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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Zap of electricity makes you a brighter spark [via The Daily Telegraph]

A team of Oxford University scientists has found that pulsing low-level current from right to left through the parietal lobe, an area of the brain related to mathematical skill, doubled their performance on math tests. Subjects receiving left-to-right currents, however, dropped to the math skills of a six-year-old. “We’ve shown before that we can induce dyscalculia, and now it seems we might be able to make someone better at maths, so we really want to see if we can help people with dyscalculia, with a possible benefit to the general public,” psychologist Cohen Kadosh said. “Electrical stimulation is unlikely to turn you into the next Einstein, but if we’re lucky it might be able to help some people cope better with maths.”

Bacon-flavored soda sizzles onto shelves [via AOL News]

Bacon tastes great for breakfast, wrapped around steak, wrapped around shrimp, wrapped around vegetables and even in cookies—but what about in a can? Bacon products company J&D Foods is betting the concept will sell after introducing its newest product, bacon-flavored soda, developed in conjunction with Jones Soda. “They know soda. We know bacon. We were destined to merge our technologies for something big,” Esch said. “We’ve already made bacon beauty products, bacon stationery and edible bacon products, so something drinkable was next.”

Free diver smashes cave world record [via The Daily Telegraph]

Venezuelan Carlos Coste, 34, swam 492 feet through an underwater cave without a breathing apparatus in just two and a half minutes, more than doubling the previous world record. The Yucatan stunt took three years of planning; Coste worked to build up how long he can hold his breath to a shocking seven minutes. “I was not scared about it. We have planned this for a long time and I was fully prepared for what I had to do,” he said.

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The Strange Link Between Winning Elections and Online Porn [via Time]

Online porn usage spikes in states that voted for a winning candidate after elections, two psychology professors from Villanova and Rutgers Universities found. The researchers hypothesized that, because men, who consume the vast majority of online pornography, experience elevated testosterone levels after winning a fight, that energy might reveal itself through searches for online porn. They discovered that states that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 saw the spike, and blue states experienced more porn searches in 2008.

Allure of the Sea Misses Bridge by Inches [via AOL]

A new Royal Caribbean cruise ship, costing over $1.5 billion and one of the largest ocean liners ever built, cleared the Store Belt Bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark by just 20 inches. The Allure of the Sea had to pass under the bridge on its way from dry-dock to the open ocean. The 236-foot-tall ship could sail under the 213-foot-tall bridge by lowering its retractable smokestacks and increasing speed to create downward suction and lower the ship’s height.

Prisoners to Get the Vote for the First Time [via The Daily Telegraph]

British Prime Minister David Cameron conceded yesterday that there is nothing he can do to challenge a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the U.K.’s 70,000 incarcerated citizens be allowed to vote in general elections, a right prisoners have not enjoyed for 140 years. If the government hesitates, lawyers say, taxpayers could be forced into hundreds of millions of dollars worth of litigation. The government is still hoping to limit the right for lifetime prisoners and murderers at the very least.

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Last week NPR news analyst Juan Williams was fired for remarks he made on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” regarding Muslims.

Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. I mean look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Whether you agree or disagree with NPR’s decision, the firing has brought forth discussion about whether such a sentiment is bigoted or not. Associating one thing with another is a classic evolutionary defensive mechanism, Shankar Vedantam writes in Slate.

These automatic associations make evolutionary sense. If one of our ancestors was wandering in a desert and came by a snake curled up next to the only tree on the landscape, her mind would connect not just that tree with that snake, but all trees with snakes. Illusory correlations are all about seeking out group patterns based on rare individual incidents: all trees and snakes and all flights with stomach upsets, rather than that one tree and that one snake, or that one flight and that one stomach upset. Scientists say correlation isn’t causation, but, from an evolutionary point of view, if the snake-tree link is wrong, all that would happen is our ancestor would avoid all trees in the future. If the link was real and she failed to see it, she could get herself killed. Our ancestors constantly drew conclusions about their environment based on limited evidence. Waiting for causative evidence could have proved costly, whereas extrapolating causation from correlation was less costly.

