Scientists create remote-controlled pigeons, Hawking plans to take flight, and venting doesn't relieve anger.

Pigeon Towed
Isn’t it the dream of every little boy and girl to one day rule the world with an army of remote control cyborg pigeons? Don’t be afraid to dream big, kids, because scientists at Shandong University of Science and Technology in China report they have succeeded in creating these futuristic beasts of the air. By implanting electrodes into the brains of pigeons, researchers were able to tap into the birds’ wiring and control whether they flew left, right, up, or down via a grounded computer system. The scientists could stimulate different parts of the brain with their controllers, forcing the bird to fly in the prescribed direction. While the researchers report that this is the first successful control of pigeons, in 2005, the lead author performed a similar experiment on mice that also yielded positive results.

Heavin’ Stephen
Stephen Hawking’s research has never been confined to our planet, and soon, neither will his body. In January, the 65-year-old physicist announced that he hopes to fly on Virgin Galactic in 2009, boarding a flight that will climb to an altitude of 70 miles. In late April of this year, Hawking will experience zero-gravity by riding on a Cape Canaveral vomit comet, an aircraft that flies along a path designed to produce periods of weightlessness. While this thrill-ride usually costs $3,500 a pop, Hawking is flying complements of Zero G, the company that runs the vomit comet. Apparently chief executive Peter Diamandis was tickled by “the idea of giving the world’s expert on gravity the opportunity to experience zero gravity.” Hawking has famously stated that humanity will only survive if it colonizes extraterrestrial worlds. He said that his flying ambitions will serve to pique public interest in spaceflight. Also, Hawking, who suffers from ALS, says he hopes to demonstrate “that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.”

If you’ve spent your whole life hoping that scientists will discover one gene responsible for intelligence, you’re in for a disappointment. But if you’ve lain awake at night, praying for the discovery of a gene that activates signaling pathways in the brain and is associated with one component of IQ, your insomnia is over. Researchers at Washington University School of medicine have confirmed a link between the gene CHRM2 and performance IQ score, which measures, in part, the ability to logically organize items. The researchers found several variations within the gene that correlated with slight differences in performance IQ, comprised of visual-motor coordination, logical and sequential reasoning, spacial perception, and abstract problem solving skills. The study, published in the journal Behavior Genetics, found that variations in this gene did not affect the verbal component of a subject’s IQ. “This is not a gene for intelligence,” said lead author Danielle M. Dick.

Early to Bed and Early to Rile
Teens who are very naughty tonight are likely to be very naughty a year from now. So concludes a recent study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. The authors found that teens in the study who lost their virginity before their peers showed higher rates of delinquency later on. The researchers examined data from 7,000 young people, comparing each one’s age of sexual debut—first intercourse—to the average age for their school, which ranged from 11.25 years (yikes) to 17.5 years. Those who had sex at least one year before the school mean committed 20 percent more delinquent acts—such as vandalizing, stealing, or selling drugs—than their school average. Those who debuted later than average had 50 percent lower delinquency rates. “We’re not finding that sex itself leads to delinquency, but instead, that beginning sexual relationships long before your friends is cause for concern,” said coauthor Stacy Armour, but the researchers do write about “the protective effect of late sexual debut,” apparently deeming the relationship between early sex and hooliganism to be causal.

Close the Vent
The conventional wisdom, “Go ahead, let it all out, you’ll feel better after,” has taken a serious beating from science. According to University of Arkansas psychologist Jeffrey Lohr and coauthors, studies have consistently demonstrated that venting anger doesn’t make a person less aggressive and can actually make him angrier. Freud may have thought that repressed emotions can build up and have harmful effects, but when research subjects vent against the people who caused their anger, express their hostility by playing football, or rail about a boss, they show more resentment after venting than they did before expressing their emotions. “What people fail to realize is that the anger would have dissipated had they not vented. Moreover, it would have dissipated more quickly had they not vented and tried to control their anger instead,” the authors write in “The Pseudopsychology of Venting in the Treatment of Anger: Implications and Alternatives for Mental Health Practice,” a chapter in the recently published book Anger, Aggression, and Interventions for Interpersonal Violence. That’s the key, kids: Bottle it up. Your anger won’t boil; it’ll boil over.

Originally published March 6, 2007


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