Condoms don't fit Indian men, Victoria's Secret goes green, and confident people like surprise endings.

Little India
Condoms have an alarmingly high failure rate in India, and a group of scientists may have just figured out why. The Indian Council of Medical Research studied 1,400 men from around the country and found that the penises of Indian males may just be too small for regulation-sized condoms. Whereas most condoms that conform to international standards are between 150 mm and 180 mm, 30 percent of Indian men studied measured between 100 and 125 mm in length. Another 60 percent of the subjects measured from 126 mm to 156 mm. While the findings are preliminary—the ICMR is still collecting and analyzing the data—some scientists, like ICMR’s National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health director Chander Puri, are already attributing the nearly 20 percent failure rate of condoms in India partly to “condom slippage or tear, which is associated with the size of the condom in relation to an erect penis.” These scientists acknowledge that improper usage is also a factor in condom failure. The ICMR is expected to recommend new standard sizes for condoms sometime in the next few months and publish its results in early 2007. In the same time period, countless Indian-American boys are expected to be mocked in their middle schools. Luckily for them, they can send the mockery right back at their German classmates.

You Can’t Always Give What You Want
The holiday season is nigh, and I hope you’re getting excited for the unthoughtful and wildly off-base gifts you are about to receive from your friends and loved-ones. When Aunt Madge gives you yet another set of ThunderCats sheets—she remembers you told her you loved them ... 19 years ago—you can bask in the knowledge that her horrible present may indicate that she loves you dearly. A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that people are better at shopping for strangers than they are at shopping for their loved ones. Researchers asked couples who had been together for more than six months to pick bedroom furniture they thought their significant other might like. They found that people tended to base their decisions on their preconceived notions of their partners’ likes and dislikes and ignore actual cues about what the other person wanted. When subjects got information about strangers, however, they had a higher success rate; the researchers suggest that more stereotypical information may be a better indicator of a person’s tastes. Luckily, my family doesn’t have to worry. I know they’re all going to love their copies of I Can’t Believe It Was Science: Strange Studies From 1864-1913.

Green Victoria
Do you feel guilty after spending a lonely evening looking at pictures of nearly naked women decked out in sexy lingerie? Well, assuming your concerns are environmental, you can rest easy. The publisher of the Victoria’s Secret catalog has announced that it will no longer print on paper produced from trees living in the habitat of threatened Canadian caribou. Victoria’s Secret sends out upwards of 350 million catalogs annually (nearly 2,000 for every surviving woodland caribou) and the environmental group Forest Ethics has accused the company of poor paper-purchasing policy. Parent company LimitedBrands said it has agreed to up both the percent of recycled paper it uses and the rigor of its environmental standards. In addition to housing precious caribou and other wildlife, the boreal forest from which the paper is harvested stores lots of carbon, and logging in the area can release the carbon back into the atmosphere, environmentalists say. Forest Ethics had waged an involved PR campaign against Victoria’s Secret that included over 700 protests. But the group says the new move by LimitedBrands shows that people who care about the Earth and people who care about profit can come together to achieve their goals.

Unwelcome Surprise
If July 2007 brings the news that Ron and Hermione have been in cahoots with Voldemort all along and have conspired to kill Harry Potter, unconfident readers around the world will weep in their rooms. Readers with high self-esteem, however, may jump for joy. A new study published in the journal Media Psychology shows that people who have lower self-esteem enjoy mystery stories where the endings confirm their suspicions, whereas people with high self-esteem like true surprise endings. Researchers gave a personality test to 84 German college students. The subjects then read a short mystery story with one of three possible endings: One version gave few clues about which of two people committed the crime; the second version hinted that one of them was the likely killer and, indeed, that person was guilty; and the third version hinted that one person was probably guilty, but it turned out the other person “dunnit.” The subjects then rated how much they liked the ending. Those with low self-esteem liked the ending where they could guess who did it substantially more than the surprise ending. Those with high self-esteem, however, liked the surprise much better. The researchers suggest that after a rough, degrading day at the office, you might particularly enjoy curling up with a nice, totally unmysterious mystery.

Nothing Comes From Nothing
For 1,200 years, the human race has been unable to provide a real solid definition of 00. Mathematicians sat about, content to call this expression an “indeterminate form” and the expression x/0 “undefined.” But according to James Anderson, a computer scientist at the University of Reading, they were all looking in the wrong place: the number line. Anderson has invented “nullity,” a new “number” that he defines as 0/0. Once you have this symbol, a little bit of algebra shows that 00 is also equal to the nullity. So what is this “nullity”? It is a number off the number line. “Like, a complex number? A quaternion?” No, no, my child—it is a number off the number line. If you, like some others, think this makes the nullity, well, not a number, and you think Anderson’s just made up a symbol for a concept that’s already well-understood, then, hey, I’m not going to argue with you. Perhaps Dr. Anderson’s solution to the mind-body problem will be more promising.

Narcissisters
The nice thing about a person in love with himself is that he can be in love you, too ... if you’re a lot like him. According to a study recently published in the journal Psychological Science, narcissists are more likely than others to act aggressively towards those who have criticized them, but this aggression can be stopped if the narcissist feels a psychological connection with the critic. Researchers gave participants a personality test to determine their level of narcissism. Each subject was then paired up with a “partner” who read an essay written by the subject. The partner was, of course, an experimenter—shouldn’t participants be suspicious of this sort of thing by now?—who either called the participant’s essay “great!” or “one of the worst essays I have ever read.” The participants were either told nothing about their “partner,” told the other person had the same birthday as they did, or told the other person had the same rare fingerprint type as they did. When participants were allowed to deliver different levels of noise to their partner, narcissists who were criticized and knew nothing about their partner displayed higher levels of aggression than other people, subjecting the partner to painful amounts of noise. Narcissists who believed themselves to be similar to their partner did not show aggression, even when the partner had criticized them.

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Originally published December 12, 2006

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