science

‘Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.’ –Sholem Asch

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Memory has to be ‘turned on’ in order to remember even the simplest details, a new study finds. When not expecting to be tested, people can forget information just one second after paying attention to it. But, when they expect to be tested, people’s recall is doubled or even tripled.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading }

photo { Spot | NYT }

‘Pittacus said that half was more than the whole.’ —Diogenes Laërtius

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The idea that unconscious thought is sometimes more powerful than conscious thought is attractive, and echoes ideas popularized by books such as writer Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling Blink.

But within the scientific community, ‘unconscious-thought advantage’ (UTA) has been controversial. Now Dutch psychologists have carried out the most rigorous study yet of UTA—and find no evidence for it. […] The report adds to broader concerns about the quality of psychology studies and to an ongoing controversy about the extent to which unconscious thought in general can influence behaviour.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

art { Bronzino, Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, 1545 }

And shall not Babel be with Lebab?

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Sex in reptiles and fish is determined after conception, during embryogenesis, according to ambient environmental temperature. In contrast, in mammals and birds, sex is determined at conception.

In mammals, male births invariably occur slightly in excess […] with approximately 3% more males born than females. The reason for this discrepancy is uncertain as testicles produce equal numbers of X-bearing and Y-bearing spermatozoa. […]

We have shown that M/F varies in geographical space, exhibiting a latitude gradient, and that this gradient is different in Europe and North America, with more males born towards the south of Europe, compared with the North American continent where more males are born towards the north of the continent.

Other studies have also shown that M/F may vary with time. Several authors have shown that M/F has declined over the second half of the 20th century in various industrialised countries. These include Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the United States of America, and Finland. In contrast, M/F has been noted to have risen in Ireland over the same period. A non-significant rise in M/F has also been noted in Australia and Japan.

{ J Epidemiol Community Health | Continue reading }

A wide variety of factors have been shown to influence the male to female ratio at birth, which invariably displays a male excess. […] It will be shown that stress, including stress related to political events, influences this ratio.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

related { Study: ”Woman on top” is the most dangerous sex position, responsible for half of all penile fractures }

‘I want to tell young women that sex is OK.’ –Sasha Grey

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In an earlier experimental study by Zillman and Bryant (1988) male and female students were exposed to pornography once a week for six weeks. Those who viewed pornography reported being less satisfied with their partner’s appearance and sexual behavior. They also found that men who consumed pornography were more dominating and less attentive toward their partners. Hence, there is some reason to anticipate that pornography consumption impairs relationship commitment.

Other research suggests that pornography may be beneficial to relationships in some ways, especially in sexual relations. Some evidence suggests that consuming pornography influences individuals’ positive attitude toward sexuality and serves as a safe platform through which to en- gage in sexual exploration. […]

Using a variety of methods, we demonstrated that pornography consumption is associated with weakened commitment to one’s relationship partner. […] in Study 5 we examined a more extreme implication of the weakened commitment—infidelity. We found that pornography consumption corresponded to decreased commitment, which, in turn related to higher levels of infidelity.

{ Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology | PDF }

Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia

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We’ve all had that experience of going purposefully from one room to another, only to get there and forget why we made the journey. Four years ago, researcher Gabriel Radvansky and his colleagues stripped this effect down, showing that the simple act of passing through a doorway induces forgetting.

Now psychologists at Knox College, USA, have taken things further, demonstrating that merely imagining walking through a doorway is enough to trigger increased forgetfulness.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

photo { Barbara Klemm, Louvre, Paris, 1987 }

‘Is this mine? Naw. Nothing’s mine.’ —Richard Prince

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In an experiment researchers showed that the human brain uses memories to make predictions about what it expects to find in familiar contexts. When those subconscious predictions are shown to be wrong, the related memories are weakened and are more likely to be forgotten. And the greater the error, the more likely you are to forget the memory.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

The Kreutzer Sonata

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“Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships,” Sanford said. “It’s a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.”

Meanwhile, “passive immobility” — expecting your partner to be a mind-reader — is a tactic people use when they feel anxious in a relationship, and it makes it especially difficult for couples to make progress toward resolving conflicts. But it may not be as harmful down the line as withdrawal, he said.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

art { Mel Ramos, Elephant Seal, 1970 }

‘Everyone is the other, and no one is himself.’ –Heidegger

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Some people will tell you that they have a clear sense of who they are, and that their sense of self is stable over time. Psychologists refer to this as having high “self-concept clarity.” In a new study, Jean Guerrettaz and Robert Arkin shine a spotlight on these self-proclaimed self-knowers. The researchers find that their confidence is often fragile, and that somewhat paradoxically, it is people confident in their sense of self whose self-esteem is most undermined by challenging questions about who they are.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

Only the whole is true

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Monozygotic twins are considered being genetically identical, therefore they cannot be differentiated using standard forensic DNA testing. Here we describe how identification of extremely rare mutations by ultra-deep next generation sequencing can solve such cases. We sequenced DNA from sperm samples of two twins and from a blood sample of the child of one twin. Bioinformatics analysis revealed five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) present in the twin father and the child, but not in the twin uncle.

Our results give experimental evidence for the hypothesis that rare mutations will occur early after the human blastocyst has split into two, the origin of twins, and that such mutations will be carried on into somatic tissue and the germline. The method provides a solution to solve paternity and forensic cases involving monozygotic twins as alleged fathers or originators of DNA traces.

