If You Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Science Says There’s Something Wrong With Your Brain

And four other things we learned about our bodies this week.


The human body: An inspiring biological work of art? Or a meaty sack of germs and fluids? Either way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what goes on in there — and scientists are constantly attempting to find out more. Here are the most interesting things they’ve discovered about our bodies in the last seven days:

New Conspiracy Alert: Your Brain Is Wired Wrong

Do you believe there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll? Do you believe that the government covers up its frequent meetings with alien beings? Do you often comment and post on Reddit’s r/conspiracy? If so, you might have mental issues. No, really.

In what will undoubtedly be seen as a conspiracy against people who are fervent believers in conspiracy theories, a new study from researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement and the University of Kent has linked conspiracy theorists with a mental disturbance called “illusory pattern perception.” This is defined as the mind’s ability to identify “a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli.” In other words, finding patterns where none exist.

In the study, scientists first asked participants to rate whether a series of coin tosses were random or part of a larger pattern. Then, they looked at whether being prompted to find a pattern in the tosses would skew the results. Last, the group subbed in abstract art for the coin tosses and asked the same question. Participants who found patterns in the tosses and abstract art, and were most easily influenced to find patterns when prompted, were the same people most likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Spooky!

Our brains are naturally inclined to find patterns — that’s precisely how we learn, especially from past mistakes. But in an era when we’re bombarded with massive amounts of information, disinformation, truths and untruths, it can be difficult to separate reality from chaos, especially when all that chaos occasionally seems to make sense. That is where conspiracies come from—it’s your desperate brain trying to make sense of the chaos.

Type A = Size XXX

Sorry, chubby would-be CEOs of the world: Type A personalities struggle with dieting more than others, possibly because they see diet regimens that fail as a problem with the diet, not with themselves.

Death Now Comes With a Chance of Explosion

When we die, we all hope that we will be fondly remembered, or, at the very least, we hope people will show up to our funeral. We also hope   that we don’t explode.

Oh, you don’t think about that last one? Well, if you’ve ever been implanted with a blood pressure monitor, a bladder stimulator, or a pacemaker and you’ve opted for cremation — the most popular body-disposal method in the U.S. — perhaps you should. Because when exposed to the high heat of the incineration process, these things have been going off like party poppers on Mardi Gras.

A post on Slate this week explains how a study in the U.K. on pacemaker explosions at crematoriums reported that nearly one half of all crematoria staff in that country witnessed an explosion in their facility as the result of an implantable device.

The reason for the uptick in exploding corpses, as Slate points out, is perhaps due to the devices’ small-yet-energy dense lithium batteries, which, if you’ve heard anything about the recent glut of exploding cell phones, makes sense. When exposed to extreme heat, these batteries tend to combust. Crematorium chambers get hot — like, 1,800 degrees hot. So it’s no wonder these things are popping off like a Ukrainian ammo dump.

Crematoriums are already taking steps to prevent situations such as this. Staff have begun employing metal-detecting wands, like those used by the TSA, and they’re asking family members to detail what, if any, devices their loved ones might have been implanted with.

Sure, these are bodies already being incinerated. And yes, they’re already dead. It’s not like it’s going to hurt them. But committing a family member to the great beyond is about giving them a dignified burial, and no one wants to go out with that kind of a bang.

Ugly People Find Out They Are More Hirable Than Pretty People, for Once

Beautiful people, you’ve had it too good for too long—it’s time for the schlubs to have their moment in the sun. That’s the big takeaway from a study by the American Psychological Association and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which shows that good-looking people may be discriminated against during the hiring process.

Okay, to be fair, researchers found this to be true only when the job in question was less desirable. But we “meh”-looking people take our wins where we can get them.

In the study, hiring managers were handed the profiles and photos of two potential job candidates—one good-looking, the other not so much. Study participants were then asked to “hire” the job candidates for either a desirable position, like a managerial role, or a less desirable position, like a job in a warehouse, based on each hiring manager’s perception of the candidate’s profile.

The hypothesis going into the study was that managers would want to hire attractive people no matter the job. But what researchers found was that the managers slotted pretty people for the good jobs, and not-so-pretty people for the less desirable jobs.

“We found that participants perceived attractive individuals to feel more entitled to good outcomes than unattractive individuals, and that attractive individuals were predicted to be less satisfied with an undesirable job than an unattractive person. In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual. We found this effect to occur even with hiring managers.”

Take that, you gorgeous jerks!

The implications for a study such as this are that organizations’ recruiting efforts need to be reviewed in order to prevent bias in the hiring process, lest some potential job candidate get a job based on their looks, or lack thereof.

Or, you know, you could just leave a few jobs for the ugly people. Just saying.

Great, Now Even Oral Sex Can Kill You

If doing this column every week has taught me anything, it’s that over a long enough timeline, everything you eat, and everything you do, can kill you. Nothing is sacred!

Case in point: Cunnilingus, a.k.a. going down on a lady. That’s right—researchers at John Hopkins have discovered that, thanks to the fact that 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people are infected each year, men who perform oral sex on at least five different women see their chances of developing head or neck cancer grow from a miniscule .07 percent to a whopping 7 percent, given the right set of circumstances. Smokers who have had more than five partners, for example, are at the highest risk, due to the compounded carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoke.

Luckily, those numbers are, relatively speaking, still pretty low, so you don’t need to give up oral just yet. And don’t go running out to get screened for an oral HPV infection either, says Dr Carole Fakhry, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins:

“Currently there are no tests that could be used for screening people for oropharyngeal cancer. It is a rare cancer and for most healthy people the harms of screening for it would outweigh the benefits because of the problem of false positive test results and consequent anxiety.

“Our research shows that identifying those who have oral HPV infection does not predict their future risk of cancer well, and so screening based on detecting cancer-causing oral HPV infection would be challenging.”

But, if you (still) smoke, you can lower your chances for developing HPV-related cancers just by quitting. So knock it off.