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Greenery and bright colours in cities can boost morale – study | Psychology



Having bright colours and greenery in our cities can make people happier and calmer, according to an unusual experiment involving virtual reality headsets.

A team of researchers at the University of Lille, in France, used VR to test how volunteers reacted to variations of a minimalist concrete, glass and metal urban landscape. The 36 participants walked on the spot in a laboratory wearing a VR headset with eye trackers, and researchers tweaked their surroundings, adding combinations of vegetation, as well as bright yellow and pink colours, and contrasting, angular patterns on the path.

By tracking their blink rate, the researchers learned about what the volunteers were most interested in. The participants then filled out a questionnaire about their experience.

The researchers found that the volunteers walked more slowly and their heart rate increased when they saw green vegetation in their urban setting. They also kept their heads higher, looking forward and around, instead of towards the ground. While adding and taking away colour didn’t make quite as much of a difference for the participants, they were more curious and alert when colourful patterns were added to the ground they were virtually stepping on, according to the study. According to Yvonne Delevoye-Turrell, a professor of cognitive psychology at the university and the lead author on this study, the results demonstrated that the urban experience had been made more pleasurable.

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The research, published on Friday in Frontiers in Virtual Reality, suggests that making some small tweaks to the city boosts morale, even when people are experiencing them through virtual reality. “We think that the variations in human behaviour obtained in virtual reality can predict the changes that would be obtained in the natural settings,” said Delevoye-Turrell.

Michal Matlon, an architecture psychologist and consultant, who was not involved in the study, said: “I think that though most people appreciate nature in cities – they find it beautiful, and they usually react with anger when it’s taken away – they don’t fully understand how beneficial spending time in nature is.

“We often underappreciate the compounding effects that enriching ordinary places with nature can have.”

Matlon said even the smallest of changes, as demonstrated in the study, could affect the experience of someone on their way to work, for example.

New York’s elevated park, the High Line
Manhattan’s elevated park, the High Line, is a good example of adding vegetation to urban areas. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The findings are part of a growing body of research into the restorative effects of vegetation and colour in urban settings.

However, Steffen Lehmann, a professor of architecture at the University of Nevada, in the US, who was not involved in the study, wondered whether a VR simulation could provide the input to back up the thesis. He said he was also concerned that the study was reductive.

“It is not particularly useful to build a scientific argument on the dichotomy, ‘concrete versus vegetation’,” he said. “[This issue] requires a more differentiated and nuanced discussion.”

Delevoye-Turrell said using VR to carry out the study was fundamental to the experiment, because testing the elements in real-life environments would mean very little control of the distractions participants experience, such as noise, traffic or weather changes.

“We have reached the technological capacities to produce a virtual environment that offers similar immersive experiences, [in contrast to] the natural settings,” said Delevoye-Turrell.

In future research, she said she planned to also measure physiological changes, such as temperature, and add smells and sound to create multi-sensory, immersive environments.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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