20 Obvious Things Confirmed by Science

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Brace yourself—these are shocking developments.

1. YOUR CAT IS IGNORING YOU.

A woman kissing a fluffy calico cat that is looking off to the side.
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Your tabby recognizes the sound of your voice, but it’s ignoring you anyway. A recent study at the University of Tokyo showed that, although a cat can identify its owner’s voice, it really doesn’t care enough to listen. The reason for kitty’s cold shoulder? Evolution. Unlike dogs, which were bred and domesticated by humans, cats domesticated themselves. They just aren’t hardwired to listen for commands.

2. STUDENTS WHO DO HOMEWORK GET HIGHER GRADES.

Young Boy In Bedroom Sitting At Desk Doing Homework
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Economist Nick Rupp divided his class into two groups—those required to do homework, and those who were not. The results were (not) shocking. Kids who took home assignments had higher test scores and retention rates. To the delight of teachers everywhere, Rupp confirmed that “homework plays an important role in student learning.”

3. HIGH HEELS HURT.

A woman walking up stairs, in pain, holding her black high heels.
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High heels exaggerate your posture, tilt your hips, and shorten your stride. Some evolutionary psychologists argue they’re part of our primal urge to compete for mates. While that’s up for debate, science has confirmed that high heels are pretty much terrible for you. A study by the Institute for Aging Research found that 64 percent of older women who regularly wore unsupportive shoes—like high heels, pumps, or sandals—at some point in their life complained of foot pain.

4. PIGS LOVE MUD.

A pink piglet with black spots raising its mud-covered snout.
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Pigs don’t have much in the way of sweat glands, which makes controlling body temperature a problem. So, for the longest time, scientists believed pigs wallowed in mud to keep cool. Although that’s true, a study in Applied Animal Behavior Science discovered an evolutionary twist: Porkers don’t roll in mud because they have just a few sweat glands; rather, they have a few sweat glands because they like to roll in mud. (Put differently, swine never developed sweat glands because their ancestors were always playing in muck!) Now some scientists believe a mud bath simply makes pigs happy. It’s a tautology, but pigs like mud because, well, they like mud.

5. CEREAL TASTES BETTER WITH MILK.

Milk being poured into a bowl of cereal.
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Scientists at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile did the unthinkable—they added water to corn flakes. They found that the “intermolecular interactions in the flake’s matrix could be weakened by the plasticizer, leading to the solubilization of some components, and ... a decrease in mechanical integrity.” Translated into English? Water makes cereal soggy. Milk, it turns out, is special. The fat content protects cereal from sucking in too much liquid, keeping it crispy.

6. MEN STARE AT WOMEN'S BOOBS.

A man staring at women in a bar.
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In an article titled "My Eyes are Up Here," Sarah Gervais and her team used eye-tracking technology to confirm what we’ve long suspected—men like ogling at women’s chests. Men spent more time looking at a woman’s body than her face. Their eyes wandered the most if the woman had—surprise!—wide hips, a narrow waist, and large breasts. But women were just as guilty: They stared to scope out the competition.

7. OVEREATING CAN LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN ...

A man, shown from the neck down, sitting on a couch holding a beer with a burger and fries on a plate in his lap.
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Between the 1970s and now, the average adult in the U.S. gained 19 pounds. Research presented at the European Congress of Obesity in 2009 found that “weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories,” study leader Boyd Swinburn said. Laziness had little to do with America’s tightening belt.

8. ... AND EATING BAD FOOD IS BAD FOR YOU.

A plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes.
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If you were holding out hope that fried chicken was a staple of a well-balanced diet, science has some bad news for you. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine tracked the effect of eating habits on participants' health from middle-age on. The research involved assessing the diet of 5350 adults (age 51.3 ± 5.3 years, 29.4 percent women) and then tracked their mortality, chronic diseases and overall health after 16 years. The results: "[P]articipants with a 'Western-type' diet (characterized by high intakes of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products) had lower odds of ideal aging."

9. MEETINGS SUCK.

A man with his head on his arms, face down, during a meeting.
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A 2005 study in Group Dynamics found that meetings are annoying time-sapping killjoys. By analyzing the diary entries of 37 university workers, researchers concluded that meetings make employees stressed and grumpy, hindering even the most motivated workers from getting things done.

