Awkward Silences: Technical Delays Can Diminish Feelings of Unity and Belonging

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Smooth social interaction is fundamental to a sense of togetherness. We’ve all experienced disrupted conversations—some caused by human awkwardness and others by breakdowns in technology. The content of our interactions does influence our connection to each other, but the form and process of communication also play a role.  Technical delays that occur below our conscious detection can still make us feel like we don’t quite click with the person we are trying to communicate with. The authors of a recently published PLOS ONE article, funded by a Google Research Award, investigated how delays introduced into technologically mediated conversations affected participants’ sense of solidarity with each other, defined as unity, belongingness, and shared reality.

For this research, conducted at University of Groningen, The Netherlands, participants in three sets of experiments sat in cubicles with headsets connected to computers (conditions that many of us with desk jobs can relate to) and were asked to talk about holidays for five minutes with an assigned partner. Some conversations were uninterrupted. Others were manipulated by introducing a one-second auditory delay. Some pairs knew about the delay and others did not. Afterward, the conversationalists completed a questionnaire about their sense of unity, belonging, understanding, and agreement with their partners.

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Researchers found that those participants whose conversations were interrupted expressed significantly diminished feelings of unity and belonging. Awareness of technical problems had no apparent effect on perceived solidarity.  Even acquaintances stated that they felt a disconnect, though to a lesser degree, than participants who did not know each other. Despite participants expressing that they felt less unity and belongingness with their partner even when they had the opportunity to attribute it to technical problems, technology did not get a free pass on the delayed signal. Those with an interrupted connection also expressed less satisfaction with the technology. Points may have been lost for both relationships and telecommunications.

In a world where our interactions are increasingly mediated by computers and mobile phones with less than perfect signals, the authors suggest that this research provides insight into how our daily interactions may be affected. The method of communication we choose may influence our personal and business relationships, especially among strangers. The authors also posit that technology meant to improve long distance communication by imitating face-to-face interaction may not measure up to expectations if it is not executed without interruptions or delays. Perhaps this is something to consider during your next awkward phone call or video conference— though your awareness of technology as a possible barrier ultimately may not make a difference in how you perceive the person on the other end of the line.

Citation: Koudenburg N, Postmes T, Gordijn EH (2013) Conversational Flow Promotes Solidarity. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78363. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078363

Images: First image by Villemard is in the public domain. Second image is Supplemetary Figure 1 from the article.

PLOS ONE at AGU 2013

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PLOS ONE is excited to participate in the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting 2013, held this week in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Conveniently, Moscone is just down the street from our San Francisco office, so several members of PLOS staff will be in attendance and available to chat with you about the journal. We’re looking forward to meeting both current and potential Academic Editors, reviewers, and of course authors! Please stop by Booth #301 to say hello.

Last week was a very geophysics-oriented one for us, with both the publication of Hansen et al.’s work “Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” and with the announcement of our call for papers in a new collection entitled “Responding to Climate Change.” What’s more exciting is that James Hansen will be in attendance at AGU and will be giving a talk today (December 10th) on this topic, in support of taking significant, active measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Last year, at AGU 2012, we were a little bit of an unfamiliar face to many. This year, we hope to continue our conversation with the physical sciences community about our commitment to open access and the publication of sound scientific research in all areas of science and medicine, including geoscience, space science, chemistry, and physics.

After AGU, look out for the PLOS booth again in just a few days at the American Society for Cell Biology!

Image Credit: Detailed view of Arctic Sea Ice in 2007, from NASA Visible Earth.

Extra! Extra! Research Making the News in September

As September draws to a close, let’s look back on some of the research that caught the media’s attention, published this month in PLOS ONE: orangutans communicated their travel plans, mice permanently lost their fear of cats, and hibernating lemurs taught us about sleep.

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While orangutans aren’t yet hiring travel agents, researchers recently published findings on these great apes, who apparently love to chat about travel plans. Male Sumatran orangutans develop flanges, large cheek pads, thought to assist in the vocalization of ‘long calls.’  Dominant males produce these calls in a specific direction, for anywhere from eighty seconds to four minutes.

