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Beauty in a glass, false memories, is the boss lying? Add to ...

Information, please

Some of the queries that British town councils have received from the public, reported in a survey:

- A woman rang her local council to ask if a car park was haunted, as her vehicle had "moved" to another parking space while she was shopping.

- A person asked to be told the plot of She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th-century play.

- A caller to Surrey council complained that the phone number they had been given for their library was out of order - only to be told that "0900 1800" was in fact its opening hours.

Source: Orange News U.K.

What's eating you?

"Mind control by parasite sounds like the stuff of science fiction," Charles Choi writes for LiveScience.com, "but not only have scientists revealed that it is real across a range of animals, including perhaps humans, they now even have fossil evidence suggesting it has taken place for millions of years. An unnerving variety of parasites have evolved the ability to control the brains of victims to help the parasites spread. For instance, the protozoan known as Toxoplasma gondii makes rats love cat urine so that it can spread among its feline hosts, and it may influence human culture as well, making people more prone to certain forms of neuroticism." David Hughes, a behavioural ecologist at Harvard University, says: "We are now realizing that half of life on Earth is parasitic - each free-living organism has at least one parasite."

Beauty in a glass

"Everyone looks better after you've tipped back a pint or two, and now we may know why," Larry O'Hanlon reports for Discovery News. "It turns out that alcohol dulls our ability to recognize cockeyed, asymmetrical faces, according to researchers who tested the idea on both sober and inebriated college students in England. 'We tend to prefer faces that are symmetrical,' explained Lewis Halsey of Roehampton University in London. That's well established by previous research, he said." In a study published in the journal Alcohol, Mr. Halsey and his colleagues also found that the data suggest men are less prone to losing their symmetry-detecting ability when intoxicated than women - which was unexpected, he said. The difference probably has something to do with men being more visually oriented and more stimulated by what they see.

Is the boss lying?

Bosses usually give subtle clues when they are lying, The Economist reports. "David Larcker and Anastasia Zakolyukina of Stanford's graduate school of business analyzed the transcripts of nearly 30,000 conference calls by American chief executives and chief financial officers between 2003 and 2007. … They published their findings in a paper called Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls. Deceptive bosses, it transpires, tend to make more references to general knowledge ('as you know …'), and refer less to shareholder value (perhaps to minimize the risk of a lawsuit, the authors hypothesize). They also use fewer 'non-extreme positive emotion words.' That is, instead of describing something as 'good,' they call it 'fantastic.' The aim is to 'sound more persuasive' while talking horse feathers."

Renewable? Sure is

"A research team at Heriot-Watt University [in Edinburgh]is investigating whether urine could be used as a source of renewable energy," BBC News reports. "The scientists have developed a system to test whether it can be used in fuel cells as an alternative to flammable hydrogen or toxic methanol. It could offer a non-toxic, low-cost, easily transportable alternative. Dr. Shanwen Tao and his research partner, Dr. Rong Lan, have been awarded a £130,000 [$212,000]grant to develop it. The work has concentrated on urea, or carbamide, a mass-manufactured fertilizer and major component in human and animal urine."

False memories

Sharing memories can contaminate people's recollections and create false memories, says  Helen Paterson of the University of Sydney's school of psychology. "That is, witnesses who discuss an event with a co-witness are very likely to incorporate misinformation presented by the co-witness into their own memory for the event," Dr. Paterson said. "Once their memory has been contaminated in this way, the witness is often unable to distinguish between the accurate and inaccurate memories. Critically, our research has shown that co-witness discussion is an especially potent delivery mechanism for misinformation; information provided … is more likely to be incorporated into the witness's memory than information encountered through leading questions, inaccurate media reports or other processes."

Source: Science Alert

Thought du jour

"Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor."

- Samuel Johnson

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