Science of the Spirit

Magic Wand

Babies Know What's Fair

© Unknown
"That's not fair!" It's a common playground complaint. But how early do children acquire this sense of fairness? Before they're 2, says a new study. "We found that 19- and 21-month-old infants have a general expectation of fairness, and they can apply it appropriately to different situations," says University of Illinois psychology graduate student Stephanie Sloane, who conducted the study with UI's Renée Baillargeon and David Premack of the University of Pennsylvania. The findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

In each of two experiments, babies watched live scenarios unfold. In the first, 19-month-olds saw two giraffe puppets dance around at the back of a stage. An experimenter arrived with two toys on a tray and said, "I have toys!" "Yay!" said the giraffes. Then the experimenter gave one toy to each giraffe or both to one of them. The infants were timed gazing at the scene until they lost interest. Longer looking times indicated that something was odd - unexpected - to the baby. In this experiment, three-quarters of the infants looked longer when one giraffe got both toys.
Cell Phone

Texting Affects Ability to Interpret Words

Research designed to understand the effect of text messaging on language found that texting has a negative impact on people's linguistic ability to interpret and accept words.

© Suprijono Suharjoto/Fotolia
The study, conducted by Joan Lee for her master's thesis in linguistics, revealed that those who texted more were less accepting of new words. On the other hand, those who read more traditional print media such as books, magazines, and newspapers were more accepting of the same words.

The study asked university students about their reading habits, including text messaging, and presented them with a range of words both real and fictitious.

"Our assumption about text messaging is that it encourages unconstrained language. But the study found this to be a myth," says Lee. "The people who accepted more words did so because they were better able to interpret the meaning of the word, or tolerate the word, even if they didn't recognize the word. Students who reported texting more rejected more words instead of acknowledging them as possible words."

Not surprising: Military service changes personality, promotes and induces psychopathic behavior

© Unknown
It's no secret that battlefield trauma can leave veterans with deep emotional scars that impact their ability to function in civilian life. But new research led by Washington University in St. Louis suggests that military service, even without combat, has a subtle lingering effect on a man's personality, making it potentially more difficult for veterans to get along with friends, family and co-workers.

"Our results suggest that personality traits play an important role in military training, both in the sort of men who are attracted to the military in the first place, and in the lasting impact that this service has on an individual's outlook on life," says study lead author Joshua J. Jackson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study found that men who have experienced military service tend to score lower than civilian counterparts on measures of agreeableness - a dimension of personality that influences our ability to be pleasant and accommodating in social situations.
2 + 2 = 4

An Interview with Theoretical-Mathematical Physicist, Arkadiusz Jadczyk

A few days ago, unexpectedly, I received an email from a young high school student from the little town of Wolbrom, near Krakow - the ancient capital of Poland. Her name is Dominika, and she explained that even though she plans to study architecture, she is participating in a national physics competition. One of the projects available to choose from is to conduct an interview with a physicist. Since she had been reading my Polish science blog, she selected me and asked if I would agree. I said, "why not?" So she sent me her fourteen questions. I think her questions are, perhaps, even more interesting than my answers, so here is the whole interview.

1. Why physics? Was it one of your childhood dreams?

Arkadiusz Jadczyk in school
© A&L Jadczyk
Ark Jadczyk, back row, left. Dreaming of being a fireman, a detective, and an Indian!
There were many childhood dreams. They went in various directions, overlapped each other; in some areas they positively strengthened each other while in others, they neutralized like waves on water originating from multiple sources. I dreamed of being a firefighter, a detective; I wanted to fight together with good Indians, or to be an electronics engineer like my older brother. Eventually, I became a physicist, you could say, by chance. I did so well in a national Physics Olympiad, that I was allowed to begin studies at the physics department of the university without having to take the entrance examination. Otherwise, I would probably have chosen the University of Technology.

I wrote "probably by chance," but I admit, I use the word "chance" reluctantly. We often describe events as "accidental", while at their roots lie unclear, obscure, or unknown causal chains. We are, perhaps, cutting corners this way. So maybe it was not a coincidence, maybe it was not just chance, perhaps it was 'destiny'? As a physicist, I'm a little bit of a firefighter because I am always putting out fires to uphold the truth. I am also a detective, because I follow Nature and seek to discover its secrets. I'm fighting at the side of the good Indians when I expose the scams in Science. The least thing I do is likely the work of an engineer, though even here there is a link, because as a physicist, I am interested in the world we live in, not just in a philosophical imaginary reality.

Different Bodies, Different Minds: The Handedness Bias

© Unknown
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, absorbing information, weighing it carefully, and making thoughtful decisions. But, as it turns out, we're kidding ourselves. Over the past few decades, scientists have shown there are many different internal and external factors influencing how we think, feel, communicate, and make decisions at any given moment.

