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Arachnophobia Makes Spiders Look Bigger, Study Finds

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Arachnophobia may cause itsy-bitsy spiders to appear much bigger than they really are, according to a small study published in the journal Biological Psychology and conducted among students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). Whether they fear spiders or not, many people find the eight-legged creatures unsettling or unpleasant. But those who are afraid of spiders also see them as larger than those who find them them merely unappealing.

Scientific American explains that psychologist Tali Leibovich was inspired to conduct the study by her own arachnophobia. Leibovich tells Scientific American that she was in the lab with a colleague when she spotted a particularly terrifying spider. “I started to scream for her to come and pick it up because she's not afraid of them,” she explains. “And she said, 'But it's small, how come you're afraid of it?' And I said, 'No, it's huge!' And she said, 'It's small'; I said, 'It's huge.' We started arguing, and this is why we started this study. To see who is right."

The two-part study, which involved 27 female students, not only found that arachnophobes consistently viewed spiders as larger than non-arachnophobes, but that arachnophobes did not miscalculate the size of other insects and animals. For instance, participants were asked to rank the sizes not only of spiders, but of harmless creatures like flies and birds, and potentially dangerous creatures like wasps, on a size scale from housefly to lamb. Even though wasps are arguably more dangerous than many spiders, arachnophobes did not miscalculate their size.

"This study revealed how perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion, and demonstrates how each of us experiences the world in a unique and different way," says Leibovich. "This study also raises more questions such as: Is it fear that triggers size disturbance, or maybe the size disturbance is what causes fear in the first place? Future studies that attempt to answer such questions can be used as a basis for developing treatments for different phobias."

[h/t Scientific American]

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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