ISLAMABAD  - Children suffering from extreme social anxiety often misread faces, confusing angry faces with sad ones.

“If you misread facial expressions, you’re in social trouble, no matter what other social skills you have,” says Emory University psychologist Steve Nowicki, who developed the tests used in the study.

Some of them long to interact with others, says Nowicki, and may try to comfort someone they think is sad, but who is actually angry, reports the Journal of Genetic Psychology. “I’ve seen these kids trying to make a friend, and keep trying, but they keep getting rebuffed and are never aware of the reason why,” he says. “They want to help because they’re good kids.”

The study was co-authored by Amy Walker, former undergraduate student at Emory, now at Yeshiva University, according to an Emory statement. By identifying the patterns of errors in nonverbal communication, he hopes to create better diagnostic tools and interventions for those affected with behavioural disorders. For more than two decades, in association with Emory psychologist Marshall Duke, Nowicki has produced a groundbreaking body of work on how non-verbal communication impacts a child’s development. “My heart went out to these kids,” he says. “I had the idea that nonverbal communication could be taught. It’s a skill, not something mysterious.”

Nowicki and Duke termed the coin “dyssemia”, meaning the inability to process signs. They also developed the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy (DANVA) to assess subtle cues to emotional expressions, including visual signals and tone and cadence of voice. DANVA is now widely used by researchers in studies of everything from emotionally disturbed children to the relationships between doctors and their patients.

Retain your muscle strength in old age

Not only can adults fight the battle of strength and muscle loss that comes with age but also the golden years can be a time to get stronger.

“Resistance exercise is a great way to increase lean muscle tissue and strength capacity,” says Mark Peterson, research fellow at the University of Michigan’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Progressive resistance training means that the amount of weight used and the frequency and duration of training sessions is altered over time to accommodate an individual’s improvements, the American Journal of Medicine reports.

Through resistance training, adults can improve their ability to stand up out of a chair, walk across the floor, and climb a flight of stairs - anything that requires manipulating their own body mass through a full range of motions, according to a Michigan statement.

Normally, adults who are sedentary beyond age 50 can expect muscle loss of up to 0.4 pounds a year. “But even earlier in adulthood - the 30s, 40s and 50s - you can begin to see declines if you do not engage in any strengthening activities,” Peterson says. “No matter what age an individual is, they can experience significant strength improvement with progressive resistance exercise even into the eighth and ninth decades of life,” Peterson says.

Hunger sharpens sense of smell

When fruit flies are hungry, they become better in scenting out their next good meal. “As humans, we sometimes forget that feeding behaviour has two components,” said Jing Wang of the University of California, San Diego, who led the study.

“First, you have to go out and hunt for food,” Wang said, adding that actually eating that food is secondary, reports the journal Cell. As our experiences suggest, during hunger the fragrance of food becomes even more delectable. Likewise, food that smells especially good is also especially hard to resist.

Wang and colleagues set out to study what happens to flies’ sense of smell after they were starved for a few hours, according to a California statement. Insulin in flies works in essentially the same way as it does in humans, Wang said. It controls the amount of sugar in the circulation. “When a fly is hungry, insulin drops dramatically. This tells the olfactory neuron to change its sensitivity.”

That change is controlled on certain neurons (nerve cells) through an increase in the activity of the gene encoding the neuropeptide F receptor.

With more receptors on their surfaces, those neurons grow increasingly sensitive to the neuropeptide and to the odour cues they are designed to pick up.

As their name implies, fruit flies forage on rotten fruits, Wang says, and it is the neurons that pick up the vinegary scent of fruit decay that is affected.

The shift in sensitivity reaches its peak in about four hours, a fact that Wang said he found intriguing in part because it mirrors the typical spacing of our meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After all, not all animals are episodic feeders like we humans are. Some animals eat all the time and others eat only very infrequently.

 It remains to be seen how this system might be different in other species according to that variation in meal times.