If there were ever a study that supported the stereotype of the cold-hearted scientist, this might be it. Thank goodness it was apparently written in jest, along the lines of the British Medical Journal’s annual Christmas issue. But the “study” has still taken the internet by storm, because, well… it’s a bit nuts. It reports a series of experiments in which toddlers are inflicted with booboos, and tested directly whether a mother’s kiss would make it better. And how did they inflict booboos, you ask? Well, here’s a long quote directly from the Materials and Methods, because anything else wouldn’t do it justice:
To induce head boo-boos, a piece of chocolate was placed under a low table edge and the child would be allowed to crawl to the candy. Invariably, the child would then stand to eat the chocolate and would strike his or her head on the table edge. All tables were constructed of soft wood (pine or fir) and edges were appropriately rounded enough to guarantee that skin would not be broken. Hand boo-boos were induced by placing a favourite object (lovey) of the child just out of reach on a counter behind a heated coil. Attempts to obtain the lovey would result in a noxious thermal stimulus to the fingertips.
You just can’t make this stuff up! Except, apparently, in this case…
“BACKGROUND: The practice of maternal kissing of minor injuries of childhood (boo-boos), though widely endorsed and practised, has never been demonstrated to be of benefit to children.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the efficacy, if any, of maternal kissing of boo-boos in toddlers.
DESIGN: Randomized, controlled and double-blinded study of children with experimentally induced minor injuries. Control arms included both no intervention group and ‘sham’ (non-maternal) kissing. Children were blinded to the identity of the kisser in both the maternal and sham control groups.
SETTING: Outpatient research clinics in Ottawa, Canada.
PARTICIPANTS: 943 maternal-toddler pairs recruited from the community.
MEASUREMENTS: Toddler Discomfort Index (TDI) pre-injury, 1 and 5 minutes post-injury.
RESULTS: One-minute and 5-minute TDI scores did not differ significantly between the maternal and sham kiss groups. Both of these groups had significantly higher TDI scores at 5 minutes compared to the no intervention group.
CONCLUSIONS: Maternal kissing of boo-boos confers no benefit on children with minor traumatic injuries compared to both no intervention and sham kissing. In fact, children in the maternal kissing group were significantly more distressed at 5 minutes than were children in the no intervention group. The practice of maternal kissing of boo-boos is not supported by the evidence and we recommend a moratorium on the practice.”
NCBI ROFL: Children smelling man-sweat… for science!
NCBI ROFL: Freud’s take on doctors treating their own children is (surprise!) disturbing.
NCBI ROFL: How scaring small children can help you lose weight.
As we know from the scientific literature (and from watching Breaking Bad), bald men are perceived as more dominant. But does this mean that they have more sex? Popular belief says yes, but until now this hasn’t been scientifically tested. A crack team of Australian scientists set out to fill this void, and it’s likely you might just possibly be surprised at what they found. Or not.
“OBJECTIVE: To test the popular assertion that bald men are more virile than their well thatched contemporaries. Read More
Many people believe that our perceptions of human beauty are primarily determined by societal norms. But could there be something innate in our brains that influence whether we think a face is beautiful? Here, a group of researchers tested this hypothesis by determining whether chickens have any innate preferences for certain human faces. To do so, they trained chickens to react to either an average human male or female face. They then showed the chickens a series of faces of different levels of attractiveness (see Figure 1 below) and measured how much the chickens pecked at each face (a measure of their preference for the face). Surprisingly, they found that the chickens preferred the same faces as did human volunteers (in this case university students asked to rate the faces for attractiveness), suggesting that something about these faces makes them inherently more attractive to our nervous systems. So there you have it: the next time you want to know which photo to use for your profile picture, consider asking a chicken.
“We trained chickens to react to an average human female face but not to an average male face (or vice versa). In a subsequent test, the animals showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences (obtained from university students). Read More
It’s New Years 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!
“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
The New Year is almost here! And that can only mean one thing: the Seriously, Science? Top 10 of 2015, as voted on by you, our dear readers (and by “voted,” we mean “clicked”). Here are your top 10 favorite posts: apparently y’all love sex, cute animals, and disgusting things… as do we! Happy New Year!
11. Gorillas, like people, have individual tastes in music.
“Problem: you have a bunch of gorillas coming over for a party and you have no idea what music they like.” Read More
Happy Holidays from us here at Seriously, Science?! We know you are probably running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but thought this Flashback post might come in handy when planning your holiday menus. Enjoy, and we’ll be back before the New Year with our annual best-of post. Cheers!
They say you are what you eat. This is obviously true physically, but can it extend all the way to your personality? According to this study, consuming the amino acid L-Tryptophan (found, famously, in turkey, but also in chocolate, eggs, and many other foods) makes people more willing to donate to charity. The authors hypothesize that this effect is due to L-Tryptophan’s role as a biochemical precursor of serotonin, the brain chemical thought to be associated with happiness. Maybe this explains why people are extra charitable around the holidays?
