If 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…
“The present study examined the effect of improving lexical tone identification abilities on Cantonese tone-word learning. Native English non-musicians received training on Cantonese tones before learning the meanings of words distinguished by these tones. Read More
Smelling someone’s stinky body odor can really bum you out, at least temporarily. But did you know that BO can communicate emotions directly? According to this study, human body odor may contain chemicals, also known as “chemosignals”, that can carry information about emotional states. To test this hypothesis, the researchers evoked emotions in 12 men by showing them movie clips to make them either happy (e.g., “Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book), afraid (e.g., clips from Schindler’s List and Scream 2), or neutral (e.g., American weather forecasts). During each condition, the researchers collected sweat from the shaved armpits of the subjects. Later, they asked female subjects to smell the sweat samples, and they measured electrical impulses produced by facial muscles to track the women’s facial expressions. Turns out that women smelling the “happy sweat” had happier expressions (including smiles) compared with those smelling neutral or fearful sweat (the latter of which elicited a fearful expression). So there you have it — to get a boost of happiness, just find the happiest person in the room and take a whiff!
“It is well known that feelings of happiness transfer between individuals through mimicry induced by vision and hearing. The evidence is inconclusive, however, as to whether happiness can be communicated through the sense of smell via chemosignals. Read More
If you’re a cat owner, then you probably have a pretty good sense of whether your cat is happy, angry, or frustrated. But do cats, like humans, actually have common “facial expressions” that accompany these emotions? People have actually been studying questions like this for decades (and even back to Charles Darwin), but not always in a scientifically rigorous manner. Enter these scientists, who set out to create a “facial coding system” for cats, which they term “CatFACS” (fortunately not related to putting cats into a flow cytometer). This type of framework can help link up behaviors and emotions in cats, as well as other related animals. Be sure to check out the figure below for a handy guide to cat expressions!
“Leyhausen’s (1979) work on cat behaviour and facial expressions associated with offensive and defensive behaviour is widely embraced as the standard for interpretation of agonistic behaviour in this species. However, it is a largely anecdotal description that can be easily misunderstood. Recently a facial action coding system has been developed for cats (CatFACS), similar to that used for objectively coding human facial expressions. This study reports on the use of this system to describe the relationship between behaviour and facial expressions of cats in confinement contexts without and with human interaction, in order to generate hypotheses about the relationship between these expressions and underlying emotional state. Video recordings taken of 29 cats resident in a Canadian animal shelter were analysed using 1-0 sampling of 275 4-s video clips. Observations under the two conditions were analysed descriptively using hierarchical cluster analysis for binomial data and indicated that in both situations, about half of the data clustered into three groups. An argument is presented that these largely reflect states based on varying degrees of relaxed engagement, fear and frustration. Read More
“The ability of foods and beverages to reduce allyl methyl disulfide, diallyl disulfide, allyl mercaptan, and allyl methyl sulfide on human breath after consumption of raw garlic was examined. Read More
If my body could play an April Fool’s joke on me, my guess it would be this one. Here, a 32 year old patient was horrified to notice “worms” in his poop. And like any sane person would, he carefully fished a sample of the worm-laden poop out of the toilet to bring to his doctor. Given the patient’s travel history, the doctor suspected a hookworm infection, and sent the sample off to the lab. Turns out the “worms” were mung bean sprouts from the previous night’s Chinese food. As the authors note: “When analyzing stool contents, even if parasitic infections are suspected, taking a careful history of the patient’s diet can help make a diagnosis. In this case, microbiologic analysis might have been avoided had a connection been made between the stool contents and the patient’s dinner the night before. Knowledge of the different varieties of bean sprouts could also have aided in making the final diagnosis.” Hat tip to Therese for sending us this gem!
“Intestinal parasites can cause substantial mortality and morbidity and are common in primary care. The 2 main types of intestinal parasites are helminths and protozoa. Helminths are generally visible to the naked eye in their adult stages, whereas protozoa are single-celled organisms. Common intestinal helminth parasites include Enterobius vermicularis (the pinworm), Ancylostoma duodenale (the Old World hookworm), Necator americanus (the New World hookworm), Taenia saginata (the beef tapeworm), and Ascaris lumbricoides (the giant roundworm). All of these intestinal parasites and their eggs can pass through the digestive system and be found in the stool. The pinworm is the most common intestinal parasite, followed closely by the hookworm. Diagnostic clues regarding intestinal parasites can be found in the patient’s clinical history, hygiene status, and history of recent travel to endemic areas.3 However, microscopic visualization and identification of the parasite are necessary for definitive diagnosis and guidance of treatment.
