20 Obvious Things Confirmed by Science

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Brace yourself—these are shocking developments.

1. YOUR CAT IS IGNORING YOU.

A woman kissing a fluffy calico cat that is looking off to the side.
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Your tabby recognizes the sound of your voice, but it’s ignoring you anyway. A recent study at the University of Tokyo showed that, although a cat can identify its owner’s voice, it really doesn’t care enough to listen. The reason for kitty’s cold shoulder? Evolution. Unlike dogs, which were bred and domesticated by humans, cats domesticated themselves. They just aren’t hardwired to listen for commands.

2. STUDENTS WHO DO HOMEWORK GET HIGHER GRADES.

Young Boy In Bedroom Sitting At Desk Doing Homework
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Economist Nick Rupp divided his class into two groups—those required to do homework, and those who were not. The results were (not) shocking. Kids who took home assignments had higher test scores and retention rates. To the delight of teachers everywhere, Rupp confirmed that “homework plays an important role in student learning.”

3. HIGH HEELS HURT.

A woman walking up stairs, in pain, holding her black high heels.
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High heels exaggerate your posture, tilt your hips, and shorten your stride. Some evolutionary psychologists argue they’re part of our primal urge to compete for mates. While that’s up for debate, science has confirmed that high heels are pretty much terrible for you. A study by the Institute for Aging Research found that 64 percent of older women who regularly wore unsupportive shoes—like high heels, pumps, or sandals—at some point in their life complained of foot pain.

4. PIGS LOVE MUD.

A pink piglet with black spots raising its mud-covered snout.
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Pigs don’t have much in the way of sweat glands, which makes controlling body temperature a problem. So, for the longest time, scientists believed pigs wallowed in mud to keep cool. Although that’s true, a study in Applied Animal Behavior Science discovered an evolutionary twist: Porkers don’t roll in mud because they have just a few sweat glands; rather, they have a few sweat glands because they like to roll in mud. (Put differently, swine never developed sweat glands because their ancestors were always playing in muck!) Now some scientists believe a mud bath simply makes pigs happy. It’s a tautology, but pigs like mud because, well, they like mud.

5. CEREAL TASTES BETTER WITH MILK.

Milk being poured into a bowl of cereal.
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Scientists at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile did the unthinkable—they added water to corn flakes. They found that the “intermolecular interactions in the flake’s matrix could be weakened by the plasticizer, leading to the solubilization of some components, and ... a decrease in mechanical integrity.” Translated into English? Water makes cereal soggy. Milk, it turns out, is special. The fat content protects cereal from sucking in too much liquid, keeping it crispy.

6. MEN STARE AT WOMEN'S BOOBS.

A man staring at women in a bar.
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In an article titled "My Eyes are Up Here," Sarah Gervais and her team used eye-tracking technology to confirm what we’ve long suspected—men like ogling at women’s chests. Men spent more time looking at a woman’s body than her face. Their eyes wandered the most if the woman had—surprise!—wide hips, a narrow waist, and large breasts. But women were just as guilty: They stared to scope out the competition.

7. OVEREATING CAN LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN ...

A man, shown from the neck down, sitting on a couch holding a beer with a burger and fries on a plate in his lap.
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Between the 1970s and now, the average adult in the U.S. gained 19 pounds. Research presented at the European Congress of Obesity in 2009 found that “weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories,” study leader Boyd Swinburn said. Laziness had little to do with America’s tightening belt.

8. ... AND EATING BAD FOOD IS BAD FOR YOU.

A plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes.
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If you were holding out hope that fried chicken was a staple of a well-balanced diet, science has some bad news for you. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine tracked the effect of eating habits on participants' health from middle-age on. The research involved assessing the diet of 5350 adults (age 51.3 ± 5.3 years, 29.4 percent women) and then tracked their mortality, chronic diseases and overall health after 16 years. The results: "[P]articipants with a 'Western-type' diet (characterized by high intakes of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products) had lower odds of ideal aging."

