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Oh, phrenology

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It's been awhile since a psychic has tried to flag me down, and it's been awhile since any of my friends have subjected me to new ways of discerning my character flaws/intellectual capacity via my appendages, moles, et al. But I'm currently reading about infamous editor Max Perkins and how he clung to the blueprints offered by phrenology (the theory, not the excellent Roots album). I'm not sure whether he had a set of calipers and some string in his desk during his Scribner's reign, but he wasn't the only one calculating the topography of those 37 cranial nodes and making corresponding judgments.

Ever since phrenology was proposed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall at the turn of the 19th century, it clearly favored bumps and indentations of the gentry; however, should one exhibit any cranial texture that was less than desirable, exercises could be prescribed to lessen the negative impact of certain protrusions. The theory casually maintained itself well into the next century, when a man from Wisconsin burst onto the scene with The Psychograph, a contraption that still lives on at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices:

In 1901, Henry C. Lavery, a self-described "profound thinker" of Superior, Wisconsin became certain that phrenology was true and spent his next 26 years endeavoring to put this science into a machine. On January 29, 1931, he and his partner, Frank P. White, a businessman who had taken his life savings of $39,000 out of stock in a local sandpaper manufacturer - the 3M company - to finance the venture, announced the invention of such a machine - the "Psychograph."

The machine consisted of 1,954 parts in a metal carrier with a continuous motor-driven belt inside a walnut cabinet containing statements about 32 mental faculties. These faculties were each rated 1 through 5, "deficient" to "very superior," so that there were 160 possible statements but an almost unlimited number of possible combinations. The "score" was determined by the way the 32 probes, each with five contact points in the headpiece, made contact with the head.

Hmm. It might interest me if it could give head massages in between diagnoses.

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Money Can't Buy Happiness—Unless It's Paying for a Housekeeper, That Is
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Though a few extra dollars in your pocket never feels like a bad thing, research has found that at a certain point, a bigger salary won't improve your quality of life. (Mo money, mo problems, as the wise Biggie once said.) But new research illuminates one specific way that money can buy you happiness. You just need to use it to buy yourself time, according to a new study in PNAS covered by The Washington Post.

Previously, studies have found that spending can make us happy in specific instances. Retail therapy is real, though most mall trips don't qualify. A 2016 study found that people who buy things they consider in line with their personalities were happier. Other researchers suggested that spending money on experiences makes people happier than buying new stuff.

This study, led by researchers at Harvard Business School, examined around 6270 people in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands. By surveying people about their purchases, income, satisfaction with life, and the stresses they felt due to time pressure, they discovered that people who spent money to buy themselves more free time had greater life satisfaction, and that this spending reduced the normal negative effect of time stress. Happiness comes in the form of paying other people to do boring daily chores like cleaning, cooking, and grocery shopping.

This wasn't just true for the wealthy, as The Washington Post notes: "Across a range of incomes, careers, and countries, timesaving purchases were correlated with less time-related stress and more positive feelings."

To confirm that this spending directly led to the uptick in happiness rather than emerged as a side effect of some other factor, the researchers gave 60 working adults in Vancouver two payments of $40 over the course of two weekends. On one weekend, the participants were told to spend the money on something that saved them time. On the other weekend, they were told to spend the $40 on material goods. In post-purchase phone calls, these participants reported greater happiness on the day when they made the time-saving purchase compared to when they made a material purchase.

However, being able to buy a little extra time didn't have an effect on whether people felt stressed out by having too little time. This may be because people who already felt large demands on their time were the most likely to spend money to save themselves just a bit more time in their daily tasks. A CEO might still be stressed out over lack of time, even if she has a personal chef and a housekeeper. Or it could be that humans are just never satisfied.

In any event, it seems that experiences really do buy happiness. That is, the experience of letting someone else do your chores. Want to practice #selfcare? Treat yourself to grocery delivery or a house-cleaning service. I'll be the first to admit that $300 vacuum robot purchase has brought me more happiness than any vacation I've ever been on.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Scientists Think They Know What Causes Trypophobia
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Picture a boat hull covered with barnacles, a dried lotus seed pod, milk bubbles on a latte, or a honeycomb. Images of these objects are harmless—unless you're one of the millions of people suffering from trypophobia. Then they're likely to induce intense disgust, nausea, and fear, and make your skin crawl.

Coined fairly recently, the term trypophobia describes the fear of clusters of holes. The phobia isn’t recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but its visibility on the internet suggests that for many, it’s very real. Now, scientists in the UK think they've pinpointed the evolutionary mechanism behind the reaction.

Tom Kupfer of the University of Kent and An T. D. Le of the University of Essex shared their findings in the journal Cognition and Emotion. According to their research, trypophobia evolved as a way to avoid infectious disease. Thousands of years ago, if you saw a person covered in boils or a body covered in flies, a natural aversion to the sight would have helped you avoid catching whatever they had.

But being disgusted by skin riddled with pathogens or parasites alone doesn't mean you're trypophobic; after all, keeping your distance from potential infection is smart. But trypophobia seems to misplace that reaction, as the authors write: "Trypophobia may be an exaggerated and overgeneralized version of this normally adaptive response."

Lotus pod.
Lotus seed pods are a common trigger of trypophobia.

This explanation is not entirely new, but until now little research has been done into whether it's accurate. To test their hypothesis, the scientists recruited 376 self-described trypophobes from online forums, and another 304 college students who didn't claim to have the affliction. Both groups were shown two sets of images: The first depicted clusters of circle-shaped marks on animals and human body parts (the "disease-relevant cluster images"); the second showed clusters of holes on inanimate objects like bricks and flower pods ("disease-irrelevant cluster images"). While both groups reported feeling repulsed by the first collection of photographs, only the trypophobes felt the same about the pictures that had nothing to do with infection.

Another takeaway from the study is that trypophobia is more related to sensations of disgust than fear. This sets it apart from more common phobias like arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or acrophobia (fear of heights). And you don't have to be trypophobic to be disgusted by a video of Suriname toadlets being born through holes in their mother's back. We can all be grossed out by that.

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