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Originally published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Probing and prodding people, not turkeys

What are you going to be talking about over turkey? How about some tidbits of information from around the fringes of the news.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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What are you going to be talking about over turkey?

You might want to skip politics and the economy, and retell all those old stories about family and friends that reinforce relationships. Or how about some tidbits of information from around the fringes of the news?

For instance, while the story of ex-CIA Director David Petraeus' cheating was burning brightly, I saw a report about some interesting research on fidelity.

Researchers in Germany had men interact with an attractive woman they didn't know, one at a time.

They gave some of the men a dose of oxytocin, a hormone that is involved in promoting social bonds.

Men who were in committed relationships and were given oxytocin felt uncomfortable being too near the woman. They wanted to keep some distance between them, apparently because they were feeling warm and fuzzy toward their partner.

Oxytocin had no effect on men who weren't in a relationship.

So you can debate around the table whether men should be given oxytocin before leaving the house, or should be smart enough to keep their distance anyway.

I saw another study that might help with that.

Young men and women who were friends were asked separately whether they were sexually attracted to each other. Men tended to be attracted to their female friends and to believe that their female friends were attracted to them. Most of the women, it turns out, didn't think their male friends were the least bit sexually appealing. Guys, now you know.

As researchers studied older and older groups, they found men less likely to see romance in their friends and women slightly more likely than younger women to view their male friends with romantic possibilities in mind. But when attraction existed, most friends saw it as more of a problem than a benefit.

On second thought, maybe you don't want to talk about either of those studies over dinner. Just use them as a reminder to keep your eyes on your own plate.

Let's move on.

More evidence of flawed thinking showed up just in time for all those post-Thanksgiving sales.

If you are going to pay with cash, make sure your bills look nice. It could save you a lot.

Researchers gave subjects a 20-dollar bill as part of an experiment on spending decisions. Some got crisp bills and some got worn bills. What they found is people are more willing to part with dirty money.

It's a gut feeling with people: A worn bill just doesn't seem as valuable as a new one.

Here's something no one at your table will have guessed. Swimming makes kids smarter, sort of.

A study that followed 7,000 children for three years found that the ones who learned to swim early did better at preschool and early school tasks such as coloring and working with numbers.

What got researchers interested is hearing swimming instructors say their students seemed to have more confidence and better skills at lots of activities outside the pool than other children do.

Is swimming really special, and if it is, why? Researchers are still working on that part. Of course, there aren't many other sports a child can take part in before even learning to walk.

The last study I'll offer up added to our sense that people are pigs, or at least we have even more in common with them physically than we already knew. The study of pig genetics found immune-system similarities that should be beneficial to medical researchers and to people who raise pigs.

The only good news for pigs in all this is that study didn't find that people behave more like pigs than we thought. Pigs everywhere will be relieved.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or Twitter: @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays. | 206-464-3346


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