Great ideas from great York minds

The Toronto Star published a list of significant research results in its Jan. 4 edition. York researchers were responsible for three of them.

Depression factors : A York University study has found that academic perfectionists are more prone to depression. In a study of graduate students, Myriam Mongrain, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, concluded that those who hold very high standards for themselves and take academic failures to heart are more likely to experience major, recurring depressions. The study says those who combine that with "needy" personality traits – something psychologists call "immature dependence," which is characterized by a chronic fear one’s need for love and support will never be met – are 50 per cent more susceptible to major depression than others.

"Both personality styles have now been identified as important risk factors for major depression," says Mongrain. "For example, graduate students who score high on measures of both self-criticism and neediness have been found to have more previous episodes of major depression and are more likely to have a recurrence of the disorder over a 20-month follow-up."

Ban the baby talk : It appears little ones aren’t so big on goo-goo, ga-ga. A study led by Maria Legerstee, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health and the Research Centre for Infancy Studies at York, found infants between one and three months old develop more rapidly when adults refrain from imitating their baby talk and socialize with them instead. Using digital cameras to capture infant-caregiver interactions, researchers found babies were more responsive and recognized their mothers quicker when they were taking turns vocalizing and sharing emotions rather than being imitated.

Tuned out : A York University scientist has co-authored a study showing the brain cleans up cluttered visual fields for us by suppressing certain things in our sightlines. Using a technique that measures changes in magnetic fields in the brain, John Tsotos, professor in York’s Computer Science & Engineering Department in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, and his team found that within fractions of a second the visual capacity of the brain is surrounded by a suppressive zone in the visual cortex, proving that we have a "selective tuning" model of visual attention.

Lions win Canadian tournament

The York men’s Lions won the 16th Ed DeArmon Memorial Basketball Tournament at Ryerson last week, reported the North York Mirror Jan. 2. It’s the third time York has won the competition. York’s previous titles were in 1983 and 2004. "Our starters didn’t play more than half the game," said York coach Bob Bain. "Everybody played. Everybody scored. Everybody was happy." Rohan Steen, a fourth-year guard, was chosen as a tournament all-star. York forward Dan Eves had 17 points in the final and was chosen as the tournament’s MVP.

Giving moms a gift for pushing through labour

Receiving blanket. Check. Booties. Check. Car seat. Check. A pair of diamond earrings. Huh? It seems the list of things to pack for the hospital is changing, and expanding to sometimes include a gift for soon-to-be mums from loving husbands, wrote Canadian Press Jan. 2. The number of births in 2004 was 337,072, according to Statistics Canada. If this does indeed become a new trend in gift-giving, it’s a sizable market for certain types of businesses.

Which gives the experts another worry. “Childbirth is about courage and honour and bravery,” said Andrea O’Reilly, director of the Centre for Research on Mothering at York University. “It’s a huge transformative life event (that’s) being commoditized and commercialized and trivialized in this very demeaning way." But O’Reilly points out that many cultures have rituals for childbirth that don’t involve swiping a credit card to celebrate. She’s afraid the trend only refers to “the extremely privileged which excludes a majority of people in North America."

An all-too familiar tune

Public policy under the Harris-Eves regime led to dramatic increases in misery, suffering and pain among many Ontario residents. Now, more than three years after that government’s defeat, in spite of mounting evidence concerning the health-threatening effects of poverty, the provincial government’s response remains one of indifference, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star Jan. 2. Indeed, the number of, and the situation of the poor in Ontario – with its attendant health implications – are worse today than at the conclusion of the Harris-Eves rule.

Policies that create poverty are bad for health since poverty is the experience of material and social deprivation associated with food and housing insecurity, childhood deprivation, unemployment and insecure employment, and exclusion from Canadian life. An accumulating literature details that living in poverty is a life characterized by material and social deprivation, the experience of stress, the experience of stigma and degradation, and an awareness that poverty grinds down one’s health and well-being. Poverty is the best statistical predictor of just about every indicator that describes Canadians’ health.

  • The Star also noted that Prof. Raphael’s latest book Poverty and Policy in Canada: Implications for Health and Quality of Life will be published in March.

Kindergarten, Italian style

Reggio-inspired kindergarten program, is an educational movement that is starting to transform elementary classrooms across Canada, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Jan. 2. Reggio schools date back to 1945, when a group of parents in the northern Italian town Reggio Emilia, devastated by war and dictatorship, vowed to dismantle the rigid, church-monopolized pre-school system. Advocates in Toronto are already seeing a similar response from the Reggio exhibit, which runs until the end of February. It’s being presented by York University, the Toronto District School Board, Seneca College and Bishop Strachan School.

Carol Anne Wien, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, a leading Reggio advocate in Canada and one of the exhibit organizers, said the institutional interest of Canada’s largest school board provides a real opportunity for the Reggio-inspired approach to take off beyond pockets of teachers networking at the grassroots levels. In its first six weeks, more than 3,000 educators from Montreal to Windsor toured the exhibit. "It’s phenomenal. It opens up people’s sense of what’s possible," said Ms. Wien.

