WTF Fun Fact 13014 – Movies Don’t Really Burn Calories

A popular claim that watching scary movies burns as many calories as a walk re-circulates each year around during spooky season. But in reality, movies don’t really burn calories. The claim wasn’t the results of a rigorous study and was misleading. In fact, it was only made for publicity purposes.

What’s the claim about movies burning calories

From clickbait site to serious websites like The Guardian, it’s common to the headline once a year that watching movies like The Shining burn calories because they get your heart racing. And while that’s not false, the claim that watching a scary movie is somehow equivalent or better to exercise is untrue.

According to The Guardian’s piece the year the study came out:

“Those who watched a 90-minute horror film were likely to burn up to 113 calories – the same sort of figure as a half-hour walk. Some movies were more effective than others, however: of the 10 films studied, the top calorie-burners were the classic Stanley Kubrick chiller The Shining (184 calories), Jaws (161 calories) and The Exorcist (158 calories).”

For starters, sitting and doing nothing for 90 minutes can burn anywhere from 60 to 130 calories, depending on the person. You get those points for just existing. So go ahead and watch Steel Magnolias because scaring yourself silly isn’t going to help you lose weight.

The “study” is not really a study

What’s even more problematic is that while there is an academic behind the claims (and metabolism measurements):

  1. He didn’t set out to perform a rigorous scientific study.
  2. The data was never published in a scientific journal (which is important because that requires a study to be worthwhile, constructed correctly, and subjects it to peer review).
  3. The results are unimpressive at best (and genuinely misleading at worst).

The source of the info is Dr. Richard Mackenzie, listed as “senior lecturer and specialist in cell metabolism and physiology at the University of Westminster in London” at the time. He is cited as saying (via university press release, not a journal study) that:

While the scientists did measure heart rate, oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output, the study involved just 10 people and was commissioned by the movie rental firm Lovefilm (now owned by Amazon).

Mackenzie noted that:

“As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”

The top 5 movies he asked people to watch (with calories burned during viewing) were:

1. The Shining: 184 calories
2. Jaws: 161 calories
3. The Exorcist: 158 calories
4. Alien: 152 calories
5. Saw: 133 calories

No, movies don’t burn calories in any helpful way

When Snopes (cited below) checked up on the even more bombastic claim people had made after hearing about the study (that watching horror movies could help reduce obesity), the noted: “The study was neither peer-reviewed nor published (nor, apparently, meant to be taken seriously). No follow-up studies replicating its findings, and people who wish to lose weight are probably better advised to get some exercise.”

Snopes then went on to point out the obscenely small sample size, the lack of replication of the study (mandatory of a study to actually make its way towards being considered scientific), and the failure to follow-up with subjects’ actual weight loss.

But the most important point is that even if everything had been done properly, the results aren’t impressive.

The average length of a feature film is around 90 minutes, during which the average person sitting on their butts and doing nothing burns 60 – 130 calories. If you stand, you might burn 100 – 200 calories, more than the 184 that people watching The Shining burned. The person watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the “study” only burned 107 calories – so we’re pretty skeptical of all of these measurements at this point.

The best we can say is that maybe some people burn a couple of extra calories watching scary movies that they would if they were just watching a blank wall. In other words, get your exercise if you want to burn calories in a meaningful way.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Does Watching Horror Movies Reduce Risk of Obesity?” — Snopes

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WTF Fun Fact 12934 – Axolotl Brain Regeneration

In an amazing evolutionary feat that we wish were available to many of the humans we know, it turns out the salamanders known as axolotls can grow back parts of their brains. Axolotl brain regeneration is just another one of this creature’s amazing regenerative abilities.

Axolotl body regeneration

According to IFL Science (cited below), the initial discovery is an old one:

“The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is an aquatic salamander renowned for its ability to regenerate its spinal cord, heart and limbs. These amphibians also readily make new neurons throughout their lives. In 1964, researchers observed that adult axolotls could regenerate parts of their brains, even if a large section was completely removed. But one study found that axolotl brain regeneration has a limited ability to rebuild original tissue structure.”

Regenerating the brain

At the Treutlein Lab at ETH Zurich and the Tanaka Lab at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, researchers are trying to figure out just how complete axolotl brain regeneration is. For example, one question is what types of brain cells are they able to replace?

