This week we look at octopuses on ecstasy, new hope for the paralyzed, what Americans love and hate, and the weak science behind standing desks.
The social mollusk
The octopus is an eight-limbed, soft-bodied mollusk known for its ability to evade predators by expelling ink from its body, expertly changing its color and texture to camouflage itself, and many other curious abilities and behaviors. As a rule, the octopus is a solitary animal who might even prey on its partner after mating.
Human beings don’t have a lot in common with our undersea friends, but scientists think that both species may share ancient neurotransmitter systems. Gül Dölen of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wanted to investigate the idea that octopuses and humans might use the neurotransmitter serotonin in a similar way.
When taken by humans, the drug methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy, floods the brain with serotonin. That increase in serotonin tends to make the drug-taker more extroverted, emotionally warm, and empathetic to others.
When Dölen exposed captive octopuses to MDMA, they chose to spend more time with each other and touched more often than before receiving the drug.
The results suggest that brain chemicals may be a key factor in driving social behavior across species. The next step will be to repeat the experiment on a larger scale and compare against a group of control octopuses placed in the same physical situation without taking the drug.
Steps in the right direction
Hope is on the horizon for people with spinal cord injuries. An experimental combination therapy devised by researchers at the University of Louisville has allowed several paralyzed people to stand, take steps, and walk without assistance. The treatment involves implanting a device that stimulates electrical activity on the patient’s spinal cord, and months of daily physical therapy (PT).
A patient at the Mayo Clinic was able to take assisted steps after receiving electrical stimulation and undergoing intensive PT. David Darrow, a neurosurgeon at the University of Minnesota Medical School who was not involved in the studies previously mentioned, has also implanted stimulator devices in people with spinal cord injuries.
He says that because these studies have been small, researchers don’t know how the therapy will work on a larger population of people with spinal cord injuries. The hope is that as more clinicians test these techniques, demand will drive innovation.
Dating deal breakers
Are you searching the internet for a soulmate? Hater is a dating app that will help you find a match based on what you love and hate.
App users react to thousands of ordinary topics like pets, littering, crispy bacon, and pigeons. Analysis of user data shows that jokes, puppies, and Italian food are among the things universally loved by people in the US. Not surprisingly, dirty bathrooms, bad WiFi, and telemarketers made the most hated list.
Hater data can tell us how things we hate changes as we grow older. Love for shopping malls is high for teenagers, but that love decreases steadily for people between the ages of 20 and 30. On the other hand, app users tend to love numbers more as they age.
Where people live plays a role in what they love and hate. For example, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is loved in Boston and hated in Buffalo. Lady Gaga is not a favorite in Jacksonville, FL, but they do love their Chik-fil-A. Among the most contentious topics were Millennials, fanny packs, warm beer, and Donald Trump.
Are standing desks overrated?
You’ve heard the statistics: Americans sit for an average of 10 hours each day. Results from a recent Mayo Clinic study showed that people who sit for eight hours a day and do no physical activity have mortality risks similar to smokers. The standing desk was developed in reaction to this depressing data.
But the science behind the standing desk is not as sound as you might think. A 2016 meta-analysis of twenty studies found little evidence for the health benefits of standing or treadmill desks. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health conducted the study which included more than 2,000 participants. They found that even the best studies were poorly designed, with small sample sizes and little or no effort to look at the long-term effects of standing at work.
The claims that standing desks burn twice the calories of sitting have been debunked by a study that found users of standing desks burned only eight more calories per hour than they did sitting. That’s the number of calories in a carrot.
What can office workers do to stay healthy? Experts say we should get into the habit of moving throughout the day. Evidence suggests that one hour of exercise a day can counteract the effects of sitting. A University of Utah Medical School study showed that even walking for two minutes every hour reduces the risk of early death by a third. If that isn’t enough incentive to get moving, a Stanford University study found that a walk can increase your creative output.
So, if you’re reading this at work, why not get up and take a short walk?