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Scalps of Strength

Samson’s strength may have been in his hair, but American males seeking alpha status might want to reach for a razor instead of the Rogaine. At least that’s what Wharton researcher Albert Mannes concluded from a trio of experiments measuring people’s perceptions of men with shaved scalps, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

In a small survey of 59 undergraduate women, subjects shown pictures rated men with shaved heads as more “dominant” than men with full heads of hair and no signs of balding. Another experiment, involving 367 adult participants, asked half the subjects to rate photographs of luxuriantly maned men, while the other half rated photos that had been doctored to make the same men appear shorn smooth. The latter group received higher marks on dominance, masculinity, confidence, physical strength, and even height—but were also deemed older and less attractive. A third study enlisted 588 adults to pass judgment on a written description of one of three men: one described as having a full head of hair, one whose hair was thinning, and one who had shaved his head. Once again, the man who had shaved his head was rated more dominant—while the balding one received the lowest marks.

Mannes speculates that cultural context plays a big role. “In U.S. society,” he noted in the paper, “shaved heads are often found on men in traditionally masculine professions—such as the military and law enforcement—so dominance may emerge through stereotypical associations with these figures.”

Whatever the reason, Mannes added, “Instead of spending billions each year trying to reverse or cure their hair loss, the counterintuitive prescription of this research to men experiencing male pattern baldness is to shave their heads.”

Advice, it so happens, that he has applied to his own noggin.

 
A Not So Bitter Pill
Are you unusually sensitive to Brussels sprouts and hoppy ales? If so, there’s an upside: you may have an edge when it comes to fighting off upper respiratory infections.

The ability to taste bitterness depends on an array of taste receptor cells packed into our taste buds, which vary from person to person based on genetics. Approximately one-quarter of the population are so-called ‘supertasters’ who can detect certain bitter molecules in very small quantities, while another quarter can’t detect them at all. Building on the previous discovery that these bitter-taste receptor cells are also present in upper and lower respiratory tissue, a team of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, the Monell Chemical Senses Center, and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center studied the reaction of one such receptor—known as T2R38—to molecules secreted by a class of bacteria that causes pulmonary and other infections in humans.

Examining the receptors in a tissue culture, they found that when T2R38 detects these molecules—which spur the formation of bacteria-harboring biofilms that in turn often trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response that can lead to chronic sinus infections—the receptor “activates local defensive maneuvers to increase mucus clearance and kill the invading bacteria,” in the words of senior author Noam Cohen, director of the Rhinology Research Lab at Penn, who likened the receptor to a “security guard.”

“It’s really like modern warfare: intercept the enemies’ early communications to thwart their plans and win the battle,” he said.

When the researchers examined the patients from whose tissue the cultures were derived, they found that none of the supertasters was infected with the bacteria in question but some of the ‘non-tasters’ were.

The researchers are using their results to develop a simple taste-test as a diagnostic tool, which could potentially help doctors adjust surgical or medical interventions accordingly.
©2013 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/04/13