UPDATE: A survey of recent findings published in academic journals

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Beauty

Do men make passes at girls who wear glasses? In an experiment in Quebec, subjects were shown photographs of the same five men's and women's faces either with or without spectacles and asked to associate each picture with a distinctive feature or trait. The results are published in "Perception of faces with and without spectacles" (by SJ McKelvie, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1997, 497-98). The results show that eyes are more likely to be focused on when the face in the photo is wearing glasses, while the chin, nose and ears are more likely to be noticed if it is not. People wearing glasses were more likely to be described as dull, intelligent and shy, while non-bespectacled faces were considered friendly and trustworthy. The author concludes that: "Given that faces with glasses are perceived as unattractive, these findings show that the physical attractiveness stereotype applies negatively to bespectacled faces." Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.

Infidelity

Male budgerigars are more likely to court another bird if their usual mate is not watching. In "Extra-pair courtship of male budgerigars and the effect of an audience" (Animal Behaviour, 1997, 1017-24) AP Baltz and AB Clark reported the results of experiments in which male budgies were given the opportunity to indulge in a little extramarital dalliance under various conditions. "Extra-pair copulations are relatively rare since they are subject to female co-operation; courtship behaviour is far more common. We considered a bout of courtship to begin when a male oriented towards a female and began nudge-pumping." The results showed that a male budgie spent significantly longer nudge-pumping other birds when his mate was absent.

Sex and rock'n'roll

When someone says: "Turn down the radio, it's too loud", it could well be that they mean: "Turn the music down, I don't like it." In "Magnitude estimation scaling of annoyance in respect to rock music: effects of sex and listeners' preference" (Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1997, 663-70)

D Fucci and L Petrosino report the results of an experiment in which two groups comprising men who liked rock music and men who didn't like rock music were asked to judge the loudness at which extracts were played. The results showed a consistent tendency for rock-lovers to underestimate the noise, and for rock-haters to overestimate it. An earlier study had shown that when asked to rate an extract for "annoyance", men's scores were influenced by their liking for the music, while women's preferences played a stronger part when asked to assess the loudness of a piece. Clearly loudness, preference and annoyance are all interrelated, but in a complex way that may be sex-dependent.

Postal delivery

Will the average person help out by posting a lost letter? A recent study, "Differences in lost letter and postal card returns from cities and smaller urban communities" (by FS Bridges, RL Welsh, S Graves and MB Sonn, Psychological Reports, 1997, 363-68) reveals marked differences depending on both the person and the nature of the addressee. The experimenters placed cards and letters under windscreen wipers of cars parked at various distances from a post office. Notes were attached saying they had been found near the car. Results generally showed that people in cities are less likely to be helpful than those in small urban communities. Both in cities and in small communities, people are also less likely to help out by posting letters whose recipients are clearly identified as members of gay, lesbian or cross-dressing groups.

Suicide

Two recent papers show that there is still considerable confusion over the causes of suicide in Sweden. In "Social psychological versus socioeconomic hypotheses on the epidemiology of suicide" (Psychological Reports, 1996, 707-10), M Ferrada-Noli compared two districts of Sweden differing greatly in wealth and concluded that the poorer district had the higher suicide rate. This conclusion, however, was challenged by D Lester and A-C Savlid in "Suicide and Wealth in Sweden: Comment on Ferrada-Noli" (Psychological Reports, 1997, 34). Their results, based on a wider study of all 24 counties of Sweden, showed significant correlations between suicide rates and per capita income only for female suicides, and, in an opposite direction to the other study, with higher rates for wealthier women.

While money thus may or may not play its part, it now seems clear that the moon has no effect. In "Suicides and the Lunar Cycle" (Psychological Reports, 1997, 243-50), JM Guttierez-Garcia and F Tusell analyse 897 suicide deaths in Spain to reach the conclusion: "there appears to be no relationship between lunar phases and suicide."

Supermarkets

An important discovery is reported in "Delays in clearing the self-service store check-out counter: an informal look" by J Trinkaus and M Divino (Psychological Reports, 1997, 508-10): "Swiftness of service, one of the advantages which one normally associates with self-service stores, is something which may well be more fiction than fact." That conclusion was reached after watching 328 transactions (205 cash and 123 credit) at three stores in Jamaica over a nine-month period. "In the absence of a delaying problem, a cash transaction took on average 1 min 27 sec to process." Delays, however, occurred 43 per cent of the time. The most common cause was "customer questioned item price", but 15 other reasons were given, including "customer went back to get substitute items", "cashier error in ringing up price" and "credit card would not process". Each delay increased the time needed to clear the counter by an average of two minutes. They also conclude: "Based on such correlates as under-the-breath muttering and non-verbal communications, informal observations suggested that a number of people waiting in the check-out lines appeared to get upset when what they perceived to be an unnecessary delay occurred."

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