Researchers tracked the movement of the dominant males and fellow orangutans in their arboreal territory after each call and found that the flanged male will travel in the direction of his howl until he produces a new long call along a different route. Local females also use the direction of the long call to stay within range of their dominant male, traveling the same course.  To find out more, check out the following articles in Scientific American, The New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The relationship between mice and cats has taken a surprising turn.  Prior research revealed that mice infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii lost their fear of cats. This month, the tale continues with a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers exposed three types of mice to cat urine: mice never infected with T. gondii, mice currently infected, and mice cleared of the parasite. The cleared mice exhibited no anxiety over the potential threat of a nearby cat.A_Cat_And_Mouse_Game

The researchers suggest that the loss of fear in the mice becomes hardwired and that some parasitic infections may leave a lasting impact. Learn more about this study by visiting Nature, BBC News, and the Smithsonian.

New research on the ridiculously cute fat-tailed dwarf lemurs, — the only known hibernating primates — received highlights in National Geographic, The LA Times, and NBC News.

Researchers studied captive and wild fat-tailed dwarf lemurs, and found that they sleep differently during hibernation than other hibernating mammals. For instance, ground squirrels experience non-REM sleep during moderate temperatures, whereas fat-tailed dwarf lemurs experience mostly REM sleep.

While we don’t know much about why humans and animals sleep, we suspect that temperature and metabolic rate are affected. Now, hibernation isn’t exactly sleep; instead, hibernation is when the body dramatically reduces temperature and metabolic rate to conserve energy. Since both hibernation and sleep relate to the regulation of body temperature and metabolic rate, hibernation research on this little primate could teach us about human sleep, and maybe one day, human hibernation.

Citations:

Ingram WM, Goodrich LM, Robey EA, Eisen MB (2013) Mice Infected with Low-Virulence Strains of Toxoplasma gondii Lose Their Innate Aversion to Cat Urine, Even after Extensive Parasite Clearance. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75246. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075246

Krystal AD, Schopler B, Kobbe S, Williams C, Rakatondrainibe H, et al. (2013) The Relationship of Sleep with Temperature and Metabolic Rate in a Hibernating Primate. PLoS ONE 8(9): e69914. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069914

van Schaik CP, Damerius L, Isler K (2013) Wild Orangutan Males Plan and Communicate Their Travel Direction One Day in Advance. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74896. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074896

Images:

Figure 1 from “Flanged Male Orangutan” by Anita Ritenour

Figure 2 from “Cat + Mouse” by Denis Defreyne

Keywords: orangutan, Sumatra, flanges, long call, hibernation, sleep, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, REM, non-REM, Toxoplasma gondii, mice, fear, parasite, metabolic rate, temperature, hypothermia, homeostasis, Cheirogaleus medius, Madagascar, Pongo abelii, great apes.

Making the News in May

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Laughter, fungi, pipettes and ants – last month, PLOS ONE papers made headlines with an array of research. Here are some of our May media highlights:

Not all laughter is the same and your brain knows it. In recently published research, scientists studied the effects of three types of laughter (joyous, taunting, and “tickling”) on the human brain. Participants listened to recordings of these laugh and were asked to discern the type and count how many bouts had occurred. The researchers found that the participants could discern joyous and taunting laughter at comparable rates and that it was slightly more difficult to discern laughter in response to tickling. Participants were  able to count the number of taunting laughs more accurately than joyous and tickling laughs. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post UK, TIME, and Los Angeles Times.

There are fungi afoot! New research confirms that the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatis), which has decimated amphibian populations around the world, can be found in frogs in California. Scientists swabbed 201 South African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) in the California Academy of Sciences’ collection, 23 of which were caught in California. Eight specimens tested positive for chytrid, including one frog caught in San Francisco County in 2003. This frog species was once imported to aid in pregnancy testing. To read more, visit the National Geographic, Science News, ABC and the Smithsonian blog, Smart News.

Pipettes are a staple lab equipment, but not without their drawbacks. According to a new PLOS ONE paper, certain methods of dispensing and diluting liquids can introduce errors in experimental data. The researchers of this study compared pipetting, or tip-based transfer, with an acoustic dispensing technique and found that laboratory results depended greatly on the dispensing technique. Learn more about this study by reading the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World, Nature’s Methagora blog, and In the Pipeline.

There are plenty of odd couples in nature. For one example, just look at the unlikely partnership of the ant and the pitcher plant. A recent study finds that a particular ant species, Camponotus schmitzi, has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with the carnivorous Nepenthes bicalcarata, a pitcher plant. Scientists observed that the ants provide pitcher plants with nitrogen and preys on other insects, such as mosquitoes, that may otherwise steal nutrients from the plant. In return, the pitcher plant provides a home and a steady source of sustenance. You may find more about this study at Discovery News, The Scientist, and the New York Times.

