Strange but true: The musical mind of Sting

By Sue Baxalle

That's one of the surprising findings of an unusual Canadian neuroscience study based on brain scans of the musician, Sting.
That's one of the surprising findings of an unusual Canadian neuroscience study based on brain scans of the musician, Sting.

What does the 1960s Beatles hit Girl have in common with Astor Piazolla's tango composition Libertango?

Probably not much, to the casual listener - but in the mind of one famously eclectic singer-songwriter, the two songs are highly similar.

That's one of the surprising findings of an unusual Canadian neuroscience study based on brain scans of the musician, Sting.

The paper, published in the journal Neurocase, uses recently developed imaging-analysis techniques to provide a window into the mind of a masterful musician, in a pre-concert experiment.

It also represents an approach that could offer insights into how gifted individuals find connections between seemingly disparate thoughts or sounds, in fields ranging from arts to politics or science.

Scanning techniques, known as multivoxel pattern analysis and representational dissimilarity analysis, showed which songs Sting found similar to one another and which ones dissimilar - based not on tests or questionnaires, but on activations of brain regions.

"These state-of the-art techniques really allowed us to make maps of how Sting's brain organises music," said the study's lead author, Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist at McGill University.

"That's important because at the heart of great musicianship is the ability to manipulate, in one's mind, rich representations of the desired soundscape."

Why red means 'rebellion'

As anyone who has driven a car or crossed a busy street knows, colours play a significant role in influencing people's interactions with the world around them.

And the colour red, in particular, elicits the highest level of compliance for conformity with social norms.

But according to new research co-written by a US expert in product development and marketing, under certain conditions, the colour red can arouse "noncompliant behaviour" - basically, a rebellious streak - for a certain sensation-seeking segment of the population.

The widespread use of the colour red to signal danger, warn people or stop unwanted behaviour can actually be counter-productive for high sensation-seekers, according to the paper, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Across three experiments that tested their hypotheses, University of Illinois researchers from found the colour positively affects one's attitude towards noncompliance.

"The colour red is almost always used to stop people from doing something - to signal dangers, or to prevent someone from making a mistake or to induce compliant behaviour," said study leader Professor Ravi Mehta.

"But if you're someone who is high on the sensation-seeking scale - basically, someone who seeks thrills - the colour red elicits arousal."

Chemtrails aren't real. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
Chemtrails aren't real. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

This just in: chemtrails aren't real

It's been one of the most enduring conspiracy theories: the shadowy powers are trying to manipulate us with a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying programme that leaves noticeable trails across the sky.

Now a group of United States researchers has taken the time, as if they somehow needed to, to clear the air on the strange claims once and for all.

The researchers conducted a survey of the world's leading atmospheric scientists, who categorically rejected the existence of a secret spraying program. The team's findings, published by Environmental Research Letters, are based on a survey of two groups of experts: atmospheric chemists who specialise in condensation trails and geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution.

The survey results showed 76 of the 77 participating scientists said they had not encountered evidence of a secret spraying programme, and agree that the alleged evidence cited by the individuals who believe that atmospheric spraying is occurring could be explained through other factors, such as typical airplane contrail formation and poor data sampling.

But this begged the question: who was that 77th scientist and what do they know? The truth is out there.

Don Brash - a tall politician. Photo / Janna Dixon
Don Brash - a tall politician. Photo / Janna Dixon

The height of politics

If you want to predict which political party someone will support, take note of the person's height.

The taller a person is, the more likely he or she is to support conservative political positions, support a conservative party and actually vote for conservative politicians, according to a new study using data from Britain.

"If you take two people with nearly identical characteristics - except one is taller than the other - on average the taller person will be more politically conservative," said study co-author assistant professor Sara Watson, of Ohio State University.

Using a detailed 2006 survey of nearly 10,000 Britons, the researchers found that a 2.5cm increase in height increased support for the Conservative Party by 0.6 per cent and the likelihood of voting for the party by 0.5 per cent.

Yet the results aren't as strange as they might appear, Watson said.

Many studies have found that taller people generally earn more than shorter people and researchers have thought income could be linked to voting.

- NZ Herald

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