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Holding a guitar case can increase your success with women… if you’re attractive (and live in France)

I came across a fun little study published on the Psychology of Music. The experimenters designed a simple experiment to test whether music plays in role in sexual selection. To be honest, I am not sure if that was what they actually tested but I’ll let you decide on that. It seems that what they tested was whether holding a guitar case increases women’s receptivity to a courtship solicitation – if you are attractive, male and live in France. The participants were 300 young females with an estimated age between 18 and 22 years, who were walking alone in several shopping streets of a medium-sized city in France. The experiment was conducted on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the summer period. A 20-year-old man, previously evaluated as having a high level of physical attractiveness, acted as confederate.

The participants were selected following a random assignment in which the confederate was instructed to approach the first young woman in the age group (18–22 years) who appeared alone on the pedestrian walkway. He was instructed not to select a participant according to her physical attractiveness, the way she was dressed, her height, etc. He was instructed to wait until a young woman between approximately 18 and 22 years of age passed by him in the street, and then to approach her… The confederate was instructed to approach the young women with a smile and to say, “Hello. My name’s Antoine. I just want to say that I think you’re really pretty. I have to go to work this afternoon, and I was wondering if you would give me your phone number. I’ll phone you later and we can have a drink together someplace.” According to the experimental conditions, the confederate held in his hands a black acoustic guitar case (guitar case condition), a large black sports bag (sports bag control condition), or nothing (no bag control condition). After testing 10 women in one condition, the confederate was instructed to move to another area and to select a new experimental condition according to a random distribution.

The confederate talked to 300 women in one afternoon.. Impressive. The results? In the guitar case condition, 31% (!) of the women gave their phone number to the confederate , compared to 9% in the sports bag condition and 14% in the no bag control condition. It seems that holding a guitar case is an effective strategy if you’re attractive. Holding a sports bag seems to have the opposite effect. There are many problems with this study which the authors recognise. First of all, they only used one confederate and his physical attractiveness was high. He was voted as the most good looking guy among a list of others in a previous study. As a result, it is difficult to generalise the effects to other male confederates with various attractiveness levels. It’d be interesting to see if holding a guitar case would increase women’s receptivity to a courtship solicitation by an average looking male. Also, only one instrument was manipulated in this study. Could the effect be limited to the guitar?

Reference

LOL cats and Neuroscience?

31/01/2013 1 comment

I never expected to see this. Using LOL cats to describe a new study? The result is surprisingly good. Maybe I’m slightly biased because I love cats.

Here’s the abstract of the newly published (31/01) Nature paper in case you want to learn more:

Stroking of the skin produces pleasant sensations that can occur during social interactions with conspecifics, such as grooming1. Despite numerous physiological studies (reviewed in ref. 2), molecularly defined sensory neurons that detect pleasant stroking of hairy skin3, 4 in vivo have not been reported. Previously, we identified a rare population of unmyelinated sensory neurons in mice that express the G-protein-coupled receptor MRGPRB4 (refs 5, 6). These neurons exclusively innervate hairy skin with large terminal arborizations7 that resemble the receptive fields of C-tactile (CT) afferents in humans8. Unlike other molecularly defined mechanosensory C-fibre subtypes9, 10, MRGPRB4+ neurons could not be detectably activated by sensory stimulation of the skin ex vivo. Therefore, we developed a preparation for calcium imaging in the spinal projections of these neurons during stimulation of the periphery in intact mice. Here we show that MRGPRB4+ neurons are activated by massage-like stroking of hairy skin, but not by noxious punctate mechanical stimulation. By contrast, a different population of C fibres expressing MRGPRD11 was activated by pinching but not by stroking, consistent with previous physiological and behavioural data10, 12. Pharmacogenetic activation of Mrgprb4-expressing neurons in freely behaving mice promoted conditioned place preference13, indicating that such activation is positively reinforcing and/or anxiolytic. These data open the way to understanding the function of MRGPRB4 neurons during natural behaviours, and provide a general approach to the functional characterization of genetically identified subsets of somatosensory neurons in vivo.

You can read the paper here (paywall alert).

PS: LOL cats seem to be popular in academia lately. Remember the LOLcat dissertation?