9. MEETINGS SUCK.

A man with his head on his arms, face down, during a meeting.
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A 2005 study in Group Dynamics found that meetings are annoying time-sapping killjoys. By analyzing the diary entries of 37 university workers, researchers concluded that meetings make employees stressed and grumpy, hindering even the most motivated workers from getting things done.

10. READING IS GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

Two girls reading a book in the library.
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Your second grade teacher was right. Experts put Ph.D. candidates inside an MRI and had them read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. At one point, they were told to read for pleasure. Then they were told to read analytically (as if they were studying for a test). In both cases, their brains' blood flow increased. Under each condition, blood flowed to different parts of the noggin. Each style of reading prompted different—and beneficial—brain patterns. “Literary study provides a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains,” said project leader Natalie Phillips. Rejoice, English majors! (Here are a few other reasons you should be reading more.)

11. PARTY SCHOOLS LOVE TO PARTY.

A lot of red cups set up for a game of beer pong.
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It took a decade of research, but a team at Harvard School of Public Health finally did it—they confirmed Playboy’s sneaking suspicion. Students binge drank more if their school had a reputation for drinking and partying. The survey of 50,000 students at 120 colleges showed that, although the student body changes year by year, the ratio of heavy to casual drinkers stays the same.

12. THE INTERNET IS WHERE PRODUCTIVITY COMES TO DIE.

A man smiling while he types on his laptop.
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The Internet is an amazing tool with the power to do the world infinite good. But, wait. Look! It’s a bear riding a bicycle! According to Pew Research, 53 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 go online once a day just to waste time.

13. MEN AND WOMEN DESIRE A SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE PARTNER.

A young couple all bundled up for a winter beach date.
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A team of researchers subjected willing undergrads to a word-association assignment to test how much they associate physical attractiveness with an ideal partner. Regardless of how the same participants responded when asked directly about the importance of appearance in a mate, they were quick to report positive feelings when shown words related to sexiness. "If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much," study researcher Paul Eastwick, of Texas A&M University, said in a statement.

14. PEOPLE WILL BUY MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IF THEY'RE CHEAPER.

A man and woman looking at apples in the supermarket.
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Just because we've told you that all that fried food is bad for you doesn't mean you're going to change your ways—but there is one thing that is proven to encourage the purchase of more produce: discounts. A 2013 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on a trial done in Dutch supermarkets in which participants were given 50 percent off produce coupons, nutrition education, both, or neither. The researchers found that people bought and consumed more fruits and vegetables if they were given the coupons. They consumed even more if they got the discount and the education, but if they got just the education there was no effect. Of course, this is important information for crafting public health initiatives, but did they really need the study to know people prefer to spend less money?

15. MUSICIANS GET THE GIRLS.

A man, shown from the nose down, playing a guitar.
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Tales of rock stars and groupies provide more than enough anecdotal evidence to know this is true, but does the musician vibe really make a man more attractive if he's not in a world-famous band? Spoiler alert: yes. A French research team enlisted a young man (who was “previously evaluated as having a high level of physical attractiveness”) to stand on a street and request phone numbers from 300 different young ladies—all in the name of science, of course. For 100 such solicitations he was holding a guitar case; for another 100 he had a sports bag; and for the final 100, he was empty handed. According to the researchers, "Results showed that holding a guitar case was associated with greater compliance to the request, thus suggesting that musical practice is associated with sexual selection." No word on whether or not he followed up with any of the 31 percent of women who offered the apparent guitarist their digits.

16. STEREOTYPICALLY "SEXY" WAITRESSES GET BETTER TIPS.

A close shot of a waitress's arm as she carries a tray of food.
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One caveat: This whole study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, is based on self-reporting some rather personal details. But there's little cause to question findings that support such an obvious trend (not to mention Hooters' whole business model). Waitresses completed an online survey that included subjective assessments of their own attractiveness and sexiness as well as objective attributes like bust size, hair color, and tip amounts. You can probably predict what happened: "The waitresses’ tips varied with age in a negative, quadratic relationship, increased with breast size, increased with having blond hair, and decreased with body size."

