6/30/2008 4:18:31 PM
Impulsive, deceitful, narcissistic, and exploitative men have more success with women, Mason Inman writes for the New Scientist. Although they risk social alienation, men who exhibit the “dark triad” personality traits—described as somewhere between narcissistic and psychopathic behavior—have more prolific sex lives and are evolutionarily more successful.
The correlation between “dark triad” personality traits and active sex lives didn’t hold true for women, but mean girls have unique methods of competition. According to another article in the New Scientist, women learn more subtle modes of social competition than their male counterparts. While little boys try to grab or chase objects of their desire, a study from Emmanuel College in Boston found that young girls learn to harness “the pain of social exclusion” in order to get what they want.
6/27/2008 1:20:29 PM
Like schoolyard bullies, online “trolls” are the people who join discussions just to make others angry. They’re the ones who hurl personal insults at other people, often not relating to the discussion at hand. One way to deal with these jerks, Danah Boyd writes on her blog Zephoria, is simply to ignore them. “Don’t feed the trolls” is the mantra, based on the idea that most bullies are acting up for the attention. This can be difficult, and allows trolls to continue hurting people unabated. Boyd asks, “[w]hat are good strategies for handling trolls in sheep's clothing?”
6/27/2008 9:33:48 AM
Some six million Americans suffer from the urge to pull out their own hair, an affliction known as trichotillomania. Those afflicted are often unable to stop plucking out their own eyebrows or tugging the hair out of their scalp, sometimes creating bare patches of skin on their head or face. Writing for Psychology Today, Jennifer Raikes describes her struggles with trichotillomania, partly stemming from a lack of information surrounding the disease. She directs people to the Trichotillomania Learning Center to learn more.
6/20/2008 4:18:34 PM
Sitting in front of a television, thousands of miles away from the action, a true sports fan will be emotionally, physically, and psychologically invested in the game. Hearts racing, palms sweating, fans yell at their TVs, pleading for a win. In my mind, this has an immeasurable effect on the game. In reality, Jonah Lehrer on the Seed blogs attributes the actions to mirror neurons.
These recently discovered brain cells “collapse the distinction between seeing and doing,” Lehrer writes, allowing humans to internalize the actions of others. Mirror neurons fire when humans perform actions, and also when humans see other people taking actions. So when Paul Pierce was beaming on the sidelines in the final minutes of the Lakers-Celtics series this week, the mirror neurons of every Boston fan were firing wildly.
The cells also have a role to play in empathy, according to Bruce Grierson writing for the journal In Character. Empathy is “the very denominator of what it means to be human,” according to Grierson, and is triggered in some way by mirror neurons. Those neurons, however, are greatly affected by context. Grierson writes, “it’s the context that will determine to what degree the cognitive apparatus suppresses the limbic response.” In other words, if you see your team score a basket, it will call up a very different physiological response than when you see the opposing team score one. After all, we’re only human.
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6/20/2008 3:16:13 PM
In light of US Cellular’s new policy of email-free Fridays, reported by NPR, the tech/productivity blog Lifehacker asked its readers if they could forego email for one day each week. Since the site’s readers are undoubtedly among the most connected people on the planet, most of the answers in the comments section fall somewhere between “Only with great difficulty,” to “No. I am addicted.” These individual accounts square nicely with societal trends: the past decade has seen Internet addiction emerge as an acknowledged problem, with the establishment of recovery programs and treatment centers.
I’m pretty sure I’m not an addict (then again, denial is one symptom of addiction … ) but I do know that going email-free for a whole day would be a struggle. Email and other online communication has a way of flooding my waking hours until I’m unable to sit still with a book or magazine—or even another live human being—for more than a few minutes before wondering if I have any new messages.
Testimonials from self-described email addicts are available on the tech website ClickZ, including some suggestions for breaking the habit. Not surprisingly, the first step is getting the hell away from your computer and, if you have an email-enabled cellphone or PDA, leaving it behind while you go somewhere else—ideally, into the great outdoors. That's easier said than done, and only the half the battle: the other half is managing to enjoy this email-free time without obsessing over the news, assignments, requests, and social communication piling up in your absence.
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6/18/2008 2:29:13 PM
When inspiration strikes, there’s not always a computer around to record the ideas. Like cocktail napkin sketches, or ideas written on the back of a person’s hand, the website Deeplinking has compiled a few pen-on-paper prototypes of ideas that became websites.
The photo at left, for example, was the original design for the micro-blogging site Twitter, then called Stat.us. The current design of Utne.com, in fact, was once little more than chicken scratches on a torn piece of paper. For a more in-depth and active example, Deeplinking also provides an impressive, moving paper prototype in the YouTube link below.
