This Week in Research: Baking with Love, Virtual Autopsies

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It’s not often that science tackles subjects like love, or good intentions — for one, they’re fuzzy and hard to fit on a spreadsheet. But according to a recent study by Kurt Gray of the University of Maryland, good intentions matter. According to Gray’s research, a shot given by a caring nurse hurts patients less than one given by an indifferent nurse. Food given with a message of love tastes better than the exact same food with an indifferent message (the one used in the study:  “Whatever. I just don’t care. I just picked it randomly”). For a medical setting, Gray’s results show that bedside manner matters. For the rest of us, the message is a simple one — be nice. But Gray, head of the Maryland Mind Perception and Morality Lab, takes it one step further:  “To the extent that we view others as benevolent instead of malicious, the harms they inflict upon us should hurt less, and the good things they do for us should cause more pleasure,” the paper concludes. “Stolen parking places cut less deep and home-cooked meals taste better when we think well of others.” So assuming that other people are nice (instead of jerks) will end up helping you in the long run.

From love to cadavers.  We’re a culture infatuated with the possibilities of technology, something that gets reflected in our crime TV shows. On CSI,  the impossibly good-looking medical examiners are always using fancy high-tech “virtopsy” (that is, virtual autopsy) technology to scan and view video images of murder victims insides. Sounds great (and less messy), right? Well, according to experts at Johns Hopkins, these technologies are helpful in some cases, but the traditional autopsy is still “the gold standard for determining why and how people really died,” says pathologist Elizabeth Burton. When a virtopsy is used, common diagnoses get missed; the study blames medical overconfidence in imaging technologies. Furthermore, families and loved ones often find the traditional autopsy distasteful.  Which isn’t to say that these technologies are useless. But, according to the experts, it should best be used in addition to — not instead of — the traditional method.



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