The Psychology of Christmas

19/12/2011 5 comments

It’s that time of the year again. Christmas carols, mince pies, endless queues at the local post office, Starbucks red cups, Doctor Who..  Thankfully, psychologists are curious creatures that study almost every aspect of human behaviour including… Christmas. So here are a few Christmas related studies/links:

1) Most people like decorating their house for Christmas. Some of them go too far, as you can see in this video. One possible reason for this behaviour could be the desire to communicate friendliness and cohesiveness with neighbours. Werner et al. examined whether strangers can accurately identify the more friendly residents, and what aspects of the homes’ exteriors contribute to their impressions. They also examine the possibility that residents who decorate for Christmas but who have few friends on the block may be using the decorations and other cues as a way of communicating their accessibility to neighbours.

Participants rated residents based only on photographs of their home and front yard. Stimulus homes had been preselected to represent the four cells of a two by two factorial design crossing the presence/absence of Christmas decorations with the resident’s self-rated social contact with neighbors (low/high). As expected, a main effect for the decorated factor indicated that raters used Christmas decorations as a cue that the residents were friendly and cohesive. Decoration interacted with sociability in a complex but interpretable way. In the absence of Christmas decorations, raters accurately distinguished between the homes of sociable and nonsociable residents; in open ended comments, they attributed their impressions to the relatively more ‘open’ and ‘lived in’ look of the sociable residents’ homes. When Christmas decorations were present, raters actually attributed greater sociability to the nonsociable residents, citing a more open appearance as the basis for their judgments. The results support the idea that residents can use their home’s exterior to communicate attachment and possibly to integrate themselves into a neighborhood’s social activities.

I have a feeling that extreme Christmas decorations probably fail to achieve this purpose and result in (further) alienation.

2)  What makes for a Merry Christmas? Not consumerism according to a study by Kasser et al. More specifically:

More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. Engaging in environmentally conscious consumption practices also predicted a happier holiday, as did being older and male. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied.

You can read the full study here.

3) Christmassy stuff make you feel better if you’re a Christian or if you celebrate Christmas. Schmitt et al. examined the differential psychological consequences of being in the presence of a Christmas display on participants who did or did not celebrate Christmas, or who identified as Christian, Buddhist, or Sikh. Participants completed measures of psychological well-being while they were in a cubicle that was either decorated or not with a Christmas display. The Christmas decorations harmed non-celebrators and non-Christians well-being scores. The opposite effect was found on Christians. I’m wondering what’s the effect on atheists that were raised in Christian families/societies..

4) If you still believe in Santa Claus you might have to skip this one. Still here? You’re probably over 8. According to a (locked) study by Blair et al. this is the mean age at which disbelief in Santa Claus occurs  for both boys and girls. Another study (Anderson et al., 1994) examined the children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth.

Children reported predominantly positive reactions on learning the truth. Parents, however, described themselves as predominantly sad in reaction to their child’s discovery.

5) And finally, Christmas phobias, or the 12 neuroses of Christmas. Not very scientific but funny (unless you’re suffering from Ho-Ho-Phobia).

 

PS: I’m a bit surprised by the lack of neuroimaging studies on Christmas! I was hoping for something catchy and pointless like “Your brain on Santa Claus” or “The neuroscience of Christmas Carols”.

ResearchBlogging.orgWERNER, C., PETERSONLEWIS, S., & BROWN, B. (1989). Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: Impact of christmas decorations and other cues Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9 (4), 279-296 DOI: 10.1016/S0272-4944(89)80010-6

Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. (2002). What Makes for a Merry Christmas? Journal of Happiness Studies, 3 (4), 313-329 DOI: 10.1023/A:1021516410457

BLAIR, J., MC KEE, J., & JERNIGAN, L. (1980). CHILDREN’S BELIEF IN SANTA CLAUS, EASTER BUNNY AND TOOTH FAIRY Psychological Reports, 46 (3), 691-694 DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1980.46.3.691

Schmitt, M., Davies, K., Hung, M., & Wright, S. (2010). Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (6), 1017-1022 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.026

Anderson, C., & Prentice, N. (1994). Encounter with reality: Children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 25 (2), 67-84 DOI: 10.1007/BF02253287

The “Singing” Mouse?

