The look of a convict’s face could determine whether he gets the death penalty.

By Seriously Science | July 14, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Thomas Hawk

Photo: flickr/Thomas Hawk

Despite evidence to the contrary, many like to think that the U.S. justice system works pretty well. This is especially true when it comes to the ultimate punishment — the death penalty. But as we know, not everyone on death row is guilty. So where does the process go wrong? Here, researchers tested whether snap judgements of peoples’ faces affected whether they were given the death penalty. To do so, the researchers had volunteers judge the “trustworthiness” of the faces of people who had been convicted of murder and gotten either a life sentence or the death penalty, or people who had been on death row and subsequently exonerated. In both cases, a lack of facial “trustworthiness” was correlated with being more likely to have been sentenced to the death penalty, even in the case of people who were actually innocent. (By the way, similar results were previously seen for people who were seen as more “stereotypically Black.”) As the authors put it, “These results highlight the power of facial appearance to prejudice perceivers and affect life outcomes even to the point of execution, which suggests an alarming bias in the criminal-justice system.”

Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes

“Untrustworthy faces incur negative judgments across numerous domains. Existing work in this area has focused on situations in which the target’s trustworthiness is relevant to the judgment (e.g., criminal verdicts and economic games). Yet in the present studies, we found that people also overgeneralized trustworthiness in criminal-sentencing decisions when trustworthiness should not be judicially relevant, and they did so even for the most extreme sentencing decision: condemning someone to death. Read More

Flashback Friday: Underdog squid make giant swarming sperm.

By Seriously Science | July 9, 2015 6:00 am

Photo:opencageThe sex life of the coastal squid (Loligo bleekeri) is pretty complicated. First off, the females get to mate with multiple males (a perk called polyandry) that come in two flavors. First, you’ve got your “consort males.” These (literally) big boys use pimpin’ color-changing displays to woo the ladies, and, if she’s down for it, he deposits his sperm into her oviduct and proceeds to hang around to make sure that his is the only sperm in there. Then, you’ve got your “sneaker males.” These underdogs are small and can’t contend with with consort males. Instead, right when the female is about to lay her eggs, these little guys swoop in and mate with the female and leave their sperm all over HER FACE. You might think that this, in terms of producing squid babbies, would be a total fail. But you would be wrong, because it turns out that female squid lay their eggs out the front, which works out pretty well for the sneaker males. However, the story doesn’t end there. It turns out that the sperm produced by sneaker males is much bigger than that of consort males, and this paper reveals that the sperm also behave differently — they actually swarm. These scientists have discovered that sneaker male sperm move as a collective, attracted to CO2 that is presumably produced by the eggs. Another reason to wish you were a squid.

Sperm from sneaker male squids exhibit chemotactic swarming to CO₂.

“Behavioral traits of sperm are adapted to the reproductive strategy that each species employs. In polyandrous species, spermatozoa often form motile clusters, which might be advantageous for competing with sperm from other males. Read More

People are more suspicious when things smell fishy… literally.

By Seriously Science | July 8, 2015 1:45 pm

According to this study, it’s no mere coincidence that we call suspicious circumstances “fishy”. Because the association between smell and suspicion is common to many languages, these scientists tested whether stinky smells help people identify stories that don’t make sense using a test called the “Moses Illusion“. Sure enough, smelling fish did make people more suspicious, and it also seemed to help people figure out when their initial hunch was wrong. So, the next time you are interviewing a crime suspect, be sure to bring along your handy-dandy dead fish!

Something smells fishy: Olfactory suspicion cues improve performance on the Moses illusion and Wason rule discovery task.

“Feelings of suspicion alert people not to take information at face value. In many languages, suspicion is metaphorically associated with smell; in English, this smell is “fishy”. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: smell you later

Flashback Friday: It is easier to fart while standing up or lying down?

