Flashback Friday: Want to control your dreams? Shock your brain to induce lucid dreaming!

By Seriously Science | August 11, 2017 6:00 am

Photo: Flickr/Hartwig HKD

Photo: Flickr/Hartwig HKD

Lucid dreaming occurs when you become aware that you are dreaming, and if you can control your dream experience, it can be really fun. Sadly, while there are ways to improve your chances of lucid dreaming, including keeping a dream diary and testing whether you might be dreaming with “reality checks“, lucid dreaming can still be difficult to achieve. Fortunately, neuroscientists are interested in figuring out how to promote lucid dreaming because it offers them a unique way to study differences in brain activities while waking and sleeping. In this study, the researchers developed a method to trigger lucid dreaming in subjects that uses low-power electrical currents of specific frequencies applied directly to the head. Now all we need is a home-use version or DIY plans–but until then, we’d love to hear your favorite lucid dreaming tricks and experiences!

Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity.

“Recent findings link fronto-temporal gamma electroencephalographic (EEG) activity to conscious awareness in dreams, but a causal relationship has not yet been established.  Read More


Turns Out Trypophobia Isn’t a Phobia

By Seriously Science | August 8, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Emilie Chen

Image: Flickr/Emilie Chen

If this image gives you the willies, you may have what has been called trypophobia–the fear of clusters of small holes. It has been hypothesized that this fear stems from a resemblance of the holes to patterns on poisonous animals. Although thousands of people find images like this really disturbing, it’s not enough to make it a phobia, which is a learned response that can be unlearned. These scientists studied preschoolers to determine whether trypophobia is an instinctive human response that can never be unlearned. To do this, they showed the kids pictures of venomous animals with and without overlaid images of trypophobia-inducing holes. Because only the pictures with holes upset the kids, the researchers believe that the fear is innate, and not a learned association with poisonous animals. So there you have it: if that tree makes you feel horrible, there is nothing you can do about it. 

Is Trypophobia a Phobia?

“In the past 10 years, thousands of people have claimed to be affected by trypophobia, which is the fear of objects with small holes. Recent research suggests that people do not fear the holes; rather, images of clustered holes, which share basic visual characteristics with venomous organisms, lead to nonconscious fear. Read More

Flashback Friday: We are so obsessed with gender, we even assign it to numbers.

By Seriously Science | August 4, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Derrick Tyson

Photo: flickr/Derrick Tyson

Unlike many other languages, most English words are not innately gendered. But apparently things aren’t so simple when it comes to numbers. The authors of this study have spent several years studying whether people perceive numbers as having genders, and whether this perception differs between men and women. Here, they asked college students to rate the masculinity and femininity of different numbers shown on a computer. They found that odd numbers tended to be perceived as male (as well as having the characteristics of being “independent and strong”), while even numbers were perceived as female (and “friendly and soft”). Interestingly, zero was classified as neither male nor female, and women tended to see numbers as more gendered than men. Sorry, lady in the photo — time to put the 9 down. That number is not for you!

The numerology of gender: gendered perceptions of even and odd numbers

“Do numbers have gender? Wilkie and Bodenhausen (2012) examined this issue in a series of experiments on perceived gender. They examined the perceived gender of baby faces and foreign names. Arbitrary numbers presented with these faces and names influenced their perceived gender. Specifically, odd numbers connoted masculinity, while even numbers connoted femininity. In two new studies (total N = 315), we further examined the gendering of numbers. The first study examined explicit ratings of 1-digit numbers. We confirmed that odd numbers seemed masculine while even numbers seemed feminine. Although both men and women showed this pattern, it was more pronounced among women. Read More


Here’s how much bacteria you spew on the cake while blowing out birthday candles.

By Seriously Science | August 2, 2017 2:23 pm
Photo: flickr/Suzette

Photo: flickr/Suzette

In today’s germ-phobic world, many people probably don’t want to hear about how much bacteria is in and on their food. But too bad, say these researchers! They did a study of how much salivary bacteria is transferred to the cake when someone blows out birthday candles. And they found that yes, “blowing out the candles over the icing surface resulted in 1400% more bacteria compared to icing not blown on.” But hey, nothing says “Happy Birthday” like frosting-covered bacteria… mmm!

Bacterial Transfer Associated with Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake

“This study examined the potential spread of bacteria when blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Preliminary tests of blowing on nutrient agar indicated that bioaerosols in human breath expelled from the mouth may be a source of bacteria transferred to cake surfaces. To test aerosol transfer to cake, icing was spread evenly over foil then birthday candles were placed through the foil into a Styrofoam™ base. After consuming pizza, test subjects were asked to extinguish the candles by blowing. Icing samples were sterilely recovered then surface plated, to determine the level of bacterial contamination. Read More


Flashback Friday: The case of the appendicitis that turned out to be broccoli.

