Getting Cute at Disneyland

What do they say?  It’s never too late and you’re never too old?   I finally made it to Disneyland (Anaheim) last week.

There we were: doing all the rides – some several times, eating food that’s bad for us, buying stuff we don’t need.  I so want to take the Star Tours sim home with me.

It’s a hard experience to knock.  Except, looking round, aren’t the Disney icons a bit thin on the ground, especially that icon of icons – Mickey Mouse.  Where’s the guy off the TV with his big mouse head, big mouse eyes and ears, flowing tailcoats?  Okay, between whipping round Space Mountain and transfering the contents of the flume into my fleece, our accessibility to roaming mice is limited; but I’m still half disappointed (half thankful too) we’ve avoided a mugging by the world’s cutest rodent – me with my ‘1st Visit’ badge an’ all.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse (Photo:Tim Jones at Disneyland, Anaheim)
Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse (Photo:Tim Jones at Disneyland, Anaheim)

Then at the end of the day, as we sit munching Mickey surrogate pretzels, the mouse himself finally shows on the Parade float; and with that box ticked, we head home to live happily ever after.

Hurtling down LA’s great big freeway, I can only mull, through waves of incipient indigestion, the definitive paper on ‘the impact of twelve hours of corn dogs, ice cream and churros on the human body under intermittent acceleration to 3g’.  Shelving that due to data-weakness in cotton candy (with a recommendation for further work), I move to the important question of why exactly is Mickey Mouse so very popular?  Some thirty years ago, evolutionary biologist and sometime Disney scholar Stephen J Gould asked the  very same question.

Gould’s essay, Mickey Mouse meets Konrad Lorenz, originaly pubished in the May 1979 issue of Natural History, and reappearing as  ‘A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse‘  (link to pdf) in the Panda’s Thumb collection of essays, is a light-hearted yet sound scientific analysis of how Disney artists changed Mickey’s features over the years to make him more innately appealing to us.  Perhaps not knowingly, but in biological terms they’d neotenized him, migrating his more adult features to the juvenile forms we see, and are programmed to endear, in human children.   It’s one of my favourite pieces of science communication and a recommended read.

Disneyland (Photo:Tim Jones)
Disneyland (Photo:Tim Jones)

Animals, real or caricatured, score high on the cute scale if they have: (a) a large eye size compared to head-length, (b) a large head size to body-length, and (c) a large cranium (Gould measured a ‘cranial vault’ ratio for this, only meaningful for Mickey in profile, but equating to what Lorenz describes as “predominance of the brain capsule”).  They display short, thick, extremities – like  stubby legs (Disney achieved the illusion by putting Mickey in shorts), and a short snout (in cartoonland, only villains sport pointy snouts  – think the weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

The principles from Lorenz’s and Gould’s work have been applied to everything from vehicle design to this assessment of how cute NASA’s Mars rover Spirit is,…to pretzels.

 Applied to animals, they suggest our attitude, affection, concern, and the general way we treat species will be influenced by how closely each resembles a human child – how juvenile they appear.  Conservationists call it ‘survival of the cutest’ –  whereby public conservation support favours attractive species over more deserving cases under a greater threat of extinction.   It’s the reason pandas and badgers get more sympathy than the Purple Burrowing Frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), or the Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) – to pull a couple of real lookers from the IUCN Red List; the former is ‘endangered’, the latter a ‘near threatened’ species.

Even favoured species like dolphins fall off the radar once a variant moves away from a norm we can easily anthropomorphise.  Compare the  Ganges (endangered) and Yangtze (critically endangered, possibly extinct) river dolphins with their slightly odd-looking extended beaks, with the familiar smiley Common Short-Beaked dolphin (‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN list).

Purple Burrowing Frog

 

Helmeted Hornbill. Not such a pretty boy (Wikicommons)

I’m bringing badgers into this because of their prominence in the UK news at the moment, where the government has introduced a controversial culling policy to reduce Bovine TB, which badgers carry.   Controversy centres on the effectiveness of culling (by shooting at feed lures) over other controls like vaccination, and a general point on how transparently science or politics based the decisions have been.  In terms of its conservation status, the Eurasian Badger (Meles meles) is classified by the IUCN as a ‘least concern’ species.

