Science Fact of the Day: Good Charlotte was on to something

I haven’t done a science fact of the day lately. Work is time consuming. Don’t forget, science facts of the day are my thoughts on and descriptions of what scientists say. In other words, it’s a fact that some scientists have said it. What I write is not necessarily a fact of nature nor something I even take to be the case.

In an article at Big Think, an author describes this analysis of online dating data.

Here are some pieces of the original article:

We examine the impact of a user’s weight on his or her outcomes by means of the body mass index (BMI), which is a height adjusted measure of weight.18 Figure 5.5 shows that for both men and women there is an “ideal” BMI at which success peaks, but the level of the ideal BMI differs strongly across genders. The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives about 77% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.

This is expected. Men with a slightly higher BMI probably have more muscle mass. And women whose BMI was so low in 2005 and prior (when the study was done) probably ran a lot.

Income strongly affects the success of men, as measured by the number of first contact e-mails received.

This makes sense. Dating with your self-interest in mind for women includes the well being of any children or potential children.  It would be stupid to not care about income and it’s not shallow for women to do so. A lot of people bristle at the fact that the silly song said “girls like cars and money” but the song writer was just observing facts. In a similarly “shallow” way, men prefered that women look attractive. But again, if the invisible hand of biology is operating, then men will probably be more interested in women they perceive (for good or bad reasons) to be fertile and potentially good mothers.

Anyway, the article interested me because I am asked by a lot of young men for dating advice. I usually tell them: seek first God’s kingdom (virtue is more important than marriage) but then make more money and get more muscles. The empirical data generally back up these observations. Another case in point would be the extremely annoying body builder at my old gym. Women would be repulsed by him at first (he’s too huge). But he’d mention, “My lambo” and suddenly the girl would end her work out and follow him around for his. My wife and I observed this well over a dozen times over the three years we went to the gym.* Now, I mentioned the “invisible hand of biology,” and this is real. But the fact is that relationships are more than biology, they just aren’t less than biology. Romance can transcend biology but you cannot subtract biology from it.

Here’s the song I mentioned:

 

*Incidentally, he tried flirting with her while she was doing deadlift. She simply said something terse like, “I’m working out.”

 

Science Fact of the Day: Pregnancy and Strength Training

When I was a personal trainer I had always hypothesized that strength training would lead to positive outcomes for pregnant women and the child, particularly if they had been training prior to the conception of their child.

Since I’m not a research center and such training could be high risk, I just wouldn’t train a pregnant woman. The wisdom in the early 2000s was, “don’t engage in strength training if you’re pregnant.” Among trainers the wisdom was, “that doesn’t make any sense, but don’t do it to avoid a lawsuit.” Recently (2015) the American College of Obstetrians and Gynecologists said that it was safe to initiate/continue strength training during uncomplicated pregnancies.*

Anyway, strength training is getting closer and closer to being a scientifically verified panacea. In the case of pregnancy, strength training:

  1. Does not increase the risk of pre-term birth.
  2. May improve fetal heart function (circuit style training)
  3. Improves maternal energy levels
  4. Decreases risk of preeclampsia.
  5. Lowers risk of unhealthy weight gain (this one should have been obvious)
  6. Lowers risk of gestational diabetes
  7. Decreases incontinence by strengthening pelvic floor musculature
  8. Potentially decreases risk factors to the child caused by the mother being overweight
  9. Makes the mother feel healthier
  10. Decreases risk for post birth depression (exercise in general)
  11. Decreased back pain

Now, I’m no doctor and I’m not making any recommendations. But hopefully this information helps you do some of your own research.

*American College of Obstetrians and Gynecologists. Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Committee Opinion Number 650 2015.

Placebo and Intelligence

In a recent experiment, psychologists “designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect” in order to test the claims of intelligence increasing software.[1]

What they found is quite interesting. In the control group (people who simply thought they were participating in an experiment) there was no different in pre and post training intelligence. But in the experimental group (who were told they were training to increase their intelligence) an increase in intelligence was measured (5-10 IQ points) after only one hour of training. In general, exercises designed to improve intelligence take several hours of training over the course of several weeks. This study was designed to remove the possibility of training based improvement.

Study

This are the fliers used to advertise the study. Placebo on the left, control on the right.

