Hearing in color
Synesthesia, a rare neurologic condition that is estimated to affect about 5 percent of the population, has baffled scientists for more than 130 years. People with synesthesia experience an automatic and involuntary crossed response to certain sensory triggers. For example, hearing a musical note may cause a person to see a certain color or smell a certain scent.
Until now, the cause of this mysterious ailment eluded scientists because of the subjective nature of the symptoms. But new gene sequencing techniques finally enable researchers to investigate what drives these strange sensory experiences.
In a study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers performed genetic testing on people with synesthesia that mingles the senses of hearing and vision. They found that those people possessed DNA variants that appeared to cause nerve cells in the areas of the brain that process auditory and visual information to become hyperconnected during early childhood development.
The findings may help research into the causes of autism spectrum disorders, which scientists suspect also involve abnormal nerve connections, Science magazine reported. —J.B.
Having trouble getting your preschooler to fall asleep at night? Dimming lights and eliminating screen time before bed may help, according to a new study published in the journal Physiological Reports.
Other studies have indicated bright lights can affect adult sleep patterns, but the new research shows that young children are even more susceptible to light exposure. The researchers found even an hour of bright light before bedtime almost completely shuts down preschoolers’ production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Melatonin also stays suppressed for at least 50 minutes after lights go out.
Young children have larger pupils and more transparent lenses, which makes them more vulnerable to the effects of light, lead researcher Monique LeBourgeois said in a statement. LeBourgeois attributed at least part of the problem to the growing use of electronic media among young children, which has tripled since 2011: “The preschool years are a very sensitive time of development during which use of digital media is growing more and more pervasive.” —J.B.