Totally Random Things That Make You, Well, You
We all like to think of ourselves as in control of our destiny, but that's because we're all fools. In reality, you're playing a game with unknown rules, holding a hand that was dealt to you and that you're not even allowed to look at. Even as you try to flip the board of that game, holding up two middle fingers at the fates, keep in mind all the hidden factors that have set the course ahead of you for you. For example ...
Your Eye Color Can Determine Your Alcohol Tolerance ... And Propensity For Alcohol Addiction
When the time comes for drinking, some of us can down eight shots and still beat anyone in the bar at blindfolded darts, while others have to be carted home after sniffing a single beer-soaked napkin. As with so many annoyances, you can blame your parents for this. Your baseline alcohol tolerance seems to be hard-wired into your DNA. A whole lot of other things are hard-wired into your DNA too, so researchers wondered if any other factor separates heavyweights from lightweights, and to find out, they looked at tens of thousands of drunks and not-so-drunks. Sure enough, a pattern turned up.
Blue-eyed people consistently hold their liquor better than those of us with brown-eyes. Early studies showed a connection, and attempts to reproduce those show the same thing. And this isn't a matter of race or anything where you'd expect wide genetic differences: All the research subjects were Caucasian, and the researchers corrected for sex and age, and still blue eyes always seems to mean more alcohol tolerance. If you think that means brown eyes dooms you to a life of a stumbling drunk, you've got tolerance backwards. Blue-eyed folk's high tolerance seems to put them on track for drinking more and for ultimately being more likely to become alcoholics.
Valiantly trying to explain these findings, scientists point to the substance responsible for eye color: melanin. Besides being a pigment, melanin has variants that play a role in sending signals along nerves. So if someone has brown eyes and more melanin, theorize researchers, their nerves respond more to all kinds of chemicals, alcohol included. This theory might leave you scratching your head a little. If the contrast in melanin between blue and brown eyes makes for a measurable difference in tolerance, you'd think the contrast in black versus white skin would make for an even bigger difference, like way bigger, but we're not seeing that.
Another questionable theory is that different colored eyes means different light enters the iris, changing what kind of hormones you squirt out. But the vaguer, surer theory is simply hey, this is just the way genes work, somehow. About a dozen different genes determine your eye color, and some of them evidently also determine how you welcome alcohol. Each gene usually has many roles, which is how only 20,000 or so genes can produce millions of genetic characteristics. Whatever the explanation, people now know simply by looking at you how easily they can get you drunk, which is why, personally, we recommend wearing sunglasses at all times.
Having A "Normal" And Easy-To-Pronounce Name Can Make You More Likable And Successful
If you happen to be born with the name John Smith, you're doomed to be boring, and that's just something you have to come to terms with. But the upside is that you'll be spared many hours of strangers struggling to pronounce your unfamiliar name, speculating about your shady past, and wondering if maybe you're one of those brothers who killed their own parents back in the '90s. In fact, there's a fair chance people will favor you over any of those people with names harder to pronounce, because sticking to "John" makes everything much easier.
The most famous study on this phenomenon happened back in the '40s, and it looked at thousands of Harvard graduates. In general, restricting yourself to 1940s Harvard grads isn't the best way to go about taking a sample, but if you're looking for a homogenous group primed for success, as this study was, the Harvard alumni list is a good place to start. Students with common names tended to succeed more than their weird-named counterparts, while the ones with the uncommon names were the ones most likely to have psychological problems.
Most attempts to look further at this have shown the same thing. People treat you better when they can say your name without confusion, and we've told you some of the consequences of this before. You're more likely to get promoted if you have a common name, more likely to get friends, and more likely to get matched on dating apps. You can still rise to the top if you're named Elon or Barack, but boy will it be easier if you're a Bill, Don, Nancy, Taylor, or Jeff. Steve Jobs was lucky that he was born "Steve Jobs" and not, like, Abdul Lateef Jandali or something.
Wait, what's that? He actually was born Abdul Lateef Jandali, but his parents changed his name when they adopted him? Well, damn.
Have A Bunch (Or Very Few) Friends And A Huge (Or Tiny) Social Network? It's Probably Your Gut Bacteria
You're on the internet and reading a humor article, so there's a fair chance you call yourself an introvert. What made you that way? Was it your upbringing -- your parents took you to one party when you were three, and it was so loud and sticky that you swore off people forever? Is it in your genes -- your parents were both introverts, and it's frankly amazing that they even socialized enough to ever meet each other? Maybe it's both those, but there could be other factors too. Ten trillion of them in fact, and they're living in your intestines.
Your gut is home to trillions of microbes (more than you have human cells in your entire body). They interact with your nervous system, and while it's easy to think of them as evil parasites, they influence us in ways both good and bad, to the point that some scientists call them a second brain. If you're very social, you probably have a wide variety of types of bacteria in your gut. Scientists now know the names of these bacteria -- Akkermansia, Lactococcus, and Osciollospira -- and if you have a nowhere near enough of these, you might be autistic. If you have a low variety of gut microbes in general, you're likely to be neurotic, and if you're deficient in a few other specific kinds belonging to the genera Desulfovibrio and Sutterella, you're going to be unsociable.
So, if we've cracked the code to personality types, could we switch people's gut biomes around to fix them, turning the loneliest of wallflowers into the friendliest ninja turtle? Maybe. We're working on it. We already transplant human gut bacteria to treat other stuff, and when it comes to personality, we've at least started experiments on rats. Scientists identified gut bacteria that cause rat depression and introduced them to non-depressed rats, using the noble process of force-feeding them rat shit. The new rats became depressed, while rats who are force-fed non-depressed rat shit continue their rat lives being perfectly happy.
