Researchers at Pennsylvania State University recently succeeded in teaching four pigs how to play a video game. Admittedly, the game was pretty simple. The pigs had to use a joystick to move a cursor toward a target wall on the computer screen. If they hit the wall, they'd hear a "bloop" and then get a food reward.
The pigs performed at a level far above random chance. However, the researchers noted that their skill level was below that of non-human primates. The scientists speculated that this may have been because it was difficult for the pigs to manipulate the joystick with their snout. Or perhaps it was because all four pigs were far-sighted and "despite attempts to position the computer monitor appropriately, it is impossible to know how well the pigs were able to see, and subsequently correctly discriminate between targets."
Studies conducted by the U.S. Army in the late 1940s sought to determine the minimum amount of food a person would need to survive if they were shipwrecked on a desert island.
One of the oddities the researchers discovered was that if, for some reason, the shipwrecked person had to choose between steak and water, they should choose the water: "Protein has the effect of drying up the body. Therefore eating a steak on a desert island with little or no water available would probably be worse than eating nothing, depending upon how long rescue took."
"Shipwreck Diet: One of eleven Army volunteers who for six weeks will live on biscuits and water at the Metropolitan Hospital, New York City, to determine a human survival ration."
Newsweek - Mar 15, 1948
Google Arts & Culture hosts a series of images showing a bizarre-looking experiment conducted at the St. Louis University Medical School in 1956. The photos were taken by Life photographer Albert Fenn.
Google offers no more details about the photos, but some searching reveals the same photos on Getty Images where they're identified as "an experiment about the effects of heat on a body during highspeed jet flight."
If someone farts in an operating room, will he/she contaminate the room with germs? Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki and microbiologist Luke Tennent of Australia together devised an experiment to find out:
[Tennent] asked a colleague to break wind directly onto two Petri dishes from a distance of 5 centimetres, first fully clothed, then with his trousers down. Then he observed what happened. Overnight, the second Petri dish sprouted visible lumps of two types of bacteria that are usually found only in the gut and on the skin. But the flatus which had passed through clothing caused no bacteria to sprout, which suggests that clothing acts as a filter.
Another source (below) claims that the 'colleague' who supplied the farts was, in fact, an eight-year-old boy:
Sydney Morning Herald - July 16, 2001
Incidentally, Dr. Kruszelnicki has been mentioned before on WU. See 'falling cats'.
A field experiment was conducted in which a single male, a single female, or a male-female couple attempted to hitch rides at four different traffic locations, under conditions in which the hitchhikers either stared at or looked away from oncoming drivers...
In the stare conditions, E stared at the driver of the target vehicle and attempted to fixate on the driver's gaze and maintain this gaze as long as possible until the driver either stopped his vehicle or drove on. In the comparison conditions, E looked anywhere else but at the driver. Thus, on some trials E looked in the general direction of the car; on other trials E looked at his feet, the road, the sky, etc. Es were specifically instructed to neither smile nor frown, and to maintain a casual (neither rigid nor slouching) body postural orientation while soliciting rides.
The two hitchhikers were described as, "both 20 years of age and both dressed in bluejeans and dark coats. The male had short, curly blond hair, and the female, straight, shoulder length blond hair. Both could be described as neat, collegiate, attractive in physical appearance, and of an appropriate age to be hitchhiking."
A hitchhiker in Luxembourg - Aug 1977 (source: wiktionary.org) (not one of the hitchhikers in the study)
Staring is often interpreted as a threat. So the researchers anticipated that staring at oncoming drivers might result in fewer rides. But the opposite turned out to be true. Which is a useful tip to know if you ever need to hitchhike. But what really helped get a lot of rides was being a single female. From the study:
it seems that the effect of attempted eye contact and sex of hitchhikers were such that a staring female got the most rides and a nonstaring male the least, with a staring male and a nonstaring female in between.
Contrary to popular belief and hitchhiking folklore , it was no easier for a male-female couple to hitch a ride than a single male, and a mixed sex couple was less successful at soliciting rides than a single female hitchhiker. Although the generality of this conclusion is limited by the fact that it is based upon results obtained by one male and one female E, it is probably the case that couples are less successful hitching rides because of space limitations in the cars they approach. That is, it is more likely that the driver will have room for one additional passenger than that he will have room for two or more additional passengers in his car.
Incidentally, the experimenters never actually ever got in a car with anyone: "After a motorist stopped to pick up one of the hitchhikers, he was politely thanked and given a printed description of the nature of the experiment. No driver expressed any discomfort when he learned that the hitchhiker did not actually want a ride."
In 1962, East German researchers conducted a bizarre medical experiment in an attempt to find out if fear could cure cancer. They inoculated some "mice, rabbits, rats, and cocks" with cancer cells. Then they put these animals into a cage which they lowered "into a zoo-like enclosure where 30 ravenous African polecats paced for food. The polecats would leap upon the little cage, shrieking and clawing at their hoped-for prey." This terror experience was repeated every two hours for several days.
The result: the cancer cells grew more slowly in the terrorized animals.
Of course, this begs the question, what it is about fear that would fight cancer? Was it the elevated adrenalin levels? Or was there some other biochemical change that caused the effect?
Unfortunately, I can’t find any other details about this unusual experiment except for the brief news report below. I'm assuming there was never a human version of the experiment. Though one never knows, given some of the other stuff that researchers got up to behind the Iron Curtain.
In Oct 2013, the chewing gum company Beldent gathered five sets of identical twins. In each set, one twin was instructed to chew gum while the other sat motionless. Visitors to the Buenos Aires Museum of Contemporary Art were then asked questions about the twins.
Their answers indicated that 73 percent of people had a more favorable impression of the gum chewing twins. Beldent claimed that this disproved the "chewing gum stigma."
Though I disagree. I think gum chewing does turn off some people. What the experiment showed was that there's an even greater stigma attached to being expressionless, showing no emotion at all
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.