Eurasian Badger

Taking nothing away from the arguments, it’s interesting to test the badger against Gould’s cuteness criteria to see how looks might be influencing popular support.  I got the idea from this Guardian piece that’s against the culling, but suggesting that with respect to “one of Britain’s best-loved animals”…”our attachment to badgers may be irrational” (as is culling, in that author’s view).

Off the blocks things don’t look so good, Mr Badger being a fully paid-up member of your actual weasel family an’ all.  But he’s not stoatish, and from various photos on the web (my preferred methodology short of taking callipers to roadkill), I score him an apparent head to body ratio of five (20%), falling to four (25%) when he bunches up like they do.  Not even up with Mickey’s early Steamboat Willie incarnation at 35%, but still in the ballpark.

Compared to Mickey’s eye to head ratio of 27% to 42% over his career, our badger comes in at unbecoming ratios as low as 7% (measured up the snout, nose to ear) to at best 15% (measured in profile).  But look again.  What we really see in a badger’s face isn’t its beady little weasel eyes, but that glorious stripe (think pandas eyes).  Calculated on stripe width at the eye, the ratios triple, up to a far cuter 35% for the profile.  On the stubby legs criterion the badger is home and dry; it’s hard to even make them out under the fur – a bit like Disney hiding Mickey’s spindles under baggy shorts.  The snout is an enigma though, and there’s no getting round it.  Does the apparent integration of snout, cranium and neck into a continuous cone soften the effect?  Or maybe we see tufty ears and forgive the pointy nose?  On balance though, based on the numbers but with some reservations, I’m going to give the badger his cute badge.

California Ground Squirrel (Photo:Tim Jones)
California Ground Squirrel. Fillng his face – incidentally – improves his cute ratios

I’m not sure the Germans would agree though.  A more oblique cuteness indicator mentioned by Gould, but one I like if only for its reminder of that mouthful of letters Germans use for squirrel – Eichhörnchen – is the wider association of the German diminutive form with certain animals and not others.  So there’s also Rotkehlchen for Robin and Kaninchen for rabbit – all officially cute animals.   I wonder if the trend follows in other countries using a diminutive suffix?  Anyways, the Germans have nicht so honored the badger, who’s a plain simple Dachs (the origin of Dachshund, no less).  I’m making my own stories up now, but have just too many Germans Robin (Photo:Tim Jones)been bitten by (rabid or otherwise) Dachs?  Is the Dachs ‘one of Germany’s best-loved animals’ ?  Guinea pigs are off the cute scale, but Peruvians don’t lose sleep over serving them up for lunch.

And what do North Americans make of their badger, with it’s somewhat skunky appearance?  (To my eyes, the American badger is actually flatter faced and all-round cuter)  And before I diss. skunks too far, remember Pepé Le Pew? – not a million miles off Mickey on the cute ratios.  I don’t know how far Gould and Lorenz factored in cultural variables like these; could be an interesting research topic.

Pepé Le Pew. Even skunks can be cute (Copyright: Warner Bros.)

To wrap up then.  On badgers, I suspect some folks do support them just because they’re cute, but I’m also sure many look rationally at the bigger picture.  Aside from Gould’s criteria, perhaps we should just ask ourselves if, under similar circumstances, we’d put the same effort into saving the poor old Purple Burrowing Frog?

At end though, any improved awareness of factors that influence our thoughts and actions, but are outside our immediate consciousness, is valuable.  That’s what Gould is doing.  I’m just relaying the message and expanding it a bit.

I also like badgers.  And gibbons.

 

 

References

Mickey Mouse meets Konrad Lorenz. Natural History 1979, 88 (May): 30-36.

At the Planetary Society Blog, HERE, Melissa Rice tests the appearance of NASA’s now defunct Mars rover Spirit against the same Gould cuteness criteria discussed in the post.  Fantastic!

Steven Pinker in conversation with A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection

I’m conscious the blog has a science-celeb Picture Posty feel of late; but remember: (a) there have been an unusual number of cool events in London the past couple of weeks, (b) you like this stuff :-P, (c) someone’s got to do it.

Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

More importantly, you need to know tonight’s conversation with Anthony Grayling and Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection was quite excellent, and it’s well worth catching the BBC World Service broadcast of the event on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day: details here.

