Cambridge

TICKETS | COLCHESTER UNITED

Cambridge United News Feed - Mon, 11/12/2018 - 16:20

Ticket News

Checkatrade Trophy

Cambridge United hosts local rivals Colchester United in the final Checkatrade Trophy group game at the Abbey Stadium on Tuesday night.

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“GUTTED” GREG TAYLOR SAYS U’S MUST LEARN FROM FA CUP EXIT

Cambridge United News Feed - Mon, 11/12/2018 - 12:11

Club News

Greg Taylor gave a frank assessment of the U’s FA Cup defeat to Guiseley A.F.C, as United “left themselves too much to do” against the Lions.

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MATCH REPORT | GUISELEY A.F.C 4 CAMBRIDGE UNITED 3

Cambridge United News Feed - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 14:31

Match Reports

Cambridge United exited the 2018/19 Emirates FA Cup at the first hurdle with a hugely disappointing display that saw Guiseley take the spoils as 4-3 winners at Nethermoor Park.

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FOND FA CUP MEMORIES IGNITE ADDED DESIRE TO PROGRESS FOR HARRISON DUNK

Cambridge United News Feed - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 15:27

Club News

PLAYER PREVIEW | HARRISON DUNK

Whilst relatively shy in nature, Harrison Dunk is far from shy when admitting he continues to revel in the fond FA Cup memories of Manchester United for the U’s in the not so distant past.

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Ancient DNA analysis unlocks secrets of Ice Age tribes in the Americas

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 09:05

The results have been published in the journal Science as part of a wide-ranging international study, led by the University of Cambridge, which genetically analysed the DNA of a series of well-known and controversial ancient remains across North and South America.

The research also discovered clues of a puzzling Australasian genetic signal in the 10,400-year-old Lagoa Santa remains from Brazil revealing a previously unknown group of early South Americans – but the Australasian link left no genetic trace in North America.

Additionally, a legal battle over a 10,600-year-old ancient skeleton – called the ‘Spirit Cave Mummy’ – has ended after advanced DNA sequencing found it was related to a Native American tribe. The researchers were able to dismiss a longstanding theory that a group called Paleoamericans existed in North America before Native Americans. The Paleoamerican hypothesis was first proposed in the 19th century, but this new study disproves that theory.

“Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were very controversial because they were identified as so-called ‘Paleoamericans’ based on craniometry – it was determined that the shape of their skulls was different to current day Native Americans,” said Professor Eske Willeslev, who holds positions at the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, and led the study. “Our study proves that Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were actually genetically closer to contemporary Native Americans than to any other ancient or contemporary group sequenced to date.”

The scientific and cultural significance of the Spirit Cave remains, which were found in 1940 in a small rocky alcove in the Great Basin Desert, was not properly understood for 50 years. The preserved remains of the man in his forties were initially believed to be between 1,500 and 2000 years old but during the 1990s new textile and hair testing dated the skeleton at 10,600 years old.

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, a group of Native Americans based in Nevada near Spirit Cave, claimed cultural affiliation with the skeleton and requested immediate repatriation of the remains.

Their request was refused and the tribe sued the US government, a lawsuit that pitted tribal leaders against anthropologists, who argued the remains provided invaluable insights into North America’s earliest inhabitants and should continue to be displayed in a museum.

The deadlock continued for 20 years until the tribe agreed that Professor Willeslev could carry out genome sequencing on DNA extracted from the Spirit Cave for the first time.

“I assured the tribe that my group would not do the DNA testing unless they gave permission and it was agreed that if Spirit Cave was genetically a Native American the mummy would be repatriated to the tribe,” said Professor Willeslev, who is a Fellow of St John’s College.

The team extracted DNA from the inside of the skull proving that the skeleton was an ancestor of present-day Native Americans. Spirit Cave was returned to the tribe in 2016 and there was a private reburial ceremony earlier this year. The tribe were kept informed throughout the two-year project and two members visited the lab in Copenhagen to meet the scientists and they were present when all of the DNA sampling was taken.

The genome of the Spirit Cave skeleton has wider significance because it not only settled the legal and cultural dispute between the tribe and the Government, it also helped reveal how ancient humans moved and settled across the Americas. The scientists were able to track the movement of populations from Alaska to as far south as Patagonia. They often separated from each other and took their chances travelling in small pockets of isolated groups.