{ FSI Genetics }

‘We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.’ —Saul Bellow

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DNA is generally regarded as the basic building block of life itself. In the most fundamental sense, DNA is nothing more than a chemical compound, albeit a very complex and peculiar one. DNA is an information-carrying molecule. The specific sequence of base pairs contained in a DNA molecule carries with it genetic information, and encodes for the creation of particular proteins. When taken as a whole, the DNA contained in a single human cell is a complete blueprint and instruction manual for the creation of that human being.

In this article we discuss myriad current and developing ways in which people are utilizing DNA to store or convey information of all kinds. For example, researchers have encoded the contents of a whole book in DNA, demonstrating the potential of DNA as a way of storing and transmitting information. In a different vein, some artists have begun to create living organisms with altered DNA as works of art. Hence, DNA is a medium for the communication of ideas. Because of the ability of DNA to store and convey information, its regulation must necessarily raise concerns associated with the First Amendment’s prohibition against the abridgment of freedom of speech.

New and developing technologies, and the contemporary and future social practices they will engender, necessitate the renewal of an approach towards First Amendment coverage that takes into account the purposes and values incarnated in the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution.

{ Charleston School of Law | Continue reading }

photo { Bruce Davidson }

The Ravens. The Five Satins. The Delphonics. The Cadillacs. The Crests. The Del Rays.

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Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by a manipulative interpersonal style, emotional detachment and suspicion of others. Individuals with high levels of Machiavellianism navigate through their social relationships with  protective self-monitoring, external orientated thinking and confidence in their ability to deceive which facilitates their willingness to exploit others for their own self-serving goal. Not surprisingly, research has found that Machiavellianism relates to lower quality friendships in adulthood, including relational aggression in online relationships. […]

Previous research has established the importance of parental bonding (i.e.,  parental care and overprotection) for the development of personality traits and adult relationships. The current study investigated the influence of recalled parenting on the development of Machiavellianism and adult friendship quality. […] Path modeling suggests that decreased maternal care and increased paternal overprotection relate to Machiavellianism which is associated with lower adult friendship quality.

{ Individual Differences Research | Continue reading }

The sound of a billion jaws collectively hitting the floor

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[T]he Inuit, the Masai, and the Samburu people of Uganda all originally ate diets that were 60-80% fat and yet were not obese and did not have hypertension or heart disease.

The hypothesis that saturated fat is the main dietary cause of cardiovascular disease is strongly associated with one man, Ancel Benjamin Keys, a biologist at the University of Minnesota. […] Keys launched his “diet-heart hypothesis” at a meeting in New York in 1952, when the United States was at the peak of its epidemic of heart disease, with his study showing a close correlation between deaths from heart disease and proportion of fat in the diet in men in six countries (Japan, Italy, England and Wales, Australia, Canada, and the United States). Keys studied few men and did not have a reliable way of measuring diets, and in the case of the Japanese and Italians he studied them soon after the second world war, when there were food shortages. Keys could have gathered data from many more countries and people (women as well as men) and used more careful methods, but, suggests Teicholz, he found what he wanted to find. […]

At a World Health Organization meeting in 1955 Keys’s hypothesis was met with great criticism, but in response he designed the highly influential Seven Countries Study, which was published in 1970 and showed a strong correlation between saturated fat (Keys had moved on from fat to saturated fat) and deaths from heart disease. Keys did not select countries (such as France, Germany, or Switzerland) where the correlation did not seem so neat, and in Crete and Corfu he studied only nine men. […]

[T]he fat hypothesis led to a massive change in the US and subsequently international diet. One congressional staffer, Nick Mottern, wrote a report recommending that fat be reduced from 40% to 30% of energy intake, saturated fat capped at 10%, and carbohydrate increased to 55-60%. These recommendations went through to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were published for the first time in 1980. (Interestingly, a recommendation from Mottern that sugar be reduced disappeared along the way.)

It might be expected that the powerful US meat and dairy lobbies would oppose these guidelines, and they did, but they couldn’t counter the big food manufacturers such as General Foods, Quaker Oats, Heinz, the National Biscuit Company, and the Corn Products Refining Corporation, which were both more powerful and more subtle. In 1941 they set up the Nutrition Foundation, which formed links with scientists and funded conferences and research before there was public funding for nutrition research. […]

Saturated fats such as lard, butter, and suet, which are solid at room temperature, had for centuries been used for making biscuits, pastries, and much else, but when saturated fat became unacceptable a substitute had to be found. The substitute was trans fats, and since the 1980s these fats, which are not found naturally except in some ruminants, have been widely used and are now found throughout our bodies. There were doubts about trans fats from the very beginning, but Teicholz shows how the food companies were highly effective in countering any research that raised the risks of trans fats. […]

Another consequence of the fat hypothesis is that around the world diets have come to include much more carbohydrate, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which is cheap, extremely sweet, and “a calorie source but not a nutrient.”2 5 25 More and more scientists believe that it is the surfeit of refined carbohydrates that is driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes, and non-communicable diseases.

{ The BMJ | Continue reading }

related { Beware the Man of One Study }

image { Isa Genzken, X-ray, 1991 }