Reading Romance Into Pronouns

Discovered: gleaning romance from pronouns, the plight of deathly stressed dragonflies, the reminding effect of God, and a stepping-stone to dream prediction.

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Discovered: gleaning romance from pronouns, the plight of deathly stressed dragonflies,the reminding effect of God, and a stepping-stone to dream prediction.

  • Romance language: data-crunched. James Pennebaker's book on the substantial, unconscious meaning of pronouns in our language came out in August. At the time it was applied to presidents: "Obama has distinguished himself as the lowest I-word user of any of the modern presidents," The New York Times relayed from his book. It's today, however, that an idea he's touted--that his language findings are applicable to love--is examined by The Times Well blog. In a "speed-dating study, Pennebaker and his colleague Molly Ireland found that couples who used similar levels of personal pronouns, prepositions and even articles were three times as likely to want to date each other compared with those whose language styles didn’t match," the blog's Tara Parker-Pope wrote. Meaning, verbal mimicry can link up romantic couples. For comparison's sake the Well blog also includes the conversation transcripts of a couple whose pronouns matched. This is an excerpt of one, (and they even "saw each other afterward," we're informed), but we don't sense the spark:

WOMAN: Let’s get the basics over withWhat are you studying?

MAN: Uh, I’m studying econ and poli-sci. How about you?

WOMAN: I’m journalism and English literature.

MAN: O.K., cool.

WOMAN: Yeah.

  • The deal with stressed-to-death dragonflies. Some studies that are conducted on animals, mostly mice it seems, are only interesting for what they imply for humanity. Others, like the apparent chivalry of crickets or this study, "Insects are scared to death of fish," are fascinating on their own terms. University of Toronto biologists found that when dragonflies are housed with predatory fish, they tended to die off. But not because the fish ate them. It was fear, and the ensuing stress of living next to an animal that could eat them that apparently did the flies in. "The mere presence of a predator causes enough stress to kill a dragonfly, even when the predator cannot actually get at its prey to eat it," the news release goes. But maybe they know something we don't. Fish, after all, have learned to wield rocks as tools, caveman-style. [University of Toronto via Eurekalert]
  • How do you test the effect of God on a persons ability to resist temptation? This is a pretty abstract, unanswerable question. But, since science is about quantifying things, a research team that just got their work published by the American Psychological Association went at it in a straightforward way: they had participants, in one experiment, be literally reminded by reading a short passage about God (it's not stated in the release what text was used, so, it seems like this is the idea of a God in general) before being "tempted" with cookies. It had an effect: "In one study, participants who said eating healthy food was important to them ate fewer cookies after reading a short passage about God than those who read a passage unrelated to God." [Eurekalert]
  • It's difficult to read brain-scans of dreams of people who know they're dreaming. Building a foundation for what they hope will lead to someday being able to predict dreams, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry researchers recruited six people who said they had lucid dreams (being aware of dreaming while dreaming) nightly, New Scientist reported. It's hard for us to imagine being aware that we're dreaming most every time we dream, but these people were reportedly able to. Since they could, the researchers had them try a series of motions (moving eyes to one side, for instance) while dreaming, the study's release says. "The experiment still proved difficult," New Scientist wrote, "participants have to fall asleep in a scanner, reach REM sleep and enter a lucid dream stable enough for data acquisition," which is a lot of things that needed to line up. "This is a proof-of-concept study," one researcher told the news outlet. [New Scientist]
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