Science of Us (blog)

The Detail (Devil Not Included)

A coffee cup at Terra Vista. Detail of photo by B. D. Hilling, 2013.

Be careful with this one. Via Science of Us:

This might seem like too thin a point to harp on, but it’s actually important given people’s tendencies to over-extrapolate from limited study findings: “People who are more racist are more likely to make unprincipled arguments about free speech” is a very different claim than “People who make principled arguments about free speech are more likely to be racist.” This study supports the former but doesn’t say a word about the latter, and there really are some people who are committed to certain free-speech principles regardless of the content of the speech involved. All the more reason to have these conversations in as nuanced and principled a manner as possible.

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Singal, Jesse. “Are People Who Defend Free Speech More Racist Than Those Who Do Not?” Science of Us. 8 May 2017.

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Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

(more…)

The One About a Spare Cerebellum

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

This is … er … a lede:

Here’s a horrifying little story to kick off your weekend: A 16-year-old girl in Japan recently had a tumor surgically removed from her ovary — and when her doctors split it open, they found a tiny brain growing inside.

Or, you know, as the headline from Science of Us explained, “Doctors Found a Tiny Second Brain Growing Inside This Woman’s Tumor”.

(more…)

Something About Beer (Under the Influence)

So … er … ah …

HopsYou know that thing where you’re out to drinks with friends, and you’d very much like an IPA―but then the first person to order chooses an IPA, and you feel like you can’t order the same thing, because that would be weird? So you order an amber ale instead. The drinks arrive, and you unhappily sip the second-choice beer you already regret ordering.

(Dahl)

… really?

No, seriously. I … I … I mean … really?

This actually happens?

Science of UsYou know, that thing. Or maybe you don’t. It’s a semi-regular scene from my own life, anyway, and it’s also a scene from Wharton professor Jonah Berger’s new book, Invisible Influence, which is about the unseen ways the people around you shape your behavior. The beer anecdote is a brief rundown of a study conducted at a brewery by the consumer psychologists Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levav, who argue in their paper that people are highly motivated to signal their uniqueness, even when it comes to something as small and dumb as ordering a beer.

Alright, then. I just learned something.

No, really, I had no idea.

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Dahl, Melissa. “The Annoying Psychology of How Your Friends Influence the Beer You Order”. Science of Us. 9 September 2016.

Your Lede of the Day (Antibacterial)

This is the flabbergasting, unexpected lede of the day:

The Food and Drug Administration said today that antibacterial soaps and body washes will be banned starting next year. The FDA says they aren’t any more effective than regular soap and manufacturers have been unable to prove that they’re safe for long-term use.

(Rinkunas)

Science of UsAlright, then. I mean, you know: It’s time? Okay.

It’s just one of those things we hear about but don’t expect to happen.

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Rinkunas, Susaan. “Sorry Germophobes, But the FDA Just Banned Antibacterial Soap”. Science of Us. 2 September 2016.

A Clown Car Catastrophe

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

To the one, the heart of winter can be rough. To the other, as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a term I generally loathe, turns out to not be what we thought it was, anyway, that doesn’t really explain it.

Which implies it really is true: The GOP nomination contest spectacle debacle has become so depressing even I can’t cope with it.

No, really, if there is a time for whipping out posts as fast as one might, it should be now, as the Clown Car ejector seat puts on a show.

So let’s try, oh, I don’t know, let’s try Donald Trump joking about Marco Rubio’s sweat and Mitt Romney’s bowel control, and then the Florida junior’s retort about Donald Trump’s sweat and bladder control.

That was Friday. I’m pretty sure something important happened over the weekend, but … er … yeah, couldn’t tell you.

(sigh)

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Rubio follows Trump down an undignified road”. msnbce. 26 February 2016.

Garofalo, Michael. “‘He was so scared, like a little frightened puppy’: The 10 most bizarre moments from Trump’s Fort Worth rally”. Salon. 26 February 2016.

Jarrett, Christian. “Why Your Brain Actually Works Better in Winter”. Science of Us. 14 February 2016.

The Jeb Bush Show (Real Phenomenon)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to an audience in New Hampshire, 2 February 2016.  Detail of frame via NBC News.

“And there’s a reason, incidentally, that we call these moments painfully awkward: The neural pathways that are activated when viewing another person’s social pain are the very same ones that are active when you watch someone withstand physical pain.”

