which has a rather high melting point and can be extremely dangerous if inhaled in its powdered form. This mineral compound is present in the majority of igneous rocks. Some quartzes are considered semiprecious stones. Aside from mere bedazzlement, they have been used in countless industries.

Industrial, not magical uses

If a pressure is applied to the surface of a quartz crystal, it can give off a small electrical charge. This effect is the result of the electrically charged atoms (the ions) dispersing and spreading away from the area to which the pressure is being applied. This can be done in a number of ways, including simply squeezing the crystal. It also dispenses an electric current if a precise cut is made at an angle to the axis.

Since it possesses this property, quartz has been a component of devices such as radios, TV’s, and radar systems. Some quartz crystals are capable of transmitting ultraviolet light better than glass (by the way, quartz sand is used in making glass). Because of this, low-quality quartz is often used for making specific lenses; optical quartz is made exclusively from quartz crystals. Quartz which is somewhat clouded or which is not as transparent as the stuff used for optics is frequently incorporated into lab instrumentation.

Scientists have employed quartz for many things, and they have considered its role in the Earth sciences a crucial one. Some have stated it directly brings about the reaction which forms mountains and causes earthquakes! It continues to be used in association with modern technology, and it likely will lead us to more discoveries in the future.

Darth Vader.

Our perception of a character comes not from their actions, but from how they compare to others

There are some characters whom we love although they do legitimately bad things — take Walter White for example. A new paper from the University at Buffalo tries to explain why we still root for these characters.

Darth Vader.

On the one hand, I really hoped all the best for Walter, all the way to the end. Which I found surprising because he does a lot of shady, a lot of downright dark things on the show. And I’m not the only one to do so — in fact, most people feel the same way as I do, while agreeing that Walter is, when you draw the line, more villain than hero. So what gives?

According to lead author Matthew Grizzard, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Communication and an expert on the cognitive, emotional, and psychobiological effects of media entertainment, it’s because behavior isn’t the end-all standard after which we gauge a villain or a hero.

Exactly how to make an audience like or dislike a hero has been a burning question on the minds of media researchers even since the 70s. They’ve had a lot of time to look into the issue since then and one thing seems to stand the test of time — morality matters with the public. People simply love the good guys and dislike the bad guys. But Grizzard’s study suggests it’s not necessarily behavior that we use when making a distinction between the hero and the villain.

Whiter than thou

The team, which included co-authors Jialing Huang, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, Changhyun Ahn and Haoran Chu, all UB graduate students, wanted to find out if slight outward differences — for example wearing darker or lighter clothes — would be enough to make people consider a character as being a hero or villain. So, they digitally altered photographs of characters to see if they could influence the audience’s perception of them.

They also drew on previous research which found that while villains and heroes differ in morality, the two don’t differ in competence. In other words, villains aren’t simply immoral, but they’re “good at being bad”, according to Grizzard. This offered the team an opportunity to determine if their alterations activated participants’ perception of a hero or villain or if any shift in perception was caused by unrelated biases.

“If our data had come out where the heroic-looking character was both more moral and more competent than the villain, then we probably just created a bias,” says Grizzard.

“But because the hero was more moral than the villain but equally competent, we’re more confident that visuals can activate perceptions of heroic and villainous characters,”

The study found that while appearance does, to a certain degree, help skew perception of a character as either a hero or villain, it showed that characters were judged chiefly by how they compare to the others, and the order they’re introduced to the audience. For example, a hero was usually judged as being more moral and heroic if he or she appeared after the villain, and villains were usually considered to be more villainous if they were introduced after a hero. This suggests that people don’t make isolated judgments on the qualities of a character using a strict moral standard, but rather by making comparisons between them and those they oppose.

In Walter’s case, people see the character’s ethics taking a constant turn for the worse and still stick by his side. The trick is that Walter doesn’t evolve by himself — there are all those other characters going about, usually turning worse by the episode, and Walter comes on top when compared to them. He seems better when compared to the really low standard the others in the show set, making him feel like the good guy.

Well, if nothing else, the villains at least have an easier time catching up to Mr. Good Guy, Gizzard says.

