Just when I bought all those reusable shopping bags: A Worm May Hold The Key To Biodegrading Plastic

A Worm May Hold The Key To Biodegrading Plastic
More than a trillion plastic bags are used annually. They’re made of a notoriously resilient kind of plastic called polyethylene – but scientists have found that wax worms are able to break them down.Read more on NPR

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Tropical Fish, Opioid Delivery System, or Nightmare Fuel?

D) All of the Above. Sounds like a promising murder weapon…

With their large lower canines, fang blennies deliver opioid-laced venom that seems to cause a sudden drop in their predators’ blood pressure.

from NYT Science

This fish-themed post is posted in honor of the French April 1 tradition, poissons d’avril. It involves exchanging humorous fish-themed cards and stealthily attaching paper fish to unsuspecting acquaintances.

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Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens

By CLAUDIA DREIFUS In a new book, the social psychologist Adam Alter warns that our devotion to digital devices has morphed into something very much like addiction.
The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2017 at 02:00PMRead more: http://nyti.ms/2mxELZJ

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I can’t stop looking at these scientific Images from the Wellcome Image Awards

From Mental Floss:

Each year, the Wellcome Image Awards highlight some of the most fascinating scientific images from around the world, as chosen by a panel of experts from the fields of science communications and medicine.


Ingrid Lekk and Steve Wilson, University College London

In this 4-day-old zebrafish embryo, a certain gene expressed in the lens of the eye and other parts of the visual system glows red when it’s activated. You can see the lens of the eye, the head, and neuromasts (those red dots around the rim of the image) glowing red, while the nervous system glows blue.


Scott Birch and Scott Echols

This image was created using a 3D reconstruction of a euthanized parrot. It models the system of blood vessels in the parrot’s head and neck down to the capillary level.


Mark Bartley, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Iris clips can treat nearsightedness, cataracts, and other eye issues. This photo shows an iris clip fitting on the eye of a 70-year-old patient. He regained nearly all his vision after the surgery.


Collin Edington and Iris Lee, Koch Institute at MIT

Researchers are developing ways to grow miniature organs on plastic chips in order to make drug testing more efficient. Instead of testing pharmaceuticals on people, scientists may one day test them on something like this—neural stem cells grown on a synthetic gel.


Eric Clarke, Richard Arnett and Jane Burns, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Here is a visualization of discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #breastcancer. Each dot represents a Twitter user, and its size is based on how many other dots (or nodes) it is connected to. Each line represents a relationship with another Twitter user, and the thicker the line, the more that relationship shows up in the data. This part of the visualization relates to trending data—one tweet retweeted thousands of times.


Scott Echols, Scarlet Imaging and the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project

No, this isn’t just an avian parody of The Scream. It shows the network of blood vessels, visualized using technology created by the same researcher as the parrot image above, under the skin of a pigeon. This dense network allows pigeons to control their body temperatures.


João Conde, Nuria Oliva and Natalie Artzi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Because microRNAs control the function and growth of cells, they have a lot of potential in cancer therapies. MIT researchers are working on a system that could deliver these short genetic sequences to cancerous cells. It consists of two microRNAs woven like a net with a synthetic polymer.


Gabriel Galea, University College London

This image shows a mouse’s neural tube, the structure from which the spinal cord develops. In each of the three images, the blue color draws attention to a specific tissue type. In the left image, the blue is the neural tube itself, which forms the brain and spine. In the middle, the blue is the mesoderm, which will become the inner organs. On the right, the blue shows the surface ectoderm that becomes hair, skin, and teeth.

All images courtesy the Wellcome Image Awards

Shaunacy Ferro

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Lazy, gullible, neurotic? Don’t worry, it just means you’re smart.  

The increased intelligence of Homo sapiens was originally a result of gene mutations. The cost of these gene mutations, however, may have been an increase in mental illness (Nithianantharajah et al., 2012).

Anxiety may have co-evolved with intelligence — worrying may have given early humans a survival benefit in the ancient past (Coplan et al., 2012).

Lazy people are more likely to enjoy thinking, new research finds.

