24 May 2019

The Most Creative Age

When does creativity
glow brightest
Welcome back. Are you creative? Do you or did you ever have the ability to produce original or unusual ideas or make something new or imaginative? Did your creativity peak at a certain age?

A number of studies have examined how old people were when they were most creative, when they did their best work. The ages vary with the field or endeavor, and you may find fault with the criteria used for rating creativity; but you still might be interested to see how your creative peak--whether past, present or future--compares to that of others.

Peak Creativity in Forms of Art
In separate investigations, a researcher from the Erasmus School of Economics in the Netherlands determined the age when modern art painters, writers and classical music composers produced their best work.

To assess the most creative age of painters in a 2013 study, he began with the 189 highest-price paintings. The average age of the painters who created these paintings was nearly 42.

For writers, he considered Nobel Prizes for Literature. In a 2014 study, he found the average age of 89 Nobel Laureates approached 45 when they wrote their prize-winning work.

And for his 2016 study of composers, he identified the 100 most popular classical music composers from a website that documents the most often performed works. The average age at which they composed their most popular work was about 39.

Peak Creativity in Sciences
Determining the age when Nobel Laureates did their prize-winning work was the approach taken earlier by researchers affiliated with Northwestern and Ohio universities and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their 2011 study analyzed 525 Nobel Laureates in physics (182), chemistry (153) and medicine (190) from 1901 to 2008.

They found the differences among the three fields were small compared with the differences over time within each field. For example, before 1905, 60% to 70% of prize-winning work was done before age 40, with about 20% before age 30. By the end of the century, Nobel prize-winning work before age 30 was near 0%.

The mean age at which Nobel Laureates produced their prize-winning work in physics, chemistry and medicine from 1901 to 2008 (whole), through 1905 (early) and from 1985 (late); standard errors in parentheses (from www.pnas.org/content/108/47/18910).
The age increase mirrors both the increase in training--how long it takes to acquire foundational knowledge--and the decrease in theoretical contributions.

Regarding training, most Nobel laureates in these fields earned their PhDs by age 25 in the early 20th century. The number dropped substantially by the end of the century.

As for the nature of the contribution, theoretical/deductive contributions tend to come earlier in scientific careers than do inductive contributions, which build more on the knowledge associated with increased training.

Peak Creativity in Economics

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, officially “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” was established in 1968, not by Alfred Nobel’s will (from www.geni.com/projects/Nobel-Prize-Winners-in-Economics/8200).
In a recent study of age and creativity--the study that got me started--collaborators from Ohio State and Chicago universities examined 31 Nobel Laureates in economics.

By ranking the laureates on a scale from most conceptual/deductive to most experimental/inductive, they found the conceptual laureates made their most important contribution at an age of about 25, while experimental laureates peaked in their mid-50s.

Wrap Up

Comment on creativity
attributed to Einstein.
Well? How do you compare? Don’t lose sight of the many other forms of creativity or the other criteria for judging creativity.

If you’re into the mystical, you’ll appreciate how the researcher who studied painters, writers and composers expanded his assessment. Besides determining the average ages of peak creativity, he calculated the percentages of lifespan they had lived to that point.

It turns out that those percentages for painters and composers, 62% and 61%, are almost exactly the golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion among other labels. (Writers, at 57%, are off a bit.)

Apparently, Euclid studied the mathematical properties of the golden ratio around 300 BC, and its proportions pop up in music, art, architecture and patterns of nature. If you’re reading this, it’s too early for you to calculate your ratio. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of when painters did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2013.843912
Study of when writers did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2014.929435
Study of when composers did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2016.1162489
Article on forms of art creative peak on Washington Post website: www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/23/when-you-will-most-likely-hit-your-creative-peak-according-to-science/

Study of scientific creativity in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org/content/108/47/18910
Study of economics creativity in De Economist journal: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10645-019-09339-9
Article on economics creativity on EurekAlert website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/osu-cin042319.php
Golden ratio: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio

17 May 2019

Do Cats Know Their Name?

The three cats, from left, Rex, Boss
and Lassie, ready to respond.
Welcome back. In 2011, I blogged about the three cats we once had (Time for Pets--Cats and Time for Pets--Cats Revisted). I included an excerpt from a note I’d left for a new pet sitter: Age and weight are causing [Lassie] to rethink her life, but she's the only one of the three who knows and will respond to her name, presuming she feels like it.

