Furrowed brow: check. Flared nostrils: check. Thinned lips: check. Have you ever noticed that we all look pretty much alike when we’re angry? Obviously, this is because we activate the same sets of facial muscles. But why do we use those muscles in particular? Here, researchers hypothesize that humans have evolved such that the faces we make when we’re angry also make us look stronger and more intimidating. To test this idea, they broke down the “anger face” into its constituent parts and manipulated facial expressions using one component at a time. They then had participants rate how strong they thought the person was. The result? The scientists were right: the same expression features that make up the “anger face” also make us look stronger. Which leaves us wondering whether Mr. T was actually strong–or just pissed off all the time.
“Animals typically deploy their morphology during conflict to enhance competitors’ assessments of their fighting ability (e.g. bared fangs, piloerection, dewlap inflation). Recent research has shown that humans assess others’ fighting ability by monitoring cues of strength, and that the face itself contains such cues. Read More
Zebra finches are a monogamous species: they form life-long relationships and do not tend to stray from their mates. They are also known to form same-sex partnerships (like many birds, in fact), even in situations where males are present. In this study, the researchers observed pairing preferences in finches under different conditions. They found that in aviaries with equal sex ratios, about 6% of pairs were same-sex, primarily female-female. In a second experiment, they took same-sex pairs that had been formed in same-sex aviaries (i.e., all females or all males) and tested whether the pairs were maintained when the opposite sex was available. They found that while female pairs switched to partner with males, some of the male pairs stayed together. From these results, the authors conclude that same-sex relationships are “more flexible” in female finches than in males.
“This study examined flexibility and choice in same-sex pair-bonding behavior in adult zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Zebra finches form life-long monogamous relationships and extra pair behavior is very low, making them an ideal species in which to study same-sex pairing. We examined same-sex behaviors using both semi-naturalistic choice paradigms and skewed sex ratios. Read More
You’ve probably received at least one of those emails that leave you wondering: is this for real, or is is supposed to be “funny”? In this study, the authors used a series of experiments with Cornell undergrads to test whether people are able to convey sarcasm over email as well as they think they can. The short answer is no – people are overconfident about their ability to communicate – but you should definitely read the excerpt below to get an idea of the types of phrases they used for the experiment. They’re just soooooo clever. Also, a word to the wise; when in doubt about your ability to convey subtle humor like sarcasm, add an emoticon.
“Without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, it can be difficult to convey emotion and tone over electronic mail (e-mail). Five experiments suggest that this limitation is often underappreciated, such that people tend to believe that they can communicate over e-mail more effectively than they actually can. Read More
It’s been shown that what we wear can have a big impact on what people think about us and how they treat us. Despite this, there have been remarkably few objective analyses of fashion. These authors stepped up to the plate and tested one of many variables that lead to fashion success (or disaster): color palette. There are two extremes: outfits that completely match and outfits that don’t match at all. Obviously, many outfits fall somewhere in between. To test which is most fashionable, the scientists randomly assigned outfits of different colors and had them scored by hundreds of participants. We’ll let the authors tell you what they found in their own words: “These data suggest a simple answer to the question ‘what to wear?’ Select a color combination that is neither completely uniform, nor completely different… These results are consistent with both centuries of philosophical thought and more recent psychological studies on the importance of ‘the middle way.’ The Goldilocks principle may also explain aesthetic judgments beyond fashion, reflecting a basic principle of human preference that seeks to balance simplicity and complexity, order and disorder.”
The science of style: in fashion, colors should match only moderately.
“Fashion is an essential part of human experience and an industry worth over $1.7 trillion. Important choices such as hiring or dating someone are often based on the clothing people wear, and yet we understand almost nothing about the objective features that make an outfit fashionable. Read More
It’s probably no surprise that dogs like to be petted. But do they prefer petting over other types of attention? Here, two scientists from the University of Florida tested whether dogs would prefer to be petted or given vocal praise, and whether it mattered if the petting/praise came from an owner or a stranger. Turns out that dogs love pets, regardless of who is doing the petting, and they never seem to get tired of being petted. Interestingly, a previous study by the same authors found that dogs do like one thing even more than petting: food. Perhaps a future study will determine where chasing their tails ranks on the list?
