This is Your Brain on Jugs
What sexy women do to men's thinking skills.
Sleep deprivation, cell phones, and other distractions contributed to nearly four in five crashes in a study of drivers around Washington, D.C. Findings: 1) Sleepiness caused one in five crashes. 2) Dialing a cell phone tripled the risk of a crash or near crash. 3) Drivers aged 18-20 were up to four times more likely to crash a car due to inattention than were drivers over 35. Reactions: 1) Get some shuteye. 2) Ban cell phones in cars. 3) Limit how many people can ride with a teenage driver. 4) If you're reading this in your car, please pull over. (For Human Nature's previous update on cell phones and driving, click here.)
Sexual images subvert young men's ability to think. In a money game, men who were shown pictures of lingerie or sexy women accepted disadvantageous deals more often than did men who were shown nonsexual pictures. Men with higher testosterone levels, inferred from ring fingers that were long relative to their index fingers, did worse on the test. Interpretations: 1) Duh. 2) This is what evolution designed men to do. 3) Nevertheless, we can struggle to overcome it. 4) Researchers are having trouble finding images that mess up women the same way. What does that tell you? (For Human Nature's take on male-female differences in a punishment game, click here.)
British experts suggest China may be executing prisoners to sell their organs. China executed at least 3,400 people last year, more than any other country. Human Rights Watch previously said China had harvested as many as 3,000 organs from executed inmates each year. Last month, China admitted that organs had been taken from some prisoners without pre-execution consent, but it claimed that this practice was illegal and rare. Now the British Transplantation Society says 1) evidence suggests organs "in the thousands" are being taken without consent of prisoners or their families; 2) the transactions "involve payment of money and may implicate … patients and the authorities and judiciary responsible for the prisoners"; and 3) according to a BTS official, "It almost sounds as though the timing of an execution is at the convenience of the timing of a transplant." (For China's crackdown on the sale of sperm and eggs, click here.)
More men than women are sexually satisfied, according to a worldwide survey of people aged 40 to 80. The average difference, country by country, is 10 percentage points. Other findings: 1) "Substantial majorities of people who are married or who have a partner remain sexually active throughout the second half of their lives." 2) Enjoyment of sex correlates with gender equality; "two-thirds of adults in Western nations reported their sex lives were very to extremely satisfying," whereas in China, Japan, and other conservative Eastern countries, "Procreation is the rationale for sex," and many women "characterize sex as dirty, as a duty, something they endure." Interpretations: 1) Gender equality correlates with national development, so maybe people in relatively equal countries enjoy sex because they have better health and information. 2) "When mama's not happy, nobody's happy." (For Human Nature's update on the health benefits of sex, click here.)
Virtual sex technology is becoming more sophisticated. Today's devices: 1) a "Sinulator"; 2) extremely lifelike ($6,500) dolls; 3) an online game in which you can link porn video through hardware to your, ahem; and 4) "teledildonics," in which you apply a real tool to your partner by Internet-assisted remote control. Near-term goal: artificial sex partners customized to look, feel, say, and do as you wish. Ultimate goal: bypassing your body to directly trigger the sexual parts of your brain. The porn industry thanks the Iraq war, which apparently created a market of soldiers and spouses looking for remote stimulation. Quotes from the industry: "People who use it are just blown away"; "He expects the hardware area of such simulations to grow rapidly." Deep thinkers' reaction: Are we losing the human touch? Shallow thinkers' reaction: We'll take this stuff seriously when they can make a robot that competently sweeps floors. (For Human Nature's update on the health benefits of sex, click here. For the perils of French kissing, click here. For remote-controlled killing of animals, click here. For remote-controlled killing of people, click here.)
A federal judge says North Carolina can substitute machines for doctors in lethal injections. Doctors say they can't ethically participate, but judges say they're needed to make sure drugs have rendered the prisoner unconscious so he doesn't feel pain. Prison officials propose to let doctors do the job from another room by watching a brain-wave monitor. The judge says this is good enough. Lawyers' complaints: 1) The state won't tell us who the doctors are, so we can't verify that they're up to the job. 2) "Are they prepared to step in if something starts going wrong?" 3) This is a perversion of the medical uses for which the monitor was sold. (For Human Nature's previous update on executions and brain-wave monitors, click here.)
Scientists found an obesity gene. Other obesity genes have been found but are very rare; this one occurs in roughly 10 percent of white and black people. According to researchers, "Those who inherit two copies of the variant, one from each parent, have a 22 percent extra risk of becoming obese." Inheriting one copy alone might increase your risk, but not enough to show up as statistically significant in this study. Since the gene appears to be more than 50,000 years old, researchers figure it became harmful only after something new in our environment, "presumably high-calorie food, interacted with it." (For Human Nature's take on obesity and junk food, click here.)
People who get less than six hours of sleep are 60 percent more likely to get high blood pressure. The pattern starts at age 32 but stops at age 60, possibly because people with high blood pressure and other risk factors die out. Theories: 1) Sleep deprivation overworks your heart. 2) It changes your insulin sensitivity and appetite, thereby making you fat. 3) It makes you cranky, gloomy, and impatient, thereby ruining your health habits. Skeptical reactions: 1) Maybe pre-hypertension causes sleep deprivation instead of the other way around. 2) Fat causes a lot more hypertension than sleep deprivation does. (For Human Nature's previous update on sleep deprivation, click here.)
A Chinese hospital claims to have performed the world's second face transplant. The patient was mauled by a bear two years ago; the transplant from a brain-dead donor reportedly covers two-thirds of his face. The procedure was performed by a "unit in the Chinese People's Liberation Army specializing in plastic surgery." According to Agence France Presse, "In December last year, the doctors succeeded in a face transplant conducted on a rabbit, and subsequently decided to try it on a human." Hospital's spin: "This surgery was even more complex and meticulous than the one performed by the French." Skeptics' warning: China has a history of cutting ethical corners to look like a biomedical leader. (For Human Nature's previous updates on the French face transplant, click here and here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.