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9 Things You Can Do to Feel More Confident

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One way to make a good first impression is to go into a situation with your chin up, head held high, exuding confidence. New research says we judge how confident others are in just .2 seconds, and if you’re feeling weak or insecure, your voice will give you away almost immediately. Here, a few scientifically proven ways to boost your self-esteem. 

1. Get bigger

In nature, one way to assert dominance is by becoming physically larger than an opponent. Alpha personalities stand up, stretch out, make themselves big to scare off others, and according to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, this rings true for humans. Her research suggests that, even if you’re not naturally aggressive or confident, by assuming a “power pose”—like stretching your arms out or standing with your hands on your hips—for just two minutes, you can trick yourself into feeling more confident. “Power poses” boost your testosterone and reduce cortisol (“the stress hormone”), she claims. Recent research disputes Cuddy’s findings regarding hormones, but supports her theory that power poses influence how confident we feel. “Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors,” Cuddy says. “That's what you want to do.” 

2. Wear cologne or perfume

You might want to consider spritzing on some fragrance the next time you want to impress. In one study, researchers gave two groups of men identical aerosol cans, some filled with odorless substances, others filled with fragrance and “antimicrobial agents,” the same stuff that targets odor-causing bacteria in some deodorants. The cologne-covered men showed improved confidence, and as a result, were rated as more attractive by women who viewed them in video clips. "This effect highlights the flexible nature of self-esteem to respond to rapid changes in one's own physical traits through the use of artificial cosmetic products,” the study says. “An individual's personal odour and the perfume product chosen may thus influence both self-perception and impressions formed by others."

3. Work out

As if you needed another reason to get to the gym. Research suggests exercise, even a little bit of it, can convince you that you look better. “This is an important study because it shows that doing virtually any type of exercise, on a regular basis, can help people feel better about their bodies,” said Kathleen Martin Ginis, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. 

4. Meditate

“Meditation ... means ‘silence of mind’ which brings positive cognitive and affective changes in the personality,” write the authors of a 2008 study that examined how meditation impacted the self-esteem of a group of student-teachers. At the outset, the researchers expected meditation would have no impact at all, but their findings turned that hypothesis on its head. Meditation improves “psychological functioning like self-esteem, concentration, decision making power, intelligence, memory,” they write. “It helps to remove negative emotions, anxiety, complexes (inferiority or superiority) as it makes the mind silent. This change helps to increase trust in the abilities and good qualities of the self, i.e. self confidence.”

5. Get superstitious

Got a lucky shirt or a rabbit’s foot? Put it to good use when you need a boost. Research from the University of Cologne suggests just indulging in superstitious tendencies can improve performance in certain skills, not because they actually attract luck, but because they make us feel more confident. In one study, volunteers who had their “lucky charm” nearby performed better at memory games and actually set higher goals for themselves. In fact, just wishing someone luck provides a small boost in confidence and improves performance. 

6. Gossip

Those of you who can’t resist the urge to talk about someone behind their back are in luck: One study says gossiping does good things for your self-esteem. But there’s a catch—you have to say nice things. In the study, 140 men and women were asked to talk about a fictional character, either positively or negatively. According to Dr. Jennifer Cole from Staffordshire University, those who said positive things saw a 5 percent boost in self-esteem. 

"Gossiping is usually seen as a bad thing,” Cole said. “Our findings suggest some forms of gossiping—particularly of the type where people praise others—could be linked with some desirable outcomes for the gossiper despite the fact that gossipers are not generally approved of." 

7. Blast some bass

If you want to feel more powerful and confident, science says you should listen to music that has loud bass levels. In one study, researchers manipulated bass levels in music and “found that those who listened to the heavy-bass music reported more feelings of power.” It’s no wonder athletes blast jams to pump themselves up before a game. Researchers think “high-power” music with a strong bass evokes a sense of power, which we internalize. And even though they controlled for lyrics and found they have no impact on how the song makes us feel, researchers say Queen's "We Will Rock You" is one of the most powerful songs.

8. Think of your most powerful moments

It seems just recalling a time when you felt strong can make you seem more powerful to outsiders. This research involved two groups: One was asked to think of a time they felt very powerful, another when they felt powerless. They were then asked to either write a job application letter or participate in an interview for business school admission. According to the study, the independent judges “significantly preferred the written and face-to-face interview performance of powerful applicants to that of powerless.” 

9. Check out your Facebook wall

If you’re feeling low, try opening Facebook and browsing your own profile. Some 2010 research found that college students who looked at their own Facebook wall, or posted a profile update, showed increased self-esteem afterwards. Why? Your Facebook page has been tailored—by you—to display what you think is your best self. It seems that getting a reminder of this positive image can provide an extra confidence boost. "For many people, there's an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad,” said Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, and a co-author of the study. “This is one of the first studies to show that there's a psychological benefit of Facebook.”

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15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
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It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

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