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Health & Science

Money can buy some happiness; Remembering what you study; How to shake that thing; Getting rid of garlic breath; Of ants, elephants, and trees

Money can buy some happinessDoes money buy happiness? It all depends on how you define “happy,” says USA Today. Princeton economists analyzed the results of a Gallup poll that surveyed 450,000 Americans about their happiness, as measured in two different ways: their emotional well-being, as reflected in how much laughter, joy, and relaxation they experience in their day-to-day lives; and their overall life satisfaction, as reflected in how they feel about their jobs, their homes, their families, and their statuses. Not surprisingly, poverty or money woes interfere with contentment; both types of happiness rise with income, the economists found. But emotional well-being peaks at an annual income of about $75,000—the point at which most people feel they have enough money to purchase their basic needs. As incomes rose beyond that point, people did report a higher level of overall life satisfaction, probably because they felt more successful. But going from a job that pays $75,000 to, say, $200,000 also brings what the researchers termed “negative effects’’—more responsibility, more pressure to perform, and more stress. In that larger sense, the study found, money does not buy happiness; it can, in fact, buy more worry, anxiety, and aggravation.

Remembering what you studyWhatever you’ve learned about the best ways to study, forget it. “We walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken,” Robert Bjork, a University of California psychologist, tells The New York Times. Although it’s often thought that the best way to study is to find one quiet room and stick to it, studies have found that students retain new information better when they do their work in a variety of places. “When the outside context is varied, the information is enriched’’ by different associations, says Bjork. As a result, people recall it better. Bearing down on one subject for long periods of time doesn’t help either. Cramming for a test, researchers have found, is similar to packing a suitcase by jamming everything in at the last moment; the suitcase holds less, and when opened, everything falls out. When the neural suitcase is packed gradually, in layers, it holds more and retains more. 

How to shake that thingFor men, there’s a right and a wrong way to dance—at least if the aim is to impress women, scientists say. Researchers in England scanned the dance movements of male volunteers and converted them into computer-generated cartoons, or avatars. Then women were asked to rate the figures’ dancing. Female viewers consistently rated the men as good dancers if there were major motions of the head, neck, and torso timed to the music—“someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding,” evolutionary psychologist Nick Neave tells BBC.com. “It’s all about big movements and variation.’’ Not so hot: twitchy moves in which the dancer does one thing over and over—also known as “Dad dancing.” For women, researchers concluded, dancing serves as an analog of the courtship rituals common to the animal kingdom, where males preen, strut, display colors, or engage in stylized battles to impress females. Men who display core strength, physical vigor, and confidence in their dancing are signaling women that they are fit and have good genes.    Getting rid of garlic breathMedical research marches on: Scientists now have a solution for garlic breath, says the London Daily Telegraph. Garlic is widely used to flavor food and has many health benefits, but it contains an odoriferous compound called allyl methyl sulphide, which can’t be broken down during digestion. The body releases that sulphur smell in sweat and breath, to pungent effect. Researchers at Ohio State University have found that drinking a glass of milk after eating garlic can reduce the offending breath smell by nearly half. Full-fat milk works better than skim milk, suggesting that it’s the milk’s fat that neutralizes the volatile compound. Even more effective is drinking milk at the same time that you’re eating something garlicky, say study authors Sheryl Barringer and Areerat Hansanugrum. This will enhance the “deodorizing effect and mask the odor of garlic flavor.’’ Of ants, elephants, and treesElephants love to eat trees; a herd can quickly ravage a small forest. Indeed, ecologists have long wondered what keeps elephants from converting the African landscape into pure savanna. The answer, a new study has found, is ants. Ants inhabit a specific tree species that’s common in Africa: Acacia drepanolobium, also known as the whistling-thorn tree. When elephants start yanking limbs off these trees, the ants swarm into the animals’ tender trunks and bite and sting—in effect, defending the tree. University of Florida biologist Todd Palmer has shown that elephants actively avoid ant-infested branches; they likely detect the ants’ presence by their acrid odor. The ants’ impact is widespread. Satellite images have revealed that in clay soil, where ant-rich whistling thorn can grow, forest predominates, but in sandy soil, trees are eaten and savanna prevails, says Palmer’s colleague Jacob Goheen. “These little tiny ants are making a difference we can see from outer space.”

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