University of Tartu Researchers on The Ukraine Crisis

This is a growing collection of the analyses and commentary on the ongoing Ukraine crisis by the University of Tartu researchers.

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How to Prevent Risky Driving

Jaanus Harro is Professor of Psychophysiology at the University of Tartu. His research areas include pharmacology, psychology, health research, and neuroscience.

fast driving

Learning to notice one’s impulsive behaviour in traffic helps reduce accidents on the road. Image credit: Stuart Haury / Flickr Creative Commons.

Many traffic accidents happen due to drivers’ impulsive behaviour. Teaching drivers to acknowledge their own spur-of-the-moment decisions helps reduce risky driving.

In a recent study, we confirmed the efficacy of our novel technique targeting novice drivers’ risky behaviour in traffic. We divided nearly two thousand driving school students into an intervention group and a control group. The intervention consisted of a one-and-half-hour lecture and group work.

Participants in the intervention group answered a few questions that help to paint a simple and reliable picture of how impulsive their behavior tends to be. For example, students assessed how likely it is that in a complex situation they might act without considering the consequences.

Then through individual and group analysis, we lead driving students to recognize themselves in some typical traffic situations. Let’s say, you are driving on a narrow curvy road and a slow driver is crawling ahead of you. What do you do? Try to pass him, signal him, drive patiently behind him until you get a chance to pass safely? Continue reading

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Genes and Culture that Make You Drink (Alcohol)

In a recent study, a research group led by UT Professor Jaanus Harro came to a stunning conclusion. They researched how early girls with a certain gene variant tried their first booze. The researchers discovered a dividing line between the girls born in 1982-83 versus those born in 1988-89: the younger girls started drinking alcohol three years earlier than the older ones.

Overall, the study was in line with the generally known fact that boys try alcohol earlier than girls and that in many European countries the first encounter with alcohol occurs at an increasingly earlier age. In this research, however, the younger girls with the high risk genotype tried alcohol even before the boys of their age, whereas girls just six years older who shared the same genotype were the last ones to try booze in their age group.

Professor Jaanus Harro commented that to his knowledge their research group was the first in psychiatry and behavioural sciences to show that the effect of a gene variant influencing brain activity (in this case a serotonin transporter gene) can depend on the birth cohort. This study demonstrates how, given the same genetic predisposition, the environment effectively enters the equation.

So where does the dividing line lie? Professor Harro refers to the 1990s: Estonia became independent in 1991 and freedom in everything ruled the country. Alcohol became more readily available and drinking evolved into a social norm. Continue reading

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Russian Oil and Gas – Sanctions Produce Effect

Andrei V. Belyi is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Government and Politics and an affiliated scholar at the Centre for EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu. He teaches in the international master’s programme in International Relations and Regional Studies.

Oil Industry Pavilion

Oil Industry Pavilion at VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy) in Moscow is in bad shape. Image credit: Inna Berezkina / Flickr Creative Commons.

Western sanctions on Russian oil and gas industries have started to take a significant although indirect effect. It would be still too much to expect that sanctions would have their immediate political effect on Russia’s position towards Ukraine. Nevertheless, important difficulties have emerged for the world largest hydrocarbon producer.

In fact, the history of sanctions demonstrates that economic pressure only rarely leads to a political effect. It could be that cases of sanctions against South Africa is amongst the rare examples of a political change followed by an economic isolation, whereas a number of unsuccessful stories (Cuba, Iran and Iraq are the most notorious examples) demonstrate the limited effect of economic instruments in international affairs.

In most of the cases, sanctions become an excuse for economic failures and rather reinforce a hardliner geopolitical choice of the states in question. Likewise, Russian political elites, and first of all Russian President, are not planning to give up their position on Ukraine even under a context of an economic hardship. Therefore, many in Russia claim that sanctions don’t have an effect. Continue reading

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Family Tradition Brings Ana from Georgia To Study Medicine in Tartu

Ana Bochorishvili

Ana Bochorishvili on 1 September 2014. Photo from a personal archive.