A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

The Pinker canon of academic and popular science writing covers broad ground: from the ‘Stuff of Thought‘s analysis of language and the (amazingly dull sounding but actually very interesting) irregular verbs, through the controversial nature-nurture territory of the ‘Blank Slate‘, to pontification on the (relative) demise of global violence in the recent ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature‘.

Tonight, Grayling steered the Canadian psychologist through the whole smash in about 80 minutes, including a good twenty minutes or more of intelligent audience questions.  The proceedings were introduced as part of the ‘Exchanges at the Frontier’ series by Wellcome’s lead on public programmes Ken Arnold, and Charlie Taylor for the BBC.

Watch out for the broadcast; but as usual here’s a few facts, quotes, stuff-that-I-remember-or-jotted-down, mindless ramblings, as a taster:

The first part of the conversation was about language.  Discussing a generic mental model of how we use metaphor in day-to-day speech, Pinker used the example of  ‘grasping an idea’, ‘getting across’ an idea, to ‘unpack’ an idea – asking us to take the underlying metaphor as a little marble in a box.  The box here is language, we communicate by sending the box, we open the box, the marble inside is the meaning. (Re communication and meaning, also check out my post on James Gleick’s The Information re Claude Shannon, and follow your nose from there.)

Steven Pinker and A.C.Grayling in conversation at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
Steven Pinker and A.C.Grayling in conversation at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

On another tack, Pinker linked our tendency for profanity – swearing – to the emotional parts of our brain (rather than the rational/cognitive) and activation of the ancient mammalian ‘rage circuit’ – as likely to be triggered by stubbing our toe or sitting on a cat (in which case from the cat’s perspective).  The cat yowls to startle an attacker; our evolutionary hangover induces a good old-fashioned “F***!” (In deference to the BBC he didn’t say it quite like that).

A round of audience questions on language: “Gentleman in the russet tee-shirt” (in the nicest possible way, Grayling is very good at this), and we’re on to subtlties of the mind.  Pinker elaborates his Blank Slate quote “The conscious mind – the self or soul – is a spin doctor, not the commander-in-chief” with reference to how we lie to ourselves (we do), as a means of sounding more convincing when we lie to others: a kind of practice for consistency.  (Pinker referred to Robert Triver’s on this theme, who’s views are expanded here in the Guardian.)

Answering a related audience question on the necessity of language for introspection (e.g. in babies with no language yet), Pinker referenced the ‘default network’: simply put, what your brain is doing when you’re not really thinking on anything in particular.  This seems pretty key, that we can think unconsciously and experience concepts without language.  And while I take Pinker’s point that children must have some non-language dependent cognitive ability to be able to adopt a language in the first place, I suspect there’s a lot we don’t know.

Moving to his latest focus – violence –  Pinker contrasts our violent impulses (e.g. predation, rage) with a counter-tendency for self-control: the infrastructure for his latest book’s broader thesis of inner demons versus better angels.   The ensuing discussion on murder, ideological violence and sadism (an acquired taste, like chili peppers) is probably best left for your Christmas Eve listening.

So what happens when the better angels pull ahead of the pesky demons?

Pinker says we get a general decline in violence.  One that he can illustrate with statistics of murder rates, wars, attrocities – you name it – it’s declined; not necessarily in absolute terms, but on a pro-rata basis for a given population (in the book Pinker explains why this might be a sensible way of measuring things).

Graphs aside though, with all the turbulence in the world today (economic and otherwise), the thrust of the wind-up Q&A was around how permanent this new low-violence regime might be.  Encouragingly – just what we’ll need at Christmas – Pinker suggests Greece won’t in fact be going to war with Germany anytime soon [despite everything], and, likewise, the USA and China will be cool (think: “they make all our stuff, we owe them too much”).

So.  For the most part. We can.  Relax.

 

(p.s. I asked my own question on how the observed virtuous developments in culture and human nature might somehow express (or have been expressed) in our biology, whether through  genetics or epigenetics, and got a good answer from Pinker. They’re bound to broadcast that bit, but if they don’t I’ll expand in a future post). Update:  [they did here]

 

 

Colorful Dining

This piece from last Saturday’s New York Times on food colorings and the influence of color on taste perception takes me back to a Wellcome Trust exhibition I visited in 20031

'Chromatic Diet' by Sophie Calle. At Treat Yourself exhibition, Wellcome/Science Museum 2003 (Photo: Tim Jones)
‘Chromatic Diet’ by Sophie Calle, at Treat Yourself exhibition, Wellcome/Science Museum 2003 (Photo: Tim Jones)

Hosted by the London Science Museum, the Treat Yourself exhibition included an artwork, ‘Chromatic Diet’, by French artist Sophie Calle, that reproduced the colour-based diet followed by a character in Calle’s book Double Game 2.

