Mummified Iceman Was European; People Prefer Familiar-Looking Body Types

David Wagner
Mummified Iceman Was European; People Prefer Familiar-Looking Body Types

Discovered: Researchers confirm Ötzi's ancestry; weight hatred withers with visibility of body type diversity; compliments inspire better work; a machine that speaks Mandarin for you.

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The Iceman came from Europe. When scientists unearthed a Neolithic mummy dubbed Ötzi the Iceman from the Italian Alps in 1991, the question on everyone's mind was where he came from. It's taken 21 years to get to the bottom of that question, but a team of geneticists led by Stanford University's Martin Sikora has now ruled out a leading theory that he was genetically linked to the first batch of migrants from the island of Sardinia to the European continent. Their new study concludes that 5,000-year-old Ötzi was part of a band of roaming farmers who covered terrain all the ways from the Middle East up to Finland. Though he had Sardinian blood, he did not come from the island, the scientists conclude. "Maybe Ötzi was just a tourist, maybe his parents were Sardinian and he decided to move to the Alps," says Sikora. [Scientific American]

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Cues affect body type prejudice. It's a strange paradox, that most Americans are overweight yet fatism remains a commonly held prejudice. Maybe the conflict stems from the fact that we tend to only see trim and muscular in the media. Durham University's Lynda Boothroyd was able to show that experimental subjects who looked at photos of overweight women in neutral clothing for long periods of time became more tolerant of their body types. The converse was also true—when the subjects looked at photos of similarly attired anorexic women, they tended to favor thinner body types. "All you have to do is watch five minutes of TV and you see more thin bodies than you would all day on the street," says Boothroyd, who thinks her research implicates the media in our perceptions of body type. [NPR]

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You too can speak Mandarin (through this machine). Jet-setting businessmen who want to communicate with their Chinese associates but don't want to take the time to actually learn Mandarin are in luck. Microsoft Research did them a solid by inventing a machine that converts spoken English into Mandarin in near real time. Not only that, but it outputs the Mandarin in a tone that sounds remarkably similar to the original speaker's voice. It's like having your own personal Mandarin interpreter, except it's you, and you're a machine. Microsoft's Tjianjin, China-based lead researcher Rick Rashid says, "In a few years we hope we'll be able to break down the language barriers between people." [New Scientist]

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Compliments inspire the best work. Japanese scientists have found a physiological basis for the idea that compliments go farther than criticism when leaders want their underlings to perform better. Scientists led by National Institute for Physiological Sciences's Norihiro Sadato have previously shown that the brain's striatum area lights up when receiving compliments, and now they've shown that striatum stimulation leads to stronger results when subjects are asked to perform tasks like memorizing and quickly punching in codes on a keyboard. "To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money," says Professor Sadato. "We've been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise." [National Institute for Physiological Sciences]