Humans have a mating season. Sort Of.

There’s still a controversy among scientists as to why humans seem to follow a certain pattern. 

 

Most animals mate at a certain time of year. One of our evolutionary advantages is we can continuously mate and have young. However, if you look at birth patterns, you'll notice that most birthdays tend to occur at certain times of year. For a mammal with no official mating season, it's surprising that the majority of births occur between July and September. September is the most common birth month in the US, according to one Harvard study, with September 16th being the most common day. Count back the months and you'll realize that these babies were conceived around the holidays.


Some call this our “mating season." But in fact, births peak two times a year, around the holidays, and again in late spring to early summer. How do we know this? More children are conceived at these times, more STDs are diagnosed and treated, and more condoms are purchased. Abortions also peak at these same six month intervals. A 2001 study suggests that late autumn and early winter are the best times of the year for sperm health, as they are when men are more likely to have a higher sperm count. While from August to October, sperm counts are at their lowest.

Researchers have also seen a particular pattern in Google searches. More sexually related searches occur during the holidays and in early summer than at other times of year. Dating terms are also more commonly searched, too. Researchers looked at patterns occurring over five years. They examined searches related to topics such as dating, pornography, and even prostitution.

The fact that babies are often born at certain times of year makes scientists think we may have something of a “mating season." But are there biological factors at work or others?

In terms of psychology, during the holidays, when the weather begins getting cold, and we aren't used to it yet, we may long for the physical warmth a partner provides. Women's bodies are designed to keep their core warm, where the womb and organs reside. Ever notice a woman's hands and feet tend to be cold in winter? This is why. As a result, the desire for a partner at this time of year, may be stronger for them. But yearning for physical warmth might be sublimated into a desire for romance, at least according to a 2012 study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research. More romance novels and movies are consumed during late fall and early winter than at any other time of year, the study concluded.

Since the holiday season is the most common time for people to couple up, it's being called “cuffing season," meaning you cuff yourself to someone, in the romantic sense. Around this time of year, we often focus on relationships, be they with friends, family, or someone special. Singles can feel lonely around the holidays. Plus, there are a ton of parties and social events and a lot of people don't want to go alone. Family members too are known to nosily inquire about the love lives of single relatives, which can act as a motivating factor.

Even so, according to scientists, this isn't exactly a mating season. For instance, a woman may be receptive to sex regardless of what time of the year it is. They ovulate not annually, but every 28 days. Evolutionary biologists aren't exactly sure why humans have this unique ovulation mechanism. It conveys an advantage, to be sure. But why it developed is still a mystery. It may have been so the woman can shed her endometrial lining and ward off infection, thus preserving fertility. STDs were a scourge among our early ancestors. Another theory is that it was a way of reducing mating disputes between partners in the band or group.

Several factors may be in play, pushing people together at certain times of year.

Some studies suggest that the high birth rate occurring around June might be due to climate conditions. Sunlight exposure and warmer temperatures can help improve the rate of sperm production, and thus the likelihood of conception. Other studies suggest that hormonal or menstrual changes in women might increase the conception rate at this time. These are hard to prove however, as it's difficult to reproduce seasonal conditions in a laboratory environment.

While humans can mate all year long, other female mammals have an estrous cycle. This is when they're “in heat." Changes in the animal's physiology and behavior occur. It only happens once a year. But a woman's sex drive can be active at any time of year. For this reason, some sex researchers reject the idea that seasonal changes affect humans.

Instead, the temperatures cooling down and people spending more time indoors together may mean couples cuddling up more and so a higher likelihood of things getting steamy. Some research has shown that infidelity is lower in winter months. Even so, on the whole, pregnancy isn't very predictable. Though we may not have a hard and fast “mating season." Being the complex creatures that we are, there could be environmental, social, biological, and psychological factors all working in concert, giving us a tendency to mate and conceive at a certain times of year.

To learn more about the quasi-human mating season(s), click here:

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

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Sponsored by Northwell Health
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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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