July 25, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationTrolley-Problem Problem?
One group of researchers thinks it might be time to retire the trolley. In an upcoming paper that will be published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Christopher Bauman of the University of California, Irvine, Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and others argue that the dilemma is too silly and unrealistic to be applicable to real-life moral problems. Therefore, they contend, it doesn’t tell us as much about the human condition as we might hope. (Olga Khazan, The Atlantic)

Big Data and Death
From lethal disease to murders, to deadly workplace accidents, suicides, fatal domestic violence incidents, and natural disasters, researchers are now harnessing vast amounts of data to more specifically forecast mortality. These death algorithms, based on health and prescription drug records, social media, cellphone trails, crime statistics, and beyond, drive data-based intuition for police departments, communities, hospitals, and corporations to deploy at will—and for all of us at home to digest at our own emotional risk. (Erika Hayasaki, Newsweek)

Unhappy Cities
New research suggests that New York City is the unhappiest major city in the country, after adjusting for income. The researchers, led by Joshua Gottlieb of the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics, came to their conclusions by using data from a 2010 U.S. Centers for Disease Control survey on American life satisfaction. (Quick caveat: It’s a “working paper,” which means it hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.) (Melissa Dahl, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Meet Gordon College Science Professor and Evangelical Dorothy Boorse
A full-time professor with a doctorate in oceanography and limnology (the study of freshwater systems) and a specialty in wetlands ecology, Dorothy Boorse is also a leader in a national effort to frame environmental problems in Christian terms and to figure out what to do about them. (Jennifer Weeks, The Boston Globe Magazine)

I Origins

“I guess you can call the movie sci-comma-fi as opposed to sci-dash-fi,” writer-director Mike Cahill said of his new film, I Origins, which continues his exploration of science as an engine for emotional storytelling. Building from ideas involving iris biometrics—eyes as a unique identifier—Cahill’s new film exists at the intersection of the headier (some might say trippier) aspects of modern science with all-too-human issues of identity, spirituality, and love. (Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times)

July 24, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationDo Dogs Experience Jealousy?
The study supports the idea that not all jealousy requires the ability to reflect on one’s self and to understand conscious intentions, as some scientists have argued, but that there is a more basic form of the emotion that likely evolved as a way of securing resources such as food and affection. Infants experience it if their mothers gaze affectionately at other babies, and so do members of another social species: dogs. (Virginia Morell, ScienceShots, Science)

Even Young Children Can Feel Schadenfreude
The kids’ schadenfreude was tied to feelings of unfairness, says Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the University of Haifa in Israel who led the study. Kids are generally obsessed with fairness, or at least with what’s fair to them. (Erika Engelhaupt, Science News)

Influence of Outcome Bias
What should you do when you narrowly fail to achieve an important goal? Humans have a tendency to want to do something to attempt to fix what went wrong, but the harsh fact of the matter is that sometimes you simply get unlucky. In cases like these, it might be better not to radically adjust your strategy, because good strategy and good outcomes aren’t always as tightly connected as we might like them to be. (Jesse Singal, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

How Can We Get Bystanders to Help Victims of Crime?
How can you avoid being the kind of passive bystander who watches an inebriated young woman led upstairs at a party, or a little girl injured on a busy road? In recent years, researchers have finally begun to tap years of studies to answer the question of how to reverse the bystander effect and spur onlookers into action. (Dwyer Gunn, Aeon Magazine)

The Psychology of First Impressions
You’ll have had this experience—you meet a new person and within moments you feel good or bad vibes about them. This is you performing “thin slicing”—deducing information about a person based on “tells,” some more obvious than others. Psychologists have studied this process in detail. For example, they’ve shown that we form a sense of whether a stranger is trustworthy in less than one-tenth of a second. (Christian Jarrett, BPS Research Digest)

