September 16, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationMoral Disgust Can Make Us Lose Our Appetite
The study, led by University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management Assistant Professor Cindy Chan, revealed that people are less likely to consume beverages if they are exposed to moral violations. “The emotion we feel from experiencing a moral violation can profoundly affect our behavior,” said Chan. “It causes us to consume less and highlights a psychological truth that moral violations can, in a manner of speaking, leave a bad taste in our mouths.” (Don Campbell, U of T News)

The Brains of Altruistic Kidney Donors
As if giving a perfectly good kidney to a total stranger wasn’t enough of a distinction, it turns out that extreme altruists have bigger brains and are better than the rest of us at reading signs of distress in facial expressions. That’s what neuroscientists at Georgetown University found when they rounded up 39 kidney donors and scanned their brains, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times)

More on Anti-Atheist Prejudice
Confirming and expanding upon previous research, a newly published paper reports that, in the minds of many, atheists are deeply threatening. Specifically, they are seen as posing a danger to the value systems that unite us. The fact that their belief systems defy the national consensus, along with “negative cultural stereotypes of atheists as cynical,” leads to the assumption that “atheists are unlikely to follow important group-based value norms” such as reciprocity and trust, according to a research team led by Skidmore College psychologist Corey Cook. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Attributing Human Mental States to Organizations
The similar activation patterns of brain regions associated with understanding human mental states while reading statements about individuals and groups suggested people perceive agency in organizations, said Josh Knobe, Yale professor of cognitive science and study co-author. “The key question is how people think about these entities like corporations, teams, bands, churches and so forth,” Knobe said. Knobe said the research was based in the question of how individuals talk and think about groups in everyday conversation. He added that humans often speak of large entities as if they were individual actors, and he and the research team were interested in the cognitive processes behind this behavior. (Finnegan Schick, Yale Daily News)

Smelling Ideology
Researchers led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott found that, to a small but significant degree, people prefer the body odor of those who vote as they do. Previous studies showed long-term mates are more similar when it comes to politics than anything else besides religion. Researchers set out to determine whether this is a purely socially driven phenomenon, or whether biology plays a role. (Gail Sullivan, The Washington Post)

Richard Smith

Research misconduct degrades trust in science and causes real-world harm. As such, it should be a crime akin to fraud, argues Richard Smith. (Rachel Nuwer, New Scientist)

September 15, 2014

september-october-2014-cover-largeHow Can We Achieve Self-Control?
David DeSteno: Any strategy based solely on forcing adherence to a set of virtues through a bunch of cool-headed, cognitive strategies and a list of “thou shalt nots” is a fragile one. That’s not to say it won’t work at times, but it’s based on cognitive resources that can and do fail often. Of course, relying blindly on emotions would be just as foolish, as they, too, can certainly lead one astray. Rather, the answer is to cultivate the right emotions, the prosocial ones, in daily life. These emotions—gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and even guilt—work from the bottom up, without requiring cognitive effort on our part, to shape decisions that favor the long-term. (Pacific Standard)

Love of Football
Steven Almond looked closely at the culture of football and his own 40-year love affair with the game in his new book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. He says that football allows men to talk to each other. “We are looking at a culture in which people feel dislocated from family, religion or coming from a particular town,” he said. “Football is a very powerful aggregator of passion and devotion. It’s tribal. (Eric Niiler, Discovery News)

Robot’s Ethical Trap
As a human proxy moved toward the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. (Aviva Rutkin, New Scientist)

Meet D.A.V.I.D.
D.A.V.I.D. may be cute, and robotic yoga may be goofy, but the intentions of Southern Evangelical Seminary and Kevin Staley, an associate professor of theology and the robot’s handler, could not be more serious. Through those 23 inches of silicon and plastic, they hope to tackle questions about what it means to be human; about how we should interact with the non-human entities in our lives; and about what a uniquely Christian response might be to a world in which humans start to seem more like computers, and computers start to seem more and more like human beings. (Michael Schulson, Religion Dispatches)