Melissa Dahl

It really was a bad week for Jeb Bush:

To be fair to Bush, when you see “please clap” in its proper context, it’s not quite as bad as a New York Times reporter made it out to be; it’s hard to get a crowd excited enough to spontaneously applaud something as mild as “a safer world.” But the story took flight on Wednesday, likely in part because it fits one of the narratives of Bush’s overall campaign: This is so awkward it physically hurts me.

Melissa Dahl connects the dots for Science of Us, though part of me still wonders about how something like this would play into various iterations of sadism, like, to encourage the incompetent to embarrass themselves.

Oh, right. We’re talking about Jeb Bush, here.

Still, though, know what did it for me? Wasn’t watching the overweight, developmentally impaired kid do stupid and humiliating things on dares so classmates could have a laugh.

Primitive.

It was easy enough to figure that part out, because what did it for me came even earlier: child stars in sitcoms. Seriously. Punky Brewster, and certes I jest not. Watching Soleil Moon Frye get up on the coffee table and do a song and dance bit just crushed me. The hideous, dissonant shiver reaches all the way to middle age; it is a cold and awful memory.

Eighties sitcoms were terrible.

Oh. Right. Jeb.

Never mind.

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Image note: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to an audience in New Hampshire, 2 February 2016. Detail of frame via NBC News.

Dahl, Melissa. “Poor, Awkward Jeb Bush Is Giving People Secondhand Embarrassment”. Science of Us. 4 February 2016.

The Requisite Post About That Movie

BB-8: Detail of image by Lucasfilm I did, in fact, see the film last night; Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unquestionably a marked improvement over the infamous episodes 1-3, though all I might say in specific review is that I am not ready to echo a friend who declared that Star Wars is back. Nonetheless, it was indeed better than I expected.

Meanwhile, a bit of something interesting, as Melissa Dahl at Science of Us explains why BB-8, the strangely adorable white and orange droid capturing consumers’ hearts everywhere, is “basically the textbook definition of cute”.

What is it about BB-8 that makes it so freaking cute? As it turns out, the little robot is practically a textbook example of Kindchenschema, or baby schema, the reigning theory describing just what features it takes to make someone or something appear adorable. This is something that scientists have been theorizing about since at least the 1940s, when ethologist Konrad Lorenz introduced the concept in a landmark paper.In his words — quoted later in an essay by popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould — for a creature to be considered cute, it must have the following: “a relatively large head … large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities … and clumsy movements.”

BB-8 nails every one of these characteristics. Its “head” is relatively large in proportion to its spherical “body,” and its “eye” — the black eyepiece, rather — is also pretty huge when compared to the size of the head. The area surrounding either side of the eyepiece bulge out like chubby cheeks, and while it doesn’t exactly have extremities, its rounded lower half definitely adds to the chubby effect. When it moves, it bobs and wobbles a bit as it rolls, making it look a little bit clumsy. In short, it’s got everything required to be scientifically classified as a total cutie pie.

Which sounds about right.

However, I would note BB-8 is also incredibly impractical. Honestly, its appearance is one suggesting marketplace novelty, as if people in that galaxy far, far away, who had already mastered gravity only recently figured out some notion of maglev. This thing is rolling around in a desert and apparently suffers no ill effects of sand. The upshot, of course, would involve a counterspoiler, but if you simply don’t think about it too hard, and attend the script by Lawrence Kasdan and J. J. Abrams, there is at least one occasion that … well, something about predictability goes here. And expectation. And seeing the joke coming only raises expectations. We will get a payoff on this point sometime during the new trilogy. Rather, we should. It really does seem inevitable, so the only remaining question is a matter of execution, and if they cannot pull it off we will know they have failed.

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Image note: BB-8, impractical as can be, but cute as anything. Detail of image by Lucasfilm.

Dahl, Melissa. “BB-8 Is Basically the Textbook Definition of Cute”. Science of Us. 17 December 2015.

Self-Diversification

Detail of 'Relativity' by M. C. Escher, 1953.

Melissa Dahl brings us the most unsurprising, least unexpected news of the week:

Embarrassing moments don’t have to happen in a crowd. Oh, no — you are perfectly capable of embarrassing yourself even when you’re all alone.

And, yet, think of it this way: Someone actually went and built a study.

