News for Nerds - The Mean Girls Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 11/1/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Mean Girls Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll unlock the secrets of your brain in love, we'll learn how many lives self-driving cars will eventually save, and we'll get a peek at the iPad app that helps the Ohio State Marching Band go viral. But first, here are your headlines.

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Anyone with teenagers in their house -- and for that matter, anyone who's ever been a teenager -- is probably familiar with the concept of 'mean girls.' Rosalind Wiseman wrote thoroughly about it in her 2002 book Queen Bees and Wannabees, which later became the sneaky-good movie adaptation Mean Girls.

And it's not just young girls that act this way. Chances are you've seen such behavior in your workplace, or among friends. But what causes this behavior in the first place? A controversial new study says that the answer might be evolution.

According to a paper authored by a Canadian psychology professor, women are more likely to use catty behavior and backbiting as a means of demoralizing their competition -- other women, that is -- and to take romantic rivals out of the picture. The paper says that these forms of 'indirect aggression' became the norm for women because they have a low cost. When compared to physical confrontation, indirect aggression is an effective way to undermine a rival without (much) threat of bodily harm.

The key, from an evolutionary standpoint, is that women's role in childbearing and rearing makes them less expendable to the group. In the distant past, women relied heavily on one another to help raise children, so shunning a woman could be a major blow to her children's survival odds. Being the victim of such cattiness also made targeted women too sad and anxious to compete for romantic attention, and made them seem less attractive to suitors.

It's an interesting idea, but it's worth pointing out that a) men are also guilty of this type of indirect aggression; and b) not everyone buys into this research or its methodology. More data is needed, and more work needs to be done. In the meantime, just try and stay out of the way of Regina George.

- from LiveScience

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It's hard to imagine that less than a decade ago, there was no such thing as 'social media' -- at least not in the way we use that term today. Now it seems so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives that many of us rarely go a day without it.

What's interesting, though, is that social media also is capable of collecting and dissecting information in ways that teach us about ourselves. For instance: did you know that the makeup of your Facebook friends can predict the end of your relationship?

Here's the deal. A researcher from Cornell worked with a Facebook engineer to analyze 1.3 million random Facebook users, each of whom had between 50 and 2,000 friends. Using just that data, the researchers were able to build an algorithm that could accurately predict a user's spouse 60 percent of the time.

The trick is a metric known as dispersion, which is basically the degree to which a couple's mutual friends are not connected to one another. Higher dispersion is a stronger predictor for a relationship than simply sharing a bunch of mutual friends. One researcher involved with the project explains, "A spouse or romantic partner is a bridge between a person's different social worlds."

But here's the catch: couples that did not have high dispersion rates tended not to last. In fact, if a couple had no evidence of dispersion between them, they were 50 percent more likely to have broken up within two months. Why? Well, in Facebook terms . . . It's Complicated.

- from Popular Science and The New York Times

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Here are a few other cool science stories you might enjoy:

  • I'm a big fan of the Discovery News videos, because they consistently amaze me with the accessible way they approach science. Check out this three-minute clip, which explains the physiological processes -- butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, etc. -- that constitute the feeling of love.
  • Is it possible that self-driving cars (which could be a reality within the next 10 years) could save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars each year? Some people think so.
  • And finally, you've probably seen video clips of the jaw-dropping performances of the Ohio State Marching Band. But have you ever wondered how they choreograph their routines with such precision? As this segment from The Today Show explains, there's an app for that:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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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!

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