We need a whole lot more research into this with humans, which is tricky, because reliable data means sampling the gut bacteria of thousands of different people. We got a lot of our existing knowledge thanks to a company called uBiome, which convinced hundreds of people to send in their poop for analysis. Unfortunately, uBiome weren't always so great at "obtaining informed consent" or "obeying insurance law," prompting an FBI raid and the whole company going bankrupt. But we bet another company will sweep in and take its place. The keys to human charisma (and tens of millions of investor dollars) are there for the taking!
The Air Quality In Your Home And School Probably Determined How Intelligent You Are
In 2015, Southern California experienced a gas leak that was absolutely huge -- you can't really compare gas leaks to oil spills, but if you could, this leak would be bigger than 2010's Deepwater Horizon disaster. People around Los Angeles got pretty worked up about the thousands of tons of methane and other gases suddenly hissing around them, and they responded by installing air purifiers in schools, places where sudden emissions of methane are otherwise normally just a source of comedy.
A year later, test scores in schools with the new air filters (and only those schools) went up, measurably. "Huh," you might be saying, "guess that gas leak year really must have been terrible for those students." Well, not exactly. See, it turns out the purifiers never really made sense as a response to the leak -- the schools never saw any leak-related elevated pollutant levels -- and anyway, this was an improvement over the year before the leak. That means the filters did make the kids smarter, but that's because pollution totally unconnected with the leak had been making kids dumber for years.
If this were strictly a California thing, we could all laugh and move on, but it's not. In London, researchers have connected daily variance in air pollution to changing test scores. The biggest study so far connecting air quality with intelligence has covered China, which has the most polluted cities in the world as well as huge rural areas, and it concluded that, yes, air pollution sucks your brains out, the equivalent of costing you a whole year of education. It's easiest to test in children (adults don't spend a lot of time taking regular organized exams, for some reason), but it's true for everyone, with men affected more than women and the elderly affected more than anyone else.
Every study on a more specific group comes up with the same thing. Baseball umpires? Chess players? Pear pickers? Everyone gets dumber as the air gets dirtier. If today, you have trouble following the plotlines of particularly complicated episodes of The Masked Singer, blame your parents for not raising you on some clean and remote Tasmanian island. Or blame the government for polluting the air to keep the electorate stupid on purpose. Then put on your tin foil hat and your tin foil respirator.
Your Birth Weight Partially Determines Your Respiratory And Cardiovascular Fitness As An Adult
Speaking of respiration, your respiratory prowess might have been set from the moment you were born. And sure, a lot of things are set at that point, that's kind of how genes work, but in this case, your parents were able to view your hidden settings using something clearly observable from the start. We're talking about birth weight, which is approximately the first thing the nurses check when you're born, right after what kind of genitals you're packing and whether you have a tail.
Sweden put together an absolutely massive study on this, getting a quarter-million men to come in and demonstrate their cardiorespiratory fitness through the very Swedish pastime of bike riding. All of their birth weights were already on file, so researchers were able to compare these values to the subjects' ability as adults to set a bunch of gears spinning. The relationship was clear. The heavier you are at birth, the better your cardiorespiratory health as an adult, making you both better equipped to outrun zombies and also less likely to die from heart disease, the other number one killer.
This study wasn't about premature or other obviously underweight babies, which we already knew have the odds stacked against them. It excluded the super underweight and super overweight, and it corrected for maternal weight, which means you won't benefit if you were a fat baby simply because you had fat parents ("yo momma's so fat that you're at a lower risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality" is not a valid statement).
Obviously, you're still able to change your heart and lung health by exercising, and you should really get on that. Just know that the game is slightly rigged from the start. And when you have a baby of your own, make sure to weigh them immediately and take a commemorative photo with them hanging from a scale at the dock.
Your Facial Features And Tone Of Voice Can Determine How Much You Care About The Environment
One fun thing psychologists like to do is think of some idea that kind of feels like it could be true, put together a study to see if it's true, and then cackle in delight when they find that, whoa, it's true. Like what happened last year when a Canadian team wondered, hey, you know how research says that the more masculine a man looks, the more selfish and violent he in fact turns out to be? Let's focus that on an issue everyone's talking about: the environment. If a man looks more manly, we'll bet that selfishness and violence will translate into wanting to sell some ivory tusks and take a flamethrower to the rain forest.
One study later, and their hypothesis looked confirmed. Concern for the environment proved to be inversely related to how masculine a man seems, through both their physical features and how their voice sounds. To rate faces, the researchers used the objective metric of width-height ratio (that ratio is why, say, comic book Bruce Wayne looks so much more masculine than Joker, or why every other live-action Joker could beat up Jared Leto). To rate voices, software measured pitch and other variables. When recording, they sent research subjects into a quiet room and told them to make the sounds "eh," "ee," "ahh," "oh," and "ooh," because making people do silly things is the primary reason for becoming a psychologist.
The subjects then answered an environmental survey, and the more noticeably masculine guys gave answers indicating that they didn't care much about the environment at all. The researchers had a pretty clear explanation handy. This all came down to testosterone. The hormone responsible for all things masculine was also pushing men into wanting to nuke trees instead of hugging them. But here's where a twist came in. The researchers also measured subjects' raw testosterone numbers using saliva samples, and when they tried plotting that against environmental attitudes, they weren't able to draw a clear connection at all.
So what does that mean? Was this whole study a bunch of bullshit? Maybe, or there could be another factor here: the socialization of gender roles. Maybe "true" masculinity, as measured by pure blood chemicals, can't force you to take one policy position or another. But as Joker sagely noted, we live in a society, so the more you're perceived to be masculine, the more you're likely to have been trained to hold positions considered masculine. It's like a snake eating its own tail. Which can be really bad for some snake species; we should definitely increase our conservation efforts.