10 Studies Connecting Completely Bizarre Things

Harvard medical students toast their graduation with some wine. A study showed intelligent people were more likely to be binge drinkers. What other unusual connections have researchers studied?
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Knowledge is power. Perhaps that's why so much time and energy go into scientific and other types of research. There are studies verifying the links between smoking and heart disease or diabetes and fatty foods. We nod our heads and say, "That makes sense."

Then you have the studies linking things together that just make you scratch your head. Like winning an Oscar and living longer. Or listening to country music and committing suicide (well, maybe that makes sense). These are just a few of the off-the-wall connections some of the world's best and brightest have dedicated their lives to uncovering.


Yet, they don't crack the top 10 bizarre connections revealed by studies. Read on to see what does.

10: Tipping and Corruption

Countries with higher levels of tipping also tend to have more political corruption.

Throwing a little extra change to the waiter, delivery boy, taxi driver, grocery store bagger, moving man or masseuse is supposed to be a sign of generosity. A 2012 study out of Harvard University, however, shows that countries with higher levels of tipping also tend to have more political corruption. The study's authors say that the correlation may be explained by a simple principle of free market economics: There's no such thing as a free lunch. Heavy tippers, just like people who use bribes to open political and business doors, expect the gratuities will get them something in the future [source: Torafson, et al].

The study authors said the link is strongest for those whose tipping has a "prospective orientation (to obtain advantageous service in the future)" rather than a "retrospective orientation (to reward advantageous service in the past)."


9: Curvy Figures and Big Brains

Cookbook author and TV personality Nigella Lawson has both a curvy figure and a degree from Oxford.
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Actress Christina Hendricks has become a modern icon of full-figured beauty since coming on the scene as Joan Harris, the voluptuous secretary-turned-business partner on TV's "Mad Men." And her character's rise in the business world might have had some help from genes. Research shows that curvy women are more intelligent than their thinner sisters.

In a 2007 study of 16,000 women and girls, researchers at the Universities of Pittsburgh and California found that women whose waists were roughly 70 percent of the diameter of their hips outscored women with higher waist-to-hip (WHR) ratios on cognitive tests. The study's authors claim that this strange phenomenon may be caused by higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are typically stored around the hips and also contribute to brain growth [sources: BBC, Childs].


Experts point out that the difference in cognitive abilities between the two groups is very small: 3.6 to 7 percent. And of course, many women's WHR ratios change as they get older without any decrease in intelligence [source: Childs].

8: Lots of Booze and High IQ

Apparently, college students drink a lot not because they're in college -- but because they're smarter than people who don't go to college.
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Rather than hips, maybe liquor is the missing link to intelligence. According to studies on alcohol consumption in the U.S. and U.K. (spanning 55 years!), smarter folks are more likely to enjoy getting hammered. Researchers found that teenagers with an IQ of 125 (labeled "very bright") were likely to drink more than twice as many beers in an average night during adulthood as those with an IQ of 75 or less (labeled "very dull") [sources: Mueller, Kanazawa].

The very bright also engaged in binge drinking about every other month, while the very dull engaged in binge drinking less than once a year. Binge drinking was defined by the study as consuming five or more drinks in a row. So why would this be? One researcher says that consuming alcohol (including binge drinking) is evolutionarily novel, and more intelligent people tend to engage in evolutionarily novel behaviors (behaviors humans were not biologically destined to do). Therefore, brighter people are apparently likelier to do this not-very-bright thing [sources: Kanazawa].


7: Finger Length and SAT Scores

Finger length ratio has a link with exam performance.

Maybe intellectual salvation actually lies in your hands. According to a 2007 study published in the British Journal of Psychology, there's a link between the ratio of the length of a person's index to ring finger and their performance on the SAT exam. The study found that boys with higher ring-to-index finger ratios tended to perform better on the test's math section than their peers, while girls with a lower ratio generally had better verbal scores [sources: Live Science, University of Bath].

The correlation tracks back to hormone exposure in the womb. Higher levels of testosterone lead to both a longer ring finger compared to the index finger and higher math skills. Higher levels of estrogen mean a shorter ring finger compared to the index finger as well as higher verbal ability [sources: Live Science, University of Bath]. A related study showed that male academics in science tended to have very little difference in digital ratio, which meant they had almost equal levels of testosterone and estrogen -- thus possessing both verbal and numeracy skills [source: Curtis].