More: 7 Signs of Intelligence That Suggest You Are Smarter Than Average

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From Harvard Business School: 5 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep (With the Help of Behavioral Science Research)

Well-intentioned people often start the new calendar year with a long list of personal resolutions, only to abandon most of them before Valentine’s Day. Alas, it’s a lot easier to make New Year’s resolutions than to keep them. That’s one good reason to explore the work of behavioral scientists, who conduct sociological and psychological studies to get a true handle on what motivates people to do what they do—and what motivates them to do better. With that, we share some well-researched tips—based on the findings of behavioral economists at Harvard Business School—to help our readers keep some of the common contracts people sign with themselves each year.

  1. If you have resolved to eat healthier, try ordering your groceries a week in advance of delivery.
    Internet delivery services make it all too easy to give into food cravings with the click of a mouse. The next time you’re tempted to order and devour a pepperoni pizza at midnight, try tackling next week’s grocery list instead.Researchers from Harvard Business School and the Analyst Institute evaluated a year’s worth of customer orders from an online grocer. Their goal: to find out if customers chose healthier food if they ordered it a week in advance rather than a day in advance of delivery.

    Indeed, the data showed that customers tended to order a higher percentage of healthy items (like leafy greens) and a lower percentage of unhealthy items (like candy bars) the further in advance they placed an order.

    To learn more, see I’ll Have the Ice Cream Soon and the Vegetables Later: Decreasing Impatience over Time in Online Grocery Orders by Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, and Max H. Bazerman.

  1. If you have resolved to exercise more, try ignoring what your peers are doing.
    Harvard Business School’s Leslie John and Michael Norton conducted a field experiment in which employees at a large corporation had the opportunity to exercise on slow-moving treadmills attached to standing desks. The goal of the employees: To get in shape while doing their everyday work. The goal of the research: to find out whether people are more likely to work out if they know whether their peers are working out, too.The researchers assigned the employees to one of three conditions. Some employees had access only to data about their own treadmill usage (the solo condition); some were told about the treadmill usage of one coworker (the duo condition); and some had access to the usage of four coworkers (the quintet condition).

    On average, the results showed that those in the solo condition spent more time on their walk-stations during the six-month period than those in the duo or quintet conditions. The reason: If they knew one of their co-workers was avoiding exercise, they’d be tempted to slack too. No matter if they knew that some of their other peers were working out constantly.

    “People’s activity levels tended to converge to the lowest-performing members of their groups,” the researchers write. “In summary, our results suggest that the mere provision of information on peer health behaviors can have perverse effects on one’s health behavior.”

    To learn more, see Converging to the Lowest Common Denominator in Physical Health by Leslie John and Michael Norton.

  1. If you have resolved to save more money for retirement… then keep on ignoring what your peers are doing.
    John Beshears and colleagues looked at whether employees would contribute more money to their individual 401K plans if they learned that their peers were doing so. On the contrary, the researchers found that learning about their colleagues’ admirable savings plans made people less likely to save for retirement. Instead of being motivated by their peers’ admirable investment activity, they were demoralized.As writer Christian Camerota explains in an article about the research: “Showing employees information about their peers’ investments actually discouraged them from making or increasing their own investments. In one instance, peer information reduced the likelihood of participation by more than a third. This discouragement, Beshears said, stemmed from employees being reminded that they were already behind in their own investment efforts.”

    To learn more, see The Effect of Providing Peer Information on Retirement Savings Decisions by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Katherine L. Milkman.

  1. If you have resolved to heal your broken heart, try performing a ritual.
    Through a series of experiments, behavioral scientists Michael Norton and Francesca Gino found that rituals alleviate and reduce grief after a devastating emotional loss—even among people who don’t inherently believe in the efficacy of rituals. In short, people who performed rituals after a loss recovered more quickly than those who didn’t. Those rituals need not be elaborate or public; they just need to be deliberate.In the course of their research, Norton and Gino asked subjects to recall rituals they had performed after suffering a loss. They were surprised to discover that the majority of these rituals were neither religious nor communal, but rather personal and private. “One woman wrote about gathering all the pictures of her and her ex-boyfriend, taking them to the park were they met, and tearing them up,” Norton recalled in an interview with Working Knowledge. “She made a point of saying, ‘even the ones where I looked good.’”

    To learn more, see Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Lovers, Loved Ones, and Lotteries.