As I haven’t read it, the appeal of eating a different monochromatic dish each day of the week is beyond me.  But Psychologists have for years studied the effect of colour on taste perception, exposing diners to the likes of green french fries, blue steak, and black spaghetti, sometimes under distorting lighting conditions.

And as the NYT piece underlines, for manufacturers of processed foods, colour is a powerful marketing tool.

Yet without any higher scientific motive, I like the idea of inflicting the chromatic diet (or something similar) on an unsuspecting dinner party, just to see what would happen.

O.k., probably lose some friends; but at least it’s mainly natural ingredients and looks quite doable. And having chickened out in 2003, I’m thinking in the age of Heston Blumenthal this might be the moment.  Let me know what happens if you get there before me.

Here are the ingredients list for the dishes in the picture2:

Orange: Purée of carrots, Boiled prawns, Cantaloupe melon, Orange juice

Red: Tomatoes, Steak tartare, Roasted red peppers, Lalande de Pomerol, domaine de Viand, 1990, Pomegranite

White: Flounder, Potatoes, Fromage blanc, Rice, Milk

Green: Cucumber, Broccoli, Spinach, Green basil pasta, Grapes and kiwi fruit, Mint cordial

Yellow: Afghan omelette, Potato salad, Banana, mango ice cream, Pschitt fizzy lemon drink

Pink: Ham, Taramasalata, Strawberry ice cream, Rosé wine from Provence

 

References

(1) Review of Treat Yourself at a-n Magazine

(2)New York Times book review of Double Game

A Cautious Perspective on the Mystery Missile

You may be aware of the mini-controversy  around what was initially thought to be a ‘mystery missile’ launch earlier this week off the California coast.  This clip sums it up:

The official line now seems to be that it wasn’t  a missile at all, but the vapour contrail from a passenger jet, the sunset and viewing angle making the event look like something it wasn’t. Last time I looked, NASA were reported to be supporting that view based on satellite imagery, and a specific aircraft has been correlated with the event.

The incident reminded me that things are indeed not always as they seem, especially  in the sky around sunrise and sunset.  And to illustrate, I’ve dug out a few pictures – all taken in the last three months.

One thing that really struck me in the mystery missile film was the ‘solidity’ and volume of the plume.  Aircraft contrails are more wispy aren’t they?   But then I looked at this picture I took just before sunrise, which includes a contrail every bit as bushy as the one in the film:

Contrails over Surry, UK (Photo: Tim Jones)
Contrails over Surry, UK (Photo: Tim Jones)

Perspective too is a funny thing.  Take a look at this picture I took of a passenger jet near Heathrow Airport in London just as the sun was setting.

Passenger Jet (Photo: Tim Jones)
Passenger Jet (Photo: Tim Jones)

It’s not immediately obvious, to me at least, whether this plane is coming at me or flying away.  There’s a Gestalt Switch moment when the eyes confuse the rear of the fuselage for the nose end.  Things don’t get much clearer when we zoom in:

Passenger Jet (Photo: Tim Jones)
Passenger Jet (Photo: Tim Jones)

A few seconds later and the setting sun catches the plane’s tail, making the direction of flight more obvious.  At a distance, could such a bright reflection isolated to one part of an aircraft be confused with a rocket nozzle – especially if you’d already got the idea in mind?

Sun reflecting off aircraft tail-fin (Photo: Tim Jones)
Sun reflecting off aircraft tail-fin (Photo: Tim Jones)

It’s easy to be fooled by bright objects catching the sun.  Helium filled toy balloons are favourite UFO candidates.  I’ve more than once rushed into the house for camera and binoculars when something fast and bright has appeared in the sky.  The motion of a rising balloon is very smooth, and viewed from the right angle the mystery object can appear to travel horizontally across the sky faster than it really is.  The last one I saw reminded me of an International Space Station (ISS) pass, only in daylight.  Again, one of the issues I have with the mystery missile film is that I can’t tell how fast the missile / aircraft is moving – vertically or horizontally.

