Tag Archives: science

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Computer Science Solves Successful Fiction

Computer scientists over at Stony Brook University have figured out what makes one fiction book more successful over another.

“Predicting the success of literary works poses a massive dilemma for publishers and aspiring writers alike,” said Assistant Professor Yejin Choi. “We examined the quantitative connection between writing style and successful literature. Based on novels across different genres, we investigated the predictive power of statistical stylometry in discriminating successful literary works, and identified the stylistic elements that are more prominent in successful writings.”

Choi and colleagues found that frequent use of words such as “and,” “but,” and “or” are more often used in successful books, along with prepositions, nouns, and pronouns. Verbs, adverbs, and foreign words are more often used in less successful books, along with topical, extreme, and negative words.

“Successful” was defined by Project Gutenberg download counts, and the research team studied eight genres—adventure, mystery, historical fiction, fiction, science-fiction, love stories, short stories, and poetry.

“For a small number of novels, we also considered award recipients—such as Pulitzer and Nobel prizes—and Amazon sales records in order to define a novel’s success,” Choi said. “Additionally, we extended our empirical study to movie scripts, where we quantified a film’s success based on the average review scores at imdb.com.”

Choi believes the research is the first of its kind.

“To the best of our knowledge, our work is the first that provides quantitative insights into the connection between the writing style and the success of literary works,” Choi said. “Previous work has attempted to gain insights into the ‘secret recipe’ of successful books. But most of these studies were qualitative, based on a dozen books, and focused primarily on high-level content—the personalities of protagonists and antagonists and the plots. Our work examines a considerably larger collection—800 books—over multiple genres, providing insights into lexical, syntactic, and discourse patterns that characterize the writing styles commonly shared among the successful literature.”

(photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc)

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Singing Helps You Learn a Foreign Language

French Flag

I’ve been learning French for the past few months. My method, via Memrise, is to learn 1,000 words, while also learning phrases. It’s a slow process, but it’s starting to stick.

Perhaps, though, I should set my language lessons to a tune. According to a new study in Memory & Cognition, singing in a foreign language can improve learning of the language.

Take it away news:

Adults who listened to short Hungarian phrases and then sang them back performed better than those who spoke the phrases, researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music found. People who sang the phrases back also fared better than those who repeated the phrases by speaking them rhythmically.

Three randomly assigned groups of twenty adults took part in a series of five tests. The singing group performed the best in four of the five tests.

In one test, participants who learned through singing performed twice as well as participants who learned by speaking the phrases. Those who learned by singing were also able to recall the Hungarian phrases with greater accuracy in the longer term.

Hungarian was chosen because it is unfamiliar to most English speakers and a difficult language to master, with a completely different structure and sound system to the Germanic or Romance languages, such as Spanish and French.

Dr. Karen M. Ludke, who conducted the research as part of her Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, said: “This study provides the first experimental evidence that a listen-and-repeat singing method can support foreign language learning, and opens the door for future research in this area. One question is whether melody could provide an extra cue to jog people’s memory, helping them recall foreign words and phrases more easily.”

I’m sure there are plenty of French songs I can use to help with my learning the language. In fact, I’ll cue up some Serge Gainsbourg right this minute.

(Image: Jawbone Radio)

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Fish Linked to Hand Gestures

Tickle by Caroline

You can blame fish for why you gesticulate when you talk.

“We have traced the evolutionary origins of the behavioral coupling between speech and hand movement back to a developmental compartment in the brain of fishes,” said Cornell University Professor Andrew Bass….wait a minute….his last name….the subject….something fishy is going on here.

Nevertheless, carry on, fish expert.

“Pectoral appendages (fins and forelimbs) are mainly used for locomotion,” he said. “However, pectoral appendages also function in social communication for the purposes of making sounds that we simply refer to as non-vocal sonic signals, and for gestural signalling.”

In fish, a single compartment in the hindbrain controls the pectoral muscles as well as the muscles used to produce sound. You can find the same close coupling of neural networks in mammals.

“Coupling of vocal and pectoral-gestural circuitry starts to get at the evolutionary origins of the coupling between vocalization (speech) and gestural signalling (hand movements),” Bass said. “This is all part of the perhaps even larger story of language evolution.”