Dr David Meltzer, from the Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, said: “A striking thing about the analysis of Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa is their close genetic similarity which implies their ancestral population travelled through the continent at astonishing speed. That’s something we’ve suspected due to the archaeological findings, but it’s fascinating to have it confirmed by the genetics. These findings imply that the first peoples were highly skilled at moving rapidly across an utterly unfamiliar and empty landscape. They had a whole continent to themselves and they were travelling great distances at speed.”

The study also revealed surprising traces of Australasian ancestry in ancient South American Native Americans but no Australasian genetic link was found in North American Native Americans.

Dr Victor Moreno-Mayar, from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen and first author of the study, said: “We discovered the Australasian signal was absent in Native Americans prior to the Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa population split which means groups carrying this genetic signal were either already present in South America when Native Americans reached the region, or Australasian groups arrived later. That this signal has not been previously documented in North America implies that an earlier group possessing it had disappeared or a later arriving group passed through North America without leaving any genetic trace.”

Dr Peter de Barros Damgaard, from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, explained why scientists remain puzzled but optimistic about the Australasian ancestry signal in South America. He explained: “If we assume that the migratory route that brought this Australasian ancestry to South America went through North America, either the carriers of the genetic signal came in as a structured population and went straight to South America where they later mixed with new incoming groups, or they entered later. At the moment we cannot resolve which of these might be correct, leaving us facing extraordinary evidence of an extraordinary chapter in human history! But we will solve this puzzle.”

The population history during the millennia that followed initial settlement was far more complex than previously thought. The peopling of the Americas had been simplified as a series of north to south population splits with little to no interaction between groups after their establishment.

The new genomic analysis presented in the study has shown that around 8,000 years ago, Native Americans were on the move again, but this time from Mesoamerica into both North and South America.

Researchers found traces of this movement in the genomes of all present-day indigenous populations in South America for which genomic data is available to date.

Dr Moreno-Mayar added: “The older genomes in our study not only taught us about the first inhabitants in South America but also served as a baseline for identifying a second stream of genetic ancestry, which arrived from Mesoamerica in recent millennia and that is not evident from the archaeological record. These Mesoamerican peoples mixed with the descendants of the earliest South Americans and gave rise to most contemporary groups in the region.”

Reference: 
J. Victor
Moreno-Mayar et al. 'Early human dispersals within the Americas.' Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2621

Adapted from a St John's College press release.

Inset image: Skulls and other human remains from P.W. Lund's Collection from Lagoa Santa, Brazil. Kept in the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Credit: Natural History Museum of Denmark

Scientists have sequenced 15 ancient genomes spanning from Alaska to Patagonia and were able to track the movements of the first humans as they spread across the Americas at “astonishing” speed during the last Ice Age, and also how they interacted with each other in the following millennia.

Our study proves that Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were actually genetically closer to contemporary Native Americans than to any other ancient or contemporary group sequenced to dateEske Willeslev Linus Mørk, Magus FilmProfessor Eske Willerslev with Donna and Joey, two members of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe.


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THE 100 CLUB – BARONS CAMBRIDGE BMW EVENT

Cambridge United News Feed - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 16:28

Commercial

Over 50 local businesses joined Cambridge United at the U’s most recent ‘100 Club’ event last month, hosted by club partner Barons Cambridge BMW.

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“With this vial, we could potentially feed the entire planet”

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:17

Read more.

Would you eat a burger that had been grown in a lab? It may not be long before this is a choice at your local supermarket. Given the environmental cost of rearing cattle for meat, this is a development that cannot come soon enough.

Nick Saffel (University of Cambridge)Mark Kotter


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Gardeners and carpenters: the ‘skill’ of parenting

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 09:20

Professors Claire Hughes and Paul Ramchandani have spent their adult lives studying children. Both are fascinated by the complicated jigsaw of early child development. “Such a lot happens in pregnancy and the first few years of life: the child’s brain and physical development, the acquisition of new skills and knowledge, it’s utterly transforming,” says Ramchandani, Cambridge’s first LEGO Professor of Play.

But while we know much about what goes on, we understand far less about how the outside world shapes this transformation – knowledge we need as parents, practitioners and policymakers to provide environments that help children thrive.

It’s clear, for instance, that our mothers, fathers and families affect our lives and the people we become, but has understanding the importance of parent–child relationships led to modern-day parenting approaches that stifle rather than help a child to flourish?

