Reviews & Analysis

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  • Elucidating potentially causal factors for depression and the direction of their impact could beneficially inform prevention strategies. Mendelian randomization revealed the protective role of increased relative carbohydrate intake in lowering depression risk. In addition, body mass index mediated this effect but to a lesser extent than the total effect size.

    Research Briefing
  • Artificial intelligence systems have struggled to understand common-sense laws of the physical world, even though this ‘intuitive physics’ is rapidly acquired by young humans. Piloto et al. demonstrate that a deep learning system closely modelled on infant cognition outperforms the more traditional ‘learning from scratch’ systems.

    • Susan Hespos
    • Apoorva Shivaram
    News & Views
  • A study across 61 countries showed that, on a global scale, individuals are often inconsistent when choosing between immediate and future financial options. Although economic inequality is associated with this decision-making process, nearly everyone demonstrates these anomalies, and instability can lead to worse choices, even in wealthy individuals.

    Research Briefing
  • Why are some communities more vulnerable to wildfire smoke than others? Burke et al. study human behaviour during wildfire events by leveraging multiple non-traditional data sources, including internet search results, Twitter updates, and mobility and sensor data. Their results will help to inform better and more equitable policy.

    • Zachary Hervieux-Moore
    • Francesca Dominici
    News & Views
  • A new algorithmic tool developed by Rotaru and colleagues can more accurately predict crime events in US cities. Predictive crime modelling can produce powerful statistical tools, but there are important considerations for researchers to take into account to avoid their findings being misused and doing more harm than good.

    • Andrew V. Papachristos
    News & Views
  • Proposals to fight online misinformation range from gently encouraging users to consider the accuracy of information (‘nudges’) to bans and removing content. Using modelling techniques, we find that these interventions are unlikely to be effective in isolation, but that a combined approach can achieve a significant reduction in the spread of misinformation.

    Research Briefing
  • A randomized controlled trial of approximately 4,500 households in Botswana during the COVID-19 pandemic was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of using low-tech learning interventions during school closures. A simple combination of phone tutoring and SMS messages substantially improved learning in primary school children in a cost-effective manner.

    Research Briefing
  • Human neonates discriminate vowel sounds played forward, as in normal speech, from their waveform reversal after five hours of exposure on the first day of their life. The neural dynamics supporting this rapid perceptual learning indicate a primitive brain mechanism similar to the language-processing network of adults.

    Research Briefing
  • Recent studies have suggested that attention switches rhythmically, with up to eight cycles per second. An article by Brookshire calls these results into question, showing that widely used methods in the field do not separate rhythmic from arrhythmic structure.

    • Malte Wöstmann
    News & Views
  • We developed a new approach that uses high-frequency mobile phone data to measure internal displacement after violent events. We used this approach to study the impact of violence in Afghanistan, highlighting how patterns of internal displacement depend on the nature of the violence experienced.

    Research Briefing
  • An enduring puzzle in evolution is the maintenance of costly traits. Šaffa et al.1 examine phylogenetic evidence for the origins of genital mutilation/cutting (GM/C) in human societies, and find that these practices probably emerged multiple times during the past 5,000–7,000 years, and that female GM/C arose only after male GM/C was present in a society.

    • Mhairi A. Gibson
    News & Views
  • This study tested the hypothesis that negativity bias — giving disproportionately more attention and decision weight to negative than to positive stimuli — is associated with right-wing political ideology. Across five distinct studies and multiple measures of ideology, the results provide no consistent evidence that people with right-wing ideology have a stronger negativity bias.

    Research Briefing
  • Past research has put forward competing hypotheses about the determinants of the evolvement of romantic love, including it being a consequence of economic development or the result of transmission of culture. A new large-scale empirical study by Baumard et al.1 puts these different hypotheses to the test.

    • Trine Bille
    News & Views
  • The probability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine-resistant variants depends on the number of daily infections permitted by society, and the rate and penetrance of vaccination. Rapidly vaccinating all eligible people while maintaining strict physical distancing measures can prevent the evolution of vaccine resistance.

    Research Briefing
  • Developing theories by designing experiments that are aimed at falsifying them is a core endeavour in empirical sciences. By analysing 365 articles dedicated to the study of consciousness, Yaron et al.’s study1 shows that there is almost no dialogue between the four main theories of this elusive phenomenon and gives us an interactive database with which to probe the literature.

    • Axel Cleeremans
    News & Views
  • Despite substantial attempts to end the global trade in elephant ivory, illegal transnational networks continue to operate. A new study by Wasser and colleagues1 uses genetic matches between related elephants to reveal the scale, interconnectedness and audacity of traffickers in illegal ivory.

    • Jennifer Jacquet
    News & Views
  • To make sense of what we hear, the brain must integrate information over time. How is this temporal integration orchestrated in human auditory cortex? A new study by Norman-Haignere and colleagues1 introduces a promising method to estimate neural integration windows and demonstrates that category-specific versus more generic computations operate on distinct timescales.

    • Lea-Maria Schmitt
    • Jonas Obleser
    News & Views
  • It is seemingly in the interest of high-income countries to prioritize vaccinating their own population against COVID-19, despite it being immoral. However, mathematical modelling by Ye et al.1 shows that this approach offers only limited, short-term benefits, whereas equitable vaccine distribution would substantially curb the emergence and spread of new variants.

    • Dan Yamin
    News & Views
  • Low-carbon innovations in technology and behaviour are increasingly prevalent, but they are not always equitable. This Review examines how such innovations can introduce and perpetrate inequalities, and discusses ways to ensure that a low-carbon future is both sustainable and equitable.

    • Benjamin K. Sovacool
    • Peter Newell
    • Jessica Fanzo
    Review Article
  • Similarities and differences between deep learning models and primate vision have been the focus of recent research. Audition is comparatively less-studied. A new report describes the emergence of human-like auditory perception in a deep neural network, and suggests a promising way to relate perceptual behaviour to specific aspects of the environment.

    • Rufin VanRullen
    News & Views