By Seriously Science | July 3, 2015 6:00 am

Photo: flickr/Loren Javier

We know you fart. And probably a lot more than you are willing to admit. And it stinks. And sometimes you just want to get it out so you can get on with your life (sans farts). These scientists are here to help you out by determining if you can expel your gas more efficiently by standing or lying down (spoiler alert: standing is better!). How did the scientists control for the amount of gas their subjects had, you ask? Why, by blowing their intestines up with gas and measuring how much they farted, of course!

Influence of body posture on intestinal transit of gas.

“BACKGROUND: Patients describe that body posture may affect their abdominal bloating, distension, and flatulence, but whether changes in position have objectively demonstrable effects, either beneficial or deleterious, has not been investigated. Aim: To determine the effect of body posture, upright versus supine, on intestinal transit of gas loads.

SUBJECTS: Eight healthy subjects without gastrointestinal symptoms.

METHODS: In each subject a gas mixture was continuously infused into the jejunum (12 ml/min) for three hours, and gas evacuation, clearance of a non- absorbable gaseous marker, perception, and abdominal girth were measured. Paired studies were randomly performed in each subject on separate days in the upright and supine positions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ha ha poop

In a negotiation, crying really does help.

By Seriously Science | July 1, 2015 5:33 pm
Photo: flickr/memekode

Photo: flickr/memekode

Getting ready to ask for that big promotion? Is it time to buy a new car? According to this study, you might get a better deal if you cry a little bit. Here, the researchers tested whether people who expressed sadness in negotiations were able to get a better deal. They found that breaking into tears does work by making the other person feel sorry for you, but only under certain conditions — for example, if the person crying is perceived as having less power, or if the other person expects to see
their weepy negotiation partner again in the future. The abstract of the study is below. Read it and weep!

Weep and Get More: When and Why Sadness Expression Is
Effective in Negotiations

“Although recently some research has been accumulated on emotional expressions in negotiations, there is little research on whether expressing sadness could have any effect in negotiations. We propose that sadness expressions can increase the expressers’ ability to claim value in negotiations because they make recipients experience greater other-concern for the expresser. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, told you so

Study finds conservatives have more self control than liberals.

By Seriously Science | June 23, 2015 11:34 am
Image: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

Image: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

With the general election only 503 days away, politics is all everyone’s talking about. And most Americans probably already know which way they are going to vote, even though the candidates have yet to be decided upon. But what makes a liberal a liberal and a conservative, well, a conservative? We’ve reported on a number of studies that try to address this question, and here’s another to add to the pile. These researchers found that one difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be self-control–apparently conservatives have more! And this is not just any old correlation; the relationship seems to stem from the conservative ideology that people can choose their outcome in life. When this belief was experimentally reinforced, conservatives exhibited more self control, and less after reading a paragragh explaining how free will leads to frustration and unhappiness (see below for the full text of the paragraph). But there is one thing we hope everyone has enough self-control to do: don’t forget to vote!

The self-control consequences of political ideology.

“Evidence from three studies reveals a critical difference in self-control as a function of political ideology. Specifically, greater endorsement of political conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with greater attention regulation and task persistence. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: politics schmolitics

The key to dating someone hotter than you? Get to know them first!

By Seriously Science | June 17, 2015 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/catlovers

Image: Flickr/catlovers

They say that people end up with equally attractive romantic partners. But does that mean that if you are grotesque, you don’t have a chance of landing a real hottie? Well, according to this study, there is hope for you yet! By studying 167 couples, these scientists confirmed the idea that people of equal attractiveness tend to “assort” (date each other). However, this is only true if they don’t know each other very well — it turns out that all bets are off for couples who spend a lot of time together before dating. Perhaps Beauty and The Beast wasn’t so far-fetched after all. Except for the singing candlestick. That was unrealistic.

Leveling the Playing Field: Longer Acquaintance Predicts Reduced Assortative Mating on Attractiveness.

“Clear empirical demonstrations of the theoretical principles underlying assortative mating remain elusive. This article examines a moderator of assortative mating-how well couple members knew each other before dating-suggested by recent findings related to market-based (i.e., competition) theories. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, hot or not?

Flashback Friday: What happens to corpses buried in cement?