10. READING IS GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

Two girls reading a book in the library.
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Your second grade teacher was right. Experts put Ph.D. candidates inside an MRI and had them read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. At one point, they were told to read for pleasure. Then they were told to read analytically (as if they were studying for a test). In both cases, their brains' blood flow increased. Under each condition, blood flowed to different parts of the noggin. Each style of reading prompted different—and beneficial—brain patterns. “Literary study provides a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains,” said project leader Natalie Phillips. Rejoice, English majors! (Here are a few other reasons you should be reading more.)

11. PARTY SCHOOLS LOVE TO PARTY.

A lot of red cups set up for a game of beer pong.
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It took a decade of research, but a team at Harvard School of Public Health finally did it—they confirmed Playboy’s sneaking suspicion. Students binge drank more if their school had a reputation for drinking and partying. The survey of 50,000 students at 120 colleges showed that, although the student body changes year by year, the ratio of heavy to casual drinkers stays the same.

12. THE INTERNET IS WHERE PRODUCTIVITY COMES TO DIE.

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The Internet is an amazing tool with the power to do the world infinite good. But, wait. Look! It’s a bear riding a bicycle! According to Pew Research, 53 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 go online once a day just to waste time.

13. MEN AND WOMEN DESIRE A SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE PARTNER.

A young couple all bundled up for a winter beach date.
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A team of researchers subjected willing undergrads to a word-association assignment to test how much they associate physical attractiveness with an ideal partner. Regardless of how the same participants responded when asked directly about the importance of appearance in a mate, they were quick to report positive feelings when shown words related to sexiness. "If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much," study researcher Paul Eastwick, of Texas A&M University, said in a statement.

14. PEOPLE WILL BUY MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IF THEY'RE CHEAPER.

A man and woman looking at apples in the supermarket.
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Just because we've told you that all that fried food is bad for you doesn't mean you're going to change your ways—but there is one thing that is proven to encourage the purchase of more produce: discounts. A 2013 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on a trial done in Dutch supermarkets in which participants were given 50 percent off produce coupons, nutrition education, both, or neither. The researchers found that people bought and consumed more fruits and vegetables if they were given the coupons. They consumed even more if they got the discount and the education, but if they got just the education there was no effect. Of course, this is important information for crafting public health initiatives, but did they really need the study to know people prefer to spend less money?

15. MUSICIANS GET THE GIRLS.

A man, shown from the nose down, playing a guitar.
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Tales of rock stars and groupies provide more than enough anecdotal evidence to know this is true, but does the musician vibe really make a man more attractive if he's not in a world-famous band? Spoiler alert: yes. A French research team enlisted a young man (who was “previously evaluated as having a high level of physical attractiveness”) to stand on a street and request phone numbers from 300 different young ladies—all in the name of science, of course. For 100 such solicitations he was holding a guitar case; for another 100 he had a sports bag; and for the final 100, he was empty handed. According to the researchers, "Results showed that holding a guitar case was associated with greater compliance to the request, thus suggesting that musical practice is associated with sexual selection." No word on whether or not he followed up with any of the 31 percent of women who offered the apparent guitarist their digits.

16. STEREOTYPICALLY "SEXY" WAITRESSES GET BETTER TIPS.

A close shot of a waitress's arm as she carries a tray of food.
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One caveat: This whole study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, is based on self-reporting some rather personal details. But there's little cause to question findings that support such an obvious trend (not to mention Hooters' whole business model). Waitresses completed an online survey that included subjective assessments of their own attractiveness and sexiness as well as objective attributes like bust size, hair color, and tip amounts. You can probably predict what happened: "The waitresses’ tips varied with age in a negative, quadratic relationship, increased with breast size, increased with having blond hair, and decreased with body size."

17. "PRE-GAMING" BEFORE YOU HIT THE BAR MEANS MORE ALCOHOL OVERALL.

A group of people clinking full shot glasses together.
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Imagine that: Drinks at home plus drinks at the bar equals more overall drinks. A study from Switzerland shows that the intent to defray the cost of alcohol out at the bar with a "pre-gaming" event doesn't really work. Instead, people still imbibe just as much while they're out on the town, which just gets added to their drinks from at home. According to LiveScience, "The study also found that those who pre-drank were more likely to suffer risky or unfavorable consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, hangovers, unplanned substance abuse or unprotected sex." That's probably a result of the more overall drinks.

