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OpenLearn Live: 7th June 2016

Updated Tuesday 7th June 2016

Does an altar cloth in a church in Herefordshire have a link to Elizabeth I? Plus boxing, football - and the smell of babies. Free learning through the day from OpenLearn.

OpenLearn Live is the place that brings the world of free learning into your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we explored the legacy and life of Ali, caught up with City In The Sky and the latest from FutureLearn

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Do babies smell cute?

Babies, being helpless, have evolved a few tricks for winning over the coldest hearts in order to get fed, cuddled, changed, and informed of the status of Baa Baa Black Sheep's wool production. In effect, the reason why babies look "cute" is in order to encourage attention.

But it's not just ooogly-googly big-eyed faces and adorable little grins that babies deploy in order to get us reaching for the bottle of expressed breast milk. Researchers at Oxford University have found they've got other skills in their arsenal:

Morten Kringelbach, who together with Eloise Stark, Catherine Alexander, Professor Marc Bornstein and Professor Alan Stein, led the work in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: 'Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.'

Reviewing the emerging literature on how cute infants and animals affect the brain, the Oxford University team found that cuteness supports key parental capacities by igniting fast privileged neural activity followed by slower processing in large brain networks also involved in play, empathy, and perhaps even higher-order moral emotions.

The data shows that definitions of cuteness should not be limited just to visual features but include positive infant sounds and smells. From an evolutionary standpoint, cuteness is a very potent protective mechanism that ensures survival for otherwise completely dependent infants.

Professor Kringelbach said: 'This is the first evidence of its kind to show that cuteness helps infants to survive by eliciting caregiving, which cannot be reduced to simple, instinctual behaviours. Instead, caregiving involves a complex choreography of slow, careful, deliberate, and long-lasting prosocial behaviours, which ignite fundamental brain pleasure systems that are also engaged when eating food or listening to music, and always involve pleasant experiences.'

The study shows that cuteness affects both men and women, even those without children.

'This might be a fundamental response present in everyone, regardless of parental status or gender, and we are currently conducting the first long-term study of what happens to brain responses when we become parents.' said Professor Kringelbach.

Anyone left holding a baby at the point where a nappy change is required might raise an eyebrow at the idea that babies consistently smell cute, of course...

The full research can be read at Trends In Cognitive Studies (Subscription required)

Read the full news release at the Oxford University website

Try our free course: Babies being heard

Preparing for the penalty

As Euro 2016 gets closer and closer, England supporters are probably already expecting to see their team being knocked out at some point on penalties. But can anything prepare sports people to not have to fear the spot kick? Ben Lyttleton believes there's a way to be ready:

As part of the research for my book ‘Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty’, I spoke to coaches and athletes from many different sports, including golf, tennis, rugby, handball, gridiron and water-polo. All practice assiduously for any eventuality, and the most important word they used to describe their practise was ‘purposeful’.

I was reminded of this word when I saw pictures of England practising for penalties before their eventual defeat to Portugal in 2006. This was the nadir of England’s woeful penalty run, a 3-1 defeat in which only one player managed to score (that was Owen Hargreaves, who had been born in Canada and grew up in Germany). In the picture, around 15 players stand on the edge of the penalty-area, each player with a ball at his feet. They are waiting for an opportunity to step forward and dribble the ball to the spot to take a penalty. Where is the purpose in that? In the match environment, the player has to walk from the centre-circle to the spot, only getting the ball when he arrives there. England’s practise served no real purpose.

Compare this to the Czechoslovakia side which in 1976 prepared for the European Championships by taking penalties on the training-ground while fans’ noise was blasted through loudspeakers so the atmosphere would not be off-putting in the real thing. The final went to penalties and the Czechs beat West Germany 5-3.

Read the full article: Can you train for penalty shoot-outs?

See more from our Euro 2016 collection

Remembering Ali in Manila

The Philippines react to the death of Muhammad Ali by remembering the impact of his fight with Joe Frazier - the "Thrilla in Manila":

The Philippine government hosted and sponsored the boxing match because of the publicity it would generate for the country. Ronnie Nathanielsz, the government-appointed liaison officer of ‘Thrilla in Manila’, wrote [External link]   that then President Ferdinand Marcos wanted the international event to demonstrate that the country was peaceful and prosperous despite the declaration of martial law.

Read the full article: The Thrilla in Manila

BBC Radio 4, tonight, 9pm: All In The Mind

Our series looking at all things psychological continues on Radio 4 this evening explores the links between aircraft noise and depression, drawing on a new report from Germany. And it turns out that babies aren't born as mimics, and don't start copying what they see around them until they're about ten months old.

See more about this programme

Listen online (after 10pm tonight)

Who would live near an airport? Explore the Terminal Cities

37 Days In May: The Bacton Altar Cloth

This week, we're using our start-up segment to catch up on some of the stories we missed during our slightly-longer-than-a-month hiatus. Yesterday, we heard what the European Space Agency had discovered about the Earth's magnetic fields. Today, we're going to look at what's believed to have been found in this church in Herefordshire:

Bacton Church, Herefordshire Creative commons image Icon Colin Baxter under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

This is Bacton's St Faith's Church. The Saint honoured in the building's name was one of the virgins martyred by the Roman Empire - burned alive for refusing to worship a pagan god, Saint Faith had her modesty preserved as she died by a freak blizzard which prevented onlookers from watching her death throes. (You might wonder why the snow didn't try to extinguish the flames, but that's a question for another time.)  The church attracted attention during May through its links to another figure whose virginity is central to her mythos - Elizabeth I.

For a long time, the altar cloth in the church has believed to have a regal connection. (Not, it should be said, the one in day-to-day use; this cloth is protected in a glass cabinet.)  The link to royalty comes via Blanche Parry - baptised and buried in Bacton, but, in the intervening years, a central figure in Elizabeth's court. Parry gifted the cloth to the church; the cloth, in turn, could well have been a dress that Elizabeth had passed on the Parry.

Last month, the Historical Royal Palaces got to have a look at the cloth, and their investigations strengthened the case for the cloth once having been worn by the Queen:

Of course, it's all still circumstantial - but the Historic Royal Places point out that Parry more-or-less invented the veneration of Elizabeth I:

Blanche Parry’s monument to the Tudor Queen in St Faith’s Church depicts her kneeling beside her resplendent mistress, and is seen as one of the earliest examples of veneration of Elizabeth I.

Perhaps the dress was an attempt to create an updated version of the Saint's artefacts - like the elbow of Thomas Becket which, coincidentally, arrived back in the UK for a visit during May.

The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I

The forgotten Armadas

What's the big deal about virginity?

Discover more about religious studies with The Open University


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