Running roaches resolutely ram right-angles for rapid reorientation.

By Seriously Science | February 20, 2018 6:00 am

We here at Seriously, Science? really respect roaches. Not only do rambling roaches require receivers to run ’round roadblocks, but recently, researchers reproduced resourceful running of roaches to rapidly reorient running robots by ramming right into restrictions rather than retarding and reorienting. Never mind, just watch these videos of cockroaches running into things. It will help you relax.

Transition by head-on collision: mechanically mediated manoeuvres in cockroaches and small robots.

“Exceptional performance is often considered to be elegant and free of ‘errors’ or missteps. During the most extreme escape behaviours, neural control can approach or exceed its operating limits in response time and bandwidth. Here we show that small, rapid running cockroaches with robust exoskeletons select head-on collisions with obstacles to maintain the fastest escape speeds possible to transition up a vertical wall. Instead of avoidance, animals use their passive body shape and compliance to negotiate challenging environments. Cockroaches running at over 1 m or 50 body lengths per second transition from the floor to a vertical wall within 75 ms by using their head like an automobile bumper, mechanically mediating the manoeuvre. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals

Flashback Friday: Dogs recognize the emotions of other dogs as well as humans.

By Seriously Science | February 16, 2018 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Brian Tomlinson

Photo: flickr/Brian Tomlinson

Although many people believe that dogs can read their owners’ emotions, it was only recently shown that dogs can visually differentiate between happiness and anger. In fact, they are the first animals shown to discriminate emotions in another species. This study extends this line of research, adding an auditory component—they test whether dogs can match visual and sound representation of emotions. The researchers showed the pooches a face and either a concordant (matching) or discordant sound—for example, a happy face with an angry tone of voice, or a growling dog face with a happy bark. The dogs spent more time looking at the congruent pairs,  indicating that they can categorize and integrate multiple emotional cues, a skill previously shown only in humans. (Be sure to check out Figure 1 below for the happy and angry faces used in the study.)

Dogs recognize dog and human emotions

“The perception of emotional expressions allows animals to evaluate the social intentions and motivations of each other. This usually takes place within species; however, in the case of domestic dogs, it might be advantageous to recognize the emotions of humans as well as other dogs. In this sense, the combination of visual and auditory cues to categorize others’ emotions facilitates the information processing and indicates high-level cognitive representations. Using a cross-modal preferential looking paradigm, we presented dogs with either human or dog faces with different emotional valences (happy/playful versus angry/aggressive) paired with a single vocalization from the same individual with either a positive or negative valence or Brownian noise. Read More

Before Planning an Exotic Summer Vacation…Read This

By Seriously Science | February 14, 2018 8:50 am
Photo: flickr/Morgan Sherwood

Photo: flickr/Morgan Sherwood

Are you planning an adventure vacation packed with new experiences? Thinking about doing something that few people have ever done, like climbing Mt Everest? Well, according to this study, these experiences may not be all they’re cracked up to be. These researchers found that “participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling worse than they would have felt if they had had an ordinary experience instead.” Enjoy your trip!  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, Top Posts

Flashback Friday: How Much Cocaine Is in Your Wallet?

By Seriously Science | February 9, 2018 6:00 am

Image: Flickr/Tax Credits

Image: Flickr/Tax Credits

Urban legend has it that “all” of our paper currency is tainted with cocaine. These scientists decided to test whether this is true, and if so, how much of the drug is there. By testing over four thousand bills of various denominations gathered from 90 locations over more than a decade, they estimate that the “average” bill carries only 2.34 ng of cocaine (a tiny, tiny amount), but any given bill has ~15% chance of having more than 20 ng… which is still a tiny amount, but it’s there! Um… yay?!

The quantitation of cocaine on U.S. currency: survey and significance of the levels of contamination.

