Anthropologist Wins 'Ig Nobel' Prize for Study Of Why Pregnant Women Don't Tip Over

October 2, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Texas at Austin anthropologist Liza Shapiro and two fellow researchers on Thursday won an Ig Nobel Prize -- dedicated to "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think" -- for a 2007 study on the evolutionary reasons pregnant women don't tip over.

"I guess if I'm never going to win a real Nobel, this is the next best thing," Shapiro joked after learning of the prize, which is handed out annually at Harvard University by Annals of Improbable Research magazine.

Shapiro's fellow researchers—University of Texas graduate Kathleen Whitcome and Daniel Lieberman, who are both at Harvard—accepted the award Thursday at a ceremony attended by 10 Nobel Prize laureates. Their findings were first published in the journal Nature.

Scientists (as well as far more casual observers of the human condition) have long noticed that pregnant women lean back to avoid toppling over. But that can put extra pressure on their spines, leading anthropologists to theorize that women's lower vertebrae evolved to reduce such pressure during pregnancy.

Shapiro and her fellow researchers found out just how. By studying 19 pregnant women, they discovered that a woman's lumbar, or lower back, curve extends across three vertebrae. In men, it extends across two. The joints between the vertebrae also are larger in females and angled differently from those of males to better support the extra weight.

Researchers attribute the difference to an adaptation that first appeared at least two million years ago in an early human ancestor. Because the difference doesn't appear in , they believe walking upright led to the adaptation.

"This is something that certainly half the population has thought about," says Marc Abrahams, editor of Annals of Improbable Research. "Every woman who is, has been or has ever contemplated the possibility of being pregnant has thought about this but never had an answer until now."

Shapiro, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, says the research is 100-percent serious but understands why it might qualify for an Ig Nobel, given headlines that boasted of an answer to the age-old question of "Why Don't Tip Over."

More information: More information about the award can be found at www.improbable.com

Provided by University of Texas at Austin (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ArtflDgr
not rated yet Oct 02, 2009
given recent findings as to upright walking the date of that will have to be revised back farther

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.