By Seriously Science | July 28, 2017 6:00 am

Photo: flickr/darwinbell

Photo: flickr/darwinbell

Think broccoli is a harmless, tasty vegetable that’s a good source of fiber and vitamin C? Think again! According to this article, lurking under that unassuming green exterior is a villain capable of masquerading as appendicitis. Apparently, if you somehow swallow a large enough piece of broccoli, it can become lodged in the intestine. The resulting symptoms resemble appendicitis and required surgery for one unfortunate patient (see photo below of the offending floret… if you dare). Nice try, broccoli.

Rare appendicitis-like syndrome: the case of the obstructing broccoli.

“The diagnosis of acute appendicitis can be somewhat obscure in a patient that presents with right lower quadrant abdominal pain. Read More

US-born women are more likely to crave chocolate during their period.

By Seriously Science | July 26, 2017 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Julita BC

Photo: flickr/Julita BC

To many women, craving chocolate every month is a way of life. But what if we told you that this craving might not be biological, but social? Indeed, according to this study, hankering for chocolate during menstruation is much more common in second and third generation American women than foreign-born immigrants. The authors hypothesize that American women are taught by society that it’s OK to indulge during their period “perhaps in an effort to justify consumption of an otherwise ‘forbidden’ food.” They even go on to suggest that the whole concept of cravings in relation to diet might be unique to English-speaking cultures, as “most languages outside of English lack a fully equivalent translation of the term ‘craving.'” Now, how can I use that to justify the pint of ice cream I just ate? 

Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving

“Craving is considered a key characteristic of diverse pathologies, but evidence suggests it may be a culture-bound construct. Almost 50% of American women crave chocolate specifically around the onset of menstruation. Research does not support popular accounts implicating physiological factors in menstrual chocolate craving etiology. We tested the novel hypothesis that greater menstrual craving prevalence in the U.S. is the product of internalized cultural norms. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: eat me, feelings shmeelings

Flashback Friday: Are racehorses still evolving to get faster?

By Seriously Science | July 21, 2017 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Tsutomu Takasu

Image: Flickr/Tsutomu Takasu

You might think that after centuries of breeding, racehorses have reached their peak speeds. And previous studies supported that. But not this one! According to this study, which used “a much larger dataset covering the full range of race distances and accounting for variation in factors such as ground softness,” racehorses have gotten faster over the past 150 years or so, an improvement evident even in the past 15 years. Holy Secretariat!

Racehorses are getting faster.

“Previous studies have concluded that thoroughbred racehorse speed is improving very slowly, if at all, despite heritable variation for performance and putatively intensive selective breeding. Read More

Can breast implants stop a speeding bullet?

By Seriously Science | July 20, 2017 5:21 am
Photo: flickr/Mark Tighe

Photo: flickr/Mark Tighe

Breast implants might be controversial, but they could also save your life. In this study, forensic scientists shot bullets through saline breast implants into ballistics gel, which is a material that mimics human flesh. They found that the implants significantly slowed down the bullets, reducing their penetration into the tissue below. Of course, the implants don’t survive the shooting, but they might give the person they’re inside of a better chance!

A Ballistics Examination of Firearm Injuries Involving Breast Implants

“This ballistics study examines whether saline breast implants can decrease tissue penetration in firearm injuries. We hypothesize that the fluid column within a saline breast implant can alter bullet velocity and/or bullet pattern of mushrooming. The two experimental groups included saline implants with 7.4 cm projection and a no implant group. The experimental design allowed the bullet to pass-through an implant and into ballistics gel (n = 10) or into ballistics gel without passage through an implant (n = 11). Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment, told you so

The top cock crows first.

By Seriously Science | July 17, 2017 7:37 am
Image: Flickr/Staffan Andersson

Image: Flickr/Staffan Andersson

The hierarchical nature of chicken society is well known (cue “pecking order” joke). But did you know it even controls behaviors as deeply rooted as crowing at dawn? Well, this study suggests just that: these scientists got up very early over many days to watch groups of chickens and recorded who crowed when. The researchers found that even when other roosters are awake and raring to crow, they will wait until the highest-ranked rooster crows first. But if the top-ranking cock disappears, the next in line will assume the first position and crow first.

The highest-ranking rooster has priority to announce the break of dawn.

“The “cock-a-doodle-doo” crowing of roosters, which symbolizes the break of dawn in many cultures, is controlled by the circadian clock. When one rooster announces the break of dawn, others in the vicinity immediately follow. Chickens are highly social animals, and they develop a linear and fixed hierarchy in small groups. We found that when chickens were housed in small groups, the top-ranking rooster determined the timing of predawn crowing. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, rated G

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

By Seriously Science | July 14, 2017 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: reinforcing stereotypes

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!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar