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Don't Tell Me Again

But no matter. The researchers found that the men who viewed the digitally blended photo were significantly more likely to say in a follow-up survey that they would vote for Steele. Guys also rated the Mini-me Steele as smarter, more sincere and more hard-working, and better-looking -- exactly what the researchers had predicted would happen.

Most women, however, preferred the unretouched Steele and gave their morph an emphatic thumbs down. That contradicted the researchers' theory that people like people who are most like them. They were puzzled. Perhaps, these scientists speculated, seeing female characteristics blended into a man's face unconsciously primed the women to think of gender differences and then to "punish" Steele for being a man.

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Then again, there might be a simpler explanation: Perhaps seeing the face of someone who is 60 percent male and 40 percent female creeped them out. "It simply may be more difficult to achieve a realistic morph between genders than within genders," the researchers suggested in their working paper, which is posted on the Web site of Stanford's political communication lab.

Another Reason to Turn Off the TV

Rochelle Newman has this advice for parents eagerly awaiting their baby's first words: Quiet, please!

That's because noisy environments can interfere with language development in infants younger than 13 months, said Newman, a cognitive psychologist and director of the University of Maryland's Language Perception and Development Laboratories.

Newman found that babies, during their first year, find it hard to distinguish between voices in even mildly noisy rooms, much less amid the cacophony of sounds that fill many homes or day-care facilities. Basically, all that well-intentioned cribside chatter by parents gets drowned out by background noise.

Newman developed a series of individualized audio recordings and played them in her lab to each of 100 infants. In one recording, an unfamiliar female voice repeatedly called the child's name, while in the background other voices created a potential distraction. The second version differed only in that the female voice called out someone else's name.

Both versions were played for each infant while researchers measured how long the babies paid attention. Newman also varied the loudness of the background noise in the recordings.

She found that at about 5 months, a significantly greater number of children listened longer to their own names than to other names -- but only when the background noise was minimal. "The five-month-olds could separate the streams of conversation and focus on the voice calling to them if the background was at a level you might find in a romantic restaurant with soft and intimate conversations," Newman said in a statement announcing the results of the study. "But at that age the kids couldn't isolate the foreground voice if the noise level nearly doubled -- what you might hear in a crowded fast food restaurant."

However, by 13 months, babies had far less difficulty picking their names out amid background clamor -- just in time for their first trip to McDonald's.

morinr@washpost.com


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