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57 news posts in Humanities


30 Oct 2023

Study of 1,000 selfies helps explain how we use them to communicate

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ From a painting on the wall to a photo on your phone, selfies have always been a form of communication. But what are we trying to communicate with them and how are we doing it? To develop semantic profiles of this visual language, scientists asked people to look at a thousand selfies and describe their first impressions. People have used self-portraits to communicate information about themselves for centuries — and digital cameras make it easier to share a self-portrait than ever before. But even though selfies are now almost ubiquitous, we don’t understand how people use them to communicate. So scientists from the University of Bamberg set out to investigate the semantics of selfies. “Although the term ‘selfies’ is now celebrating its 21st birthday, and although selfies are known in art history for nearly 200 years in photography and more than 500 years in paintings, we still lack a clear classification of the different types of selfies,” said Tobias Schneider, lead author of the study in Frontiers in Communication and PhD student at the Bamberg Graduate School of Affective and Cognitive Sciences. Snapshots of selfhood Previous studies have established that people taking […]


23 Oct 2023

Do people everywhere care less about their cats than their dogs?

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Previous studies have suggested that owners care more about dogs than cats — maybe because dogs are generally considered more affectionate and require more hands-on care. But these studies have used convenience samples and are only based in one country. Scientists surveyed representative samples from Denmark, Austria, and the UK, and found that people generally invest more emotionally and financially in their dogs than their cats, but that the difference is biggest in Denmark and smallest in the UK. This suggests that there is no universal preference for dogs based on their behavior. Do canines get more care? Some studies have suggested pet owners are less emotionally attached to and less willing to finance care for cats than dogs, possibly because of cats’ behavior: cats may be perceived as caring less about humans and needing less care in return. But these studies are often conducted on non-representative samples and don’t consider possible cultural differences in attitudes to pets. A team of scientists led by Dr Peter Sandøe of the University of Copenhagen decided to investigate further. “We and others have found that people are willing to spend much less on their cats […]



25 Sep 2023

Holidays back to the home country could help bilingual children hold on to their family’s original language

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Holding on to a heritage language which isn’t widely spoken in the country of residence is difficult. Scientists find that using the heritage language at home, in daily life, is important to retaining it, but that some of the language skills which are most vulnerable — like vocabulary — are improved by visits to the country of origin. It’s hard to keep a language in the family. Many people who migrate to different countries find that their language of origin has become a heritage language, passed on to future generations with varying degrees of success. These languages come under pressure from the dominant language in a country as well as the lack of opportunities to practice and fluent speakers to practice with. So how do kids use or retain heritage languages? And can visits to their parents’ countries of origin help them increase their fluency? “The role of parental language use in the country of residence is well-established,” said Prof Vicky Chondrogianni of the University of Edinburgh and Dr Evangelia Daskalaki of the University of Alberta, authors of the study in Frontiers in Language Science. “Here we show how the opportunities to […]


22 Jun 2023

Breaking down invisible barriers for LGBTQIA+ in STEM

By Dr Aswathi K Sivan and Dr Andrew L Miller June is the month of the year dedicated to LGBTQIA+ pride. In a previous post, we interviewed Dr Alfredo Carpineti (chair of the association Pride in STEM) and we talked about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in science and research. As we mentioned, Frontiers is proud to offer a platform for the empowerment of openly-LGBTQIA+ editors. Specifically, the journal Frontiers in Nanotechnology recently launched a special issue with an editorial team composed fully of openly queer researchers in nanotechnology. We asked this editorial team to share with us their point of view, so as to be able to focus the attention on relevant themes and really offer an empowering platform to the community we wish to represent. The following opinion piece is from Dr Aswathi K Sivan (University of Basel), in collaboration with Dr Andrew L Miller (Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics). LGBTQIA+ scientists have made significant contributions to their respective fields, despite the myriad of barriers they face. The pioneering works of several scientists such as Alan Turing, Lynn Conway, and Ben Barres have paved the way for a greater acceptance and inclusivity of LGBTQIA+ people in the scientific community. Despite all the […]


