Fun fact: If a car (preferably a luxury car) is parked in an illegal spot, you can completely solve the problem by plowing over it with an armored tank. Just ask Vilnius, Lithuania, mayor Arturas Zuokas.
OK, so that's not really research, but the stunt is hilarious to watch, even though the end result – a viral video and a useless pile of once-expensive scrap metal – is pretty predictable. So why do scientists, who last time we checked were not cranky mayors with tanks at their disposal who wanted to make a point, get tangled up in research that seems just as flat-out obvious?
Sometimes, it's an attempt to finally get some real data behind those observations everyone knows, or to disprove the things everyone knows but aren't really true. Especially when it comes to controversy, getting some science to support all that anecdotal evidence can be a good plan. But every once in a while, you have to wonder. Here are 10 studies that raised our eyebrows (but not necessarily our IQs).
It seems like just about every U.S. driver has a story about seeing an accident (or nearly avoiding getting into one) thanks to the inattentive, erratic driving of some jerk on a cell phone. Talking on the phone while driving is dangerous: It's a no-brainer, right? The brains of science agree.
Thanks to one study, we also know it's worse if you're mired in stop-and-go traffic. Cellphone-equipped drivers react 18 percent slower when there are brake lights up ahead. They're also 17 percent slower to get back up to speed, all of which exacerbates the unbearably tedious cycle of stopping and going [source: Strayer and Drews].
So the brilliant conclusion we've reached here is this: If you're going to strap yourself into a four-wheeled death machine and join a herd of other metal monsters, maybe ordering takeout or gossiping about that guy at tennis practice should wait.
Humans have been wearing shoes for some 40,000 years, but it wasn't until more recently that elevation entered the equation [source: Trinkaus]. Footwear changes how people walk and can even cause broader physiological effects. But when you wear high heels, that transformation can become particularly unpleasant.
Sure, given enough dedication to height enhancement, you might eventually end up with smaller calf muscles – good for looking slender, we suppose, although not for any practical purposes -- but the balls of your feet will be smashed, your toes will be squashed together and your feet may eventually curl inward in what we can only suppose is the fetal position a foot assumes under extreme duress [source: Britt]. We know this thanks to a study on 3,300 men and women.
So basically, the lesson here is: When you jam your feet into a pair of heels, that pain you feel is millions of years of evolution punishing you for your efforts.
Apparently going bald makes men unhappy. Like $50,000 sports car unhappy. Understandably, then, it can also get to the point that they experience depression and other psychological issues. But in spite of all that heart-wrenching anecdotal evidence, scientists weren't satisfied. One study set out to find out just how horrible, exactly, men felt about going bald. (We don't really want to imagine what those phone polls were like.)
So, how horrible was it? Hair loss caused 43 percent to be concerned about their attractiveness, 37 percent to be worried about getting older, 22 percent to be anxious about the impact it would have on their social life, 21 percent to be depressed about it and 62 percent to believe it could impact their self-esteem [source: Informa Healthcare].
All right, researchers, you've made your point. Happy now?
Meetings at work can be informative. They can also be dreadful, unnecessary bore-fests that seem to last a lifetime. And there are too many of them.
Science solved the riddle of just what "too many meetings" means. Somebody in upper management typically squanders 23 hours a week in meetings. Managers in the middle often spend 12 hours a week wasting away in meetings. And the minions? Still about 6 hours [source: Rogelberg]. And those numbers just keep climbing.
Unfortunately, as research proves, a painstaking meeting schedule has the worst effect on the employees who are the most motivated and productive. They start to feel stressed and bogged down. Slackers, on the other hand, love meetings [source: Rogelberg]. They get to yack with coworkers, avoid dreaded to-do lists, and basically kill time until 5:00.
So how many meetings did these researchers attend in order to come to this conclusion? No idea. But probably more than a few.