To find out what other PLOS ONE papers were in the news in May, check out our Media Tracking Project.

Image: Figure 1 from “A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna”

Citations:

Wildgruber D, Szameitat DP, Ethofer T, Brück C, Alter K, et al. (2013) Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63441. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063441

Vredenburg VT, Felt SA, Morgan EC, McNally SVG, Wilson S, et al. (2013) Prevalence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Xenopus Collected in Africa (1871–2000) and in California (2001–2010). PLoS ONE 8(5): e63791. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063791

Ekins S, Olechno J, Williams AJ (2013) Dispensing Processes Impact Apparent Biological Activity as Determined by Computational and Statistical Analyses. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62325. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062325

Scharmann M, Thornham DG, Grafe TU, Federle W (2013) A Novel Type of Nutritional Ant–Plant Interaction: Ant Partners of Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Prevent Nutrient Export by Dipteran Pitcher Infauna. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063556

What Influences Voter Behavior?

The “worm” may be changing how voters vote (Figure 1. Davis et al.)

Although we’d like to believe that people determine how to vote based on relevant political issues, research has shown that countless subtle elements beyond just the candidate and party platform are at play in influencing voter decisions. In light of the upcoming election, let’s revisit some of this research published by PLOS ONE over the years that address some of these influences.

Impressions based on candidate age and gender, as well as subconscious judgments of competency, approachability and attractiveness, are likely to have played a role in informing voters’ choices as long as democracy has been practiced. Several studies have explored these notions. Among them, an investigation into the effects of voter and candidate gender on voting behavior, exploring voter biases toward older candidates in times of conflict and whether Democrats and Republicans can be identified as such by their facial appearance alone!

More recent developments in the media’s coverage of debates have incorporated social elements in broadcasting and may be biasing audiences in new ways. The “worm”, seen above, is one such innovation; this continuous response measure presents real time data from undecided voters in a streaming line presented during live coverage of a debate. The research of Davis et al. demonstrates how easily these innovations can sway the opinions of viewers and urges more investigation into the impacts of this and other social media additions to coverage of debates.

These and other studies show how many factors may be influencing our choices in elections. As the presidential election approaches in the United States, whatever determines your vote, we hope you all get to the polls on November 6th!

 

Citation: Chiao JY, Bowman NE, Gill H (2008) The Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior. PLoS ONE 3(10): e3666. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003666

Citation: Spisak BR (2012) The General Age of Leadership: Older-Looking Presidential Candidates Win Elections during War. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036945

Citation: Rule NO, Ambady N (2010) Democrats and Republicans Can Be Differentiated from Their Faces. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8733. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008733

Citation: Davis CJ, Bowers JS, Memon A (2011) Social Influence in Televised Election Debates: A Potential Distortion of Democracy. PLoS ONE 6(3): e18154. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018154

Worth a Thousand Words

How many arrows are depicted in the photo above? How many can you find? One? Five?

The answer is 118.

In research published last week, researchers digitally compiled 118 different lithic points from the Patagonia region of South America. All samples date back to the Late Holocene period and — the researchers posit — were made using other arrows, spears, and points. The study examined the design of these points and aimed to determine whether they can be seen as working in a modular system comprised of the blade (e.g., the arrow) and the stem (e.g., the arrow shaft).

The image above is Figure 1 in the manuscript. And as you can see, the researchers labeled twenty-four parts, or “landmarks”, of the composite image. These points or landmarks helped in measuring the image’s shape, angles, and proportions.

To learn more about this image and read the full text of the study, click here.

Citation: González-José R, Charlin J (2012) Relative Importance of Modularity and Other Morphological Attributes on Different Types of Lithic Point Weapons: Assessing Functional Variations. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modular_design

Spiders, Birds, and Snakes, Oh my!

To continue our spooktacular posts this October, we bring you a study which may have some arachnophobes rethinking their next vacation destination.

The island of Guam is home to one of the densest spider communities in the Pacific.  In a recent study published with PLOS ONE, researchers investigated this region to discover how the demise of insectivorous birds inhabiting the island has affected one of the most widely feared creepy crawlers.

The downfall of Guam’s native insect-eating birds began in the 1940’s when the infamous brown tree snake was introduced.  To investigate the effects this loss had on the landscape, the authors of the recent paper analyzed the spider population on several Pacific islands.

The team compared the neighboring islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan, to Guam. These islands do not have any known snake populations, and also have similar native bird species to that of Guam.  The researchers were then able to assess whether the bird presence correlated with spider web numbers, in addition to what impact bird presence had per season.