“Think carpenters and gardeners,” says Hughes, referring to a book by American psychologist Alison Gopnik published in 2016. “Gopnik’s theory is that parents who behave like carpenters mould their child by a deliberate, organised and focused influence on their development; those who behave like gardeners create a safe, nurtured and free environment that helps their child to shape themself.”

Hughes’ work looks at how parents talk to children in their early years and what this means for how children develop some of the most crucial skills of their lives. Since she began her academic career as an undergraduate in Cambridge 30 years ago, her focus has shifted from clinical groups, including children with autism, to studying social influences on two key psychological constructs – theory of mind and executive function.

Psychologists use the term theory of mind, or mind reading, to describe awareness that other people have thoughts, feelings, intentions and desires. Most children develop theory of mind around the age of four. “Without it you can’t joke, you can’t lie, you can’t get sarcasm – the many social things that hinge on what others say and mean to say,” she says.

As a result, theory of mind is pivotal to children’s ability to interact and form social relationships, but it doesn’t act alone. Along with theory of mind comes executive function – all those higher-order thinking skills such as planning, adapting plans when situations change and working memory.

“These two things go hand in glove,” explains Hughes, whose research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. “You need good executive function to acquire a theory of mind, because how we process information from others depends on being able to keep track of information and shift attention, and we know that poor executive function often leads to behavioural problems, which can in turn affect children’s ability to learn from social situations.”

By following a group of 117 children from toddlerhood to adolescence, and developing a new battery of tests – including an innovative ‘silent film’ task based on Harold Lloyd’s 1923 comedy Safety Last!, developed with one of her former students, Dr Rory Devine – Hughes has been able to gain a deeper understanding of how family environments shape young children’s theory of mind.

Her studies show that how parents talk to toddlers – in particular the extent to which they use words such as ‘think’, ‘believe’, ‘understand’ and other so-called ‘mental state talk’ – predicts how well children do at the silent film task when they reach the age of ten.

One of her new studies, which involves more than 400 first-time families in the UK, USA and Netherlands, aims to tease out differences in the way that fathers and mothers talk to their children. “We’re filming children at home at four, 12 and 24 months and we are now following them up at nursery at the age of three,” says Hughes. “It’s a big study, producing very rich data, and we’re using some interesting technology – including a device that’s like a talk pedometer – to get at children’s linguistic environments.”

Such detailed, long-term studies could, she hopes, lead to simple and effective tools to help parents foster their children’s theory of mind skills. Together with Professors Lynne Murray and Peter Cooper at the University of Reading, Hughes is testing a South African intervention based on reading picture books, something that’s on the decline within UK families.

“It’s been a revelation to me to see how hard some parents find it to read a picture book. Some literally just read what’s on the page, and if there are no words they just show the picture,” she says. “The South African study shows that in ten weeks you can take parents who aren’t very good at this type of reading and show them how to get their child involved.”

Testing new interventions is also central to Ramchandani’s research, not least because as well as an academic he’s also a practising psychiatrist. “I come from a medical background where you want to learn stuff so that you can do something about it,” he says.

He’s currently leading a randomised controlled trial with parents from London, Peterborough, Oxford and Hertfordshire to see if video feedback is a viable way of promoting positive child development. Over six sessions, parents are filmed playing with their toddler and the videos are then used to help parents notice – and respond appropriately to – their child’s communication.

One of his long-standing areas of interest is the role fathers play in the lives of their young children, something he feels has often been overlooked. “There are obvious reasons for this – mothers are more often the primary carers and theories that have dominated psychology have revolved around the mother–child relationship – plus, over the past 30 years, most research on children’s relationships with parents has focused on mothers,” says Ramchandani.

Before arriving in Cambridge in early 2018, he conducted the first major study of depression in fathers, which revealed that paternal – as well as maternal – depression has an impact on child outcomes.

“This study got me thinking about the family constellation, about how mothers and fathers influence children, and how children influence parents too, which led to my interest in play as one aspect of those relationships.”

Since then, he’s studied the way fathers play with their babies and found that when fathers were more physically and emotionally engaged, children did better behaviourally and cognitively. “It’s striking to see how different fathers can have very different styles of interacting with their babies, even though they are very young, with some getting stuck in and leading the play, and others watching and following their child’s lead more”.

Ramchandani is Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning, and with the team will be looking at an even wider field of play – studying its role in learning and social development, and finding the best way of measuring playfulness itself.

