Which makes you happier: laughing, smiling, or howling?

By Seriously Science | April 24, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/francisco_osorio

Photo: flickr/francisco_osorio

You’ve probably heard that forcing yourself to smile or laugh can actually improve your mood. But which is better, and could howling work as well? In this study, researchers had subjects perform “60 sec. of broad smiling, 60 sec. of forced hearty laughter, and 60 sec of howling.” Turns out that laughter is the best medicine for improving your mood, followed by smiling. Howling, unfortunately, had no substantial effect (though perhaps it relieved some stress?). We just like imagining a lab full of howling subjects while scientists look on with clipboards.

Effects of laughing, smiling, and howling on mood.

“This study examined the effects of forced laughter on mood and compared laughter with two other possible mood-improving activities, smiling and howling. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

Want to learn Chinese? Read this first!

By Seriously Science | April 23, 2014 6:00 am

3952984450_953c33c096_zIf you have ever struggled to learn a tonal language like Cantonese, you are probably (painfully) aware of how difficult it can be. In tonal languages, the same syllables can have different meanings if spoken with an increasing, neutral, or decreasing pitch. But xenoglossophobes, fear not — these researchers are here to help! They guessed that learning words in Cantonese would be easier and faster if students were first taught to distinguish different tones. To test this idea, they compared students (both musicians and non-musicians) who were first trained to hear tonal differences. Guess what? It worked! Both musicians and non-musicians learned new words faster when first taught to distinguish the different tones. Now all we need is something to make learning all those Chinese characters easy…

Effects of tone training on Cantonese tone-word learning.

“The present study examined the effect of improving lexical tone identification abilities on Cantonese tone-word learning. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: rated G, told you so

The purpose of yawning might be to cool your brain.

By Seriously Science | April 22, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/baileysjunk

Photo: flickr/baileysjunk

Wondering what’s been going on lately in the field of chasmology (the scientific study of yawning)? Well, we still don’t really understand why people yawn, but we can add another contender to the list of theories: brain cooling. In this study, the authors showed subjects photos of people yawning to determine their susceptibility to “yawn contagion.” They found that the subjects were more likely to “catch” yawns in the summer compared with the winter. Although there are a number of things that change with the season, the only variable found to correlate with yawning was higher temperature, suggesting that yawns might have a function in cooling the brain (via the release of heat into air in the lungs). So the next time someone gets mad at you for yawning when you should be paying attention, just tell them your brain is hot and you’re cooling it off.

A thermal window for yawning in humans: Yawning as a brain cooling mechanism.

“The thermoregulatory theory of yawning posits that yawns function to cool the brain in part due to counter-current heat exchange with the deep inhalation of ambient air. Consequently, yawning should be constrained to an optimal thermal zone or range of temperature, i.e., a thermal window, in which we should expect a lower frequency at extreme temperatures. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: holy correlation batman!, WTF?

Wear what you want: scientific proof that horizontal stripes don’t make you look fatter.

By Seriously Science | April 21, 2014 6:00 am
Image: flickr/Rikard Elofsson

Image: flickr/Rikard Elofsson

It’s a commonly held belief that wearing clothes with horizontal stripes will make you look fatter. However, adding horizontal stripes to shapes like rectangles makes them look thinner, a phenomenon known as the Helmholtz illusion. To test whether people are fundamentally different from rectangles, these researchers directly tested whether horizontal stripes make figures seem fatter. It turns out that some fashion “advice” is just plain wrong: horizontal stripes won’t make you look fatter. In fact, they may even make you look  thinner. Zebras, eat your hearts out!

Applying the Helmholtz illusion to fashion: horizontal stripes won’t make you look fatter.

“A square composed of horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than an identical square made up of vertical lines. Reporting this illusion, Hermann von Helmholtz noted that such illusions, in which filled space seems to be larger than unfilled space, were common in everyday life, adding the observation that ladies’ frocks with horizontal stripes make the figure look taller. As this assertion runs counter to modern popular belief, we have investigated whether vertical or horizontal stripes on clothing should make the wearer appear taller or fatter. Read More

Flashback Friday: The strange case of the “vampire” burial in Venice.

By Seriously Science | April 18, 2014 6:00 am

vampireIn 2006 in Venice, Italy, archaeologists excavating a plague cemetery found something quite unusual: a skeleton with a brick in its mouth. They determined that the brick was likely placed there after death, and  they later developed a hypothesis about how the brick got there (spoiler alert: it involves vampires). Be sure to read the excerpt from the full text below for all the gory details.

Forensic approach to an archaeological casework of “vampire” skeletal remains in Venice: odontological and anthropological prospectus.

“During the years 2006–2007, the Archeological Superintendent of Veneto (Italy) promoted a research project on mass graves located on Nuovo Lazzaretto in Venice, where the corpses of plague deaths were buried during the 16th and 17th centuries. The burials were of different stages and are believed to be the remains of plague victims from the numerous outbreaks of pestilence, which occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries. Among the fragmented and commingled human bones, an unusual burial was found. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: super powers, WTF?