“The link between serotonin (5-HT) and one of the most important elements of prosocial behavior, charity, has remained largely uninvestigated. In the present study, we tested whether charitable donating can be promoted by administering the food supplement L-Tryptophan (TRP), the biochemical precursor of 5-HT. Read More
Have you ever really thought about how weird kissing is? Why do humans choose to mash their lips together as a display of affection? (The only other animals that we know do this are Chimpanzees and bonobos.) The two scientific studies below set out to determine the function of kissing in humans. The first used a survey to find out why people kiss. Interestingly, the researchers found little evidence to suggest that the primary function of kissing is to promote sexual arousal. Instead, they think that kissing “serves a useful mate-assessment function”; apparently, women and people desiring a long-term relationship place more value on kissing. The second study focused on whether women place a higher importance on kissing when they’re ovulating (suggesting, again, that it is important in mate assessment). They found that ovulation was indeed a key factor: “women in the follicular [fertile] phase of their menstrual cycle felt that kissing was more important at initial stages of a relationship than women in the luteal [infertile] phase of their cycle.” So the next time you kiss someone, take detailed notes. Because it’s not about arousal–you are supposed to be assessing your mate.
“Recent research suggests that romantic kissing may be utilized in human sexual relationships to evaluate aspects of a potential mate’s suitability, to mediate feelings of attachment between pair-bonded individuals, or to facilitate arousal and initiate sexual relations. This study explored these potential functions of romantic kissing by examining attitudes towards the importance of kissing in the context of various human mating situations.
Ah, the wonders of cockroach poop. Not only does it have antifungal powers, but according to this study, it also helps the bugs to communicate. These scientists analyzed cockroach poop and discovered 40 different chemicals that could act as pheromones. (Pheromones are chemicals produced by one animal that change the behavior of another animal of the same species.) It turns out that bacteria in the cockroach’s gut are responsible for producing specific pheromones that promote aggregation — i.e., the blanket of cockroaches in your kitchen that disappears when you turn on the lights. Bon appetit!
“Aggregation of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica, is regulated by fecal aggregation agents (pheromones), including volatile carboxylic acids (VCAs). We demonstrate that the gut microbial community contributes to production of these semiochemicals. Chemical analysis of the fecal extract of B. germanica revealed 40 VCAs. Feces from axenic cockroaches (no microorganisms in the alimentary tract) lacked 12 major fecal VCAs, and 24 of the remaining compounds were represented at extremely low amounts. Olfactory and aggregation bioassays demonstrated that nymphs strongly preferred the extract of control feces over the fecal extract of axenic cockroaches. Read More
The “gay best friend” has become a common fixture in pop culture, from Will on “Will and Grace” to Titus Andromedon on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”. These researchers set out to define exactly why straight women find friendships with gay men to be especially valuable. Based on a series of scenarios presented to female college student volunteers, the scientists found that straight women trust gay men more in dating scenarios because a) the men are not competing with them for mates (unlike other straight women), and 2) the gay men are not interested in mating with the women themselves. This lack of ulterior motives made the men more trustworthy with regard to dating, but not other contexts. Maybe this also explains why the reverse relationship (lesbian women and straight men) is not really a thing?
“Previous findings indicate that heterosexual women experience a greater sense of comfort and trust in their friendships with gay men than in their friendships with heterosexual individuals. In the present studies, we tested a hypothesis that not only explains why women exhibit increased trust in gay men but also yields novel predictions about when (i.e., in what contexts) this phenomenon is likely to occur. Specifically, we propose that gay men’s lack of motives to mate with women or to compete with them for mates enhances women’s trust in gay men and openness to befriend them. Read More
What if quitting smoking were so easy you could do it in your sleep? Well, the scientists behind this study claim to have found a way! But be warned, there’s a drawback… and it involves “profoundly unpleasant odors.” Aversion conditioning works by associating an unwanted behavior with something disagreeable, and in this case scientists tested whether associating the smell of smoke with disgusting smells would help patients quit smoking. To do this, they had participants wear a special mask that released smells when they were sleeping. Amazingly, pairing the smell of cigarette smoke with that of rotting fish during sleep reduced smokers’ cigarettes by about 40% for several days! This might be the best use of rotting fish smell we’ve heard of yet.
“Recent findings suggest that novel associations can be learned during sleep. However, whether associative learning during sleep can alter later waking behavior and whether such behavioral changes last for minutes, hours, or days remain unknown. We tested the hypothesis that olfactory aversive conditioning during sleep will alter cigarette-smoking behavior during ensuing wakefulness. Read More