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Why Do Holes Feel Larger With Your Tongue Than With Your Finger?

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As anyone who’s ever seen an optical illusion or heard a nonexistent sound knows, our senses play tricks on us all the time. Another example of this is the oral size illusion. Objects, especially holes, can feel much larger or smaller depending on whether we’re feeling them with our tongue or finger. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance laid out the science behind this phenomenon.

As Discover reports, small holes felt with the tongue seem larger than when felt with a finger (if your mind's already in the gutter, please get it out now; it only gets worse from here). Researchers conducted five experiments to test a hole’s perceived size under different circumstances, including when sensed with the tongue, the index finger, and the big toe. They found that the more pliable the appendage is, the bigger the space it’s exploring seems to be. The squishy tongue has an easier time bending around and conforming to different surfaces, painting a more accurate picture of what it’s feeling and enhancing the size in our minds. A finger doesn’t squeeze into places in quite the same way, so the sensory information it conveys is less accurate. A toe also isn’t as pliable as the tongue and leads the person attached to it to believe they're feeling something that’s smaller rather than larger.

The oral size illusion doesn’t apply to all objects. For example, a previous study found that it was much more likely to be triggered by holes than cylindrical pegs. That could be why when our teeth fall out as kids, the holes they leave behind feel cavernous compared to the teeth that used to be there. That’s just another reminder that we shouldn't always blindly trust the signals our body sends us.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
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A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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