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Science Explains Why People Are Attracted to Jerks

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We all know at least one: That friend who complains incessantly about his fickle girlfriend, and yet keeps going back to her, even though most of the time she doesn’t treat him well. It’s frustrating for his friends, who must wonder if their buddy, despite his irritation at his partner, actually likes to suffer. But science might have a different explanation.

Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that the reason a person returns to an unpredictable partner again and again isn’t because of “an unconscious motive for suffering” but rather because of “a quirk of the brain’s reward circuit, a primitive neural network buried deep in our brains that is exquisitely sensitive to various rewards, like sex, money, and food. This kind of amorous attachment is like gambling—except that the currency is affection and sex. The key is that the reward is unanticipated, which makes it particularly powerful and alluring to our brains.”

Tainted Love

To make his point, Friedman looks at the results of a study conducted by psychiatrist Gregory Berns, who analyzed what happens in the brain when rewards are predicted and unpredicted. Berns placed his subjects in an M.R.I. and watched their brain activity as he administered the rewards—fruit juice and water—first at random intervals, and then every 10 seconds. Berns found that when the reward was unexpected, there was greater activity in the brain’s reward circuit.

Much like the juice in Berns’s experiment, love and attraction activate the brain’s reward circuit, which, when stimulated, releases dopamine—a naturally occurring chemical that causes a sense of pleasure. This part of the brain has evolved to help us recognize rewards that are critical to our survival. “Unlike predictable stimuli, unanticipated stimuli can tell us things about the world that we don’t yet know,” Friedman writes. “And because they serve as a signal that a big reward might be close by, it is advantageous that novel stimuli command our attention.” So when that emotionally distant boyfriend is suddenly doting, the reward circuit starts firing, producing feelings of pleasure that make you want to stick around. And in all likelihood, you’re not consciously aware that that’s what’s happening.

Berns’s study also found that there was almost no connection between his subjects’ stated preferences and what their brain activity showed. “This suggests that our reward pathways may not only be activated without our recognition, but perhaps even in ways that are contrary to what we think we prefer,” Friedman says.

So the next time your friend complains about his girlfriend’s behavior, try to be sympathetic—it's not that he likes to suffer. Most likely, it's his brain playing tricks on him.

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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
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On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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Health
8 Potential Signs of a Panic Attack
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It's not just fear or worry. In fact, many panic attacks don’t look like panic at all. Panic attacks come on rapidly, and often at times that don't seem to make sense. The symptoms of panic disorder vary from person to person and even from attack to attack for the same person. The problems listed below are not unique to panic attacks, but if you're experiencing more than one, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor either way.

1. YOU'RE DIZZY.

Doctors sometimes call the autonomic nervous system (ANS) the "automatic nervous system" because it regulates many vital bodily functions like pumping blood all on its own, without our having to think about it. Panic attacks often manifest through the ANS, leading to increased heart rate or decreased blood pressure, which can in turn lead to feeling lightheaded or faint.

2. YOU'RE LOSING YOURSELF.

Feeling detached from yourself is called depersonalization. Feeling detached from the world, or like it's fake or somehow unreal, is called derealization. Both forms of dissociation are unsettling but common signs that a panic attack has begun.

3. YOU'RE QUEASY.

Our digestive system is often the first body part to realize that something is wrong. Panic sends stress hormones and tension to the gut and disrupts digestion, causing nausea, upset stomach, or heartburn.

4. YOU FEEL NUMB OR TINGLY.

Panic attacks can manifest in truly surprising ways, including pins and needles or numbness in a person's hands or face.

5. YOU'RE SWEATY OR SHIVERING.

The symptoms of a panic attack can look a lot like the flu. But if you don't have a fever and no one else has chattering teeth, it might be your ANS in distress.

6. YOU KNOW THE WORST IS COMING.

While it may sound prophetic or at least bizarre, a sense of impending doom is a very common symptom of panic attacks (and several other conditions). 

7. BREATHING IS DIFFICULT.

The ANS strikes again. In addition to the well-known problems of hyperventilation or shortness of breath, panic attacks can also cause dyspnea, in which a person feels like they can't fill their lungs, and feelings of choking or being smothered.

8. YOU'RE AFRAID OF HAVING A PANIC ATTACK. 

Oddly enough, anxiety about anxiety is itself a symptom of anxiety and panic attacks. Fear of losing control or getting upset can cause people to avoid situations that could be triggering, which can in turn limit their lives. 

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