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Fatter is dumber?

... or at least it seems to be in lab mice. Researchers at Yale's medical school have discovered that mice who take tests while hungry do significantly better than sated mice. They process information faster, they retain it longer; basically, they're smarter. The culprit seems to be the hormone grellin, produced by the lining of the stomach when empty. It binds not only to that part of the brain which registers hunger (the hypothalamus) but to the researchers' surprise, to the memory and learning centers of the brain, as well (the hippocampus).

"It makes sense," researcher Tamas Horvath says. "When you are hungry, you need to focus your entire system on finding food in the environment." Many biologists believe that this is how human intelligence formed, too: out of munchies-stimulated necessity. (You might refer to our blog on how much being a Neanderthal sucked.) This raises some interesting questions: is there any relation between the increasing girth of our schoolkids and their decreasing test scores? (Someone's going to have to skip lunch in order to find out.)

The researchers do offer some practical advice (for humans) based on their mouse tests: when taking a test or doing an interview, don't load up on "brain food" before you go in. Be a little hungry throughout, and maintain that level of hunger with a light snack here and there. (I know if I'm too hungry, I get grumpier, not smarter.) Can you imagine taking the SAT right after loading up on Thanksgiving turkey? Me, neither.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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