One of the authors of a recent study noted in IFL Science that looking at brain cells was the key to understanding the regenerative process:

“In our recently published study, we created an atlas of the cells that make up a part of the axolotl brain, shedding light on both the way it regenerates and brain evolution across species. Why look at cells? Different cell types have different functions. They are able to specialize in certain roles because they each express different genes. Understanding what types of cells are in the brain and what they do helps clarify the overall picture of how the brain works. It also allows researchers to make comparisons across evolution and try to find biological trends across species.”

Axolotl brain mapping

The research team uses a specific type of RNA sequencing to get snapshots of brain samples. More specifically, they focus on the telencephalon (the region that contains the brain’s neocortex – the seat of behavior and cognition). The cells in this area are highly diversified.

By identifying the genes that are active when cells such as neurons replicate or turn into other cell types, the researchers can get a sense of how more mature cells form in the axolotl’s brain form over time.

The real test comes when the researchers inflict an injury on part of the brain, damaging some cells, then checking in later to see if they’ve regenerated.

And they found that in about 12 weeks, most of the axolotl’s brain cells have been replaced by new ones. The cells even reformed neuronal connections.

Can axolotl brain regeneration research help humans?

Even if you don’t care about axolotls, the research is important for the future of human brain research. There are many diseases that affect cognitive capacity (not to mention the role of aging on the brain). Understanding the process by which the axolotl’s brain regenerates could someday help up apply this knowledge to humans.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Axolotls Can Regenerate Their Brains – These Adorable Salamanders Are Helping Unlock The Mysteries Of Brain Evolution And Regeneration” — IFL Science

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WTF Fun Fact 12772 – Real-Life Paw Patrol

Remember McGruff the Crime Dog? Ever watch Paw Patrol with your kids? Well, it turns out dogs really do take a bite out of crime – just not in the way we expected.

The Pros of a Paw Patrol

Recent research in the journal Social Forces has found that neighborhoods that contain more dogs have lower levels of crime. But the paper, titled “Paws on the Street: Neighborhood-Level Concentration of Households with Dogs and Urban Crime,” found that it wasn’t the dogs themselves that deterred criminals.

Based on the work of Jane Jacobs, this research adds to the idea that “eyes on the street” can (but don’t always) help deter bad actors. That’s a plus for communities where people get out of their houses and are seen by neighbors. (But it’s obviously not that straightforward, and Jacobs failed to take into account race and class in much of her research.)

Eyes on the street

Nevertheless, the new research suggests that in many neighborhoods, the presence of community members makes a neighborhood less likely to seem like a target for crimes such as theft. Not only do neighbors get to know each other better and establish trust, but more eyes mean more potential reporters when people who see something wrong.

Of course, we’ve seen reporting of “something wrong” go sideways in many cases, especially when it comes to situations that involve race and class differences. We’ve also seen that a police response isn’t the best way to keep crime down. So this research just provides a general sense of how things might work for some neighborhoods.

So what’s the deal with dogs?

Dogs come into play because people need to walk them – and people do this at all hours of the day. Neighborhoods with dogs tend to have a lot more human activity out on the sidewalks. In general, the evidence showed that this was largely a good thing when it came to deterring crime.

The researchers found that neighborhoods with higher concentrations of dogs tended to report less robbery, homicide, and aggravated assault rates (as long as “eyes on the street” came with an increased level of trust).

As always, it’s important to note that the researchers found a correlation between dog ownership and less crime. This is not the same is causation – meaning we can’t say that owning dogs leads to less crime until there’s far more evidence.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Dogs Could Be Lowering Crime Levels in Your Neighborhood. Seriously” — ScienceAlert

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WTF Fun Fact 12764 – Mindfulness Meditation Changes the Brain

We need more large-scale studies to make definitive claims, but mindfulness meditation seems to have some cool cognitive benefits. In fact, we can see on brain scans that people who practice mindfulness meditation experience changes in their brains.

Minding your thoughts

Mindfulness practice encourages people to stop and spend time noticing their thoughts and then letting go of the ones that are negative, disorganized, or aren’t serving a positive purpose. It’s designed to help us notice and control our thinking. (As opposed to most meditation practices, which center around emptying the mind of thoughts.)

