We know that fast food is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country, but could it be decreasing our happiness in other ways as well? Here, a group of Canadian researchers tested the effects of exposure to fast food symbols on people’s ability to savor pleasurable experiences (self-reported on a survey), to enjoy looking a photos of natural beauty, and to have positive responses to a beautiful melody (the first 86 s of “The Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé). They found that simply living in a neighborhood with a high proportion of fast-food restaurants predicted people’s tendencies to savor pleasurable experiences. Not only that, but being exposed to fast food icons (“the ultimate symbols of an impatience culture”) made people derive less enjoyment from the beautiful photos and made the opera melody feel longer. Something to think about the next time you change neighborhoods.
“We tested whether exposure to the ultimate symbols of an impatience culture—fast food—undermines people’s ability to experience happiness from savoring pleasurable experiences. Read More
What’s lurking in your college student’s backpack? Could it be… death? Here, researchers gave college students a backpack containing 12% of their body weight (e.g., about 21 lbs for a 175-lb guy) and had them cross streets in a “virtual pedestrian environment.” They found that “participants walked more slowly, left less safe time to spare after crossing the virtual street, and experienced more frequent hits or close calls with traffic when crossing while carrying the backpack.” Perhaps this is just another argument for doing away with heavy (and expensive!) textbooks in favor of electronic versions?
“University students walk frequently, and individuals ages 18-22 have among the highest rates of pedestrian injury among any age group in the United States. These injuries are caused by a wide range of individual, interpersonal, and environmental factors, but one factor that has not been previously considered carefully is the influence of wearing a heavy backpack on pedestrian safety. Backpacks are known to slow walking speed and disrupt perception of one’s environment, so it is reasonable to question whether they might also influence safe pedestrian behavior. Read More
It’s widely accepted that most women don’t like men with lots of body hair. But does this preference have a biological basis, or is it a result of cultural conditioning? In this study, Finnish scientists showed women “pictures of male torsos before and after the removal of body hair” and asked them to rate the attractiveness of each photo. They also polled the women about their menstrual cycles and their partners’ and fathers’ body hair levels. Turns out that women generally preferred body hair levels that resembled those of their current partners and their fathers, and they tended to prefer less body hair when they were ovulating. This suggests that the preference has some biological basis, and that women might select mates with body hair levels resembling those of their father (at least in Finland).
“It has commonly been considered that women’s preference with regard to male body hair changes over the years according to fashion and is influenced by the media. Experimental evidence, however, is currently lacking. We examined the effect of male torso hairiness on Finnish women’s attractiveness ratings by presenting pictures of male torsos before and after the removal of body hair. Read More
It has long been thought that snakes flick their tongues in order to “smell” their environments. However, is this the only reason for the seemingly-constant snake tonguing? To see what else snakes might be up to with all that lingual action, these biologists recorded snake tongues with four high-speed video cameras and reconstructed a 3D model of the tongue in motion. This detailed investigation revealed that the snakes actually perform two types of tongue flick: one for smelling things in the air, and another that seems optimized for tasting objects on the ground.
The function of oscillatory tongue-flicks in snakes: insights from kinematics of tongue-flicking in the banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata).
“Tongue-flicking is an important sensory behavior unique to squamate reptiles in which chemical stimuli gathered by the tongue are delivered the vomeronasal organ situated in the roof of the mouth. Read More
This has got to be one of the most gnarly Materials and Methods sections ever published. In this study, the scientists were investigating whether brown tree snakes would strike at objects soaked in human blood. A reasonable question, really. But where to get such targets? Why, used tampons, of course!
Response of brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) to human blood.
“Ten specimens of Boiga irregularis were presented with clean or bloody tampons. The latter were used by women during menses. Read More
Talk about being caught in flagrante delicto – these froghoppers somehow died while they were having sex, and they have now been doing the deed (in fossil form) for about 165 million years. In this paper, the archaeologists compare the bangin’ bugs’ positions to those of their living contemporaries, and find that “froghoppers’ genitalic symmetry and mating position have remained static for over 165 million years.” Insexy!