“It has long been suspected that the illicit distribution of cocaine in the United States has led to a large-scale contamination of the currency supply. To investigate the extent of contamination, 418 currency samples (4174 bills) were collected from 90 locations around the United States from 1993 to 2009.  Read More

Rats, Like (Some) People, Obey the Law of Quid Pro Quo

By Seriously Science | February 5, 2018 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Tatiana Bulyonkova

Image: Flickr/Tatiana Bulyonkova

Like most animals that thrive in cities, rats get a bad rap. We even use the word “rat” for nasty people, particularly those that go behind your back. But this study suggests that rat society may not be so bad after all. By placing rats in special cages that allow them to give food only to another rat (not themselves), these researchers found that rats will trade grooming for help with getting food. In fact, the more help they got, the more grooming they gave. Maybe it’s time to update the old idiom: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine… or hook me up with some chow.”

Reciprocal Trading of Different Commodities in Norway Rats.

“The prevalence of reciprocal cooperation in non-human animals is hotly debated. Part of this dispute rests on the assumption that reciprocity means paying like with like. However, exchanges between social partners may involve different commodities and services. Hitherto, there is no experimental evidence that animals other than primates exchange different commodities among conspecifics based on the decision rules of direct reciprocity. Here, we show that Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) apply direct reciprocity rules when exchanging two different social services: food provisioning and allogrooming. Focal rats were made to experience partners either cooperating or non-cooperating in one of the two commodities. Afterward, they had the opportunity to reciprocate favors by the alternative service. Test rats traded allogrooming against food provisioning, and vice versa, thereby acting by the rules of direct reciprocity. This might indicate that reciprocal altruism among non-human animals is much more widespread than currently assumed.”

Related content:
How can you tell if a rat is smiling?
Dog poop, dead rats, and maggots: this study’s got it all!
Do rats like jello shots? You betcha!

Flashback Friday: Physicist uses grant submissions to discover a universal law of procrastination.

By Seriously Science | February 2, 2018 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Evan

Photo: flickr/Evan

If you know any scientists, you’ll know they are often pretty bad about procrastination. How bad? Well, according to this author, a program director at the NSF, grant submissions right before a deadline are predictable enough to be defined by a mathematical function (we wonder what dreaded task he was putting off by graphing this). It turns out that the rapid increase in submissions in the days leading up to the deadline actually follow a modified hyperbolic function (see figure below). He predicts that similar events with deadlines, like submitting tax returns and term papers, are likely to follow the same trend. He ends with a note of caution: “Bear in mind, though, that hyperbolic functions diverge to infinity at the asymptote. To procrastinating submitters, the most critical issue is that by waiting until the deadline or close to it, they eliminate the time needed for identifying and correcting errors that could make their proposal ineligible for consideration.” You’ve been warned.

A universal law of procrastination

“Throughout our lives we all are under pressure to deliver on deadlines. Yet we often have a substantial time window in which to complete the given tasks—for example, term papers, book chapters, tax returns. When during such a window do we deliver? And to what extent do we procrastinate?

Increasing pressure forces us to finalize tasks. The closer we are to the deadline, the higher the pressure. To quantify things a bit, we could assume that deadline pressure is inversely proportional to remaining time. Such scaling behavior is well known in physics; for example, it describes how the electrostatic potential energy of a point charge depends on distance from the charge, or how the gravitational potential energy of a system of masses scales with distance between the masses.

The scales look like 1/r, where r can be distance, remaining time, or some other factor. The corresponding mathematical function is a hyperbola. To give an example of the scaling using arbitrary and dimensionless units, if a deadline is 100 days away, the pressure to meet it is just 0.01. But if the deadline is tomorrow, the pressure shoots up to 1. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: reinforcing stereotypes

Birds Go Steady Before Having Kids

By Seriously Science | January 30, 2018 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/USFWSmidwest

Photo: flickr/USFWSmidwest

 Perhaps you’ve heard that many bird species are monogamous, including swans and whooping cranes. But have you ever wondered how these long term lovers get together? Do they “date”, or is it love (and breeding) at first sight? These scientists set out to answer these questions by studying the life history of the whooping crane. They found that “a substantial portion (62%) of breeding pairs started associating at least 12 months before first breeding, with 16 of 58 breeding pairs beginning to associate over 2 years before first breeding. For most pairs, these associations with future breeding partners also became unique and distinguishable from association patterns with non-partner individuals 12 months before first breeding.” Not only that, but most of the breeding pairs were childhood sweethearts, getting together “before at least one partner had reached nominal sexual maturity.”  Read More

MORE ABOUT: unusual animals

Flashback Friday: Psychologists can give you false memories of having committed a crime.