The part of the brain affected by mindfulness practice is called the amygdala. This is also called the “fight or flight” center because it is linked to fear and emotional responses. Brain scans have shown that mindfulness practice helps shrink the amygdala. While that may sound like a bad thing, an overactive amygdala can be bad for concentration, mood, and emotional regulation.

Regulating the amygdala

However, mindfulness has been shown to help increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. That’s a good thing because those connections help us regulate our emotional responses.

We need our amygdala, we just don’t want it to be hyperactive. And when we practice mindfulness, our bodies get better at regulating those emotional responses.

While some of the effects of mindfulness have been overstated in the press, there is evidence that it can modestly increase physical health and compassion and even reduce bias in addition to negative thought patterns.

The popularity of mindfulness meditation

A U.S. survey found that the percentage of adults practicing some type of mantra-based meditation, mindfulness meditation, or spiritual meditation in the previous year tripled between 2012 and 2017 (from 4.1% to 14.2%). Even among children (4 to 17 years of age), the percentage increased from less than 1% to over 5%. These emotional regulation techniques continue to grow in popularity.

Of course, there’s a lot we still don’t know about mindfulness and meditation in general, and they’re not always the best practices for everyone.

There are also different types of mindfulness meditation to practice, each with slightly different outcomes. For example, body scanning can help reduce negative thoughts. But practices in which participants are asked to observe their thoughts can sometimes lead to more negative thinking, especially among those who have just started practicing the skill and can’t let go of those thoughts easily.

In the end, it may be best for those who are new to mindfulness and observing their thoughts to do so with guidance from a teacher or tool so that they can stay on the right track and get the most out of their mindfulness practices.  WTF fun facts

Source: “10 Things We Know About the Science of Meditation” — Mindful

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WTF Fun Fact 12673 – What’s In A (Cat’s) Name?

In unsurprising news, there’s more evidence that cats don’t care about something.

Japanese researchers did a small study (which is really all you can do when cats get involved) and found that cats seem to recognize the names of their feline housemates. However, they still don’t give any indication of recognizing their own. Whether it’s because they just don’t care is something we’ve yet to figure out.

Why should we even care what words cats recognize? Well, IFL Science put it in context the best: “Birds with vocal cords that can imitate our own can learn a variety of human words, and it’s argued some know the meaning, rather than merely mimicking. Apes taught sign language also understand the meaning of words, and more recently dogs have been found to be able to learn up to 12 toys’ names in a week – but what about cats?”

In other words, we do all of this behavioral research on animals and find these fascinating signs that, in some sense, they can organize the world in ways similar to our own. So why not take a look at these abilities in some of the most common pets?

The research was conducted by Saho Takagi, a PhD student at Kyoto University who published the results in the journal Scientific Reports. The research team tried an experiment with domestic cats living in a 3+ cat home as well as residents of Japan’s famous cat cafes.

The study does rely on one important assumption (but if you know anything about science, you know that this is often the case since that’s where we start in order to help prove things). The assumption is that like other animals, cats stare longer than normal when they are surprised by something. In this case, hearing a name they recognize.

So the team spoke to the cats and said the names of their fellow resident cats to see if they would get a reaction. And they did, at least when the cats didn’t just run off in the middle of the experiment (and one did).

But what’s interesting is that this only happened in households, not in cat cafes. And in cat cafes there tends to be a lot of turnover from adoptions (and a lot more names to remember). So it may be that the cats in those cafes never hear a name enough time to have it ring a bell.

Apparently, the cats only reacted to the spoken names. Seeing their feline roomies’ photos on a laptop didn’t have any effect. Also, hearing their own names had no effect.

There were only 19 cats involved in the study, so it’s right to be skeptical. But that’s where we often start in science. The study still showed there was statistical significance to the results, and that’s typically a sign that further research can continue until there’s enough evidence to constitute some kind of “proof.”

In the meantime, just take it as a sign that your cat ignoring its name is not necessarily them blowing you off. They may just not be able to recognize that a name belongs to them. Or they just don’t care.

