Weekend Update: Thomas the Repressive Tank Engine and other tidbits from the world of research

Thousands of scientists and social scientists around the world are working day and night to understand more about why our world is the way it is. They’ve been busy releasing more studies recently, which means it’s time for another Weekend Update.

Thomas the Repressive Tank Engine. A political science professor at the University of Alberta received 30 angry e-mails from fans of “Thomas the Tank Engine” after producing a study concluding that the popular children’s TV show features a “conservative political ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles”. Professor Shauna Wilton said that her daughter is a fan of the program, but that “the show comes out of a particularly historical time period when society was hierarchical and there was a blind following of authority. I want my daughter to think for herself.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A Université de Montréal study that was supposed to examine the effects of pornography on young men went off the rails after researchers couldn’t find enough participants. The problem, however, wasn’t in finding young men who admitted to looking at pornography — which was a fairly easy task. The problem was in finding young men who had never looked at pornography. “We started our research seeking men who had never consumed pornography. We couldn’t find any,” said Prof. Simon Louis Lajeunesse.

Coffee won’t make you sober up. If you’re trying to sober up after having a little too much to drink, don’t bother ordering coffee. A study in the Behavioral Neuroscience journal found that coffee only decreases alcohol’s sedative effect – it does not improve brain function, which is the key to sobering up. Worse yet, the combination of caffeine and alcohol could cause people to underestimate how impaired they really are.

Casual sex not necessarily emotionally or psychologically damaging. A study by University of Minnesota researchers found that young Minnesotans whose most recent sexual encounter was “casual” had about the same levels of self-esteem and emotional well-being as those whose latest encounter was within the scope of a more serious relationship. The researchers warned, however, that this was not necessarily a licence to engage in casual sex, which they warned increased the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unexpected pregnancies.

Justice is a woman. Two researchers at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth in Britain found that women are more likely than men to fight for justice in that country’s judicial system. It was noted that women and men react to injustices differently: women by fighting to reverse the injustice, men by seeking to move on with their lives.

Is e-mail making us less productive? That could be one conclusion of a Cardiff University study that showed that participants who were disrupted by pop-up messages while doing a simple, seven-step computer task took longer to complete the process than those who were not interrupted. The researchers suggested that e-mail alerts and other on-screen distractions should be either disabled or be made as unobtrusive as possible.