October 15, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationExtreme Altruism and Intuition
A new study in PLOS ONE by David Rand and Ziv Epstein of Yale, based on interviews with Carnegie Hero medal recipients, found that the decision to save someone else’s life in an emergency is typically an intuitive, split-second process, rather than the result of careful deliberation. The life-savers repeatedly said they didn’t even think—they just acted. (Joseph Stromberg, Vox)

Awe in Nature
Jake Abrahamson: Scientifically speaking, the storm brought me into a state of awe, an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. And about three-quarters of the time, it’s elicited by nature. (Sierra)

Why the Mundane Can Be Terrifying
Social anxiety is commonplace, we’ve established that. But WHY is this the case? Why would our brains suddenly decide that an ordinary social occurrence is something akin to facing down a predator? A surprising amount of research has gone into this. One main theory is that it stems from an intrinsic motivation to make a good impression on an audience (be the audience members real or imagined). (Dean Burnett, theguardian.com)

Gratitude at Work
This study highlights the benefits of gratitude in shaping positive social behavior and could have significant implications for the workplace. Although we are often focused on our own projects and responsibilities, the findings indicate that fostering a collaborative and supportive environment could lead to a self-reinforcing cycle, driving engagement, performance, and a sense of community. (Craig Dowden, Financial Post)

Your Personality on Facebook
It’s not just what you post on the social networking site, but how you post it that reveals what kind of person you are. That’s the contention of researchers at the University of Missouri who have developed a new scale that judges people’s personality based on how they use the popular social media site. The scale reveals that those who like high-risk activity tend to update their status, upload photos, and interact with friends frequently. While conversely, those who are more reserved tend to merely scroll through Facebook’s “news feed,” and don’t upload photos or actively engage with their friends. (Chad Brooks, BusinessNewsDaily)

October 15, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationCan We Learn Self-Control?
Walter Mischel conducted one of the most famous experiments in 20th-century psychology. In the late 1960s, he oversaw a test at Stanford University using a group of preschoolers. These studies gave him access to children whom he subsequently tracked for decades, collecting data on each child’s education, health, and other factors. Now, more than 40 years later, he’s published a book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control, about the experiments. (Anna Altman, Op-Talk, The New York Times)

The Benefits—and Surprising Costs—of Extraordinary Experiences
Skydiving, winning a sexy sports car, or scaling Mt. Everest sure sound like extraordinary experiences that would fill us with boundless joy to last a lifetime. But a new study finds that’s not always so: extraordinary experiences can actually generate unhappy feelings as well, because others in your ordinary social group are unable to relate to your stories. (Carl Engelking, D-brief, Discover)

Group Selection in Spiders
A new study of Anelosimus studiosus, a species of tangle-web spiders, published this week in Nature, suggests that evolution does indeed work at the level of the group. If certain groups of animals are more productive than others—that is, if they produce more progeny—then evolution will tend to favor the traits that make such fecundity possible. According to Jonathan Pruitt, the findings are the first to provide direct evidence that natural selection can drive the evolution of a group trait in the wild. (Emily Singer, Quanta Magazine)

Online Activism
In France, the company behind some of the country’s biggest banks is rolling out a new service that will let people send money over Twitter, providing an avenue to turn hashtag slacktivism into actual change. By downloading an app and linking your credit card to your Twitter account, the service, known as S-Money, will let you send money to other Twitter users even if you don’t know their banking information. Though the service could theoretically be used for any number of things, discretion is the key as the payment messages will all be publicly displayed. But this openness, Venture Beat points out, could be a boon for fundraising campaigns. (Colin Schultz, Smithsonian.com)

Gary Gutting

Gary Gutting: This is a concluding reflection on my series of 12 interviews with philosophers on religion. I’m grateful to all of them for the intelligence, clarity, and honesty with which they responded to my questions, and to the readers, who posted hundred of comments on each interview. It seemed natural to keep to the interview format, even though I (G.G.) had no one to interview except myself (g.g.). (The Stone, Opinionator, The New York Times)

October 14, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationPlanning to Do Good Later and Behaving Immorally Now
A recent study provided still more evidence of the very human tendency to engage in “moral licensing.” It found people who reported doing a good deed in the morning—and thereby solidified their self-image as admirably virtuous—were more likely to engage in unethical behavior later that day. While this largely unconscious dynamic is hardly something to be proud of, newly published research suggests it is amazingly easy to set into motion. It finds that merely thinking about performing a socially responsible act—say, by expressing willingness to participate in an upcoming blood drive—gives people implicit permission to engage in one form of hurtful behavior: indulging in normally repressed racist tendencies. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Tool Making and the Origins of Language
Our ancestors started making tools at around the same time they learned to speak, and some scientists believe that the two skills share the same neurological pathways. To test this hypothesis, a team of researchers is going to monitor the brains of modern people as they learn how to make Stone Age-style hand axes. (Nick Stockton, Wired)

Integrating Science at a Jesuit School of Theology
A Berkeley seminary was awarded more than 100,000 dollars to integrate science modules into its curriculum. Perched blocks away from UC Berkeley’s Soda Hall, Santa Clara Jesuit School of Theology was one of 10 seminaries awarded 1.5 million dollars in grant money by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The program pushes the schools to include science topics in the core curriculum. (Arielle Swedback, The Daily Californian)

John Cacioppo

John Cacioppo explains his research and some paradoxical behaviors of the lonely. (Marin Gazzaniga, Cafe)

Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time

Michael Benson: A survey of about 4,000 years of attempts to represent the universe in graphic form, whether in manuscripts, paintings, prints, books or broadsheets, all the way up to 21st-century supercomputer simulations of galaxy groups in flux and sunspots in bloom. (The New York Times)

October 10, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft Corporation

White Americans Are More Likely to Attribute Superhuman Attributes to Blacks Than to Whites
While that may sound like a relatively benign form of racism, its implications are disturbing. The researchers, led by Northwestern University psychologist Adam Waytz, report this bizarre belief helps explain the surprisingly widespread belief that blacks feel less pain than whites. “This is important,” the researchers write in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, “because failure to recognize someone else’s pain likely reduces empathy, and justifies withholding when aid is needed.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Tasting Bitterness and Acting Bitterly
Researchers from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, predicted that bitter tastes might alter a person’s emotions for the worse. In a paper published this week in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, they describe three experiments that showed how bitter tastes may cause people to act in aggressive and hostile ways. (Bettina Chang, Pacific Standard)

Designing for Chance Meetings
In a new study, Matthew Easterbrook and Vivian Vignoles tested whether building layout really can have powerful influences on student friendships. They recruited 462 students from 13 halls of residence and asked them to record how often they met by chance with other residents in their halls over the first week of term. This serendipity turned out to be very important: more chance meetings led to stronger interpersonal bonds with other residents, not just that week but also six and even 10 weeks later. Moreover, more chance meetings with other residents went hand in hand with greater feelings of well-being later on. (Alex Fradera, BPS Research Digest)

The Brave and the Reckless
Research from Stony Brook University in New York shows that not all risk-takers are cut from the same cloth. Some actually seem to feel no fear—or at least their bodies and brains don’t respond to danger in the usual way. The study is the first to attempt to tease apart the differences in the risk-taking population. (Mallory Locklear, New Scientist)

The Meaning of Human Existence

E.O. Wilson’s slim new book is a valedictory work. The author, now 85 and retired from Harvard for nearly two decades, chews over issues that have long concentrated his mind: the environment; the biological basis of our behavior; the necessity of science and humanities finding common cause; the way religion poisons almost everything; and the things we can learn from ants, about which Wilson is the world’s leading expert. (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

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