Mating behaviors have been widely studied for extant insects. However, cases of mating individuals are particularly rare in the fossil record of insects, and most of them involved preservation in amber while only in rare cases found in compression fossils. This considerably limits our knowledge of mating position and genitalia orientation during the Mesozoic, and hinders our understanding of the evolution of mating behaviors in this major component of modern ecosystems. Read More
Ok, maybe it won’t actually blow your mind, but it does make straight-moving balls seem wriggly, which is pretty awesome. If white circles on a black field are moved in straight lines and allowed to intersect, they (not surprisingly) appear to move in straight lines. However, if those lines are designed to avoid intersections, the balls appear to to wriggle instead. The scientists who discovered this don’t know why it’s true, but who cares — it’s wiggly!
(A) Collision condition. All dots are moving in random directions in straight trajectories, and the dots are allowed to collide with each other on their paths.
(B) No-collision condition with wriggling motion trajectory illusion. All dots are moving in random directions in straight trajectories without colliding with each other.
Wriggling motion trajectory illusion.
“In this paper, we report on a novel visual motion illusion. Read More
I don’t know about you, but I totally avoid making difficult choices, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be any way to determine the what the correct decision might be. Surprisingly, the study shown here suggests that honeybees might approach decisions in the same way. The experiments consisted of decision tests of different levels of difficulty: the “easy choices” were a reward (sugar, yum!) placed clearly above or below a visual reference, and a punishment (quinine, yuck!) in the other position. “Hard choices” were represented by the reward being offset but overlapping with the visual reference, and “impossible choices” were actually impossible to predict: “For impossible trials (so-called because objectively they had no correct answer and therefore were rewarded pseudorandomly), the centers of both targets were in line with that of the reference.” Honeybees were allowed to choose to either be rewarded, punished, or to “opt out” and fly away. It turns out, when presented with harder choices, the bees were more likely to “opt out”, indicating that when the “right answer” is less obvious, the best choice may be to make no choice at all (at least if you are a bee… or me!).
Honey bees selectively avoid difficult choices.
“Human decision-making strategies are strongly influenced by an awareness of certainty or uncertainty (a form of metacognition) to increase the chances of making a right choice. Humans seek more information and defer choosing when they realize they have insufficient information to make an accurate decision, but whether animals are aware of uncertainty is currently highly contentious. To explore this issue, we examined how honey bees (Apis mellifera) responded to a visual discrimination task that varied in difficulty between trials. Read More
It has already been shown that dogs wag their tails asymmetrically when presented with different stimuli, and other dogs seem to behave differently when viewing left vs. right wags of robot tails . But do dogs actually have different emotional responses to viewing left vs. right-wagging dogs? To investigate this, several Italian scientists hooked dogs up to heart monitors and showed them movies of other dogs, some wagging to the left, and others wagging to the right. Interestingly, viewing dogs with left-wagging tails induced higher heart rates and more anxiety than viewing right-wagging tails, implying that wagging might be a form of communication not only between dogs and owners, but also between dogs themselves.
Seeing Left- or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs.
“Left-right asymmetries in behavior associated with asymmetries in the brain are widespread in the animal kingdom, and the hypothesis has been put forward that they may be linked to animals’ social behavior. Read More
It’s a common scene in movies: that painful moment when a guy gets tongue-tied and confused, just because he’s talking to a woman. But how early does this mental incapacitation happen? Does the woman actually have to be there, or does it happen earlier — say, as soon as the guy knows that he might talk to a woman? Well, let’s just say that the results of this series of experiments is simultaneously funny, endearing, and honestly, a bit frightening.
The Mere Anticipation of an Interaction with a Woman Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Performance.
“Recent research suggests that heterosexual men’s (but not heterosexual women’s) cognitive performance is impaired after an interaction with someone of the opposite sex (Karremans et al., 2009). These findings have been interpreted in terms of the cognitive costs of trying to make a good impression during the interaction. In everyday life, people frequently engage in pseudo-interactions with women (e.g., through the phone or the internet) or anticipate interacting with a woman later on. Read More