Friends are fun to hang out with? So that's what we keep them around for! And – bonus – not only do friends make us happy, but they're also good for our health, too, since they make our lives less miserable and pathetic.
Lots of research has been conducted to figure out whether friendship is really worth the cost of having friends. Turns out it is. Perhaps the starkest and most macabre study discovered that over a 10-year period, people with lots of friends were 22 percent less likely to die [source: New York Times]. So that's a plus. Friends have also been shown to make compadres more optimistic (enemies aren't often heralded for boosting self-esteem) and they can help lower stress levels, too.
Friendship can be a double-edged sword, however, because friends can also be your downfall. Another study found that if one friend gains weight, others in the close social circle have a 60 percent chance of following suit. After all, it's not like somebody with friends is going to go at the Cheesecake Factory all alone, right?
So we guess the takeaway is, um, to paraphrase "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade": Choose wisely, for true friends will give you life and false ones will take it from you.
Lots of professions are dangerous. Firefighting is certainly risky. Piloting can be perilous under particular circumstances. Mining is alarmingly hazardous. One thing those all have in common, though, is that they're vital occupations. Sword swallowing? Yeah, not so much.
Nonetheless, some people practice sword swallowing as a profession. So researchers have, of course, studied these performers to see what medical complications they run into and why. Very unsurprisingly, sore throats and chest pains are often issues, especially when sword swallowers are learning the trade or if they're booking lots of gigs. Well, that's to be expected.
But sometimes a trick goes awry. Sword swallowers can puncture their esophagus (saw that one coming) although they usually end up making pretty good patients. Gastrointestinal bleeding is another grievance that happens in the sword swallowing community (which is why most people think of swords as for external use only) but usually they can be patched up [source: Witcombe].
So what's the why in these scenarios? Sword swallowers are more prone to serious injury when they aren't paying enough attention. Yup – if you aren't focused on the fact that you're shoving a long sharp object down your throat, you may have a problem. Other red flags: trying a new sword or trying to swallow multiple swords at once.
Unless you're one of those polar bear plunge people who enjoys jumping into icy water wearing nothing but an elegantly-fitted Speedo, you probably pull your coat out of the closet the first cold day of winter and leave it on until spring.
Well, you're not alone. We know this thanks to a study on adaptive thermal comfort, which plotted out the relationship between temperatures and the thermal resistance of people's clothes [source: van der Linden]. Basically, when the temperature gets colder, people dress more warmly. A further stunning revelation is this: People are most swayed by the outdoor temperature at around 6:00 a.m. [source: De Carli].
So, there you have it. There's proof behind that wintertime whine, "It's cold out. I don't want to get up!" and that search for a warm sweater when you're feeling chilly.
It's a big stereotype – intoxicated people at a party, shuffling off to do something they'll regret later. It makes for many a made-for-TV drama. And it also, according to studies, makes for many a real-life walk of shame.
The finding: An increase in blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.1 mg/ml leads to a 5 percent increase in the likelihood of having sex without using a condom. And as BAC rises, so does that likelihood [source: Rehm]. But here's the thing: This didn't come from just one study of risky behavior. This was a meta-analysis of 12 other studies of risky behavior that had already been done. Figuring out that intoxication makes you more likely to do something foolish seems to be a hot topic.
The good news is, after adjusting for publication bias, the increase in risky behavior turns out to be a little smaller than originally thought – 2.9 percent with a 0.1 mg/ml increase. But it's still there. And it still goes up along with rising BAC.
On the one hand, it's important for researchers to have a good sense of how people are behaving, especially when it comes to preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. But on the other hand, this is one we knew all along.
This is, of course, part of the business model Hooters has been banking on for years. Not to offend their kitchen staff. I'm sure such unique and enticing dishes as the Fried Onion Tanglers, Pulled BBQ Pork Sandwich and the Nacho Ordinary Burger are huge draws. (Side note: We wonder which is more popular, the Naked Wings or the Boneless Wings. Much to ponder there). But still, come on.
