Weird Science: Cat Beaters, Communicating Blobs, and Morning People

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Weird Science: Cat Beaters, Communicating Blobs, and Morning People

This week’s Weird Science saw animal abusers having worse “moral judgment” than domestic abusers; scientists in France found that blobs in slime molds can communicate with each other; and, perhaps most surprising, morning people struggle with tasks late at night.

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Animal Abusers are seen as having worse moral judgment than domestic abusers

Bad people are “disgusting,” but bad actions are “angering.” Those are the results of a recent study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study, conducted out of Brooklyn College, sought to understand why moral transgressions can be “disgusting” even when they don’t involve things that typically “disgust,” like insects, rotting fruit, or an old man’s genitalia. What the researchers found is that the character of the transgressor drives moral disgust.

To find these results, the researchers, in an online survey, had American adults evaluate two scenarios. In the first, a man finds out his long-time girlfriend has cheated on him, and he responds by beating her. In the second scenario, a man finds out his long-time girlfriend has cheated on him and he beats her cat. The participants then rated the nature of the act, which should be more severely punished, which deserves more blame, and they also were asked to evaluate the nature of the men—who was more sadistic or empathetic.

The act: people judged beating the cat as less morally wrong, but the moral character of the man who beat the cat was worse than that of the man who beat his girlfriend. Beating a woman is “angering” but beating a cat is “disgusting.”

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Apparently blobs of slime mold can communicate with each other

Apparently blobs aren’t lazy, nor do they sit on the sofa all day absorbing potato chips, but, according to French biologists, the common “blob” is one of the savviest organisms in the world. These “slime molds” as their more often known, can not only possess the ability to learn—despite having no brain or nervous system, mind you—whether a substance is harmful or not but they can also transfer their knowledge to fellow blobs by simple cellular fusion. Think of it like a mentor, mentee relationship that momentarily gets a little “too close.”

Slime isn’t an organism you’d expect to harness this type knowledge, mostly because, again, they don’t have a brain. Their only existence is to feed on bacteria, fungi, and pretty much any piece of decaying matter. It’s not an animal nor plant nor fungus. It’s just a single-celled amoeba that likes to mooch off other amoeba’s for food, clothing, and shelter—not unlike the household couch blob (cough, my uncle Rod).

In the experiment, biologists documented the eating habits of the slime mold over a nine-day period. Basically, how far are they willing to go to cross agar gel bridges to get food? The molds were separated into three groups, two were treated with quinine and caffeine—because, as we all know, blobs hate the bitterness of quinine and caffeine—and the third group with nothing. By day six, the slime blobs dining on quinine and caffeine hated their diet so much they, together, at the same speed as the control group, crossed the agar bridge to eat some real food.

This may not seem like much to you, but, according to researcher Audrey Dussutour of the CRCA, “We were astonished to find out that the slime mold could learn without a brain or nervous system.” Let’s just hope these blobs don’t get too smart, we don’t want a repeat of the 1995 slimefest the Power Rangers had to defeat.

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Morning People struggle concentrating at night

Science: Confirming common sense since 460 BC. But sometimes common sense needs confirmation. It was once common sense that the Earth was flat. It was once common sense that the sun revolved around the Earth. You know how alcohol makes you feel warmer? That means it’s warming your core temperature, right? Wrong.

In the study, researchers examined the effects of sustained wakefulness over a “socially constrained” day (18 hours awake). Twenty-six “good sleepers” completed an Attention Network Test (ANT) at two points—a baseline at 8:00 a.m. and the other at 2:00 a.m. The ANT test looks at reaction times, error rates, alertness, and the like.

What did researchers find? Early risers performed worse on the second test than did night owls. Sure, this result may be uninspiring, but sometimes it’s nice to know that our assumptions are correct.

Top image: Jason Hollinger, CC-BY 2.0

Tom is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.

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