The Name’s Bond, James Bond… And I’m an Alcoholic

By Guest Blogger | December 13, 2013 10:22 am

By Jo Adetunji, The Conversation

james bond

This article was originally published at The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.

James Bond might have been been more shaken than stirred if his intake of alcoholic drinks is anything to go by.

Along with his love of women, Bond also had a keen taste for martinis. And researchers have scoured the books to calculate that the MI6 spy drank over four times the recommended limit each week.

They argue that contrary to helping performance under pressure, this amount would probably have affected his capacity to perform “in all aspects of his life”. As a high-risk category three drinker, in the longer term this would put him at risk of developing alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, impotence and alcohol-induced tremor – not great for womanizing or sniper missions – and potentially an early death.

The researchers, who published their paper in the British Medical Journal, also discovered that Bond was often drunk at the wheel.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: movies, personal health

Love in The Hunger Games: Why Katniss Falls for Peeta

By Guest Blogger | December 6, 2013 3:34 pm

By Wind Goodfriend

pscyhology

This article originally appeared on Dr. Goodfriend’s blog “A Psychologist at the Movies.”

I’m completely obsessed with The Hunger Games. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I have visited North Korea, a real country where millions of people really are dying of hunger. Maybe it’s the ironic meta-experience of watching the movie’s violence on a huge screen, when the movie’s point is that people shouldn’t watch violence on a huge screen. Regardless, The Hunger Games is chock-full of possible psychological analysis. Today I’m focusing on the fascinatingly weird emotions that spark between the The Hunger Games’ two main protagonists, Peeta and Katniss.

At home, Katniss has a boyfriend, a young man named Gale. He has rugged good looks, he’s brave, and they are perfectly matched in many ways. Both Katniss and Gale fight against the system in their own way (which is increasingly seen as the trilogy continues), and he is always successful at making Katniss feel comforted in a world with no comforts.

So why does Katniss later fall for Peeta? Peeta certainly has lovable qualities – he’s smart, nurturing, and can frost a cake like nobody’s business – but he and Katniss are not exactly a natural pair. Their personalities clash, their goals in life are different, and Katniss really isn’t interested in any kind of frivolous romance. Sure, in the first movie she is ambivalent about her feelings for Peeta, the kind-hearted boy with a sexy baby-faced look. But psychology would have predicted their blossoming feelings for each other due to their experiences together in the Hunger Games. It’s all because of a phenomenon called misattribution of arousal. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: movies, psychology

Don’t Count on Amazon Drone Deliveries Just Yet

By Guest Blogger | December 5, 2013 5:41 pm

By Darren Ansell, University of Central Lancashire

amazon-drone

This article was originally published at The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.

Apparently keen to inject a bit of fun into its image after a damaging few weeks of press coverage, online retail giant Amazon has announced that it is experimenting with the use of drones to deliver its products.

According to chief executive Jeff Bezos, a squadron of unmanned “octocopters” could be deployed in the next five years to deliver packages of up to 5 pounds (2.3kg) to customers just 30 minutes after they place an order.

The idea of using small unmanned aerial vehicles for delivering consumer goods has been around for a few years and Amazon is unlikely to be the only company looking to the skies to expand its customer base. One company in Australia is planning to start delivering textbooks in this way as early as March. The devices have also been trialed for use in all kinds of civic projects, such as to deliver medicine, help conservation projects or spot missing people in search and rescue operations.

It is even possible to train to become a small commercial UAV pilot in just one week—so in many ways, the path towards having all your purchases dropped from the heavens into your lap appears clear.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: drones

Is Being Tall Hazardous to Your Health?

By Carrie Arnold | November 8, 2013 11:37 am

tall and short basketball players

In many areas of life, tall people seem to get all the benefits. On average, they earn more money. They are more successful at work. Taller people are just more, er, highly regarded than their shorter counterparts.

But research is showing that short people might win out in one big way: they might be less prone to cancer, and even have longer lives, than tall people. Although the jury is still out on how much height affects longevity, it shows no signs of stopping our cultural preference for taller people.

