October 8, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft Corporation

Education, Religion, and Superstition
The study finds that more education, in the form of more years of formal schooling, has “consistently large negative effects” on an individual’s likelihood of attending religious services, as well as their likelihood of praying frequently. More schooling also makes people less likely to harbor superstitious beliefs, like belief in the protective power of lucky charms (rabbit’s feet, four leaf clovers), or a tendency to take horoscopes seriously. (Christopher Ingraham, Wonkblog, The Washington Post)

Do Brands Reduce Religious Commitment?
There’s a weird amount of overlap, after all, between the two concepts, given that both tie into deep parts of people’s senses of self-identity, so Keisha Cutright and her colleagues set out to poke and prod at the relationship between the two concepts in a new Journal of Experimental Psychology: General study. (Jesse Singal, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Why Does Buying Experiences Make Us Happier Than Buying Material Things?
In the journal Psychological Science last month, Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth, along with Cornell doctoral candidate Amit Kumar, expanded on the current understanding that spending money on experiences “provide[s] more enduring happiness.” They looked specifically at anticipation as a driver of that happiness; whether the benefit of spending money on an experience accrues before the purchase has been made, in addition to after. And, yes, it does. (James Hamblin, The Atlantic)

Can Slacktivism Lead to Activism?
What is the value and what are the limits of “slacktivism”—low-risk, low-cost activities that aim to make the world better? (Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum)

Q&A
Daniel Garber

Gary Gutting: This is the 12th and last in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Daniel Garber, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, specializing in philosophy and science in the period of Galileo and Newton. In a week or two, I’ll conclude with a wrap-up column on the series. (The Stone, Opinionator, The New York Times)


We’ll Be Back Next Week

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September 18, 2014

Mona LisaThe Soul of Original Art
A team of scholars led by George Newman of Yale University argues that “art is seen as a physical extension of the self, and imbued with the person’s soul/essence.” That being the case, the researchers write in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science, “the original possesses an essence that cannot be duplicated.” This dynamic, they add, does not apply to more mundane object such as tools. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Chimpanzee Violence
A major new study of warfare in chimpanzees finds that lethal aggression can be evolutionarily beneficial in that species, rewarding the winners with food, mates, and the opportunity to pass along their genes. The findings run contrary to recent claims that chimps fight only if they are stressed by the impact of nearby human activity—and could help explain the origins of human conflict as well. (Michael Balter, Science)

Thanks for Your Assistance
Thanking a new acquaintance for their help could lay the foundation for an ongoing social relationship with that person, a study has found. Research by the University of New South Wales, published in the journal Emotion, found that expressing gratitude often facilitates the start of new friendships among people who did not know each other previously. Lisa Williams, a psychologist at the institution, said the findings show that saying thank you “provides a valuable signal that you are someone with whom a high-quality relationship could be formed.” (The British Psychological Society)

Diversity of Human Faces
The shape and configuration of a human face are much more variable, compared with other body parts, the study found. What’s more, genes that have been linked to face structure vary more than DNA in other regions of the body. This suggests that the forces of evolution have selected for facial diversity, perhaps to make individuals more recognizable to other people, the researchers say. “An individual may actually benefit from having a unique face,” says lead investigator Michael Sheehan, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. (Virginia Hughes, National Geographic)

Q&A
Maurice Schweitzer and Emma Levine

What if deception, in the right circumstances, doesn’t simply tread lightly on sensitivities, but actually breeds trust and promotes other forms of good? Many will judge those kinds of deceptions to be ethical, moral, and even helpful, according to Maurice Schweitzer, a Wharton professor of operations and information management, and co-author Emma E. Levine, a Wharton doctoral student. In their recent research paper, “Are Liars Ethical?: On the Tension between Benevolence and Honesty,” they look at “deception that can sometimes be helpful to other people.” (Knowledge@Wharton)


September 17, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationIs It Smarter to Be Skeptical or Trust Other People?
David DeSteno, a Northeastern University psychologist who studies the nature of trust, suggested the latter in response to a question during a recent Reddit AMA: “Our default is to trust people, but it’s a weak default. The reason why is that if you have no info to go on—if it’s really a 50/50 chance to figure out whether someone is trustworthy—then the gains/losses tend to be asymmetric. If a partner was going to be untrustworthy and you decided to trust him/her, you’d lose out in that instance. But, if he/she were going to be trustworthy and you decided not to trust him/her, you’re potentially losing a relationship that would have provided many, many benefits over time. So, the aggregated gains tend to outweigh the one-time loss.” (Melissa Dahl, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Acts of Emptying Can Make Us Less Likely to Donate to Charity or Help Others
In a series of experiments, people who emptied a receptacle—anything from a jar to a coat pocket—were subsequently more likely to eat snack foods, and less likely to provide help to others. According to a research team led by Liat Levontin of the Israel Institute of Technology, the results provide evidence of our largely unconscious but “deep concern for not having sufficient resources.” It seems this form of anxiety is strong enough to directly influence our behavior, even when triggered indirectly. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

When Frequent Smiling Backfires
Daniel Yudkin: The researchers found that the more people smiled, the happier they reported being. But only some people. Surprisingly, for a section of the population, smiling actually reduced well-being. The more these people smiled, the less happy they were. This is like finding that there are some diners who, after consuming a four-course meal, feel less full! Who are these people for whom extra smiling fails to generate corresponding increases in joy? (Scientific American)

State of Global Well-Being
Panama may be the happiest country in the world, racking up the highest score in the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index for 2013. In contrast, conflict-afflicted countries such as Syria and Afghanistan showed the lowest scores in this survey of 135 countries. The United States came in at number 14 in the poll. The Global Well-Being Index aims to gauge people’s perceptions of their well-being, by looking at financial status as well as four other factors that contribute to well-being: social well-being, which means having supportive relationships and love in life; community well-being, which is about liking one’s place of residence; having purpose and goals; and physical health. (Bahar Gholipour, Live Science)

Is Atheist Awe A Religious Experience?
Adam Frank: “Where were you?” my beloved asked as I walked through the door caked in mud and sweat. “I was communing with my gods,” I responded—and proceeded to tell her about the exquisite hike I’d had that morning in New York’s Letchworth State Park (the Grand Canyon of the East). Earlier in the day, looking down the rim of a canyon cut over thousands of years by the Genesee River, I felt a profound sense of awe that cut me to the quick. But in that sense of awe, was I communing with anything extending beyond just a particular state of my neurons? (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

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