SFA's Brahms Festival - workshops, concerts, and symposia - on Friday, April 6, and Saturday, April 7

Vol. IV No. 29   ·   6 April 2001 


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Boston Herald: Phone woes caused by 10-digit dialing

The change to 10-digit dialing in central and eastern Massachusetts may be far from smooth, warn phone customers in the 16 areas nationwide where the change has already occurred. Starting April 2, callers must dial an area code before every call, and there are four new area codes "overlaying" existing ones. Among the problems with the new system, the Boston Herald reports on March 26, are customers having to reset thousands of automatic dialers and computer modems and overloading of lines caused by callers failing to dial the area code or adding a 1 unnecessarily. Another problem, psychologists say, is that added numbers can overtax the brain. The human mind can remember seven digits, plus or minus a couple, says Takeo Watanabe, CAS associate professor of psychology. "You can keep those numbers in your short-term memory about 30 to 40 seconds," he says. Local area codes have been easy to remember because the brain treats the three numbers as one "chunk," taking up the same memory as a single digit, but the new area codes will complicate that memory device. "This will cause a lot of problems, especially at the beginning," he says. Colleague David Somers, an assistant psychology professor at CAS, says callers will get used to it, but he's concerned about the future. "If we go to 11 digits, that's when all hell is really going to break loose," he says.

Time: For millions of phobia sufferers, science offers new treatment and hope

The concept underlying FDR's famous adjuration that there is "nothing to fear but fear itself" might not have a name, but the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth does. It is called arachibutyrophobia. The April 2 edition of Time magazine contains an in-depth feature on phobias and the treatments modern-day science is providing for millions of people suffering from a wide range of such fears. The article features David Barlow, CAS psychology professor and director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, and details how the center helps people with debilitating fears. "There's been nothing like this in the field of mental health," says Barlow. "In the past few years, we've had a complete turnaround in the treatment of phobic disorders." Modern-day fears, such as flying in an airplane, are processed in the same area of the brain as our ancestors' fears -- the paralimbic region, which governs a whole range of primal responses, including anger and sexual arousal. "It seems that contemporary people learned from their ancient ancestors what to be afraid of and how to handle it," he says. The article states that the severity of a phobia is exacerbated by the main method people use to avoid discomfort: avoidance. The harder phobics work to avoid the things they fear, the more the brain is convinced that the threat is real. "The things you do to reduce anxiety just make it worse," says Barlow. "We have to strip those things away," which is what therapists at the center do with patients seeking help in confronting their phobias. For some phobias that are impossible to overcome in a clinical setting, such as the fear of heights, virtual-reality programs are available to provide simulated exposure under professional supervision. "Not all people respond to virtual reality," says Barlow, "but on average, it's just as effective for treating certain phobias."

The Ottawa Citizen: Ancient Maya enjoyed joys of sauna

Centuries before the Scandinavians turned the sauna into a national pastime, the ancient Maya of Central America had already discovered the benefits of a good sweat, reports the April 1 Ottawa Citizen. Norman Hammond, CAS professor of archaeology, made the discovery in a domed square at a site he and his team have been excavating for 25 years near the ancient city of Cuello.

Members of the team had no idea at first what to make of their discovery, which dates from about 900 bc. "We had stretched a tarpaulin across the trench to stop the deposits from drying up," Hammond explains. "It was hot and humid -- like a sauna, someone said -- and then we realized what we had was a sweat house." Hammond's team believes the Maya version they uncovered worked in a manner similar to a modern sauna.

"Heaven knows where they got the idea of building a sauna themselves," Hammond says. "They used it not only for cleansing and to prepare for religious ceremonies, but when the men had to go off hunting or to fight a war, they would abstain from sex and have a good old sweat together -- a primitive bonding exercise."

"In The News" is compiled by Mark Toth in the Office of Public Relations.


6 April 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations