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Toothbrush Sounds Can Make Us Better Brushers

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Oral hygiene is important. Unfortunately, both talking about it and doing it can also be boring. So how can you convince people to brush their teeth more often? For starters, you can make it more rewarding. Two Japanese researchers have found that certain types of toothbrush noises make brushing more satisfying, which may make people more likely to do it.

The root of the problem, according to Taku Hachisu and Hiroyuki Kajimoto from Japan’s University of Electro-Communications, is that brushing provides no immediate payoff. In behavioral science terms, it’s a negative reward: when you brush your teeth, you don’t get cavities. But negative rewards are not great motivators. People (and animals) are more likely to do something if there’s a positive reward on the line—that is, if they get something for doing it.

The mental side of oral hygiene is pretty easy to hack. Toothpaste companies have been doing it for ages. Pepsodent was America’s first popular toothpaste. When competitors tried to figure out why, they realized that Pepsodent’s formula included ingredients that happened to create a tingling sensation. Pepsodent users said that tingle was a sure sign that their teeth were clean, and that toothpaste without it was probably just not doing the job. In reality, the tingling sensation was just a side effect, but customers didn’t care. The perception stuck, and today it’s hard to find a toothpaste that doesn’t leave your mouth tingling.

There are a few reward-focused toothbrush technologies already in development or on the market. Hasbro’s “Tooth Tunes” brush plays music when the bristles come in contact with teeth. Scientists also have suggested linking a toothbrush to a virtual aquarium and rewarding good brushers with happy, healthy, reproducing virtual fish. But the rewards offered by these and similar products are pretty abstract; that is, they don’t actually have much to do with brushing.

Hachisu and Kajimoto wondered if they could hack the experience of brushing itself. They set out to determine if they could make the feel and sounds of brushing more satisfying, and to find out if that satisfaction would be enough to motivate people to brush more.

The researchers gave volunteers a special toothbrush outfitted with a microphone that captured the unique sounds of each person brushing their teeth. Then they digitally manipulated the noises to change their volume, pitch, and frequency. The next time they brushed their teeth, the volunteers wore headphones that played the modified brushing noises back to them. The scientists found that simply making small adjustments to the brushing noises made people feel more comfortable and accomplished after brushing. The data also suggested that gradually increasing the frequency of the noises convinced people that their teeth were cleaner.

Hachisu and Kajimoto described their experiments in a special issue of the International Journal of Arts and Technology.

The next step will be to remove the headphones from the equation. The researchers plan to incorporate bone-conduction speakers like those used in the Tooth Tunes brushes.

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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