Image by jack dorsey, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/18/2008 11:40:26 AM
Talking stuffed animals may be cute on the outside, but creepy robotic hearts often lurk beneath their fuzzy exteriors. Matt Kirkland dissected a number of stuffed toy robots and found out what they were made of. The results are quite revealing.
Images by Matt Kirkland
6/11/2008 5:08:16 PM
The Spanish were on to something with the idea of the siesta. Science News reports that taking an afternoon nap is the best way to combat work-place drowsiness, according to researchers at the Sleep Research Center at Loughborough University in England. The study tested people in the height of the post-lunch slump, around 2:00, and tried different strategies for keeping them awake. Taking a quick, 20-minute nap was even more effective than getting more sleep the night before. And although the nap worked best, the researchers also suggested a more socially acceptable way to wake up: drinking a cup of coffee (or six).
6/11/2008 12:47:57 PM
When a boyfriend or girlfriend says, “no, really, I’m fine,” how do you know that person is lying? When a boss goes silent after a big presentation, how do people know the boss isn’t happy? Psychologists call the ability to interpret people’s moods “empathetic accuracy.”
The problem with mind reading is that most people are terrible at it. Even among couples in long-term relationships, the human ability to interpret social cues and read minds is, according to social psychologist Nicholas Epley, “stunningly unimpressive.”
Strangers asked to interpret the thoughts and feelings of others were able to guess accurately about 20 percent of the time, Psychology Today reported in 2007. Married couples were able to get up to about 35 percent accuracy. And almost no one, psychologist William Ickes told Psychology Today, can interpret with better than 60 percent accuracy.
Even though people are better at roulette than they are at reading minds, there are ways to improve. Most people focus on the eyes as a way to judge feelings, according to the article in Psychology Today, and that can help. There are more than 3,000 different expressions that humans may use throughout the course of a day, and learning about those could be beneficial, too. And people who know their own moods are often better at reading the emotions of others.
A problem arises when people are robbed of the body language and social cues that appear only in face-to-face communication—for example, over email. Many of the tips Psychology Today provides for better mind reading involve being expressive and paying attention to “the upper part of the face.” While valuable in conversation, these options don’t work when writing emails or Instant Messaging. My advice: When feelings are at stake, turn off the computer.
Image by Gareth Simpson, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2008 11:41:22 AM
How revolutionary are the iPhone and the Amazon Kindle? Not very, according to Annalee Newitz at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She cites an engineering principle called the singularity, “the moment when the technology and culture of the present evolve to the point that they would be incomprehensible to people from the past.” The concept could encompass what the late, great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke called the moment when a “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The test for singularity is to imagine explaining a technology to someone 100 years ago—a feat that would be fairly easy, Newitz argues, with the iPhone, the Kindle, or even the Phoenix Mars Lander. All are impressive innovations, but hardly incomprehensible to a citizen of the world in 1908.
So what would blow an early-20th-century mind, in much the same way that a man in the 1700s would be boggled by airplanes? Most likely, internet-based technologies like social-networking sites and viral video, which have fundamentally changed the ways we interact with others, would do the trick. This makes sense, since I often find it difficult to explain the relevance of Facebook or Obama Girl even to myself, much less a hypothetical person 100 years in the past.
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6/10/2008 11:52:29 AM
Within 30 years, humans could be immune to disease, unaffected by the ravages of aging, and able live to 150 or perhaps 1,000 years old. We could be, Bryan Appleyard writes for Cosmos Magazine, “medically immortal.”
Medicine and biotechnology may soon begin advancing more quickly than nature can find ways to kill us. “Ultimately,” Appleyard writes, “the forward movement of technology will outstrip our own forward movement through time, and death, the old enemy, will have been vanquished.”
There is safety in arguing that people will soon become immortal. Most people predicting immortality will be dead by the time they can be proven wrong. If they are still alive, they will have been proven right. It’s a win-win bet. And anyone arguing against them is called “fatalistic” and in favor of people dying.
Of course, the shift toward immortality is controversial. For one thing, immortality confronts many of “the traditions of religion and philosophy” Appleyard reports. Since most religions are, in some sense, ways to cope with death, the elimination of death could have drastic consequences on the human psyche.
Although the hubristic undertones of wanting to live forever are self-evident, the religious argument against immortality not a given. “All the scriptures are pretty clear," said biogerontologist and chairman of the Methuselah Foundation Aubrey de Grey, "hastening death is deprecated and, if something is killing people, we are more or less instructed to do something about it.” In a talk for the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in 2005 (available below), de Grey says that arguments against immortality are “completely crazy.” While people should be thinking about the potential problems of immortality (overpopulation, scant resources, etc.), no one today has the right to hold up this research and impose their "fatalistic" judgments on future generations.