“Healthy child development is a fascinating and complicated picture: a jigsaw comprising fathers, mothers, siblings and the wider world, and involving language, play, physical and psychological health and more,” adds Ramchandani. “By getting a clearer picture of how it works, we have the best chance of helping to improve children’s lives around the world.”

Inset image: read more about our research on the topic of children in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

 

Wanting your child to have the best chance in life is natural for any parent. But by focusing too much on the ‘skill’ of parenting, are we losing sight of things that matter more – how we talk to and play with children? Cambridge researchers are examining how parents can best help their children in their early years through nurturing rather than shaping.

Healthy child development is a fascinating and complicated picture. By getting a clearer picture of how it works, we have the best chance of helping to improve children’s lives around the worldPaul RamchandaniSushobhan Badhai


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COMMUNICATION UPDATE: BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Cambridge United News Feed - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 08:54

Club News

Cambridge United's Board of Directors provide an update on club communications following consultation with supporter and media representatives.

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Opinion: Methods for protecting England’s coastal communities ‘not fit for purpose’

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 16:42

In October 2018, a stark report suggested that current methods being used to protect England’s coastal communities are ‘not fit for purpose’.

The Committee on Climate Change’s Managing the coast in a changing climate report showed that between 2005 and 2014, over 15,000 new buildings were built in coastal areas at significant risk of coastal flooding and/or erosion.

However, if the government meets its ambitious housing targets, up to 90,000 homes built in the next five years might be in areas of significant annual flood risk from all sources of flooding, including coastal flooding.

Practically every winter we are reminded of how dynamic our coastline is. And many of us see at very close quarters how vulnerable many communities in the UK are to coastal flooding and erosion.

But by the time summer arrives, the need for a wide and deep debate as to how we deal with rising sea levels and potential future increases in maritime storminess around the UK coastline evaporates.

Our approach to coastal management issues is to react to failures of coastal defences, either natural or man-made, rather than proactively working towards future-proofing our coastline.

Much of the UK coastline is already eroding, as testified by the dominance of coastal cliff scenery. But coastal erosion and flooding, and consequent damage to infrastructure, disruption of services and modifications to the coastal landscape will become more common over the next century due to climate change.

Specifically, rising sea levels will increase the probability of extreme coastal water levels and this could be exacerbated by potentially larger and more frequent extreme waves due to changes to the wave climate.

At the same time, our coastal zone is far from natural, with numerous clifftop properties and extensive development at the back of beaches, on top of dunes and in low-lying coastal valleys. It is obvious that coastal communities are facing significant future challenges.

Much existing coastal development took place when our understanding of coastal dynamics was limited and when climate change, and its consequences for the coast, was not yet a reality.

That development is already under threat, and the scale of the threat will only increase. Dealing with this issue requires a balanced consideration of the various adaptation strategies, ranging from ‘hard’ coastal protection such as sea walls to more sustainable solutions such as supplementing the amount of sand and gravel on our beaches, and managed realignment.

There will always be locations where only hard coastal defences will do.

But if we wish to avoid piling ever-increasing costs – in both financial and environmental terms – on future generations, we need a more sophisticated, integrated discussion of zoning (to avoid building in high-risk zones).

It may be stating the obvious, but a relatively easy win is to avoid more development in the dynamic coastal zone unless it is absolutely essential.

The concept of Coastal Change Management Areas (CCMAs) can play a key role here.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires councils to identify CCMAs where rates of shoreline change are expected to be significant over the next 100 years, taking account of climate change.

The first local plan to make use of CCMAs to inform coastal planning is in Cornwall, where the Newquay Neighbourhood Plan (NNP) is currently under consultation.

The NNP recommends that proposals for development in CCMAs should only be supported where they are for “small, temporary structures that will not add to the erosion risk”, and rules out residential development.

Proposals for redevelopment, enlargement or extension of existing buildings that fall within the exclusion zone, and proposals to change the use of existing buildings into residential usage, will not be supported either.

In the NNP, the landward limit of CCMAs represents the estimated 100-year erosion line with an additional buffer of 10 metres. Another 2m buffer zone is added if the coastal path is located within the CCMA.

Continued investment into the coastal zone will reduce the natural capability of the coast to respond to hazards, while at the same time passing the financial burden of protecting such coastal development onto future generations.

