Tag Archives: human nature

Recent Interesting Science Articles (April ’10)

A little late this month because I chose to write something about Ip Man 2 first this week. Four articles this time around with three of them on biology and the last one on astronomy. We’ll start with the more innocuous of the three biology articles first.

This is an article that appeared in Discover and concerns itself with gut bacteria, specifically those found inside of Japanese people. The Japanese as we all know, eat quite a lot of sushi and one of the main ingredients of sushi is seaweed. What most of us probably don’t know is that sea algae such as seaweed is a bit different from land-based plants and contain special sulphur-rich carbohydrates that are difficult for most of us to digest.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (November ’09)

A little late with this one as I’ve been busy with my gaming blog. Three articles this month and all them are about human nature. The first one examines whether or not there is a placebo effect in the consumption of coffee, the second one examines if the habit of overspending has a genetic component and the last one tells about the surprising fact that the most successful male athletes also tend to be the most good looking ones.

Like many other people, I have the habit of drinking a cup of coffee every morning, but unlike some people, I’m not conscious of whether this actually has any effect on my concentration. Plenty of people seem to think it’s essential for them to function properly in the office so scientists are understandably curious about whether or not the effect is real. This post on Neuroskeptic links to and summarizes a new paper about a study that tried to determine whether or not the claimed benefits of caffeine are attributable to the placebo effect.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (November ’09)

Recent Interesting Science Articles (September ’09)

A little late this month because I made more posts last week than I’d originally planned for but here are three articles for September, all of them related in some way with human nature and with two of them related to video gaming. Two of the articles are from The Economist. I suppose I should try to find the time to read more widely.

The first article from The Economist covers the development of muscles in human males as a way to attract mates. Naturally, muscles in human males are useful because men do most of the fighting and hunting, tasks in which physical strength is a great asset. However, William Lassek of the University of Pittsburgh and Steven Gaulin of the University of California, Santa Barbara believe that the evolution of prominent and visible muscles in men are also driven by sexual selection, just as the tail feathers of male peacocks are. Working on the assumption that sexually selected characteristics are expensive to maintain, the researchers found that men generally consume fifty percent more calories than women do, even after adjusting for different levels of physical activity.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (September ’09)

Matchmaking data on races and religions

The popular online dating site Okcupid.com has made available some very interesting data on how race and religion affect their matchmaking results. There are a couple of caveats when looking at the results. The first one is that, as the site notes, their definition of a good match is based on criteria that are supplied by the users themselves by answering loads of questions on what they like in a mate. This is as opposed to actually waiting until after a couple gets together and asking them how much they like each other. This means that the match percentages will be thrown off if the users either aren’t competent at analyzing what qualities turn them on in a mate or aren’t honest enough to admit them.

The second caveat is that the distribution of their data reflects the demographics of their registered users. Since it is a predominately US-based dating site, most of its users are Americans so it wouldn’t be a good idea to assume that their results apply equally to races and religions all across the world. In fact, it can reasonably be assumed that those who would use website for dating purposes are a self-selected group and generalizing outside of that group using this data would be misleading.

Caveats in mind, let’s have a look at the data. First, as a test, the site offers an analysis of match percentages by zodiac signs. Unsurprisingly, all the results are close to the average, meaning that astrological signs mean nothing at all in determining how compatible two people are. Next, the site offers a chart that differentiates between people by religious denomination. It turns out that the best matches are Jews and agnostics. Jewish men are even better matches for Muslim women than Muslim men are! The worst matches are Muslims of both genders and Hindu men. Atheists get along well with fellow atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and Jews, but less well with Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus.

However, while we can see huge swings in match percentages by religion, when we get to the race chart, it’s surprisingly even. Whites get a very slight boost, meaning that everyone tends to like them while it’s harder for blacks, Middle-Easterners and Indians to get matches, but generally the differences are tiny across the board. The overall lesson seems to be that religion matters a great deal when it comes to determining compatibility but races matter very little. Since religion is something that you choose while race isn’t, that’s just as it should be!

Recent Interesting Science Articles (July ’09)

Three articles this month and all of them are related in some way to the study of human nature. The first article touches on an explanation of why depression occurs from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. The second one demonstrates that humans really are that irrational when it comes to making economic decisions. The last one is on how caffeine might hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s disease.

The first article is from The Economist and covers a theory by Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan. Dr. Nesse thinks that depression can be thought of as being analogous to physical pain. Just as pain serves to dissuade us from doing things that cause us physical harm, so depression serves to dissuade us from doing things that cause us mental harm. By this, he means specifically the pursuit of unreachable goals. Since pursuing goals that are ultimately unreachable wastes precious time and energy, he theorizes that depression exists as a mechanism to inhibit doing so.

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When suicide is the right choice

This Foreign Policy blog post chose to highlight the cost of assisted suicide in Switzerland, but what struck me most about this news item was really how dignified the couple’s choice was and indeed how touching. The wife was aged 74 and suffering from terminal cancer with only weeks left to live. The husband was aged 85, going blind and deaf (which must have been especially painful given that he was a prominent conductor) and simply did not want to live without her, after having been together for 54 years.

This isn’t terribly surprising coming from someone like me, but I most definitely would want this option to be available to me. I can imagine few other cases that would serve as a better example than this one of why choosing to take one’s own life can sometimes be just the right one.

Recent Interesting Science Articles (June ’09)

Three science articles for this month, one on how language shapes the way we think, the second one on Nokia’s plans to wirelessly recharge mobile phones and the last one, just for laughs, is a fictional piece on the neurobiology of zombies.

As the first article notes, whether and how much language affects how we think is a subject of much debate that even now is largely unsettled. This field is properly known as linguistic relativity. As someone who’s sympathetic to the views of the evolutionary psychologists, I found myself not quite agreeing with the full scope of this article’s implications, but nevertheless the results are intriguing. The most interesting part is easily the revelation of how language has affected a small Aboriginal community in Pormpuraaw, in northern Australia.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (June ’09)