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Something that I've wondered about for years is why people stick the tips of their tongues out of their mouths when they're concentrating on something. I've seen my kids do it and adults do it. It seems to be universal. But why?

-- Puzzled, Oceanside

Believe it or not, science has actually shaken loose research money to answer this question. It's been discussed seriously by Ph.D.s and written up in learned journals. Well, I guess we have to chip away at the mysteries of life one molecule at a time.

Not only do humans have this unconscious habit, so do gorillas, apparently. And no matter what primate's doing it, it always means the same thing: "Keep your distance, buddy, I'm busy." As an example of how this was confirmed appears in Jay Ingram's book The Science of Everyday Life. Student volunteers were asked to take a test in a booklet from which one page was missing. During the test, the teacher sat at his desk, wearing headphones and studying some papers, apparently deep in concentration. In half the test situations, the teacher also stuck the tip of his tongue out. Researchers measured the time it took students to interrupt the teacher to report the missing page. If the teacher wasn't showing any tongue, students hesitated 7.72 seconds; but they hemmed and hawed a full 19.92 seconds before interrupting if the teacher's tongue was out. Science staggers on.

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