Ig Nobels 2016: Life as a goat, the best liars, and more

Awards recognize researchers who make people laugh, then think

The Annals of Improbable Research has awarded Ig Nobel Prizes for 10 "improbable" research projects that explored arm-scratching, lying, life as a goat, and more.

The 26th annual Ig Nobels recognize researchers who have "done something that first makes people laugh, then makes people think," Marc Abrahams, Ig Nobel Master of Ceremonies, explained. Former Nobel Prize winners distributed the awards on Thursday at a ceremony at Harvard University.

The 2016 recipients include:

  • Medicine prize: A team of researchers from the University of Luebeck received the medicine prize for discovering that people can relieve an itch in the right arm by scratching the left—but only after some brain trickery. For their study, published in PLOS One in 2013, the researchers injected histamine dihydrochloride into 20 volunteers' right arms. Using mirrors and video feeds, the researchers made it look like the volunteers were scratching their itchy right arms when they were really scratching their left arms. The itch was relieved, at least to some degree, as long as the setup was in place.
  • Reproduction prize: The late Ahmed Shafik of Cairo University's Department of Surgery and Experimental Research received the reproduction prize for research published in the journal European Urology in 1993 finding that polyester underwear significantly reduced male rats' sexual success. Shafik found that rats that wore 100 percent polyester underwear for a year were 87 percent less likely to complete a sexual encounter than before they started wearing the underwear. Rats that wore underwear that was half polyester, half cotton had a 71 percent drop in sexual success.
  • Biology prize: Two researchers received the biology prize. Charles Foster won for living in the wild as a badger, a bird, a deer, a fox, and an otter. Thomas Thwaites received the prize for developing prosthetic limb extensions that enabled him to maneuver like and live among goats. Thwaites also created an artificial rumen so he could eat grass with the animals.

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  • Psychology prize: The psychology prize was awarded to a group of researchers who asked liars about their lying habits. Their study, published in Acta Psychologica in 2015, investigated how scientists should conduct research into lying. The findings suggest young adults are the best liars and that people lie the most during their teenage years. The researchers acknowledged, however, the participants could have been lying. 
  • Perception prize: This prize was awarded to Atsuki Higashiyama, of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, and Kohei Adachi, of Osaka University, who researched how people perceive distances when they bend over and look between their legs. Their study was published in Vision Research in 2006.
  • Peace prize: The peace prize was awarded to researchers from the University of Waterloo and Sheridan College who identified traits that make people more likely to believe empty, unproven statements. The eloquently, and profanely, titled treatise was published in Judgement and Decision Making in 2015 (Kaplan, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 9/22; Yuhas, The Guardian, 9/22; Jozuka, CNN, 9/23; Guarino, "Morning Mix," Washington Post, 9/23). 

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