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How to win over your mother-in-law

How to win over your mother-in-law

Our health correspondents report on the latest scientific breakthroughs

Our health correspondents report on the latest scientific breakthroughs

April/May 2016

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW PROBLEM

You have met the man or woman of your dreams. Your feelings are reciprocated. There is only one blot on the landscape, and that is your prospective in-laws. The person they had in mind for their child’s partner in life clearly wasn’t you. What is your best strategy to bring them round? To this ancient but timeless conundrum, Menelaos Apostolou, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Nicosia, now has the answer. Based on interviews with over 700 Greek Cypriots, he has ranked seven strategies that individuals use to try to win over their partner’s parents in order of effectiveness. Top of the list is what he calls the “I am right for your child!” approach – a demonstration of how your partner thrives in your company – followed by injured pride (“I do not deserve this!”) The ultimatum (“Accept me if you want to see your grandchildren!”) is way down the list, and don’t try getting your mate to speak on your behalf – it’s the least effective strategy of all. The fight can get nasty. In previous research, Dr Apostolou found that prospective in-laws regularly resort to threats, bribery and smears to ostracise someone they regard as unsuitable for their child. He does have one tip for the unwanted suitor, however: target the mothers, as they tend to be more susceptible to manipulation than fathers. Whether this works on non-Greeks is yet to be determined.

PLAYING YOUR CARDS RIGHT

If you play online poker of an evening, do you ever wonder, as you build up your pile or fritter it away, just how much influence you have over the outcome? Dutch researchers have been exploring whether poker is a game of skill or one of chance, and their findings could have an impact on your pocket. Skilful activity generally incurs income tax – which, importantly, allows you to deduct your losses – whereas chance attracts gambling taxes, which do not. There has been conflicting evidence about which category poker falls into, and countries tax it differently as a result. Behavioural economist Rogier Potter van Loon of Erasmus University Rotterdam and his colleagues, who have examined data on close to 80m hands played in online poker rooms, report that skill is definitely involved, because players maintain their level of performance over time. Legal experts are paying attention to their findings. The critical question in the eyes of the law, however, is when skill determines the outcome of a game of poker. This depends on how you define a game, since chance dominates in a single hand however skilful you are, and skill reveals itself only over many hands. Dr Potter van Loon finds that skill determines outcome after about 1,500 hands – the equivalent of 20 hours at a single table.

GOOD VIBRATIONS

Everyone agrees that wearable devices are the next big thing, but so far they don’t do anything much more exciting than count the number of steps you take. Doppel, a new wristband, promises something mind-alteringly interesting: to help you focus or relax by manipulating your mood with physical vibrations. Doppel vibrates with a regular double pulse, mimicking a heartbeat. Users slow or speed up the rhythm by stroking or squeezing the device – and, because the body tends to react to an external beat, the shift in tempo can change the way you feel. Faster rhythms give you a boost; slower ones keep you calm. The dial alters the intensity, like the volume control on a stereo. Scientific backing is limited to a study by Royal Holloway, University of London, but the world will soon be able to try the device out, as it is due to launch later this year.

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