July 17, 2014

Pew Research CenterHow Americans Feel About Religious Groups
When asked to rate religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100, Americans rate Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians warmly and atheists and Muslims more coldly. (Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project)

Can Paradoxical Persuasion Be Used to Promote Peace?
What if the best way to change minds isn’t to tell people why they’re wrong, but to tell them why they’re right? Scientists tried this recently and discovered that agreeing with people can be a surprisingly powerful way to shake up strongly held beliefs. Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed—not contradicted—their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view. The scientists attribute this to the fact that the new information caused people to see their views as irrational or absurd. (Julia Rosen, Los Angeles Times)

Survival, Moral Challenges, and Guilt in a Zombie Apocalypse (Virtual) World
When immersed in a post-apocalyptic scenario, “users regularly rob, harm, and kill,” report Quebec-based researchers Cecile Cristofari and Matthieu Guitton. However, that doesn’t mean players fully succumb to their animalistic, eat-or-be-eaten instincts. To the contrary, “Ethical concerns nonetheless remain surprisingly important (to them),” the researchers write in the online journal PLOS ONE. “Much of the immediate harm done by users is prompted by panic, and immediately regretted.” Guitton and Cristofari focused on DayZ, a “free, open world survival game” with more than 500,000 registered users. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

The 10-Percent Myth
The idea that “you only use 10 percent of your brain” is, indeed, 100 percent bogus. Why has this myth persisted for so long, and when is it finally going to die? Unfortunately, not any time soon. A survey last year by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research found that 65 percent of Americans believe the myth is true, 5 percent more than those who believe in evolution. (Sam McDougle, The Atlantic)

Just Like Family
Ryan Brown: Thinking about your comrades the way honor-oriented people do. (The Honor Blog: Cutting to the Chase)

July 16, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationConciliatory Gestures Promote Forgiveness
Investigators discovered peacemaking efforts such as apologies, offers of compensation, and owning up to one’s responsibility increase forgiveness—and reduce anger—by making the aggressor seem more valuable as a relationship partner and by causing the victim to feel less at risk of getting hurt again by the transgressor. “All of the things that people are motivated to do when they have harmed someone they care about really do appear to be effective at helping victims forgive and get over their anger,” said Michael McCullough, professor of psychology and principal investigator of the study. (Rick Nauert, Psych Central)

Explaining Political Differences
Chris Mooney: Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics. (Mother Jones)

Mindfulness Meditation for Strivers
Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and the Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris’s 10% Happier have remained on the Times best-seller list for months. A recent Bloomberg News article reported on the increasing use of meditation among hedge funders to maximize performance (some call themselves corporate samurai and ninjas). How did strivers everywhere come to appropriate a 2,500-year-old philosophy of non-striving? (Jacob Rubin, The New Yorker)

There’s So Much That Science Will Never Be Able to Explain
Marcelo Gleiser: It’s time for science to be presented for what it is and not for what we would like it to be. Science, as a very human endeavor, shares many of our most endearing virtues, including our fallibility. There are two main reasons why science has essential limits. (The Washington Post)

Charles Darwin’s Beagle Library
As Charles Darwin cruised the world on the HMS Beagle, he had access to an unusually well-stocked 400-volume library. That collection, which contained the observations of numerous other naturalists and explorers, has now been re-created online. As of today, all of more than 195,000 pages and 5,000 illustrations from the works are available for the perusal of scholars and armchair naturalists alike, thanks to the Darwin Online project. (Dennis Normile, ScienceShots, Science)

July 15, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationSelf-Control and Happiness
It’s tempting to pity the people who go to bed early, who are very careful with their money, who eat kale. So much self-denial! Is that any way to live? Actually—yes, suggests some recent research, which will be published in next month’s Journal of Personality. People with higher self-control also tend to lead happier lives. (Melissa Dahl, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Do We Genetically Resemble Our Friends?
A study from a controversial pair of U.S. researchers claims that we are more genetically similar to our friends than we are to strangers. Looking at differences between nearly 2,000 people, recruited as part of a heart study in a small U.S. town, they found that friends shared about 0.1 percent more DNA, on average, than strangers. While small, this is the same level of similarity expected for fourth cousins. Other scientists are skeptical about the paper, which was published in PNAS. (Jonathan Webb, BBC News)

Aging and Regrets
Findings from a new nationally representative survey, exclusive to USA TODAY, suggest that while some do have regrets, many older adults also have some lessons to offer those who are younger—and aging, as well. When asked about a preselected list of steps they wish they had taken “to plan and prepare for your senior years,” the most-cited responses illustrate just how regret also plays a role in getting older. Among them are saving more money and making better investments, taking better care of health, and staying closer with family. Of the respondents, 17 percent said “none of the above.” (Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY)

Searching for Life Beyond Earth
If you believe there must be extraterrestrial life somewhere in the immensity of the universe, here’s some good news: Top NASA scientists agree with you, and at a panel discussion on Monday, they said they were closer than ever to finding out for sure. (Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times)

Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics

If any area of research might warrant prohibition it is eugenics—the branch of human genetics used to justify repugnant Nazi ideology and, before that, the enforced sterilization of “degenerates” around the world. Yet eugenics was not cordoned off. A mere two decades after the second world war, it was reinvented as behavior genetics. The story of what happened next is both gripping and salutary—and it is told with wonderful insight by sociologist Aaron Panofsky from the Institute of Society and Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Kate Douglas, New Scientist)

July 14, 2014

South Africa Brazil 2014 Soccer WCup EmblemWorld Cup Rituals
Cristine Legare: The 2014 World Cup isn’t just an outlet for showcasing national pride, indulging in international competition, and showcasing athletic talent. It also illustrates one of the most curious and pervasive aspects of human behavior—ritual. (Know, The University of Texas at Austin)

Free Will and Punishment
Regardless of the extent to which free will exists, psychologists have been particularly occupied with the question of how a belief in free will changes a person’s attitudes toward punishment, as well as how these attitudes can be subtly steered. For instance, how does a judge’s preconceived views on free will affect his or her sentencing of criminals? Can cues or suggestions about free will influence the outcome of a jury? (Lauren Kirchner, Pacific Standard)

Internet Outrage
Bile has been a part of the Internet as long as Al Gore has; peruse any epithet-laced comments section or, worse, a chat room. But the last few years have seen it crawl from under the shadowy bridges patrolled by anonymous trolls and emerge into the sunshine of social media, where people proudly trumpet their ethical outrage. A 2013 study, from Beihang University in Beijing, of Weibo, a Twitter-like site, found that anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media. Joy came in a distant second. (Teddy Wayne, The New York Times)

The Trouble With Brain Science
Gary Marcus: We scientists are not only far from a comprehensive explanation of how the brain works; we’re also not even in agreement about the best way to study it, or what questions we should be asking. (The New York Times)

Science vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions
Adam Frank: With more than one civilization, there is more than one tradition of religious or spiritual thinking. That multiplicity has dramatic consequences for thinking about how we think about science and religion. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

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