Thursday, October 14, 2010

Scientists Study Dog Anxiety, Everyone Makes Same Joke

If you’ve got a canine friend, you may ascribe to the belief that your dog feels happy when you come home, depressed when you leave, or sympathetic when you’re feeling down. Well, you may be right. Recent science suggests that dogs may be prone to optimistic and pessimistic tendencies, and researchers used principles from human psychology to test this hypothesis. In the words of dozens of like-minded news writers, for some dogs “the bowl is half-empty.”

In the study, headed by a team at Bristol University, test-dogs were trained with two food bowls, one empty and one full. The bowls were always kept in the same place in the test room, so that the dog learned to expect a full bowl in one corner and an empty one in the other corner. After the dogs had formed these expectations, they were placed in the room with bowls arranged at random locations. Based on how enthusiastically the dogs checked the bowls, researchers classified which dogs were more optimistic decision-makers. Basically, being excited, rather than indifferent, about an unknown element belies a tendency to expect a positive outcome, rather than a negative one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From Emoticon to Emoti-bot

Mid-August of this year, the news feeds exploded with stories about the Nao robot and its ability to use emotional responses to interact with people. The little humanoid robot displays its feelings through physical postures, hunching its shoulders when it’s sad or opening up its arms for hugs when it’s happy.

It’s a fantastic technological development, and some would say a terrifying portent of our impending machine-based doom. But despite the promising work that the robot is doing with autistic children and the potential aid for the disabled, all I could think about while reading these articles what do they mean by emotions?

Live and Streaming - The Top 5 Science Streams

The internet age has given us access to so many vectors of useless information that some really amazing science sites go unnoticed. Luckily, I have noticed them for you.

These are the five coolest online scientific data streams, brought to you by Zu.

5. Ground Control to Major Tom

Space exploration may seem alien to you (ha!), but NASA’s Human Space Flight tracker brings it home by showing you the precise location of the International Space Station (ISS). If there were any manned (personned?) shuttles in orbit right now, you’d be able to track those too. The site provides you with the status of the ISS, as well as who’s on board and your next chance to catch a glimpse of it in the sky over your town.

Keeping Score: Games of the Future and the Future of Gaming (extra points for comments)

Games are successful if they can achieve one vital goal: to keep you interested. Loyalty is priceless in the game world, and it’s achieved via reward systems that give you just enough satisfaction to keep you engaged.

But reward systems aren’t isolated to games. They have played a part in our consumer reality for a long time. Jesse Schell, game designer and teacher at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Center, is waiting for a game revolution to take over even the mundane aspects of our everyday lives.

He envisions a world where your toothbrush gives you points every time you brush, and a bonus for brushing for the recommended three minutes. Your health insurance can read your digital shoes for how much you’ve walked in a day, and gives you points for getting your heart-rate up. Your cereal box has digital games on the back, instead of word-searches or mazes, and the games link up through Facebook to rate you against your friends.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Can Imagine this Experiment Ruining Relationships

In breaking news from the world of that-confirms-what-I'd-suspected and well-isn't-that-depressing, scientists have discovered a disparity between the physical shape of people's actual significant others and that of their ideal significant others. Researchers at the Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution in France performed an experiment involving 116 "human couples," and found that, on average, men preferred their women much slimmer, and women preferred their men slightly beefier.

In the tests, each participant was given two silhouettes to modify - one that represented themselves, and one that represented the body shape of their ideal mates.  Each member was granted freedom - no worried loved ones looking over their shoulders - to alter the ideal mate silhouette to whatever looked most attractive to them.  The researchers then took the dimensions of the idealized silhouettes and compared them against the measurements taken from the participants and their actual mates.  

The findings break down as follows:
  • The men's ideal mates were generally significantly slimmer and slightly taller, thus having lower BMIs (body mass index)
  • The women's ideal mates were slightly larger and a little taller, with similarly proportioned BMIs
The paper concludes that no one had just what they wanted, which isn't particularly surprising.  


What's troubling, however, is that the preferred silhouette that the men drew had an average BMI of 18.4, just below the cut-off for being officially underweight by the standards of the World Health Organization.  Women drew silhouettes with an average BMI of 23.5, well within range and for their partners.  

While the study can do little to tease out the cause of these disparities, it's easy to let speculation lead us astray.  There weren't many controls in the experiment, and there aren't other similar tests that compare both mate preference and mate choice, so it's hard to draw any solid conclusions.  

What the researchers did conclude is that mate preference is a poor predictor of mate choice.  Basically, you're not likely to end up dating the body of your dreams.  Perhaps it's best to focus your preferences on non-physical attributes then, eh?