science

‘This is the curse of our age, even the strangest aberrations are no cure for boredom.’ –Stendhal

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Because more and more young people are constantly presented with the opportunity to access information and connect to others via their smartphones, they report to be in a state of permanent alertness. In the current study, we define such a state as smartphone vigilance, an awareness that one can always get connected to others in combination with a permanent readiness to respond to incoming smartphone notifications. We hypothesized that constantly resisting the urge to interact with their phones draws on response inhibition, and hence interferes with students’ ability to inhibit prepotent responses in a concurrent task. […]

Results show that the mere visibility of a smartphone is sufficient to experience vigilance and distraction, and that this is enhanced when students receive notifications. Curiously enough, these strong experiences were unrelated to stop-signal task performance. These findings raise new questions about when and how smartphones can impact performance.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

Empty space itself has a negative energy density

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Procrastination is a familiar and widely discussed proclivity: postponing tasks that can be done earlier. Precrastination is a lesser known and explored tendency: completing tasks quickly just to get them done sooner.

Recent research suggests that precrastination may represent an important penchant that can be observed in both people and animals.

{ Learning & Behavior | Continue reading }

art { Vogue, June 1972 | Tom Wesselmann, Smoker #9, 1973 }

No sunshine, no moonlight, no stardust, no sign of romance

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We suggest that advanced civilizations could cloak their presence, or deliberately broadcast it, through controlled laser emission.

Such emission could distort the apparent shape of their transit light curves with relatively little energy, due to the collimated beam and relatively infrequent nature of transits.

We estimate that humanity could cloak the Earth from Kepler-like broad-band surveys using an optical monochromatic laser array emitting a peak power of ∼30 MW for ∼10 hours per year.

{ Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society | Continue reading }

‘A fun thing to do at parties is stay home and masturbate.’ –Eden Dranger

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In April 2018, the servers of the popular video game “Fortnite” crashed for 24 hr. During this period, Pornhub (a popular pornographic website) analyzed trends in pornography access, finding that: (a) the percentage of gamers accessing Pornhub increased by 10% and (b) the searches of pornographic videos using the key term “Fortnite” increased by 60%.

{ Journal of Behavioral Addictions | Continue reading }

related { How Fortnite became the most important video game on the planet }

update { Online divorce service says ‘Fortnite addiction’ cited in 200 divorces }

pochoir, brush and india ink { Roy Lichtenstein, Hand Loading Gun, 1961 }

‘I am not young enough to know everything.’ –Oscar Wilde

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Knowing yourself requires knowing not just what you are like in general (trait self-knowledge), but also how your personality fluctuates from moment to moment (state self-knowledge). We examined this latter form of self-knowledge. […]

People had self-insight into their momentary extraversion, conscientiousness, and likely neuroticism, suggesting that people can accurately detect fluctuations in some aspects of their personality. However, the evidence for self-insight was weaker for agreeableness. This apparent self-ignorance may be partly responsible for interpersonal problems and for blind spots in trait self-knowledge.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

oil on canvas { Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXIX, 1983 }

‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ —Henry Miller

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We investigated the association between sexy-selfie prevalence and income inequality. […] Among 5,567 US cities and 1,622 US counties, areas with relatively more sexy selfies were more economically unequal. […] We investigated and confirmed that economically unequal (but not gender-oppressive) areas in the United States also had greater aggregate sales in goods and services related to female physical appearance enhancement (beauty salons and women’s clothing).

{ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | Continue reading }

“Selfies” (self-taken photos) are a common self-presentation strategy on social media. This study experimentally tested whether taking and posting selfies, with and without photo-retouching, elicits changes to mood and body image among young women. […] Women who took and posted selfies to social media reported feeling more anxious, less confident, and less physically attractive afterwards compared to those in the control group. Harmful effects of selfies were found even when participants could retake and retouch their selfies.

{ Body Image | Continue reading }

When young children during their early development for the first time get their head around the fact that the reflection in the mirror is them, they are struck with a terrifying realization: All at once it dawns on them that this is how they present themselves to the world – and that the world might be repulsed by the sight. Animals, it seems, are not able to make that discovery. […] Hearing a recording of one’s own voice for the first time produces a similarly uncanny sensation.

{ Rolf Degen | Continue reading }

Don’t keep doing what doesn’t work

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Two years ago a New Scientist headline announced the “world’s first baby born with new ‘3 parent’ technique.” Whereas an embryo is usually produced by one sperm and one egg, this technique uses genetic material from three separate people. First performed by a New York fertility clinic in Mexico to evade US legal restrictions, the procedure has now been replicated several times. […]

Two cases in the UK and Mexico involve a woman who carries a rare disease of her mitochondria, the cellular structures that produce energy in our cells. Mitochondria have their own DNA and can harbor their own genetic diseases. These are passed on solely through the maternal line, because mitochondria are found in eggs but not in sperm. One approach to blocking transmission of these illnesses involves inserting the DNA-filled nucleus from the egg of the woman into a donor egg full of healthy mitochondria but stripped of its own nucleus. Fertilize that hybrid egg with a sperm, and presto! A child could be born nine months later with DNA from three people and without a catastrophic mitochondrial disorder. […] Children conceived with a third person’s mitochondria are, it follows, the offspring of three parents. […]

Mitochondria, it turns out, were originally bacteria; their free-wheeling existence came to an end one day deep in evolutionary history when they entered another single-celled organism and started a new life inside. […]

This is not what we think of as Darwinian evolution, the transmission of genes and traits down the family line. DNA, it turns out, can also be passed laterally, between individuals, including those of different species. […] We may like to think of DNA as the neat bequest of our parents, the fusion of two unique, circumscribed human lineages.  Yet it is—and we are—something more: short strands within a vast interwoven genetic web, stretching back to the earth’s earliest days, linking all living things. 

