November 8, 2012

Did Your Biology Influence Your Vote?
Sarah Estes and Jesse Graham: A 2003 paper opened the floodgates. The past decade has seen a steady stream of findings, mostly in line with the portrait it painted, about the biological and psychological roots of political ideology, and mostly met by volleys of right-wing scorn. One of us—Jesse Graham—is heavily involved in this field. So what are the findings, and do opponents of such research have a point? (New Scientist)

Complex Weapons
The bow and arrow is an ancient weapon—going back at least 71,000 years, a study published in Nature suggests. Archaeologists working at South Africa’s Pinnacle Point cave site uncovered a collection of tiny blades, about an inch big, that resemble arrow points, likely belonging to prehistoric bow and arrows or spear-throwers. The researchers say the discovery is further evidence that humans (Homo sapiens) started to act and think like modern people early in their evolution. (Erin Wayman,

Quick Decisions
When people make hasty decisions, they tend to make more mistakes. Now, a new study on monkeys explains why: Brain cells become hypersensitive to new information, even bad information, making us likelier to draw faulty conclusions. “When we try to do things too quickly, we tend to make more errors, and then when we slow down we tend to be more accurate,” said study co-author Richard Heitz, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. “Your brain sees things differently when you’re placed into a situation where you have to make snap decisions.” (Tia Ghose, LiveScience)

What Is Cool?
It’s an ever-shifting aesthetic, but one with value in American society, said Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology at Gordon College, who has recently published the study, “Measuring the existence of cool using an extended Social Relations Model,” in the online PsychNology Journal. Co-authored by Carly Geiman, a student at the Wenham college, it seeks to measure cool in localized social networks, and draws the conclusion that cool is not a personality trait but more the distributed property of a network: a group perception. (David Rattigan,

Is There a Super-Earth in the Habitable Zone of a Dwarf Star About 44 Million Light-Years Away?
By taking a fresh look at old data, an international team of astronomers has discovered a possible new super-Earth planet relatively nearby that could potentially hold liquid water, scientists said. The research, released by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, used a novel technique to analyze existing measurements of a nearby star. The paper drew some praise even as other experts in the field eyed the results with caution. (Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times)

Category: Field Notes


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