Female chimps get aggressive, dolphins have dialects, and certain names suit specific faces.

Lady Killers
We usually think of males as the aggressors, waging wars and bar fights while women work out their conflicts in more peaceful ways. But new research out of the University of St. Andrews shows that under the right circumstances, female chimpanzees can turn into ruthless killing machines. According to the Current Biology paper, in times of ecological pressure, female chimps sometimes kill the offspring of mother chimps migrating into the community. Researchers observed chimps in Uganda’s Budongo Forest and noted three instances where a female killed another mother’s offspring, in once instance by biting off a baby ape’s head. Yikes. The researchers propose that these moms were driven to murder when an increase in immigrant females put pressure on resources. This adaptive killing behavior could help minimize competition for food and potential mates. So parents, guard your children: There are a limited number of spots on that soccer team, and you know Mrs. Anderson wants her kid to be the starting sweeper.

When Japanese Eyes are Smilin’
Science has finally found a new, untapped source of inspiration: emoticons.  Hokkaido University behavioral scientist Masaki Yuki was inspired to study the different ways Americans and Japanese read faces when he noticed the disparity between emoticons in the two cultures, he told LiveScience. American smiley faces :) tend to focus on, well, the smile, while Japanese smiley faces (^_^) emphasize the smiling eyes. The same goes for sad faces in America :( and Japan (;_;). Yuki then hypothesized that when people from the two cultures tried to interpret facial expressions, Americans would weigh the mouth more heavily, and Japanese people would pay more attention to the eyes. According to Yuki’s recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, he was correct: When Americans saw both illustrated faces and edited facial expressions from real people, they weighed the mouth more heavily and eyes less heavily than Japanese subjects who saw the same images. When American subjects saw a smiling emoticon with sad eyes, they believed it was happier than Japanese subjects did. The researchers suggest that when a culture, such as that of Japan, normalizes subduing emotional expression, people may become better at reading eyes, part of an expression that is hard to fake. In a culture where people overtly express their emotions, people can interpret emotions based on the mouth, the most expressive part of the face.

Brogue Wave
We ignorant Americans can barely tell a New Zealand accent from a South African one, but with a little bit of training, perhaps we can learn to differentiate between Irish and Welsh dolphins. According to research by the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation, Irish bottle-nose dolphins living in the River Shannon speak in a dialect different from that of Welsh dolphins in Cardigan Bay. The researchers recorded, digitized, and analyzed 1,882 dolphin whistles from the two groups, placing them in six fundamental types and 32 categories. While most categories were common to all of the marine mammals, eight categories were solely used by the Irish dolphins. The researchers are trying to build up a dolphin dictionary, matching whistle types with behaviors such as foraging, resting, and socializing. They also found that dolphins produce other kinds of sounds, including a gunshot-like pulse similar to the one sperm whales use to stun their prey. Ornithologists have known for a while that birds that live in different parts of the world have different vocal inflections. I would guess that goes double for British parrots, who probably say, “Polly want a biscuit.”

A Bob by any other name would look not quite right. According to a recent study slated for publication in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Reviewwe actually associate specific names with certain facial features. Bob, for example, is almost always connected with a rounder face with softer features. 150 students in an intro psych class used computer software to sketch facial features of the epitomical Bob, Bill, Mark, Joe, Tim, John, Josh, Rick, Brian, Tom, Matt, Dan, Jason, Andy, and Justin. Different students then paired the drawings with names, and this group successfully matched ten of the 15 name-face combinations. In a later experiment, 67 students learned names assigned to the different faces. When the name “suited” the face, the students learned that person’s name more quickly; they learned who Bob was faster if he had a round face and learned who Tim was faster if he had a thinner, more angular face. The researchers didn’t look into why these names and faces matched, but come on, Bob has round letters and round sounds, while Tim has angular letters and pinched sounds. Coincidence? I think not.

All Work and No Play
People who are getting busy in the workplace may not be getting busy at home. According to a German study of nearly 32,000 men and women, people who have less sex are more likely to seek out work by taking on new commitments. The study, part of University of Göttingen psychologist Ragnar Beer’s Theratalk Project, found that of people who have sex once a week, 36 percent of men and 35 percent of women take on work to compensate for their slow-but-steady sex life. Of those who have no sex at all with their partners, 45 percent of men and 46 percent of women seek out new activities. A mere five percent of people who have sex at least twice a week find other activities as outlets for frustration. Beer notes that people who take on these additional activities often make commitments they can’t easily break. This leads to what Der Spiegel deems, “a downward spiral, pulling couples helplessly and unbeknownst into a swirling vortex of all work and no nookie.” Beer warns couples to keep an eye on their sexual satisfaction, “rather than wait until it’s too late.”

Originally published May 21, 2007

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