  1. And if you have resolved not to obsess over resolutions this year, behavioral science supports you.
    Are you giving yourself a break when it comes to meeting your goals this year? Congratulations! That’s a wise choice, according to a team of behavioral scientists who studied the systematic harm that can result from overeager goal-setting at work.“We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation,” write Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, and Max H. Bazerman. “Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision. We offer a warning label to accompany the practice of setting goals.”

    To learn more, see their paper Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting.

from HBS Working Knowledge 


Carmen Nobel is the senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.


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Enlightening? Surprising? Depressingly predictable? PsyBlog’s top studies from 2016

11. Psychopaths and narcissists like bitter tasting foods.

10. Depression is a systemic disease that affects the whole body.

9. Why intense exercise can improve depression.

The good news: There’s hope! The bad news: The “intense exercise” part.

8. Millennials are the most narcissistic generation ever.

According to non-millennials, that is.

7. Underweight women are the most attractive to men.

While a Body Mass Index around 23 is associated with the best reproductive health, men rated a BMI of 19 as most attractive. Maybe this is Nature’s way of telling us we’ve reproduced enough already.

6. Reveal someone’s personality by asking what they think about other people.

It depends; what do I think about which other people?

5. The most reassuring thing you can say to the anxious is “All emotions change.”

4. Emotional responses are most heritable from mother to daughter.

Sorry about that, kids. Go ahead and forward me your therapy bills.

3. Drawing pictures helps your memory.

I’m not doodling; I’m taking notes.

2. Smart people tend to be loners.

I’m not a disagreeable jerk; I’m a genius.

1. Acetaminophen kills empathy.

Make the world a kinder place. Drink bourbon.

Read the original post on PsyBlog

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Men: Eat Walnuts to Improve your Mood

One handful of these nuts a day can help improve mood by 28%. Sorry, ladies; this amazing nut remedy only works for dudes.

Source: These Nuts Improve Mood By 28% In 8 Weeks – PsyBlog

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Going to lunch? Put your phone away.

paff_101316_smartphonesbreaks_newsfeatureAfter a flurry of memos, meetings, and phone calls you might be ready for a break. While turning to your phone for a few rounds of Candy Crush or a quick look at Facebook might seem relaxing, new research suggests that when people spent their breaks using a smartphone, breaks just aren’t that restorative.Psychological scientists Hongjai Rhee (Ajou University) and Sudong Kim (Korea Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences) surveyed over 400 working adults about how they spent their lunch breaks. The results suggest that people who turned to their smartphones ended up feeling worse than those who avoided electronic entertainment.

“Recently, the tendency to use smart phones to relax is growing in popularity, but little research exists to provide empirical evidence on the positive influence of using a smart phone during a break on reenergizing,” the researchers explain.

While research investigating work breaks shows that the mental timeouts are essential for keeping employees focused and productive, Rhee and Kim also suspected that, unlike taking a walk or chatting with friends, scrolling through apps on a smartphone might actually sap cognitive resources rather than restoring them.

“For example, unlike a paper book or newspaper, online news or blog content consists of not only the main text but also numerous hyperlinks including related footnotes to the main article or unrelated advertisements,” Rhee and Kim write.

Ignoring digital ads, picking which link to click on next, responding to texts and messages – not to mention multi-tasking between all of these tasks – requires focused attention and concentration. Essentially, using a smartphone during a break might be just as cognitively demanding as work itself, leaving people feeling even more fatigued at the end of their break.

For the experiment, employees at several organizations were sent a self-administered online survey asking them about how they spent their lunchtime breaks. Around 200 people said they usually used their smartphone during their break and 220 individuals said they did other activities that didn’t require any type of screen (i.e., taking a walk, reading a book, chatting with colleagues).

To determine whether people were feeling re-energized after their lunch breaks, participants answered a series of questions assessing their levels of positive and negative affect and detachment from work during their break, and a second survey on energy levels and emotional exhaustion after their break.

Employees who used their smartphone during their lunch break reported significantly higher levels of emotional exhaustion later in the day compared to their peers. Additionally, those who took a regular break (one without a smartphone) reported less negative affect after taking a break. Smartphone users, on the other hand, did not receive a bump in mood after their break.

