July 9, 2014


“Tight” and “Loose” States
Jesse Harrington and Michele Gelfand: Although the United States is often parsed on a red versus blue dichotomy, our lab suggested another framework by which to understand differences amongst the states in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: states vary in terms of their tightness or looseness, which captures whether states have strong norms and little tolerance for deviance (tight) or weak norms and greater tolerance. (Mind Matters, Scientific American)

Making Art Can Benefit Seniors
A research team led by neurologists Anne Bolwerk and Christian Maihofner reports “the production of visual art improves effective interaction” between certain regions of the brain. What’s more, this improvement in brain function—found in a small group of new retirees who took a class in which they created paintings and drawings—was matched by self-reports of strengthened psychological resilience. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Michael Ruse

Gary Gutting: This is the eighth in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Michael Ruse, a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and the author of the forthcoming book Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know. (The Stone, Opinionator, The New York Times)

The Life After

Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Gabriel Bautista take readers on a coming-of-age journey through the purgatory of suicides and other after-death planes of existence. (Brian Truitt, USA Today)

The Science of What’s Funny

Cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems talks about his book HA!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why. (Steve Mirsky, Science Talk, Scientific American)

July 8, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationEnvironmental Attitudes of American Christians
A research team led by Michigan State University sociologist John Clements reports attitudes about the environment among American Christians have remained fundamentally unchanged between 1993, the year the “green Christianity” movement began, and 2010. “The patterns of our results are quite similar to those from earlier decades, which documented that self-identified Christians identified with lower levels of environmental concern than did non-Christians and nonreligious individuals,” the researchers write in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

We Do Not Enjoy Being Alone With Our Thoughts
At some point today you will disengage from the rest of the world and just think. It could happen any number of ways: if your mind wanders from work, while you’re sitting in traffic, or if you just take a quiet moment to reflect. But as frequently as we drift into our own thoughts, a new study suggests that many of us don’t like it. In fact, some people even prefer an electric shock to being left alone with their minds. (Nadia Whitehead, Science)

Upping the Helper’s High
Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker: When striving to help others, it may be much better for you to frame your goals in concrete terms than abstract ones, as this could increase your helper’s high. It’s an important insight because the bigger helper’s high not only makes you happier in that moment, but it more strongly motivates you to give again in the future—spurring a cycle of doing good deeds for others and personal happiness. (Mind Matters, Scientific American)

The “First Potentially Habitable” Alien Planet May Not Exist
In 2010, astronomers were stirred by the discovery of Gliese 581g, a distant Earthlike planet that orbited its star just closely enough to allow for surface water, and possibly life. But the planet’s existence was almost immediately called into question, with some researchers unable to locate it. Now, a team at Penn State is saying that Gliese 581g and a presumed neighbor planet, Gliese 581d, were simply illusions caused by the star they supposedly orbited. (Douglas Quenqua‎, The New York Times)

The Latest on the Acid-Bath Stem Cell Papers
Nature retracted two controversial papers on stem cells that it published in January. The retractions—agreed to by all of the co-authors—come at the end of a whirlwind five months during which various errors were spotted in the papers, attempts to replicate the experiments failed, the lead author was found guilty of misconduct, and the center where she is employed was threatened with dismantlement. The retraction notice includes a handful of problems with the papers that had not been previously considered by institutional investigation teams. (David Cyranoski, Nature)

July 1, 2014

gallupHow Americans View the Relevance of Religion in Answering Today’s Problems
Fifty-seven percent of Americans say that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems, while 30 percent say that religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date. Americans have in recent decades become gradually less likely to say that religion can answer today’s problems and more likely to believe religion is out of date. (Frank Newport, Gallup)

The Peacefulness of Near-Death Experiences
Near-death experiences are rare, but if you have one, it is likely to be overwhelmingly peaceful, however painful it might have been to get to that stage. This is the conclusion from the first study into how the cause of trauma affects the content of a near-death experience. (Helen Thomson, New Scientist)

Babies Were More Helpful to Adults After Bouncing In-Sync With Them
Out-of-sync bouncers helped out a little more than 30 percent of the time, whereas in-sync bouncers helped in just under half of the tests. “There’s really something about interpersonal synchrony that drives our sense of affiliation, even at an early age,” Laura Cirelli says. While it’s still unclear why—one theory suggests that watching someone move at the same time as you automatically makes you feel more similar to them—Cirelli believes her results, which were published this month in Developmental Science, underscore just how fundamental dancing is to cementing social bonds. (Paul Bisceglio, Pacific Standard)

Morbid Anatomy Museum
The museum’s broader mission—showcasing aspects of culture we might wish to dismiss as morbid or marginal—is deeply (if not deathly) serious, Joanna Ebenstein, its creative director and animating spirit, said recently. “I want people to walk in and say: ‘Wow, this is really interesting. Why don’t we know about that? And what does it say about us today that we don’t know about it?’”she said. (Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times)

How Free Is Your Will?

Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is at the forefront of the research into free will, and its implications in courtroom trials and in the expectations of different societies. His thoughts and proclamations are captured in an engaging video called Free Will, created by Joseph LeDoux, a well-known expert on the emotional brain at New York University. The video is the second in a series he is putting together with director Alexis Gambis called My Mind’s Eye. (The first episode featured Ned Block on the mind-body problem.) (Mark Fischetti, Scientific American)

June 30, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationFalse Feelings of Truthiness
Eryn Newman: In my research at UC Irvine, I have collaborated with psychologists in New Zealand and Canada to discover the ways we can be tricked into thinking that something feels familiar, trustworthy, and true. In our studies, we have focused on how photos and names can have surprisingly powerful effects on our memories, beliefs, and evaluations of others. (The Washington Post)

More on the Facebook Emotional Contagion Study
Robinson Meyer: This study is different because, while other studies have observed Facebook user data, this one set out to manipulate it. The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company’s current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for “data analysis, testing, [and] research.” Is it ethical, though? Since news of the study first emerged, I’ve seen and heard both privacy advocates and casual users express surprise at the audacity of the experiment. (The Atlantic)

Shared Expressions for Emotions
Human beings have dozens of universal expressions for emotions, and they deploy those expressions in recognizable ways across several cultures, new research finds. That number is far greater than the range of emotion previously thought to be similar around the world. (Tia Ghose, Live Science)

Contagious Imprisonment
To find out what makes imprisonment more transmissible among blacks than whites, Kristian Lum and her colleagues turned to the world of infectious disease, repurposing a computer simulation used in epidemiology to predict how an epidemic of imprisonment might develop. When a disease changes from just something that’s going around to a true epidemic, there’s usually a tipping point, Lum explains. For example, the sick people may come into close contact with others who are extremely vulnerable—the elderly, young children, or those who have never been exposed to the infection before. With incarceration, the researchers suspected one such tipping point might be the longer sentences typically given to black offenders. (Elizabeth Norton, Science)

Positive Language
When it comes to books, those in Russian and Chinese have the narrowest range of emotion, while books in English have the greatest. Even more emotionally wide-ranging than English books are Portuguese and Spanish tweets, and music lyrics in English. All these insights and more come from a big, new study of 10 diverse languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Indonesian, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese. In part, the researchers in charge of the project wanted to test whether human languages tend to be positive or negative. Languages are positive! they found. (Francie Diep, Popular Science)

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