Monday, January 18, 2010

Blonde women born to be warrior princesses?

There is no sign of this study that I can find in any recent edition of PNAS so I assume that the report below is based on an excerpt from an August 2009 study.

The research is psychologically naive. It purports to show that blondes are more prone to anger but the measures used seem to be the ones given here. They are one-way worded so you can get a high score just by agreeing with everything put to you. So the results may well simply show that blondes tend to agree with any statement put to them -- the "dumb blonde" theory. For background on the folly of using questionnaires where all the statements are worded in the same direction, see here

It really is a case of blonde ambition. Women with fair hair are more aggressive and determined to get their own way than brunettes or redheads, according to a study by the University of California. Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way — the so-called “princess effect”. Even those who dye their hair blonde quickly take on these attributes, experts found.

The study could cast fresh light on the ability of Joanna Lumley, the actress and former model, to pummel ministers into giving all Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK. It may also help to explain the success of the lead character in Legally Blonde, the hit West End musical based on a film starring Reese Witherspoon, who forces her way to the top of law school despite being perceived as ditzy.

The findings about aggression are contained in research by the University of California, Santa Barbara, to discover whether women who are judged more attractive than others are also more likely to lose their tempers to get what they want. “We expected blondes to feel more entitled than other young women — this is southern California, the natural habitat of the privileged blonde,” said Aaron Sell, who led the study which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “What we did not expect to find was how much more warlike they are than their peers on campus.” The researchers believe this is a useful measure of how far women are prepared to fight for their own interests.

The study, which examined links between confidence and aggression, involved 156 female undergraduates. It showed that blondes were more likely to be treated better than other women and were more willing to “go to war”. However, they were less likely than brunettes or redheads to get into a fight themselves — possibly to ensure they preserved their looks.

The research did confirm one theory: when male students were asked to rate the attractiveness of their female counterparts, blondes gained the highest scores.

Sell suspects that blondes exist in a “bubble” where they have been treated better than other people for so long they do not realise that men, in particular, are more deferential towards them than other women. “They may not even realise they are treated like a princess,” Sell said.

His research indicated that the more “special” people feel, judged by physical strength for men and looks for women, the more likely they are to get angry to reach social goals. “I become more battling when I’m blonde,” said Vanessa Feltz, the broadcaster, who admits to dying her hair. “You’re noticed more.”

While more than 85% of the world’s population have black hair and brown eyes, Europe has been varied since the first blondes emerged 11,000 years ago because of a genetic mutation. There is even a “blond line” running from Suffolk to Liverpool. If you live south of the line you are 20%-49% likely to have fair hair; above it the odds leap to 50%-79% because of Scandinavian genes.

“Blondes are more confident in their abilities, although the results do not necessarily support their confidence,” said Catherine Salmon, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Redlands, California. “Maybe responding to their own stereotypes, brunettes tend to work harder and expect less special treatment. Women who go blonde quickly get used to the privileges of blondeness — usually male attentiveness.”

However, some blondes dispute the research. “As I’ve been every colour of hair under the sun and I’m not sure that my temperament has changed with my hair colour, I can’t verify this as true,” said the actress Emilia Fox, the star of Silent Witness. “My ambition comes from enjoying working hard, rather than being blonde.”



An emailed comment from Prof. Sell follows:

"Please distinguish between the research itself and journalists' interpretations of such research. The word "blonde" does not appear anywhere in my paper (you correctly cite my 2009 paper in PNAS) which had nothing to do with hair. The words attributed to me in the piece you are commenting on are inaccurate. I've never referred to blondes as "princesses" for example."

Dairy rabbits!

SCIENTISTS are creating herds of dairy rabbits to exploit the medical benefits of their milk. The first commercial milking of rabbits, using specially adapted eight-teat machines, is already taking place at a farm in Holland.

The rabbits have been genetically modified to include a human gene, which means their milk contains a protein called C1 inhibitor. C1 helps control inflammation in the body, and a lack of it can be highly damaging.

The milk protein is intended to prevent the rejection of transplant organs and tissue damage in survivors of strokes and heart attacks, as well as helping car crash victims who have suffered traumatic bruising to internal organs.

C1 can be harvested from human blood and other animal sources, but is expensive to obtain and carries the risk of contamination and infection with viruses such as Aids or CJD, the human version of “mad cow disease”. Such issues do not arise with milk from the high-tech rabbit farm.

The milk could also help to treat the hereditary immune disorder angioedema. The condition, partly caused by a lack of C1, affects 2,000 people in Britain. So far 200 patients have taken part in trials for Rhucin, a treatment derived from the rabbit milk. It is awaiting approval from European drug regulators and will be launched in the UK later this year.

Hilary Longhurst, an immunologist at Barts hospital in London, said: “I am really excited. This therapy will transform the lives of sufferers.”

Further farms are expected to open to meet demand. Sijmen de Vries, the chief executive of Pharming, the biotech company behind the project, said: “There is a great unmet need for this product. We have the capacity to produce it cheaply in unlimited quantities.” A contented New Zealand white rabbit can produce 140ml a day. “The rabbits are highly productive and reproductive,” added de Vries.


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