It’s true – women feign sexual pleasure to end ‘bad’ sex

July 8, 2016

When talking about troubling sexual encounters some women mention faking sexual pleasure to speed up their male partner’s orgasm and ultimately end sex.

This is one of the findings of a qualitative study by Emily Thomas (Ryerson University, Canada) Monika Stelzl, Michelle Lafrance (St. Thomas University, Canada) that will be presented today, Friday 8 July 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women annual conference in Windsor. Read more

Baby talk words with repeated sounds help infants learn language

May 27, 2016

Babies find it easier to learn words with repetitive syllables rather than mixed sounds, a study suggests.

Assessments of language learning in 18-month-olds suggest that children are better at grasping the names of objects with repeated syllables, over words with non-identical syllables.

Researchers say the study may help explain why some words or phrases, such as ‘train’ and ‘good night’, have given rise to versions with repeated syllables, such as choo-choo and night-night. Read more

The 6 elements of an effective apology

April 12, 2016

There are six components to an apology – and the more of them you include when you say you’re sorry, the more effective your apology will be, according to new research.

But if you’re pressed for time or space, there are two elements that are the most critical to having your apology accepted.

“Apologies really do work, but you should make sure you hit as many of the six key components as possible,” said Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Read more

The ‘Not Face’ is a universal part of language, study suggests

March 29, 2016

Researchers have identified a single, universal facial expression that is interpreted across many cultures as the embodiment of negative emotion.

The look proved identical for native speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”

The study, published in the journal Cognition, also reveals that our facial muscles contract to form the “not face” at the same frequency at which we speak or sign words in a sentence. That is, we all instinctively make the “not face” as if it were part of our spoken or signed language. Read more

Understanding the dynamics of crowd behavior

March 9, 2016

Crowds formed from tiny particles disperse as their environment becomes more disordered, according to scientists from UCL, Bilkent University and University Pierre et Marie Curie.

The new mechanism is counterintuitive and might help describe crowd behaviour in natural, real-world systems where many factors impact on individuals’ responses to either gather or disperse. Read more

It’s great to have siblings, but they’re also hard work

February 24, 2016

What do children think about their new families? A research project conducted by the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University focuses on what happens to sibling relationships when mum and dad get divorced and find new partners.

The truth is that we know very little about what children and young people in Denmark think about having brothers and sisters. Who do they regard as siblings, what do they do together, and what do they definitely NOT do together? What does getting a new brother or sister mean to them? Are the children you live with your siblings, regardless of whether they have the same parents as you? Are some siblings more genuine than others? And can you ever stop being a sibling? Read more

Mental time travel: An exclusively human capacity

December 22, 2015

Are humans the only ones who are able to remember events that they had experienced and mentally time travel not only into the past but also the future? Or do animals have the same capacity? To a certain extend, according to three researchers who are contributing a new theoretical model to this long-standing discussion. They published their results in the journal Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews.

Episodic memory is a component of mental time travel

The model developed by the three researchers Prof Markus Werning, Prof Sen Cheng (both Mercator Research Group “Structure of Memory” at RUB) and Prof Thomas Suddendorf (University of Queensland) differs from other approaches with regard to one major aspect: it suggests a new relationship between mental time travel and episodic memory. The research team assumes that mental time travel is composed of different components. “Component one are memory traces from episodic memory. That means: fairly accurate representations of personally experienced episodes, where each trace represents a particular experience, i.e. is very specific,” explains Prof Sen Cheng. Component two is the ability to construct mental scenarios; by this, the researchers mean dynamic representations of past or expected situations that are not isolated but rather can be embedded into larger contexts and be reflected. If, for example, someone misplaces their key, they mentally travel back to places and situations where they still had the key. By associating the past situation with other experiences and information, a scenario is created. The question if and, if so, how the construction of mental scenarios is linked to a specific “autonoetic” form of consciousness is particularly interesting from the philosophical point of view. The authors discuss several options with an open outcome.

No definitive evidence for foresightful behaviour in animals found

In order to answer the question if animals are capable of mental time travel, the researchers relied on published experimental studies and matched the results with their model. Conclusion: “Some animals indeed appear to possess episodic memory. There is, however, no evidence that they are able to construct, reflect and compare different future scenarios like humans are. We therefore don’t believe that animals are capable of mental time travel,” says Prof Sen Cheng. For example, the ability of squirrels to cache food in autumn for the winter can be interpreted not as an anticipatory activity, but rather as innate behaviour. “The squirrel would hoard food even if it had been fed in the winter all its life,” says Cheng.

Research across disciplinary boundaries

As professors in the interdisciplinary Mercator Research Group “Structure of Memory” at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Prof Sen Cheng and Prof Markus Werning have successfully looked beyond the boundaries of their respective disciplines when conducting memory research. For their current study, they were joined by Prof Thomas Suddendorf, one of the pioneers in the research into mental processes in animals. The three researchers are old acquaintances. Thomas Suddendorf had spent two months as Senior Scientist at the Mercator Research Group and was one of the speakers at the ECE Summer School “Memory and Mind”.