Did Lassie really know her name? I had to wait until 2019 to get an answer.

Cat Name-Discrimination Study
Researchers affiliated with Japan’s Tokyo, Musashino and Sophia universities and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science investigated the ability of domestic cats to discriminate words uttered by humans, especially their own names.

They conducted four experiments, using a habituation-dishabituation approach.

In each experiment, they presented four different words to each cat as habituation stimuli, expecting the cat’s response to decrease over the four words. (In essence, the cat would likely perk up for the first word, then eventually lose interest.)

They then presented the test stimulus, the cat’s name, monitoring for habituated cats to dishabituate--for their response to rebound from the fourth word to their name. That would indicate the cat discriminated its own name.

Do you really think I’ll
come running if you call?

(Jasmine, the Sphynx cat, from
Vacuuming with Cats Photo Addendum)
Cat Experiment Logistics
The five words were recorded beforehand and played serially for the cats at 15-second intervals. The cats’ responses were videotaped and analyzed for type (ear moving, head moving, vocalizing, tail moving and displacement) and magnitude.

Testing was done where the cats lived, mostly in family households or a “cat café,” a business establishment where visitors interact with cats. The cat being tested was not isolated from cohabiting cats. Some cats participated in more than one experiment at least 2-weeks apart.

The researchers collected key data about the cats tested, e.g., sex, age, mongrel or breed, neutered or not, how long it had lived with the owner, how many other cats it lived with and owner’s gender. All were indoor cats but one.

Cat-Experiments and Results
Experiment 1 tested 16 cats living in households with 2 or fewer other cats. The stimuli--4 general nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by the cat owner. Eleven cats habituated, and 9 of the 11 responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 2 tested 34 cats, each living with 4 or more other cats; 24 in households, 10 in a cat café. The habituation stimuli were the names of 4 cats cohabiting with the test cat. All stimuli were recorded by the cat owners. Fifteen cats (6 household, 9 café) habituated, and 9 of the 15 (6 household and 3 café) responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 3 tested 29 cats, each living with 4 or more other cats; 20 in households, 9 in a cat café. The stimuli--4 nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by the cat owner. In all, 21 cats (14 household, 7 café) habituated; 13 of the 21 cats responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 4 tested 33 cats, each living with 5 or fewer other cats; 30 in households, 3 in university labs. The stimuli--4 nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by two women unknown to the cats. Twenty cats habituated, and 13 of the 20  responded significantly to their names. 

Habituated cats’ mean response to stimuli in (a) Experiment 1, (b) Experiment 2, (c) Experiment 3 and (d) Experiment 4; bars are standard error, asterisks indicate significant differences (P<0.05); from www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40616-4.
Wrap Up
So, do cats know their names? The household cats that habituated to nouns or other cats’ names generally responded significantly to their own names--they discriminated their names. Café cats also discriminated their names from nouns but not from cohabiting cats’ names.

Did I hear you say, Vet?
(Boss, from Time for Pets--Cats)
To be clear, there’s no evidence cats attach meaning to their names. They learn that when they hear their names, they’ll be rewarded (food, play) or “penalized” (a visit to the vet). The sound of their name becomes distinct, even if they don’t attach it to identity.

Will cats come if you call? In the experiments, the cats’ typical response was moving their ears and heads; fewer than 10% demonstrated vocalization, tail movement or displacement. Why come if there’s no guarantee of a reward?

I never took Lassie to the vet; Vicki handled that. Lassie only hesitated to come when I called as she got older (and heavier). Thanks for stopping by.

Study of cat name discrimination in Scientific Reports journal: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40616-4
Articles on study on TIME and Scientific American websites:
Related study of cats recognizing owner’s voice: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10071-013-0620-4

10 May 2019

Mosquitoes Interrupted

Welcome back. If there were any doubt, last summer confirmed that Wisconsin’s state bird is indeed the mosquito. To make life worse, the weather was such that Vicki and I finally broke down and installed a window air conditioner. The invading mosquitoes might have slipped through our doorway; more likely, we failed to seal the opening around the air conditioner.

I have never encountered so many mosquitoes buzzing about in a domicile. The hungry females were biting day and night.

