Aussie wins Ig Nobel with study into the darker side of night owls

By Natsumi Penberthy September 19, 2014
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A team, including an Aussie, won one of the tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobel Awards last night for linking dark personality traits to night owls.

THE IG NOBEL AWARDS, tongue-in-cheek prizes honouring achievements that ‘first make people laugh, and then make them think’, have been handed out to this year’s winners. And once again some unusually curious scientists gathered at Harvard University, USA, to receive the accolade for their efforts. And, as usual, there was an Aussie among the awardees.

Australia’s Ig Nobel prize-winning topic

This year, Peter K. Jonason from University of Western Sydney, along with two other colleagues, received an Ig Nobel for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

The research team argued, in their study of 263 people, that Dark Triad traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy – were linked to night owl personalities. 

“It could be adaptively effective for anyone pursuing a fast-life strategy like that embodied in the Dark Triad to occupy and exploit a low-light environment where others are sleeping and have diminished cognitive functioning,” the authors said.

They went on to suggest that young men “may have adaptively benefitted from pursuing ‘night-time adventures’, including sex and other antisocial, yet reproductively useful, behaviours.”

Ig Nobels about laughter and real science

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners at a ceremony at Harvard University, by five genuine Nobel Laureates: Martin Chalfie (chemistry, 2008), Carol Greider (physiology or medicine, 2009) Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Eric Maskin (economics, 2007), and Rich Roberts (physiology or medicine, 1993). Professor Herschbach was also given away in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.

The ceremony also featured brief talks by Rob Rhinehart, who created the all-in-one food called Soylent, and by Dr Yoshiro NakaMats, the prolific (more than 3000 patents) Japanese inventor/politician/author who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for having photographed every meal he had eaten during the previous 34 years.

Other projects to receive an award in 2014 include a brain study of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast; the physics of stepping on a banana skin; and a new method to treat ‘uncontrollable’ nosebleeds, using strips of cured pork.

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize winners

Physics (Japan)

Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.

Neuroscience (China, Canada)

Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

Psychology (Australia, UK, USA)

Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

Public health (Czech Republic, USA, India)

Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček, Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan and Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

Biology (Czech Republic, Germany)

Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.

Art (Italy)

Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot (in the hand) by a powerful laser beam.

Economics (Italy)

ISTAT (the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics) for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

Medicine (USA, India)

Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, for treating ‘uncontrollable’ nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing with strips of cured pork.

Arctic Science (Norway)

Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.

Nutrition (Spain)

Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.