{ New Republic | Continue reading }

‘If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.’ –Lieutenant Colonel Walt Weir

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Human memory systems are subject to many imperfections, including memory distortions and the creation of false memories. Here, we demonstrate a case where memory distortion is adaptive, increasing the overall accuracy of memories. […]

Although participants’ memories were systematically distorted, they were distorted in a way that is consistent with minimizing their average error […]

Thus, memory distortion may not always be maladaptive: in some cases, distortion can result from a memory system that optimally combines information in the service of the broader goals of the person. Furthermore, this framework for thinking about memory distortion suggests that false memory can be thought of on a continuum with true memory: the greater uncertainty participants have about an individual item memory, the more they weight their gist memory [Gist traces are fuzzy representations of a past event]; with no item information, they weight only their gist memory.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

photo { Ana Mendieta, Untitled, from Silueta Series, Iowa, 1978 }

And yet life, Lucilius, is really a battle

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When scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 during the Great Depression, they hoped the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. […] They eventually expanded their research to include the men’s offspring, who now number 1,300 and are in their 50s and 60s, to find out how early-life experiences affect health and aging over time. […]

Over the years, researchers have studied the participants’ health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage. […]

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study. […] Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. […] Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills,” he said. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” […]

The study showed that the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife.

{ Harvard Gazette | Continue reading }

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong

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The Grim Reaper, the personification of death, is a well known mythological and literary figure. Reported characteristics include a black cloak with cowl, a scythe, and cachexia. High quality scientific research linking the Grim Reaper to mortality has been scarce, despite extensive anecdotes.

Walking speed is a commonly used objective measure of physical capability in older people, predicting survival in several cohort studies. A recent meta-analysis found that being in the lowest fourth of walking speed compared with the highest was associated with a threefold increased risk of mortality. Moreover, the association between slow walking speed and mortality seems consistent across several ethnic groups and shows a dose-response relation. Although the association between walking speed and mortality has been well documented, the plausible biological relation between the two remains unclear.

We assessed whether the relation between slow walking speed and mortality results from the increased likelihood of being caught by Death. By assessing this relation using receiver operating characteristics curve analysis, we hypothesised we would be able to determine the walking speed of the Grim Reaper—information of importance to public health. […]

[1705] men have been followed for a mean of 59.3 months. Walking speed at baseline was not available in 77 men, mostly through inability to complete the test. A total of 266 deaths occurred during follow-up. […]

Based on receiver operating characteristics analysis and estimation of the Youden index, a walking speed of 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour) was most predictive of mortality. Therefore, we predict that this is the likely speed at which the Grim Reaper prefers to ambulate under working conditions. Older men who walked at speeds greater than 0.82 m/s were 1.23 times less likely to encounter Death. In addition, no men walking at speeds of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or above were caught by Death (n=22, 1.4%). This supports our hypothesis that faster speeds are protective against mortality because fast walkers can maintain a safe distance from the Grim Reaper. Interestingly, the predicted walking speed of Death estimated in the present study is virtually identical to the gait speed (0.80 m/s) associated with median life expectancy at most ages and for both sexes in a recent meta-analysis of gait speed and mortality using data from diverse populations. This indicates that the preferred walking speed of the Grim Reaper while collecting souls is relatively constant irrespective of people’s geographical location, sex, or ethnic background.

{ British Medical Journal | PDF }

On ne sait pas ce que peut le corps

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The new “eyes wide shut” illusion uses a standard enlarging (shaving or makeup) mirror. Close one eye and look at the closed eye in the mirror; the eye should take up most of the mirror. Switch eyes to see the other closed eye. Switch back-and-forth a few times, then open both eyes. You see an open eye. Which eye is it? To find out, close one eye. Whichever you close, that’s the eye you see. How can this be possible? The brain is fusing two images of the two eyes.

{ Perception | Continue reading | Thanks Brad! }

However, no one has hitherto laid down the limits to the powers of the body, that is, no one has as yet been taught by experience what the body can accomplish solely by the laws of nature, in so far as she is regarded as extension. No one hitherto has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human sagacity, and that somnambulists do many things in their sleep, which they would not venture to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at.

Again, no one knows how or by what means the mind moves the body, nor how many various degrees of motion it can impart to the body, nor how quickly it can move it.

{ Spinoza, Ethics, III, Proposition II, Scholium | Continue reading }

unrelated { eye colour may not be a priority when choosing a partner }

‘In order to remain silent Da-sein must have something to say.’ –Heidegger

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The Cynical Genius Illusion

Competent individuals held contingent attitudes and endorsed cynicism only if it was warranted in a given sociocultural environment.

Less competent individuals embraced cynicism unconditionally, suggesting that — at low levels of competence — holding a cynical worldview might represent an adaptive default strategy to avoid the potential costs of falling prey to others’ cunning.

{ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin | Continue reading }

photo { Susan Unterberg, Horse eyes #3, 1999 }