In order to future-proof our dynamic coast, we need to implement an appropriate buffer zone to inform coastal planning decisions, and these buffer zones will need to be site-specific and science-based.

They would also require regular updating in light of new data, understanding and predictions of climate change and its consequences.

The Committee on Climate Change’s report has demonstrated the scale of future potential problems, and our own research heavily supports their findings.

By implementing a CCMA-informed policy that is consistent on a national scale, potentially with the policy outlined in the NNP as a blueprint, we can better protect our coastlines now and for future generations.

Professor Tom Spencer from Cambridge’s Department of Geography and Professor Gerd Masselink from the University of Plymouth say evidence suggests there should be far stricter controls on coastal developments.

University of Salford Press OfficeFlooding


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ACADEMY | MEET THE STAFF - ADAM BRIDGEFORD

Cambridge United News Feed - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 13:19

Academy

ACADEMY - Head of Coaching

In the second interview of our series with the backroom staff behind United’s Academy, we speak to the U’s Head of Coaching, Adam Bridgeford.

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Selective amnesia: how rats and humans are able to actively forget distracting memories

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 09:45

The human brain is estimated to include some 86 billion neurons (or nerve cells) and as many as 150 trillion synaptic connections, making it a powerful machine for processing and storing memories. We need to retrieve these memories to help us carry out our daily tasks, whether remembering where we left the car in the supermarket car park or recalling the name of someone we meet in the street. But the sheer scale of the experiences people could store in memory over our lives creates the risk of being overwhelmed with information. When we come out of the supermarket and think about where we left the car, for example, we only need to recall where we parked the car today, rather than being distracted by recalling every single time we came to do our shopping.

Previous work by Professor Michael Anderson at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, showed that humans possess the ability to actively forget distracting memories, and that retrieval plays a crucial role in this process. His group has shown how intentional recall of a past memory is more than simply reawakening it; it actually leads us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with retrieval of the memory we seek.  

“Quite simply, the very act of remembering is a major reason why we forget, shaping our memory according to how it is used,” says Professor Anderson.

“People are used to thinking of forgetting as something passive. Our research reveals that people are more engaged than they realise in actively shaping what they remember of their lives. The idea that the very act of remembering can cause forgetting is surprising and could tell us more about people’s capacity for selective amnesia.”

While this process improves the efficiency of memory, it can sometimes lead to problems. If the police interview a witness to a crime, for example, their repeated questioning about selected details might lead the witness to forget information that could later prove important.

Although the ability to actively forget has been seen in humans, it is unclear whether it occurs in other species. Could this ability be unique to our species, or at least to more intelligent mammals such as monkeys and great apes?

In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, Professor Anderson together with Pedro Bekinschtein and Noelia Weisstaub of Universidad Favaloro in Argentina, has shown that the ability to actively forget is not a peculiarly human characteristic: rats, too, share our capacity for selective forgetting and use a very similar brain mechanism, suggesting this is an ability shared among mammals.

To demonstrate this, the researchers devised an ingeniously simple task based on rats’ innate sense of curiosity: when put into an environment, rats actively explore to learn more about it. When exploring an environment, rats form memories of any new objects they find and investigate.

Building on this simple observation, the researchers allowed rats to explore two previously-unseen objects (A and B) in an open arena – the objects included a ball, a cup, small toys, or a soup can.  Rats first got to explore object A for five minutes, and then were removed from the arena; they were then placed back in the arena 20 minutes later with object B, which they also explored for five minutes.

To see whether rats showed retrieval-induced forgetting, like humans, rats next performed “retrieval practice” on one of the two objects (e.g. A) to see how this affected their later memory for the competitor object (B). During this retrieval practice phase, the researchers repeatedly placed the rat in the arena with the object they wanted the rat to remember (e.g. A), together with another object never seen in the context of the arena. Rats instinctively prefer exploring novel objects, and so on these “retrieval practice” trials, the rats clearly preferred to explore the new objects, implying that they indeed had remembered A and saw it as “old news”.  

To find out how repeatedly retrieving A affected rats’ later memory for B, in a final phase conducted 30 minutes later, the researchers placed the rat into the arena with B and an entirely new object.  Strikingly, on this final test, the rats explored both B and the new object equally – by selectively remembering their experience with A over and over, rats had actively trained themselves to forget B.