Adult female Aedes (Stegomyia) aegypti (yellow fever) mosquito—not our biting invader, but the same structure (from www.researchgate.net/figure/FIGURE-B-Dorsal-view-of-adult-female-mosquito-Aedes-Stegomyia-aegypti_fig32_228820694).
Though I fought valiantly with a hand vacuum, we eventually discovered that the mosquitoes thinned out and slowed down when the air conditioner was actually running. At the time, I attributed their retreat and more passive state to the cooler temperature or the effect of the machine’s vibrations on the window opening seal.

Now I’m wondering if it was simply related to the noise, as suggested by various studies, including the latest on mosquitoes’ reaction to electronic dance music.

Sound Disrupts Mosquito Behavior
It’s long been known that sound and its reception are crucial for reproduction, survival and population maintenance of many animals.

Mosquitoes mating in midair
(photo by C. Walcott, from
Over 150 years ago it was speculated that sound reception was involved with mosquito mating, which usually occurs in-flight. A 2006 study showed that interactive auditory behavior between the males and females--the tones produced by their wing-beat frequency--leads to sexual recognition. That and later studies established that mating success requires the male to harmonize its wing-beat tone with that of the female.

It was thought that the mosquitoes’ hearing mechanism--two feathery antennae--would limit sound reception to short distances; however, investigators from Cornell, Northwestern, Harvard and Binghamton universities recently determined that the sound of female wings buzzing sets males in motion up to 10 meters (about 33 feet) away.

Head of a male Anopheles mosquito; note antennae are inserted into doughnut shaped pedicel, the site of the Johnston’s hearing organ (from
(Unrelated yet of interest, they also found that the frequency of human speech lies in the sweet spot of mosquito hearing sensitivity.) 

Mosquitos Don’t Like Dubstep
All this brings me to the study that found what is music to humans is noise to mosquitoes. A dubstep song by Skrillex had a major effect on mosquito behavior.

(Dubstep is a form of electronic dance music that originated in South London in the late 1990s. Sonny John Moore, known professionally as Skrillex, is an American record producer, DJ, singer, songwriter and musician. He has won eight Grammys, the most by an electronic dance music artist.)

Skrillex, the Grammy-winning electronic dance music artist (from www.magneticmag.com/2015/06/one-image-skrillex-will-change-your-perspective-on-life/).
The study was conducted by an international team of investigators led by researchers from the University of Malaysia, Sarawak. The goals were to provide insight into mosquitoes’ auditory sensitivity and examine the potential for music-based mosquito control measures.

In multiple 10-minute trials with different mosquitoes, the researchers subjected a cage of 10 hungry adult female mosquitoes to two conditions, music on or music off. In the cage with the females were a male mosquito for mating and a hamster as bait.

With the music off, the females visited the hamster much sooner and more often; attacked the hamster much sooner with much greater blood feeding; and copulated about five times more often. In other words, the dubstep music delayed the attack, reduced blood feeding and disrupted mating.

The mean (+/- standard error) time (seconds) before female mosquitoes first visited the hamster when dubstep music was off and on (from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0001706X19301202).
Wrap Up
I should point out that the studies I’ve mentioned generally tested different mosquito species. The dubstep study, for example, used Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, a known vector of yellow and dengue fever viruses and other diseases.

The song used in the dubstep study (see P.S.) was chosen for its mix of very high and very low frequencies. Listening to it, I can understand why mosquitoes might be disrupted. I kind of liked it. See what you think. Anyway, at bedtime, I’d prefer to hear the air conditioner. Thanks for stopping by. 

Example studies of mosquito communication:
1980: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01953800
2006: www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0960-9822%2806%2901636-8
2009: www.nature.com/news/2009/091231/full/news.2009.1167.html
Dubstep mosquito study in Acta Tropica journal: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0001706X19301202
Articles on dubstep study on BBC and LiveScience websites:
Mosquito hearing distance study in Current Biology journal: www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)30028-4
Dubstep and Skrillex:
Dubstep mosquito study music, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSeNSzJ2-Jw

07 May 2019

The Neighbor’s Auction, continued

Welcome back. Get comfortable, and I’ll pick up where I left off with The Neighbor’s Auction.

The auction website announced that nearly 300 items would be offered, including milk cans, a scythe, saws, horse blanket pins, sports posters, lightning rods, a vintage clothes wringer, rug beaters and 1925-1931 license plates. And there were many modern items such as a snow blower, firearms, binoculars, shop tools and a 2006 Lincoln 4-door pickup.

Here are examples of what besides horse-drawn carriages and sleighs went to the highest bidders.

English-style telephone booth and 1948 Willy's Jeep.
Statue, many carriage wheels, shafts and singletrees.
A wide variety of miniatures.
Carriage buggy lights (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
The auction offered C.S. and other bells (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
What every home needs, spittoons (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
A Gamewell Co. fire alarm box (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
A very tall glass-cylinder Sinclair Dino gas pump (left) and a Sinclair Aircraft clock-face gas pump (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
A stoplight and Shell gas pump (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
A wall-mounted ECO Tireflator air pump (from www.wisconsinauctionservice.com).
Vicki’s two Farmall tractors.
Vicki’s tractors sold as did all the other items she added--among them, a pony trailer, farm scales, grain cleaner, corn grinder, a Remington Rand manual typewriter, kerosene lamps, wooden canes, large framed oil portraits of unknown man and woman and Ford Model T parts (she’d already sold the Model T her father built).

The auction certainly helped Bernie's family as well as Vicki clean house. Thanks for stopping by.

03 May 2019

The Neighbor’s Auction

Welcome back. Welcome back to me, too. It’s been a while since I did more than tweak and transfer posts to this blog website from my other website, Warren’s Notice, which I’ll be shutting down.

Now that I’m back, I’ll continue to review research of general interest in a mostly non-technical way; but as in the past, I’ll also get into all sorts of other things that I hope you’ll also find of interest, like today’s topic.

A neighbor just held an auction. The only other auction I’d witnessed was nearly 50 years ago, and that was nothing special. This one was a big event. As an auctioneer website advertised, it offered the largest collection of beautiful carriages around, as well as many unusual items you will never see again on an auction.

A few of the antique horse-drawn carriages and sleighs being auctioned.
The Auction’s Background
The neighbor, Bernie, was a collector. He began planning the auction a year or more ago having decided that, on reaching his 80th year, he would clean house. Atop his and the auction list were about 30 antique horse-drawn carriages and sleighs, which he had acquired around the country, carefully restored and proudly showed at area parades.

Not being auction-goers, we wouldn’t have known about it if he hadn’t invited Vicki to add items for auction when she sought his advice about disposing of two old tractors and other farm equipment.

Although Bernie passed away several weeks before the auction, his family worked with two auction companies to pull off the day-long event in style despite the mud and chilly weather.

People started to gather early for the auction. Note the two white pickup truck enclosures. Each would house the auctioneer from one of the two auction companies.
Auction Logistics
Drive down to the church parking lot
or park on one side of any of the
roads around the auction site.
In addition to borrowing the neighborhood’s church parking lot, the family and helpers posted No Parking signs on one side of the road throughout the area. That would ensure space for two tractor-pulled hay wagons to travel a circuit, picking-up and dropping-off people wherever they parked.
One of two tractor-pulled hay wagons circling the area to pick up and drop off auction-goers.
The total attendance was likely around 600 people. Well over 300 registered to receive bidder numbers, and many bidders were accompanied by others. 
The Lions Club volunteers’ food stand.
I expect that a sizable number of people stopped by, as Vicki and I did, for a look at what was being auctioned. Still others brought their lawn chairs and made a day of it. To facilitate the latter, Lions Club volunteers erected and staffed a food stand and two porta-potties were available. Adding to the attendee list, of course, were Bernie’s family and helpers and the auctioneers’ staff.
A load of miscellaneous items ready to be auctioned off.
Auctioneer (in pickup truck enclosure on right) calling for bids on items shown by two men, one standing high in front and, off his left arm, the other standing in back.
Carriages and Sleighs
So as not to overload this blog post, I’ll illustrate a few more carriages and sleighs and hold examples of other auctioned items for a separate blog post. I’ll try to have that post ready by next Tuesday. I hope you’ll be back.

Horse-drawn carriages and sleighs on display.
Three horse-drawn carriages, including a U.S. Mail buggy (left).
Horse-drawn curved-glass hearse and sleigh and a junior Ford Model T.
Though not a carriage or sleigh, this horse-drawn dairy wagon was equally impressive.