18. PEOPLE CHANGE CLOTHES BASED ON THE WEATHER.

A woman, pictured from the back, looking into her closet.
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In 2007, researchers from Italy and Denmark published an article looking into people’s clothing choices depending on the weather and indoor environment. While it might seem obvious, the researchers were curious because many employees will drive to work inside a heated/cooled vehicle and then work for the day in a heated/cooled building. Ultimately, the researchers wrote “The outdoor temperature at 6 a.m. seems to affect people's choice of clothes the most.”

19. PEOPLE ARE HAPPIER WHEN THEIR SPOUSES ARE GENEROUS ... OR IF THEY'RE HAVING LOTS OF SEX.

A man puts his hand over his partner's eyes as he hands her a gift.
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The results of a survey of more than 1400 heterosexual couples between the ages of 18 and 46—all of whom had children—published in 2011 as part of the National Marriage Project showed that higher levels of reported generosity correspond to a happier marriage. That's right: People like getting backrubs, flowers and unsolicited acts of niceness, so much so it actually makes them happy. Of course, not as happy as regular sex might. While generosity is good, it was sexual satisfaction that proved to be the most consistent indicator of a happy marriage.

20. EXPERTS HAVE GOOD INTUITION

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If you have an expensive handbag you’re worried might be counterfeit, would you rather trust the gut feeling of an expert or the carefully reasoned logic of an amateur? That’s the question a group of researchers from three universities answered in a 2012 study. They took a bunch of students and told them to identify real Coach/Louis Vuitton handbags from counterfeits. Some were told to base their judgement entirely on intuition, while others were told to be analytical. Among both groups were “experts,” or people with “more than three Coach and/or Louis Vuitton handbags.” According to a press release, “the researchers found that intuition was more effective for those with high expertise. In the intuition condition, participants with high expertise demonstrated higher task performance. In the analysis condition, those with high expertise performed no better than those with low expertise.”

Written by Lucas Reilly, Hannah Keyser, and Austin Thompson. Versions of this story ran in 2014 and 2015.

For the First Time Ever, a Woman Has Won the Abel Prize—Math's Version of the Nobel Prize

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Every year since 2003, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has bestowed the Abel Prize for excellence and contributions in the field of mathematics. Every year, the recipient has been a man. In 2019, Karen Uhlenbeck crushed that dubious tradition and became the first woman to win the Abel Prize and its $700,000 award.

An emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Uhlenbeck’s work is focused on gauge theory and geometric analysis—the latter a field she pioneered. Gauge theory supports theoretical physics and is involved in the research of particle physics and string theory. Uhlenbeck is also credited with work that led to greater comprehension of the unification of forces, a primary objective in physics that attempts to link electromagnetic force and weak nuclear force with strong nuclear force in a single theory, which would help us understand the universe.

Mathematician and Abel Prize winner Karen Uhlenbeck is seen in a portrait
Courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin

Uhlenbeck arrived at UT Austin in 1987 and stayed after her retirement in 2014. During that time, she co-founded several programs, including the Saturday Morning Math Group and Distinguished Women in Mathematics lecture series, both in Texas, as well as the Park City Mathematics Institute and the Woman and Mathematics program at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

She achieved another milestone in her field in 1990, when she became the second woman (and the first since 1932) to host a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians.

The Abel Prize, which is modeled after the Nobel Prize, is named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Hendrik Abel. Uhlenbeck will receive the prize in Oslo on May 21.

[h/t New Scientist]

12 Intriguing Facts About the Intestines

When we talk about the belly, gut, or bowels, what we're really talking about are the intestines—long, hollow, coiled tubes that comprise a major part of the digestive tract, running from the stomach to the anus. The intestines begin with the small intestine, divided into three parts whimsically named the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, which absorb most of the nutrients from what we eat and drink. Food then moves into the large intestine, or colon, which absorbs water from the digested food and expels it into the rectum. That's when sensitive nerves in your rectum create the sensation of needing to poop.