Quick thinkers are charismatic

December 4, 2015

Charisma may rely on quick thinking, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research shows that people who were able to respond more quickly to general knowledge questions and visual tasks were perceived as more charismatic by their friends, independently of IQ and other personality traits.

“Our findings show that social intelligence is more than just knowing the right thing to do,” says psychological scientist William von Hippel of the University of Queensland in Australia. “Social intelligence also requires an ability to execute, and the quickness of our mind is an important component of that ability.”

Von Hippel and colleagues were intrigued by why some people exude more charisma than others, and wanted to understand the factors that might drive these differences.

“We decided to take a slightly different approach to the problem by trying to get a handle on what enables charisma,” von Hippel explains. “When we looked at charismatic leaders, musicians, and other public figures, one thing that stood out is that they are quick on their feet.”

To investigate whether mental speed might contribute to charisma, the researchers conducted two studies with a combined total of 417 participants. Participants in the studies completed established measures of intelligence and personality.

To gauge charisma, the researchers asked the participants’ friends to rate how “charismatic,” “funny,” and “quick-witted” they were. To measure mental speed, participants then answered 30 common-knowledge questions (e.g., “Name a precious gem”) as quickly as possible. In the second study, they also completed timed tasks that required them to locate a dot or identify a pattern as quickly as possible.

The results showed that participants who were faster on the mental speed tasks were perceived as more charismatic, and this association remained after other factors, such as general intelligence and personality, were taken into account.

“Although we expected mental speed to predict charisma, we thought that it would be less important than IQ,” says von Hippel. “Instead, we found that how smart people were was less important than how quick they were. So knowing the right answer to a tough question appears to be less important than being able to consider a large number of social responses in a brief window of time.”

The researchers speculate that mental speed may also make it easier to quickly mask an inappropriate reaction and make humorous associations on the spot.

Contrary to the researchers’ predictions, mental speed did not predict other social skills, such as being adept at handling conflict or interpreting others’ feelings.

These studies suggest that social intelligence depends on more than knowing specific social rules or having certain social abilities, like the ability to read people’s facial expressions. While social knowledge and face reading are undoubtedly critical components of social intelligence, this research shows that general mental properties, like mental speed, also play an important role.

Study explains why hemp and marijuana are different

July 18, 2015

Genetic differences between hemp and marijuana determine whether Cannabis plants have the potential for psychoactivity, a new study by University of Minnesota scientists shows.

“Given the diversity of cultivated forms of Cannabis, we wanted to identify the genes responsible for differences in drug content,” says U of M plant biologist George Weiblen. While marijuana is rich in psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp produces mostly a non-euphoric cannabidiol (CBD), but the genetic basis for this difference was a matter of speculation until now. The study was published in the July 17 online edition of New Phytologist.

The discovery of a single gene distinguishing the two varieties, which according to Weiblen took more than 12 years of research, could strengthen hemp producers’ argument that their products should not be subject to the same narcotics laws as hemp’s cannabinoid cousin. Since 1970, all Cannabis plants have been classified as controlled substances by the federal government, but nearly half of all states, including Minnesota, now define hemp as distinct from marijuana. Efforts to revise hemp’s U.S. legal status so that it could again be cultivated commercially have gained momentum in recent years.

The market for hemp seed and fiber in the U.S. surpassed $600 million last year alone. But despite the plant’s surging popularity as an ingredient in food, personal care products, clothing and even construction, commercial hemp cultivation is prohibited by the federal government. Currently, all hemp products are imported to the U.S.

Research on hemp is tightly controlled by government regulations. Weiblen and his co-authors at the University of Mississippi are among few labs in the country with the federal clearance to study Cannabis.

“It’s a plant of major economic importance that is very poorly understood scientifically. With this study, we have indisputable evidence for a genetic basis of differences among Cannabis varieties,” says Weiblen, “further challenging the position that all Cannabis should be regulated as a drug.”

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

May 26, 2015

Dogs’ special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome-based estimates have suggested that the ancestors of modern-day dogs diverged from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age.

The genome from this ancient specimen, which has been radiocarbon dated to 35,000 years ago, reveals that the Taimyr wolf represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs.

“Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed,” says Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. “The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves.” Dalén considers this second explanation less likely, since it would require that the second wolf population subsequently became extinct in the wild.

“It is [still] possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time,” adds first author of the study Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute.

The researchers made these discoveries based on a small piece of bone picked up during an expedition to the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. Initially, they didn’t realize the bone fragment came from a wolf at all; this was only determined using a genetic test back in the laboratory. But wolves are common on the Taimyr Peninsula, and the bone could have easily belonged to a modern-day wolf. On a hunch, the researchers decided to radiocarbon date the bone anyway. It was only then that they realized what they had: a 35,000-year-old bone from an ancient Taimyr wolf.

The DNA evidence also shows that modern-day Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs share an unusually large number of genes with the ancient Taimyr wolf.

“The power of DNA can provide direct evidence that a Siberian Husky you see walking down the street shares ancestry with a wolf that roamed Northern Siberia 35,000 years ago,” Skoglund says. To put that in perspective, “this wolf lived just a few thousand years after Neandertals disappeared from Europe and modern humans started populating Europe and Asia.”

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