Update on the First Clinical Trial Testing Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells on Humans
A Japanese woman in her 70s is the world’s first recipient of cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, a technology that has created great expectations since it could offer the same advantages as embryo-derived cells but without some of the controversial aspects and safety concerns. (David Cyranoski, Nature)

September 12, 2014

Credit- Wilhelm HofmannReligious and Nonreligious People Are as Likely to Commit Moral and Immoral Acts
Dan Wisneski and his fellow researchers found that religious and nonreligious people commit similar numbers of moral acts. The same was found to be true for people on both ends of the political spectrum. And regardless of their political or religious leanings, participants were all found to be more likely to report committing, or being the target of, a moral act rather than an immoral act. They were also much more likely to report having heard about immoral acts rather than moral acts. However, there were some differences in how people in different groups responded emotionally to so-called “moral phenomena,” Wisneski said. (Elizabeth Palermo, Live Science)

The Impact of Wearing a Hijab on Body Image
A study published in the August edition of the British Journal of Psychology suggests that the hijab actually offers some protection against the body dissatisfaction that plagues many Western women. (Alice Robb, New Republic)

Link Between Sunshine and Suicide Rates
The fact that suicide rates tend to peak in springtime has long puzzled scientists. But now, a new study in Austria shows that in any season, a couple of sunny days may mean higher suicide rates. (Bahar Gholipour, Live Science)

Professional Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty
According to research out of the University of Toronto, professional networking feels icky for good reason. Relationships formed based on a career need, rather than for sincere friendship, trigger our moral disgust—linked, in turn, to physical feelings of uncleanliness. (Samantha Cole, Fast Company)

“Resetting” Human Stem Cells
British and Japanese scientists have managed to “reset” human stem cells to their earliest state, opening up a new realm of research into the start of human development and potentially life-saving regenerative medicines. In work described by one independent expert as “a major step forward,” the scientists said they had successfully rebooted pluripotent stem cells so they were equivalent to those of a 7 to 10-day-old embryo, before it implants in the womb. (Kate Kelland, Reuters)

September 11, 2014

Social Connection Modulates Perceptions of AnimacyNeed for Social Connection Makes Faces Seem More Animate and Alive
“Even though two people may be looking at the same face,” explained lead researcher Katherine Powers of Dartmouth in a press release, “the point at which they see life and decide that person is worthy of meaningful social interaction may not be the same—our findings show that it depends on an individual’s social relationship status and motivations for future social interactions.” (Jesse Singal, Science of Us, New York Magazine)

Strong Social Connectedness Appears to Affect the Survival of Wild Female Baboons
Wild female baboons with stronger social connections to both female and male baboons live longer than females with weaker ties, researchers report September 10 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study is one of the first to show that male-female bonds can boost a female baboon’s health and survival. The finding also supports the idea that survival may be a big benefit of strong relationships in social mammals other than humans. (Ashley Yeager, Science Ticker, Science News)

First Clinical Trial That Will Test Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells on Humans
Unlike embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are produced from adult cells, so they can be genetically tailored to each recipient. They are capable of becoming any cell type in the body, and have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases. The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology trial will be the first opportunity for the technology to prove its clinical value. (David Cyranoski, Nature)

Hidden Monuments Discovered Around Stonehenge
Researchers from Birmingham University used high-tech equipment to map 17 ritual monuments in the area. That’s in addition to the iconic circle of stones that has stood there for thousands of years. Professor Vincent Gaffney, the project leader, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel that researchers found a large amount of new archaeological sites dating to the period of Stonehenge, as well as later and earlier periods. They were, he said, small “henge-like” monuments like Stonehenge, “but perhaps better interpreted as small chapels.” (Krishnadev Calamur, The Two-Way, NPR)

Science And Spirituality: Could It Be?
Marcelo Gleiser: Are we fundamentally wrong in placing science and spirituality in a warring field? Can reason lead us to transcendence? To most people, this is an impossible, even absurd, proposition: Reason is the opposite of grace or spiritual transcendence, given that it operates under strict adherence to rigid rules and to an unshakeable skepticism. How can analytical thinking become so malleable as to allow for this emotional and, even more radically, spiritual impact? (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

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