A Tall Order

The relationship between height and cancer risk is not especially new—scientists had proposed a link between height and breast cancer in women as early as 1975. Many studies, however, have focused specifically on breast cancer. Other studies have looked at how height affects cancer risk at numerous sites, but they have failed to adequately control for variables that could be affected by height, notes epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

Measuring the link between height and health variables, Kabat says, is much more complicated than determining someone’s height and seeing if they develop a particular disease. “You really want to make very sure that you have excluded the possibility that any association you find between height and cancer is not due to the interference of some sort of other factor,” Kabat said.

For one, taller people tend to weigh more than shorter people, even if their BMI isn’t any higher. For another, poor nutrition and stress can stunt height growth, and higher calorie diets have been associated with increased height. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the psychosocial variables like increased income, education, and socioeconomic status.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: genes & health

How Brachiosaurus (and Brethren) Became So Gigantic

By Guest Blogger | October 30, 2013 11:31 am

By Brad Balukjian

Mamenchisaurus_youngi_steveoc_86.jpg

I was 12 years old, sitting in a movie theater in Warwick, Rhode Island, when Steven Spielberg changed movies forever. His Jurassic Park made Jaws look like a silly hand puppet and ushered in the modern era of computer-generated special effects, for better or worse.

But for that iconic scene when the paleontologists laid eyes on living dinosaurs for the first time, Spielberg had a crucial decision to make—what type of dinosaur would appear first, bending imaginations and searing its place in cinematic history? Would he go with the ultra-kinetic, flesh-rending T. rex? Or maybe a more subdued Stegosaurus?

Much to my delight, he chose a sauropod, the clade of lumbering vegetarians that dominated for 120 million years as, unequivocally, the largest land animals ever. Specifically, a Brachiosaurus, one of the few sauropods that probably used its long neck to browse treetops rather than holding it parallel to the ground. (Kudos to Spielberg et al. for getting this scientific detail right!)

I’m not sure what dictated Spielberg’s decision, but sauropods’ sheer size—up to 90 tons and 130 feet long—probably had something to do with it. (Contrary to popular belief, most dinosaurs were not gigantic.) And that gargantuan size is what inspired the new PLOS ONE sauropod collection (“Sauropod Gigantism”), organized by evolutionary biologist Martin Sander of the University of Bonn. Sander and 13 other researchers united to answer one question: how did these thunder lizards get so freaking big—and its shuddering corollary—why didn’t they get any bigger?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

Do I Want My Brain in Physical Books, or e-Books?

By Mark Changizi | October 28, 2013 7:31 pm

e-readers versus books

Most of what I know isn’t in my head. It’s out there in my books. I know how to do a lot of integrals in calculus, for example. But, really, what I mean by that is that I know where my book of integrals is, and I know where in the book any particular method is. I know all that stuff in all those books in my house because I can find my way there.

Books in a bookshelf possess lots of visual cues, so I can quickly find my way to the right book — “Oh, it’s on the bottom left of the shelf by the window in the living room, just below that big blue art book.”

And once I find the book, when I open it up I can use visual cues within it to find my way to the right page. After all, it’s not as if I remember the page number. No, I remember roughly where it is in the book, roughly what the page looks like, and roughly what the surrounding pages might look like. Pages in a book might not initially seem to have a look, but they very often do. There are often figures, or tables, or unique and recognizable features to the way the paragraphs are aligned. These visuo-spatial cues guide me further and further along to the goal, the piece of my knowledge out there in my library.

Mess with my library and books, and you mess with my brain.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: e-books, harnessed, writing

Welcome to the Mind-Meld: Our Future of Brain-to-Brain Communication

By Guest Blogger | October 25, 2013 1:11 pm

By Ben Thomas

plugged-in-brain

The first rat pressed a lever, anticipating the tasty reward it’d been trained to expect. An implant in the rat’s brain converted its neural activity into an electronic signal and beamed the impulse to the brain of the second rat, which leaped forward and pressed a lever in its own cage. But rat #2 had never been trained to press the lever. Its movement impulse came not from its own brain, but directly from the brain of rat #1 – despite the fact that the two were separated by thousands of miles.