The greater area of study, sometimes referred to as the "literature on female physical attractiveness" includes this politely-worded niche: "evolutionary theories about the determinants and consequences of female beauty." And perhaps it makes for some really interesting and unexpected research. But not here. Not this time. This time, the shocking conclusion reached by the researchers was: The more you look like Barbie, the better your tips.
But there's more. Another set of researchers wanted to see how big breasts affected a woman's chances of successfully hitchhiking. Female drivers were unfazed by breast size and offered a lift at a fairly steady rate; not so with men. Only about 15 percent would pull over for an A-cup, while nearly 25 percent were enticed enough to stop and give a C-cup a ride [source: Psychology Today].
Welcome to the creepy side of science.
This quote from a 1960 study called "The Visual Cliff" is priceless: "Evidently infants should not be left close to a brink, no matter how well they may discriminate depth."
Indeed. Would you like a slice of Captain Obvious Cake to go with that tentative safety recommendation? Parents – your babies should be able to keep themselves from falling off stuff, but just in case ...
The study, for all its "well, duh" conclusion, was pretty crafty in execution. It used a flat, raised surface, half of it clear glass the other half plywood covered by a patterned cloth. A board ran down the junction, and that's where they started the babies off. Moms would stand on one end or the other, calling to their infants and trying to bribe them with promises of pretty pinwheels. Most of the babies didn't want to venture onto the glass. But a few also engaged with the glass, despite eventually heading in the right direction, whether by leaning on and peering through it, or accidentally scooting back legs onto it while preparing to take off for the safe side.
So while babies might be able to perceive depth, they're not always so smart about what to do when they encounter it. Shocker. Go buy a baby gate and really stick it to science.
What kind of glue did Neanderthals use? Learn how scientists tried to replicate ancient tar-based adhesives in this HowStuffWorks article.
Author's Note: 10 Completely Obvious Research Discoveries
This article was a ton of fun to write. I got to read about a lot of good science, a lot of mediocre science and a lot of straight-up awful science. It's hard to tell which I enjoyed the most.
- 10 Accidental Inventions You Won't Believe
- 10 Silly Inventions That Became Wildly Famous
- 10 Weird Inventions That Made Millions
- Top 5 Crazy Government Experiments
- Top 5 Science-borne Superpowers
- Top 10 Ben Franklin Inventions
- Top 10 Industrial Revolution Inventions
- What were Nikola Tesla's famous inventions?
- Are patent trolls smothering innovation?
- Alfonso, Mariola et al. "The psychosocial impact of hair loss among men: a multinational European study." Informa Healthcare. 2005. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1185/030079905x61820
- Allen, Laura. "Science Confirms the Obvious!" PopSci. May 1, 2006. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2006-05/science-confirms-obvious
- Benson, Jason R. "The 6 Cruelest Science Experiments Ever (Were Done on Kids.") Cracked.com. Aug. 29, 1012. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.cracked.com/article_19993_the-6-cruelest-science-experiments-ever-were-done-kids_p2.html
- Britt, Robert Roy. "Drivers on Cell Phones Kill Thousands, Snarl Traffic." LiveScience. Feb. 1, 2005. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/121-drivers-cell-phones-kill-thousands-snarl-traffic.html
- Britt, Robert Roy. "High Heels Lead to Foot Pain." LiveScience. Sept. 29, 2009. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/7911-high-heels-lead-foot-pain.html
- Brown, Eryn. "'Duh' science: Why researchers spend so much time proving the obvious." LA Times. May 28, 2011. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/28/science/la-sci-duh-20110529
- Carli, Michele et al. "Temperature May Affect Clothing Choice." Building and Environment. December 2007. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132306003672
- Coughlan, Sean. "Hair today, gone tomorrow." BBC. May 9, 2012. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4750193.stm
- Crezo, Adrienne. "Science Sides with Captain Obvious: Unsurprising Study Results." NeatoRama. July 20, 2011. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.neatorama.com/2011/07/20/science-sides-with-captain-obvious-unsurprising-study-results/
