Tag Archives: dating

Reverse friend zone: many romantic relationships start off just as friends. In fact, most people prefer it this way

Credit: Pixabay.

Most of the scientific literature exploring how people in western societies find partners for long-term committed relationships tends to focus on dating that started between two strangers. But a recent analysis of studies on ‘romance’ actually found that friends-first relationships are much more common than we’re led to believe by popular media, which seems to be obsessed with the flaws of online dating and the superficial nature of the contemporary dating scene. What’s more, the data suggest that most people would prefer to be in romantic relationships that start off as friendships.

Friends to lovers, an often overlooked pathway to romantic relationships

Canadian researchers from the University of Victoria and the University of Manitoba conducted multiple studies to uncover patterns pertaining to the initiation of romantic relationships. First, they scoured the scientific literature for previously published studies on the subject, narrowing down their search to 85 relevant studies that appeared in influential journals.

Only 18% of these papers focused on friends-first initiation, the vast majority being limited to the romance between strangers. This bias seems to be widespread, as a second investigation that analyzed textbooks on intimate relationships found only 7 out of 38 citations — which neatly represents the same 18% found earlier — concerned friends-first initiation.

“Movies, television, popular media, and most groups of friends abound with examples of strangers striking up a conversation at a social function and then falling in love during a series of romantic excursions, or slow-blooming attractions between friends that eventually reveal themselves in late-night cathartic conversations (and make-out sessions). Yet despite the cultural ubiquity of both of these pathways to romantic love, we have noticed that relationship science focuses almost exclusively on the former, which we call dating initiation. Indeed, in the 20 years that we have been studying these processes, we have encountered only a few published empirical studies in social and personality science that explore the friends-to-lovers pathway to romance, which we call friends-first initiation,” the authors wrote in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Since friends-first initiation of romantic relationships seems to be in the background, it stands to reason that’s just because they’re secondary to the much more common relationships between two strangers. To see if that’s the case, the researchers performed a meta-analysis of seven studies involving nearly 2,000 participants between 2002 and 2020.

The results showed that the percentage of friends-first romantic couples varied from 40% to 73%. Friends-first initiation was even higher among married couples and homosexual relationships. Perhaps even more intriguing was that in a sample of 677 crowdsourced adults who were currently married or in a common-law partnership, 42% reported that they had started off as “friends-with-benefits” relationships, and this proportion was even higher among same-gender/queer couples.

Delving deeper into the nature of friends-first romantic relationships, the researchers asked 295 psychology students from campuses to indicate what was their ideal funnel for finding dates. They were given the choice between school, parties, workplace, church, family connections, bar, social media, online dating, blind dates, and friendship naturally turning romantic.

Friendships turned romantic was preferred by 47% of the participants, followed by meeting a potential partner through mutual friends (18%), and meeting at school, college, or university (18%).

Online dating was one of the least preferred mediums to find a long-term relationship. Nevertheless, this medium seems today the primary way couples first meet. Some 40% of heterosexual couples that got together in the US in 2017 met online, according to a recently released study by sociologists at Stanford University and the University of New Mexico.

Credit: Vox.

This kind of empirical evidence suggests that friendship-based intimacy can precede and even nurture passion-based intimacy. In fact, it’s a more common avenue for meeting partners for a long-term romantic relationship than meets the eye.

But isn’t it the case that in many of these friendship initiations, at least one of two secretly wants more and merely keeps up the front of platonic interest for months or even years waiting for the right moment to make their move? Again, the findings suggest otherwise, in the majority of cases.

When participants were asked about their original intentions for initiating the friendship that went on to evolve romantically, only 30% said they were sexually attracted to the partner from the very beginning. In 70% of cases, neither of the two parties in the relationship originally had feelings, with attraction blossoming at a later time.

In both popular culture and scientific research, there seems to be this assumption that men and women cannot be platonic friends because sexual attraction inevitably gets in the way. However, these findings paint a different story. That’s not to say that getting ‘friend zoned’ is a blessing — it’s just that being friends with someone first could lead to amazing things down the line if your intentions are genuine. 

Out of love with love itself: Japanese singles are increasingly disinterested in dating

The much-discussed social woes in Japan don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. According to a new study, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 3 men in their 30s are single, and half of these singles aren’t interested in heterosexual relationships.

Dating, it seems, is slowly falling out of fashion in Japan.

Hakone Jinjya Heiwa-no-Torii. Credit: Creative Commons.


Japan’s overall population is aging and declining. It’s not just the very high life expectancy (though that does play a big role), the country’s low fertility rates are also to blame. Japanese media has long speculated about a purported decrease in interest for dating and sex and an increase in virginity, something they call “herbivore-ization”, unmarried adults disinterested in romantic partners are sometimes called “herbivores” in Japan.

But until now, it wasn’t clear that this phenomenon truly exists.

