Tag Archives: uc san diego

The lawnmowers of coral reef


In the first global snapshot of its kind, a team of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has shown how overfishing has impacted seaweed-eating fish that are vital to coral reef health. Study leader Jennifer Smith says there are many species of fish and invertebrates that act as lawnmowers in these fragile ecosystems.

If you take away the lawnmower or the weed whackers in your own yard, you know what happens. You get the weeds growing and they will grow over, out-compete the plants that you are trying to cultivate. The same things happens on a coral reef where, if you don’t have the lawnmowers, these weeds can overgrow and out-compete the corals, which are the ecosystem engineers.

Smith says their study found that populations of plant-eating fish declined by more than half in areas that were overfished.

One of the goals is to help many places develop better management and conservation strategies for their coral reef ecosystem across the Pacific and Caribbean.

Do spoilers really ruin stories?

Game of Thrones

Spoilers give away endings before stories begin and the conventional wisdom is that they diminish suspense and ruin a story, but here’s the twist…

Research by UC San Diego psychologists find that spoilers make reading stories more enjoyable (Story spoilers don’t spoil stories).

How they tested it: Participants in the study were given a series of short stories that they hadn’t read before (covering a variety of genres: an ironic-twist story, a mystery, and a more evocative literary story).  Some participants were given a story with a paragraph that spoiled the story, while others were not.  They then rated the story in terms of enjoyment.

It turns out that most of the people for whom the story was “spoiled” reported enjoying it more than those who read it unprepared.

This was true whether the spoiler revealed a twist at the end (e.g., that the condemned man’s daring escape is just a fantasy as the rope snaps taut around his neck) or solved the crime (e.g., Poirot discovers that the apparent target of attempted murder was in fact the perpetrator). It was also true when the spoiler was more poetic.

What it means: Spoilers may allow readers to organize developments, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading — which is consistent with the idea that we can re-watch a movie or re-read a book and still enjoy it.

Read more about the research at NPR

This is a declarative sentence?

“Men don’t think they do it, but they do,” explains Amanda Ritchart, a linguistics grad student at UCSD.

‘It’ is uptalk, the oft-mocked conversational style that uses a rising pitch at the end of utterances. Here’s a classic example:

A coffee shop barista asks a person for his or her name. The person says their name almost as if it were a question (Mike?, Isabelle?), even though we know that this person is not actually questioning his or her name.

Although it’s associated with the caricature of valley girls (as seen in the 1995 movie Clueless)some linguists date it to the 1950s, while others argue it is centuries old.

To investigate the phenomena of uptalk, Ritchart and Amalia Arvanti gathered 23 undergraduates (who were native speakers of SoCal English*) and gave them two tasks:

  • Use a map to give directions to a listener.
  • Describe a sitcom clip they had just watched. (Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother were the chose sitcoms, in case you were wondering…)

“For young speakers in Southern California, no matter the gender, the ethnicity, the socioeconomic background, everyone uses uptalk,” Ritchart says.  The researchers found that uptalk could also serve a strategic purposes such as confirmation (“are you following me on this?”):

When giving directions, a non-uptalker would use a declarative sentence, without a rising inflection. But uptalkers did use rises, as if they were implicitly asking the listener to confirm that they were being understood: “Go all the way to the right in the middle where it says Canyon Hills?” Both the men and women in the study used uptalk 100 percent of the time in these so-called “confirming” statements.

In such instances, uptalk suggests confidence or paternalism (maybe even coercion).  Another technique the researchers identified was ‘floor-holding’ — where a speaker, anticipating being interrupted by the listener, tries to fight it off by using a rising tone at the end of the statement:

In the study, women spoke with the floor-holding rise nearly 60 percent of the time: “O.K., so go toward Warren” (pronounced as a high-rising “Waa—REN?”). Men used it only 28 percent of the time, tending instead to maintain steady voices, in a plateau. Amalia Arvaniti, a co-author of the study who is now head of the English language and linguistics department at the University of Kent in England, said, “It could indicate that young women were generally interrupted more than men and so it’s a defense mechanism.”

It’s easy to dismiss uptalk as the language of airheads, but in fact, it appears that it can be quite useful.

Arvanti added that the research doesn’t imply that Uptalk doesn’t happen outside of Southern California or that young men have only recently picked up uptalk:  ”The primary motivation was to document the form and function of uptalk in SoCal because there was so little systematic research on this particular variety compared to, say, Australian and New Zealand English uptalk and even UK varieties that uptalk.”

*11 male and 12 female. 15 monolingual and 8 bilingual. 12 self-identified as Asian, six as Hispanic, 5 as White.  Using the MacArthur Scale, the speakers were grouped into socioeconomic status classes: Lower (4), Middle (13), and Upper (6).