Video games boost visual acuity, the Super Bowl ads were a flop, and people lie on dating sites.

These Suits Were Made for Walking
Last week, a female American astronaut put on some unusual protective gear and journeyed for many hours, venturing into territory few of us would seriously consider exploring. I refer of course to Sunita Williams, who, with a six-hour 40-minute space walk, became the first woman to spend more than one full Earth-day walking in space. Williams, who has now space walked for 29 hours and 17 minutes, was already the top female space walker, having clocked in 22 hours and 37 minutes with her first three walks. Her companion on the atmosphere-less constitutional, Michael Lopez-Alegria, broke the overall American record for most time space walking. He has now walked 61 hours and 22 minutes in space; he still has a ways to go before he catches up with Russian Anatoly Solovyov’s world record of over 82 hours. The two astronauts completed their mission of rolling up thermal sheets and tossing them away from the ISS. Last December, space walkers on the space shuttle Discovery had trouble folding up a solar array. After the thermal sheets had been successfully discared, Lopez-Alegria said, “Solar arrays wish they could retract this well!” Yeah! Take that, solar arrays.

Only You
While the Free-Hugs campaign is cute and all, the indiscriminate huggers probably aren’t inspiring much love for themselves. A study slated to be published in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science shows that people tend to be attracted to those who are attracted to them if and only if the other person isn’t drooling over everyone they meet. When the suitor digs you over others, you might feel the two of you are establishing a real connection, but if that person throws out love willy nilly, he or she may come across as desperate. The researchers set up four-minute speed-dates for each of 156 undergrads. The participants answered a questionnaire after each date, revealing how strongly they romantically desired their date and how much chemistry they felt. In platonic situations, people tend to exhibit generalized reciprocity: People like those who tend to like people. Apparently, when it comes to romance, people just want to feel special.

Rising See Level
No wonder old people wear glasses—they’re not getting nearly enough first-person shooter game play. According to a recent study out of the University of Rochester, people who play action-packed video games can boost their visual acuity by about 20 percent in a month. The paper is published in the January issue of Psychological Science. The researchers took on the nigh-impossible task of digging up a subject pool of Rochester students who never played video games. They gave the students a visual test where they identified the orientation of letters in a clutter. Students then spent a month playing either the action game Unreal Tournament or the less visually exhilarating (but still wonderful) Tetris for one hour a day. After a month, the Tetris players were still their average old selves, but the Unreal Tournament players gained unreal vision. The researchers conclude that gamers can actually change their neural pathways to maximize their vision. “These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it,” said researcher Daphne Bavelier. “That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life.”

Male Butterflies are Super Fly
Poor male butterflies. So many ladies want to jump their tired bones, and now they’re all worn out. In a paper published in the journal Current Biology, researchers report on the mating behavior of Hypolimnas bolina, a butterfly with a high occurrence of male-killing Wolbachia infection. The infection is transmitted from mother to son, killing off males before they can hatch, so the sex ratio of these butterflies can reach 100 females for every male. The hordes of excited ladies have been wearing the men out, and the males have started producing smaller sperm packages. The girls have not been discouraged: Because the males are now less fertile, the female butterflies have become more promiscuous. Any individual instance of mating is less likely to get the females pregnant, so they hop on every opportunity they get. The researchers conclude that the bacteria “trigger a vicious circle of increasing male fatigue and female promiscuity.” It’s a social conservative’s worst nightmare.

Consumers Not Bowled Over
The reviews are in for this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials, and the results are not pretty. Not only did newspapers and bloggers pan the ads as some of the worst in memory, but the brains of ten research subjects also showed a negative response to the commercials. Researchers at UCLA used fMRI to scan the brains of five men and five women as they watched the ads from the Super Bowl. They found a surprising amount of activity in the areas of the brain associated with anxiety in fear. One GM ad that showed a robot making a mistake on the line, losing his job, and falling into a depression sparked a lot of anxiety in scanned subjects. The researchers suggest it may have brought out feelings of economic insecurity in the subjects. The big flop of the year, the researchers said, was a Honda ad that got participants’ brains going less than a blank screen did. Ouch. While some Coke and Doritos ads produced activity in areas of the brain associated with positive emotions, this year was pretty much a downer, the researchers concluded. And we don’t need brain science to tell us how people felt about one Snickers ad.

Measure for Measure
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. But hold a special skepticism for what people say about themselves when they’re trying to get a date with you. According to a study set to be published in the Proceedings of Computer/Human Interaction, nearly two-thirds of people lie about their weight on dating sites. The researchers measured 80 people with profiles on Match.com, Yahoo Personals, American Singles, or Webdate. More than 52 percent of men in the study lied about their height on their profiles, whereas only 39 percent of women were off by more than a half inch. But 64 percent of women and nearly 61% of men missed their weight by at least five pounds. A mere 24 percent of men and 13 percent of women lied about their age. The researchers suggest that the pattern of lies is strategic: People try to appear both attractive and honest by slightly underestimating their weight or overestimating their height. The researchers note that since the study was conducted, most sites have switched to asking for a general body type instead of specific height-weight measurements.

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Originally published February 12, 2007

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