“This herbivore phenomenon, both its definition and even does it really exist, has been hotly debated for a decade in Japan, but nationally representative data have been lacking,” said Dr. Peter Ueda, an expert in epidemiology and last author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The new analysis draws on data collected by the National Fertility Survey of Japan, a questionnaire designed and implemented approximately every five years between 1987 and 2015 and shows that indeed, a large number of millennial adults are uninterested in romance — with the caveat that the study only tracks heterosexual relationships, so the approximately 10% of Japan’s population who identify has LGBT is excluded from this data.

Researchers explain the gap between single men and single women years can be explained by women being more likely to date older men, but the overall figures are high and seem to be growing. In 1992, 27.4% of women and 40.4% of men in Japan aged 18 to 39 were single. By 2015, 40.7% of women and 50.8% of men of the same age range were single.

Culture is an important factor in shaping romantic relationships. The peer pressure pushing towards marriage is strong in Japan, but it seems to be working counterproductively.

“After age 30, either you’re married or you’re single. Very few people in the older age groups are unmarried and in a relationship. It could be speculated that promoting marriage as the most socially acceptable form of relationship between adults has built a barrier to forming romantic relationships in Japan,” said Ueda.

The disinterest in romantic relationships does seem to be growing in younger people. Around one-third of women (37.4%) and men (36.6%) aged 18 to 24 said they were not interested in a relationship, compared to just 1 in 7 (14.4%) women and 1 in 5 men (19.5%) aged 30 to 34 who describe themselves as single and disinterested.

But it’s not just culture that’s shaping these social trends — it’s also economic status. Simply put, the trend seems to be more pronounced in poorer people and less pronounced in those who are better off. It’s unclear what the causality is here (or even if there is any), but it at least gives authorities an indication of where to act if they want to address this.

“Among men, lower income was strongly associated with being single, although this does not necessarily represent causality. If we transferred a million dollars into their bank account right now, it is not clear if single people would increase their interest in changing their relationship status. However, it would not be too far-fetched to expect that lower income and precarious employment constitute disadvantages in the Japanese dating market,” said Ueda.

“The herbivore phenomenon may be partly socioeconomic adversity. If government policies directly addressed the situation of low-income, low-education populations, I think some people with a lack of job security or financial resources may have new interest in dating,” said Dr. Haruka Sakamoto, an expert in public health and co-author of the research publication.

This isn’t exactly surprising. In Europe and the US, marriage has been shown to be associated with higher status and education, but it’s not well known how these factors affect single people. But if low socioeconomic status is indeed one of the causes, Japan’s infamously poor work–life balance can’t be helping. The country’s decline in wages and lifetime employment along with a high gender pay gap (estimated around 24%, one of the largest in the world), small living spaces, and the high cost of raising a child are all potential causes contributing to the fall of relationship-seeking in Japan.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have also contributed to a decline in romantic relationships, not just in Japan but elsewhere in the world as well.

Journal Reference: Ghaznavi et al. The Herbivore’s Dilemma: Trends in and Factors Associated with Heterosexual Relationship Status and Interest in Romantic Relationships Among Young Adults in Japan – Analysis of National Surveys, 1987-2015. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241571

People on dating apps are more likely to exhibit dark personality traits

According to a new study, people on dating apps are more likely to be self-obsessed and manipulative than the general public — which fits very well with previous research.

The unattractive side of dating apps

With the advent of smartphones and our always busier lives, the dating scene has change considerably in the past decade; or at least, a part of it has.

Dating apps have become common in many parts of the world, and dating on an app isn’t the same as doing it the old-fashioned way. For starters, you can reach numerous potential partners, but you have limited ways to grab their attention. Simply put, you need to play the market to increase your chances of being successful, and in this context, playing the market often goes hand in hand with traits such as narcissism, a new study concludes.

A team of researchers from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, analyzed how so-called bright, dark, and neutral personality traits correlate with dating app usage. They found that dark traits such as narcissism and Machiavelism (a scheming, self-interested attitude) are indicative of a person’s app usage much more than neutral traits such as openness or extraversion or bright traits like empathy.

They had 555 German volunteers use 3 popular dating apps for three weeks, tracing the time they spent on these apps. The volunteers were then asked to fill personality quizzes to see how different personality traits correlated with the time spent on the apps. Overall, narcissism was the strongest predictor of whether someone used an online dating app, while Machiavellianism was the best predictor of average daily usage — not exactly an attractive picture.

The silver lining was that “love” was the strongest motive for using the app, closely followed by “sex”. The relationship status was not considered in the study.

Not surprising

While this was a relatively small and localized study, it falls in line very well with previous research. For instance, a 2019 study from Australia found that “men who were Tinder users were especially high in psychopathy and narcissism” and “women who were Tinder users were especially high in anxious attachment”. A separate study from the same year concluded that Tinder users had higher scores on the Dark Triad traits.

As dating apps become more and more prevalent, researchers are increasingly looking at their effect on mental health. A recent 2016 study found that using dating apps tends to lower self-esteem, and if dating apps are fertile ground for noxious personality traits, it could explain why.

The study has been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Dating might shift for good to online even post-pandemic

Credit: Pixabay.