In contrast, in control conditions in which the researchers skipped the retrieval practice phase and replaced it with an equal amount of relaxing time in the rats’ home cage, or an alternative memory storage task not involving retrieval, rats showed excellent memory for B. 

Professor Anderson’s team then identified an area towards the front of the rat’s brain that controls this active forgetting mechanism. When a region at the front of the rat’s brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex was temporarily ‘switched off’ using the drug muscimol, the animal entirely lost its ability to selectively forget competing memories; despite undergoing the same “retrieval practice” task as before, rats now recognised B. In humans, the ability to selectively forget in this manner involves engaging an analogous region in the prefrontal cortex.  

“Rats appear to have the same active forgetting ability as humans do – they forget memories selectively when those memories cause distraction,” says Professor Anderson. “And, crucially, they use a similar prefrontal control mechanism as we do. This discovery suggests that this ability to actively forget less useful memories may have evolved far back on the ‘Tree of Life’, perhaps as far back as our common ancestor with rodents some 100 million years ago.”

Professor Anderson says that now that we know that the brain mechanisms for this process are similar in rats and humans, it should be possible to study this adaptive forgetting phenomenon at a cellular – or even molecular – level. A better understanding of the biological foundations of these mechanisms may help researchers develop improved treatments to help people forget traumatic events.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Agency of Scientific and Technological Promotion of Argentina and the International Brain Research Organization.

Reference
Bekinschtein, B, et al. A Retrieval-Specific Mechanism of Adaptive Forgetting in the Mammalian Brain. Nature Comms; 7 Nov 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07128-7

Our ability to selectively forget distracting memories is shared with other mammals, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge. The discovery that rats and humans share a common active forgetting ability – and in similar brain regions – suggests that the capacity to forget plays a vital role in adapting mammalian species to their environments, and that its evolution may date back at least to the time of our common ancestor.

Quite simply, the very act of remembering is a major reason why we forget, shaping our memory according to how it is usedMichael AndersonHans (Pixabay)Puzzle Unfinished Mess


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HOSPITALITY | THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR THE BOXING DAY CLASH WITH CRAWLEY TOWN

Cambridge United News Feed - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 15:23

Commercial

It’s that time of year again where you start thinking of what to get for your nearest and dearest for Christmas – Look no further than our hospitality offerings for the Boxing Day clash with Crawley Town at the Abbey!

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EMIRATES FA CUP TICKETS | GUISELEY A.F.C.

Cambridge United News Feed - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 11:20

Ticket News

Cambridge United travel to National League North side Gusieley A.F.C in the opening round of the Emirates FA Cup on Sunday (K.O. 12:45pm), with tickets available now.

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Children of the city: tackling violence in the 21st century

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 09:48

It’s 1960 and two boys are born into cities of different nations about to gain independence from the British. Their homelands have comparable GDP per capita, similar literacy rates and roughly the same levels of crime and violence.

Now nearing 60 years old, they are about to have grandsons of their own. The grandson born in Kingston, Jamaica, will have a startling 15% chance of growing up to be a victim of homicide, if current murder rates continue. The grandson born in Singapore will have less than a 0.1% risk of violent death.   

How did these countries diverge over a single lifetime until they were at opposite ends of the spectrum of violence? Some blame politics, while others point to drug trade exposure or differences in crime prevention and health policies. 

State legitimacy waxes and wanes, illegal markets bubble and burst, neighbourhoods thrive or deteriorate – and all these fluctuations trickle down to entrench order or violence in millions of lives from childhood onwards. Yet we know little about how this happens.

“Experiences in the first years of life shape a person’s lifelong development,” says Manuel Eisner, Wolfson Professor at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. “If we want to understand the roots of adversity that lead a nation to violence and turmoil, we need to understand how it incubates in a child of that society.   

“For example, what does a child in Kingston experience – even before birth – that may increase the risk of failure at school, or mental and physical health problems, or criminality and substance use? How does that compare with children in the cities of South Africa, or East Asia?”

Eisner argues that everything from national and municipal systems, such as infrastructure and education, to proximal environments – the street, family and even uterus – contribute to the “psychosocial construction” of children, and consequently the stability of societies in which those children become citizens.   