03 Mar 2023

Scientists find that people use emojis to hide, as well as show, their feelings

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: Scientists asked 1,289 people who use emojis to respond to internet chat messages and report their feelings and emoji use. They found that more emojis were used between closer friends, that using positive emojis to express positive feelings correlated with personal wellbeing, and that positive emojis could be used to mask the expression of negative feelings. Have you ever received an unwanted gift and still said ‘thank you’? This choice to hide a negative emotion is a display rule — one of many which define socially appropriate responses to emotions. Although display rules can promote interpersonal harmony, they can also have negative consequences for the person choosing to change how they express emotions. As more social interaction goes online, scientists are investigating how emojis are used to reflect our emotions in different contexts. Are there display rules that apply to emojis, and how do those affect people’s wellbeing? “As online socializing becomes more prevalent, people have become accustomed to embellishing their expressions and scrutinizing the appropriateness of their communication,” said Moyu Liu of the University of Tokyo, who investigated this question in a study published in Frontiers in Psychology. “However, I […]


07 Feb 2023

Proof that Neanderthals ate crabs is another ‘nail in the coffin’ for primitive cave dweller stereotypes

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: Tomasz Ochocki/ Scientists studying archaeological remains at Gruta da Figueira Brava, Portugal, discovered that Neanderthals were harvesting shellfish to eat – including brown crabs, where they preferred larger specimens and cooked them in fires. Archeologists say this disproves the idea that eating marine foods gave early modern humans’ brains the competitive advantage. In a cave just south of Lisbon, archeological deposits conceal a Paleolithic dinner menu. As well as stone tools and charcoal, the site of Gruta de Figueira Brava contains rich deposits of shells and bones with much to tell us about the Neanderthals that lived there – especially about their meals. A study published in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology shows that 90,000 years ago, these Neanderthals were cooking and eating crabs. “At the end of the Last Interglacial, Neanderthals regularly harvested large brown crabs,” said Dr Mariana Nabais of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA), lead author of the study. “They were taking them in pools of the nearby rocky coast, targeting adult animals with an average carapace width of 16cm. The animals were brought whole to the cave, where they were roasted on coals and […]


26 Oct 2022

‘Virtual autopsy’ identifies a 17th century mummified toddler hidden from the sun

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: Riderfoot/ Scientists used a ‘virtual autopsy’ to examine the mummy of a child found in an aristocratic family crypt, revealing him most probably as Reichard Wilhelm (1625-1626). Despite his wealthy background, the child experienced extreme nutritional deficiency and a tragically early death from pneumonia. A team of scientists based in Germany have examined a 17th century child mummy, using cutting-edge science alongside historical records to shed new light on Renaissance childhood. The child was found in an aristocratic Austrian family crypt, where the conditions allowed for natural mummification, preserving soft tissue that contained critical information about his life and death. Curiously, this was the only unidentified body in the crypt, buried in an unmarked wooden coffin instead of the elaborate metal coffins reserved for the other members of the family buried there. The team, led by Dr Andreas Nerlich of the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen, carried out a virtual autopsy and radiocarbon testing, and examined family records and key material clues from the burial, to try to understand who the child was and what his short life looked like. “This is only one case,” said Nerlich, lead author of the paper published today […]


09 Sep 2022

Scientific ‘detective work’ reveals South American mummies were brutally murdered

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Sketch from the book by Reiss and Stübel (1887. The necropolis at Ancon) on the excavations and findings at the necropolis of Ancon, Peru. As it was typical at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, the content of graves was examined on the spot: mummy bundles and objects worth selling were taken away, invaluable items discarded. An international team used interdisciplinary techniques including 3D CT to do a ‘virtual autopsy’ on three mummies found in Peru and Chile, dating to between 900 and 1300 CE. They show that both male mummies had been murdered. These results highlight the wealth of archeological information that can be gained from mummies, as opposed to from skeletons. How frequent was violence in prehistoric human societies? One way to measure this is to look for trauma in prehistoric human remains. For example, a recent review of pre-Columbian remains found evidence of trauma from violence in 21% of males. So far, most studies of this kind focused on skulls and other parts of the skeleton, but a potentially richer source of information are mummies, with their preserved soft tissues. Now in a new study in Frontiers in […]


16 Aug 2022

A virtual trip to the museum can improve the health of seniors stuck at home

By Peter Rejceck, science writer Image credit: SeventyFour / Social isolation can have devastating health effects, especially for elderly people. A number of studies have shown that art is not only good for the soul, but can also improve both physical and mental well-being. Researchers in Canada investigated whether these art-based benefits could be delivered digitally through virtual museum tours. They found that indeed older adults who attended weekly guided tours online felt less frail – offering a public health model to promote healthy aging. Scientists have long known that social isolation is associated with a number of health problems, including increased risks for stroke and heart disease, as well as mental decline and even premature death. The risks are especially acute for older adults, who are more likely to be socially isolated and lonely. The coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated the problem due to the need for social distancing, particularly to protect the health of the world’s elderly population. But the same digital technologies that helped workers connect remotely could help older adults become more physically, mentally and socially healthy when combined with interactive art-based activities. That’s the conclusion from a new study published in the journal Frontiers in […]


