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New Study Shows Not All Laughter is Created Equal

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On The Simpsons, Nelson frequently shows his scorn by unleashing his trademark “Ha, ha.” While Nelson’s laughs sound the same every time he snickers at Springfield residents, a new study has shown that even similar sounding laughs are very different. And the human brain easily distinguishes between the sound of someone enjoying a joke or mocking someone and someone being tickled.

Dirk Wildgruber and his colleagues from the University of Tuebingen in Germany asked 18 men to undergo a brain scan while listening to recordings of actors performing three different types of laughter—giggles elicited from tickling, joking, or taunting. In one test, the men listened to the guffaws and then assessed whether joking, tickling, or mocking caused the laughs. Most knew when someone was laughing with someone or at someone, but found it trickier to catch tickling laughter.

For the second experiment, the men counted the episodes of hooting by using the actor’s sigh as a sign that the laughter had ended. This gave Wildgruber a way to distinguish between the types of laughing. When subjects identified social laughter—giggling at jokes and during mockery—the blood flow in the brain looked similar, meaning the brain activated the same regions in both cases. Yet when the men heard ticklish laughter, the blood flow changed.

"Laughing at someone and laughing with someone leads to different social consequences," says Wildgruber. "Specific cerebral connectivity patterns during perception of these different types of laughter presumably reflect modulation of attentional mechanisms and processing resources.”

That’s a fancy way of saying social laughter activates areas of the brain that process complex social details. But tickling laughter triggers blood flow in regions that process auditory information, while the areas that decode social cues work less.

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Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
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Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

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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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