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Busting gender stereotypes, the insect apocalypse, and more PLOS research making August headlines!

Bioluminescent flashes drive schooling behavior in flashlight fish, reveals a new PLOS ONE study. While nighttime fish schooling is rarely observed (likely because fish find it hard to spot each other in the darkness in order to maintain their school structure), flashlight fish are capable of schooling even in the darkness, because they can make their own light. And it only takes a few flashing fish (<5%) to keep the whole school afloat! 

Lead author David Gruber adds,““Over 25% of fish species exhibit collective schooling behavior, but schooling based on bioluminescent signaling has not previously been demonstrated.” 

Check out a video of flashlight fish Anomalops katoptron displaying photophobic response of fishes to external illumination (Gruber et al, 2019), and read more in Forbes, The Scientist, and National Geographic

Women and men are equally bad at multitasking, describes recent PLOS ONE research. In the study, male and female study participants performed concurrent multitasking tests (paying attention to two tasks simultaneously) as well as sequential multitasking tests (switching attention between two tasks). 

When participants’ reaction time and accuracy for both multitasking tests were compared to the single task control, the authors found that multitasking significantly decreased speed as well as accuracy for both men and women. There was no difference between genders for the magnitude of this cost. 

Lead author Patricia Hirsch adds: “The present findings strongly suggest that there are no substantial gender differences in multitasking performance across task-switching and dual-task paradigms, which predominantly measure cognitive control mechanisms such as working memory updating, the engagement and disengagement of task sets, and inhibition.”

Read more in Newsweek, IFLScience, and ABC News

Severe air pollution may contribute to higher rates of psychiatric disorders, according to new research from PLOS Biology.

While many different types of factors may contribute to the likelihood of developing mental illness, the authors of this study found that poor air quality was associated with higher rates of bipolar disorder and major depression in both US and Danish populations. This trend was especially stark in the Denmark population studied, where exposure to polluted air during the first ten years of childhood predicted a more than two-fold increase in schizophrenia and personality disorders. 

Lead author Atif Khan says: “Our study shows that living in polluted areas, especially early on in life, is predictive of mental disorders in both the United States and Denmark…the physical environment – in particular air quality – warrants more research to better understand how our environment is contributing to neurological and psychiatric disorders.” 

See more in The Guardian, Gizmodo, and The Independent.  

The “insect apocalypse” of recent years has been the subject of much research (including this landmark 2017 PLOS ONE paper). New research from PLOS ONE describes how popular new pesticides (primarily neonicotinoids) are making US agriculture up to 48 times more toxic to all insects, including beneficial, necessary insects like honeybees and other pollinators. 

Read more about this important work in NPR, National Geographic, IFLScience, and the Daily Mail


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