“It was in 1982″, remembers Zifrida Nikachadze, Ana’s grandmother. Thirty-two years ago her son Kote became a student of medicine at the University of Tartu. On 1 September 2014 – Zifrida’s birthday – she stands in front of the university’s Main Building in Tartu again, this time with both her son and granddaughter Ana, who is starting her medical studies in the steps of her father. Ana is only seventeen, just as her father was in 1982.

“It was my dream that Ana would study in Tartu”, reveals Kote. “It is symbolic that I took my only entrance exam in the chemistry building (now Philosophicum), whereas Ana had her very first lecture there – Latin”.

Kote and Zifrida

Kote Bochorishvili with his mother Zifrida on 1 September 2014. Photo from a personal archive.

With both parents being doctors, Ana knew early on that medicine was the right thing for her: “I decided it was my calling”. As for Tartu, Ana admits that it wasn’t her decision. When a sudden possibility emerged to complete high school in Tartu, Ana’s first reaction was ‘No’. She was only fifteen and obviously could not see the positive side of it. Still, as Ana puts it: “I never voiced my opposition. I never put up any real fight”.

The most difficult thing for Ana in the beginning was getting used to the new culture. She missed her family and Georgia; however, in about three months Ana came to appreciate the decision. “It was like a paradigm shift – I have learned so much now, and not only what they teach in school. I was able to combine the two cultures and become the person I am now”. Continue reading

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Why Universitas?

Mihhail Lotman is a member of the Semiotics Research Group at the University of Tartu and Professor of Semiotics and Literary Theory at Tallinn University. In Tartu, Lotman also teaches in the international master’s programme in semiotics.

Higher education is under pressure worldwide. This is especially true of the traditional European model of the universitas. It’s claimed to be outdated, not meeting the expectations of the government, economy, or society as a whole. What’s the use of spending 3+2+4 of the best years of your life, when it doesn’t guarantee a good income or an interesting job?

We see more and more young and successful people who haven’t attended university or have left their studies still becoming really rich and not just that — many of them have managed to break through in the world of the most cutting-edge technology.

Goethe's Faust

Goethe’s Faust. A poster by R.R. Holst from 1918. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The problem is not quite new. As Heinrich Faust, PhD admitted in frustration many centuries ago:

I have, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine, Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labour, studied through.
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.

Faust has completed studies in each of the four classical faculties. Still he quips indignantly that no one of these would bring about wisdom. Faust is absolutely right. The university does not make you wise (In fact, I’m not aware if the affirmative could be said of any place at all). Continue reading

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Facing the Truth of Growing Old

Kadi-Kai Eljaste is a graduate of the international master’s programme in Wellness and Spa Service Design and Management at the University of Tartu’s Pärnu College.

We are not immortal and losing spice in life as we age is natural – the question is how fast we will let it happen. Even though plenty of us are afraid of growing old, there is often no proactive and purposeful health behaviour seen. We still cannot prevent ageing, and the first signs we start to notice in ourselves and how we have suddenly aged is our appearance – the beauty of the skin, glow of the face, and the fitness of the body. It is a natural reaction to attempt to make changes after we start seeing the effects of the ageing process in the mirror. Conversely, practical evidence shows that people lead happier and healthier lives only after they finally give up on the idea that ageing can be undone by medical procedures and plastic surgery.

However, the more steps we take to implement a healthier lifestyle before the ravages of age start to appear, the better the chances of sustaining our quality of life as our age advances. It is for this reason that we should talk more about the power of prevention.

The effect of ageing

Ageing society – global and individual ageing

We are ageing not just as individuals or communities but as a world. According to the Natural Institute of Aging, in 2006 almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 or older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to one billion – one in every eight of the planet’s inhabitants. Above all, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 per cent by 2030. According to the European Commission, approximately 18 per cent of the European population is currently 65 or older and by 2060 the elderly will outnumber children by more than two times. Moreover, the most senior group of people (80 or older) is growing faster than any other segment of the population. Continue reading

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