Photo: By Jono Haysom on Flickr
The holidays are here again. That means family, and family means listening to insane, ill-informed debates over every subject imaginable.But just because your relatives are old and probably a little crazy doesn’t mean everything they say is nonsense.
When it comes to some of that old down-home folksy wisdom, for example, they’re actually right.
This advice is probably older than the very concept of advice itself. Anytime someone's on the verge of a big decision, someone will inevitably tell them to sleep on it before making up their mind.
This sounds like the kind of tip that would only be handy if you make all major decisions while severely sleep deprived, but even if you can knock out 8 hours a night without a problem, it seems that sleeping before deciding still has a huge benefit.
Because our brains work in ways that aren't exactly rational even at the best of times, it seems that unconscious thought is far better at coming up with answers to complex decisions than conscious thought.
Even in studies where subjects were given a decision and then distracted for an hour (as opposed to picking something right away), the difference in the quality of decision-making was huge.
Since sleep is a built-in way to not have to think about … well, anything, really, for about 8 hours, it's the simplest way to turn off the conscious part of our brain and outsource the decision-making to the unconscious.
Before and after any given major unforeseen disaster, you'll hear anecdotes from people who claim that their pets or some other wildlife somehow sensed the disaster and warned them in time.
It constantly pops up in disaster movies, where the family dog will sense some impending cataclysm while its owners remain blissfully unaware.
Cujo might not have a Spidey-sense for catastrophe, but he does know something.
Reports following the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami showed that the impact on local fauna was minimal.
Animals sought higher ground, found shelter, or, in the case of house pets, refused to go outside at all during the hours leading up to the tsunami. As a result, few animals died during the tsunami compared to humans.
But it's not magic. Animals just tend to have sharper senses than we do, which allows them to, for example, hear the infrasound (extremely low-frequency noise) that earthquakes make.
Other animals may literally have sixth (or seventh or eighth) senses that allow them to detect things we don't: birds can sense electromagnetic fields, and snakes are extremely sensitive to vibration.
Even animals with none of those things can simply take notice of the others and follow along.
When you were a kid, there's a 99.99 per cent chance that you were told by someone, at some point, not to swallow your chewing gum.
The reason why can vary based on geographic area. According to some people, it's because gum gets stuck in your intestinal tract and takes 7 years to digest.
Others say it's because you'll never digest swallowed gum. Further tellings get right down to it and say that you'll just plain die.
And, if you know anything about old wives' tales and basic human biology at all, you'll know none of those things are true. Well, mostly, anyway.
Because, you see, there is an excellent reason not to swallow your gum, and it sort of connects to all of those.
Swallowing enough gum can lead to what's called a bezoar, which is a really gross lump of indigestible material that gets trapped in the digestive system, causing intestinal blockages.
And yes, it can kill you.
They're most famous for being made out of hair in sufferers of Rapunzel Syndrome -- a disorder that causes people to eat their hair -- but they can technically be made out of anything if there's enough of it to get wound around itself.
To be fair, most sufferers of gum-based bezoars are little kids, who are usually too small to know any better.
Still, in theory, if you're an extremely frequent gum chewer who swallows it to rebel against authority, you might want reconsider your position.
There's so much folk wisdom about pregnancies that Snopes.com has a whole section dedicated to it.
With so much bunk floating around about reproduction, you can pretty much file anything you hear about it into your internal garbage bin.
For example, eating bananas while pregnant will lead you to give birth to a baby boy. It sounds ridiculous, but at least one study suggests that it's true.
There's a catch, though: You can't just feast on bananas for nine months and expect to have a 100 per cent chance at having a boy.
Women need to eat a whole lot of high-energy foods (like bananas) right after conceiving.
Also, it's only about a 56 per cent probability, which doesn't sound a whole lot better than pure chance -- but it's actually quite a large difference.
The exact cause is still a mystery. All we currently know is that high levels of glucose tend to be beneficial to boys and detrimental to girls in the embryonic stage.
In fact, with modern low-calorie diets being popular, there has been a very slight uptick in female births in developed countries.
What's more, this seems to apply to any kind of mammals: Richer, higher-calorie foods also lead to a higher birth rate for males in wildlife as well.
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