A few of my favorite things

Eye-Catching Experiments

June 15, 2020

Every week studies catch our attention, too many for each to get an article. We share them informally on social media and with friends but decided to share them with our readers, too, in a new column: Eye-Catching Experiments. 

Studies may be newly published or new-to-us studies. We included publishing dates. A formal reference for each study sits at the foot of this page. Citation numbers match the story numbers.

Study #1

Winner of the Titling Excellence Award

flowering pear tree

“Cash Me Outside:
Transfers to the poor linked to eco-benefits.”

 June 11, 2020

→ Indonesia’s national anti-poverty program reduced deforestation by about 30%. The find is shocking because poverty elimination is often framed as necessarily bad for the environment.

→ Half of the forests protected by the program were primary forests—bio-diverse ecosystems with great strength—often including old-growth trees.

→ “If what we found in Indonesia generalizes. . . it would provide some hope that global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and reverse the loss of biodiverse ecosystems can be complementary,” says Dr. Paul Ferraro, a distinguished professor from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author on the study.

Study #2

Bacteria in the gut regulate the body’s conversion of cortisol into androgen

June 13, 2020

→Androgens, a sex hormone, play a role in a long list of diseases including endocrine and immune disorders, so understanding how cortisol becomes androgen is critical.

→ The researchers propose developing a therapeutic to stop microbes from converting cortisol into disease-promoting steroids.

Study #3

roll, sanitary, tissue

Personality traits linked to toilet paper stockpiling

June 12, 2020

→ The elderly stockpiled more than younger people, and Americans stockpiled more than Europeans.

→ Feeling threatened by COVID-19, high emotionality and conscientiousness increased the odds that someone would buy excess toilet paper.

Study #4

People from wealthier background have a uniquely high sense of entitlement

June 12, 2020

→ High socioeconomic status people (high social, economic, or educational status) often grew up in higher-status families.

→The highest sense of entitlement, believing themselves to be especially deserving of resources and privileges, appeared in people who had high status as both a child and an adult. 

→ Social mobility—someone changing their status in society—has decreased in recent decades, so most people with high socioeconomic status also grew up with high status. 

→ This lack of mobility inflates the sense of entitlement felt by privileged parties.

Study #5

Gut microbiome diversity relates to human personality traits

March 2020

→ High populations of certain types of bacteria predicted personality traits.

→ Social people often had a higher number of different bacteria species living in their gut. If your gut is a farm and you are the farmer, the farm with the entire cast of Old McDonald Had A Farm has a more social farmer than the farm with only one kind of animal.

→ Anxiety and stress linked with fewer types of bacteria—low diversity microbiome—but it is not clear if the personality traits or the microbes came first. We need more research.

This study supports the idea that the gut-brain connection strongly ties to behavior and psychiatric disorders.  

→ Feeling threatened by COVID-19, high emotionality and conscientiousness increased the odds that someone would buy excess toilet paper.

Study #6

Motherhood had a significant protective effect on brain function in late life.

June 11, 2020

→ Many changes happen during pregnancy, but few examined the effect of these changes or how long the changes lasted.

→ Using advanced imaging—functional magnetic resonance imaging—researchers found concrete evidence that parenthood may protect the mind in old age.

→ Women who parented more children had a protective effect that was “dose-dependent,” meaning more kids equaled more mental protection. This says that motherhood may benefit brain function in later life.



Study #7

Dwarf crocodile

Climate change may alter the male-to-female ratio in some species leading to extinction

June 8, 2020

→ All crocodiles, some turtles, lizards, and fish have no sex until a temperature-sensitive period of development. The temperature makes the embryo male or female. 

If the temperatures shift too much, the number of males and females may change. The number of reversed animals, animals that are genetically female but appear male, may increase.

→ Some females preferred sex-reversed mates over the typical males, and this affected their female offspring’s preference for mates.

→ If temperature changes resulted in higher numbers of sex-reversed males, followed by females preferring the sex-reversed males (genetically female) to typical males (genetically male), it could lead to extinction.

