Medical Headlines of the Day: Gorilla Blood Pressure, Klansman Avatars, Etc.


Yes, that boldly counterintuitive headline from St. Joseph’s University is hard to top (though their microbiology expert actually makes a good case for using alcohol-based rather than antimicrobial hand sanitizers). But also pretty intriguing is “World’s First Voluntary Gorilla Blood Pressure Reading,” which led us unto sympathy with the poor bastards who previously had to force gorillas to check their blood pressure. It’s meaningful, as cardiac disease is the #1 killer of gorillas in captivity. Zoo Atlanta’s “Gorilla Tough Cuff” has a safety mechanism built in “so that the gorillas would not be injured if they became alarmed or frightened and tried to remove their arm from the cuff,” or just any old arm.

For you gamers there’s a warning from the University of Texas: “Avatars Can Surreptitiously and Negatively Affect User in Video Games, Virtual Worlds.” In their experiments, “participants represented by an avatar in a dark cloak or a KKK-like uniform demonstrated negative or anti-social behavior in team situations.” We thought Klansmen were joiners by nature. The UT experts look at the thing positively: “You can automatically make a virtual encounter more competitive or cooperative by simply changing the connotations of one’s avatar.” So: Klansman for war games, but for the dating chat site, maybe George Clooney, or picture of oneself vertically scaled down 30 percent.

Finally, “Scientists Find Link Between Smell and Memory” details an interesting experiment from the Current Biology journal: subjects were subjected to smells — alternately pleasant and unpleasant — along with visual stimuli. The experiment was repeated, but with different smells accompanying the visuals. Subjects were then returned a week later to encounter the visuals again, sans smells. Brain scans showed that “even if the subject recalled both odors equally, the first association revealed a distinctive pattern of brain activity” — that is, if you first associated Grandma with the smell of cookies, you’re likely to associate her with cookies even if she now smells like cigarettes and Gold Bond medicated power. Finally, cognitive scientist can find something to relate to in Proust.