Physical distancing to curb the spread of the virus and dating are seemingly incompatible. However, you can still be social and meet new potential romantic partners remotely, which is why online dating apps and matchmaking sites are experiencing an exponential boost.

A survey performed by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 30% of American adults and 31% of internet users had used an app or dating service. Half of the respondents were under 30 years old.

About 12% of those surveyed said they had married or been in a committed relationship after meeting their partner through online dating.

For comparison, a similar Pew survey performed in 2013 found that just 11% of respondents had used a dating site or app and only 3% said they entered a long-term relationship after meeting their partner online.

During tough times, people get creative

During the pandemic, the usage of online dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge grew even more. According to Dr. Jennifer Sims, who has been studying online dating patterns as part of her Sociology of Sexuality classes at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, this heightened activity that we’re seeing on online dating apps and sites will continue post-pandemic.

“Given the necessity for social distancing created by the coronavirus, it is likely that going forward this method of meeting and getting to know someone will increase even more,” Sims said in a statement.

“The percentage of people who date someone they meet through traditional avenues like friends or church was already decreasing before the pandemic,” she says. “Over the last few decades, meeting online has steadily increased. Given the necessity for social distancing created by the coronavirus, it is likely that going forward this method of meeting and getting to know someone will increase even more.”

According to Sims, many people who were used to meeting other singles in various venues, from bars to churches, or social scenes (college fraternities, volunteering, etc.), will transition to online dating and will continue using this medium to meet new potential partners even in post-pandemic times.

This is particularly true for marginalized groups such as LGBTQ Americans, racial minorities, and people with disabilities, the researcher added.

Once converted, it’s likely many will use online dating even after this current pandemic is over.

“As stay home orders are lifted, those who can afford it may cautiously venture out to the newly reopened venues,” says Dr. Sims. “But with so many Americans currently unemployed and so many still anxious about coronavirus, it is more likely that couples and singles will opt for at home or virtual date nights for a while,” Sims said.

But how does online dating reconcile with stay-at-home orders? In many ways, dating in the pandemic has adapted similarly to how work has shifted remotely.

Both couples who live apart and those who just started dating are making use of video platforms like FaceTime and Zoom to stay connected.

That being said, health should be a priority, which is why anyone who is currently using dating apps or sites should exercise caution.

If you come across a pushy individual who insists on meeting despite having made your boundaries and safety concerns clear, it’s perhaps for the best to cease contact with this person or at least rethink the relationship.

Dr. Louise O’Keefe of the University of Alabama’s Faculty and Staff Clinic recommends that people wait at least 15 days before meeting in person with someone from dating apps. When you do meet, consider safety measures such as masks and gloves.

New approach of dating pottery involves analyzing traces of old meals

Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a new method of dating pottery — that was used to cook.

Image via Pixabay.

The approach involves carbon-dating animal fat residue recovered from the pores in such vessels, the team explains. Previously, archeologists would date pottery either by using context information — such as depictions on coins or in art — or by dating organic material that was buried with them. This new method is much more accurate, however, and the team explains it can be used to date a site even to within a human life span.

Old cuisine

“Being able to directly date archaeological pots is one of the “Holy Grails” of archaeology,” says Professor Richard Evershed from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, who lead the research.

“This new method is based on an idea I had going back more than 20 years. We made several earlier attempts to get the method right, but it wasn’t until we established our own radiocarbon facility in Bristol that we cracked it.”

Really old pottery, for example those made and used by stone-age farmers, is pretty tricky to date. Some are pretty simple and not particularly distinctive, and there is no context to date it against. So archeologists use radiocarbon dating, or 14C-dating, to analyze bones or other organic material that was buried with the pots. This is an inexact measurement and less accurate than dating the pots directly. Raw clay or fired pots, however, can’t be dated this way.

Professor Evershed’s idea was to analyze fatty acids from food preparation — which can be dated — that were protected from the passage of time within the pores of these pots. The team used spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to isolate these fatty acids and check that they could be tested.

As an experimental proof of concept, they analyzed fat extracts from ancient pottery at a range of sites in Britain, Europe, and Africa with already precise dating which were up to 8,000 years old, with very good results.

“It is very difficult to overstate the importance of this advance to the archaeological community,” says Professor Alex Bayliss, Head of Scientific Dating at Historic England, who undertook the statistical analyses. “Pottery typology is the most widely used dating technique in the discipline, and so the opportunity to place different kinds of pottery in calendar time much more securely will be of great practical significance.”

The new method has been used to date a collection of pottery found in Shoreditch, thought to be the most significant group of Early Neolithic pottery ever found in London. It is comprised of 436 fragments from at least 24 separate vessels and was discovered by archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). Analysis of traces of milk fats extracted from these fragments showed that the pottery was 5,500 years old. The team were able to date the pottery collection to a window of just 138 years, to around 3600BC.

These people were likely linked to the migrant groups who first introduced farming to Britain from Continental Europe around 4000 BC, the team explains.

