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?

A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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