22/12/2010 1 comment

A tweeting mouse?

A Japanese group led by Arikuni Uchimura managed to create a genetically-engineered mouse that tweets like a bird! The “singing” mouse is part of the team’s “Evolved Mouse Project”, in which they use genetically modified mice that are prone to mutations.

The “singing” mouse was born by chance but this particular trait will be passed on to future generations. Uchimura who dreams of creating a real life version of Mickey Mouse (!) hopes that this creation could provide clues on how human language evolved…

You can hear the talented animal here. Sounds a bit like squeaking to be honest…

Moreover, a case of a “singing” mouse was reported much earlier – in 1936. You can read the Times article here. More recently, another group had identified patterns of singing in male mice. You can read the article here.

A Few Calls a Day Keep Alzheimer’s Away?

07/01/2010 3 comments

Do you remember all those reports trying to find a connection between cellphones and unpleasant things, like cancer, ear aches, etc? Worry not!? Now thanks to researchers from the University of South Florida you can embrace your newly purchased Nexus One without worrying about possible side-effects.

After long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves such as those used in cell phones, mice genetically altered to develop <a href=”“>Alzheimer’s performed as well on memory and thinking skill tests as healthy mice, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The results were a major surprise and open the possibility of developing a noninvasive, drug-free treatment for Alzheimer’s, said lead author Gary Arendash of the University of South Florida.

He said he had expected cell phone exposure to increase the effects of dementia.

“Quite to the contrary, those mice were protected if the cell phone exposure was stared in early adulthood. Or if the cellphone exposure was started after they were already memory- impaired, it reversed that impairment,” Arendash said in a telephone interview.

Arendash’s team exposed the mice to electromagnetic waves equivalent to those emitted by a cellphone pressed against a human head for two hours daily over seven to nine months.

At the end of that time, they found cellphone exposure erased a build-up of beta amyloid, a protein that serves as a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s mice showed improvement and had reversal of their brain pathology, he said.

“It (the electromagnetic wave) prevents the aggregation of that bad protein of the brain,” Arendash said. “The findings are intriguing to us because they open up a whole new field in neuroscience, we believe, which is the long-term effects of electromagnetic fields on memory.”

Arendash said his team was modifying the experiment to see if they could produce faster results and begin testing humans.

Despite decades of research, there are few effective treatments and no cure for Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. Many treatments that have shown promise in mice have had little effect on humans.

More than 35 million people globally will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia in 2010, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

There has been recent controversy about whether electromagnetic waves from cellphones cause brain cancer.

Co-author Chuanhai Cao said the mice study is more evidence that long-term cellphone use is not harmful to the brain.

Groups such as the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society, and the National Institutes of Health, have all concluded that scientific evidence to date does not support any adverse health effects associated with the use of cellphones.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

I wouldn’t recommend spending too many hours on the phone, though, as the long-term effects are not known yet. I’m really curious to see if other studies will replicate these results in humans. Imagine how fierce the competition between Google and Apple will be then!

Others Do It Better: A Few Interesting Links

07/08/2009 2 comments

mri_brainIt’s summer, but it’s the busiest time for me. I’m trying to find a place to stay in London and I have to spend most of my time searching.. I didn’t have time to write anything, so I’ll just mention a few links to  neuroscience, psychology posts that I liked this week:

1. BPS Research Digest Blog has a very interesting article about kids with invisible friends. A study by Gabriel Trionfi and Elaine Reese showed that these children have superior narrative skills… Read more here

2. Cognitive Daily inspired by summer holiday photos tells us how the brain divides the task of recognising sounds.

3. Read about the scientific study of beauty at “The Psychology of Beauty” latest blogpost: When Attractive Isn’t Beautiful

4. One of my favourite articles of the week at bjoern.brembs.blog: Don’t stress the scientists!

5. New Scientists’: “Out-of-body experiences help bring avatars to life”

6. The Psych Student on “How copyright enforcement inspires pirate behavior”

7.  Finally, a funny but  interesting article on Neuroskeptic: “Tickling Rats For Science

P.S: I’ll be back with a real blogpost soon.

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