The paper “Accurate compound-specific 14C dating of archaeological pottery vessels” has been published in the journal Nature.

A look at the hottest dating trend of 2020 — radiocarbon dating

Radioactive carbon dating determines the age of organic material by analyzing the ratio of different carbon isotopes in a sample. The technique revolutionized archeology when it was first developed in the 1950s, but is currently at risk from fossil fuel emissions.

Carbon is the main element in ash and charcoal.
Image via Pixabay.

Also known as radiocarbon or carbon-14 (scientific notation 14C) dating, the procedure relies on the rarest carbon isotope, carbon-14. Carbon-14 is created on Earth by interactions between nitrogen gas and radiation, usually in the higher levels of the atmosphere. With only 0.0000000001% of the carbon in today’s atmosphere being 14C, it is the rares naturally-occurring carbon isotope on our planet, the others being 12C and 13C.

Unlike the other isotopes, carbon-14 isn’t stable, and it decays over time. Its half-time, the time it takes for half of all 14C atoms in a sample to degrade, is 5,730 years. Putting together that tidbit of information, some very expensive machines, a big of educated guesswork, and ancient tree rings allows researchers to determine the age of a sample of organic material with reasonable accuracy.

Sounds a bit like magic, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at how it works.

Who thought it up?

The theoretical foundations of radiocarbon dating were laid down by a research team led by American physical chemist Willard Libby in 1949. They were the first to calculate the radioactive decay rate of carbon-14 using carbon black powder. As a test, they took acacia wood samples from the tombs of two Egyptian kings, Zoser and Sneferu, and dated them. Their test showed the wood was cut in 2800BC +/- 250, where earlier independent dating estimated it hailed from 2625BC +/- 75 years — so their method checked out, mostly. There were still some flaws to the approach — the results were slightly fouled by nuclear weapon testing at the time — but these were soon worked out. One of the most important modifications to the initial method was to set the calibration date (we’ll get to this in a moment) to 1950.

For his work, Willard Libby would receive a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960.

How does it work?

Most carbon atoms most have 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons.
Public domain image.

Carbon-14 is continuously created in the upper atmosphere: cosmic radiation ionizes nitrogen-14 gas atoms (which is native nitrogen and has 7 protons and 7 neutrons) into carbon-14 atoms (which have 6 protons and 8 neutrons). Interactions between radiation and the atmosphere at large supply the neutrons that collide with and kick protons out of the nitrogen atom. An atom’s chemical properties (i.e. the element) is a product of the number of protons in its nucleus, not its total mass — more on isotopes here — so this effectively transforms it into carbon-14.

These 14C atoms then get gobbled up by oxygen to become regular CO2, which is consumed by regular plants through photosynthesis, and these plants are then eaten by regular animals and so on. This is the process through which 14C becomes part of all organic matter. 14C has a half-life of 5,730 years, meaning that it takes 5,730 years for half of the 14C atoms in a sample to degrade back into nitrogen-14, and 5,730 more for half of what is left to degrade, and so on.

And here’s the kicker — when these organisms die, they stop taking in new carbon, including carbon-14. Since this latter isotope isn’t stable, it degrades over time. We know the rate it decays it at; so by comparing the current ratio of 12C to 14C atoms in a sample to the initial ratio, we can determine how long ago something died.

How do we do it?

An AMS device.
Image via Wikimedia.

There are three main ways to go about it, each with very sciency-sounding names: gas proportional counting, liquid scintillation counting, and accelerator mass spectrometry.

Gas proportional counting measures the amount of beta radiation — the kind of radiation given off during radioactive decay — emitted by a sample. In essence, it involves measuring the level of radiation it emits. Since 14C is the only radioactive isotope in organic material, this effectively tells you how much of it is in the sample. It gets its name from the fact that the sample needs to be transformed into carbon dioxide gas (basically, burned) before this measurement can be performed.

Liquid scintillation counting is another ol’ timer radiocarbon dating technique. It works on the same principle as gas proportional counting but uses different gear. The sample is turned into a liquid form and a scintillator is submerged in it. Scintillators are devices that emit flashes of light upon contact with a beta particle. Two additional devices (photomultipliers) are used to detect these flashes — when both pick up on it, a count is made.

Accelerator (or Accelerated) Mass Spectrometry (AMS) is the modern way of doing things, and over time has become more efficient, faster, and more accurate than the others. It is quite simple, actually — you physically count the number of 14C, 13C, and 12C in the sample using a mass spectrometer. AMS is preferred today for its speed and accuracy, but also because it works with much smaller samples than the other two, helping conserve precious artifacts. For this process, atoms in the sample are ionized (electrically charged) and accelerated using powerful magnets to gradually remove as many atoms not used in the counting as possible. Finally, the carbon-14 isotopes pass into a detector along with some other carbon atoms, and these are used to perform the measurement.


