Is Anyone Immune From False Memories?
Researchers tested Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) and normal people side by side and found that people with HSAM are just as vulnerable to implantation of false memories as the rest of us. In every test, the 20 super-rememberers with HSAM were equally prone to “memory distortions” as the 38 people with normal memories. (Bill Andrews, D-brief, Discover)
Hunger Influences Support for Social Welfare
Students who had gotten the artificial sweeteners—and thus had lower blood glucose levels and more hunger—expressed stronger support for social welfare. But when they gave the hungry people actual money, they did not share more—apparently, the researchers concluded, hunger increased people’s expression of support for social welfare, but it didn’t necessarily spur them on to concrete action. (Eliza Barclay, The Salt, NPR)
How aggressive is the human female? When the anthropologist Sarah Hrdy surveyed the research literature three decades ago, she concluded that “the competitive component in the nature of women remains anecdotal, intuitively sensed, but not confirmed by science.” Science has come a long way since then, as Hrdy notes in her introduction to a recent issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society devoted entirely to the topic of female aggression. (John Tierney, The New York Times)
“Reptiles don’t really have great press,” said Gordon Burghardt, a comparative psychologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “Certainly in the past, people didn’t really think too much of their intelligence. They were thought of as instinct machines.” But now that is beginning to change, thanks to a growing interest in “coldblooded cognition” and recent studies revealing that reptile brains are not as primitive as we imagined. The research could not only redeem reptiles but also shed new light on cognitive evolution. (Emily Anthes, The New York Times)
The Latest on Proposed Science Textbooks in Texas
State Board of Education members are slated to adopt the new biology books this week after discussing potential changes in hearings that begin Wednesday. The materials need board approval to be on the state’s recommended list of textbooks and e-books. So far, major publishers have resisted social conservatives’ efforts to add questions about key elements of the theory of evolution. (Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News)
Paying Greed Forward
Michael Norton: What happens when we are the victims of cruelty instead of kindness? Unfortunately, our research shows that we are more likely to pay greed forward than generosity. (Mind Matters, Scientific American)
Do We Become More Convincing Liars When We Have Time to Rehearse?
As expected, people were slower to respond when they were lying than when they were telling the truth. When the purpose of the experiment was explained and volunteers were instructed to lie as well as they could, they responded faster. And when they were given time to learn and practice their fake identities, they were as quick to lie as to tell the truth. (Adam Hadhazy, Discover)
Exposure to Fast Food Impedes Our Ability to Savor Pleasurable Events
A newly published study finds a link between impatience and exposure to fast-food logos, which are arguably the most pervasive reminders of our instant-gratification culture. A research team led by the University of Toronto’s Sanford DeVoe reports seeing such symbols “undermines people’s ability to experience happiness from savoring pleasurable experiences.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)
Nostalgia Boosts Optimism for the Future
Thinking fondly about the past can make you more excited about what’s to come, according to a new study. Nostalgia seems to spur optimism for the future because it “raises self-esteem which in turn heightens optimism,” study researcher Tim Wildschut, of the University of Southampton, said in a statement. (The Huffington Post)
Are We Alone in the Universe?
Paul Davies: If a planet is to be inhabited rather than merely habitable, two basic requirements must be met: the planet must first be suitable and then life must emerge on it at some stage. What can be said about the chances of life starting up on a habitable planet? (The New York Times)
More on Sacred Values
Faced with mundane choices, people will readily alter their behavior in response to money. You can pay someone to clean your house or defend you in a murder trial. But with issues like gun control or abortion, a fundamentally different calculus seems to be at work. Economic trade-offs—like lifting an embargo in exchange for concessions—suddenly become unacceptable. As Professor Philip Tetlock (now at the University of Pennsylvania) has observed, even to suggest such a trade-off is to invite moral outrage, along with feelings of contamination and a need for moral cleansing. (Frank Rose, The New York Times)
Seeing Meaning When It Isn’t There
Known as apophenia or pareidolia, it is something we all experience to some degree. We see faces in the clouds and animals in rock formations. We mishear our name being called in crowds and think our mobile phones are vibrating when it turns out to be nothing but the normal sensations of our own movement. (Vaughan Bell, The Observer)
Failure to Replicate the Macbeth Effect
University of Oxford psychologist Brian Earp and his colleagues want to be clear—they’re not saying that there is no link between physical and moral purity, nor are they dismissing the existence of a Macbeth Effect. But they do believe their three direct, cross-cultural replication failures call for a “careful reassessment of the evidence for a real-life ‘Macbeth Effect’ within the realm of moral psychology.” (Christian Jarrett, Research Digest)
How Trauma Gets Handed Down to the Next Generation
A fascinating new study reveals that it’s not just nurture. Traumatic experiences can actually work themselves into the germ line. When a male mouse becomes afraid of a specific smell, this fear is somehow transmitted into his sperm, the study found. His pups will also be afraid of the odor, and will pass that fear down to their pups. (Virginia Hughes, Phenomena: Only Human, National Geographic)
Are Remnants of an Ancient Ecosystem the Oldest Evidence of Life on Earth?
Scientists have discovered possibly the earliest signs of life on Earth—remains of bacteria that are almost 3.5 billion years old—in a remote region of north-west Australia. Evidence of the complex microbial ecosystem was found in sedimentary rocks in the remote Pilbara region in Western Australia, an area which contains some of the world’s oldest rock formations. (Jonathan Pearlman, The Telegraph)
How Many Friends Can Your Brain Handle?
Being a social butterfly just might change your brain: In people with a large network of friends and excellent social skills, certain brain regions are bigger and better connected than in people with fewer friends, a new study finds. (Tanya Lewis, LiveScience)
Changing Decision-Making Strategies Based on Past Experience
The more we can learn about how other animals make decisions, the more it will help us understand how decision-making as a behavior evolves. Understanding this will help reveal why we make decisions the way we do. Takao Sasaki and Stephen Pratt from Arizona State University looked into decision-making in ants. Specifically they looked at how individuals weight different attributes when making a decision. (Felicity Muth, Not bad science, Scientific American)
Do You Want the Good News or Bad News First?
Psychologists Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny from the University of California, Riverside decided to answer this age-old question, and to see whether the person giving the news wanted to give the good news or the bad news first. Finally, they looked at how the order that the information is delivered might change how people feel about the news. (Bethany Brookshire, Scicurious, Science News)
No Faith in Science
Jerry Coyne: The conflation of faith as “unevidenced belief” with faith as “justified confidence” is simply a word trick used to buttress religion. In fact, you’ll never hear a scientist saying, “I have faith in evolution” or “I have faith in electrons.” Not only is such language alien to us, but we know full well how those words can be misused in the name of religion. (Slate)
Where does consciousness come from? We know it exists, at least in ourselves. But how it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery. Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the Internet could be. That’s just the way the universe works. (Brandon Keim, Wired)