Great, now every time I see someone gesticulate I’m going imagine that person as a fish. Thank you, science.

(Image via Flickr: Caroline / Creative Commons.)

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Middle School Science Fair by Phil Roeder

Where is the Meetings Industry Science Fair?

Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old high school student from Saratoga, Calif., just may have solved the cellphone charge challenge. Her energy-storing device, a supercapacitor, fully charges in under 30 seconds. In the future, cell phones could house the device.

“It is also flexible, so it can be used in rollup displays and clothing and fabric,” Khare told John Roach of NBC News. “It has a lot of different applications and advantages over batteries in that sense.”

She was awarded $50,000 for her invention at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz. However, she wasn’t even the top winner. That $75,000 prize went to Ionut Budisteanu, 19, of Romania for creating an affordable model for a driverless car.

More than 1,600 students competed in this year’s science fair, which honors the “world’s most promising, rising student entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists.”

“All the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalists here this week show great promise in harnessing the power of science and innovation to solve problems and create opportunity for our global community,” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of the Society for Science and the Public, in a press release.

It’s great that students are solving science’s challenges. I wonder if students could solve some the most pressing problems in the meetings and events industry, too.

I read articles and see tweets everyday on how to better plan meetings, whether in design or content or hybrid…whatever the flavor of the month is. And there are a lot of great ideas offered by industry veterans. Over time, though, those ideas get lost in an echo chamber and nothing ever gets done (seriously, I can’t believe no one has figured out the great ROI problem!).

Let’s make it rewarding to students to help fix our challenges. Rather than just scholarships and discounted memberships, let’s give them a meaty reason to get involved in associations and the industry. Forget writing essays; let them get their hands dirty.

Take the two largest meeting professional associations for an example. MPI (reader note: I work for MPI) and PCMA should come together, pool their foundations’ resources, and offer a prize for industry innovation to students. Offer less membership and event scholarships, and tie those funds to winning industry inventions. Student clubs could host their own fairs, with the winners moving on to regional and then international competitions. Industry veterans could judge the final results.

Hackathons are a good start, and I applaud the effort behind those. However, let’s expand the scope to more than technology. For example, maybe a student can invent a new way to get people excited about strategic meetings management. Perhaps a student can create a better event evaluation form. Or maybe a student will figure out a way to budget an event where everyone gets paid, including session speakers.

I see these science fairs and I think, why not our industry? Either we do something drastically different or we talk ourselves to death. Lately, it’s been looking more like the latter than the former.

– By Jason Hensel 

(Image via Flickr: Phil Roeder/Creative Commons)

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The Mediterranean Diet Benefits

Days of wine and salad by Jeremy KeithI like wine. Well, okay, I love wine. Red wine. Cabernet. Malbec. Sangiovese. Those are three of my favorite things. I also like salads, chicken, olive oil, and nuts. I’m pretty much describing the Mediterranean diet, something that I’d heard about and never looked into. However, a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine caught my attention.

It turns out that, “Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events” in the study’s participants. The reduction in cardiovascular disease was up to 30 percent.

Let’s get to the wine, though. Those in the Mediterranean diet group in the study were told they could drink at least seven glasses of wine a week with their meals. The key phrase here is “at least.” Moderation with anything is usually the correct path to take; however, what’s moderate for one person (or society) may be too much or too little for others. One study showed that residents of the Greek Island Ikaria drink up to four glasses of wine a day and live long, healthy lives.

If you’re going to have a long and healthy life, then you surely want to have a fully functional brain. The Mediterranean diet has that covered, too. According to a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study, the diet can preserve memory.

“The study found that in healthy people, those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills,” Bob Shepard reported for UAB News.

(Of course, if you want to help improve your memory, you can always make a fist. Researchers at Montclair State University found that clenching your right hand helps form stronger memories, while clenching your left hand helps with recollection.)

Because of all these recent studies, I’m working on making the Mediterranean diet more a part of my lifestyle. It should be easy. I already have the wine part down.