“Quite quickly after radiocarbon dating was discovered, it became clear that Libby’s assumption of constant 14C levels in the atmosphere does not hold,” a paper published in 2008 explains. “The level is affected by very many complex factors that have proven impossible to model […] such as: solar cycles, solar storms, geomagnetic variations in the earth, and unpredictable up-welling of old carbon from substantial reservoirs such as oceans. The level has also been impacted by human activity; for example, it increased substantially due to atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and has dropped again more recently due to release of old carbon in fossil fuels.”

“As a consequence, radiocarbon dating is only viable if we can obtain an estimate of the varying level of 14C back through time and can thus plot the function that links radiocarbon ages to calendar ages.”

“Put loosely, we need a calibration curve.”

A marine calibration curve for the Northern Hemisphere extending up to 50,000 years ago. Notice that the curve shows an interval (blue surface) not a single value, and this interval becomes wider (more uncertain) the farther away you go.
Image credits Bronk Ramsey / P. J. Reimer et al., (2009), Radiocarbon.

While first developing their method of measuring 14C content, Libby’s team pointed to the possibility that the ratio of 12C to 14C in the atmosphere likely didn’t remain constant over time, but assumed it was as they had no way of correcting for it and wanted to finish their research. As radiocarbon dating saw more use and inconsistencies started to mount, researchers realized that his hunch was right, and set out to ‘calibrate’ the method.

Currently, the calibration date used for radiocarbon dating is the year 1950. In other words, samples are compared against the baseline value of 12C to 14C isotopes recorded in the 1950s. If a sample contains 25% of the carbon-14 you’d expect to see in an organism that died in 1950, it would be two times as old as the isotope’s half-life (so two times 5,730, giving it a rough age of 11,460 years). This isn’t the final age, however.

All the steps we’ve gone through so far don’t actually tell us how old a sample is, just much 14C it contains. As we’ve seen above, accurately dating such a sample hinges on us knowing how much 14C it contained to begin with. To know that, we need to know how much of it was in the atmosphere while the organism lived. This is the process of calibration: changing the assumed initial level of radioactive carbon. It’s perhaps the trickiest bit of the whole process.

“The convention is to assume that the [carbon isotope] ratio has remained constant over time and then to use calibration to compensate for the fact that, in reality, the ratio is changing,” Caitlin Buck, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield told ZME Science. Professor Buck specializes in applying statistical methods to archeological and paleoenvironmental science and is the co-author of the 2008 paper above.

“At first the need to calibrate seems somewhat unfortunate but, in fact, it allows us to also compensate for several other underlying issues too, like the fact that (at any given time) the ratio in the atmosphere is not the same as that in the oceans.”

The most commonly used and reliable calibration methods are ancient trees. Since trees build a new set of rings every year, they act as 14C archives. From the data in the tree rings, a timeline of 14C levels can be constructed. Timelines from multiple trees would then be compared and overlapped, making this the most accurate record of the isotope we have. The simplest way to go about it would be to find a tree ring that contained the same ratio of radiocarbon as your sample. Other approaches include 14C curves compiled from other sources or to test artifacts that were reliably dated through other means, although this is more of a situational rather than a systemic solution.

Yearly variations in carbon ratios, however, are quite small, which is why radiocarbon dates often come with a “+/- years” variation interval.

Uncalibrated dates are denoted with the unit BP, meaning ‘radiocarbon years before present (1950)’. Calibrated dates use the unit calBP, ‘calibrated before present’. Calibrated dates are the final estimate for the sample’s age, but uncalibrated dates are routinely shown to allow for recalibration as our understanding of 14C levels through time increases. Researchers are putting a huge amount of effort into extending the calibration curve (a timeline of 14C:12C ratios throughout history) and to increase its accuracy. Currently, the curve extends to around 50,000 years ago, but with a relative degree of uncertainty over its oldest reaches.

Limitations and external factors

Image via Wikimedia.

For starters, if a reliable starting level for carbon-14 can’t be established, radiocarbon dating can’t be used to accurately determine a sample’s age. The technique can only be used to date samples up to around 55-60,000 years old (after which the carbon-14 content drops off to negligible levels). It’s also quite expensive — particularly AMS — due to the very sensitive and highly specialized equipment and personnel needed to run these procedures. Then, there are also external factors that can throw a wrench in the workings of radiocarbon dating.

Carbon-14 is created from the interaction between radiation and the atmosphere, and the advent of nuclear technology (with its plethora of weapon and civilian testing) released a great amount of radiation and radioactive material, driving up the atmospheric ratio significantly.

“The ‘bomb’ samples [i.e. those after 1950] have very high concentrations of 14C, and so if you are working on very old samples for archaeology it is a good idea to have separate extraction lines for the ‘low-level’ samples,” Thure Cerling, a Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geophysics and a Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, told ZME Science in an email. “It is quite easy to contaminate ‘old’ samples with ‘modern’ 14C, so a lot of effort has gone into dealing with that issue.”

