Blind People Envision the Future Differently Than Sighted People


Whether you believe that time marches forward, or that you can put the past behind you, is influenced by your visual development, recent research spotted by BPS Research Digest finds. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, the small study found that blind research participants did not conceive of the past as being behind them and the future in front, as most sighted participants did.

To test this phenomenon, Italian researchers recruited 17 blind people, all of whom had lost their sight before their second birthday and had no visual memories, and 17 sighted people (who wore blindfolds) to take part in the experiment. Each had to categorize words that referred to the past or the future by pressing keys on a computer keyboard. In one test, they had to press the key in the forward position whenever they heard a word related to the future, and the key behind their resting position if it related to the past. In the second test, the two were reversed, so the forward key represented the past and the one behind represented the future.

In the final phase, participants had to answer a questionnaire regarding events in their past and future—between one day and three years in each direction—and how close they perceived those events to be.

The results showed that sighted volunteers had an easier time with the key-pressing task if the future was linked to the forward direction and the past linked to the backward direction, but blind volunteers had no implicit association of the future happening ahead of them and the past behind. And in the questionnaire, sighted people perceived the future as being closer than the past, while the blind people perceived them as equally distant.

The study suggests that our concept of time as related to the body's movement in space depends on how our vision develops. It also shows the importance of using a diverse sample in psychology studies. Studies on the psychological links between time and space that don’t test any blind volunteers would suggest that everyone associates the future with forward movement, when, in fact, a significant portion of the world population may not.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]