What we have created, said lead researcher Miguel Nicolelis, is “a new central nervous system made of two brains.”

That advance happened in 2012, and other labs were quick to one-up Nicolelis and his team. In the summer of 2013, a team of Harvard University researchers engineered a brain-to-brain interface between a rat and a human, enabling the human to control the rat’s tail movements simply by willing them to happen.

Finally, in August 2013, University of Washington scientists Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco succeeded in making one leap everyone was waiting for: A human-to-human brain-to-brain interface. By strapping one person into a non-invasive EEG helmet, and strapping the second into a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) helmet, the researchers mind-melded themselves – for the sake of science.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: brain

Five Sex Research Pioneers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By Guest Blogger | October 23, 2013 12:54 pm

By Jesse Bering

Richard von Krafft-Ebing and his wife Marie-Louise.

Richard von Krafft-Ebing and his wife Marie-Louise.

The new Showtime series Masters of Sex is shining light on two remarkable figures in the history of sexology, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Although most of us may not be aware of their colorful back-story, we have, at least, heard of “Masters and Johnson” before. Along with the famous Alfred Kinsey, they were iconic American figures in 20th-century sex research, widely known for shirking the conservative conventions that kept our forebears in the closet of erotic ignorance.

The history of sexology runs far deeper than a few charismatic figures, however. Their names may not be as familiar to us, but there were many other fascinating early sex researchers who left their own interesting legacies, and not always entirely positive ones at that. Some of these forgotten scholars were, like Masters and Johnson, angels of sexual healing; yet others were, quite frankly, bastards of bigotry.

So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to five early sexologists that you’ve (probably) never heard of… at least, not like this.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex

Ouch! In the Brain, Social Rejection Feels Like Physical Pain

By Guest Blogger | October 11, 2013 12:44 pm

 By Matthew D. Lieberman

social pain

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to tell the following joke: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Death is number two. Does this sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better-off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

The joke is a riff based on a privately conducted survey of 2,500 people in 1973 in which 41 percent of respondents indicated that they feared public speaking and only 19 percent indicated that they feared death. While this improbable ordering has not been replicated in most other surveys, public speaking is typically high on the list of our deepest fears. “Top ten” lists of our fears usually fall into three categories: things associated with great physical harm or death, the death or loss of loved ones, and speaking in public.

What is curious is that the person speaking probably doesn’t know or care about most of the people there. So why does it matter so much what they think? The answer is that it hurts to be rejected.

Ask yourself what have been the one or two most painful experiences of your life. Did you think of the physical pain of a broken leg or a really bad fall? My guess is that at least one of your most painful experiences involved what we might call social pain—pain of a loved one’s dying, of being dumped by someone you loved, or of experiencing some kind of public humiliation in front of others.

Why do we associate such events with the word pain? When human beings experience threats or damage to their social bonds, the brain responds in much the same way it responds to physical pain.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Are Dolphins Not as Smart as We Thought?

By Guest Blogger | October 4, 2013 12:02 pm

By Erik Vance

dolphins painting skills

In Douglas Adams’s hilarious classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there are several animals said to be cleverer than humans. One – for the sake of irony – was the common lab mouse. The other was a creature that knew about the intergalactic bulldozers that eventually vaporized the planet and tried to warn us of the impending doom:

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.

It’s a fun punchline but it also reflects a long-held sentiment: that dolphins possess an unusual level of intelligence that sets them apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. In the popular consciousness it’s taken as a given that dolphins are highly intelligent, have complex behavior, and possess some kind of proto-language ability. However in recent months and years, a sort of backlash – or at least a re-alignment – has been fomenting on the periphery of animal behavior research.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
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