Study #8

chinese pickled cabbage, preserved snow vegetable

Bacteria in Chinese pickles can prevent cavities

April 30 2020

→ Rats in the study had fewer and less severe dental cavities when given the bacteria from Chinese pickles

→ Bacteria from traditional Sichuan pickles prevented bacteria from forming colonies and may be a means to prevent dental cavities.

NOTE: So far, this is hopeful for rats only. We must show it in humans before it gives hope for humans.


Studies #9 & 10

Past stress and trauma do not create more resilient people

June 11, 2020

→ A Brown University study found the risk for PTSD and MDD increased after a natural disaster.

→ A second study found that stress and trauma in childhood decrease resilience to chronic pain. Some theorize that the stress affects the brain as it matures.

Supporting study: Stressful Experiences in Youth: “Set-up” for Diminished Resilience to Chronic Pain

→ Exposure to stressful, traumatic events was closely linked to chronic pain.

→ They linked chronic pain and psychological stress in both adult and childhood populations, meaning those who have a rough start, may suffer for it into adulthood. 

Scroll to end of page for references.

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Novel Science


1) Cash Me Outside: Transfers to the Poor Linked to Eco-Benefits « News from The Johns Hopkins University, n.d. URL https://releases.jhu.edu/2020/06/12/cash-me-outside-transfers-to-the-poor-linked-to-eco-benefits/ (accessed 6.14.20).

2) Bernardi, R.C., Doden, H.L., Melo, M.C.R., Devendran, S., Pollet, R.M., Mythen, S.M., Bhowmik, S., Lesley, S.A., Cann, I., Luthey-Schulten, Z., Koropatkin, N.M., Ridlon, J.M., 2020. Bacteria on steroids: the enzymatic mechanism of an NADH-dependent dehydrogenase that regulates the conversion of cortisol to androgen in the gut microbiome. bioRxiv 2020.06.12.149468. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.12.149468

3) Garbe, L., Rau, R., Toppe, T., 2020. Influence of perceived threat of Covid-19 and HEXACO personality traits on toilet paper stockpiling. PLoS ONE 15, e0234232. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234232

4) Côté, S., Stellar, J.E., Willer, R., Forbes, R.C., Martin, S.R., Bianchi, E.C., 2020. The Psychology of Entrenched Privilege: High Socioeconomic Status Individuals From Affluent Backgrounds Are Uniquely High in Entitlement. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 014616722091663. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220916633

5) Johnson, K.V.-A., 2020. Gut microbiome composition and diversity are related to human personality traits. Human Microbiome Journal 15, 100069. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.humic.2019.100069

6) Orchard, E.R., Ward, P.G., Chopra, S., Storey, E., Egan, G.F., Jamadar, S.D., 2020. Neuroprotective effects of motherhood on brain function in late-life: a resting state fMRI study (preprint). Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.09.143511

7) Nemesházi, E., Kövér, S., Bókony, V., 2020. Evolutionary and demographic consequences of temperature-induced masculinization under climate warming: the effects of mate choice (preprint). Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.08.139626

8) Zhang, G., Lu, M., Liu, R., Tian, Y., Vu, V.H., Li, Yang, Liu, B., Kushmaro, A., Li, Yuqing, Sun, Q., 2020. Inhibition of Streptococcus mutans Biofilm Formation and Virulence by Lactobacillus plantarum K41 Isolated From Traditional Sichuan Pickles. Front. Microbiol. 11, 774. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.00774

9, 10) Fernandez, C.A., Choi, K.W., Marshall, B.D.L., Vicente, B., Saldivia, S., Kohn, R., Koenen, K.C., Arheart, K.L., Buka, S.L., 2020. Assessing the relationship between psychosocial stressors and psychiatric resilience among Chilean disaster survivors. Br J Psychiatry 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.88

Nelson, S., Burns, M., McEwen, B., Borsook, D., 2020. Stressful Experiences in Youth: “Set-up” for Diminished Resilience to Chronic Pain. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity – Health 100095. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbih.2020.100095