Now that the holidays are winding down, you may be wondering what to do with some of the less-than-desirable presents you received this year. Despite Santa’s good intentions, are you ever going to wear that gaudy scarf? And will you ever actually take that awkward foot bath out of the box?
A practical solution would be to regift these items—to pass them on to someone who would appreciate them more than yourself. But that pesky taboo surrounding regifting makes you think twice. What do you do? Researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and the London Business School analyzed the psychology behind regifting to determine what people really think about it, and how much the social stigma comes into play. Their results, published by the Association for Psychological Science earlier this year, suggest that with a little rebranding, regifting may not be such a bad idea after all.
Truly one of the strangest figures we’ve ever seen in a paper.
Good news, kids: turns out we humans feel pretty awful about harming other people. That much you’d expect. But there’s a question about exactly what this feeling is: is it more that we feel the victim’s pain, or that we feel especially bad for causing the pain?
Psychologists put this question to the test in a paper called “Simulating murder,” which does, among other things, exactly what the title suggests. They made participants perform a slew of fake violent acts, such as pointing gun at someone’s face or smacking a baby against a desk, and asked partipants to either perform them or watch them being performed. If the victim’s pain was what matters, participants would presumably react the same in both situations.
Instead, participants had higher blood pressure and more constricted blood vessels—indicators of higher stress–when they were the guilty party. The subjects also performed similar but not objectionable physical tasks, like smacking a broom instead of a baby, to make sure simple physical exertion didn’t account for the difference.
The intersection in question.
For two Fridays in June 2011, from 3 to 6 pm, two experimenters sat near an intersection in San Francisco and watched the cars. They arranged themselves so that drivers couldn’t see them, and every now and then, they recorded the make and physical appearance of a car and tried to guess the gender and age of the driver. As their chosen cars pulled up to the intersection, they kept track of which ones cut off others. Later, in another study, they positioned an experimenter at a crosswalk. They took note of which cars neglected to stop for the pedestrian.
No, this is not performance art—it’s science! Read More
Hey, Internet. It’s science here wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day. And we do mean happy—we wouldn’t be here if there weren’t any oxygen in the air right?
Let’s start with a pretty picture. Copy all of the below mathematical function and enter it into Google. Just do it.
sqrt(6-x^2), -sqrt(6-x^2) from -4.5 to 4.5
…and links to the best V-Day science out there:
That soap opera cliche of someone clutching their chest and kneeling over dead after finding out a dead lover has some science behind it. Sudden shocks—even positive ones like winning the lottery—can cause a massive release of adrenaline, causing the heart to freeze up. The hearts of patients who die from this take on a distinctive shape resembling a Japanese octopus trap, which is where the name takotsubo cardiomyopathy comes from.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, writers dig up the origin of the holiday to talk about naked Romans. Sorry, we’re not immune to it either. Those pagan Romans used to run around naked with whips, hitting young women to increase their fertility. (Seriously? Dinner plans are looking so much better now.) Then, the Church pegged that pagan celebration to the story of St. Valentine, so today we have chocolate and roses and singing valentines. We’re not really sure what those have to do with St. Valentine either.
The “love hormone” oxytocin makes you more empathetic and generous and, as it turns out, also more racist and less trustful. Huh? Ed Yong, who’s covered this before on his blog, writes on the latest hypothesis about oxytocin at New Scientist. Instead of just making us feel cuddly, it helps direct our attention to salient social cues in the environment. And what’s salient, of course, depends on the environment.
Since Facebook tracks both your relationship status to and what songs you listen to when (among other things), they put it together and released a list of most popular songs when starting new relationships and breaking up. We’re only surprised that Adele doesn’t have a monopoly on the breakup list.
Oldies but goodies. Two pieces comparing the types of men and women you date with the types of physics you might encounter. Did you know that the derivative of acceleration is called jerk? Just saying some of these remind us of that.
Elsewhere on DISCOVER, you’ve got the hearts of space (love really is universal), animals that don’t have sex (sex is not so universal), and right here on Discoblog’s NCBI ROFL is the Valentine’s week archive. Get lovin’.
