News for Nerds - November 9, 2012
- 11/9/2012 |
- 10:00 am
Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we demystify the feeling of love at first sight, we give you a couple very good reasons to sit up straight and fix that bad posture, and we take a look at yet another robot video at the request of my longtime friend and coworker, Jane London. But first: zero gravity!
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There's been an influx of space-related stories in News for Nerds over the past few months, and with good reason -- the growing commercial space-flight capabilities of companies like SpaceX, the end of NASA's shuttle program, and even the American astronaut who competed in a triathlon while aboard the International Space Station -- these are all good stories.
One of the most misunderstood elements of human space travel, however, is the concept of zero gravity. Sure, we see videos of astronauts floating around weightlessly, and it looks like fun. But is it? Astronaut Scott Kelly once noted that when living in zero gravity, two things are easier: carrying heavy items, and fitting into small spaces. But everything else, he says, is more difficult.
Among those tough tasks? Everyday things that we take for granted here on Earth, like tying your shoes. "You have to learn to hold yourself down while you use both hands and one foot to tie that shoe," said NASA alum Clay Anderson.
Also tricky? Going to the bathroom. "You never really appreciate gravity until you think about going to the bathroom without it," said astronaut Dan Tani. "Trust me, there are times when I really could use some gravity." Eww.
Eating and drinking can also be a problem. But if you're worried about how those poor space explorers manage to get their morning coffee, fear not. Astronaut Don Pettit has solved that particular problem:
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I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that that, when it comes to romance, there's really only one phrase that immediately comes to mind: medial prefrontal cortex.
Researchers in Ireland have determined that this part of your brain plays a huge role in romantic decision-making -- including the snap judgments we make about who is, or is not, attractive.
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin conducted a study where 78 women and 73 men participated in a real-life speed-dating event. Prior to the event, all the participants looked briefly at photos of the people they were about to meet, and rated them on a scale of 1 to 4. Furthermore, 39 of those participants had functional MRI scans of their brains while they looked at the photos...
...and it turns out that people are pretty good at making quick determinations about who they will find most attractive. Sixty-three percent of the time, the initial, photo-based ratings were backed up by the real-life impressions they made after the five-minute speed date.
Based on the fMRI data, we now know that this has a lot to do with that romantic brain region, the medial prefrontal cortex. In particular, there were two areas in that part of the brain that came into play: the paracingulate cortex, which buzzed with increased activity when people saw photographs of people they would later agree to date; and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which became active when people looked at pictures that they (and others) rated as attractive.
Given all that we're learning about the role that the brain plays in our romantic lives, maybe musicians will eventually decide to stop singing so much about the heart, and start penning lyrics about our more important romantic organ -- the brain -- instead.
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As you read this post, are you sitting in a chair? How's your posture? Are you slouching?
If so, knock it off. New research shows that slouching actually saps your energy and makes you feel kinda sad.
This comes from a study out of San Francisco State University. According to the report, researchers asked volunteers to either skip down a hallway, or to walk down that hallway in a slouched position. What they found was that the people who skipped later reported elevated mood and energy levels, while those who skulked reported increased feelings of depression and a lack of energy.
Now, this doesn't exactly seem like hard science. It's probably fair to question the methodology and all of the control variables involved in a study like this.
But then again, does it seem so far fetched that good posture can make you feel better? Not really. Psychologists and new-age gurus have been telling us for decades that our bodies and our minds are inextricably linked. So take a minute to sit up straight, hold your head up high, and project a little confidence. It might make you feel a little better... but if nothing else, it will probably please your mother.
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And finally, completely free of context and without any explanation whatsoever, here is some video of a robot playing ping pong. Yay, science!
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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!