STRANGE BUT TRUE- Mood swings: Feelings peak after about seven hours


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. When you need to ask a big favor of your spouse, friend or co-worker, you want to find the person in a good mood. Does it matter what time of day you choose, from a good psychology standpoint? –A. Thompson

A. Time of day isn't as critical as the number of hours since the person got up from bed, according to psychologist David Watson, who sampled nearly 4,500 mood reports from 150 people. He found that mood ratings tend to start low at waking (-3 rating), steeply climb for the first few hours, peak by 6-8 hours (+4), then plummet once again late in the diurnal cycle (-4). So for someone who gets up at 7am, 2pm or 3pm would be a good time to ask when steering for a good mood. For later sleepers, closer to dinnertime might be a better bet. Levels of negative emotions tend to stay steady throughout the day, with a blip up roughly 12 hours after arising, or the wearying evening hours for most of us.

Also, you might consider the "feel-good, do-good phenomenon," one of the most consistent findings in all of psychology, adds Hope College's David G. Myers. When we feel happy, we're more often willing to help others. So if you can, try to wait until your potential good Samaritan is having a really good day.

Q. As NASA prepares to spend billions on the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, it's worth recalling a few of the exotic and weird life forms right under our noses. Where? –J. Glenn

A. Earth's own "extremophiles" have adapted to the most inhospitable environments, says Chris Impey in Astronomy magazine. Meet Bacillus infernus, the "bacillus from hell," able to withstand great heat, pressure, acidity.

This hardy microbe turned up in Virginia living in rock several miles underground, where the pressure is hundreds of times greater than on the surface. It exists independent of the Sun's rays, without photosynthesis, consuming no organic material and dividing only about once every thousand years.

Next consider Deinococcus radiodurans, "Conan the Bacterium," which can tolerate radiation thousands of times what a human can and is actually able to repair damage to its DNA.

"Inspectors found this tough customer in a can of meat that had been sterilized with radiation but spoiled anyway," Impey writes. Then there's the "microbial Godzilla" tardigrade, no bigger than the dot above an "i" but with five body segments, four pairs of ragged claws, a multilobed brain. It can handle temperatures from -328 F. to 302 F (-200 C to 150 C), and can absorb 1,000 times the radiation that would kill any of us.

All of these make it more plausible that similar life could exist in Martian permafrost or in the frigid oceans of Europa. "While it's hard to feel kinship with B. infernus et al, the fecundity of the universe and the prospect of microbial life on millions of planets beyond the solar system," he adds, "are thrilling developments in astronomy."

Q. How big a hit did the trees of the world take in the printing of the estimated $830 billion worth of U.S. money currently in general circulation, two-thirds of which is held overseas? –A. Hamilton

A. Actually, paper money isn't made from trees at all but rather contains 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, says Jason Stahl in Discover magazine. If you happen to be holding some of that "filthy lucre" just now, you may be interested to know that one study found more cocaine residue on U.S. bills than on any other currency; and worse, staphylococcus bacteria was discovered along with fecal matter. 

"Hey, kids, don't put that money in your mouth!" 

This may explain why for a period around 1916, you could take your cash to Washington, D.C. to have it washed, ironed, and reissued.

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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