July 23, 2014

frankes:openclipartWhite Lies Can Be Good for Society
A group of computational scientists developed a mathematical model of how groups of people grow and change over time, and then added in a new variable: the occurrence of lies. Big antisocial lies—like lying about theft or injuring someone—led to the complete disintegration of communities, with each person in the model eventually looking out only for themselves. But smaller white lies—even at a high rate of occurrence—had a different effect on the model. People formed small, tight cliques with occasional links between groups. And these connections, it turned out, were facilitated by people who told the most white lies, the researchers report. (Sarah C.P. Williams, ScienceShots, Science)

Rituals That Work And Why
Tania Lombrozo: Rituals are sometimes dismissed as superstitious nonsense. But sometimes they work. (And not just by making us feel better, though they can do that, too.) Different rituals work for different reasons and the reasons may not be what you think. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

The Vital Role Oceans Play in the Habitability of Planets
Researchers from the University of East Anglia arrived at their conclusion after creating computer models of alien planets. They simulated different planetary conditions to see which would be most likely to produce life. Oceans, it turned out, were key. The result is a departure from previous findings that indicated that a planet’s distance from its star could make or break its ability to support life. (Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian.com)

Stephen Eric Bronner

As Stephen Eric Bronner argues in his new book, The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists, the bigot is even more driven by self-pity and the need for self-exculpation than by hatred or fear. “To elude his real condition,” writes Bronner, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, “to put his prejudices beyond criticism and change, is the purpose behind his presentation of self … . But he is always anxious. The bigot has the nagging intuition that he is not making sense, or, at least, that he cannot convince his critics that he is. And this leaves him prone to violence.” (Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed)

The Science of Creativity

Scott Barry Kaufman from the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania says talent and creativity are not just things you’re born with or not, that science shows there are ways to develop imagination and creativity in all of us. (National, Radio New Zealand)

July 22, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationAversion to Happiness
Moshen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers point out that many people, including in Western cultures, deliberately dampen their positive moods. Moreover, in many nations, including Iran and New Zealand, many people are actually fearful of happiness, tending to agree with questionnaire items like “I prefer not to be too joyful, because usually joy is followed by sadness.” Looking into the reasons for happiness aversion, Joshanloo and Weijers identify four: believing that being happy will provoke bad things to happen, that happiness will make you a worse person, that expressing happiness is bad for you and others, and that pursuing happiness is bad for you and others. (Christian Jarrett, BPS Research Digest)

Materialism and Well-Being
The longest ever study on this topic finds that becoming less materialistic leads to more contentment in life—and suggests ways to get to that happy place. Four related experiments investigated how changes in materialism affect well-being. The first three studies surveyed natural changes in materialistic values over six months, two years, and 12 years in adults in the U.S. and Iceland. At all three junctures, a decreasing focus on acquiring money and things led to more joy and contentment in life. Fortunately, materialism can be purposefully altered, as the team discovered in the fourth study—the first ever to use a randomized, controlled design to try to change materialistic beliefs. (Tori Rodriguez, Scientific American)

Beyond Energy, Matter, Time, and Space
George Johnson: It is almost taken for granted that everything from physics to biology, including the mind, ultimately comes down to four fundamental concepts: matter and energy interacting in an arena of space and time. There are skeptics who suspect we may be missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. Recently, I’ve been struck by two books exploring that possibility in very different ways. There is no reason why, in this particular century, Homo sapiens should have gathered all the pieces needed for a theory of everything. (Raw Data, The New York Times)

Examining the Growth of the ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’

Mark Oppenheimer: S.B.N.R.s, as this growing group is often called, are attracting a lot of attention. Four recent books offer perspectives on these Americans who seem to want some connection to the divine, but who don’t feel affiliated with traditional religion. There’s the minister who wants to woo them, two scholars who want to understand them, and the psychotherapist who wants to help them. (The New York Times)

Art of Science 2014

Feast your eyes on aesthetically pleasing scientific images from Princeton University’s annual Art of Science exhibition. (NBC News)

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