We’re amateurs as sports fans

It was a cable TV moment; an evening that Canadians will simply never provide for themselves, wrote the National Post Jan. 2. If you were anywhere east of the Mountain time zone Monday night, chances are you never would have hung in for what has to rank as one of the most entertaining fourth quarters of football ever played. That is because, by the time little Boise State celebrated its Fiesta Bowl win over big, traditional power Oklahoma, it was pushing 1am Eastern time.

"I don’t see [Canadian interest] catching up to NCAA Division I…for 100 years," said York University basketball coach Bob Bain, who has been around Canadian university sports since 1966. "It’s a socio-cultural thing. We don’t have the same focus on sports. On the other hand, that’s not always a bad thing."

After 15 years, Somalis strive to find a home

Buried in a strip mall with a giant grocery store and shops hawking everything from Chinese fast food to dollar-store baubles, the Dixon Community Centre is easy to miss. But it’s not hard to find the door of lawyer-activist and York alumnus Abdurahman Hosh Jibril (LLB ’93), wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 27. Just follow the steady stream of people filing into his basement office seeking his help.

His focus these days is on youth. Fifteen years after a deluge of Somalis fleeing civil war began arriving in Toronto, a whole generation of adolescent Somali-Canadians is "at a crossroads with the community," Jibril said. He worries that, as part of one of the most disadvantaged communities in the GTA – scoring near the bottom in household income, employment and education levels – they’ll fall prey to crime, drugs, gangs and Islamic radicals.

Jibril came to Canada in 1977…he never intended to stay but hasn’t been back to Somalia. By 1986, refugees were "already coming in drips and there weren’t enough people to help them," he said. So he volunteered, first as an interpreter and then with legal clinics. "The problems they were coming with were alien to me," he said. "I heard horror stories of civil war, rape and entire families being killed." This led him to study immigration law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Plenty of ups for Quinn in ’06

York Lions goaltender Melanie Quinn earned a berth on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey first all-star squad, wrote the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner Dec. 28 in a look back at sports highlights of 2006. The Newmarket resident and graduate of Dr. J.M. Denison Secondary School was also named to the Ontario University Athletics first all-star team for the third straight season after leading the country in save percentage and goals against average.

The myth of the sled dog killings

Inuit lore holds that between 1950 and 1970, the Canadian government carried out a deliberate slaughter of sled dogs, allegedly to encourage natives to settle in communities, buy snowmobiles and avail themselves of federal social programs, wrote Maclean’s Jan. 1 in an article debunking the claim.

If there is a basic rule of oral history, says Jack Granatstein, professor emeritus of history at York University and former director of the Canadian War Museum, it’s that "Old men forget and they remember selectively. Almost no one can remember dates or facts but they will always be able to tell you they hated so-and-so." This makes oral history a better source for emotions than statistics. Of course, archival history is fallible as well, he points out. Uncovering historical truth requires supporting evidence from multiple sources and an absence of political purpose, says Granatstein.

Neither rain, nor sleet…

It’s said if you don’t like the weather in Algoma, just wait 10 minutes. Conditions across the district can vary from community to community, from morning to night and from one day to the next. And so we turn to people such as former York student Jerry Shields to provide us with accurate forecasts, wrote the Sault Star Dec. 30. The avid amateur meteorologist – or what he calls "weather specialist" – considers spending hours reviewing weather models, radar and satellite images a personal hobby. "I love the fact that weather is part science, part instinct and part nature…. There is nothing predictable about it," said Shields, who attended York University to specialize in meteorology but switched partway through to management.

About one year ago, Shields developed his Web site,, which covers regions from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa in the north, across to Chapleau and along the North Shore to Elliot Lake. In that short period of time, the site has grown from several hundred hits a day to more than 10,000 a day, with many repeat visitors.

In pursuit of a colourful calling

Like many artists, Frances Thomas (BFA ’98) tried a lot of things and travelled around before deciding that the difficult life of an artist was her true calling, wrote The Edmonton Journal Dec. 29. Born and raised in Parry Sound, Ont., she dabbled with art beginning in the ’70s but finally received her bachelor of fine arts from York University in 1998. She made ends meet working for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and later as program coordinator for the MacLaren Arts Centre, but when her department was cut, she made her choice. "It was now or never. I decided to take the leap and I’ve been doing it ever since."

New Milton concert band will be led by York alumnus

Fronting the Milton Concert Band will be musical director Joseph Resendes (BFA ‘04), a composer and woodwind musician who has performed in the GTA-area for more than a decade, reported the Milton Canadian Champion Dec. 29. Resendes is currently an instructor in the Music Department in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

On air

  • Fred Lazar, economics professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about a dispute between a First Nations job agency and the federal tax collector, on CBC Radio in Toronto and across the country Jan. 3.
  • Barbara Oliveira, a member of the York Portuguese Students Association, spoke about achievements during 2006 on CFMT’s “Telejornal” (Portuguese) Jan. 3.