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This is wisdom, hierarchy matters, trash hits the world's end Add to ...

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A yawn can be a sign of sexual attraction rather than of a desire to sleep, scientists claim, Laura Roberts writes for The Daily Telegraph. "In fact, it can demonstrate a range of emotions including interest, stress and even wanting to have sex. Unfortunately, scientists are not yet able to differentiate between a yawn that signifies erotic arousal and simply the need to catch some sleep." The new theory was introduced last week at the first International Conference on Yawning, held in Paris.

This is wisdom?

New research proves that wisdom develops with aging, and that wisdom is the result of the brain slowing down and the resulting decrease in impulsivity, Dr. Jessica Ward Jones reports for Psych Central News. "Older people are less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact, is what we call wisdom," said Prof. Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, who led the research study. "The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion."

Where we think, too

"Scientists using seat-of-the-pants research - literally - say how something feels to you can affect how you act," Randolph Schmid reports for Associated Press. "In one experiment, for example, 86 people took part in negotiations over a new car with a sticker price of $16,500 [U.S.] Some were seated on hard wooden chairs. Others had comfy padded seats. After their first offers were rejected, the participants made a second proposal for the car. People on stiff wooden chairs took a hard line in the deal, raising their offered price by $896.50. But the relaxed folks in soft chairs were willing to spend an extra $1,243.60. The hardness, the researchers concluded, produced strictness and rigidity in the negotiation. 'We're not just a brain in a jar; our body is fundamentally tied to our understanding of the world,' said Joshua Ackerman of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a co-author of the study."

Hierarchy matters

"[P]ychologists who study status and power in social settings - and a growing number are - have found that human beings, in surprising ways, actually seem to thrive on a sense of social hierarchy, and rely on it," Drake Bennett writes for The Boston Globe, "In certain settings, having a clear hierarchy makes us more comfortable, more productive and happier, even when our own place in it is an inferior one. In one intriguing finding, NBA basketball teams on which large salary differentials separate the stars from the utility players actually play better and more selflessly than their more egalitarian rivals. … None of this means that unquestioned obedience and institutionally mandated inequality are the building blocks of the ideal society. But research into social hierarchy does suggest that a taste for rank is a key part of the bundle of traits that make human beings such a successfully social species."

Trash hits the world's end

"You've heard about the Pacific garbage patch and the Atlantic garbage patch," Michael Reilly writes for Discovery News, "each a sobering sign of how when we throw things away, they don't go 'away' - they often go into the sea, where they remain for a long, long time. Much of the global ocean remains uncharted in terms of pollution but, unfortunately, the more we look, the more we find. And now even the most remote, pristine waters on the planet - the coastal seas of Antarctica - are being invaded by plastic debris. … It doesn't sound like much, but finding trash in the far corners of the planet is a worrying sign. The research team, led by David Barnes of the British Antarctic Survey, believe the debris they found represents the leading edge of a tide of man-made refuse that is just now starting to make its way into the most secluded parts of our oceans."

Longer life for trash

"The effects of climate change can be seen across the majority of the planet, but a new study reveals it is also affecting the space environment," Nancy Atkinson writes for Universe Today. "New Scientist reports that increased carbon dioxide levels are cooling the upper atmosphere, which decreases the atmospheric density. This, in turn, affects how long defunct satellites, spent rockets and other space debris stay in orbit, contributing to the space junk problem." Atmospheric drag creates a braking effect on space debris, and eventually causes the various bits and pieces to drop out of orbit and burn up. Two British researchers have studied the orbits of 30 satellites over the past 40 years, and recorded a gradual increase in the time they remain in orbit. They calculated that at an altitude of 300 kilometres, the atmosphere is reducing in density by 5 per cent every decade. "The lower molecular braking means debris can remain in orbit up to 25 per cent longer," said one of the scientists. This raises the risk of collisions with satellites and makes it more hazardous to launch spacecraft.

Thought du jour

"O let us love our occupations, / Bless the squire and his relations, / Live upon our daily rations, / And always know our proper stations."

- Charles Dickens

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