On the other hand, all that nuclear weapons testing makes it very very easy to date a sample of organic matter that grew during this time, being one of the reasons why 1950 was selected as a calibration date. “Organic material formed during or after this period may be radiocarbon-dated using the abrupt rise and steady fall of the atmospheric 14C concentration known as the bomb-curve,” explains a paper co-authored by Professor Thure in 2013.

He cautions that you must be “very careful” to prevent this kind of contamination, although noting that the issue “is well known” and that “most modern labs have taken sufficient precautions that it is not the problem that it was 30 to 40 years ago.”

Another element affecting this ratio is the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are originated from organic matter, but because they’re formed over millions of years, all the carbon-14 they might have contained has degraded. So when they are burned and their carbon released as CO2 in the atmosphere, it’s pure carbon-12. This further affects the carbon isotope ratio, and does it very fast, impacting the reliability of our dating efforts. Together, these two factors stand testament to the wide reach humanity has achieved over the Earth.

Contamination with external material such as soil can alter the apparent age of a sample by mixing in extra carbon; therefore, all samples are thoroughly cleaned with chemical agents to remove any contaminants. Reservoir effects — this refers to the fact that ocean water contains a different ratio of carbon isotopes than the atmosphere — need to be taken into account when dealing with samples that have been submerged or originate from aquatic environments.

In closing

Radiocarbon dating revolutionized archeology and anthropology by giving researchers a quick and reliable tool to date organic materials. It was a boon to these fields, one whose merits are very hard to overstate. Both Prof Buck and Prof Cerling pointed to the method’s ability to yield absolute age measurements for items of interest — with Prof Cerling saying that it “has revolutionized archaeology” — which allowed us to make heads and tails of historical timelines. Previous approaches such as seriation could only be used to date structures, cultures, and artifacts in relation to one another through the ample application of good, old-fashioned time and labor.

“Likewise it is very useful in determining the age of ice in ice cores that record the history of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere,” Prof Cerling told me.

But radioactive carbon isn’t useful just for dating stuff. Used as a marker molecule, it can allow researchers to, for example, trace specific drugs as they spread through the body, how masses of water move through the oceans, how carbon circulates in nature, and even in forensics to determine when an unknown person died.

Not bad for an unstable isotope of the Earth’s most abundant element.

What pick-up line should a woman use on men? Your best bet is being direct

Credit: Pixabay.

If you’re dating in 2019, chances are you’ve gone through some very confusing experiences. Many guys will lament that online dating has made things incredibly frustrating, but the reality is that women don’t have it any easier. Sure, women might have more options — but often times it’s the wrong kind of attention.

In most western cultures, men are expected to make the first move. There is no shortage of dating advice, with entire books and seminars dedicated to how to open a conversation with an attractive woman — enter the world of cheesy pick-up lines:

  • “Are you religious? Because you’re the answer to all my prayers.”
  • “I’m not a photographer, but I can picture me and you together.”
  • “I’m lost. Can you give me directions to your heart?”
  • “There’s only one thing I want to change about you, and that’s your last name.”

Some ladies will find these hilarious, others might just cringe. But, could you do better?

Whether in person or on an online dating app, it might be in your interest as a woman to make the first move. Here’s what a new study had to say on the matter.

Psychologists at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada recruited 130 heterosexual adult males who had to evaluate a series of 12 photographs of women, each annotated with a pick-up line. The participants had to score the perceived attractiveness and perceived promiscuity of each woman featured in the photos, as well as the effectiveness of the pick-up lines.

The researchers tested three types of pick-up lines: direct, flippant, and innocuous. These looked something like this:

  • Direct pick-up lines: “Want to have a drink together?” “You have really nice eyes.” “Can I have your number?” “You’re cute.”
  • Flippant pick-up lines: “Shall we talk, or continue flirting from a distance?” “I always see you here, you must be the bar’s best customer!” “Since you’re alone and I’m alone, why don’t we sit together?” “I’m easy, are you?”
  • Innocuous pick-up lines: “Can you recommend a good drink?” “I’ve seen you before, do you work here?” “Where did you get that tattoo? Did it hurt?” and “Hi.”

The results suggest that direct pick-up lines were the most effective at piquing men’s interest, followed by flippant pick-up lines, while innocuous lines were judged the least effective.

Perceived attractiveness and promiscuity had a major influence on the effectiveness of the lines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, men rated all types of pick-up lines as effective when delivered by a highly attractive woman. Perceived attractiveness was more important than promiscuity, the study found.

Overall, direct pick-up lines were found to be the most effective. However, for women who were perceived as less attractive, flippant pick-up lines worked the best.

“Results indicate that direct pick-up lines are preferred over flippant or innocuous pick-up lines, with the innocuous being the least preferred. Further, regardless of the line that is used, once a woman has been viewed as attractive by men, she is rated positively. This study provides insight into the effectiveness of women’s tactics for soliciting dating attention,” the authors wrote in their study.

The findings were reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.


You do have a type when it comes to dating, study finds

People do have a ‘type’ when it comes to dating, a new study reports.


Image via Pixabay.