Are you too optimistic? Science can fix that.

By Seriously Science | April 17, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/gemsling

Photo: flickr/gemsling

Like most people, you probably suffer from “unrealistic optimism”: a tendency of healthy individuals to underestimate their likelihood of future misfortune, such as illness. Fortunately, scientists have not only figured out which part of the brain is responsible for this behavior, but they have also figured out how to stop it. Apparently, stimulating the right inferior frontal gyrus — a region of the brain near your temple — by flushing the left (but not right) ear with cold water made subjects much less optimistic about their risk of contracting illness in the future. You’re welcome!

Vestibular stimulation attenuates unrealistic optimism.

“INTRODUCTION:
Unrealistic optimism refers to the pervasive tendency of healthy individuals to underestimate their likelihood of future misfortune, including illness. The phenomenon shares a qualitative resemblance with anosognosia, a neurological disorder characterized by a deficient appreciation of manifest current illness or impairment. Unrealistic optimism and anosognosia have been independently associated with a region of right inferior frontal gyrus, the pars opercularis. Moreover, anosognosia is temporarily abolished by vestibular stimulation, particularly by irrigation of the left (but not right) ear with cold water, a procedure known to activate the right inferior frontal region. We therefore hypothesized that left caloric stimulation would attenuate unrealistic optimism in healthy participants. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

What is the average survival rate of pop stars?

By Seriously Science | April 16, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/eschipul

Photo: flickr/eschipul

It’s not surprising that pop and rock stars have higher mortality rates than your average Joe. But how much higher is it, and does it ever decrease again (say, if they make it through the early days of fame unscathed)? According to this study, which determined the relative mortality rates of North American and European musicians (rock, punk, rap, R&B, electronica and new age), music stars experience about 1.7 times higher mortality rates than people in the general population. Interestingly, this risk goes down after about 25 years of fame in European stars, but not the North American ones. The effect is also greatest for stars who became famous before 1980. As for the reference to Eminem in the article’s title – he’s not dead (as far as we know), he was just the most recently famous person in their dataset.

Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars.

“BACKGROUND:
Rock and pop stars are frequently characterised as indulging in high-risk behaviours, with high-profile deaths amongst such musicians creating an impression of premature mortality. However, studies to date have not quantified differences between mortality experienced by such stars and general populations.
OBJECTIVE:
This study measures survival rates of famous musicians (n = 1064) from their point of fame and compares them to matched general populations in North America and Europe. Read More

I say a little prayer for you: praying for partner increases commitment in romantic relationships.

By Seriously Science | April 15, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Guppydas

Photo: flickr/Guppydas

In “science that does not apply to atheists” news, this study shows that prayer can have a positive effect on relationships. But there’s no need to invoke a deity to explain these results — apparently, when one partner prays for the other, it increases their  satisfaction with and commitment to the relationship. Just be careful: a previous study found that increased religious beliefs can also be a sign of “mating competitors”

I Say a Little Prayer for You: Praying for Partner Increases Commitment in Romantic Relationships.

“Partner-focused petitionary prayer (PFPP) has received little attention in the prayer literature. In two studies, we examine PFPP to see whether it is uniquely important in conveying relationship benefits, whether its benefits are transmitted through an effect on relationship satisfaction, and whether one’s own or the partner’s PFPP is central to beneficial effects. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: holy correlation

A wireless wet diaper alarm.

By Seriously Science | April 14, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/boogafrita

Photo: flickr/boogafrita

Have you ever wished that, instead of having to get up off the couch to check your baby’s diaper to see if it’s wet, you could just get a notification on your smart phone? Well, now we’re one step closer to that (dystopian?) future. This study describes the creation of a sensor that consists of a urine-activated battery connected to a wireless transmitter. Combine it with the baby poop predictor and you’re good to go!

Self-powered wireless disposable sensor for welfare application.

“A self-powered urinary incontinence sensor consisting of a flexible urine-activated battery and a wireless transmitter has been developed as an application for wireless biosensor networks. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ha ha poop, how is babby formed?

Flashback Friday: Probably the most horrifying scientific lecture ever.

By Seriously Science | April 11, 2014 6:00 am

At a urology conference in Las Vegas in 1983, Dr. Giles Brindley gave a very memorable lecture. The account below must really be read completely to get the full (hilarious) effect, but we’ll set the stage. At the time, Dr. Brindley was developing some of the first medical treatments for erectile dysfunction, which he tested…on himself. In fact, he injected his penis with over 30 drugs before finding the one that he reported at in the infamous lecture. But that’s not even the best part. It’s how he demonstrated his results to the audience that must be read to be believed. Enjoy!(?)

How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous brindley lecture

“In 1983, at the Urodynamics Society meeting in Las Vegas, Professor G.S. Brindley first announced to the world his experiments on self-injection with papaverine to induce a penile erection. This was the first time that an effective medical therapy for erectile dysfunction (ED) was described, and was a historic development in the management of ED. The way in which this information was first reported was completely unique and memorable, and provides an interesting context for the development of therapies for ED. I was present at this extraordinary lecture, and the details are worth sharing. Although this lecture was given more than 20 years ago, the details have remained fresh in my mind, for reasons which will become obvious.

