Would You: Stick Your Foot in a Box With a Tarantula?
As a kinda-mean, kinda-hilarious way to observe the brain’s fear networks, British researchers had 20 volunteers lie in MRI machines, place their feet in a box with several compartments, and watch a screen that showed a tremendous tarantula crawl among the sections. Scientists watched as different parts of each volunteer’s brain lit up, depending on whether the spider moved toward or away from his or her feet. The kicker: There was no spider; volunteers watched a pretaped video.
The takeaway: Learning how the brain responds to changing threats can help doctors treat phobias, one researcher who conducted the 2012 study told NBC News.
Would You: Ride a Roller Coaster to Treat Asthma?
Dutch researchers asked women with severe cases of the condition to hop on a coaster in order to observe how asthmatics perceived dyspnea—the medical term for shortness of breath—during times of emotional stress. The asthmatic participants reported a tougher time breathing at the start of the ride, when they were anxious (negative stress). They reported breathing more easily after the ride, when they were elated (positive stress), despite the fact that instruments measuring lung function showed it was reduced.
The takeaway: Emotions may impact the way people with asthma experience their symptoms. Feeling upset may make them seem worse.
Would You: Give Birth in an MRI Machine?
One (mightily brave) mom agreed to do it at a Berlin hospital in November 2010. The video—posted online in June 2012 by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology—reveals, for the first time, what childbirth looks like from the inside as the baby moves down the birth canal. We can even see how the head changes shape during the final pushes.
The takeaway: Scientists told Reuters that the main reason for the supercool scan was to offer insight into why some births stall or involve other complications.
Would You: Smell Dirty Shirts to Predict Personality Traits?
Thirty men and 30 women slept in white cotton tees for three consecutive nights. During that time, they didn’t use fragrances, deodorants, or soaps; smoke; drink; or eat odorous foods. Then hundreds of volunteers tried to sniff out different personality traits. Based on scent alone, participants were able to judge—with some degree of accuracy—how outgoing, neurotic, and dominant people were.
The takeaway: Other studies have found body odor can reveal clues about age, sex, and female fertility; this preliminary research suggests we might add personality to the list.
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Would You: Intentionally Gain Weight for Cash?
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are recruiting overweight participants to eat an extra 1,000 calories a day in the form of McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, or KFC meals. Your goal: to gain 5 to 7 percent of your body weight. You will receive $3,000 for your time, plus the cost of fast-food meals. After you’ve finished your part in the study, you will begin a six-month program to help you slim down to a healthier pre-study weight.
The takeaway: Scientists intend to use the findings to understand why some obese people develop diabetes and cardiovascular-disease risk factors and others don’t.