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People Like Sharks More When They Swim to Upbeat Music

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Sharks aren’t exactly cuddly, but they’re not the villains that movies and nature documentaries make them out to be. And while portraying sharks as frightening predators might imbue otherwise dry nature documentaries with a bit more drama, scientists are worried that these kinds of negative portrayals might hurt conservation efforts. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that even the ominous music used to underscore shark scenes in nature documentaries may subtly affect viewers’s perceptions of sharks.

Popular Science explains that researchers played a clip from an episode of the nature series Blue Planet: Seas of Life for groups of volunteers. The clip features upbeat music as the camera lingers on a group of fish, which turns ominous and threatening when a shark appears. Researchers divided volunteers into three groups and played them three versions of the same clip: One was overlaid with ominous music, another with upbeat music, and the third with no music at all. Researchers found that volunteers who viewed the clip with ominous music felt more negatively about sharks after watching.

While that finding might not be too surprising—after all, the theme music from Jaws (1975) haunted an entire generation of movie goers—scientists hope their findings might encourage documentarians to be more careful about their musical choices.

“Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content,” they write. “We propose that the background music in shark documentaries can negatively influence viewers’ perceptions of sharks, attitudes towards them, and likelihood of supporting related conservation efforts.”

[h/t Popular Science]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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