Zoloft may help with your hair trigger, violent crimes may make you feel dirty, and a new study throws more fuel on the intelligence war between the sexes.

mwcolumn.jpg MAGGIE WITTLIN  Column Archive

Scientists Ask Questions First, Shoot Later
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are known to make people happy, but now scientists are employing them to make people a little less enthusiastic. A study published in The Lancet demonstrates that a new short-acting SSRI called dapoxetine is effective in treating moderate-to-severe premature ejaculation. The study comes none too soon: Between 20 to 30 percent of men experience premature ejaculation and the condition is believed to be highly undertreated. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities enrolled more than 2,600 of the afflicted as well as their sexual partners. The pool was then divided into three groups of approximately 870 men each: One group took a placebo one to three hours before intercourse, one group took a 30 mg dose of the SSRI, and the last took a 60 mg dose. Before taking the drug, the subjects reported typically ejaculating less than a minute after penetration, on average. After twelve weeks of popping pills, the placebo group averaged 1 minute and 45 seconds, the small dose group averaged about 2 minutes and 45 seconds and the large dose group averaged 3 minutes and 18 seconds from penetration to ejaculation.

Mommy, Can You Hear Me?
According to a study recently published in the journal American Naturalist, adult female deer have uniquely individual calls. But while fawns can recognize big momma’s bellow, mothers cannot distinguish the calls of their own young from other fawns. Earlier research reported that domestic sheep and reindeer mothers are not so ignorant of their own children’s cries: Both parent and child are able to recognize each other’s call. The University of Zurich researchers propose that the two different patterns of call recognition vary with the animals’ different environments. Newborn fawns spend plenty of time away from their parents, hiding in vegetation as the folks go out to catch food, while young sheep and reindeer spend most of their time with their mothers. The researchers say that the different parental recognition mechanisms are best suited to predator avoidance in each environment. It also prevents young deer from growing sheepish because their mothers fawned over them too much.

Girls Just Wanna Have Good, Clean Fun
Advertisements showing sexy women are emotionally arousing to people who are attracted to—here comes the twist—women. But for the majority of women’s magazine readers, pictures of women that are intended to be provocative are more or less dull, says a recent study out of the University of Florida. Instead, women responded more positively to wholesome, girl-next-door types. The researchers had more than100 college-aged women look at photos of other attractive women and, like a three-year-old in therapy, point to a mannequin that most closely embodied their emotional response. The more seductive the photo subject appeared to be, the less exciting the women’s emotional reports. The authors of the study suggest that their results may highlight a disconnect between the male executives in charge of magazine advertising and the mags’ readerships.

“Your Dry Cleaning, Ms. Lewinsky”
When you think of violent rapists, lecherous pedophiles, and sadistic murders, you probably feel dirty, don’t you? According to a new study published in the journal Science, it’s not just you: Physical and moral cleanliness are connected in cultures around the globe. When researchers asked participants to think about ethical or unethical actions, they were more likely to fixate on concepts relating to cleanliness. When asked to complete the incomplete word “W__H,” for example, those prompted with thoughts of moral purity or impurity were more likely to see the word as “wash.” When offered a free gift, these subjects would be more likely to take a hand wipe than a pencil.

Confessions of a Teenage Stoic
Researchers may have found an explanation for the Ayn Rand phase that most 15-year-olds seem to be mired in: According to a new University College London study, teenagers are less considerate than adults of the feelings of other people and themselves when making a decision. Researchers used fMRI to scan the brains of teenagers and adults as they asked them to make decisions about riveting hypothetical situations, like the following: “You are at the cinema and have trouble seeing the screen. Do you move to another seat?” While teenagers and adults generally chose the same course of action, adults showed more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with empathy, guilt, and understanding others’ motivations. Another study showed that teenagers are relatively slow at figuring out how they’d feel in another person’s position—like how an old person would feel with their rap music blaring during “Jeopardy!” Damn kids!

Stupid Girl
From the “Really, I can’t believe it’s science” department, comes a study that concludes men have a higher general intelligence factor than women in adulthood. Researchers looked at more than 100,000 scores from the 1991 SAT and found that when they extrapolated general intelligence from certain questions on the test, the g factor—the general intelligence factor of mental ability—favored males to the tune of 3.63 IQ points. (A previous study found a solid correlation between SAT score and g.) The authors say these results are consistent across family income levels, level of parents’ education, and ethnic group. The press release proudly proclaims that “the findings overturn a 100 year consensus that men and women average the same in general mental ability.” 

Study coauthor J. Philippe Rushton has a reputation for controversial writings, including the book Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, which divides the world up into three races, and states: “On average, Orientals are slower to mature, less fertile, less sexually active, less aggressive, and have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole. Whites fall in the middle, but closer to Orientals than to Blacks.”

In the most recent paper on sex differences, the authors suggest that the difference in SAT-measured IQ may be due to larger male brains. (Rushton found in 1992 that men have 100 grams more brain than women, on average.) Rushton, who heads the Pioneer Fund, a research foundation with a racist past that has been classified as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “People should not be made to feel afraid to study controversial issues.”

Alas, professor, we’d probably make more headway there if the people who studied controversial issues didn’t seem quite so biased.

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Originally published September 11, 2006


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