6/9/2008 3:51:12 PM
For the millions of children who grew up idolizing Jonas Salk, Marie Curie, or Tycho Brahe, but were unable to forge careers in science, there may still be hope. A plethora of citizen-science projects are searching for volunteers and support from scientific-minded amateurs with dreams of helping the earth or discovering the next big breakthrough.
Common Ground magazine offers a nice introduction to citizen-science projects, highlighting work being done by the Collaborative Observatory for Natural Environments (CONE) in Texas, among others. The CONE project allows online birders to snap photos with a robotic web camera to “document the presence of subtropical birds that may be affected by global warming.”
Many citizen science-projects revolve around birding. In fact, the longest ongoing project of this type, the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, was first instituted in 1900. Another birding project, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is at the forefront of the citizen-science movement. One of their many projects, NestWatch (and the newly instituted CamClikr), has citizen scientists peruse archival footage of nesting birds to classify images and avian behavior.
Not just for the birds, the bees have also been a focus of citizen-science projects. The Great Sunflower Project sends sunflower seeds to volunteers for planting, and asks participants to document bee frequency at the flowers in hopes of “understand[ing] the challenges that bees are facing.”
For the more internet savvy, the ambitious and much publicized Encyclopedia of Life is looking for “dedicated individuals” to help compile the “most complete biodiversity database on the Web.” The people behind the project are trying to create a taxonomic page for every species on Earth, much like this page for the peregrine falcon. With the help of like-minded individuals, the Encyclopedia of Life hopes to have "a major global impact in facilitating biodiversity research, conservation, and education."
For additional projects and information, visit the Citizen Science Projects blog.
6/3/2008 10:01:37 AM
In the race to save the world from global warming, prominent scientists are pushing plans to modify the atmosphere to cool the planet. These plans, known as “geoengineering,” take a number of different forms, some of which I wrote about in the September-October 2007 issue of Utne Reader. Two of the most prominent ideas involve blocking some of the sun’s radiation from reaching earth using either sulfate aerosols injected into the stratosphere or trillions of tiny mirrored satellites launched into space.
All of the geoengineering plans carry huge risks. Writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (pdf), Alan Robock calls out 20 of the most serious “political, ethical, and moral issues raised” by geoengineering. Robock writes that the schemes could have a potentially disastrous effect on the environment, since they could raise the levels of acid in the atmosphere, and they also leave the earth vulnerable to both human error and unexpected consequences. Even if all goes well, the geonengineering could still have destructive results as political, military, and commercial entities would likely struggle for control over the environment.
Many of Robock’s 20 potential problems could mean disaster for the planet. But the problems are almost as theoretical as the ideas they address. Writing in the same issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, philosophy professor Martin Bunzl writes that people should at least study the effects that geoengineering would have on humankind. Acknowledging the serious issues at play, Bunzl writes that scientists should quantitatively assess the possibilities of all of Robock’s issues, rather than simply throwing out the ideas wholesale. “Once we have those answers in hand,” Bunzl writes, “then we can engage in serious ethical consideration over whether or not to act.”
6/2/2008 12:24:35 PM
Getting rid of glasses and contact lenses with Lasik surgery sounds enticing, but subjecting your eyes to a laser might, understandably, make you squeamish. Another alternative, reports the Hudson Valley Chronogram, is natural vision care, a treatment plan that incorporates acupuncture, behavioral changes, and nutritional counseling into eye care.
The behavioral changes suggested by natural vision care can start simply: less monitor-gazing. “We do things like stare at a computer for six hours straight without looking up, and never blink,” says Nancy Neff, a natural vision educator who weaned herself from glasses. Wearing corrective lenses can also contribute to worsening vision, Neff suggests, since it lessens the work eye muscles do. “I run every day, and doing that without the glasses in the beginning was really challenging,” she says. “I used to say hello to the mailboxes! Slowly, you break that addiction, and go to weaker glasses for things that aren’t that challenging. Now, I do almost everything without my glasses.”
Natural vision care is more than just extreme jogging, of course. It's a holistic health plan that includes changes in diet and habits. “Nothing replaces a nutritious diet overall,” Chronogram writes, “especially when it’s combined with a positive, healthy lifestyle that also includes regular exercise and daily relaxation such as meditation or a walk in nature.” (Glasses optional.)
6/2/2008 11:49:00 AM
The toughest time to fall asleep is often when you really need to. Not getting enough sleep can lead to short-term memory loss, impairing skills needed in high-stress situations. The problem is that high-stress situations can make it very difficult to get to sleep. Scientists at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute think they’ve found a way to help.
Using targeted magnetic impulses, researchers have been able to boost short-term memory, making up for some of the problems associated with sleep deprivation, ScienCentral reports. The research was funded by the Department of Defense and could help soldiers in high-pressure situations. The technique, known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, could also be applied to help with age-related memory loss in and dementia.
You can watch a video about the research below.
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