Most people don’t make similar associations between, say, Timothy McVeigh or the Westboro Baptist Church and Christianity because whites and Christians are the majority in America. Muslims are just the latest group to face such correlation; Vedantam notes African-Americans have long faced problems by being associated with crime.

Whenever people who strongly believe in illusory correlations are challenged about their beliefs, they invariably find ways to make their behavior seem conscious and rational. Those who would explicitly link all Muslims with terrorism might point to evidence showing that some Muslims say they want to wage a war against the West, that a large preponderance of terrorist attacks today are carried out by Muslims, and so on. This is similar to our longstanding national narrative about blacks and crime.

Todd Essig, writing in Psychology Today, argues that the unique combination of human psychology and social networking serves to spread hate quickly and efficiently. Hate speech, at least against Muslims, is part of the cultural norm, he says; “No one escapes the pull of cognitive dissonance.”

Consequently—and here is the tragic consequence—once you start speaking hate you will soon start feeling hate regardless of motive. The next thing you know you’ll be getting nervous when you see a Muslim or a person of color—maybe one of Juan Williams’ relatives—at the airport because, of course, you hatefully believe there is a good chance they are a terrorist or a mugger.

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Ancient giant penguin unearthed in Peru [via the BBC]

Scientists from the University of Texas and Yale have discovered the fossil of a giant penguin in Peru that lived some 36 million years ago. Inkayacu paracasensis, about twice the size of contemporary Emperor penguins, had brown and grey feathers and a long, straight beak. The paleontologists said they were able to conclude that while penguins’ physical features date back many millions of years, the recent shift from brown and gray to black and white was more recent.

Lying really does make you want to wash your mouth out with soap [via The Daily Telegraph]

University of Michigan researcher Spike Lee (possibly the coolest name for a scientist ever) led a psychological study that found those who lied were “more likely to head for mouthwash and soap, while those who had told the truth did not feel the same need.” Subjects who lied in the study’s promotion scenario were then willing to pay more for mouthwash and hand sanitizer. “The references to ‘dirty hands’ or ‘dirty mouths’ in everyday language suggest that people think about abstract issues of moral purity in terms of more concrete experiences with physical purity,” Lee said. “Not only do people want to clean after a dirty deed, they want to clean the specific body part involved.”

At Oktoberfest, a Controversy Brews Over Racy Designer Dirndls [via The Wall Street Journal]

“Long the preserve of fräuleins and Alpine cultural enthusiasts, dirndls and lederhosen have become an international fashion trend in recent years, inspiring ever bolder iterations that purists say are transforming their proud heritage into a vulgar caricature.” It’s the bicentennial Oktoberfest, and Germans are up in arms about skimpy skirts, especially since fashionistas such as Paris Hilton have begun wearing designer dirndls, a traditional dress and bodice. “Imagine that you had five friends, and they all wore red sneakers,” says Simone Egger, an anthropologist at the University of Munich who studied the increasing popularity of tracht at Oktoberfest. “Then everybody starts wearing red sneakers. They’re exasperated. They say, ‘We were doing this first, and we wear them the right way.’ It’s a lot like that.”

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“Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?”

So begins the 8,000-word novella on today’s New York Times magazine cover. Why indeed? This question is over rather paramount importance to me — a 22-year-old liberal arts college graduate, unemployed, living with my parents and looking for a job in a collapsing industry (finance — just kidding! I mean an actually collapsing industry: journalism). There’s already been a good deal of indignation in the blogosphere, likely penned in large part by such un-grown-up twentysomethings.

Twentysomething malaise. Courtesy of the New York Times.

The problem lies in a deviation from the “traditional” growing-up schedule: school, career, family, retire. Mmm… a lifetime of monumental decisions boiled down to a handy four-step guide. But now, “young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.”

(more…)

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