If you’ve ever had a cat, you probably believe that, given the choice, your cat would always choose food over you. But assumptions are not always correct, which is why we test them with science! Here, scientists tested whether pet and shelter cats prefer social interaction, food, scent, or toys. They found that “although there was clear individual variability in cat preference, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food.” Now, doesn’t that make you feel special?
“Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) engage in a variety of relationships with humans and can be conditioned to engage in numerous behaviors using Pavlovian and operant methods. Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for. The current study investigated domestic cat preferences at the individual and population level using a free operant preference assessment. Read More
If you bite your tongue or stub your toe, your first instinct is probably to yell. But have you ever wondered why that is? According to this study, being vocal could actually help you tolerate the pain. Here, the authors tested how long subjects could keep their hands immersed in very cold water before they couldn’t take it anymore. The researchers found that saying “ow” during the experiment increased the subjects’ tolerance for pain, but hearing a recording of their own voice or someone else’s voice saying “ow” did not. These results are consistent with a previous study that found that swearing is also an effective way to increase pain tolerance; both studies suggest that the vocalization helps distract you from the pain and could be related to an evolutionarily-preserved “flight-or-flight” response.
“Vocalizing is a ubiquitous pain behavior. The present study investigated whether it helps alleviate pain and sought to discern potential underlying mechanisms. Participants were asked to immerse one hand in painfully cold water. On separate trials, they said “ow,” heard a recording of them saying “ow,” heard a recording of another person saying “ow,” pressed a button, or sat passively. Compared to sitting passively, saying “ow” increased the duration of hand immersion. Read More
Google Trends has become a productive source of data for social scientists, particularly those interested in when and where people search for the word “porn”. First, they discovered that porn searches peaked in winter and early summer, a result that lead them to believe that there actually is a human mating season. Now, they’ve looked at the results by state, and found some more interesting patterns.
Perhaps not surprisingly, “higher percentages of Evangelical Protestants, theists, and biblical literalists in a state predict higher frequencies of searching for porn, as do higher church attendance rates.” The state with the highest search rate? You guessed it: Mississippi, followed closely by Texas. The authors conclude that “more salient, traditional religious influences in a state may influence residents–whether religious or not–toward more covert sexual experiences.”
“While the link between individual religious characteristics and pornography consumption is well established, relatively little research has considered how the wider religious context may influence pornography use. Exceptions in the literature to date have relied on relatively broad, subjective measures of religious commitment, largely ignoring issues of religious belonging, belief, or practice. This study moves the conversation forward by examining how a variety of state-level religious factors predict Google searches for the term porn, net of relevant sociodemographic and ideological controls. Read More
Make no mistake, contact dermatitis is no joke, as this poor woman learned firsthand. The culprit? Squeezing limes and lemons for a large batch of sangria followed by exposure to the sun without sunscreen, which resulted in giant blisters on her hands the next day. Ouch! If you dare, check out the image of the poor woman’s fingers linked to below. It’s… intense.
“A 26-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with a painful blistering eruption on her hands. She had been squeezing limes and lemons while making sangria the previous day. She had spent the rest of the day outdoors in the sun without sunscreen. Read More
When it comes to reading people, scientific studies have revealed helpful strategies for situations ranging from playing poker and identifying gonorrhea-infected people by smell alone. But this study might just prove even more useful. Here, researchers show that it is possible to distinguish between people who are faking pain and those who are actually experiencing it. And although people can be trained to improve their ability to tell the two apart, they have nothing on computer vision — apparently, when it comes to pain, computers are better at identifying when facial expressions are forced and when they are involuntary. Are we one step closer to a Torture Bot? Only time will tell…
“In highly social species such as humans, faces have evolved to convey rich information for social interaction, including expressions of emotions and pain. Two motor pathways control facial movement: a subcortical extrapyramidal motor system drives spontaneous facial expressions of felt emotions, and a cortical pyramidal motor system controls voluntary facial expressions. Read More