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)

October 9, 2014

Kinez Riza:Nature

Rethinking the Origin of Creative Art
Archaeologists have determined that artwork found in limestone caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is far older than previously thought. First documented in the 1950s, the images—stencils of human hands and depictions of animals—were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old. Paintings older than that would not survive in such a tropical environment, so the logic went. But a new study indicates that the Sulawesi art dates back to at least 39,900 years ago, making it as old as (or possibly older than) the oldest cave art in Europe. The discovery has important implications for understanding the origin of cave art and the evolution of Homo sapiens. (Kate Wong, Scientific American)

Are Chimps People?
Judges in New York state heard the first in a series of appeals attempting to grant “legal personhood” to the animals. The case is part of a larger effort by an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project to free a variety of creatures—from research chimps to aquarium dolphins—from captivity. (David Grimm, ScienceInsider, Science)

Is Meditation Really Worth It?
“There are thousands of different types of meditation,” says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of Words Can Change Your Brain. But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that’s been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction. (Markham Heid, TIME)

Science for Seminaries
Ten U.S. seminaries will receive a combined 1.5 million dollars in grants to include science in their curricula, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Wednesday. A diverse set of Christian seminaries will be awarded grants ranging from 90,000 dollars to 200,000 dollars provided by the John Templeton Foundation, which has funded various efforts to bridge science and faith, including 3.75 million dollars to AAAS for the project. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service)

Religions and Extraterrestrial Life

In his new book Religions and Extraterrestrial Life, David Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, takes a close look at how different faiths would handle the revelation that we’re not alone. Some of his findings might surprise you. (Megan Gannon, Live Science)


A movie based on the Woo Suk Hwang cloning scandal drew over 100,000 viewers on its opening day and has been topping box office sales in South Korea since then. With some of the country’s biggest stars, it has made a blockbuster out of a dismal episode in South Korean stem cell research—and revealed the enduring tension surrounding it. (David Cyranoski, Nature)

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)

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)

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