By Seriously Science | June 12, 2015 6:00 am

What happens to a body buried in cement? How long does it take to decompose? If the mafia were to do an experiment, it might well be this one! These (Italian) scientists set out to answer these questions using (what else? ) piglet corpses. Don’t worry, the authors assure us that they died of “natural causes”…

Burial of piglet carcasses in cement: a study of macroscopic and microscopic alterations on an animal model.

“Scarce experimental data exist describing postmortem effects of burial in cement. The scanty literature presents several case reports, but no experimental study. To perform a pilot study, the following experimental system was designed: 4 piglet corpses, who died of natural causes, were encased in concrete. After 1, 2, 3, and 6 months, a block was opened, and autopsy and microscopic analyses were performed. At the first month, initial putrefaction had started, and hindlegs were partly skeletonized. At the second month, both forelegs and hindlegs were partly skeletonized, and the abdomen and back showed advanced putrefaction. At the third month, the samples showed areas of mummification at the abdomen within a general context of initial putrefaction. At the sixth month, the sample showed wide adipocere formation. Histological findings revealed in some analyzed tissues (epithelium, dermis, adipose, and subcutaneous muscular tissues) a well-defined histological pattern even at 3 months after encasement in concrete: this means that microscopic changes may be delayed in concrete and that it may be worth performing histological analyses even in such kind of decomposed material.”

Related content:
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The chemistry of pig sh*t.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: This little piggy went “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all while conducting electricity.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The best use of CAT scans to date: bacon quality prediction.

There’s no proof that eating your placenta has any health benefits.

By Seriously Science | June 5, 2015 12:54 pm
Photo: flickr/danox

Photo: flickr/danox

Eating your own placenta. Some people (many of them celebrities) claim that it is a miracle cure-all, helping a new mother overcome everything from postpartum depression to low milk production. But is there actually any proof to these claims? Not that pro-placentophagers (we just made that word up) will likely care, but according to this meta-analysis of the literature, there is little scientific proof for any of these health claims. More specifically, the authors conclude that “studies investigating placenta consumption for facilitating uterine contraction, resumption of normal cyclic estrogen cycle, and milk production are inconclusive.” Sorry, Matthew McConaughey.

Placentophagy: therapeutic miracle or myth?

“Postpartum women are consuming their placentas encapsulated, cooked, and raw for the prevention of postpartum depression (PPD), pain relief, and other health benefits. Placentophagy is supported by health advocates who assert that the placenta retains hormones and nutrients that are beneficial to the mother. A computerized search was conducted using PubMed, Medline Ovid, and PsychINFO between January 1950 and January 2014. Keywords included placentophagy, placentophagia, maternal placentophagia, maternal placentophagy, human placentophagia, and human placentophagy. A total of 49 articles were identified. Empirical studies of human or animal consumption of human placentas were included. Editorial commentaries were excluded. Animal placentophagy studies were chosen based on their relevance to human practice. Ten articles (four human, six animal) were selected for inclusion. Read More

Study finds that parakeet yawning is contagious. And super cute.

By Seriously Science | June 3, 2015 9:37 am
Images of a budgerigar yawning (beginning to peak)

Images of a budgerigar yawning (beginning to peak)

Think about yawning. Yawn yawn yawn… yawn. Have you yawned yet? If so, it’s probably because you come from a social species. Contagious yawning, unlike spontaneous yawning (the purpose of which might be related to cooling the brain),  seems to be related to social coordination and empathy. This type of yawning has only been observed in a handful of animals (for example, dogs may be able to catch human yawns), but never in a non-mammalian species..until now, that is! Here, researchers show that budgerigars (aka parakeets), a social bird species, are able to catch each other’s yawns. These findings lend further support to the idea that contagious yawning serves a social function. (And they also happen to be pretty adorable!)

Experimental evidence of contagious yawning in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus)

“Experimental evidence of contagious yawning has only been documented in four mammalian species. Here, we report the results from two separate experimental studies designed to investigate the presence of contagious yawning in a social parrot, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals
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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!
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