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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Why men forget anniversaries

Dutch social psychologists have finally confirmed what many of us have suspected for years: men can’t think straight when faced with an attractive woman. The researchers asked 40 male undergraduates to complete a test measuring short-term memory. Midway through the test each undergraduate was interrupted by an attractive model posing as an experimenter. She then engaged them in conversation on a predefined neutral topic. After chatting for seven minutes the ‘experimenter’ left the room, instructing the student to continue with the test. Male undergraduates who had spoken to a male model performed the same before and after this interruption. Those who had chatted with an attractive female, however, found that their powers of memory suddenly deserted them. This happened irrespective of the man’s current relationship status. The researchers suggest that their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, could help to explain why girls consistently outperform boys in mixed-sex schools. But, if just seven minutes with an attractive woman is truly enough to impair a man’s memory, the implications could be far more wide-ranging than that. Louisa Lyon

It’s a male-female thing

A butterfly at London’s Natural History Museum caused great excitement this summer when it emerged from its pupa with fully normal female characteristics throughout its entire right side, whilst appearing as a male on the left side. The butterfly, an example of the species Papilio memnon, the Great Mormon native to Asia, lived for several weeks before being preserved within the museum’s expansive collection. Although this is a rare event and quite impressive to see, it is a well reported phenomenon. This is particularly true of butterflies and is known as gynandromorphy. Of over 4.5 million butterflies that the Natural History Museum has acquired in its 130 year history, only 200 demonstrate this unusual feature.  Whilst similar occurrences have never been seen in humans or other mammals, there have been many instances of crustaceans, such as lobsters and crabs, as well as spiders and even chickens that show full gynandromorphy. There are also lesser versions where only a small part of an otherwise single-gendered individual shows physical characteristics of the opposite sex. There may be many unreported cases of this phenomenon in species where it is more difficult to distinguish between males and females. Jonathan Lawson

It’s food, but amplified

Charles spence and massimiliano zampini have shown that the crispness of Pringles is perceived differently depending on what your ears hear during the biting process. In their study, each volunteer sat in a soundproof booth with a pair of earphones and a microphone placed in front of their mouth, while using their front teeth to bite into Pringles of uniform shape and crispness. The sound produced by the bite was captured with the microphone and electronically modified (attenuated and/or frequency manipulated) before it was fed into earphones worn by the volunteer. A pair of foot pedals allowed the volunteer to rank the perceived crispness and freshness of the Pringle according to a scale on a computer screen. The results showed that there was a significant loss of perceived crispness and freshness when the biting sound was attenuated, whereas the contrary was true when the high frequency components of the biting sound were amplified. This study won the 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition and has already been translated into commercial applications. According to the official homepage of the Ig Nobel Prize, Starbucks has composed a special piece called VIA Alle Undici, following recommendations from Professor Spence, to complement their new Italian Roast. So why not download this low pitched, brass and woodwind piece to enhance your Sainsbury’s basics instant coffee experience? Gengshi Chen