If you’ve ever come out of a bad relationship hell-bent on dating outside your type, you’re not alone — but you’re also not in luck, according to social psychologists at the University of Toronto (U of T). They report that people tend to pick the same type of person over and over again as romantic partners, no matter what our experience with former partners was.


“It’s common that when a relationship ends, people attribute the breakup to their ex-partner’s personality and decide they need to date a different type of person,” says lead author Yoobin Park, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T.

“Our research suggests there’s a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality.”

The team used data from the German Family Panel (GFP) study launched in 2008, a multi-year study that looked at couples and families across several age intervals. The GFP is an ongoing longitudinal study on couple and family dynamics with a nationally representative sample of adolescents, young adults, and midlife individuals in Germany.

Using this data, Park and his co-author Geoff MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Psychology at U of T, compared the personalities of current and former partners of 332 participants, to see if they could spot a pattern. They could; the team reports finding a ‘significant consistency’ in the personalities of each participant’s romantic partners.

“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” says Park.

Participants in the study, along with a number of their current and past partners, were asked to assess their own personality in regards to the ‘big 5′ personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. This process involved them rating how much they identified with statements such as “I am usually modest and reserved,” “I am interested in many different kinds of things” and “I make plans and carry them out” on a five-point scale.

Overall, the authors say, the current partners of those involved in the study described themselves in ways that were similar to how those participants’ past partners described themselves. The team worked with first-person testimonials of each participant’s partners (current or former) rather than on the participant’s description of them in order to account for various biases that other studies found.

“The degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a ‘type’,” says MacDonald. “And though our data do not make clear why people’s partners exhibit similar personalities, it is noteworthy that we found partner similarity above and beyond similarity to oneself.”

“Our study was particularly rigorous because we didn’t just rely on one person recalling their various partners’ personalities,” said Park. “We had reports from the partners themselves in real time.”

The authors say that the findings should help couples out there be happy and keep their relationships healthy. People learn strategies to accommodate their partners’ personalities during each relationship, they explain, and engaging with similar partners may let us carry over some of those skills to a new relationship. Park notes that this “might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.” On the other hand, some of these strategies we develop can also be negative. All in all, we need more research to determine exactly where the benefits of dating someone who’s like your ex-partner end and where the disadvantages begin.

“So, if you find you’re having the same issues in relationship after relationship,” says Park, “you may want to think about how gravitating toward the same personality traits in a partner is contributing to the consistency in your problems.”

The paper ” Consistency between individuals’ past and current romantic partners’ own reports of their personalities” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Sharing a plate helps with both love and work

Need a boost to persuasion power at your next big meeting? Try changing the setting to someplace less plate-y.


Image via Pixabay.

Business negotiations go more smoothly and take less time when participants share a plate, not just a meal, new research reveals. Shared plates are customary in Chinese and Indian cultures (among others), and people sharing a plate are able to collaborate better and reach deals faster, the study explains.

Breaking Bread

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Wooley, a Professor at the University of Chicago and PhD student Cornell University, respectively, say a family-style meal with a prospective business partner can help the deal go through smoothly.

The duo asked a group of participants (all strangers to one another) to pair off in a lab experiment regarding negotiation patterns. Before the experiments began, participants were invited to have a snack of chips and salsa with their partners. Half of the pairs received one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa to share, while the others each had their own bowls.

After this light snack, the pairs were asked to simulate a negotiation between a member of management and a union representative. Their goal was to settle on an acceptable wage for workers of both parties in the span of 22 rounds of negotiations. To put a little bit of pressure on the hypothetical scenario, a “costly union strike” was scheduled to start on round three. Each party would incur costs from this strike which, the team hoped, would help coax the participants into reaching a deal as quickly as possible.

On average, participants that shared a bowl of snacks reached an agreement in nine strike days (i.e. in twelve turns). Their separate-bowl counterparts needed, on average, took four days longer to agree on their terms. In the team’s hypothetical scenario, these four extra days translated to an extra $1.5 million in combined losses.

What’s particularly interesting is that it didn’t much matter if the two parties liked one another — what mattered was whether or not they had coordinated their eating. This finding came from a repeat experiment carried out by Woolley and Fishbach, in which they had both friends and strangers participate. Both groups received pairs of both friends and strangers, and sharing plates had a significant effect in both cases.

The degree to which a person felt they were collaborating with their partner while eating — sharing food rather than competing for that last bite — predicted their feelings of collaboration during the negotiation phase, the team adds. Fischbach says that the results showcase the powerful effect a meal can have on interpersonal connections. Despite how convenient remote meetings can be, they simply don’t stack up to sharing a meal — and, he adds, this holds true for professional as well as personal relationships.

“Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone,” says Fishbach. “And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”

The paper ” Shared Plates, Shared Minds: Consuming from a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

How pets make you hotter to the opposite sex

A University of Nevada team, led by anthropologist Peter Gray, tested several hypotheses about pets and contemporary courtship or dating rituals. Their study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Anthrozoös.