A growing body of research also suggests that the use of electronic devices, like smartphones, after work may end up impeding sleep by disrupting the secretion of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

“In sum, research to date has consistently shown that mobile device and media usage prior to bedtime is associated with reduced sleep time and quality,” Duke University researchers Madeleine J. George and Candice L. Odgers write in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Rhee and Kim argue that, although more research is needed, organizations should keep these results in mind. Managers may want to find ways to foster an environment where employees abandon their smartphones in favor of other, potentially more rejuvenating, activities like chatting with friends or taking a walk.


George, M. J., & Odgers, C. L. (2015). Seven fears and the science of how mobile technologies may be influencing adolescents in the digital age. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(6), 832-851. doi: 10.1177/1745691615596788

Rhee, H., & Kim, S. (2016). Effects of breaks on regaining vitality at work: An empirical comparison of ‘conventional’ and ‘smart phone’ breaks. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 160-167. http://bit.ly/2dNdRs7

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2edmvhP


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The Right Music Can Make People More Cooperative

paff_092016_musiccooperation_newsfeatureMusic is a common feature in many workplaces – from surgery suites to the mechanic’s shop. But when businesses play music, it’s typically to influence the mood of customers. Studies have shown that background music, even when we don’t notice it, can have an effect on our buying preferences. However, relatively little research has studied the impact of music on employee behavior.In a new study, a team of Cornell University researchers found evidence that what we’re listening to at work might influence how willing we are to cooperate with coworkers.

“Based on results from two extended 20-round public goods experiments, we find that happy music significantly and positively influences cooperative behavior,” writes Kevin Kniffin and colleagues. “We also find a significant positive association between mood and cooperative behavior.”

Several previous studies have shown that when prompted with enjoyable music, people end up in a good mood. In a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, University of Western Ontario graduate student Ruby Nadler and colleagues found that participants who listened to snippets of upbeat music (such as Vivaldi’s “Spring”) outperformed those who listened neutral or sad music during a pattern recognition task.

To invoke a good mood in their experiment, Kniffin and colleagues selected peppy songs such as “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles; “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves; “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison; and the theme song from “Happy Days.” The unhappy music playlist included a mix of songs from grindcore metal bands Attack Attack! and Iwrestledabearonce (some on Wikipedia argue that Iwrestledabearonce’s oeuvre should really be classified as punk mathcore).

For the first experiment, 78 college students were randomly assigned to listen to either “happy” music or “unhappy” music over an audio system while completing an economic cooperation task. Each student was seated at an individual computer station with a privacy hood while music was played over the room’s speakers.

During each round of the game, they had the option of allocating a portion of their own store of tokens, which represented small amounts of actual cash, to a shared pool with two other unknown players. Tokens added to the group pool were multiplied in value by 1.5, providing a strong incentive for cooperation.

Across 20 rounds of this game, the participants listening to happy music were found to be more cooperative, contributing more tokens to the shared pot compared to those listening to unhappy music.

In a second experiment, 188 participants were again randomly assigned to listen to either happy music or unhappy music, but this time the researchers also included a control group who did not listen to any music. Participants also completed a short mood assessment survey before, during, and after the experiment.

Again, the researchers “found significantly and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior by participants who were played Happy music when compared with the other two conditions.”

The mood assessments showed that although mood was relatively consistent across the conditions at the very beginning of the experiment, mood declined for those listening to unhappy music compared to the control group. Essentially, pleasant music seemed to inspire a good mood which led to greater cooperation between teammates.

The researchers note that they did not account for potentially important variables, such as personality traits, that might moderate links among music, mood, and cooperation. Future research could also benefit from more naturalistic experiments, such as allowing participants to select their own music.

Music is an easy way to help boost employees’ mood on the job, which may ultimately help organization create a more positive and cooperative workplace. Choosing music everyone can enjoy may be the bigger challenge; while one person may prefer Mozart, someone else’s good mood inspiration may be Celine Dion or Nodes of Ranvier.



Kniffin, K. M., Yan, J., Wansink, B., & Schulze, W. D. (2016). The sound of cooperation: Musical influences on cooperative behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior. doi: 10.1002/job.2128

Nadler, R. T., Rabi, R., & Minda, J. P. (2010). Better mood and better performance learning rule-described categories is enhanced by positive mood. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1770-1776. doi: 10.1177/0956797610387441

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2cOlJce


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