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January 19, 2018

Weekend reads: On the streets with an urban rodentologist

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    Need to do something physically demanding? Saying a few curse words might help. The next time you feel like cursing because you're dealing with a challenge or a tough time—go ahead: Research says it might help, Emma Byrne writes for the Wall Street Journal. For instance, research from Keele University in England found that when participants submerged their hands in ice water, those who used swear words were able to keep their hands submerged 50% longer—and reported that the water felt less cold while swearing—than those who used neutral words. Further, research suggests cursing can ease social pain, with one study finding that individuals who used swear words after recalling a hurtful memory were better able to cope than those who refrained from bad language. And don't try to use replacement words like "fudge" or "sugar" either—Keele Univeristy's Richard Stephens found that these provide no benefit at all.

    Does your worrying keep you awake at night? Write out a to-do list. If your worries are keeping you up at night, try writing down a to-do list for the next day—it might just help you get some shut-eye, according to a small study. For the study, researchers from Baylor University and Emory University found that writing out a to-do list—as opposed to listing your accomplishments at the end of the day—helped people fall asleep nine minutes faster on average. That time saved is comparable with recent pharmaceutical clinical trials for sleep aids, according to the Michael Scullin, the lead author on the study. According to Scullin, the method likely works because the act of writing seems to reduce "rumination and worry," and "if you decrease those two things, it makes sense that you're going to fall asleep faster because having stuff on your mind is one of the main barriers to falling asleep at night."

    Rachel Schulze's reads

    Salmonella might have contributed to the Aztec fall. A new study offers insight into the 16th century disease outbreaks that contributed to the end of the Aztec Empire. Using a new analytical technique, scientists identified in DNA a form of salmonella—Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C—that causes a fatal fever in 10 people who died in the epidemic. While the researchers did not determine the source of the bacteria, previous research suggested the pathogen that led to the Aztec demise came from Mexico and that drought may have exacerbated the epidemic. The new study does not present evidence to support or refute the theory that Europeans introduced the disease, though changes Europeans made to the landscape may have made the outbreaks deadlier, Rebecca Hersher reports for NPR's "The Two-Way."

    How you're (unintentionally) helping rats thrive. Vox's Dean Peterson spends some time on the streets of New York City with an urban rodentologist, Bobby Corrigan, who explains how rats proliferate—thanks, in part, to human behavior. Just how much of a problem are rats? The loathed rodents cause about $19 billion in damage each year, Peterson notes in a video that documents his afternoon on the streets of New York Chinatown with Corrigan. A simple way people can help thwart rats? "Be a smart mammal," Corrigan says. "Whatever you do with your trash, ask yourself: Can the rats get to it?"

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