November 15, 2012

Are Believers More Prone to See Human-Like Faces in Objects?
The study found that religious people and paranormal believers perceived more face-like areas when some were present compared to nonreligious individuals and skeptics. But believers also saw more face-like patterns in pictures when none were there. “Our results show that the difference between the groups is not at the perception level but at the level of interpreting,” says study author Tapani Riekki. More specifically, they found that the difference was in how much information was needed to raise the perception of “something face-like” in the image. (Cari Nierenberg, The Body Odd,

Our Good and Evil Natures
In recent years, researchers have addressed such thorny questions as: why would altruism evolve, how did human conscience emerge, why does it feel good to be nice, and what causes us to give in to prejudice and hatred? The potential power of these insights is intriguing. By understanding the kinds of environments that foster the saint rather than the sinner, we can try to create societies that promote our better nature. It’s not just a pipe dream. Some evolutionists are already putting their theories into practice. (Kate Douglas, New Scientist)

Contagious Yawning and Bonobos
Yawns spread more easily between family and close friends, and from high-status monkeys to those lower on the totem pole, according to a study published online in the journal PLoS ONE. This pattern of social yawning mimics one found in humans and suggests infectious yawning is a byproduct of empathy, which coordinates emotions in a group. (Tia Ghose, LiveScience)

Boredom in Animals
Animals raised in boring cages showed more interest in new things. They also snacked more on food made available during the experiments, even though they weren’t hungry. They also spent more time lying around awake than the animals given a more enriching home life. All of those behaviors, the researchers concluded, are potential signs of feeling bored. (Emily Sohn, Discovery News)

The Latest on the Higgs Boson
Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider have found no evidence that the new particle discovered earlier this year is anything but the simplest—and most boring—variety of Higgs boson. (Ian Sample,

Soda Pop and Violence
Heavy consumers of nondiet soft drinks—students who had drunk five or more cans in the week preceding the survey—were more likely to have behaved violently toward peers (57 percent, versus 39 percent of respondents who drank less soda); to have behaved violently toward another child in their own families (42 percent, versus 27 percent); to have behaved violently in a dating relationship (26 percent, versus 16 percent); and to have carried a gun or a knife during the past year (40 percent, versus 27 percent). (Elizabeth Gudrais, Harvard Magazine)

West African Humanism in Action

African humanists—atheists, secularists, and freethinkers—gather next week in Ghana, one of the world’s most religious countries, to look at ways to promote an “Enlightenment” they argue is vital to bring their continent into the modern age. (Robert Evans, Reuters)

Category: Field Notes


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