By Seriously Science | January 26, 2018 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/phphoto2010

Photo: flickr/phphoto2010

You’ve probably heard of “false confessions,” when pressure from the police and long interrogations can make someone confess to a crime they didn’t actually commit. According to this study, it’s actually not that difficult to give someone a false memory of a serious crime. Here, researchers tried to make undergraduate volunteers believe they had committed a crime when they were younger by conducting interviews in which the researchers used “suggestive memory-retrieval techniques.” They tried, for example, using false evidence (“According to your parents, you did this…”), applying social pressure (“Most people are able to retrieve lost memories if they try hard enough”), and using guided imagery to try to get the person to fill in the details of the crime. The scientists found that after several interviews, 70% of participants believed they had committed a crime (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) in early adolescence, and they were able to give a detailed false account of this event. Be sure to check out the excerpt below for a list of other false memories that researchers have been able to implant. (Tea with Prince Charles, anyone?)

Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime

“Memory researchers long have speculated that certain tactics may lead people to recall crimes that never occurred, and thus could potentially lead to false confessions. This is the first study to provide evidence suggesting that full episodic false memories of committing crime can be generated in a controlled experimental setting. With suggestive memory-retrieval techniques, participants were induced to generate criminal and noncriminal emotional false memories, and we compared these false memories with true memories of emotional events. After three interviews, 70% of participants were classified as having false memories of committing a crime (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) that led to police contact in early adolescence and volunteered a detailed false account. These reported false memories of crime were similar to false memories of noncriminal events and to true memory accounts, having the same kinds of complex descriptive and multisensory components. It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.”

Bonus excerpt from the main text:

“Researchers have been able to induce participants to generate various types of false autobiographical accounts, including accounts of Read More

Do you know what’s growing in your dishwasher? Do you want to?

By Seriously Science | January 24, 2018 6:00 am
Image: Flicker/Neticola Sny

Image: Flicker/Neticola Sny

I’ll go ahead and answer that for you — it’s a definite “no.” At least according to this study, which looked at what grows in the biofilms (“goop”) that form along dishwasher door seals. First of all, it’s kind of amazing that anything can survive the crazy environmental fluctuations of a dishwasher: from heat to salts and detergents, dishwashers are designed to destroy organic matter. But life finds a way, and apparently in biofilms, which in this case included large numbers of bacterial and fungal species, many of which can be pathogens. Yum!

Microbiomes in Dishwashers: Analysis of the microbial diversity and putative opportunistic pathogens in dishwasher biofilm communities.

“Extreme habitats are not only limited to natural environments, but also apply to man-made systems, for instance household appliances such as dishwashers. Limiting factors, such as high temperatures, high and low pH, high NaCl concentrations, presence of detergents and shear force from water during washing cycles define the microbial survival in this extreme system. Fungal and bacterial diversity in biofilms isolated from rubber seals of 24 different household dishwashers were investigated using next generation sequencing. Read More

Flashback Friday: Overweight Waiters Sell More Dessert

By Seriously Science | January 19, 2018 6:00 am

It’s January again, which means many people are trying to lose weight. Previous studies have shown that you are likely to eat more if you are dining with an overweight companion. But what if you are at a restaurant and it’s your server who is overweight? In this study, the researchers observed almost 500 interactions between diners and servers in 60 restaurants. They found that diners waited on by someone a high BMI (body mass index) were four times more likely to order dessert, and ordered nearly 20% more alcoholic drinks. Something to keep in mind if you made any weight loss resolutions this year! 

The Waiter’s Weight: Does a Server’s BMI Relate to How Much Food Diners Order?

“Does the weight of a server have an influence on how much food diners order in the high-involvement environment of a restaurant? If people are paying for a full meal, this has implications for consumers, restaurants, and public health. To investigate this, 497 interactions between diners and servers were observed in 60 different full-service restaurants. Read More


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!
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