17. "PRE-GAMING" BEFORE YOU HIT THE BAR MEANS MORE ALCOHOL OVERALL.

A group of people clinking full shot glasses together.
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Imagine that: Drinks at home plus drinks at the bar equals more overall drinks. A study from Switzerland shows that the intent to defray the cost of alcohol out at the bar with a "pre-gaming" event doesn't really work. Instead, people still imbibe just as much while they're out on the town, which just gets added to their drinks from at home. According to LiveScience, "The study also found that those who pre-drank were more likely to suffer risky or unfavorable consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, hangovers, unplanned substance abuse or unprotected sex." That's probably a result of the more overall drinks.

18. PEOPLE CHANGE CLOTHES BASED ON THE WEATHER.

A woman, pictured from the back, looking into her closet.
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In 2007, researchers from Italy and Denmark published an article looking into people’s clothing choices depending on the weather and indoor environment. While it might seem obvious, the researchers were curious because many employees will drive to work inside a heated/cooled vehicle and then work for the day in a heated/cooled building. Ultimately, the researchers wrote “The outdoor temperature at 6 a.m. seems to affect people's choice of clothes the most.”

19. PEOPLE ARE HAPPIER WHEN THEIR SPOUSES ARE GENEROUS ... OR IF THEY'RE HAVING LOTS OF SEX.

A man puts his hand over his partner's eyes as he hands her a gift.
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The results of a survey of more than 1400 heterosexual couples between the ages of 18 and 46—all of whom had children—published in 2011 as part of the National Marriage Project showed that higher levels of reported generosity correspond to a happier marriage. That's right: People like getting backrubs, flowers and unsolicited acts of niceness, so much so it actually makes them happy. Of course, not as happy as regular sex might. While generosity is good, it was sexual satisfaction that proved to be the most consistent indicator of a happy marriage.

20. EXPERTS HAVE GOOD INTUITION

A woman holds out two hands and smiles.
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If you have an expensive handbag you’re worried might be counterfeit, would you rather trust the gut feeling of an expert or the carefully reasoned logic of an amateur? That’s the question a group of researchers from three universities answered in a 2012 study. They took a bunch of students and told them to identify real Coach/Louis Vuitton handbags from counterfeits. Some were told to base their judgement entirely on intuition, while others were told to be analytical. Among both groups were “experts,” or people with “more than three Coach and/or Louis Vuitton handbags.” According to a press release, “the researchers found that intuition was more effective for those with high expertise. In the intuition condition, participants with high expertise demonstrated higher task performance. In the analysis condition, those with high expertise performed no better than those with low expertise.”

Written by Lucas Reilly, Hannah Keyser, and Austin Thompson. Versions of this story ran in 2014 and 2015.

Why Thousands of 'Penis Fish' Washed Up on a California Beach

Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0
Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0

Nature works in mysterious ways. The latest example materialized at Drakes Beach near San Francisco, California, in early December, when visitors strolling along the shore stumbled upon what looked to be the discarded inventory of an adult novelty shop. In fact, it was thousands of Urechis caupo, a marine worm that bears more than a passing resemblance to a human penis.

The engorged pink invertebrate, which is typically 10 inches in length, is native to the Pacific coast and frequently goes by the less salacious name of “fat innkeeper worm.” Burrowing in sand, the worm produces mucus from its front end to ensnare plankton and other snacks, then pumps water to create a vacuum where the food is directed into their tunnel. Since it builds up a small nest of discarded food, other creatures like crabs will stop by to feed, hence the “innkeeper” label.

You can see the worm in "action" here:

Because the worms enjoy a reclusive life in their burrows, it’s unusual to see thousands stranded on the beach. It’s likely that a strong storm broke up the intertidal sand, decimating their homes and leaving them exposed. The event is likely to thrill otters, as they enjoy dining on the worm. So do humans: Penis fish are served both raw and cooked in Korea and China.

