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Four lessons we can learn from ‘lazy’ animals

For more than 30 days, people in a northern Montenegro village have been lying down in the streets. It’s part of their annual “Laziest Citizen” contest that was created 12 years ago to mock the theory that Montenegrins are among the laziest humans on the planet. But maybe emulating the behavior of a sloth isn’t as bad as we think. In contrast to our fast-paced, high-stress human lives, there are plenty of animals that lead a much slower existence and still manage to survive and thrive.

Lesson #3: Make like a bear and take the easy route

Charles Robbins at the WSU Bear Center.
Charles Robbins at the WSU Bear Center.

If you’ve ever crossed paths with a bear, there may be a reason for that. Turns out they like to take the easy route — just like we do! A recent study explored the movements of grizzly bears and found that these massive mammals prefer to avoid steep hills and overexertion, which often leads them to the human-built trails found in parks. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are lazy. “They are not lazy in the sense that we use that term,” Charles Robbins, a professor at the Washington State University Bear Center who oversaw the study, tells Yahoo Life. “Their goal in food-limited environments is to be energy efficient, which means to take the lowest-cost path, forage as efficiently as possible and conserve as much energy as possible.”

The study also found that bears move at a slower pace than researchers expected. “Most animals do move at the most efficient speed to minimize cost per unit time and distance. Just watch humans walking, and you’ll notice that most of us walk at a relatively narrow range of speeds,” explains Robbins. “We found that grizzly bears don’t move as fast as they should based on that assumption.”

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Urban light pollution linked to smaller eyes in birds

The bright lights of big cities could be causing an evolutionary adaptation for smaller eyes in some birds, a new study indicates.

Researchers found that two common songbirds, the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, that live year-round in the urban core of San Antonio, Texas, had eyes about 5% smaller than members of the same species from the less bright outskirts. Researchers found no eye-size difference for two species of migratory birds, the Painted Bunting and White-eyed Vireo, no matter which part of the city they lived in for most of the year.

The findings, published in Global Change Biology, have implications for conservation efforts amid the rapid decline of bird populations across the U.S.

“This study shows that residential birds may adapt over time to urban areas, but migratory birds are not adapting, probably because where they spend the winter—they are less likely to have the same human-caused light and noise pressures. It may make it more difficult for them to adjust to city life during the breeding season,” said Jennifer Phillips, a Washington State University wildlife ecologist and senior author.

 

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Preschoolers show cultural differences in generosity, competitiveness

In a set of sharing experiments, Spanish-speaking Latino preschoolers were more likely to choose options that would be more generous to others, even over a more equal sharing choice.

Their English-speaking peers in the Washington State University study more often chose the most competitive option, one that advantaged themselves over others. The most competitive among that group were English-speaking Latino children, a finding that the researchers believe may reflect their desire to transition to the more individualistic American culture.

Paul Strand.
Strand

This study not only adds evidence that children from collectivist cultures, which prioritize the good of the group over the individual, show those values early, but also helps distinguish their motivations.

“We knew that Spanish-speaking kids tended to be more cooperative, but we didn’t know whether that had to do with generosity or wanting things to be equal. Our work shows that they’re not more driven by equality. They’re just flat out more generous,” said Paul Strand, a WSU psychologist and senior author of the study published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Strand, along with WSU graduate students Erinn Savage and Arianna Gonzales, ran a set of game-based experiments with 265 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 who were all enrolled in a Head Start preschool program. They used three “economic dictator games,” originally developed by Swiss and German researchers, which give children choices on keeping and giving items they liked.

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Faster postal service linked to better voter turnout

A more efficient U.S. Postal Service can increase voter turnout in all states regardless of their mail voting laws, according to a Washington State University study.

Michael Ritter.
Ritter

WSU researcher Michael Ritter analyzed election data from 2012 through 2020, when the pandemic encouraged many more people than usual to vote by mail. He found that in general more accessible mail voting laws, such as universal mail-in voting and no-excuse mail voting, increased the probability that individuals would vote. Restrictive laws, such as requiring a witness’s signature or identification for mail-in ballots, had a negative effect.

Faster postal service helped increase the likelihood of voting especially in those restrictive states—raising the probability individuals would vote by 3.42%.

“Across the board, this study shows that having better postal administration makes it more likely there will be more positive outcomes linked to all mail voting laws,” said Ritter, lead author of the study published in the Election Law Journal. “But in states that have the most restrictive mail voting laws, having better postal administration makes a huge difference—it may not seem huge, but for individuals who sometimes are on the fence about voting by mail or not voting at all, it can tip the balance.”

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Pandemic led to surge in multigenerational homes

Grandparents served as a safety net for grandkids when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with unexpected numbers of elders moving in or opening homes to an additional 460,000 U.S. children, said a Washington State University researcher.

A study found such multigenerational households comprised a majority in a 2020 surge of nearly 510,000 children in all pandemic-era “doubled-up” residences. That meant kids and at least one parent lived with another adult – grandparent, aunt, cousin or roommate. The study didn’t count a parent’s partner or an adult sibling.

Mariana Amorim.
Amorim

Mariana Amorim, a WSU sociology assistant professor and lead author, said mainly grandparents provided a safety net for families, particularly for six months beginning in spring 2020, when schools and other systems closed.

However, the spike in such living arrangements from 2019 to 2020 was temporary and returned to expected levels in 2021. The research compared such yearly co-residency patterns by using survey data collected by the U.S. Census.

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