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Cooties explained

As a part of science's never-ending quest to apply fancy-sounding names to everyday phenomena, psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania have coined the word "touch transference." It's what happens -- in our minds, at least -- when a package of toilet paper touches your fillet mignon at the grocery store, and for the briefest moment, you think: "eww." We're talking about cooties here: when something gross touches something otherwise benign, and "infects" it. Turns out, according to a new article in Time, that touch transference holds powerful sway over a lot of people; it certainly drives business in the cleaning products industry, and guides supermarket owners' decisions on how to organize goods on their shelves. "In a series of studies, the researchers found not only that some products--trash bags, diapers, kitty litter, tampons--evoke a subconscious feeling of disgust even before they're used for their ultimate messy purposes, but they can also transfer their general ickiness to anything they come in contact with. 'We were pretty surprised at how strong the effect was,' says Fitzsimons. 'This is probably the most robust result in my career.'"

Also interesting was the notion that cooties may have been a very useful thing hundreds of years ago, before humans had any knowledge of germs and the damage they could do. Hence, we've always been revolted by things like rotting food. But everybody's got their own personal set of gross-outs -- anybody care to share?

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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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