[h/t Live Science]

The Horrors of Anglerfish Mating

Masaki Miya et al. "Evolutionary history of anglerfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes): a mitogenomic perspective," BMC Evolutionary Biology 10, article number: 58 (2010), Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Masaki Miya et al. "Evolutionary history of anglerfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes): a mitogenomic perspective," BMC Evolutionary Biology 10, article number: 58 (2010), Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

When you think of an anglerfish, you probably think of something like the creature above: Big mouth. Gnarly teeth. Lure bobbing from its head. Endless nightmares. 

During the 19th century, when scientists began to discover, describe, and classify anglerfish from a particular branch of the anglerfish family tree—the suborder Ceratioidei—that’s what they thought of, too. The problem was that they were only seeing half the picture. The specimens that they were working with were all female, and they had no idea where the males were or what they looked like. Researchers sometimes found some other fish that seemed to be related based on their body structure, but they lacked the fearsome maw and lure typical of ceratioids and were much smaller—sometimes only as long as 6 or 7 millimeters—and got placed into separate taxonomic groups.

It wasn’t until the 1920s—almost a full century after the first ceratioid was entered into the scientific record—that things started to become a little clearer. In 1922, Icelandic biologist Bjarni Saemundsson discovered a female ceratioid with two of these smaller fish attached to her belly by their snouts. He assumed it was a mother and her babies, but was puzzled by the arrangement.

“I can form no idea of how, or when, the larvae, or young, become attached to the mother. I cannot believe that the male fastens the egg to the female,” he wrote. “This remains a puzzle for some future researchers to solve.”

When Saemundsson kicked the problem down the road, it was Charles Tate Regan, working at the British Museum of Natural History in 1924, who picked it up. Regan also found a smaller fish attached to a female ceratioid. When he dissected it, he realized it wasn’t a different species or the female angler’s child. It was her mate.

The “missing” males had been there all along, just unrecognized and misclassified, and Regan and other scientists, like Norwegian zoologist Albert Eide Parr, soon figured out why the male ceratioids looked so different. They don’t need lures or big mouths and teeth because they don’t hunt, and they don’t hunt because they have the females. The ceratioid male, Regan wrote, is “merely an appendage of the female, and entirely dependent on her for nutrition.” In other words, a parasite.

When ceratioid males go looking for love, they follow a species-specific pheromone to a female, who will often aid their search further by flashing her bioluminescent lure. Once the male finds a suitable mate, he bites into her belly and latches on until his body fuses with hers. Their skin joins together, and so do their blood vessels, which allows the male to take all the nutrients he needs from his host/mate’s blood. The two fish essentially become one.

With his body attached to hers like this, the male doesn't have to trouble himself with things like seeing or swimming or eating like a normal fish. The body parts he doesn’t need anymore—eyes, fins, and some internal organs—atrophy, degenerate, and wither away, until he’s little more than a lump of flesh hanging from the female, taking food from her and providing sperm whenever she’s ready to spawn.

Extreme size differences between the sexes and parasitic mating aren’t found in all anglerfish. Throughout the other suborders, there are males that are free-swimming their whole lives, that can hunt on their own and that only attach to the females temporarily to reproduce before moving along. For deep-sea ceratioids that might only rarely bump into each other in the abyss, though, the weird mating ritual is a necessary adaptation to keep mates close at hand and ensure that there will always be more little anglerfish. And for us, it’s something to both marvel and cringe at, a reminder that the natural world is often as strange as any fiction we can imagine.

Naturalist William Beebe put it nicely in 1938, writing, “But to be driven by impelling odor headlong upon a mate so gigantic, in such immense and forbidding darkness, and willfully eat a hole in her soft side, to feel the gradually increasing transfusion of her blood through one’s veins, to lose everything that marked one as other than a worm, to become a brainless, senseless thing that was a fish—this is sheer fiction, beyond all belief unless we have seen the proof of it.”

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