The Ig Nobel Prizes were developed in 1991 to reward improbable research, specifically research that makes people laugh and then makes them think. The awards focus on research that is unusual, imaginative and that helps satisfy people’s curiosity. As it is nearly Christmas, we thought we would use this Healthily Psyched blog post to share some of the most interesting (and vaguely Health Psychology related) Ig Nobel Prize winners:

Are night owls more likely to be psychopaths?

Night owls, or people who habitually stay up late, are on average, more psychopathic, more manipulative and more narcissistic than early birds, according to a study which won the Psychology Prize in 2014. Researchers surveyed 263 students on a series of personality traits and found those who habitually stayed up late were more likely to score higher on the Dark Triad (narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism). The authors postulate that this is due to Dark Triad traits being adaptive for darkness, solitude and night time living. However, night owls need not worry too much about becoming a psychopath, as the correlations between personality traits and chronicity were all small (r=.13-.20)

How can anyone not like cheese?

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In 2017, the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Jean-Pierre Royet and colleagues for their paper entitled ‘The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study’. This study involved 15 people who liked cheese and 15 people who did not like cheese being exposed to both images and odours of cheese. fMRI results showed that certain parts of the brain (basal ganglia structures) were more activated in those who disliked cheese than in participants who liked to eat cheese. Whilst these results show clear differences in brain activation between cheese lovers and cheese haters, it fails to explain how anyone could not like cheese.

Ugly art and lasers

Some people may find that attending art galleries for hours on end is a painful experience, however they may change their minds after reading the following study. In 2014, the Art Prize was awarded to a study investigating the relative pain people suffered while looking at paintings rated ugly, neutral and pretty, while being shot by a powerful laser beam. Paintings viewed as beautiful produced lower pain scores in comparison to neutral and ugly paintings. This led the authors to suggest that pain can be modulated at the cortical level by the aesthetic content of distracting stimuli. In other words, beauty and ugliness exert a different effect on pain. We look forward to seeing the fascinating interventions which may stem from this study for chronic pain conditions, but it gives a whole new meaning to the quote, ‘art is pain’.

Is it mentally hazardous to own a cat?

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The 2014 Public Health Prize was awarded to a series of studies investigating whether it was mentally hazardous for human beings to own a cat, mostly due to the existence of the parasite Toxoplasma gondi which is transmitted from cats to humans. This parasite can change the behaviour of rats so that instead of fearing the smell of cat urine, they become attracted to it, thus making them more likely to be eaten by a cat and further spreading toxoplasmosis. This research compared people with and without toxoplasmosis on a series of mental health and personality related factors. Results showed that people who were toxoplasma-positive had lower guilt proneness and were less impulsive and less disorderly. Similar studies have drawn links between toxoplasmosis and suicide, depression and schizophrenia. Whilst this may signal bad news for some cat-owning members of the Healthy Psyched blog team, the NHS says we shouldn’t be too concerned about findings like these, and other large rigorous studies have shown no links between cat ownership and mental health problems.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder

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The results of this next study are useful to keep in mind at any forthcoming Christmas parties. In 2013, the Psychology Prize was awarded to Laurent Bègue and colleagues from the University of Grenoble. The study was conducted within a naturalistic setting (a bar-room) in which ‘customers’ were breathalysed to measure blood alcohol level, and rated how attractive, bright, original and funny they believed they were. Results suggested that the higher their blood alcohol level, the more attractive participants rated themselves as. In a further study, they found that participants need not have consumed any alcohol at all, but that the mere belief that one has consumed alcohol increases self-perceived attractiveness, thereby supporting dual-process alcohol models suggesting alcohol stimuli operate on implicit expectancies. Unfortunately, the first part of this study was correlational so it is not certain whether more attractive people drink more. Nor did it test whether intoxicated participants were in fact, more attractive.

How to take a good group photo

christmas 4Successful shot of the Healthily Psyched blog team.

In 2006, the Mathematics Prize was awarded to Nic Svenson and CSIRO scientist Dr Piers Barne, for determining how many photos you need to take in order to find one where no one is blinking. After determining that blinks are completely random and independent of each other, Nic and Piers calculated the average number of blinks per minute (10), the average length of a blink (250 milliseconds), and the camera shutter length (8 milliseconds). It was then possible to model how many shots you would need to be almost certain of getting a good photo. Results gave a useful rule of thumb for photographing less than 20 people: divide the number of people by three in good light, or two in bad light.

Other interesting Ig Nobel Prize winners:

  • Medicine Prize (2015): For discovering that some allergic reactions may be reduced following intense kissing or sexual intercourse.
  • Medicine Prize (2011): For investigating how decision making changes when people have a strong urge to urinate.
  •   Veterinary Medicine Prize (2009): For showing that cows who are nameless give less milk than cows who have names.
  • Economics Prize (2008): For the discovery that lap dancers earn higher tips when they are ovulating.
  • Aviation Prize (2007): For the strange discovery that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters.

This post was written by Zoë Moon and Elaina Taylor. If you have any further interesting health psychology related studies you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, thanks for reading our post and we hope to leave you healthily psyched until next year.