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.

Why Does Humidity Make Us Feel Hotter?

Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images
Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images

With temperatures spiking around the country, we thought it might be a good time to answer some questions about the heat index—and why humidity makes us feel hotter.

Why does humidity make us feel hotter?

To answer that question, we need to talk about getting sweaty.

As you probably remember from your high school biology class, one of the ways our bodies cool themselves is by sweating. The sweat then evaporates from our skin, and it carries heat away from the body as it leaves.

Humidity throws a wrench in that system of evaporative cooling, though. As relative humidity increases, the evaporation of sweat from our skin slows down. Instead, the sweat just drips off of us, which leaves us with all of the stinkiness and none of the cooling effect. Thus, when the humidity spikes, our bodies effectively lose a key tool that could normally be used to cool us down.

What's relative about relative humidity?

We all know that humidity refers to the amount of water contained in the air. However, as the air’s temperature changes, so does the amount of water the air can hold. (Air can hold more water vapor as the temperature heats up.) Relative humidity compares the actual humidity to the maximum amount of water vapor the air can hold at any given temperature.

Whose idea was the heat index?

While the notion of humidity making days feel warmer is painfully apparent to anyone who has ever been outside on a soupy day, our current system owes a big debt to Robert G. Steadman, an academic textile researcher. In a 1979 research paper called, “An Assessment of Sultriness, Parts I and II,” Steadman laid out the basic factors that would affect how hot a person felt under a given set of conditions, and meteorologists soon used his work to derive a simplified formula for calculating heat index.

The formula is long and cumbersome, but luckily it can be transformed into easy-to-read charts. Today your local meteorologist just needs to know the air temperature and the relative humidity, and the chart will tell him or her the rest.

Is the heat index calculation the same for everyone?

Not quite, but it’s close. Steadman’s original research was founded on the idea of a “typical” person who was outdoors under a very precise set of conditions. Specifically, Steadman’s everyman was 5’7” tall, weighed 147 pounds, wore long pants and a short-sleeved shirt, and was walking at just over three miles per hour into a slight breeze in the shade. Any deviations from these conditions will affect how the heat/humidity combo feels to a certain person.

What difference does being in the shade make?

Quite a big one. All of the National Weather Service’s charts for calculating the heat index make the reasonable assumption that folks will look for shade when it’s oppressively hot and muggy out. Direct sunlight can add up to 15 degrees to the calculated heat index.

How does wind affect how dangerous the heat is?

Normally, when we think of wind on a hot day, we think of a nice, cooling breeze. That’s the normal state of affairs, but when the weather is really, really hot—think high-90s hot—a dry wind actually heats us up. When it’s that hot out, wind actually draws sweat away from our bodies before it can evaporate to help cool us down. Thanks to this effect, what might have been a cool breeze acts more like a convection oven.

When should I start worrying about high heat index readings?

The National Weather Service has a handy four-tiered system to tell you how dire the heat situation is. At the most severe level, when the heat index is over 130, that's classified as "Extreme Danger" and the risk of heat stroke is highly likely with continued exposure. Things get less scary as you move down the ladder, but even on "Danger" days, when the heat index ranges from 105 to 130, you probably don’t want to be outside. According to the service, that’s when prolonged exposure and/or physical activity make sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion likely, while heat stroke is possible.

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

This article has been updated for 2019.

Chimpanzees Bond by Watching Movies Together, Too

Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images
Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists at the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Germany recently discovered that, like humans, chimpanzees bond when they watch movies together, the BBC reports.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers stationed pairs of chimpanzees in front of screens that showed a video of a family of chimps playing with a young chimp. They found that afterward, the chimps would spend more time grooming and interacting with each other—or simply being in the same part of the room—than they would without having watched the video.

They gave the chimps fruit juice to keep them calm and occupied while they viewed the video, and they chose a subject that chimps have previously proven to be most interested in: other chimps. They also used eye trackers to ensure the chimps were actually watching the video. If you’ve ever watched a movie with friends, you might notice similarities between the chimps’ experience and your own. Drinks (and snacks) also keep us calm and occupied while we watch, and we like to watch movies about other humans. Since this study only showed that chimps bond over programs about their own species, we don’t know if it would work the same way if they watched something completely unrelated to them, like humans do—say, The Lion King.

Bonding through shared experiences was thought to be one of the traits that make us uniquely human, and some researchers have argued that other species don’t have the psychological mechanisms to realize that they’re even sharing an experience with another. This study suggests that social activities for apes don’t just serve utilitarian purposes like traveling together for safety, and that they’re capable of a more human-like social closeness.

The part that is uniquely human about this study is the fact that they were studying the effect of a screen, as opposed to something less man-made. The chimps in question have participated in other studies, so they may be more accustomed to that technology than wild apes. But the study demonstrates that we’re not the only species capable of social interaction for the sake of social interaction.

[h/t BBC]

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