This is not, however, as simple as it seems:

This idea may not sound so surprising, especially to those of us who regularly manage to make private fools of ourselves. But it’s a pretty radically different way of thinking about embarrassment for psychology researchers. Embarrassment has long been thought of as a social emotion, one that depends on your having an audience to witness whatever ridiculous thing you’ve just done. It’s long been theorized that the feeling of embarrassment alerts you to the fact that you’ve violated some social norm, so that you can course-correct and apologize if necessary, without losing your standing in the group. The social nature of embarrassment has been thought to explain the feeling’s physiological response, too – in particular, blushing – in that it alerts others to your emotional state. You know you messed up, and you are feeling properly awkward about it.

Except now there is this study, see, and apparently everyone is supposed to be confused. But it really isn’t confusing.

The key is to remember that the internal monologue is not a monologue.

Consider an idea: It is demonstrable that in order to share humor with ourselves, we essentially build a virtual other to simulate a sense of common reaction and experience. Nor should this be hard to grasp in other ways; it certainly explains much about the idea of a judgmental monotheistic godhead. Why should we not virtually judge ourselves; it seems a very human thing to do.

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Dahl, Melissa. “You Can Embarrass Yourself Even When You’re All Alone”. Science of Us. 23 September 2015.

The Donald Trump Show (Bully)

Donald Trump

While it is true that we find ourselves caught in a sadomasochistic conundrum having to do with the desire to neither suffer nor inflict upon others any real consideration of Donald Trump, the fact is that he is the Republican presidential frontrunner and nobody really understands why. Then again, perhaps part of our confusion is a seemingly contradictory, perhaps paradoxical need for some pretense of civility. That is to say, “Republicans are idiots”, or, “Conservatives are assholes”, just doesn’t suffice.

Jesse Singal of New York magazine’s Science of Us blog opens with the obvious statement: “It is clear at this point that Donald Trump acts more like a bully than a ‘traditional’ presidential candidate.”

And then there are those of us who wonder what part of being a Republican in the twenty-first century doesn’t involve a bully cult.

Part of what’s been strange about the trajectory of the campaign so far is that Trump hasn’t been punished, in any real sense, for engaging in the sort of behavior that almost everyone agrees is terrible in any setting. Yes, each gross incident is followed by a wave of denunciations, but they don’t seem to have an impact — if anything, Trump seems to be gaining popularity by bullying. Science of UsHe’s now the first GOP candidate to break 30 percent in the polls. Even non-supporters — the media very much included — seem more transfixed than indignant.

This isn’t an unusual dynamic in many real-world bullying settings. So examining Trump’s behavior through the lens of bullying research can offer up some insights into how he has been so successful so far, and why his rivals have been unable to knock him down a peg. Jaana Juvonen, a psychologist at UCLA who is the co-author of a recent literature review and an upcoming book chapter about bullying, said that Trump seems to tick many of the requisite boxes when it comes to how bullies act. “Not that bullies are a uniform, homogeneous group, but the sort of classic bully is one who is narcissistic, is after power, often charismatic, and therefore popular,” she said. Check, check, check, and check. But she said there’s an “important and interesting” distinction between being popular and being liked — many bullies may have high status in that their classmates rate them as popular, Juvonen explained, but when individual students are asked if they’d like to spend time with the bully, they respond with resounding nos. This dynamic might help explain some of the personnel shuffling and general chaos that went on in the early days of Trump’s campaign.

To the one, there isn’t anything particularly new about the analysis; the Trump effect remains mysterious. In the end, it is easy enough to find oneself still wondering why so many people admire bullies.

Nonetheless, and setting Mr. Trump aside for a moment―for a lifetime, if we could―we might consider part of the bully phenomenon in and of itself:

“They feel like they’re going to be the next target,” Juvonen said of bystanders and victims in bullying situations. “They don’t want to further risk their status or make themselves more vulnerable, so they know to stay quiet. But then the bully has further promoted his status, because nobody is now publicly coming out to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is not right what you’re doing’ … that’s why you need a coalition, you need a united force.” As of yet, that united force hasn’t quite emerged in the GOP primary. The bully is still shoving and screaming his way across the playground, and the teachers are nowhere in sight.

Practicality is one thing, but let’s face it: There really isn’t a bad time to stand up to bullies. If The Donald can take that away from us, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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Image note: Donald Trump shows an angry face, in undated, uncredited photograph.

Singal, Jesse. “An Expert on Bullying Explains Donald Trump’s Mean, Consequence-Free Rise”. Science of Us. 10 September 2015.