We all know the sweet relief that comes from scratching an itch. But why does scratching feel so good? And why does it make the itch worse? Why so itchy? An itch is simply a sensation on the skin leading to the desire to scratch. But the science of itching is far from simple – it’s been the subject of decades of research (there’s even a scientific research journal called Itch). Researchers discovered the first […]
Sherpas – sometimes called superhumans – are extraordinary mountaineers who are at home in the peaks of the Himalayas. What is it about Sherpas that enables them to power on at such high altitude? The top of the world Standing at 8,848 m above sea level, the peak of Mt. Everest is not a welcoming place for humans. We need oxygen, and up there, oxygen levels are only a third of those found at sea […]
Love spicy food? Find certain songs calming? You started developing preferences for flavours and sounds while you were still in the womb. And it’s not just us: many animals begin learning about the world around them before they’re even born. Listening from the inside Before you were born, you had a lot to listen to. There was the regular thumping of your mother’s heart, the blood whooshing through her body, and even the rumbling and […]
You’ve probably heard of echolocation. Whales, dolphins and bats all use it to find their way around when their eyes just aren’t up to the task. But did you know some blind humans have learned to do it too? Seeing with sound In the late 1700s, Italian scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani surgically blinded bats in an attempt to work out how they navigate when flying in the dark. He was amazed to discover blind bats could […]
Fish do it, so do reptiles and insects. Mammals – including humans – do it too. The way some birds do it will blow your mind. We’re talking migration. Why do some animals travel around the globe and how do they find their way? And what happens when the habitat they need along the way disappears? Just keep swimming It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to writing about animal migrations: there […]
Making eye contact with someone is powerful: at the very least, it shows you’re listening attentively. But how long before holding someone’s gaze starts to feel uncomfortable? And why is it hard to maintain eye contact and think at the same time? Can’t take my eyes off you From birth, we prefer looking at faces that look directly at us. And from a very early age, our brains respond more to a face looking […]
When was the last time you laughed out loud? Can you remember what set you off? It turns out laughing is more complex than it might appear: we laugh for many different reasons. And some of them aren’t that funny. Is laughter the best medicine? Laughter has been claimed to be good for just about everything, from boosting the immune system, to decreasing stress and lowering blood pressure. There’s some evidence laughter protects against heart disease and […]
Do you blush easily? We tend to blush when we’re embarrassed, ashamed or nervous. Why do our cheeks go red, and why can’t we control it? And does blushing serve a purpose?
Your panic is rising. The walls are closing in. You’re sweating, trembling, having trouble breathing and on the verge of fainting. It’s claustrophobia and it’s all-consuming. Many people experience claustrophobia and it can be utterly debilitating. Why, and what can be done? When the ceiling is too close Last week, I had an MRI. And for the first time, I had an inkling of what claustrophobia must feel like. I couldn’t see out either end of […]
As cute as a… button? Puppy? Kitten? Panda cub? There’s no shortage of things we respond to by saying ‘Awwww, that’s so cute’. But what is it exactly that we find cute, and why? And why do we often feel an overwhelming urge to squeeze cute things?