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Maria Ter-Mikaelian

The strange collision of my grandfather and my search for religion

My grandfather at age 97 in his ubiquitous tracksuit

It’s a year or two after 9/11. We’re in my cramped New York apartment, complete with a hissing radiator, cracking paint, and second-hand furniture. My grandfather sits in an armchair, wearing the faded green tracksuit he always uses as a house robe, solemnly reading aloud out of an equally faded book. “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore!’” he declaims emphatically. Over the last few weeks, he’s been trying to get me into poetry by treating me to some of his favorite poems after dinner.

I’m listening politely, but I’m rather bored. To be honest, it all sounds a bit pompous and overwrought…

Experiments from child psychology test dogs’ and cats’ attachment to their owners

Photos by Mary Swift (left) and Tatiana (right), Adobe Stock

We twenty-first century humans love our furry pets. American households with a pet now outnumber those with a child under 18, and most people consider their dogs and cats family members. [1-3] When asked how their pets view them in return, however, pet owners are less certain. We know we’re attached to our pets, but is it mutual?

Rules of Attachment

When psychologists talk about attachment, they don’t just mean a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather, they define attachment as a bond to someone who provides safety and security. Think of the role a parent plays for a one year-old child: the kid…

Unraveling the fascinating science behind the cliché

Photo: Lightfield Studios/Adobe Stock

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, once young kids fully master standing upright, they prefer to run instead of walking. As we adults scramble after them, we wonder aloud, “Why don’t I have that much energy?!”

The question is usually rhetorical, just something grownups say to each other as they roll their eyes. But really: why? Trying to answer this simple question will take us on a journey through some fascinating science experiments performed around the world.

You may remember learning about the Law of Conservation of Energy in high school, nicely summed up by this quote from the…

What 19th century novels got right about seasonal viruses

Left: Jane Bennet on the rainy horseback ride that gave her a cold. Drawing by Maria Ter-Mikaelian, based on the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride & Prejudice. Right: Photo by Quality Stock Arts/Adobe Stock.

“MY DEAREST LIZZY, I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday.” So lamented a character in Jane Austen’s 200-year-old novel, Pride and Prejudice. In that story, unlucky Jane gets caught in the rain while riding on horseback and promptly comes down with a bad cold, setting off a series of important events.

Jane is not alone among Austen characters: in Sense and Sensibility, melodramatic teen Marianne goes on long walks in the wet fields and ends up with a cold so violent as to make her family fear…

The surprising science of spine-tingling art

Photo: Kevin Jarrett/Flickr, source

I was folding laundry and listening to, of all things, the Bourne Supremacy soundtrack when it happened. Suddenly, my hands got damp, my heart sped up and my breath came faster, a shiver ran down my spine, and a goofy, slightly teary smile came unbidden to my face. I looked around to see whether anyone in the laundromat had noticed, but mercifully, they were all in their own worlds.

What was it, you ask? Something psychology and neuroscience researchers call an “aesthetic chill” — a peak emotional experience triggered by moving music, a powerful film scene, or an evocative verse…

Immediate & tested help for students

Photo: Miguel Angel/Flickr, source

It’s that time again. You’re holed up in your room, having announced to everyone that you have to study all weekend. The door is closed, and the noise of your anxious thoughts is suddenly deafening. That gnawing, uneasy feeling is growing stronger: you should have started studying long ago. In fact, when you consider how much material there actually is, you know there’s no way you’ll have time to look at everything now, let alone learn it.

Suddenly, that silly game on your phone is very interesting. You must read every tweet by that politician you can’t stand. …

A closer look at the costs and benefits to our health and performance

“Confusing Times” by Jimmy Hilario/Flickr, source

It’s that time again! Time to set our clocks forward and lose a delicious hour of the weekend. Last fall, I wrote about the fall time change and its effects on our health and productivity. This week, I would like to revisit this issue and examine the pros and cons of Daylight Saving Time in greater depth.

You will probably agree that changing our clocks twice a year is an inconvenience, one we tolerate in the name of saving energy. But what about the costs and benefits to our well-being and performance? …

Citizen science projects where you can make a difference in as little as 30 minutes

Photo: Or Hiltch/Flickr, source

Did you ever dream about being a scientist as a kid? Or perhaps recent movies, like Hidden Figures, have inspired you to ponder a career path you never thought possible? Well, the good news is — you don’t have to go back to school for a Ph.D. to engage in citizen science. No lab coat is needed — all you need is a subject you are passionate about and a willingness to donate your time and effort, from as little as 30 minutes to an ongoing commitment of one or more hours a week. If you are reading this post…

Research provides insights into the minds of farm animals

Photo: Tim Green/Flickr, source.

My two-year-old son is fascinated by cows. He loves to look at all the cow pictures on his milk carton, and a really special treat is watching a 5-minute YouTube video of cows grazing in a field. I bet that most of us started out with the same fascination with farm animals. What toddler didn’t love learning that a cow says “moo” and a pig says “oink” (or, if your first language was Mandarin, “hroo”)?

Somewhere along the way, though, we lose that sense of awe about farm animals. As adults, we rarely spare a thought for cows, or if…

Maria Ter-Mikaelian

Maria has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and writes depth pieces about the biology of humans and other animals. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTerScience

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