6: Flu Shots and Heart Attacks

Major health organizations recommend heart disease patients get a flu shot to lessen their chances of cardiac arrest.

Many people don't like shots. The idea of having a sharp object jammed into your arm -- or elsewhere -- can be less than comforting. Yet there are plenty of good reasons to grin and bear it, like wanting to remain free of nasty health conditions like the measles and dengue fever. But the flu vaccination has another nice benefit: It may help your heart.

Medical researchers say that getting annual flu shots can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by more than 50 percent in people who've already had at least one heart attack. Some experts surmise that the vaccine helps protect "vulnerable plaque" in the body from flu-caused inflammation that can later cause cardiac problems. Others say the flu virus's side effects -- coughing, low blood pressure -- can put strain on the heart and cause cardiac distress. Major health groups recommend heart disease patients get the flu vaccine [source: Hellmich].


5: Hiccups and Rectal Massages

If the old fright cure doesn't work for your hiccups, maybe a rectal massage might do the trick.
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Can't shake those pesky hiccups? Try a massage. No, not a back rub. Something, er, lower down. Doctors at the Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, Israel say they cured a 60-year-old patient's persistent hiccups with digital rectal massage. When the problem re-arose, they went back to the well and were able to massage the hiccups right out of his system again [source: Odeh, et al].

So how did that work? Hiccupping is caused by spasms from cranial nerves called the vagus and phrenic nerves, which stimulate the area around the diaphragm. These nerves also send and receive signals from the thorax, gut and GI tract. So, if you have spasms in these nerves, stimulation from a finger up the rectum (which as you might guess is a sensitive area) might help. The vagus nerve, in particular, has a lot of innervation in the rectum [source: Scicurious]. Though the scientists recommend this treatment to others, no large-scale study has been done and this is probably one study that will have difficulty recruiting subjects.


4: Bladder Control and Saving Money

Controlling the urge to pee seems to go hand-in-hand with controlling your urge to spend.
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The ability to control one's bladder isn't just handy in all situations like when facing a malfunctioning commode or a stalled subway ride. It's also apparently a way of life. Greater levels of bladder control result in an increasing ability to resist the urge to spend money, say a group of academics in Norway. "Inhibitory spillover" refers to the idea that one's ability to control one type of urge -- like having to pee -- can carry over to other aspects of life, including thriftiness [source: Tuk, et al].

In other words, if the thought of a liquid substance spilling makes you want to run to the nearest restroom, you may be a compulsive spender.


3: Ambidexterity and Manipulation

Researchers found that ambidextrous subjects were much more prone to emotional manipulation than their right-handed peers.
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Only 5 percent of humans are ambidextrous -- that is, able to use both hands equally well to perform everyday activities [source: Jabr]. Being both-handed is a nice skill to have, whether it's on a baseball diamond or working at one of those German beer halls where the staff is required to carry no less than 17 mugs at a time. But according to a study out of Montclair State University in New Jersey, the gift of ambidexterity may also come with a significant weakness.

By playing classical music and asking subjects to think happy, sad or nervous thoughts, a researcher found that ambidextrous subjects were much more prone to emotional manipulation than their right-handed peers. People in the former group were more likely to shift emotions on command, while right-handers were less malleable. It's believed that the correlation stems from how brains are organized. Ambidextrous people have larger corpus callosums – the structure that links the two halves of the brain. The increased communication between the two hemispheres apparently means both greater flexibility of the hands and greater suggestibility of the emotions [source: Jabr].


2: Commute Times and Political Engagement

You might think your long commute gives you less time to be politically engaged but experts think it's the stress that is the real problem.

The longer your work commute, the less likely you are to be politically engaged. Researchers say this connection isn't simply a matter of having less time to devote to politics, but instead possibly the stress associated with long commutes. Many people who spend hours a day slogging to and from the office are simply mentally and emotionally drained, leaving them with little or nothing in the tank for civic involvement [source: Inskeep].

Money may also play a factor. The 2013 study concluded that the effects of commuting on political engagement decrease as the subject's income rises. For the "very wealthy" the researchers even found that longer commutes actually meant more civic commitment [source: Inskeep].


1: Studying Ethics and Committing Theft

If you study ethics, you might be more likely to steal books.

