Gambling Crocodiles And The Fluidity Of Cats Win This Year's Ig Nobel Awards

Cats technically behave as both a solid and a liquid. Offneveron/Shutterstock

Scientists often ask the important questions, such as how does holding a crocodile affect your gambling odds, or do old people really have bigger ears? Now, these weird, hilarious, and more often than not fascinating studies have been celebrated once again at the yearly Ig Nobel Awards.

Taking place this year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the highlights from this year include how cats behave as both a solid and liquid, that playing a didgeridoo helps reduce snoring, and that identical twins frequently find it a challenge to tell each other apart in photographs.

The 27th annual prize ceremony aims to highlight research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think.” The traditionally bonkers celebration of all things gloriously eccentric – but crucially scientific – included the usually hail of paper airplanes, as well as actual Nobel laureates handing out the awards.  

The prize for physics this year went to a study looking into the rheology of cats, and argued that moggies can technically be thought of as both a solid and a liquid as they are able to take on the shape of whatever container they decide to curl up in. Amusingly, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize was given to researchers who found that playing the didgeridoo helps relieve sleep apnea, as it requires the player to conduct circular breathing that helps strengthen the muscles in the throat.

Many of the pieces of research honored by the award ceremony might at first seem completely bat shit and off the wall, but then when you understand the processes behind them, they often suddenly make sense and have clear practical applications.

The Ig Nobel Prize for Economics this year, for example, was awarded to a pair of Australians for their work assessing how holding a live crocodile impacts your gambling success. They found that people asked to hold a 1-meter (3.3-foot) saltwater crocodile just before they placed their bets were more likely to lose more money than those who passed on a reptilian cuddle.

It turns out that the excitement induced from hugging the croc led to people with pre-existing gambling problems to bet more, which over the long run meant that they then tended to lose more. “This was the first study to examine the emotional impact of excitement on gambling choices, which has obvious benefits toward addressing a very serious behavioral and mental health problem,” winning researcher Matthew Rockloff told AP.

So next time you see a study that makes you think “people are funding this?!”, remember that it might have some more significant applications, and that it might one day be in the running for an Ig Nobel Award.

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