– By Jason Hensel

(Image via Flickr: Jeremy Keith/Creative Commons)

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Facebook Use Can Increase Cognitive Performance

grandma joan writing her nightly e-mail message to the family by Sean DreilingerJokes about elderly people using technology are plentiful. Yes, it can be humorous to tease those that have a hard time with technology. But the truth is that there are benefits if the elderly (really, any age) are willing to learn something new. Let’s take Facebook, for instance.

Janelle Wohltmann, a psychology graduate student at the University of Arizona, found that people over the age of 65 who learned to use Facebook saw an increase in cognitive performance and became more connected socially.

Yes, you read that correctly. Being connected socially increases cognitive skills. The kicker is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a face-to-face connection.

“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” Wohltmann said. “One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It’s kind of this ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis.

“There’s also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age,” she continued.

More research is needed to determine if Facebook’s social aspect truly contributed to better cognitive performances. Still, Wohltmann feels that the site’s complex interaction is a key component in boosting cognitive behaviors.

“The Facebook interface is actually quite complex,” she said. “The big difference between the online diary and Facebook is that when you create a diary entry, you create the entry, you save it and that’s all you see, versus if you’re on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted.

“You’re seeing this new information coming in, and you need to focus on the new information and get rid of the old information, or keep it in mind if you want to go back and reference it later, so you have to constantly update what’s there in your attention,” she continued.

This gives hope to anyone that isn’t able to get out and meet people, either by situation or choice. If you can be social online, then you can boost your cognitive abilities. And I’m sure this can expand to include anyone who plays games such as Call of Duty, where you’re playing alongside or against other players.

No, this doesn’t take away from the value of face-to-face interaction and its many benefits, but it does show that our brains can clearly define “social” in more ways than we usually allow in our minds.

(Story materials from the University of Arizona/Alexis Blue. Image via Flickr: Sean Dreilinger/Creative Commons.)

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Exhausted Women are Hypersensitive to Sound

Apparently it's too loud in here by Steve HallFYI, guys, if an exhausted woman is stressed out, keep the noise level to a minimum.

According a study from Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute, women suffering from stress-related exhaustion show hypersensitivity to sounds.

The study exposed 208 women and 140 men, ages 23 to 71–all emotionally exhausted–to five minutes of physical stress, such as hands in ice, mental stress tests, and observational stress.

The researchers found that exhausted women found sounds–some as low as 60 decibel (level of normal conversation)–more uncomfortably loud than non-exhausted women. The same results were found in men, but the differences weren’t statistically significant. The researchers say that there was no difference in sensitivity to sounds between the groups before the stress exposure.

“When you are hypersensitive to sound, some normal sounds, such as the rattle of cutlery or the sound of a car engine, can feel ear-piercing,” said Dan Hasson, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and affiliated with Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute. “Given how common it is for people to work in environments with different kinds of disturbing sounds, this hypersensitivity can be really disabling for certain individuals.”

Do sounds disable you when you’re exhausted?

(Image via Flickr: Steve Hall / Creative Commons)

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Hot Chocolate’s Taste Influenced by Cup Color

Pot Hot Chocolate by Smokers High LifeColor is a powerful persuader. Red cars appear faster than other cars. Blue rooms are relaxing and help spur creativity. Now you can add that orange or cream-colored containers cause hot chocolate to taste better.

“The color of the container which serves food and drinks can enhance some of its attributes, such as taste or odor,” said   Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. The researcher worked with Charles Spence of Oxford University on the study.

The researchers conducted an experiment where 57 participants had to evaluate samples of hot chocolate served in four types of plastic cups, all the same size but of different colors: white, cream, red, and orange with white inside.

The results, published in Journal of Sensory Studies, showed that participants liked best the hot chocolate served in orange and cream-colored containers.

However, the sweetness (not the flavor) and aroma were not influenced by the cup’s color.

“There is no fixed rule to say that a taste or flavor is enhanced with a particular color or tone,” Piqueras-Fiszman said. “This actually varies with the type of food, but the fact is that, as the effect occurs, more attention should be paid to the color of the packaging, as it has more potential than you can imagine.”

