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11 news posts in Humanities

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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 […]

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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 […]


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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

Dundun drummers in bright blue clothing playing the drums in a rural setting.

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27 Jul 2021

‘Talking drum’ shown to accurately mimic speech patterns of west African language

By Peter Rejcek, science writer The Ifesowapo dùndún ensemble performing in Igbo Ora, southwest Nigeria. Image: Dr Cecilia Durojaye A novel analysis into the acoustical similarities between Yorùbá vocalizations and a west African instrument called the dùndún found a high degree of correlation. The researchers discovered that the talking drum mimics the microstructure of the tonal language and can be categorized into four different modes. In addition, the study emphasizes the value of studying non-western culture to understand various phenomena in mainstream musicology and linguistics that go beyond western domains. Musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton are considered virtuosos, guitarists who could make their instruments sing. Drummers in west Africa who play hourglass-shaped percussion instruments called dùndúns can make their instrument not only sing, but talk. New research published in the journal Frontiers in Communication is one of the first to show the high degree of acoustic correlation between these talking drums and the spoken Yorùbá language. Dùndún drumming is a musical-oral tradition where skilled drummers, manipulating the intensity and pitch of the instrument, can mimic Yorùbá, a tonal language mainly spoken in southwest Nigeria. Dubbed ‘talking drums’, dùndúns can be used as purely musical instruments or what scientists […]

To tackle the sharp decline in lion numbers, conservation research should consider wild prey, livestock and the environment, not just human-lion interaction -- and go beyond the fields of biology, wildlife conservation and environmental science to include ecology, economics, sociology and the humanities: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

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22 Jun 2018

Lion conservation research can be bolstered by input from a wide-range of professionals

Lion conservation research should go beyond human-lion conflict to include ecology, economics, sociology and the humanities: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution