By Lydialyle Gibson

Photo courtesy Nadine Moeller.

Safe sex now, more sex later

Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean going without sex, says sociologist Edward Laumann, but as people age, the quality of their sex lives depends increasingly on physical and mental health. In a survey of 3,005 men and women aged 57–85 Laumann and fellow U of C sociologists Aniruddha Das, AM’06, and Linda Waite discovered that those with a history of sexually transmitted disease were four or five times less likely to take pleasure in sex, and that elderly women may be more likely than men to suffer sexual dysfunction because of health problems. Published in the September Journal of Sexual Health, the survey follows up a 1999 Laumann study of sexual dysfunction among 18- to 59-year-olds, which found physical health to be a bigger sexual issue for men and STDs to have no effect on the odds of sexual dysfunction.

Everyday Egypt

Egypt’s pyramids, temples, and glittering underground tombs, many more than 4,500 years old, have always attracted scholarly attention. Yet the ancient Nile civilization built metropolises as well as monuments, and an Oriental Institute expedition led by Egyptologist Nadine Moeller has helped shed light on everyday urban life there. Digging since 2005 in Tell Edfu, an ancient provincial capital on the Upper Nile, archaeologists unearthed a large, columned administration building and a courtyard of mud-and-brick grain silos (which served as both food source and bank, since grain was a form of currency) in what would have been the city’s downtown. The structures date back almost 3,000 years and help elucidate commerce and politics during the 13th Dynasty, an obscure period of Egyptian history. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Egypt, officially announced the Tell Edfu discovery in July.

photo The dig revealed settlement layers dating to different periods in Tell Edfu’s history.

Hard-wired for empathy

Neuroscientist Jean Decety found that children have an inborn capacity for empathy and a natural impulse to care for others. Using fMRI to measure the brain activity of 17 typically developed seven- to 12-year-olds, Decety discovered that when the youngsters were shown animated images of other people in pain—a stubbed toe, a hand smashed in a car door—their pain circuits lit up as if they were experiencing the trauma firsthand. When the pain children witnessed was intentionally inflicted, their brains’ moral-reasoning and social-interaction centers also responded. In follow-up interviews, many of the children told Decety they thought the intentional pain was unfair. Decety hopes to use these findings, published in the September Neuropsychologia, to better understand school-aged bullying.

Speak, gestures

Word order in spoken languages varies, but the grammar of gestures remains constant across cultures, says Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow. She tested 40 native speakers of four different languages (English, Spanish, Turkish, and Mandarin Chinese) by asking them to describe, first in words and then using gestures, simple activities they saw portrayed on video clips: a woman twisting a knob, a boy tilting a glass to his mouth, a man picking up a baby. Goldin-Meadow found that all participants used the same sentence structure—subject, object, verb—when communicating with gestures alone, although most used a different word order in speech. The research, published in the July 8 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenges the notion that individuals’ native tongues shape the way they think when they are not speaking.

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