The lecture, which had an innocuous title along the lines of ‘Vaso-active therapy for erectile dysfunction’ was scheduled as an evening lecture of the Urodynamics Society in the hotel in which I was staying. I was a senior resident, hungry for knowledge, and at the AUA I went to every lecture that I could. About 15 min before the lecture I took the elevator to go to the lecture hall, and on the next floor a slight, elderly looking and bespectacled man, wearing a blue track suit and carrying a small cigar box, entered the elevator. He appeared quite nervous, and shuffled back and forth. He opened the box in the elevator, which became crowded, and started examining and ruffling through the 35 mm slides of micrographs inside. I was standing next to him, and could vaguely make out the content of the slides, which appeared to be a series of pictures of penile erection. I concluded that this was, indeed, Professor Brindley on his way to the lecture, although his dress seemed inappropriately casual.

The lecture was given in a large auditorium, with a raised lectern separated by some stairs from the seats. This was an evening programme, between the daytime sessions and an evening reception. It was relatively poorly attended, perhaps 80 people in all. Most attendees came with their partners, clearly on the way to the reception. I was sitting in the third row, and in front of me were about seven middle-aged male urologists, and their partners in ‘full evening regalia’.

Professor Brindley, still in his blue track suit, was introduced as a psychiatrist with broad research interests. He began his lecture without aplomb. He had, he indicated, hypothesized that injection with vasoactive agents into the corporal bodies of the penis might induce an erection. Lacking ready access to an appropriate animal model, and cognisant of the long medical tradition of using oneself as a research subject, he began a series of experiments on self-injection of his penis with various vasoactive agents, including papaverine, phentolamine, and several others. (While this is now commonplace, at the time it was unheard of). His slide-based talk consisted of a large series of photographs of his penis in various states of tumescence after injection with a variety of doses of phentolamine and papaverine. After viewing about 30 of these slides, there was no doubt in my mind that, at least in Professor Brindley’s case, the therapy was effective. Of course, one could not exclude the possibility that erotic stimulation had played a role in acquiring these erections, and Professor Brindley acknowledged this.

The Professor wanted to make his case in the most convincing style possible. He indicated that, in his view, no normal person would find the experience of giving a lecture to a large audience to be erotically stimulating or erection-inducing. He had, he said, therefore injected himself with papaverine in his hotel room before coming to give the lecture, and deliberately wore loose clothes (hence the track-suit) to make it possible to exhibit the results. He stepped around the podium, and pulled his loose pants tight up around his genitalia in an attempt to demonstrate his erection.

At this point, I, and I believe everyone else in the room, was agog. I could scarcely believe what was occurring on stage. But Prof. Brindley was not satisfied. He looked down sceptically at his pants and shook his head with dismay. ‘Unfortunately, this doesn’t display the results clearly enough’. He then summarily dropped his trousers and shorts, revealing a long, thin, clearly erect penis. There was not a sound in the room. Everyone had stopped breathing.

But the mere public showing of his erection from the podium was not sufficient. He paused, and seemed to ponder his next move. The sense of drama in the room was palpable. He then said, with gravity, ‘I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence’. With his pants at his knees, he waddled down the stairs, approaching (to their horror) the urologists and their partners in the front row. As he approached them, erection waggling before him, four or five of the women in the front rows threw their arms up in the air, seemingly in unison, and screamed loudly. The scientific merits of the presentation had been overwhelmed, for them, by the novel and unusual mode of demonstrating the results.

The screams seemed to shock Professor Brindley, who rapidly pulled up his trousers, returned to the podium, and terminated the lecture. The crowd dispersed in a state of flabbergasted disarray. I imagine that the urologists who attended with their partners had a lot of explaining to do. The rest is history. Prof Brindley’s single-author paper reporting these results was published about 6 months later [1].

Professor Brindley made a huge contribution to the management of ED, for which he deserves tremendous gratitude. He was a true lateral thinker, and applied his unique mind to a variety of problems in medicine. These include over 100 publications that focus on the areas of visual neurophysiology and several other aspects of neurophysiology, including ejaculation and female sexual dysfunction. He also published one remarkable paper studying the effect of 17 different drugs used intracorporally to induce erection [2]. Seven of these (phenoxybenzamine, phentolamine, thymoxamine, imipramine, verapamil, papaverine, naftidrofury) induced an erection. It is not clear to what degree Brindley’s own penis served as the test subject for these studies.

This lecture was unique, dramatic, paradigm-shifting, and unexpected. It is difficult to imagine that a similar scenario could ever take place again. Professor Brindley belongs in the pantheon of famous British eccentrics who have made spectacular contributions to science. The story of his lecture deserves a place in the urological history books.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Does semen have antidepressant properties?
NCBI ROFL: Slimmer women’s waist is associated with better erectile function in men independent of age.
NCBI ROFL: How do alligator erections work?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: scientist..or perv?, WTF?
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Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.
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