Archive for April, 2011

Dear Humans, We Want Your Brains. –Neuroscientists

By Veronique Greenwood | April 22, 2011 3:45 pm


The UC San Diego Brain Observatory would like your brain, please. Especially if you can provide a detailed life history—or, best-case scenario, have already had your biography written—and are just a little strange in the head. Can’t feel fear? Can’t form memories? Can’t smell? These are traits of the people the Observatory already has on its rosters (they have 20 brains and 7 still-living donors), but director Jacopo Annese of UCSD is looking to recruit 1,000 more prospective donors over the next ten years. Apparently one brain he’d love to get his custom-made brain-slicing machinery on is Donald Trump’s: The guy’s had an unusual life, he explains to Bloomberg News, and with more than 15 books and a reality show to his name, he is nothing if not well-documented.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

Branson Plans to Make Lemur Paradise; Scientists Say, "It's Pretty Weird"

By Veronique Greenwood | April 22, 2011 2:14 pm

Branson’s plan to save lemurs is turning heads.

If you build Madagascar’s lemurs a new home, will they come? And can you trust them not to trash the place?

Sir Richard Branson, private moon shot funder, Virgin Group kingpin, kooky billionaire du jour, has been turning heads with his announcement that he plans to import 30 ring-tailed lemurs from zoos to one of his privately owned islands in the British Virgin Islands. The idea is to give endangered or threatened species a new place to live and breed—Madagascar’s civil war has meant a resurgence in lemur habitat loss, and ring-taileds are listed as “near threatened”—but biologists and conservationists are pointing out how Branson could be doing the island’s native ecosystem a serious disservice. “It’s pretty weird,” Simon Stuart, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, told the BBC. “What else lives on the island, and how might they be affected?”

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NCBI ROFL: Effects of university affiliation and "school spirit" on color preferences: Berkeley versus Stanford.

By ncbi rofl | April 21, 2011 7:00 pm

“The ecological valence theory (EVT) posits that preference for a color is determined by people’s average affective response to everything associated with it (Palmer & Schloss, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 8877-8882, 2010). The EVT thus implies the existence of sociocultural effects: Color preference should increase with positive feelings (or decrease with negative feelings) toward an institution strongly associated with a color. We tested this prediction by measuring undergraduates’ color preferences at two rival universities, Berkeley and Stanford, to determine whether students liked their university’s colors better than their rivals did. Read More


NCBI ROFL: My smile beats your p-p-p-poker face.

By ncbi rofl | April 20, 2011 7:00 pm

Human wagering behavior depends on opponents’ faces.

“Research in competitive games has exclusively focused on how opponent models are developed through previous outcomes and how peoples’ decisions relate to normative predictions. Little is known about how rapid impressions of opponents operate and influence behavior in competitive economic situations, although such subjective impressions have been shown to influence cooperative decision-making. This study investigates whether an opponent’s face influences players’ wagering decisions in a zero-sum game with hidden information. Read More


I Like Your Ring Finger. Let's Mate!

By Patrick Morgan | April 20, 2011 1:59 pm

When it comes to sexual attraction, it turns out that men might better be concerned with the length of their fourth (or ring) fingers than the length of anything else. Researchers have discovered that women tend to be more attracted to men whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers.

We’ve known for a while that the length ratio between the second and fourth fingers of a man may indicate how much testosterone he was exposed to in the womb, with longer ring fingers indicating more testosterone exposure. And many researchers have taken this finding to new levels, including a study from last December that revealed that the risk of prostate cancer drops by a third in men with longer index fingers.

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NCBI ROFL: Want worse hangovers? Drink bourbon!

By ncbi rofl | April 19, 2011 7:00 pm

Intoxication with bourbon versus vodka: effects on hangover, sleep, and next-day neurocognitive performance in young adults.

“BACKGROUND: This study assessed the effects of heavy drinking with high or low congener beverages on next-day neurocognitive performance, and the extent to which these effects were mediated by alcohol-related sleep disturbance or alcoholic beverage congeners, and correlated with the intensity of hangover. METHODS: Healthy heavy drinkers age 21 to 33 (n = 95) participated in 2 drinking nights after an acclimatization night. They drank to a mean of 0.11 g% breath alcohol concentration on vodka or bourbon one night with matched placebo the other night, randomized for type and order. Polysomnography recordings were made overnight; self-report and neurocognitive measures were assessed the next morning. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: election week, NCBI ROFL, told you so

Gertie the Hen "Sex-Changes" into Bertie the Rooster

By Patrick Morgan | April 19, 2011 2:46 pm

Normally, chicken-keepers don’t sweat it when their hens go through short egg-laying dry-spells. But when an egg-less hen grows a wattle in a matter of weeks and starts crowing at the rising sun, it may be time to worry. That’s what went through a British couple’s minds this past year, when their pet hen Gertie began looking and acting like a rooster.

It all started last November, when Jim and Jeanette Howard of Huntingdon, England, noticed that Gertie stopped laying eggs. “Then a few days later I heard her try to crow,” Jeanette Howard told the BBC. “She wasn’t very good at it at first, but she’s progressed nicely.” Gertie then got heavier and developed a wattle under her chin in the next few weeks. And as her feathers grew back during her molt, they were a darker brown than before. Sporting a scarlet cockscomb and a rooster-like strut, Gertie is now outwardly indistinguishable from a cockerel. Read More

MORE ABOUT: gender, genetics, hormones, sex

NCBI ROFL: Apparently, swimming with your clothes on is hard.

By ncbi rofl | April 18, 2011 7:00 pm

Effect of wearing clothes on oxygen uptake and ratings of perceived exertion while swimming.

“For a comparative study between swimming in swimwear (control-sw) and swimming in clothes (clothes-sw), oxygen uptake (VO2) and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were measured. The subjects were six male members of a university swimming team. Three swimming strokes–the breaststroke, the front crawl stroke and the elementary backstroke–were applied. With regards to clothes-sw, swimmers wore T-shirts, sportswear (shirt and pants) over swimwear and running shoes. Read More


Gyroscopic Wheels Don't Keep Bikes Upright? Back to the Drawing Board…

By Veronique Greenwood | April 18, 2011 3:28 pm

Take your hands off the bicycle handlebars and your bike won’t notice. Hop off and give it a shove, and chances are it’ll keep skimming along all on its own (as long as you don’t push it over en route to your faceplant). Ever since bicycles were invented in the 1860s, people have been wondering: what makes bikes so spookily stable?

Popular explanations are that the spinning wheels behave like gyroscopes or that the front wheel making contact with the ground just behind the steering axis stabilizes the bike. But take both of those properties away, researchers reporting in Science ($) have found, and the bike still rolls merrily onward. Read More

Catchiest Mating Songs Spread Through Whale Populations Like Top 40 Hits

By Veronique Greenwood | April 16, 2011 8:55 am

All the single ladies, all the single ladies…

Whales catch earworms, too, show scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia in a new study. Each breeding season, males start out singing a new tune, which might incorporate bits of golden oldies or be entirely fresh. These new songs are then passed from whale to whale for 4,000 miles, usually starting from the western edge of the Pacific near Australia, a veritable humpback metropolis, to French Polynesia in the east, a comparative hinterland: a possible cetacean case of cultural trends starting in the big city and propagating to the country. Another hypothesis from the Hairpin:

What if Michael Jackson was reincarnated as a whale and is now living off the coast of eastern Australia? 

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