Increase productivity – all you need is some company

So we know that having your boss or a co-worker standing in view of your computer screen makes you minimise YouTube and look busy – but some new research suggests that just the presence of others in the room can increase your productivity. This is based on the psychological term ‘Social Facilitation’ – which means an improvement on performance based on the presence of others. This is nothing new- but a new study in France managed to explain how this works.

To be more productive all we need is a friend in the room
To be more productive all we need is a friend in the room.. sort of

The experiment:

This study was done on monkeys (so could we apply it to humans – hmm?), the monkeys were trained to touch images, and their performance in this simple task significantly improved in the presence of other monkeys – demonstrating social facilitation.

Attention- not motivation:

The activity of the circuits in the brain controlling motivation did not change, but when other monkeys were present the circuits controlling attention were really active. This shows that company can make us more attentive – which causes an increase in productivity.

What does this research mean for us?

If company improves our attention and productivity, does this explain why so many of us prefer to study in a library than alone at home? (until the person next to you starts to eat really loud crisps – then the whole theory is moot) If further research is done maybe this could make workplaces steer clear of using private offices and have everybody work in one big office together – although I am sure some big, human studies would need to be done to convince some people to give up their swanky private office space.

Till next time,




The science behind why hair turns grey

Some of us embrace the idea of becoming a ‘silver fox’, while others will do literally anything to hide the 50 shades of grey sneaking into our hair. However we feel about it, the reality is we will all go grey as we age, so I was wondering – why does this happen? And could we use science to prevent us from going grey?

For some people turning grey is not a problem at all....
For some people turning grey is not a problem at all….

To explain how our hair loses colour, we have to think of hair growing in cycles. There is a ‘growth phase’, where hair grows in length, and a ‘rest phase’ where hair stops growing and eventually falls out of the follicle. In this cycle the hair pigment is produced in the growth phase, and turns off in the rest phase, then production resumes again as we go back in to the growth phase. When the pigment production stays switched off after the rest phase and fails to turn back on in growth, we grow a grey hair (with no pigment).

With every hair cycle we have, some of the melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) in our hair become damaged.This isn’t a problem as we can replace the damaged/dead pigment producing cells with others from a little stash of them that we have, but when this store of melanocytes becomes depleted as we age and have used all of them up, we no longer have any cells to produce pigment – so our hair grows grey.

How would we stop hair going grey?

We would have to make the melanocytes live longer and be less susceptible to damage, or increase the amount of them we have in our stash. Sounds difficult but some scientists in France have identified a chemical that can protect the melanocytes from damage – so our hair can stay coloured for longer. If you’re already grey this won’t help you, but for those of us yet to turn grey there is hope!

Can we re-pigment hair?

Those of us who are bored of the chore that is hair dyeing, there may be a more permanent solution on the horizon to permanently turn grey hair back into pigmented hair! A study found particular antioxidants can reverse the greying of hair – although this was intended to help those with the genetic condition ‘vitilligo’, this could also work on those who no longer want the salt and pepper look.

So, ladies and gents, do not stress about turning grey (by the way, stress won’t make you turn grey, so even if you are stressed about it, doesn’t matter!), there is hope on the horizon that we can prevent and reverse all 50 shades of grey, white and silver (if you insist on calling it that).

Till next time,



6 Scientific reasons why chocolate is good for you

In keeping with the spirit of Easter and the imminent chocolate binge I thought I would find some research that will make us all feel slightly less guilty when we overindulge in chocolate in the next few days. 

Master chocolatier- or pretty much a life saver?
Master chocolatier- or pretty much a life saver?

 1. Chocolate can boost memory – A study at Columbia University has found that chocolate improved scores in memory tests in a cohort aged 50-69, to the extent that they had the memory of someone 10 or 20 years younger. However, this only worked if you ate INSANE amounts of chocolate…. I think I could definitely manage that though. 

2. Dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants – Research has found that the antioxidant activity of dark chocolate is actually really high, with some studies finding it a better antioxidant than fruits such as blueberries, cranberry and pomegranate.

3. Chocolate can sort out your PMS – Chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) can allegedly increase the release of the hormone serotonin, which improves your mood at your ‘time of the month’. I’m not totally convinced on the evidence for this one, but I know I am definitely a nicer person after some chocolate, so maybe there is some truth here, even if it is just a psychological effect. While we are on the subject – dark chocolate has high levels of iron and magnesium, which can be lacking during menstruation, which helps to explain why women crave chocolate on their period and why it can make us feel better. 

4. Chocolate can sort out your cholesterol – Trials have found cocoa powder to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad one) activity and overall levels of LDL, while increasing HDL levels (the good one). This is partly due to the antioxidant activity of cocoa. Reducing LDL and increasing HDL leads to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, therefore chocolate is super important for a healthy lifestyle.

5. Chocolate can lower blood pressure – Chocolate contains compounds called flavanols, which can act directly on the walls of your arteries to stimulate the production of nitric oxide.The nitric oxide relaxes the artery walls, so blood flow is stimulated and blood pressure is lower. Studies found this effect to be small but significant.

6. Chocolate can reduce stroke risk – A large study in Canada has found that chocolate eaters were 22% less likely to suffer from a stroke than non-chocolate eaters. Chocolate eaters who had suffered a stroke already also had a better outcome being 46% less likely to die from a stroke.

Of course chocolate is full of fat and sugar etc that we know is really bad for us, but I choose to ignore that evidence for the next few days and focus on research that says chocolate is basically essential to our health.

Happy Easter!

Till next time,