This should encourage chefs and hospitality professionals to think more about the color of the tableware and packaging. For example, blue cups seem to quench thirst better, while pink packaging makes items seem more sweet.

(Story materials from SINC. Image via Flickr: Smokers High Life / Creative Commons)

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Greed Is More Often Paid Forward Than Generosity

Greed by ScabeaterPaying it forward is a great concept and one that should be practiced more often. However, it’s more common to find people repaying greed with greed.

“The idea of paying it forward is this cascade of goodwill will turn into a utopia with everyone helping everyone,” said lead researcher Kurt Gray, PhD. “Unfortunately, greed or looking out for ourselves is more powerful than true acts of generosity.”

The study, published online in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, is the first of its kind to examine the notion of paying forward generosity, equality, or greed.

“The bulk of the scientific research on this concept has focused on good behavior, and we wondered what would happen when you looked at the entire gamut of human behaviors,” said Gray, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who conducted the study with researchers at Harvard University.

According to the study:

In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to pay greed forward to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction. Women and men showed the same levels of generosity and greed in the study.

In one experiment, researchers recruited 100 people from subway stations and tourist areas in Cambridge, Mass., to play an economic game. They told participants that someone had split $6 with them and then gave them an envelope that contained the entire $6 for a generous split, $3 for an equal split, or nothing for a greedy split. The participants then received an additional $6 that they could split in another envelope with a future recipient, essentially paying it forward.

Receiving a generous split didn’t prompt any greater generosity than receiving equal treatment, but people who received nothing in the first envelope were more likely to put little or nothing in the second envelope, depriving future recipients because of the greed they had experienced. The average amount paid forward by participants who received a greedy split was $1.32, well below an equal split of $3.

The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that greed would prevail because negative stimuli have more powerful effects on thoughts and actions than positive stimuli. Focusing on the negative may cause unhappiness, but it makes sense as an evolutionary survival skill, Gray said. “If there is a tiger nearby, you really have to take notice or you’ll get eaten,” he said. “If there is a beautiful sunset or delicious food, it’s not a life-or-death situation.”

The study also examined whether people would have similar reactions involving work rather than money. In one online experiment, researchers told 60 participants that four tasks needed to be completed, including two easy word association games and two boring, repetitive tasks that involved circling vowels in dense Italian text. They explained to the participants that someone had already split the work with them, leaving them the two fun tasks in a generous split, one fun task and one boring task in an equal split, or both boring tasks in a greedy split. The participants then had to complete those tasks and split an additional four tasks with a future recipient. The results were the same, with greed being paid forward more than generosity.

“We all like to think that being generous will influence others to treat someone nicely, but it doesn’t automatically create a chain of goodwill,” Gray said. “To create chains of positive behavior, people should focus less on performing random acts of generosity and more on treating others equally — while refraining from random acts of greed.”

(Story materials from the American Psychological Association. Image via Flickr: Scabeater / Creative Commons)

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Take One Step at a Time on Stairs

Walk Up Stairs by Dan EckertMy office is located on the 17th floor of a glass building in Dallas. There are four elevators that can take me to my floor quickly, depending on the time of day. During times that I’m waiting for an elevator’s doors to open, I’ve often considered taking the stairs and walking up all 17 flights to my office. Then, of course, an open elevator appears.

Starting tomorrow, though, I’m walking up those stairs one step at a time. Sure, I can bound up them and reach my floor quicker, but according to recent research in PLoS, taking them one at a time burns more calories.

“The advice to those seeking to utilise stair climbing specifically as a method to control or reduce weight is to ascend stairways one step at a time; more calories are burned through this form of stair climbing,” the study’s authors wrote. “For example, climbing just a 15 m high stairway five times a day represents an energy expenditure of on average 302 kcal per week using the one step strategy and 266 kcal using the two step strategy.”

If you’re using a two-step strategy, you’ll have a much harder and quicker workout, expending more energy. However, if you take one step at a time, you’ll expend less energy but take longer to reach your destination, thus ensuring burning more calories.

What exercise routines are you starting this year?

(h/t to Scientific American. Image via Flickr: Dan Eckert / Creative Commons)

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