March 24, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationPutting Your Hand on Your Heart Tends to Make You Appear and Act More Honestly
Something as simple as placing our hand over our heart, the researchers conclude, can trigger us to behave more morally. But at the same time, skilled liars could use this simple cue to manipulate others into believing that what they say is the hand-over-their-heart truth. (Rachel Nuwer, Smart News, Smithsonian)

How Authorities Get Subordinates to Commit War Crimes Through Orders and Obedience
Sophie Richardot found five distinct formulations of orders, each which provides, to some extent, a psychological cushion for subordinates to justify their actions. Regimes that are legally in power, like the United States military, tend to use ambiguous or partial orders, so authorities can avoid legal problems. Illegal regimes, on the other hand, rely on orders with code words, giving subordinates the illusion of choice, and fragmenting the orders to dispel individual blame. In an email, Richardot explains that her research shows how authorities use psychological tactics, knowingly or unknowingly, to convince subordinates to do terrible things. (Bettina Chang, Pacific Standard)

Catching Contagious Yawns
Previous studies suggest that contagious yawning has to do with how much empathy a person generally feels, and links have been drawn to a person’s intelligence, the time of day, and the weather. But a new study found that none of those things matter nearly as much as your age, and whether or not you are susceptible to yawning in the first place. (Douglas Main, Popular Science)

Body Language and Lying at the Airport
The Transportation Security Administration has spent some 1 billion dollars training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists. But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies. (John Tierney, The New York Times)

Creationists Want Airtime on “Cosmos”
Creationists are grumbling about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. The show doesn’t contain creationist theories about the universe’s origins. On Thursday, Danny Falkner, of Answers in Genesis, took to The Janet Mefferd Show to make a plea for “balance.” (Sarah Gray, Salon)


March 21, 2014

Cornell UniversityExpressions of Fear and Disgust
Why do our eyes open wide when we feel fear or narrow to slits when we express disgust? According to new research, it has to do with survival. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Psychological Science, researchers concluded that expressions of fear and disgust altered the way human eyes gather and focus light. They argued that these changes were the result of evolutionary development and were intended to help humans survive, or at least detect, very different threats. (Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times)

Religion, Taboo Emotions, and Creativity
Wray Herbert: Psychological scientist Dov Cohen and his University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, graduate students, Emily Kim and Nathan Hudson, have been exploring the ways in which religious differences shape our mental processes and behavior. Specifically, they speculate that Protestants’ psychological defenses—how they cope with forbidden and threatening emotions—may lead to more novel and creative thinking. (The Blog, The Huffington Post)

Do You Brood?
Wray Herbert: Many events in our lives are ambiguous, and we all have this basic urge to resolve life’s ambiguities. But while most of us interpret such ambiguous experiences in a neutral or benign way, others are powerfully biased toward the negative. This bias in interpretation could play an important causal role in brooding and depression. (The Blog, The Huffington Post)

Violent Video Games, Avatars, and Racial Attitudes
Seeing the world through the eyes of another has long been seen as an effective antidote to prejudice. Long-held biases can be compellingly challenged when you walk even a short distance in someone else’s shoes. But disturbing new research suggests temporarily assuming another’s identity can actually have the opposite effect. It finds using avatars that conform to common racial stereotypes can intensify prejudicial attitudes. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Meditation Room for Nets Games at Barclays Center
The room has been mostly ignored since its official opening last week, but a few fans have stopped to puzzle over it. (Andrew Keh, The New York Times)


March 20, 2014

Malaysia AirlinesMalaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and the Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
Rob Brotherton: When a lack of conclusive information leaves a factual vacuum after a headline-grabbing event, conspiracy theorists rush to fill it. In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, their take ranges from relatively plausible (perhaps the plane was hijacked, or destroyed by a bomb) to nonsensical (it was abducted by aliens or made invisible using advanced technology). While we wait for answers, I, along with colleagues Chris French and Christopher Thresher-Andrews at Goldsmiths, University of London, wanted to see how many people were jumping to the conclusion that foul play was involved. (New Scientist)

Rationalist Way of Seeing Coincidences
Magda Osman: Perhaps there is a good psychological explanation for both evaluating coincidences and experiencing them in the first place. Mark Johansen and I suggest that coincidences reveal fundamental aspects about the way in which we look for causality in the world. (MIND Guest Blog, Scientific American)

Suppressing Memories
Bad memories are not only part of our conscious mind, they also leave a trace in our unconscious. But now, new research shows that actively trying to forget an unwanted memory can help erase this unconscious trace. (Bahar Gholipour, Live Science)

Effective Altruism and Our View of Art
Rhys Southan: Is your self-expression more important than human lives and suffering? Would you rather contribute to the culture of rich societies than work to reduce the suffering of the poor, or of future generations? Is it not arbitrary to fill the world with your own personal spin on things, simply because it’s yours? (Aeon Magazine)

Mindfulness Meditation as Substance Abuse Therapy
Many people who undergo treatment for addiction will relapse and begin using drugs again soon after their therapy ends, but a new study suggests that meditation techniques may help prevent such relapses. (Rachael Rettner, Live Science)


March 19, 2014

Andrei Linde:Stanford UniversityOn That Video of Andrei Linde
It’s rare enough for a person to have a life’s work; to be able to see the validation of that work firsthand is understandably an overpowering experience. Linde might not call those years of waiting “faith,” but what he describes sounds somewhat like it—the persevering hope in the face of doubt and self-questioning: “What if I believe in this just because it is beautiful?” Faith, after all, is not just a religious category, and science isn’t divorced from our human capacities for aesthetic appreciation and awe. (Andrea DenHoed, Culture Desk, The New Yorker)

General Trust and Intelligence
New research has found a strong link between intelligence and general trust in others. The study, published in PLOS ONE, looked at people’s generalized trust in others and intelligence, based on responses to the General Social Survey, a poll carried out in the United States every one to two years. (Douglas Main, Popular Science)

Effects of Stress on Empathy
A research team led by University of Vienna psychologist Claus Lamm reports males and female respond to stressful situations in virtually opposite ways. Men become more egocentric, while women heighten their ability to understand the perspective of others. “Social interaction skills improve in women under stress,” the researchers write in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. They specifically found stress spurred women to override normal levels of self-centeredness and respond to others with heightened empathy. The opposite appears to be true of men. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Nine “New” Dead Sea Scrolls
Archaeologists in Israel have rediscovered nine new Dead Sea Scrolls that have lain unopened in a storeroom for around 60 years. The minuscule fragments, each measuring no more than half a centimetre across rolled up, are set to be unravelled by experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority—and could provide scholars with significant insights into life in an ancient world. (Adam Withnall, The Independent)

The Latest on the Acid-Bath Stem Cell Papers
The veracity of two papers that detailed a method to reprogram mature cells into an embryonic state by exposing them to stress has come under more pressure. Days after the first author’s institute reported “serious errors” in the papers’ methodology, questions were raised over the same researcher’s doctoral dissertation and the cells used in the study. (David Cyranoski, Nature)