The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include a new study on pain, the spread of fake news and why some people love bitter coffee.
By Gintare Bucaite
Self-fulfilling prophecy of pain
Oh, that flu shot definitely looks like it’s going to hurt! And it did. But did it hurt because it was really that painful or because we expected it hurt? Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder investigated how expectations about pain can become self-fulfilling prophecies and concluded that there’s a positive feedback loop between the expectation and pain.
Using the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, researchers measured neural activity of subjects, who were being shown low and high pain cues, such as symbols, words (Low and High), or letters (L and W). Afterwards, various degrees of painful (but not damaging) heat were applied to their forearm or leg, which did not match the preceding cue, and the subjects were asked to rate their pain.
The study found that when the subjects expected more heat (more pain), brain regions involved in the fear were more active while they waited for the stimulus. Also, the regions involved in the pain were more active when the subjects received the heat treatments, and they reported the stimulus to be more painful with high-pain cues, regardless how hot the treatment actually was.
This study helps explain why beliefs can be resistant to change as the subjects demonstrated high ‘confirmation bias’. They have learnt from the things that reinforced their beliefs and disregarded those that didn’t. These findings may help to understand how chronic pain lingers long after the damaged tissues have healed.
Read the full study here.
Who’s sharing the pseudo-profound bullshit?
A recent study found that the ‘ontologically confused’ and religious people are more likely not only to believe in pseudo-profound bullshit but also more actively share it on the social media. This study replicated previous research on the receptivity to pseudo-profound bullshit and also examined how willing the subjects to share bullshit.
Pseudo-profound bullshit, as defined by previous research as ‘attempts to impress rather than to inform; to be engaging rather than instructive’ and is intentionally vague as to impress profoundness and a sense of deep meaning. Pseudo-profound bullshit would include randomly generated grammatically correct statements such as ‘Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty’, and ‘Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena’.
Researchers used randomly generated sentences and tweets of Deepak Chopra (alternative medicine advocate), such as ‘Attention and intention are the mechanisms of manifestation’ and asked the participants to rate how profound the statements were and how likely they were to share those statements on their social media.
Most keen pseudo-profound bullshit sharers were found to be ontologically confused (they tend to understand metaphorical expressions, such as ‘Old furniture knows things about the past’ literally) and religious people. The researchers also found that statements that were rated as more profound were more likely to be shared.
On the bright side, the willingness to share bullshit statements was lower than their profundity ratings. So even though people often fall for this kind of bullshit, they are generally less willing to share it.
Click here to read more about this interesting finding!
Delicious bitter coffee
What’s up with the love for the bitterness of coffee? Bitterness evolved to protect and warn us about harmful substances, so why do some people love coffee so much?
A recent study investigated the intake of three bitter substances; tea, coffee and alcohol and how it related to one’s perception of bitter substances due to genetic variations. Surprisingly, the more sensitive people are to the bitter taste of caffeine, the more coffee they drink. Researchers speculate that people who have a heightened sense to taste coffee’s bitterness acquire this ability due to the learned positive reinforcement elicited by caffeine. Therefore, for them the bitterness of coffee equates to the ‘good stuff’, quite opposite of what nature intended.
Researchers also found that heavy coffee drinkers consumed less tea but argued that they could simply be too busy drinking coffee. Also, people sensitive to bitter compounds other than caffeine, such as propylthiouracil (PROP) and quinine, avoided coffee and drank more tea. People sensitive to PROP avoided alcohol, especially red wine.
Overall, their findings show that people pick their own poison – and that genetic variation can affect which bitter beverage we’re craving for.
Read more about this study here.