Humans are walking faster, Buzz Aldrin will run a lottery for space, and baby names have consequences.

A New Way to Walk
Everything seems to be moving faster in this age of instant gratification, and people are no exception. According to a recent investigation by University of Hertfordshire psychologist (and award-winning magician!) Richard Wiseman, people walk ten percent faster, on average, than we did ten years ago. Research teams went to 32 countries to covertly measure the time it took 35 men and women to walk 60 feet on pavement. The researchers only measured people who were walking alone, without talking on a cell phone or carrying cumbersome shopping bags. Wiseman compared those results with those CSU psychologist Robert Levine published in 1997 and found that the pace of life has sped up. Wiseman also ranked the cities by speed and found that Singapore was the fastest area studied, followed by Copenhagen and Madrid. Bustling New York came in eighth, and Blantyre, Malawi was by far the slowest of the 32 cities. Middle Eastern countries clustered toward the slow end, with Cairo, Egypt; Sana, Yemen; Dubai, UAE; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Manama, Bahrain coming in 24th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 31st, respectively.

Blue States
Russians have two different words for “blue:” “goluboy” for light blues and “siniy” for darker blues. According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this linguistic disparity between English and Russian actually leads to differences in how people discriminate between different colors. Researchers tasked both English and Russian speakers with picking out which of three blue squares was a different shade from the other two. When the two colors straddled the goluboy/siniy line, Russian speakers were quicker to pick out the odd square than when the colors were in the same category. There was no such effect for English speakers. When Russian speakers had to recite a string of numbers in their head, interfering with their verbal ability, the effect disappeared, indicating that the verbal distinction was responsible for the effect.

Baby Got Back
Women who get pregnant may pack on a few pounds, but we humans just can’t compare to the female ixodid tick, who grows to an incredible one hundred times her original weight after she mates (attractive image here). Other ticks can also gain weight after they mate, but none can match the incredible engorging of the ixodid.  When two ixodid ticks mate, the male transfers a pair of proteins produced in the testis to the female, and these cause her body to complete the engorgement process. A paper recently published in the Journal of Insect Physiology proposes reasons that the difference in pre-mating and post-mating size might be adaptive, and suggests that these stem from the fact that these ticks remain on a host for days instead of minutes and that virgin ticks who gain too much weight cannot produce viable offspring if they get groomed off of the host before they mate.

Win a Trip!
It’s not warm and tropical, there are no beautiful cathedrals or museums, and while the scenery’s amazing, don’t expect to go hiking. But space is the planet’s hottest tourist destination, and only few privileged people have been able to throw down the cash necessary to take a luxurious trip up into orbit. This all could change, now, as astronaut Buzz Aldrin has announced plans for a lottery where one lucky person could win a trip that’s truly out of this world.  While details of the competition are still up in the air, and it’s not clear how he can make the lottery legal under gambling laws, Aldrin said he will run the lottery through ShareSpace Foundation, an organization he set up to “invite new generations to share the wonders of space, and to foster affordable space travel opportunities for all.” If there can’t yet be affordable opportunities for all, at least there can be an opportunity for one lucky winner.

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Have a Different GPA
Are you about to give your child the single most beautiful name that nobody’s ever thought of before? Stop. Don’t do it. New research by University of Florida economist David Figlio shows that a person’s name can have a serious impact on the direction of his or her life. Figlio looked at female names and gave them each a linguistic “femininity” score by using 1,700 letter and sound combinations that could be associated with one gender or the other. He then examined 1,000 pairs of sisters to determine the paths of girls with more and less feminine names. Figlio found that girls with more feminine names like Isabella were significantly less likely to study math or physics after age 16 than girls with less feminine names, such as Alex. He also found that children with names associated with lower socioeconomic status scored three to five percentage points lower on exams than siblings with more traditional names. Additional research by UCLA psychologist Albert Mehrabian showed that people hold traditional names in high esteem. “A name is part of an impression package,” Mehrabian told the Guardian. “Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish.”

Originally published May 9, 2007

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