His goal is to map the risk factors that influence early child development around the world, from the political to the hormonal. To do this, Eisner and his colleagues on the Evidence for Better Lives Study (EBLS) intend to follow 12,000 children yet to be born in eight cities in Jamaica, Ghana, South Africa, Romania, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Children will be tracked from the womb through the first 1,000 days of life, and hopefully on to adolescence, in a major birth cohort study that Eisner wants to see become a valuable resource for “understanding and promoting child wellbeing in the 21st century”. The ambition is to identify how policy can most effectively stem societal violence and “foster resilience”.

“For the first time in history, there are goals at a global level aimed at reducing child abuse, exploitation and all forms of violence, and to promote children’s mental health,” says Eisner, describing the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. “The EBLS is our response to this challenge. It will provide important evidence for system-level changes to tackling violence against children. But it can also shine light on how violence evolves.

“If we want to address high levels of violence in a city like Kingston, we need to know the ages when active ingredients are added to young people’s development. Then we can design the right intervention strategies.”   

There is a significant knowledge gap when it comes to violence and its causes. While numerous studies have taken place in Europe and the USA, research in the Global South – where violence is endemic in many countries – is severely lacking.  

The eight mid-sized cities have been chosen to reflect the diversity of social and cultural conditions across the world, explains Eisner. For example: Koforidua in Ghana, a regionally important city in a country where harsh physical discipline of children is standard; and Tarlai Kalan, about 10 km outside Islamabad in Pakistan, a nation where half of women are thought to be victims of domestic violence.

Other cities include Stellenbosch in South Africa, where the legacy of apartheid looms large; the city of Hue, site of one of the Vietnam War’s bloodiest battles and now a growing commercial centre; and Kingston, a city plagued by gang culture.

The study will be managed by a team of 15 co-investigators, including Professor Claire Hughes from the University’s Centre for Family Research, plus other experts in psychology, sociology, paediatrics, nutrition, public health and criminology, and coordinators from research institutions in each of the eight cities.

“We want to bring together different layers of explanation from social structures like gender inequality and trust in public institutions to the ways in which exposure to violence affects brain development even before the child is born, so interdisciplinary research is essential,” says Eisner.

“By comparing a new generation from each city, we can build a scientific backbone for interventions to prevent violence against children, and boost child wellbeing initiatives that work in different global contexts.”

Scoping for the study began in late 2015, and 2018 saw the start of a pilot version of EBLS, funded by Fondation Botnar, involving 1,200 families across the eight sites. The team is now aiming to secure funds for a ten-fold participant increase.

In November 2018, senior figures from all the study cities will meet for a summit in Manila in the Philippines, building policy involvement into the study from the onset. They will also visit Valenzuela – another of the eight cities – along with representatives from supporting organisations including UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).     

The scale of ambition for the project is vast says Eisner. From health and housing services to transport links, the study will take in a wide range of public policy and its effects on expectant mothers and then their children. Researchers will also build a picture of immediate environments, initially in utero – from stress hormones to substance use.

“Is the mother supported or treated violently by family? Does she lie awake listening to gunshots in the street outside? How many buses does she need to take to get to the health clinic? Tragically, some children have been exposed to violence and drugs before they are even born.”  

Importantly, the EBLS team is determined to include fathers as much as possible. “Male role models are often missing from studies such as this; this project provides an opportunity to gather data to fill this gap.”

A variety of innovative approaches are being discussed such as the use of microphone vests to pick up levels of hostility in ambient noise around children, and games using puppets to gauge the early development of a sense of fairness and justice.

When he established the Violence Research Centre at Cambridge in 2014, Eisner held a joint conference with the WHO based on the bold declaration that worldwide violence can be reduced by 50% in the next 30 years. With up to a billion children estimated to be victims of violence each year, the task is daunting. However, Eisner’s previous work on long-term trends over centuries reveals a dramatic decline in violence across human history.

“Halving violence is a legitimate aim for a criminologist. And yes, the police and justice systems are integral to that. But we need to get to the source, and see how macro-level decisions translate into resilience or adversity for the youngest in our global society,” he says.

Watch Prof Manuel Eisner discuss the Evidence for Better Lives study earlier this year: 

 

Read more about our research on the topic of children in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

 

Up to one billion children worldwide are estimated to be victims of violence. Now, an intended study of 12,000 children in eight cities worldwide wants to discover what it really means to be a child of the city today – the adversities, the vulnerabilities, the resilience.

By comparing a new generation from each city, we can build a scientific backbone for interventions to prevent violence against childrenManuel Eisner@AndyAitchison.uk


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