From Ed Yong:
In an Israeli laboratory, Shani Gelstein is harvesting a woman’s tears. The volunteer is watching the end of the boxing film The Champ. As she weeps, she holds a vial under her eyes to capture the fresh drops. This might seem ghoulish, but Gelstein has used the collected tears to understand why people cry during emotional times. She thinks they’re a chemical signal.
Gelstein used several different techniques to show that the smell of a woman’s emotional tears could reduce a man’s sexual arousal. The men never actually saw anyone cry, and they didn’t know about what they were smelling. Even so, their sniffs reduced their testosterone levels and they lowered the activity in parts of their brain involved in sexual desire.
The small study had men smell both women’s tears and saline that had dripped down women’s cheeks, and measured the men’s reactions. The fascinating (if preliminary) results suggest new possible reasons why we cry at emotional times–read the rest of the story at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
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Image: Science / AAAS
As if soccer, wars of incredible length, and the relative worth of wine vs. beer didn’t account for enough disagreements between Britain and France, add another spat to the pile: whether or not the G-spot really exists.
A few weeks ago, a team of scientists from King’s College London joined the ongoing scientific fray by publishing a new study on the much-debated female erogenous zone. It was the biggest to date, involving 1,800 women – all of whom were pairs of identical or non-identical twins. If the G-spot did exist, it said, then genetically identical twins would have been expected to both report having one. However, no such pattern emerged [The Telegraph]. As a result of the study, coauthor Tim Spector said, the study “shows fairly conclusively that the idea of a G-spot is subjective.”
Two researchers have reviewed the body of research on the effects of birth control pills on both women and men’s perceptions of attractiveness, and have come to some provocative conclusions. Women on the pill are less attracted to hyper-masculine men, they found, and don’t show the typical propensity towards men who are genetically dissimilar from themselves. In addition, women on the pill may lack the attractiveness edge that’s associated with ovulation, the study found.
An alarmist, tabloid-esque summary of the findings might read like this: Pill-taking women aren’t hotties, and they pick girlie men who are likely to give them ugly babies. But of course, there’s a lot more complexity to the findings. The contraceptive pill alters monthly fluctuations in hormones associated with the menstrual cycle, mimicking the more stable hormonal conditions associated with pregnancy [New Scientist]. While mounting evidence suggests that having one’s hormonal levels smoothed out in this way alters some of the laws of attraction between men and women, scientists hasten to add that hormones aren’t everything.
The new study (pdf), published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, looked first at research that’s been conducted on women’s preferences for men. Women who aren’t on the pill have shown a preference for certain types of men while they’re ovulating: they prefer men with more traditionally masculine facial features, and have also been shown to prefer the smell of men who are genetically dissimilar (which in humanity’s earlier days, when inbreeding was a danger, would have been an advantage). Women on the pill don’t show these same preferences. But many would argue that personality is a far better way to choose a life partner than what they smell like. One recent study involving speed-dating experiments suggested that although women might say they prefer the scent of men with dissimilar immune systems, this doesn’t correspond with the men they actually chose to go out with [New Scientist].
A new study of the prairie vole, a rodent species famed for its monogamous ways, has shown that the vole’s brain chemistry changes when its mate is taken away, and that it loses some of its vim and vigor. Researchers compared the behavior of males who were separated from either their mates or their siblings, and found that those voles who had lost their loyal mates were passive and unresponsive–maybe even depressed.
Prairie voles are one of the few mammals that are generally monogamous; the mates form life-long bonds and rear their pups together. In the new study, researchers subjected all the male voles to stress tests, like dunking them in basins of water and holding them suspended by their tails, and found that the voles whose mates had been spirited away put up less struggle. In the water, for example, they floated listlessly instead of paddling for their lives. These voles “basically were passive — they gave up,” [study coauthor Larry] Young said. “I would be hesitant to say that these animals were depressed, but their behavior is reminiscent of what you would see in a depressed person” [HealthDay News].
Researchers have found a gene in men that’s linked to happy marriages, according to a new study. The gene determines how the brain responds to a hormone that has previously been shown to cause monogamous behavior in prairie voles; researchers found that men with a certain variant of the gene were less likely to be married to their partners, and if they were married, they were more likely to have had a marital crisis and to have discussed the possibility of divorce.
In the study, researchers studied the genetics of more than 550 men who were in relationships, and then asked both the men and their partners a series of questions. Men with a variant of the gene tended to score badly on a questionnaire designed to assess how well they bond with their partner and were more likely to report having suffered marital difficulties…. The wives of those who were married were also less satisfied with their marriage than women whose husbands did not have that genetic variant [Telegraph].
A new study has shown that people with symmetrical bodies are judged more attractive by members of the opposite sex, even though the degree of symmetry may be impossible to discern by the naked eye. But researchers say the test subjects were mostly responding to more obvious body characteristics that have been shown to be linked to symmetry; namely broad shoulders and tall stature in men, and small torsos and an “hourglass” shape in women.
Researchers hypothesize that a symmetrical body may indicate a healthy person with an evolutionary advantage. “In animals with two sides that were designed by natural selection to be symmetrical, subtle departures from symmetry may reflect poor development or exposure to environmental or genetic stress,” said study team member William Brown of Brunel University in the U.K. “In many species these departures are related to poor health, lower survival, and fewer offspring” [National Geographic News].