Dragonflies can literally be scared to death of fish. Who knew? In a study published in November in the journal Ecology, researchers found that dragonfly larvae reared in the presence of fish were four times more likely to die before reaching adulthood, compared to larvae raised in an environment without predators. Similarly, 2.5 times more dragonflies croaked when raised in the same tank as an invertebrate predator. The larvae were kept in cages in full view of the predators, although the cages kept the predators from entering, and each one contained a small cup where the larvae could hide.
The study also found dragonfly nymphs raised in tanks with a fish were 10 percent more likely to die while metamorphosing into their winged adult form that we know so well. Apparently growing up is not only stressful for humans, and being constantly reminded of one’s mortality doesn’t help. (But of course, I’m anthropomorphizing their metamorphosizing.)
Life is pretty simple for a zombie. You just wander around and try to eat people’s brains. But it wasn’t always so. In the uncorrupted early years of zombie narratives, zombies were typically the undead slaves of voodoo priests, and their primary motivation was to cast off the yoke of dark magic and rebel against their leaders. For example, the first feature-length zombie film, White Zombie (1932), features a heroine who’s bewitched by a voodoo master (ominously named Murder). When she finally triumphs over him and he is pushed off a cliff, she reverts to her normal, non-zombie self.
No longer. Nowadays zombies have no real motivation. (When polled as to their life purpose, nine out of 10 zombies replied, “Braaaaaiiiiinnnns!!!”)
At least one researcher thinks the shift in the zombie story, beginning in the late 1960s, reflects a greater change in society. “With no voodoo master, today’s zombies have no clear controller to turn against and free themselves from,” says researcher Nick Pearce. “That means there are no effective plans for resistance and no hope for the future. Zombies may well be popular today because they speak to a similar feeling of powerlessness shared by many members of our society.” Whoa. Maybe we’re all zombies!
He may be smiling, but it’s no laughing matter:
he’s got the man-flu the game is on.
Either British women are, uh, kind of slow, or English guys are more persuasive than we realized. According to Reuters, a survey found that one in five British ladies believe that “man-flu” is real, a condition which leaves afflicted gentlemen laid up on the couch watching sports. If I had known this could work, I would have caught this fictional bug long ago. This silly survey of 2,000 British adults found that many believed in a surprising amount of myths and old wive’s tales—although perhaps the “man-flu” would be better described as an “old husband’s tale.”
Is this dog really smiling?
We beam when we’re cheerful, grin sheepishly when we’re guilty, smirk when we’re proud. It all seems so simple and obvious, but what do we really know about smiling?
In a new book called Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics, Yale University experimental psychologist Marianne LaFrance investigates the subtleties of smiling, showing how the familiar expression reveals more than we realize. Wired has an amusing Q&A with the doctor herself:
Wired.com: Why can smiles mean such different things in different cultures?
LaFrance: We acquire ways of knowing who is us and who is them. There have been fascinating studies where Australians and Americans were shown a bunch of face shots of other Australians and Americans. Their task was to identify which nationality, Australian or American, the person was. Shown neutral expressions, accuracy was no better than chance. But shown smiles, they were very good at guessing a person’s nationality. Subtle difference in a person’s smile are detectable, even if we can’t describe why.
Now there are also vast cross-cultural differences in the rules for smiling. Who is it OK to smile at, who not? For how long? For example, often when New Englanders go to the South, they wonder why Southerners are smiling all the time. Sometimes they feel everyone is charming. Sometimes the difference is met with dismay.
Rarely do we think, “Isn’t it interesting that another culture has different smiling rules?” We view them as being a different type of person. Now, at home, judgments based on a person’s smiling habits might be warranted. But when you’re talking about cross-cultural boundaries, those judgments can be really off-base.
Read more at Wired.
Image courtesy of Sn. Ho / Flickr
Artists and storytellers devote much time to showing the wondrous powers of love. And it seems that scientists are also attuned to studying love, and through such studies they’ve made an interesting discovery: love may shield you—at least partially—against pain because of the feelings of safety it provides.
Money can’t buy happiness—but debt might just be able to rent you self-esteem, a new study suggests.
Being in the red seems to boost the self-confidence of people in their early-to-mid twenties, the researchers found. Using all sorts of data—financial, psychological, educational, you name it—collected every two years from 3,000 young adults as part of an enormous national survey, they were able to pick out this pattern: The more credit card debt and college loans young adults had, the higher their self-esteem and the more they felt in control of their lives.