Shiny balloons make for great UFOs (Photo: Tim Jones)
Shiny balloons make for great UFOs (Photo: Tim Jones)

Here’s another example of skyward things not being all they at first seem.  To the naked eye, we see a typical multi-engine passenger jet flying at high altitude.

Aircraft contrail illusion (Photo: Tim Jones)
Aircraft contrail illusion (Photo: Tim Jones)

But with the benefit of a telephoto lens, it turns out to be three (presumably military) jets flying in formation:

Three jets in formation, showing contrails (Photo: Tim Jones)
Three jets in formation, showing contrails (Photo: Tim Jones)

Something else that isn’t clear from the mystery missile footage is the absolute and relative position of the helicopter that took the pictures.  Again, perspective can be confusing.  Take a look at this shot I took looking down on a plane in the clouds.  Obviously I took this from the air, right?

Jet plane against clouds (Photo: Tim Jones)
Jet plane against clouds (Photo: Tim Jones)

Wrong.  I was standing in the local park (and it’s not a hilly region) when I took this.  A bird flying into the frame puts some limits on the likely altitude, but it’s still ambiguous if you don’t see the full context:

Jet plane against clouds (Photo: Tim Jones)
Jet plane against clouds (Photo: Tim Jones)

To finish off, here’s a picture I took only a couple of weeks ago from mountains over-looking Los Angeles and the bay area.  It was twilight, and that lump above LA Downtown is Catalina Island.  Perfect missile-spotting conditions.  Maybe I’ll catch the next one.

View over Los Angeles and out to sea (Photo: Tim Jones)
View over Los Angeles and out to sea (Photo: Tim Jones)

UPDATE 13/11/2010

Comprehensive analysis of this event and discussion of previous missile/aircraft contrail confusions here at Contrailscience.com.

Appearances Can Be Deceptive

I keep running into this demonstration of how strange our brains can be, so thought I’d have a go myself.

Have a look at the inverted face below.  Upside down, but still pretty cute eh?

Cute
Cute

Now look at the next picture where she’s turned the right way round – yuk!

But it’s exactly the same picture just inverted.  Our brains somehow pick out the individual elements of the face and reconstruct them as we normally expect to see them – I guess?   Personally, I can’t see a glum person in the top picture without turning my head to a degree – I’ve just discovered – not so good for my neck.

Not so cute.  Well, not so happy anyhow.
Not so cute. Well, not so happy anyhow.

This simple example was made by cutting, rotating, and pasting the mouth of the girl in the painting.

I saw something like this a couple of years back at the Exploratorium Science Centre in San Francisco.    The most recent demonstration I’ve seen was at the Weird Science event here in London earlier this month, where Richard Wiseman had us all in hysterics with a doctored picture of Margaret Thatcher.  That was doubly strange, as: (a) he’d turned the eyes round as well (which is the correct thing to do, but my painting struggles because of the hair) and, (b) rotated the image slowly, which revealed there is a certain point where the brain clicks over to seeing the ‘new’ image – the gestalt switch moment.

The Exploratorium exhibition also included so-called hybrid images of faces that change expression depending on how near or far you stand from them.  The effect still works very well on a computer screen, but you need to stand a long way back.

Not entirely sure how the brain processes compare for the two types of phenomena, but I find the ‘switch’ is more gradual with the hybrid images.   In deference to copyright I’ll not share the snaps I took, but you can find something very similar at the ‘Hybrid Images’ website owned by Dr.Aude Olivia, Dept. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

See Sophie smile and scowl and smile and scowl and smile
See Sophie smile and scowl and smile and scowl and smile

Dogs Are Spies From Venus

Contrary to popular belief, dogs are in fact spies from Venus.  So maintained University of London philosopher Steven Law at today’s Centre for Inquiry London ‘Weird Science’ event at Conway Hall.

Ben Goldacre (left) and John Law
Ben Goldacre (left) and Stephen Law at ‘Weird Science’ today. Photo:Tim Jones

In doing so, he applied the same faultless logic and interpretation of evidence used by young earth creationists, defending their belief that the universe is only 6000 years old.  Say no more.   And that was pretty much the tone for a day of  talks on the science of the weird, wacky, and flaky variety, from Ben Goldacre (”Bad Science” in the Guardian), Professors of anomolous psychology Richard Wiseman and Chris French, and philosopher Stephen Law.