Image via huffpost

Evolutionary psychology holds that women are more inclined to allocate resources to child rearing, while men tend to spend more time and energy on mating. The team wanted to verify if these tenants hold their own in a real life setting — if for example, women are more responsive to the way their dates treat their pets and men inclined to use their pets to attract sexual partners. Gray and his colleagues predicted that dogs, generally thought to require more attention than cats, would provide more powerful ques to women who would unconsciously size-up their date’s parenting qualities.

In collaboration with the pet store chain PetSmart and Match.com, the researchers sent a 21 question on-line survey to 1,210 single pet owners, 60% of whom were women and 40% men. As far as pets go, some 72% of them were dog owners, and 42% reported to owning a cat.

The study found that:

  • 22% of the men — but only 6% of women — admitted they had used their pet to attract potential dates.
  • 35% percent of women and 26% of men said they had been more attracted to someone because they owned a pet.
  • Nearly half of the women and a quarter of the men said they judged dates based on how the person responded to their pet.
  • 76% of women and 60% of men evaluated dates based on whether their pets like the person.
  • 64% of women and 49% of men said they were more attracted to a person if they owned a rescue animal.
  • 75% of the women and 54% of the men said they would not date someone who did not like pets.

The results are supported by previous studies on pets and dating. In 2008, two French social psychologists had a young man named Antoine approach 240 randomly selected women and ask for their phone number to go on a date. Half the time, he would be alone, and half the time he would be walking a dog named Gwendu. And that little gray dog had a huge impact — only 10% of the women gave Antoine their phone number when he was alone, but three times as many were happy to do the same when he was accompanied by Gwendu.

A new take on dating

During the Better with Pets Summit, scientist Sandra Lyn argued that the millennial generation has a much different relationship with their pets than the baby boomers, and the results of the study suggest she is right: men in their 20s and 30s were more likely to use their pets as “date-bait” than older singles. Millennials also reported being particularly attracted to pet owners and more inclined to evaluate mates by how their dogs and cats reacted to the date. Millennials were also more likely to find pictures of pets posted on on-line dating profiles a turn-on.

All in all, the researchers’ hypotheses about sex differences in the use of pets as signals of mate quality were confirmed. Women were more discriminating than men on eight of the eleven questions related to the use of pets in evaluating dating partners. (There were no sex differences for the other three questions.) Dog owners were more likely than cat owners to use pets as indicators of a date’s attributes, paying closer attention to their pet’s reaction than cat owners, and more likely to say that the way a date treated their own pet mattered and to believe that person’s pet revealed a lot about their personality.

The scientists also asked what the sexiest pet is, and dogs win by a mile. If you want to meet girls, don’t get a rabbit, none of the ladies reported them as being a turn-on.

First Rock Dating Experiment Performed on Mars

Dating rocks is not really something new – it’s been conducted on Earth for decades now; researchers have also determined the age of rocks from outer space, but the experiments always took place on Earth. Now, for the first time, this procedure took place on Mars.


An image from the Curiosity rover, showing the drilling of the second sample. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The work, led by geochemist Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) could provide not only valuable information about the Martian geology, but give aid in the search for life on Mars.

With the huge importance of the Curiosity mission, every detail was planned in detail months before the shuttle was launched, but shortly before the rover left Earth in 2011, NASA’s participating scientist program asked researchers from all over the world to submit new ideas for experiments that could be performed with the already installed instruments. Farley was one of the 29 selected participants and he submitted a proposal to conduct a series of techniques fairly similar to those used on Earth do date rocks. His proposal was accepted, and in a paper published this week in the journal Science Express he and his colleagues conducted the first age determinations performed on another planet.

Before this geochronology experiment took place, scientists were using the so-called “crater counting” method, which had estimated the age of Gale Crater and its surroundings to be between 3.6 and 4.1 billion years old. Crater counting relies on a surprisingly simple fact: since Mars is constantly bombarded by meteorites, an area with more craters is going to be older; researchers have developed a way to transpose the number of craters into an estimated age.

With Farley’s method, the Curiosity rover calculated the age of the mudstone at Gale Crater to be about 3.86 to 4.56 billion years old – incredibly close to initial estimates!

“In one sense, this is an utterly unsurprising result—it’s the number that everybody expected,” Farley says.

Indeed, it seems absolutely shocking that such a simple method with so many uncertainties and estimations can be so accurate.

“What was surprising was that our result—from a technique that was implemented on Mars with little planning on Earth—got a number that is exactly what crater counting predicted,” Farley says. “MSL instruments weren’t designed for this purpose, and we weren’t sure if the experiment was going to work, but the fact that our number is consistent with previous estimates suggests that the technique works, and it works quite well.”

However, there is some uncertainty with this method as well. Since mudstone is a sedimentary rock, it is heavily subjected to erosion and other surface processes. The age of the sample drilled by Curiosity really is the age of the rock that was still left standing after these processes, and while the entire crater was almost certainly a lake at some point in its existence (and was capable of supporting life), it’s impossible with this method to know when this was happening.

Via CalTech.