“The nature of the interactions that maintain the social behavior of dogs towards humans and which interactions dogs prefer have not been thoroughly investigated. We focused here on dogs’ preference for petting and vocal praise, and the influence that familiarity (owner vs. stranger) has on that preference. Read More
We’ve all experienced it: the same movie is so much funnier when you see it on opening night with a group of friends compared to watching the DVD by yourself. What causes this difference? Here, a group of psychologists tested the idea that it’s knowing that you are part of a group watching a movie or looking at photos that makes emotions like humor more intense. They found that indeed, having members of one’s group (for example, other students at the same college) watching the same thing caused participants to view happy videos as happier and sad videos as sadder. This effect even held when the other members were not physically present, but were known to be watching at the same time online. So, the next time you cancel a movie date at last minute, do your friend a favor and tell them you’re watching it online anyway. Even if it isn’t true, it might make their night a bit better.
“The idea that group contexts can intensify emotions is centuries old. Yet, evidence that speaks to how, or if, emotions become more intense in groups remains elusive. Here we examine the novel possibility that group attention-the experience of simultaneous coattention with one’s group members-increases emotional intensity relative to attending alone, coattending with strangers, or attending nonsimultaneously with one’s group members. Read More
There have been loads of strange diet fads over the years, some with more scientific support than others. But in terms of crazy, the “diet” suggested by this study from 1986 takes the cake! Basically, the researchers had volunteers eat the same meal twice, once with chewing and once without. They then tested their blood sugar. Turns out that the blood sugar levels were more stable when the subjects swallowed the food without chewing, effectively turning high glycemic foods into lower glycemic foods. Like magic. Disgusting magic. With choking hazards.
“The degree to which disruption by mastication affects the glycaemic response to four different carbohydrate foods was investigated in healthy human volunteers; each food was eaten by six subjects. Read More
What does your handedness say about you? Well, according to this study, it can predict what you like to do in your free time. Although the scientists didn’t determine whether one’s handedness was a cause or a result of one’s hobby preferences, it’s pretty clear that common stereotypes seem to hold out… at least when it comes to lefties and righties, and their free-time activities!
Handedness and hobby preference.
“The objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between handedness and hobby preference in healthy individuals. For this reason, the Annett handedness questionnaire and a standard questionnaire on preference for hobbies were administered to 879 healthy young men (age, M = 22.3, SD = 4.8 yr.). Read More
Organic chemists are always looking for the next great catalyst — basically, ingredients that speed up the rate of chemical reactions. Here, a group of Chinese chemists make an unusual suggestion: using ground-up earthworms as a catalyst for a range of important reactions. Presumably, proteins and/or molecules in the earthworm extracts were responsible for the catalysis, and they actually work pretty well (perhaps too well, according to our chemist sources…). Why earthworms? Because they’re “eco-friendly, environmentally benign, safe, cheap, easily accessible and stable.” The fact that they’re easy to purée probably doesn’t hurt…
Earthworm Is a Versatile and Sustainable Biocatalyst for Organic Synthesis
“A crude extract of earthworms was used as an eco-friendly, environmentally benign, and easily accessible biocatalyst for various organic synthesis including the asymmetric direct aldol and Mannich reactions, Henry and Biginelli reactions, direct three-component aza-Diels-Alder reactions for the synthesis of isoquinuclidines, and domino reactions for the synthesis of coumarins. Read More
Here is yet another jewel from one of the holiday issues of the British Medical Journal, sent to us by a reader (thanks, Ben!). It’s pretty straightforward, so instead of an introductory blurb, we’ll warm you up with this video of a fart caught on an infrared airport camera:
“It all started with an enquiry from a nurse,” Dr Karl Kruszelnicki told listeners to his science phone-in show on the Triple J radio station in Brisbane. “She wanted to know whether she was contaminating the operating theatre she worked in by quietly farting in the sterile environment during operations, and I realised that I didn’t know. But I was determined to find out.”
Dr Kruszelnicki then described the method by which he had established whether human flatus was germ-laden, or merely malodorous. “I contacted Luke Tennent, a microbiologist in Canberra, and together we devised an experiment. He asked a colleague to break wind directly onto two Petri dishes from a distance of 5 centimetres, first fully clothed, then with his trousers down. Then he observed what happened. Overnight, the second Petri dish sprouted visible lumps of two types of bacteria that are usually found only in the gut and on the skin. But the flatus which had passed through clothing caused no bacteria to sprout, which suggests that clothing acts as a filter.
Our deduction is that the enteric zone in the second Petri dish was caused by the flatus itself, and the splatter ring around that was caused by the sheer velocity of the fart, which blew skin bacteria from the cheeks and blasted it onto the dish. It seems, therefore, that flatus can cause infection if the emitter is naked, but not if he or she is clothed. But the results of the experiment should not be considered alarming, because neither type of bacterium is harmful. In fact, they’re similar to the ‘friendly’ bacteria found in yoghurt.
Our final conclusion? Don’t fart naked near food. All right, it’s not rocket science. But then again, maybe it is?