Conway Hall (Photo:Tim Jones)
Conway Hall (Photo:Tim Jones)

Before sharing what a great show this was, let me digress for a bit on CFI London itself.   CFI London are at pains to explain in their FAQ that they don’t see science and reason as the be all and end all, but their positioning, and the topics they choose to discuss, for me at least force the issue of the incompatibility of science and religion.  Once you engage in a discussion on human psychology and the concept of what it means to be rational, the polite separation of science and religion becomes difficult to maintain.  It will be interesting to see how CFI’s event programme and various potential allegiances with secular interests develop.

Anyhow – it was a great show.  Richard Wiseman, hotfoot from an evening debunking mediums with his mate Derren Brown, illustrated how easily our perceptions can be fooled and our attention directed.   Familiar gestalt switch examples, like the rabbit-duck picture, made an appearance, along with excerpts from Richard’s various TV appearances, including a hilarious debunking of firewalkers, and these clips: the amazing floating cork, and the colour changing card trick.

You might remember Chris French, a psychology professor from Goldsmiths, as the guy who organised the dowsing trials on Richard Dawkins’ ‘Enemies of Reason’ TV show.  French re-lived with us that demonstration of the refractoriness of dowsers’ belief in the face of out and out debunking, and shared the results of a study that aligned personality traits with the likelihood of belief in conspiracy theories.  Those more prone to belief tend to (a) have low trust in people, (b) feel alienated from society, (c) are quick to make assumptions from partial evidence.

Richard Wiseman
Richard Wiseman at ‘Weird Science’ today. Photo:Tim Jones

Writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor Ben Goldacre, while outspoken and opinionated, sticks to subject areas he knows something about.  That’s why he doesn’t address environmental issues and such like in his column and blog; their complexity not lending itself to case-based, winnable on evidence, 650 word analyses.

Ben shared his trademark disgust at alternative medicine and quackery, but majored on the rise and demise of medicine – through the Golden Age from the 30’s to the 70’s – after which the low hanging fruit dried up and major breakthroughs fizzled out.   His point – we should all get real that our level of understanding of much desease and suffering is still pretty minimal and (my words) – shit happens.   Although Ben’s book ‘Bad Science’ is still hot off the presses, his words reminded me of another honest text with a medical flavour – ‘The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine’ by doctor and Telegraph columnist James Le Fanu; check it out.

Ben Goldacre
Ben Goldacre at ‘Weird Science’ today. Photo:Tim Jones

Mainstream newspapers, and particularly their ‘humanities graduate’ editors (I’m sure he’s not talking about scientifically trained SciComs Grads here) got it in the neck big time, as did the various PR and press agencies that feed them.  Why, when literary criticism of the highest intellectual level gets column space, do we not see science coverage of the same professional calibre?  Goldacre also, admirably, subscribes to the BBC Horizon dumb down theory. (There are still Horizon dumb down deniers out there – believe it or not.)

Ben’s closing comments were encouraging  – but not for mainstream conventional print journalism.  He saw no solution to the dire journalistic picture he’d painted – it’s simply what the market wants.  But the rise of the blog is changing everything, cutting out a middle man who is adding less and less value.  And if we doubt a blog’s content? – check the source references; all good blogs provide the links.

Heat Friends And Influence People

If you want to get close to someone, give them a nice hot cup of tea. Or anything warm for that matter.

Nice Hot Cuppa
Can't beat a nice hot Cuppa

New research suggests that when someone experiences physical warmth, they develop increased feelings of interpersonal warmth – and it all happens without them even knowing.

Tests by researchers at Yale University and the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that when given a hot cup to hold, a subject would judge another person to have a ‘warmer’ personality. In another test, application of a thermal pad resulted in the person tending to choose a gift for a friend rather than themselves.

The key to this behaviour is the discovery that a part of the brain, the insular cortex, looks after both the physical and psychological versions of warmth information, with feelings like trust, empathy, guilt and embarrassment also implicated.

So there you go – yet more evidence that we are completely out of control of ourselves. Ho Hum…..

P.S. Only use a Los Alamos mug if you are looking for that ‘extra warmth’.

More info. in Science Vol.322.No5901.pp.606-607