It’s not a cry of joy; it’s a scream of pain

Expressions numbered 1,4,6 show tennis player’s face on losing a point; expressions numbered 2,3,5 show a player after winning a point).                                                                             (Credit: Reuters: used with permission)

Expressions numbered 1,4,6 show tennis player’s face on losing a point; expressions numbered 2,3,5 show a player after winning a point).
(Credit: Reuters: used with permission)

We’re not as good at interpreting facial expressions as we think we are. In a series of studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researchers presented test groups with photos of highly intense facial expressions in a variety of real-life emotional situations. In one study, subjects saw photos of professional tennis players who had just lost or won a point.

The subjects could easily tell whether a player had won or lost the point when they saw photos of the player’s face and body, or even just the body (with the face removed). But when they were shown the face alone, their ratings were no better than chance. Nevertheless, the subjects who rated photos of the face and body were certain that it was the face and not the body that held the emotional clues.

In another study using photos of faces in intense positive and negative situations (for example orgasm or victory as opposed to grief or pain), subjects were unable to correctly identify the situation after viewing only the face. When the faces were “planted” on bodies expressing either positive or negative emotion, the subjects identified the emotions correctly, on the basis of the body.

Haifa-Acco cruise line to start operations in March 2013

Haifa, with the Baha’i Gardens and golden-domed temple in its center, is Israel’s prettiest city. Just 16 miles to the north, Acco, which has fascinating archaeological finds from the Crusader and other periods, is a gem that is often left out of crowded tourist itineraries. Now the two cities are to become more accessible to visitors thanks to a new cruise line, scheduled to begin operations on March 15, 2013.

The current plan is for two sailings a day in each direction. The ship can carry up to 220 passengers on the 30-minute trip. Both cities plan to offer combination tickets for the cruise and attractions.

Wake up and smell the … white?

There’s white light and there’s white noise. But white smells?
Weizmann Institute researchers have discovered that there really is such a thing as a white smell—that is, a combination of scents that is “neutral.” That is, it is neither pleasant nor unpleasant and is indistinguishable from another, totally different, combination of scents.

Researchers in the institute’s neurobiology department experimented with 86 scents to create a map of our range of perception and then blended the scents in various combinations. For the combinations to be indistinguishable, the components of each had to span the range of human perception and be of exactly the same intensity.

The researchers presented two scent combinations at a time to subjects and asked them to rate the similarity between them. When more scents were included in the blends, subjects tended to rate different blends as identical, even when the blends had no components in common.

The findings contravene the accepted wisdom about smell, and especially the view that our sense of smell is like a machine that detects odor molecules. The findings suggest that we perceive odors as a whole, rather than as the individual scents they comprise.

Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

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