What the authors found might send chills right down your spine: The spider web densities in Guam were 40 times higher than those of the other islands during the wet season. Guam had an average of 18.37 spider webs per 10 meters, as compared to the other islands, which only had 0.45 webs per 10 meters. In addition, the bird loss had even increased the web size for a certain spider species.

Whether you suffer from arachnophobia, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) or ornithophobia (fear of birds), I think we can all agree this is a terrifying case showing the effects the removal of an essential predator can have to a landscape.

Citation: Rogers H, Hille Ris Lambers J, Miller R, Tewksbury JJ (2012) ‘Natural experiment’ Demonstrates Top-Down Control of Spiders by Birds on a Landscape Level. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43446. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043446

Image Credit: Anders B on Flickr CC-by license

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

In August, PLOS ONE papers made the news for research on morality in infants, the first domesticated turkeys, the dangers of sea slug mating, and more!

Are we born with a moral compass? Researchers from the University of Otago began with this question in their study, “Social Evaluation or Simple Association? Simple Associations May Explain Moral Reasoning in Infants”. In it, they recreated the conditions of Hamlin et al.’s 2007 study and found evidence to suggest that infants may not be born with an innate moral knowledge. The study was covered by The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, CBS and The Smithsonian Magazine.

A group of researchers has uncovered evidence of the earliest known instance of domesticated turkeys. The skeletal remnants of the Mexican turkey, or Meleagris gallopavo, in Mayan territory has led to additional hypotheses on the turkey trade in the Late Preclassic era (300 BC–AD 100).  The study was reported on by Science NOW and Examiner.com.

Gentlemen, are you feeling stressed? If you are, there is new research to indicate that you are more likely than your stress-free male counterparts to find heavier woman attractive. This research also found that stressed men find a wider range of women’s body types attractive. Read more about this article on the BBC, The Huffington Post, CNN and TIME.

In a recent study, researchers examined the relationship between pupil dilation and self-reported sexual orientation. Over three hundred participants of different genders and sexual orientations were shown visual sexual stimuli while researchers recorded their physical responses. Their findings indicate that pupil dilation is a strong indicator of sexual orientation. The study was covered by the LA Times, ABC, and The Huffington Post.

New research on the mating habits of the hermaphroditic sea slug, specifically the Siphopteron quadrispinosum, has yielded rather explicit findings. When S. quadrispinosum mate, the slug performing the male role will first inject the female with its fluids before copulation can occur. To discover what effects this violence may have on mating behavior or egg count, researchers studied the sea slug at different mating rates. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. Read more about this article on Wired, io9, and Scientific American.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.

PLOS ONE News and Media Roundup

Lesions found on coral trout.

Last month, the media covered PLOS ONE papers on germs in airports, skin cancer in fish, a potentially life extending pill, and more!

Research by a team at MIT identified New York City’s JFK, Los Angeles’s LAX and Honolulu’s HNL as the nation’s airports most likely to influence the spread of a major pandemic in the first few days of an emerging disease. The team used geographical information, traffic structure and individual mobility patterns to model contagious disease dynamics through the air transportation network. The study was covered by NPR, CNN, and Wired.

A recent study comparing a hunter-gatherer population with a modern Western population found that daily energy expenditure between the two populations is not all that different; challenging the view that obesity in Western society is largely due to a lack of exercise.  This research may encourage shifting the focus of this debate to the importance of calorie consumption and was covered by The Atlantic, Mother Nature Network and the BBC.

Dark patches found on fish in the Great Barrier Reef have been identified as a deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma. “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” is the first published study of melanoma in a wild fish population but it is unlikely the problem is new. The Great Barrier Reef sits under the largest hole in the ozone, exposing fish populations there to high levels of UV radiation. The image above is Figure 1 of the manuscript. The study was covered by Science, LA Times and Scientific American.

Autistic children may benefit from getting a pet. According to this study by a French research team, children who received a pet around the age of five showed improved social skills, including increased ability to share with and comfort others, compared to autistic children who either grew up with a pet or never had one. US News, Fox and Time all covered this study.

Findings from the study “Randomized Polypill Crossover Trial in People Aged 50 and Over” suggest that people over fifty may benefit from taking a once daily “polypill” comprised of three blood pressure-lowering drugs and a cholesterol-lowering statin. Read more at CBS, Reuters and ABC.

For more in-depth coverage on news and blog articles about PLOS ONE papers, please visit our Media Tracking Project.