January 16, 2015

© 2015 Microsoft CorporationHostile Attribution Bias
On a crowded city sidewalk, a stranger knocks hard into your shoulder. Aggressive gesture or innocent mistake? In the split second it takes to lock eyes with your might-be assailant, your mind may already have supplied an answer to that question. Many of us, in situations like this, exhibit something called hostile attribution bias: a tendency to err on the side of assuming malevolence in the intentions of others. (Pacific Standard)

Empathy for the Pain of Strangers
Being around strangers can cause people stress and, in turn, make them less able to feel others’ pain, new research suggests. But giving people a drug that blocks the body’s stress response can restore that sense of empathy, scientists said. What’s more, the same effect shows up in both humans and mice. (Tia Ghose, Live Science)

Getting Kids to Be Honest
While many parents looking to increase their children’s honesty might opt for one of two diametrically opposed options—the carrot of reward, or the stick of punishment—this new research shows there’s an important third route to take: appealing to the better angels of kids’ nature, and encouraging honesty because it will make others happy. (Dan Jones, BPS Research Digest)

Observing Someone Cold Can Make You Feel Cold
Why did people sync up their responses to their cold counterparts? Neil Harrison, a neuropsychiatrist who led the study, has a theory: matching someone else’s physical response can help us live together more harmoniously. “Mimicking another person is believed to help us create an internal model of their physiological state which we can use to better understand their motivations and how they’re feeling,” he said in a release. (Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian.com)

Scientific American Survey: Do We Have Free Will?
Gary Stix: An article in the January issue of Scientific American by philosopher Eddy Nahmias addressed this debate, coming to the conclusion that we are endowed with free will, even if, at times, a lot of mental processing is going on before we become conscious of it. The article—and the intrinsic fascination with this question—prompted us to run a survey of visitors to our site, asking their opinions on this philosophical perennial, now being debated anew because of the brain scans that question free will’s existence. The results are now in. (Talking back, Scientific American)

Q&A
Scott Atran

In the wake of terrorist attacks last week on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Paris supermarket, the world has struggled to understand the combination of religion, European culture, and influence from terrorist organizations that drove the gunmen. Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, studies such questions by interviewing would-be and convicted terrorists about their extreme commitment to their organizations and ideals. Atran recently returned from Paris, where he talked with members of the shooters’ communities. He spoke with Nature about what he discovered. (Sara Reardon, Nature)

Category: Field Notes

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