Here's one we really didn't see coming: Ethicists steal more than people outside the field. At least that was the surprising conclusion drawn by a philosophy professor in California whose research showed that contemporary ethics texts mainly borrowed from libraries by academics in the field were about 50 percent more likely to go missing than other books [source: Schwitzgebel].

Does that mean that studying about moral behavior makes one less moral? No, says study author Eric Schwitzgebel, but it might undermine morality when it supports rationalization. "Rationalization may be especially likely when conventional norms and ordinary behavior are both morally good and contrary to self-interest -- as in the case of the return of library books."

"We are not conducting this inquiry in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good," Aristotle is believed to have said about the study of philosophy and ethics. Better keep hitting the books. Just remember to return them.

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Author's Note: 10 Studies Connecting Completely Bizarre Things

The great thing about writing for HowStuffWorks is the seemingly endless array of interesting and obscure topics that I'm asked to delve into in any given assignment. Sure, as a single 30-something man, explaining why families should build traditions wasn't really at the top of my list of things to do. But, I've also learned about false scarcities, insanity, the true history of Thanksgiving, the NSA and miniature drone technology. This time around, it was binge drinking, theft and emotional manipulation. Also: rectal massage. Do not forget the rectal massage.

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  • BBC. "Curvy women may be a clever bet." Nov. 12, 2007. (Dec. 15, 2013) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7090300.stm
  • Blain, Loz. "Study shows finger length can predict SAT scores." Gizmag. May 29, 2007. (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.gizmag.com/go/7317
  • Childs, Dan. "Are Curvy Women More Intelligent?" ABC News. Nov. 13, 2007. (Dec. 15, 2013). http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=3859175
  • Curtis, Polly. "Finger points to good research skills." The Guardian. Oct. 20, 2004. (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.theguardian.com/education/2004/oct/20/science.highereducation
  • Hellmich, Nanci. "Flu vaccine cuts risk of heart attack for some patients." USA Today. Oct. 22, 2013 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/22/flu-vaccine-heart-attack/3150819/
  • Inskeep, Steve. "Study: Commuting Adversely Affects Political Engagement." NPR. Nov. 16, 2013 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.npr.org/2013/11/19/246085202/study-commuting-adversely-affects-political-engagement
  • Jabr, Ferris. "Ambidextrous people easier to influence emotionally" New Scientist. Feb. 21, 2011 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20156-ambidextrous-people-easier-to-influence-emotionally.html#.Uq5JJ-I7DoY
  • Kanazawa, Satoshi. "Why Intelligent People Drink More Alcohol." Psychology Today. Oct. 10, 2010. (Dec. 17, 2013). http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201010/why-intelligent-people-drink-more-alcohol
  • Kanazawa, Satoshi. "More Intelligent People Are More Likely to Binge Drink and Get Drunk." Psychology Today. Feb 13, 2011 (Dec. 17, 2013). http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201102/more-intelligent-people-are-more-likely-binge-drink-and-ge
  • Mueller, Ann Tracy. "Infographic: What does your IQ have to do with binge drinking?" Ragan's Health Care Communication News. Aug. 27, 2013 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.healthcarecommunication.com/PublicRelations/Articles/Infographic_What_does_your_IQ_have_to_do_with_bing_11450.aspx
  • Odeh, Majed, Bassan H, Oliven A.. "Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage" Journal of Internal Medicine. Feb. 1990 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2299306
  • Schwitzgebel, Eric. "Do Ethicists Steal More Books?" Philosophical Psychology. Dec. 11, 2009 (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzAbs/EthicsBooks.htm
  • Scicurious. "The new cure for the hiccups? Rectal stimulation." Scientopia. Jan. 28, 2011. http://scientopia.org/blogs/scicurious/2011/01/28/friday-weird-science-the-new-cure-for-the-hiccups-rectal-stimulation/
  • The Best Masters Degrees Reviews. "Drunken Geniuses." (Dec. 15, 2013) http://www.bestmastersdegrees.com/drunken-geniuses
  • Torafson, Thor, Flynn, Francis J., Kupor, Daniella. "Here's a Tip: Prosocial Gratuities Are Linked to Political Corruption." Harvard University. (Dec. 15, 2013) http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9491448
  • Tuk, Mirjam, Trampe, Debra and Warlop, Luk. "Inhibitory spillover: Increased urination urgency facilitates impulse control in unrelated domains." Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. (Dec. 15, 2013)