These organs can be the source of intestinal pain, such as in irritable bowel syndrome, but they can also support microbes that are beneficial to your overall health. Here are some more facts about your intestines.

1. The intestines were named by medieval anatomists.

Medieval anatomists had a pretty good understanding of the physiology of the gut, and are the ones who gave the intestinal sections their names, which are still used today in modern anatomy. When they weren't moralizing about the organs, they got metaphorical about them. In 1535, the Spanish doctor Andrés Laguna noted that because the intestines "carry the chyle and all the excrement through the entire region of the stomach as if through the Ocean Sea," they could be likened to "those tall ships which as soon as they have crossed the ocean come to Rouen with their cargoes on their way to Paris but transfer their cargoes at Rouen into small boats for the last stage of the journey up the Seine."

2. Leonardo da Vinci believed the intestines helped you breathe.

Leonardo mistakenly believed the digestive system aided respiratory function. In 1490, he wrote in his unpublished notebooks, "The compressed intestines with the condensed air which is generated in them, thrust the diaphragm upwards; the diaphragm compresses the lungs and expresses the air." While that isn't anatomically accurate, it is true that the opening of the lungs is helped by the relaxation of stomach muscles, which does draw down the diaphragm.

3. Your intestines could cover two tennis courts ...

Your intestines take up a whole lot of square footage inside you. "The surface area of the intestines, if laid out flat, would cover two tennis courts," Colby Zaph, a professor of immunology in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Melbourne's Monash University, tells Mental Floss. The small intestine alone is about 20 feet long, and the large intestine about 5 feet long.

4. ... and they're pretty athletic.

The process of moving food through your intestines requires a wave-like pattern of muscular action, known as peristalsis, which you can see in action during surgery in this YouTube video.

5. Your intestines can fold like a telescope—but that's not something you want to happen.

Intussusception is the name of a condition where a part of your intestine folds in on itself, usually between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. It often presents as severe intestinal pain and requires immediate medical attention. It's very rare, and in children may be related to a viral infection. In adults, it's more commonly a symptom of an abnormal growth or polyp.

6. Intestines are very discriminating.

"The intestines have to discriminate between good things—food, water, vitamins, good bacteria—and bad things, such as infectious organisms like viruses, parasites and bad bacteria," Zaph says. Researchers don't entirely know how the intestines do this. Zaph says that while your intestines are designed to keep dangerous bacteria contained, infectious microbes can sometimes penetrate your immune system through your intestines.

7. The small intestine is covered in "fingers" ...

The lining of the small intestine is blanketed in tiny finger-like protrusions known as villi. These villi are then covered in even tinier protrusions called microvilli, which help capture food particles to absorb nutrients, and move food on to the large intestine.

8. ... And you can't live without it.

Your small intestine "is the sole point of food and water absorption," Zaph says. Without it, "you'd have to be fed through the blood."

9. The intestines house your microbiome. 

The microbiome is made up of all kinds of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans, "and probably used to include worm parasites too," says Zaph. So in a way, he adds, "we are constantly infected with something, but it [can be] helpful, not harmful."

10. Intestines are sensitive to change.

Zaph says that many factors change the composition of the microbiome, including antibiotics, foods we eat, stress, and infections. But in general, most people's microbiomes return to a stable state after these events. "The microbiome composition is different between people and affected by diseases. But we still don't know whether the different microbiomes cause disease, or are a result in the development of disease," he says.

11. Transferring bacteria from one gut to another can transfer disease—or maybe cure it.

"Studies in mice show that transplanting microbes from obese mice can transfer obesity to thin mice," Zaph says. But transplanting microbes from healthy people into sick people can be a powerful treatment for some intestinal infections, like that of the bacteria Clostridium difficile, he adds. Research is pouring out on how the microbiome affects various diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and even autism.

12. The microbes in your intestines might influence how you respond to medical treatments.

Some people don't respond to cancer drugs as effectively as others, Zaph says. "One reason is that different microbiomes can metabolize the drugs differently." This has huge ramifications for chemotherapy and new cancer treatments called checkpoint inhibitors. As scientists learn more about how different bacteria metabolize drugs, they could possibly improve how effective existing cancer treatments are.

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