When you look at a picture of Paris Hilton, don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as if all pain were leaving your body? If so, you have something in common with male mice, for whom looking at a picture of the tabloid queen has a painkilling effect.
But if you're more like me and looking at a picture of the heiress gives you the heebie jeebies, you’ll feel better once you hear researchers' explanation for this analgesic effect: The scientists suspect that the picture of Paris is really just stressing the mice out. They think she’s a predator (with those stilettos, they’re probably right). And when mice get scared, pain takes a backseat to their more important survival instincts. The reason the effect is only seen in male mice is that females don’t sweat it as much. Other research backs this up: In a number of situations, girl mice don’t seem to respond as strongly to threatening stimuli.
Neuroscientists decided to study the Paris Hilton effect when they noticed that boy mice seemed to feel less pain when humans were around. To test whether it was the actual presence of people, or merely the sight of them, the scientists decided to use a cardboard cutout of a person. Enter Paris, circa her Simple Life years.
The team, led by Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, announced the results of the study at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. They found that around Paris, male mice would lick their wounds less often (What a sadistic study: First they injure the mice, then they subject them to Paris?). And when the researchers hid the pop goddess, the mice noticed their pain again. After seeing Paris, the expression of the c-fos gene, responsible for sending pain signals to the brain, went down in the males. Throughout the experiment, the females seemed unaffected by Paris (proving that women are smarter than men). But one question about this study looms large: Why, oh why, of all the cardboard cutouts in the world, did the scientists pick Paris Hilton? Really, this study has nothing to do with her. They could have used a picture of any human. They must have a nose for news, that’s for sure. And isn’t it shameless how journalists will latch onto research just because it sounds sexy? Isn’t it terrible when science websites try to lure in readers who would normally be reading Perez Hilton? And does writing about this study really require quite so many visuals? Okay, maybe not. But don’t you feel your pain just melting away?