IFL Science explains this is not Takagi’s first cat study: “Last year she was first author on a paper exploring the feline capacity to map the spatial location of their person or a familiar cat. Takagi and co-authors reported the cats showed surprise when speakers broadcast the voice of the person who feeds them, despite that person’s absence. The same reaction did not apply to recordings of familiar cats’ vocalizations or unrelated sounds. Previously she studied cats’ understanding of the law of physics.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Cats Can Learn Each Other’s Names, Not Just Their Own, Study Claims” — IFL Science

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WTF Fun Fact 12560 – The First Fingerprint Conviction

In 1910, Clarence Hiller confronted an intruder in his home, tackling him as both men fell down the stairs. Hiller was then shot, and the suspect ran away.

Paroled 6 weeks prior, Thomas Jennings was convicted of the crime. He was stopped by police when they saw he was wearing a bloody coat. But that wasn’t what got him convicted.

While investigating the scene of the break-in, police noticed that the intruder had grabbed a freshly-painted railing while boosting himself into the Hiller family’s window. They cut off the piece of the railing as evidence and presented it in court, comparing it to Jennings’ fingerprint.

Criminal justice scholars have proved that the way we use fingerprint evidence is not always in the best interests of justice, nor are fingerprints always accurately interpreted. In fact, our fingerprints even change over the course of our lifetimes, so an old fingerprint may rule out an actual criminal caught decades later.

But in 1910, this type of evidence was a first for a criminal case and the jury needed to be convinced that each person’s fingerprints are unique. Unfortunately for Jennings, that proof came from his defense attorney.

W.G Anderson rightly questioned the use of such poorly-understood evidence to convict a person, but it was his own fingerprint that would convince the jury of his client’s guilt.

Anderson challenged the forensic experts to lift his fingerprint from a piece of paper. They did. But his big plan was to solicit fingerprints from the general public to show just how shoddy the science of fingerprinting was. Alas, we do all have unique fingerprints and while there are often problems in our interpretations, this little experiment did nothing but convince the jury that fingerprint evidence was solid.

Of all the fingerprints collected, none looked like Anderson’s. The jury voted unanimously to convict Jennings, who was sentenced to hang.

In their coverage, The Decatur Herald noted that “the murderer of Hiller wrote his signature when he rested his hand upon the freshly painted railing at the Hiller home.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “The First Criminal Trial That Used Fingerprints as Evidence” — Smithsonian Magazine

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WTF Fact 12428 – A Goldfish Can Hold a Grudge

Sorry, Ted Lasso, but “be a goldfish” might not be the best advice for those ready to hold a grudge. Despite the widespread belief that a goldfish has a memory of just a few seconds, it’s simply false.

We’re not sure who made it up or when, but the first sign that it’s a made-up “fact” is that the information changes based on where you are in the world. Some say the goldfish has a 10-second memory, while others say it’s just 3 seconds. Regardless, none of this has ever been proven by science.

However, scientists have studied goldfish and tried to ascertain how long their memories might be. And you might be alarmed to know that these ubiquitous fish retain can memories for days, months, and even years. There are 60 years worth of research to back up those facts.

Of course, we can’t know exactly what goldfish think, but it’s not all that challenging to test the memory of just about any creatures through experimentation.

Culum Brown is an expert in fish cognition at Macquarie University in Australia. He told Live Science: “We’ve known about the reasonably good memories of goldfish since the ’50s and ’60s. Despite what everybody thinks, they’re actually really intelligent.”

Brown believes that one of the reasons we are so ready to believe that goldfish have almost no memory span is the way we treat them. If a fish had a 3-second memory, that boring glass bowl wouldn’t be cruel. And assuming they’re unintelligent allows us to rest easy believing our scaly pets don’t need any stimulation. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

According to Brown, goldfish are often used in fish cognition and memory experiments. Research has shown that goldfish can remember where their food comes from, how to manipulate situations to get rewards, and even make their way through mazes.

Maybe it’s time to upgrade that fishbowl. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Do goldfish really have a 3-second memory?” — LiveScience

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WTF Fun Fact – Agnosia

Oxford University researchers found that when blindfolded, people have a difficult time identifying which toe is being poked, especially the two toes next to the big toe. This misidentification phenomenon is known as agnosia. WTF Fun Facts

Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150922114946.htm

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