Kids are natural scientists, it turns out.
In an article published last week in Science, psychologist Alison Gopnik reviewed the literature about the way young children learn, and she finds that the way preschoolers play is very similar to the way scientists do experiments: Kids come up with general principles, akin to scientific theories, based on the data of their daily lives. Gopnik argues that the research should steer educators and policy makers away from more-regimented, dogmatic kinds of preschool instruction.
Many official forms require that you sign your name at the bottom to signify that you have, to the best of your knowledge and ability, supplied honest information. But if you really want people to be honest, a recent study in PNAS suggests, it’s better to have them sign their names at the top of the form instead, before they fill in anything else.
Having people sign the top of a form made them less likely to cheat when reporting how much money they’d earned in a simple experiment, the researchers found, or when claiming travel expenses for their trip to the lab; people who signed in the usual spot at the bottom of the form were, statistically, just as likely to cheat as those who didn’t have to sign the form anywhere.
A traffic jam in Singapore
Nobody likes morning commute traffic. Inching along at 5 miles per hour is not only incredibly frustrating, it also yields plenty of pollution. Reducing the cars on road by even just 10 percent during peak times could significantly shrink congestion—but people are unwilling to wake up early or show up to work late just to avoid the peak-traffic time window.
Unless, that is, they have some financial incentive.
Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar has instituted traffic-relief programs in India and Singapore, and his latest one, Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives, or Capri, is located closer to home, on Stanford University’s campus. Cyrus Fariar describes Capri at Ars Technica:
So. Tired. From reading email.
A day of hard mental labor—writing emails, taking the SAT, competing in the national crossword competition—can leave you beat. But how, exactly, is that possible? You haven’t done any heavy lifting, at least not with your muscles.
Ferris Jabr at Scientific American MIND takes a crack at investigating this phenomenon, exploring the science on whether thinking really hard burns calories, or whether the exhaustion is coming from something else. He writes:
Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of energy our bodies expend in one very lazy day of no activity.RMR varies from person to person depending on age, gender, size and health. If we assume an average resting metabolic rate of 1,300 calories, then the brain consumes 260 of those calories just to keep things in order. That’s 10.8 calories every hour or 0.18 calories each minute. (For comparison’s sake, see Harvard’s table of calories burned during different activities). With a little math, we can convert that number into a measure of power.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, better known as the DSM, governs the tricky science of psychiatric diagnosis. But this gold standard of diagnosis is anything but infallible: as knowledge of mental disorders grows, successive editions have had to change their definitions. The fifth version, due to be published next year, is already drawing criticism—and the most recent attack comes from within the DSM-5’s ranks.
Roel Verheul and John Livesley, a psychologist and psychiatrist who were members of the DSM-5 work group for for personality disorders, found that the group ignored their warnings about its methods and recommendations. In protest, they resigned, explaining why in an email to Psychology Today. Their disapproval stems from two primary problems with the proposed classification system: its confusing complexity, and its refusal to incorporate scientific evidence.
Most of us would consider ourselves honest people—but that doesn’t stop us from fudging the rules in favor of our team, giving an inflated report of our own performance, or buying knock-off accessories rather than the legit version. At Wired, Joanna Pearlstein talks to behavioral economist Dan Ariely about what leads us to lie, cheat, and steal—and rationalize our behavior to ourselves as not being so bad.
Wired: You write that people find it easier to rationalize stealing when they’re taking things rather than actual cash. You did an experiment where you left Coca-Colas in a dorm refrigerator along with a pile of dollar bills. People took the Cokes but left the cash. What’s going on there?
The ancestors of modern humans developed color vision 30 million years ago. But it was not until the late 1700s that there are records of anyone seeing colors in an unusual way. English chemist John Dalton, who found that people thought he was joking when he asked whether a geranium flower was blue or pink, wrote a description in 1794 of what he saw for the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society journal: His world was suffused by shades of blue and yellow, but contained none of the mysterious sensation known as red. “That part of the image which others call red,” he wrote, “appears to me little more than a shade or defect of light.” It was one of the first mentions of colorblindness in human history.
In the centuries since, we have discovered what it is that robs some people of such sensations. Those of us with standard vision, called trichromats, have three kinds of pigments, or cones, in our retinae, each sensitive to a certain range of light and spaced out across the visible spectrum so that they can together convey to the brain everything from red to violet. In the colorblind, a mutated cone is so close to another in sensitivity that parts of the spectrum aren’t covered, or there are only two functioning cones, a condition called dichromacy. A difference of one cone causes a serious change in the number of discernable colors: Dichromats see on the order of 10,000 colors, trichromats on the order of a million. But that isn’t the end of the story. Recently, as genetic analyses and tests of color vision have grown more sophisticated, we are stumbling into one of the most curious discoveries in vision since Dalton’s day. Dichromats have 2 cones, trichromats have 3, tetrachromats have 4, making them theoretically capable of seeing 100 million colors.
When we say “I knew him way back when,” or “the best years are still ahead of you,” we’re using space to set up a timeline, with the past trailing behind us and the future stretching forward. Scientists long assumed that all people envisioned time that same way. But more recent studies have shown that’s not the case: Mandarin Chinese speakers may refer to the past as above them and the future as below. When the Pormpuraawans, a tribe in the Australian outback, think of time’s physical progress, they leave their own location out of it: time flows from east to west, regardless of which way they themselves are facing.
Now, researchers have worked with a group of people who seem think of time’s movement through space in yet another way: by referencing not relative locations or cardinal directions, but topographical features. For the Yupno people in Papua New Guinea, rather than marching ever onward, time wends its way uphill.
As we descend into another election year, it would be nice if we could remember that people across the political divide are, er, people too. Unfortunately, that’s harder than it sounds, according to a new study in Psychological Science. Democrats and Republicans both are less likely to empathize with people from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Psychologists know that empathy is often dependent on similarity. It’s easier, for example, to empathize with Jack London’s characters when you’re reading about Yukon explorers at a snowy bus stop than on the beach in Cancun. The researchers devised a clever experiment where students at a Michigan bus stop in January were asked to do a “reading comprehension” test. The short story they read, about a hiker who gets lost without clothes, food, or water, also inserted some clues to the hiker’s political affiliations.
New research suggests the mere act of walking through a doorway helps people forget, which could explain many millions of confusing moments that happen each day around the world. A study published recently in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology found that participants who walked through doorways in a virtual reality environment were significantly more likely to forget memories formed in another room, compared with those who traveled the same distance but crossed no thresholds.