Archive for 'News about research'

Judging who, or what, judges people best

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

This week’s Gestalt Which-of-These-Alternatives-Do-You-See? Question asks you to look at a newly published study.

The question is: What, exactly, is this study judging?

kosinskiThe study is “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans“, Wu Youyou, Michal Kosinski [pictured here], and David Stillwell, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, epub January 12, 2015. The authors are at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Stanford University in California.

What is being judged? The choices are:

  1. The good judgment of certain computer programs
  2. The bad judgment of many human beings
  3. Something else

BONUS: Video of Monty Python‘s Argument Sketch performed with two vintage speech synthesizers:

BONUS: Video of Monty Python’s Argument Sketch performed with Monty Pythons:

“Gay bomb” research facility urges caution about “love hormone”

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

oxytocinThe laboratory facility that long ago won honors for doing research and development on the so-called “gay bomb” is casting a skeptical eye at widespread claims about oxytocin, a substance some people call “the love hormone”.

The Neuroskeptic blog reports:

A new study offers two reasons to be cautious about some of the claims made for the role of the hormone oxytocin in human behavior.

The paper’s out now in PLoS ONE from researchers James C. Christensen and colleagues, who are based at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio. That the military are interested in oxytocin at all is perhaps a testament to the huge amount of interest that this molecule has attracted in recent years. Oxytocin has been called the “hug hormone”, and is said to be involved in such nice things as love and trust. But according to Christensen et al., quite a lot of previous oxytocin research may be flawed.

The 2007 Ig Nobel peace prize was awarded to the Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, USA, for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon — the so-called “gay bomb” — that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.

REFERENCE: “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” Wright Laboratory, WL/FIVR, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 1, 1994.

BONUS: James C. Christensen [pictured below] also is part of a team that says: “We did something that has never been done before. Modifying a car—a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray—so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions. We call it SAM. A semi-autonomous motorcar.”


Behold the evasive leap behavior of a spooked squirrel

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

“This video shows a series of clips of ground squirrels responding to a spring-loaded device that uncoils toward them at the same velocity at which rattlesnakes strike,” writes Rulon Clark of San Diego State University.

Clark adds:

All responses are shown slowed down to one-quarter regular speed. Squirrels either scrambled away from the spring (first set of clips in video), or exhibited an evasive leap, jumping into the air and contorting their bodies with the tail (second set of clips). Squirrels that had recently interacted with rattlesnakes at that site, and that exhibited tail flagging signals, responded more quickly to the device, and were more likely to exhibit an evasive leap than a scramble.

Further details are at his web site, and in the study “The fear of unseen predators: ground squirrel tail flagging in the absence of snakes signals vigilance“, Breanna J. Putman and Rulon W. Clark, Behavioral Ecology, epub 2014.

Also see Susan Milius’s essay about this, in Science News: “Why ground squirrels go ninja over nothing

The Self-Acupressure-to-Overcome-Constipation Experiment

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

There is (people say) more than one way to skin a cat. So too are there multiple ways to overcome constipation. Here’s a newly documented way:

Effect of Perineal Self-Acupressure on Constipation: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Ryan Abbott, Ian Ayres [pictured below], Ed Hui, and Ka-Kit Hui, Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2014, pp. 1-6. (Thanks to investigator Toby Sommer for bringing this to our attention. The authors, at the University of California, Los Angeles and at Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles, report :

“We aimed to evaluate whether perineal self-acupressure would improve patient reports of quality of life and bowel function at 4 weeks after training…. Among patients with constipation, perineal self-acupressure improves self-reported assessments of quality of life, bowel function, and health and well-being relative to providing standard constipation treatment options alone.”

Here’s further detail from the study:


Here’s an appreciative writeup in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

A law professor’s theory about relieving constipation is put to the test

Smelling bodies at the office (corporeal porosity)

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

As Dr. David Abram wrote in his 1996 book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ :

“[…] the boundaries of a living body are open and indeterminate: more like membranes than barriers … so that it is very difficult to discern, at any moment, precisely where this living body begins and where it ends.”

Prof-RiachProf-WarrenSuch indeterminacies have prompted Professor Kathleen Riach [pictured left] (Monash University, Australia) and Professor Samantha Warren [pictured right] (University of Essex, UK) to investigate what impact such ‘corporeal porosity’ might have in a white-collar office environment. Specifically via ‘corporeal seeping and secretion’ which lead, perhaps inevitably, to smells. Their paper on the subject will appear in a forthcoming print issue of the journal Human Relations. ‘Smell organization: Bodies and corporeal porosity in office work’

“This article contributes to a sensory equilibrium in studies of workplace life through a qualitative study of everyday smells in UK offices. Drawing on Csordas’ (2008) phenomenology of intercorporeality, we develop the concept of corporeal porosity as a way of articulating the negotiation of bodily integrity in organizational experience. We explore the corporeal porosity of workplace life through smell-orientated interview and diary-based methods and our findings highlight the interdependence of shared, personal, local and cultural elementals when experiencing smell in office-based work. Our analysis explores three elements of bodily integrity: ‘cultural permeability’; ‘locating smell in-between’; and ‘sensual signifiers’. This suggests that while the senses are part of the ephemeral, affective ‘glue’ that floats between and around working bodies, they also foreground the constantly active character of relationality in organizational life. Corporeal porosity, therefore, captures the entanglement of embodied traces and fragments – corporeal seeping and secretion that has hitherto taken a backseat in organizational studies of the body at work.”

For their project, the team conducted a series of ‘smell interviews’ with 14 ‘fairly typical’ UK office-workers.

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