Basically the report revealed a problem with the design of several studies which advertise being a part of experiments that improve the brain as participants may improve performance simply because of reasons related to beliefs about intelligence. While the research should temper claims made by intelligence games, until their methods can be tested more thoroughly, I’m more interested in what this means about perception in relationship to human excellence.

Carol Dweck (whose work is mentioned in the study) posits that self-theories determine whether or not somebody will change, learn, or grow in a desired way. For instance, if somebody believes that they can improve, then when they face obstacles they will attempt to improve when they fail. But if somebody believes that they cannot improve then they are likely not to. So while there are genetic limits to IQ, it appears that within a certain range, change self-theories and perhaps cognitive training can improve IQ. I find Arthur Whimbey’s research on this compelling. Prior to computer games, like we have today, he found that teaching people to think procedurally and sequentially (out loud or writing out their thought processes) led to increase IQ scores and performance in school.

Anyhow, it’s worth a read.

[1] Cyrus K. Foroughi et al., “Placebo Effects in Cognitive Training,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 20, 2016), 1.

Science Fact of the Day #4: Francis de Sales and the Science of Performance

In a 2004 study, it results were discovered which “suggest that self-compassion is associated with adaptive motivational patterns and coping strategies in academic contexts…”

Self-compassion “involves being open to and aware of one’s own suffering, offering kindness and understanding towards oneself, desiring the self’s well-being, taking a nonjudgmental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and failures, and framing one’s own experience in light of the common human experience… ”

Now, this is a fairly early study of self-compassion as a psychological model, but more recent research seems to confirm the results or at least fails to disprove them.

Now, in my own opinion, there are times for being harsh with yourself. But that’s in relationship to immediate experience like finishing a set in the gym, making yourself finish a hard assignment, show up to work when depressed, or some such thing. Being “hard on yourself” post failure makes no sense. The cake has been baked, you can’t get the ingredients back.

Anyhow, Francis de Sales had interesting insights into this subject a few hundrew years ago:

“So too when we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, mild remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, stormy repentance.” (Introduction to the Devout Life Book III Chapter IX)

He goes on to say:

“…do not be surprised if you should fall. It is no wonder that infirmity should be infirm, weakness weak, or misery wretched.”

De Sales observed that it’s important to frame your experience in terms of common human experience. And because of that he recommended that we show ourselves compassion when we fail. He didn’t mean to ignore our failures or to overlook them, but “with great courage and confidence in God’s mercy to return to the path of virtue which you have forsaken.”

 

Science Fact of the Day #3: The Bargaining Model of Depression

Today we’ll look at a fairly recent model of depression: the bargaining model.

In a 2003 book edited by Peter Hammerstein, Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, chapter 6 is an essay (I believe based on a talk) on this model, “The Bargaining Model of Depression.”

The author, Edward Hagen, proposes depression might be explained as a strategy to gain assistance and support from powerful members of a social group by members which are weaker. This is due to the difficulty that physically or socially weaker people have utilizing force, threats of force, or persuasive rhetoric to achieve their goal (96-97).

The idea then is that the depressed person is acting in a fashion that is costly both to themselves and to the group, but that the group will perceive the loss of activity and exuberance from the individual as too costly to endure and therefore provide assistance to the individual or make changes to the group on their account (100). All of this is proposed as unconscious.

One interesting observation in the paper was this:

“It is not yet apparent whether depression symptoms themselves help enable “fresh starts” (or would have in the EEA), but this is, of course, precisely the proposed function of depression. It is therefore encouraging that “fresh starts” are closely associated with the remission of depression and may even cause it. (101)”

The idea that fresh starts may cause the remission of depression counts as evidence for the model because often the fresh starts come can come as the result of help from roommates, spouses, and near-by family. Interestingly, in cases with less social contact, depression is more likely to continue without obstacle (101). Lots of other research demonstrates this to be the case.

The model isn’t entirely persuasive to me, but elsewhere Hagen has found some evidence in favor of the model. For instance, lower grip strength predicts depression.

300px-Grip001

Depression testing device?

Anyway, that’s one model for depression among many.

Any thoughts?

 

 

 

 

Image: By 物売り – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29323800

Science Fact of the Day #2: Teacher Somatotype

As in all cases “science fact” is used losely.

In Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations the authors observed that:

“Teachers who are ectomorphic are usually perceived by students as anxious and less composed but perhaps intelligent. The endomorphic teacher is generally perceived by students as slow, lazy, under-prepared, and not dynamic in the classroom. The mesomorphic teacher is perceived as credible, depedable, likable, and competent but possibly tough and dominant.” Virginia P Richmond and James C McCroskey, Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations (Boston: Pearson/A and B, 2004), 269

For those who don’t know:

  1. Ectomorphs are lanky body types
  2. Endomorphs are dad-bod types
  3. Mesomorphs are beefy (muscly) types

download

Source: http://swordlight.tumblr.com/post/26168719228/teppelin-three-common-male-body-types

 

Now, here’s where things might get interesting. In this social-psychology text several paragraphs per page will be riddled with citations. But this particular paragraph cites no studies. Is this just an observation? Is it an impression?

I don’t know. I think that it’s probably partly true. There is some research that shows similar stereotypes in the broader population toward the somatotypes (which, since they’re based on eye-balling, are basically observational, not genetic categories).

I did find research from the 80s showing that one class of students rated, based on photographs attractive teachers and female teachers higher on scales of competence, organization, and imagination.* Of course, to extend this finding further seems like a hasty generalization.

One study checked for stereotypes on the three body types and differences between the sexes both in sterotype attributed and in stereotype attribution. In this particular study, ectomorphs were perceived favorably despite historically negative stereotypes.** But over all mesomorphs were still perceived most favorably except in terms of intelligence and meanness. Big muscles can make you look stupid and like a bully, I guess. In this paricular study, there were some gender differences: female mesomorphs didn’t suffer on the perceived intelligence or kindness rating. And female endomorphs weren’t perceived as more sloppy compared to male endomorphs.

It’s important to remember that none of the observations above are about stereotype accuracy. That’s a different cake to bake.

But I will make a suggestion here: If you are of a somatotype about whom certain stereotypes are made, it is important in a professional setting to put those stereotypes to rest if your workplace requires merit as well as social credit (teaching, management, coaching, etc). If you’re not then it doesn’t matter unless those stereotypes actually hurt you socially.

 
*Stephen Buck and Drew Tiene, “The Impact of Physical Attractiveness, Gender, and Teaching Philosophy on Teacher Evaluations,” The Journal of Educational Research 82, no. 3 (January 1, 1989): 172–177.

**Richard M. Ryckman et al., “Male and Female Raters’ Stereotyping of Male and Female Physiques,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 15, no. 2 (June 1, 1989): 244–251.

 

Science Fact of the Day #1: Creatine Improves Brain Function

Something I try to do as a teacher is introduce students to new information from various fields of study in order to try to spark an interest in them that could propell them into a career in the future. So I find myself reading a lot of science articles about all sorts of random things. Many of them I do not share with the students but I think I’ll start sharing them here to practice.

Here are important reminders about science facts of the day:

  1. Studies can be wrong for several reasons:
    1. Bias
    2. The math was done incorrectly (Biologists are notoriously innumerate)
    3. The data could be correct but the interpretive framework was wrong
    4. Poor definitions are used
    5. The gold standard for hypothesis testing (the p-value) is stupid.
    6. And on and on and on
  2. I don’t necessarily endorse what I’m posting.
  3. I’m not, unless I say so, making recommendations.

Anyway, science fact of the day: creatine supplmentation improves memory in human subjects.

720px-Creatine_biosynthesis.svg

In a study published in 2003 it was discovered that compared to a control group that was given a placebo over a 6-week period, the group that took creatine-monohydrate improved performance on memory and intelligence tests.

One aspect that I was curious about when I read the abstract was that the subjects were all vegetarians. I have wondered if that would affect the study, but they mentioned that plasma levels of creatine are lower in vegetarians. And then it hit me, you’d pick vegetarians because they won’t be eating foods that increase their creatine plasma levels. And if there was a measurable effect on processing speed, then there would be better evidence that the effect was due to creatine.

Anyway, it’s an interesting study. It may explain why people feel more intense and focused in their workouts when they have creatine.

 

References

Rae, Caroline, Alison L. Digney, Sally R. McEwan, and Timothy C. Bates. “Oral Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Improves Brain Performance: A Double–blind, Placebo–controlled, Cross–over Trial.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 270, no. 1529 (October 22, 2003): 2147–2150.
Image: By Shakiestone – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16925271