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The Science Behind Why People Hate the Word Moist

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People really do not like discussing moisture. A Buzzfeed post called “Why Moist Is The Worst Word Ever” received more than 4 million views; when The New Yorker asked readers to nominate a word to scrub from the English language in 2012, the overwhelming consensus was to ditch moist. The seemingly ordinary adjective inspires an excessive outpouring of ire. Why? 

A group of psychologists decided to find out. Researchers from Oberlin College in Ohio and Trinity University in San Antonio ran three different experiments [PDF] to figure out how many people really find the word “moist” disdainful, and why. They found that more than 20 percent of the population studied was averse to the word, but that it didn’t have anything to do with the way it sounds. Rather, it’s the association with bodily functions that seem to turn most people off, whether they realize it or not. 

Most of the participants who told the researchers they hated the word chalked it up to phonics. “It just has an ugly sound that makes whatever you’re talking about sound gross,” one participant argued. However, people did not show similar aversions to words that utilize the same sounds, such as foist or rejoiced. People found the word moist most disgusting when it was accompanied by unrelated, positive words like paradise, or when it was accompanied by sexual words. By contrast, when it accompanied food words (like cake), people weren’t as bothered by it. 

The younger and more neurotic the study participants were, the more likely they were to dislike the word. Additionally, the more disgust they associated with bodily functions, the less they liked moist. People who found themselves particularly grossed out by thinking of things as moist may just be more likely to associate the word with sex, the researchers postulate. As one participant explained, “It reminds people of sex and vaginas.” No disrespect to either, of course, but we're pretty sure no one wants to think about those things when they're browsing the baked goods aisle.

[h/t: Nautilus]

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Scientist Asks: Why Do We Weep?
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Sometimes we see the tears coming, and sometimes they catch us off guard; we find ourselves weeping without knowing why. It's a personal problem, but it's a scientific one, too: Why do people weep? What purpose does it serve? One expert attempts to answer these questions in a new article in the journal New Ideas in Psychology.

Article author Carlo V. Bellieni is a pediatrician and a bioethicist at Siena University Hospital in Italy. His previous studies have focused on children's emotional well-being and babies' crying and pain. For his latest paper, he examined data and observations on weeping from more than 70 studies and books from researchers stretching back all the way to Charles Darwin.

His conclusion? Weeping is "a complex phenomenon."

For starters, Bellieni writes, weeping is similar to crying, but it's not the same thing. Crying is typically a reaction to pain or anger. It's audible and physical, increasing heart rate, affecting breathing, and contorting the face and body. A crying person's voice changes, and their body makes more stress hormones like adrenaline. And while they don't shed tears, other animals cry, too.

Weeping, on the other hand, appears to be uniquely human. It's what happens when the cup of our emotions runneth over. We cry when we drop a cinderblock on our foot. We weep at funerals, and at weddings.

As Bellieni discovered, there are many theories on how we cry and weep, and where the tears come from. Some researchers have argued that we make tears to return ourselves to the soothing, fluid environment of the womb. Others theorize that our bodies start extruding tears (and snot) to keep our nose and throat from drying out as our breathing intensifies. Darwin's hypothesis was that the tears are a byproduct of scrunching up our faces, including the tear-production glands.

None of these theories seem especially plausible, Bellieni writes. So for now, the answer to the physical question is, "We don't really know."

The emotional and social sides of the weeping equation are slightly more straightforward.

Weeping is a form of releasing intense emotion and physical tension. When we weep, we tell our body that it's okay to relax. This helps us reset our system, so to speak, and move on.

And seeing someone weep makes us want to help them, Bellieni says. Weeping makes other people want to help us. Visible sorrow is an opportunity to strengthen social ties. And among social animals like us, strong bonds mean a better chance of survival.

It's wrong to think of weeping as wimpy or weak, Bellieni says. In fact, it's "a strong behavior with positive effects on health and social interaction."

"In the light of these data," he concludes, "weeping appears to be a primal and important human behavior that deserves more attention."

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If You’ve Ever Seen a Ghost, Science May Explain Why
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Despite all the reports of ghost sightings (28 percent of Americans report having ghostly encounters), there’s zero evidence to support the presence of supernatural beings among us. Science may not prove the existence of ghosts, but it can help explain why people think they see ghosts in the first place.

In this video from Vox, paranormal investigator Joe Nickell identifies some of the phenomena believers may mistake for paranormal activity. One possible explanation is infrasound, or the sound waves that fall beneath levels of human perception. Though we can’t hear these noises firsthand, our bodies sense them in other ways. This can cause chills, feelings of unease and depression, and even hallucinations.

Other contributors may include sleep paralysis (when you wake up while your body is immobile and experience waking nightmares) and grief. There are also a few less common possibilities that aren’t covered in the video below: Mold poisoning, for instance, can lead to irrational fear and dementia. Suddenly, a visit from a poltergeist doesn’t sound so scary.

[h/t Vox]

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