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:
Yes, College Students Are Narcissists, but So Were You at That Age
These crazy millennial kids, right? Always looking at themselves in the mirror, thinking they’re hot stuff with their bedazzled cell phones, selfies and total apathy when it comes to anything other than their looks, their Snapchat followers and whatever else is “fire.” When we were in college, we were working two jobs and walking five miles to school. What a bunch of narcissistic little buttheads.
Not so fast there, middle-aged guy. If you’re thinking they’re any worse than when you were young, you’d be wrong. In fact, a recent study out of the University of Illinois suggests that narcissism among college students has been on the decline for years.
Ok, so you are right that college kids are narcissists, whatever generation they’re from. On the Narcissism Personality Inventory, a test used by the study’s researchers to measure narcissistic tendencies, college students received, on average, a score of almost 16, while grandparents scored a 12 (for reference, celebrities average a little more than 17, so 16 is up there). But can you blame them? Actual adults have got real stuff to deal with here — mortgages, careers and, in the case of our looks, gravity.
But the study also compared scores of today’s millennial college students with those of Gen X kids in the 1990s and the 2000s, and what was surprising was that narcissism, no matter what the demographic, is down a small, but statistically significant amount over time.
Lead researcher Professor Brent Roberts explains why, as we get older, we’re more likely to think that narcissism is rampant among today’s youth thusly:
“We have faulty memories, so we don’t remember that we were rather self-centered when we were that age.”
So the next time some kid bumps into you on the street as he’s trying to record his latest Instagram story, maybe go easy on the little jerk, okay?
Dos Cervezas, Por Favor
Good news for people who enjoy a bar crawl on vacation: It turns out that bilingual speakers’ ability to converse in a second language is improved after a tipple or two.
Don’t Rag on Sad Dads
Having a new baby is supposed to be a wonderful — if mentally and physically taxing — experience. Chemically, childbirth triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces anxiety while boosting feelings of happiness and calm.
But in 15 percent of new moms, it can have the opposite effect: Postpartum depression. Anxiety, extreme sadness and changes in sleep and eating patterns (among other symptoms) are all characteristics of this mood disorder. And for a while now, it’s been surmised that some new dads can undergo similar negative changes.
A new study from the University of California has finally established a direct link between becoming a father and depression. In the study, 149 couples were asked to provide testosterone samples at 2, 9 and 15 months after the birth of their child.
What researchers found was that fathers who had lower testosterone levels, and mothers who had higher levels of the same hormone, were more likely to suffer from depression than couples who had normal testosterone levels.
The only question remaining for mental health experts is whether the type of baby blues that between 10 and 25 percent of men suffer from is, actually, the same postpartum depression women suffer from, or a unique disorder altogether.
Given our culture around men and acting tough, as well as the limited understanding we have surrounding postpartum depression, the bottom line is, don’t rag on new dads who tell you that they’re not sleeping, can’t eat or are suffering from mood swings. As the USC study demonstrates, what they’re going through is, actually, very real, and worth taking seriously.
Talking of Which, Even the Fish Are Depressed Now
The New York Times reported this week on research by the department of biological and environmental sciences at Troy University in Alabama that fish can, and do, become depressed.
According to Professor Julian Pittman, fish are actually very obvious about their mental state. When a zebrafish is placed in a fresh tank, their natural inclination is to swim near the top, exploring their new environs.
But if the fish then transitions to the lower half of the tank, they know that the fish is depressed. How depressed is a function of the time spent at the bottom versus at the top. This is called the “novel tank test,” and it has some interesting implications for understanding our own depressive selves.
Just like humans, the fish become withdrawn; they lose interest in almost the same things (food, entertainment, the world around them) in the same way as we do. Said Pittman:
“The neurochemistry is so similar that it’s scary. There is a lot we don’t give fish credit for.”
All this has led to fish being viewed as possible candidates for testing antidepressants. If they can work on fish, maybe they can help humans beat their own depression and get back to swimming at the top of the fish tank.
A Dose of Crystal “Meh”
In today’s “no, duh” news, for the last time, no, crystals will not heal you.