Happiness makes

hit songs: Study

PARIS (AFP): Hit songs today are “happier”, more danceable and more likely to be sung by women than songs that fail to make it to the charts, a study into 30 years of musical evolution revealed Wednesday. But also it noted a somber trend: while people clearly prefer happy music, there is less and less of it. “More and more unhappy songs are being released each year,” a research team from the University of California Irvine reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Overall, they found that “happiness” and “brightness” in music has declined, “while ‘sadness’ increased in the last 30 years or so”.

But hit tunes defy the trend, and tend to be “much” happier than unsuccessful ones - think of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”.

The findings of the study, which analysed the “sound” characteristics of popular tracks but not their lyrics, echoed earlier research showing that “positive emotions” in music was dwindling, the team said.

A previous study covering 1980-2007 found that music lyrics have become more self-centred, with increased use of the words “me” and “I”, fewer social words such as “we”, and more anti-social ones such as “hate” and “kill”.

This trend in lyrics are in tune with overall increases in loneliness, social isolation, and mental disorders across society.

The new study, based on a massive data trawl of 500,000 songs released in Britain between 1985 and 2015, found that as “happy” music declined, so did the popularity of songs sung by men.

“In the recent years, succesful songs are more often sung by females,” said the study.

“This is particularly interesting given a large debate about the role of women in the music industry, especially the issues of gender inequality, stereotypes and the sexualisation of female singers.”

Songs were considered successful if they made it into Top 100 charts, which less than four percent of new releases do every year.

 

 

 

Long legs turn women’s heads,

arm length immaterial

PARIS (AFP): Labouring over the age-old question “What do women look for in men?”, scientists added an item to the list Wednesday: legs slightly longer than average, with a good shin-to-thigh ratio. Long arms, however, fail to impress. In an online survey, some 800 American women preferred faceless male figures “when their legs are slightly longer than average” - but not too long, said study co-author Thomas Versluys of the University of Cambridge.

The women, aged 19-76 from different racial groups, were asked to judge the attractiveness of computer-generated male silhouettes with slight differences in leg- and arm length.

The respondents preferred legs that were just above the average length, but not too long.

They also found figures most attractive “when the ratio between the lower and upper limb segment - shin and thigh - was average,” Versluys told AFP.

However, “we also found that arm length has no effect on attractiveness.”

In the study of sexual selection in humans, limb proportions are known to be an important determinant of attractiveness.

The latest study is the most detailed investigation yet of how short is too short, and how long is too long, said the authors.

The results suggest leg length played an important role in sexual selection and human evolution in the past, and has likely remained a subconscious preference in mate choice.

“It is probably important because it’s a fairly reliable predictor of factors that are relevant in human evolution such as health, developmental trajectory, nutrition, and so forth,” explained Versluys.

So why would arm length, thought to be important for activities such as spear throwing and fishing, be less important to women than the span of their legs?

 

 

 

 

US spacewalkers to swap

and check coolers

TAMPA (AFP): A pair of American astronauts began a spacewalk outside the International Space Station Wednesday to swap and check on two external cooling boxes, nicknamed “Leaky” and “Frosty,” Nasa said. The boxes, each about the size of a mini-refrigerator or window AC unit, are crucial to keeping the batteries aboard the orbiting lab cool. Since they operate using highly toxic ammonia, the spacewalkers must take utmost care not to get any on their suits.

Known formally as pump flow control subassembly boxes, they are both considered spares, and will not interfere with cooling at the station while the work is under way.

“The purpose of the pump flow control subassembly is all about the cooling batteries that the space station holds its electrical power in,” explained Anthony Vareha, a flight director at NASA.

“We need to keep the batteries cool just like in your cell phone.”

The outing by veteran spacewalkers Ricky Arnold, 54, and Drew Feustel, 52, officially began when the duo switched their bulky white spacesuits to internal power at 7:39 am (1139 GMT).

Their main goal during the six-and-a-half hour outing is to move and test one of the spare pumps - called “Frosty” because some time ago it lost its power, which it did not recover for a few months.

“As a result the worry is that that pump got a bit cold and henceforth it was named ‘Frosty,’” said Vareha.

The plan is to move “Frosty” to another spot on the station where it can be powered up and plugged in to find out if it is indeed a healthy spare or not.

In Frosty’s place, they plan to install “Leaky,” which was the source of a large overboard ammonia leak about five years ago.

“All of this swap is to get us best situated so if a pump were to fail in a spot where we really needed it, where it is actually cooling those batteries, we could quickly swap out that pump and keep our cooling going,” Vareha said.

The main danger of the spacewalk involves the high-grade ammonia that runs through the cooling loops. It is about 10 times more powerful than ammonia in household cleaners, and is highly toxic.

“It is something that we are very respectful of because we don’t want that coming inside the vessel on the suits at the end of the spacewalks,” Vareha said.

The spacewalk is the 210th in support of maintenance at the ISS, a space lab the size of a football field that has been circling the Earth for nearly 20 years.

Wednesday’s spacewalking excursion is the eighth of Feustel’s career and the fourth for Arnold.

 

 

 

Tick tock: Study links body

clock to mood disorders

PARIS (AFP): Messing with the natural rhythm of one’s internal clock may boost the risk of developing mood problems ranging from garden-variety loneliness to severe depression and bipolar disorder, researchers said Wednesday. The largest study of its kind, involving more than 91,000 people, also linked interference with the body’s “circadian rhythm” to a decline in cognitive functions such as memory and attention span.

 

 The brain’s hard-wired circadian timekeeper governs day-night cycles, influencing sleep patterns, the release of hormones and even body temperature.

Earlier research had suggested that disrupting these rhythms can adversely affect mental health, but was inconclusive: most data was self-reported, participant groups were small, and potentially data-skewing factors were not ruled out.

For the new study, an international team led by University of Glasgow psychologist Laura Lyall analysed data - taken from the UK Biobank, one of the most complete long-term health surveys ever done - on 91,105 people aged 37 to 73.

The volunteers wore accelerometers that measured patterns of rest and activity and had this record compared to their mental history, also taken from the UK Biobank.

Individuals with a history of disrupting their body’s natural rhythm - working night shifts, for example, or suffering repeated jetlag - also tended to have a higher lifetime risk of mood disorders, feelings of unhappiness, and cognitive problems, the researchers found.

The results held true even when the potential impact of factors such as old age, unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, and childhood trauma were taken into account, they reported in The Lancet Psychiatry, a medical journal.

The study cannot say conclusively that body clock disturbances are what caused the mental risk, instead of the other way round.

But the findings “reinforce the idea that mood disorders are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms,” said Lyall.

Measurements of people’s rest-work cycles could be a useful tool for flagging and treating people at risk of major depression or bipolar disorders, the researchers concluded.

One limitation of the study was the average age of the trial participants - 62.

“Seventy-five percent of [mental] disorders start before the age of 24 years,” said University of Oxford researcher Aiden Doherty, commenting on the paper.

“The circadian system undergoes developmental changes during adolescence, which is also a common time for the onset of mood disorders,” he added.

Humans have been shown to be either “owls” or “larks”, corresponding to so-called genetic “chronotypes” that determine whether we function better at night or during the day.

Last year, the Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to three US scientists who pioneered our understanding of how the circadian clock ticks.