Anna's Blog / Students Blogs

From the mind and body to animal reproduction by Anna

Hi, I’m Anna.

Late, I know. Blogging is a new, scary thing for me, and the challenge of writing about these events with the enthusiasm that they deserve is just a little daunting.

It’s day three of the festival and there’s so much to see and do that I won’t drone on about of of them, but will give daily reports of the events that really grabbed me.

Of course, day one, event one, i found myself in at the deep end. The talk was titled ‘how the body shapes the mind’ – a concept that as a biologist with limited experience in psychology I found tricky to comprehend. Speaker Stefano Cappa gave insight into how the traditional distinction between processes such as perception and action, and higher order processes such as language and comprehension is being questioned. With this idea came electroencephalograms (EEG) scans of the brain, highlighting how hearing action verbs about a specific part of the body would activate the section of the brain required for moving this body part. Additionally, abstract and physical words can collide in the mind, for example losing money – a non physical ordeal – during gambling has been shown to activate brain pain regions.

The talk took a turn to focus on human perception with Gun Semin, who engaged the audience with a bold title of ‘why the bride doesn’t wear black’. Through a series of experiments, Gun has questioned the relationship between perception and sexes. It has been realised that male names are faster recognised in black than white on a gray background (and vice versa for female names). This relationship has been shown to extend to colour brightness, with male names being faster recognised when presented in darker colours – and so Gun went on to question why. Instead of being presented to study participants in light or dark shades, adjectives implying lightness and darkness preceded the name and yes, you’ve guessed it, adjectives linked to darkness facilitated faster recognition of male names. Further exploration identified adjectives linked to potency as causing this effect, with less potent adjectives such as soft being associated with female names, and more potent adjectives such as hard being associated with male names.

My question is how long has this relationship occurred? Are these relationships hard wired into us along with our genetics, or is it a result of social perception, which changed through time? If this experiment had been performed in Victorian ages, in a time where male babies wore pink and female blue, would the results change?

I cannot write about my first day here without mentioning Simon Watts lectures, Dissections Uncut and Sperm Warfare. Simon told anecdotes of experiences which unfortunately didn’t make the final cut for Inside Natures Giants, and not for reasons like lack of interest and lack of animals. No, they couldn’t be screened for reasons such as the film crew being unable to film, as they were too busy being in hysterics after watching Simon being hit in the face with a half eaten rat!

Being a huge fan of random facts, I have to give a few learnt in the dissections uncut talk. Firstly, a blue whale has ten tonnes of blood and a heart the size of a small car. One fin whales lung weighs double the weight of an adult human male. When opening their mouths to eat krill, Baleen whales double in weight due to water intake. And lastly, as kindly demonstrated by film, when threatened a snake can regurgitate it’s prey (which in this case turned out to be a deer) in order to lose the excess weight, for an attack or a quit getaway.

In regards to the sperm warfare lecture, my interesting facts are somewhat lacking as I spent the time with my mouth gaping open, shocked by learning some of the strange ways of animal reproduction. What I do remember (stop reading now if easily grossed out or offended) is that animals are polygamists. Well known I’m sure, but did you know that a rooster will give each hen a set amount of sperm, and half again each time. He can even fake ejaculation.

The talk of four prongues penises and permanently oendulant breasts, amongst much much more, captured the attention of the entire audience. But then again, I’m sure Simin Watts is capable of capturing any audiences attention with both his amazing experiences and contagious passion and enthusiasm.

I’ll stop blogging now and update you as often as possible with other festival highlights.

Thanks for listening!

Anna

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