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Can You Actually Be Bored to Death?

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Kind of. Boredom won’t directly kill you on its own, but it does make it more likely that a handful of other things will put you six feet under. 

Consider this: In a survey taken in the late 1980s, over 7500 London civil servants age 33 to 55, were asked, among other things, how bored they had been at work in the last month and how healthy and physically active they thought they were. Around 7 percent reported being bored “quite a lot” in the previous month, and about 2 percent said they were bored “a great deal,” and those who were more bored also reported lower physical activity and rated their health as worse. 

In 2009, decades after the survey was taken, a pair of public health researchers went through the survey data and the National Health Service’s central registry to see which survey takers had died and which ones were still alive. They found that the people who had been more bored at work were more likely to have died, and more than twice as likely to have had a fatal cardiovascular disease. (Increased likelihood of death tied to boredom also seemed to be cumulative. Data and surveys were collected several times over the the years, and the people who reported being bored multiple times were more likely to die than those who had only reported it once.)

The researchers thought that the boredom-death connection might have formed because bored people were more likely to feel unfulfilled, unmotivated, and unhappy, which could lead to unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking and smoking, overeating, and drug use. Those habits, in turn, would increase their risks of stroke and heart disease. The state of boredom, they wrote, “is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors.” 

Other research has connected boredom to risk-taking that can be hazardous to people’s health. Public health researchers in Baltimore found that, among urban drug users, those who were more bored were more likely to report symptoms of depression and engage in risky sexual and needle-use practices. Meanwhile, back in the UK, a psychologist and a civil engineer surveyed motorists and found that the drivers who were most prone to boredom while on the road were more likely to engage in driving habits that put them at high risk for accidents and crashes—like tailgating, speeding, driving while sleepy, or daydreaming behind the wheel—sometimes in an attempt to make driving more exciting. 

Novelty-seeking and risk-taking, psychiatrist Katya Rubia explains in Boredom: A Lively History, is also how bored children with ADHD “self-medicate” to cure their boredom. Likewise, psychologist Peter Suedfeld told mental_floss alum Maggie Koerth-Baker last year that “people will sometimes do reckless, stupid things when they suffer from chronic boredom.” The isolation of working on an Antarctic research station, he said, can send scientists out on solo strolls in the elements, sans coat, when the temperature is 40 below. 

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.

5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.

8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

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


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