18 Jul 2022

Verbal insults trigger a ‘mini slap to the face’, finds new research

By Suzanna Burgelman, Frontiers science writer Image: Ken stocker/ Hearing insults is like receiving a “mini slap in the face”, regardless of the precise context the insult is made in. That is the conclusion of a new paper published in Frontiers in Communication. The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) and skin conductance recordings to compare the short-term impact of repeated verbal insults to that of repeated positive or neutral evaluations. The results provide us with a unique opportunity to research the intersection between emotion and language. Humans are a highly social species. We rely on ever-changing cooperation dynamics and interpersonal relations to survive and thrive. Words have a big role to play in these relations, as they are tools used to understand interpersonal behavior. As such, words can hurt, but we know little about how the impact of words comes about as someone processes an insult. “The exact way in which words can deliver their offensive, emotionally negative payload at the moment these words are being read or heard is not yet well-understood,” said corresponding author Dr Marijn Struiksma, of Utrecht University. Because insults pose a threat against our reputation and against our ‘self’, they provide a unique opportunity to research […]


21 Mar 2022

Leftovers in prehistoric pots let scientists peek into the kitchen of an ancient civilization

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers Science writer Image credit: Marko Kukic / Scientists studied animal lipids and microscopical remains of plants in vessels from the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization and preceding Copper Age cultures in northern Gujarat, India. By reconstructing the ancient ingredients, their diverse origin, and the ways of preparation, they find evidence for surprising continuity in ‘foodways’ over 1300 years with great cultural change. How do you reconstruct the cookery of people who lived thousands of years ago? Bones and plant remains can tell us what kind of ingredients were available. But to reconstruct how ingredients were combined and cooked, scientists need to study ancient cooking vessels. “Fatty molecules and microscopic remains from plants such as starch grains and phytoliths – silica structures deposited in many plant tissues – get embedded into vessels and can survive over long periods,” said Dr Akshyeta Suryanarayan, a researcher at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, and co-author on a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. In the new study, Suryanarayan and co-authors analyzed such ‘leftovers’ in Copper and Bronze Age vessels – including pots, vases, goblets, jars, and platters – from today’s Gujarat, India. “Our study is […]


09 Mar 2022

Ancient art and genetics combine to reveal origin of world’s most expensive spice

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Harvest of saffron crocuses. Image credit: Petia_is / Shutterstock In a new review, researchers showcase how the first likely depictions of the domesticated saffron crocus date from Bronze Age Greece. This evidence, which suggests that the species was first domesticated in Greece by approximately 1700 BCE, converges with recent genetic studies which showed that its closest wild relative only occurs in Greece. Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is extracted from the flowers of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. It has been grown for thousands of years in the Mediterranean region. But when and where was saffron first domesticated by our ancestors? In a review in Frontiers in Plant Science, researchers conclude that lines of evidence from ancient art and genetics converge on the same region. “Both ancient artworks and genetics point to Bronze Age Greece, in approximately 1700 BCE or earlier, as the origin of saffron’s domestication,” said Ludwig Mann, one of the leading authors and a PhD student at Technische Universität Dresden, Germany. ► Read original article► Download original article (pdf) The genus Crocus, with approximately 250 species, ranges from South and Central Europe and North Africa to Western China. Unlike domesticated saffron, these […]


15 Oct 2021

Current diversity and inclusion efforts in STEM still undermine minority groups

By Dr Karina Judd and Dr Merryn McKinnon, Australian National University Image: ReeldealHD on Offset/ Dr Karina Judd is a doctoral researcher in science communication at the Australian National University. She is interested in the science-society interface with her current work focusing on inclusion, diversity and equity strategies in STEM workplaces. Dr Merryn McKinnon is a senior lecturer in science communication at the Australian National University. Her work explores the relationships between science, media, and publics; and the influence of equity, inclusion and intersectionality in STEM, especially STEM communication. Together, they have published a paper in Frontiers in Communications about how diversity and inclusion within science communication research and practice is created and implemented. Within the last five years, within Australia at least, there has been an increased focus on equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. As two women in STEM ourselves, this was something we felt we should contribute to. But the contributions we have ended up making were not those we originally intended. Merryn started out in marine science and then moved into various science communication roles. Throughout her studies, classes and lecturers were usually a fairly even mix of genders and once in the […]