- "Duh! 7 of 2010's most obvious scientific discoveries." The Week. Dec. 30, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://theweek.com/article/index/210383/duh-7-of-2010s-most-obvious-scientific-discoveries
- "Gallery: Science Confirms The Obvious." PopSci. Aug. 8, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.popsci.com/science/gallery/2010-07/gallery-science-confirms-obvious-2010?image=0
- Gibson, Eleanor and Walk, Richard. "The "Visual Cliff." Cornell University. 1960. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.scribd.com/doc/3956434/The-Visual-Cliff
- "Happy Guys Finish Last, Says New Study On Sexual Attractiveness." March 26, 2011. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110524070310.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:%20sciencedaily%20(ScienceDaily:%20Latest%20Science%20News)
- "Menu." Hooters. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.hooters.com/_content/menu/menu.aspx
- "Ignobles." Improbable Research. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.improbable.com/
- Koerth-Baker, Maggie. "First Shoes Worn 40,000 Years Ago." LiveScience. June 5, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/4964-shoes-worn-40-000-years.html
- Lynn, Michael. "Determinants and Consequences of Female Attractiveness and Sexiness: Realistic Tests with Restaurant Waitresses." Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2009. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18543091
- McManis, Sam. "Obvious conclusions from obvious studies." Phys.org. Fe. 2, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://phys.org/news184342719.html
- "No Duh! The Most Obvious Scientific Discoveries of 2009." LiveScience. Dec. 31, 2009. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/12/31/duh-obvious-scientific-discoveries/
- Oestreich, Alan. "Danger of Multiple Magnets beyond the Stomach in Children." Journal of the National Medical Association. Feb. 2006. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2595063/pdf/jnma00297-0163.pdf
- Parker-Pope, Tara. "What Are Friends For? A Longer Life." New York Times. April 20, 2009. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21well.html
- Rehm, Jurgen et al. "Alcohol consumption and the intention to engage in unprotected sex: systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies." Addiction. Vol. 107, Issue 1. Jan. 2012 (Sept. 14, 2012) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03621.x/abstract
- Rogelberg, Steven. "Meetings at Work." UNC Charlotte. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://orgscience.uncc.edu/sites/orgscience.uncc.edu/files/Meetings At Work.pdf
- Saad, Gad. "The Allure of a Female Hitchhiker's Breast Size (To Male Drivers)." Homo Consumericus. June 19, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homo-consumericus/201006/the-allure-female-hitchhiker-s-breast-size-male-drivers
- Strayer, David and Drews, Frank. "Proﬁles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers." University of Utah. Winter 2004. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/StrayerHFES04.pdf
- Tracy, Jessica and Beall, Alec. "Happy guys finish last: The impact of emotion expressions on sexual attraction." Emotion. 2011. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0022902
- Valeo, Tom. "Bald men often feel ashamed and inferior. Here's how to get over it." WebMD. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://men.webmd.com/features/going-bald-all-your-head
- van der Linden, Willemijne et. al. "Adaptive thermal comfort explained by PMV." Eindhoven University of Technology. 2008. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.bwk.tue.nl/bps/hensen/publications/08_indoor-air_linden.pdf
- "Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas Fights Illegally Parked Cars with Tank." Aug. 2, 2011. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-fWN0FmcIU
- Wanjack, Christopher. "Flip-Flops Bad For Feet." LiveScience. June 24, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/7520-flip-flops-bad-feet.html
- Watson, Jason and Strayer, David. "Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking abilities." Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 2010. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/publications/supertaskers.pdf
- Witcombe, Brian and Meyer, Dan. "Sword swallowing and its side effects." BMJ. Dec. 21, 2006. (Sept. 2, 2012) http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7582/1285.abstract