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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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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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