“We find that characters who are perceived as villains get a bigger boost from the good actions or apparent altruism than heroes, like the Severus Snape character from the Harry Potter books and films.”

The findings could help improve the effectiveness of character-based public service campaigns, or for programs trying to promote a certain behavior. By helping authors understand how we perceive their characters, the research could also help them write better stories.

And on a more personal note, it can help each and every one of us form a clearer image of the characters we love — with all their flaws and strengths.

The full paper “Sensing Heroes and Villains: Character-Schema and the Disposition Formation Process” has been published in the journal
Communication Research.

Watching too much television linked with a distorted view of the justice system

Credit: Flickr

Credit: Flickr

Crime is a favorite theme for both the media and film industry, but when the justice system is excessively dramatized we run at risk of blurring the line between myth and reality. Take the so-called “CSI effect”, for instance — an umbrella term used to describe how people’s view of how criminal investigations are carried out is heavily skewed by such shows as Law & Order,  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, or even Dateline NBC. This effect, critics believe, is responsible for the myth of the minute-long DNA analysis, which actually can take days, and can even go as far as causing wrongful convictions or acquittals because jurors watched too much TV.

As one district attorney put it, “Jurors now expect us to have a DNA test for just about every case. They expect us to have the most advanced technology possible, and they expect it to look like it does on television.”

One recent study which highlights the effects of TV consumption and myth constructions was performed by researchers at MedUni Vienna’s Center for Public Health. The team asked 322 people living in Austria about their TV habits and then asked them if the death penalty still applies in Austria. The follow-up question in case they answered “yes” was how many people did they thought were on death row.

Despite the death penalty was abolished on 7 February 1968, or almost 50 years ago, the researchers found 11.6 percent of the participants thought the death penalty still applied. The more TV they watched, the higher the probability they thought this was the case.

“It seems that television has the potential to influence viewers’ perception and knowledge of core aspects of society,” the researchers noted in their study.

Benedikt Till, one of the lead researchers, says the link is mainly due to American film and TV series which are very popular with the Austrian public. For Till, this wasn’t all that surprising, as previous research showed distorted reality on TV leads to a distorted reality in the viewers’ mind as well.

“For example, people who watch a lot of television often overestimate the number of people in those professions that are frequently portrayed on television, such as doctors, lawyers or policemen, for example. They also overestimate the probability of being the victim of crime,” Till said.

Next, Till and colleagues plan on researchers whether too much TV is also linked with other prejudices, myths and misinformation about health-related topics. Specifically, the researchers will study media exposure and suicide, and see whether there’s a link between the TV and the public’s perception on this important social issue.

TV has a negative long term impact on toddlers

ctoddlertv03_02-773242

If you want your kids to be healthier, thinier and smarter, then you probably should keep them away from TVs while they’re toddlers. A recent (and quite shocking) joint study conducted by Université de Montréal, the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Michigan revealed that television exposure at ages of 2 and under have significant negative impacts, including unhealthy habits and poor school adjustment.

“We found every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers corresponded to a future decrease in classroom engagement and success at math, increased victimization by classmates, have a more sedentary lifestyle, higher consumption of junk food and, ultimately, higher body mass index,” says lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.

The study analyzed over 1300 children, with the goal of determining the impact TV has on future academic succes and social involvement, and the results were quite dire.

“Between the ages of two and four, even incremental exposure to television delayed development,” says Dr. Pagani.

“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behaviour,” warns Dr. Pagani. “High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits. Despite clear recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting less than two hours of TV per day — beyond the age of two — parents show poor factual knowledge and awareness of such existing guidelines.”

Here’s just a quick look at the numbers caused by watching too much tv at that age:

– a seven percent decrease in classroom engagement;
– a six percent decrease in math achievement (with no harmful effects on later reading);
– a 10 percent increase in victimization by classmates (peer rejection, being teased, assaulted or insulted by other students);
– a 13 percent decrease in weekend physical activity;
– a nine percent decrease in general physical activity;
– a none percent higher consumption of soft drinks;
– a 10 percent peak in snacks intake;
– a five percent increase in BMI.

“Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting,” says Dr. Pagani. “Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood and for parents to heed guidelines on TV exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics.”