Human Nature

Fire in the Hole

The lucky anatomy of vaginal orgasms.

New column 2/15 on fat genes. (For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)

College students cheat more when they’re indoctrinated against free will, according to two experiments. First experiment: Students took a math test on which they thought cheating was undetectable. Some, but not others, were told “that science disproves the notion of free will and that the illusion of free will was a mere artifact of the brain’s biochemistry.” Results: 1) “Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating.” 2) Students with lower confidence in free will cheated more than those with higher confidence. Second experiment: Students took another test and were allowed to take $1 from an envelope (again, supposedly undetectable) for each correct answer. Results: Those “who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves,” while those “who read statements endorsing free will did not.” Authors’ warning: As public faith in free will declines, moral behavior may decline with it. (Related: The physical evolution of morality.)

A small study indicates that ultrasound can show whether you have a “G spot” and are capable of vaginal orgasms. Key finding: “Women with a thicker urethrovaginal space were more likely to experience vaginal orgasm.” (Definition: “an orgasm triggered by stimulation of the front vaginal wall without any simultaneous stimulation of the clitoris.”) Enthusiastic conclusions: 1) A scan can show whether you have a G spot. 2) If you don’t, you can’t have vaginal orgasms. 3) This is an anatomical fact, so don’t fret that there’s something you should be doing to change it. 4) In fact, it’s probably genetic. 5) So don’t let the evil drug industry accuse you of sexual dysfunction. 6) However, if you do have a G spot, you might be able to make it bigger with testosterone. Critiques: 1) The “thicker urethrovaginal space” may in fact be part of the clitoris. 2) The thickness may be a result of cultivated sensitivity, in which case every woman has the ability to produce vaginal orgasms … Cynical view: … and the obligation.

Commercial dog cloning has begun. Site: Korea’s Seoul National University, famous for 1) fake human cloning but 2) real dog cloning. Client: An American woman who froze the ear of her dead pit bull terrier, Booger, so he could be replicated. Price: $150,000 per dog, discounted to $50,000 in this case in exchange for publicity rights. Targeted markets: 1) Drug-sniffing dogs. 2) Security dogs. 3) “Medical-diagnostic” dogs. 4) Rich pet owners. Skeptical view: The first cat cloning company is already belly up. Human Nature’s view: Animal cloning will be a huge business, but for industry, not pets. (Related: The case for cloned meat.)

Fat, diabetic, and heart-disease genes may have evolved to survive the cold. Researchers looked for correlations between climate (represented by different populations around the world) and genes related to energy metabolism. Result: They found them. Examples: appetite, sodium retention, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, metabolic rate, BMI, and abdominal girth. Theory: 1) “Climate has been an important selective pressure acting on candidate genes for common metabolic disorders.” 2) Specifically, our ancestors “had to develop genetic variants that made them more efficient in terms of energy metabolism and that made them more able to cope with cold climates by increasing their … ability to generate and maintain heat.” 3) Today, “We eat a lot more, we don’t exercise nearly as much as our ancestors used to do, and these adaptations that made us cope well to a cold climate now make us prone to a number of metabolic disorders.” Human Nature’s takeaway: Today’s genetic superiority (thin and non-diabetic) is yesterday’s genetic inferiority. (Related: Fat genes and responsibility.)

New developments in the New England Patriots videotaping scandal: 1) Coach Bill Belichick reportedly indicated that he’s been taping opponents’ signals since 2000 and perhaps earlier. 2) A former opposing player sued Belichick and the Patriots for allegedly taping his team’s practice. Belichick denies ever taping a practice. 3) Belichick says he thought he could tape opponents’ signals as long as he didn’t use the tape “during that game.” He says his video guys didn’t process their tape “until later in the week.” 4) He says it shouldn’t be called spying, since the signals are visible to everyone. 5) Sports ethicists are asking why it’s OK to watch and write down opponents’ signals but not to tape them. Human Nature’s view: Exactly—the distinction makes no sense.

Andy Pettitte explained his use of human growth hormone but ducked reporters’ questions about Roger Clemens’ alleged use of HGH and steroids. Total confessed usage: two days in 2002 and one day in 2004, prior to Major League Baseball’s ban on HGH. Pettitte’s explanations: 1) “I never took this to get an edge on anyone. I did this to try to get off the DL [disabled list] and to do my job.” 2) It wasn’t banned at the time. 3) “I did it because I was told it might be able to help me. Do I think I’m a cheater? I don’t.” Human Nature’s view: 1) Pettitte has been more candid and contrite than any other doping athlete. 2) His case raises serious questions as to why HGH, but not other injury-repair drugs, should be considered doping. (Related: steroids vs. LASIK; steroids vs. steak; Olympic doping.)

Employers are pushing “mandatory wellness programs.” Motives: 1) Cut health-insurance costs. 2) Boost health and productivity. Old message: Don’t worry, the company will take care of you. New message: Worry, because we’re sick of picking up the tab. Last year’s approach: We’ll charge you an extra $30 per pay period if you smoke or weigh too much. Employees’ response: No way! This year’s approach: We’ll give you an extra $30 per pay period if you don’t smoke or weigh too much. Employees’ response: Great! (Related: paycheck deductions for obesity.)

British activists called for a ban on “ultra-sonic dispersal devices.” The devices drive away teenagers by delivering an unpleasant noise at high frequencies that can be heard only by people under 25. Activists say 3,500 of them are in use. Merchants’ rationale: We use them to drive away “anti-social gangs” that “deter customers, intimidate staff and can commit vandalism and violence.” Objections: 1) The devices “target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are … misbehaving.” 2) “Young people have a right to assemble … without being treated as criminals.” 3) “Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender.” Device inventor’s solution: I’ll “introduce a contract which stipulates to shopkeepers how it can be used.” (Human Nature’s view: Why not achieve the same effect by piping ’70s crap?)

Latest Human Nature columns:  1)  Fat genes and responsibility. 2) The messy biology of human embryos. 3) Obama and the white vote. 4) Bush, stem cells, and stubbornness. 5) Abortion and teen sex. 6) Why the polls botched New Hampshire. 7) The best Human Nature stories of 2007. 8) The top privacy threats of 2007. 9) Are cultural trends changing our genes? 10) The travesty of political robo-calls.