One particularly powerful influence may be our own bodies, according to new research reviewed in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, has shown that quirks of our bodies affect our thinking in predictable ways, across many different areas of life, from language to mental imagery to emotion.

People come in all different shapes and sizes, and people with different kinds of bodies think differently - an idea Casasanto has termed the 'body-specificity hypothesis.'

One way our bodies appear to shape our decision-making is through handedness. Casasanto and his colleagues explored whether being right-handed or left-handed might influence our judgments about abstract ideas like value, intelligence, and honesty.

People forage for memories in the same way birds forage for berries

© Henri Bonnel
Humans move between 'patches' in their memory using the same strategy as bees flitting between flowers for pollen or birds searching among bushes for berries.

Researchers at the University of Warwick and Indiana University have identified parallels between animals looking for food in the wild and humans searching for items within their memory - suggesting that people with the best 'memory foraging' strategies are better at recalling items.

Scientists asked people to name as many animals as they could in three minutes and then compared the results with a classic model of optimal foraging in the real world, the marginal value theorem, which predicts how long animals will stay in one patch before jumping to another.

Dr Thomas Hills, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Warwick, said: "A bird's food tends to be clumped together in a specific patch - for example on a bush laden with berries.

TEDxRainier - Dimitri Christakis - Media and Children

Dimitri Christakis is a pediatrician, parent, and researcher whose influential findings are helping identify optimal media exposure for children.

Comment: Other articles mentioning the work of Dimitri Christakis:

Too much TV may affect baby's language learning
'SpongeBob' Cartoon Can Cloud Kids' Concentration

2 + 2 = 4

Human Cognitive Performance Suffers Following Natural Disasters

fractured roadway
© n/a
Not surprisingly, victims of a natural disaster can experience stress and anxiety, but a new study indicates that it might also cause them to make more errors -- some serious- in their daily lives. In their upcoming Human Factors article, "Earthquakes on the Mind: Implications of Disasters for Human Performance," researchers William S. Helton and James Head from the University of Canterbury explore how cognitive performance can decline after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Past research has indicated that more traffic accidents and accident-related fatalities occur following human-made disasters such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, due to increased cognitive impairment that can lead to higher stress levels and an increase in intrusive thoughts. However, no research has been conducted on the effects of natural disasters on cognitive performance. The authors were unexpectedly presented with a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, with participants in a study on human performance they were conducting at the time of the quake.

"We were conducting a [different] study on human performance requiring two sessions," said Helton. "In the midst of the study, between the two sessions, we had a substantial local earthquake, which resulted in the rare opportunity to do a before/after study. We were quick to seize the opportunity."
Eye 1

Is There a Psychopath in Your Inbox?

The internet has become a hunting ground for psychopaths, explains forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes, who has written a book on how to spot them .

© Unknown
Bad date? The internet has become a field of opportunity for psychopaths
I'm all for online dating but what if the person you "met" via the internet turns out to be unpleasantly different in real life? More often than not it will simply be that the chemistry between you is wrong, or that you've stumbled across a perfectly harmless odd ball. But as a consultant forensic psychologist, I'm finding that both criminal and non-criminal psychopaths are increasingly turning to the internet as a means of meeting people, just as you would expect as social networking grows in popularity. This means that there's a small chance that the person sitting across the table could be a psycho - and you will need to take steps to protect yourself. Psychopathy can only be diagnosed using strict and detailed criteria but as a lay person there are certain red flags that can alert you to the possibility that there's a psycho in your life.

Most of us have referred to a "psycho ex" or "psycho boss" at one time or another - probably because the former watched too much Top Gear, or the latter made us work late on a Friday night - but few really understand what the term means. Psychopaths don't walk around with a severed head in one hand and a bloody knife in the other. They are much - much - more subtle than that. Psychopathy is a clinical condition and psychopaths appear in all walks of life and in as many different guises; the only thing they have in common is a cluster of emotional abnormalities and anti-social behaviours that can wreak havoc in families, organisations and even entire communities. Between 1 and 3 per cent of the population exhibit psychopathic tendencies - in other words, potentially one in 100 of your Facebook friends - which puts anyone socialising online at risk of encountering a psycho. Their condition is resistant to treatment and they are devoid of empathy, out to get what they want no matter who gets in their way.

Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs

brain graphic
© Control Mind

You might not realize it, but your brain is a code-cracking machine.

For emaxlpe, it deson't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm.

S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.

Passages like these have been bouncing around the Internet for years. But how do we read them? And what do our incredibly low standards for what's legible say about the way our brains work?

According to Marta Kutas, a cognitive neuroscientist and the director of the Center for Research in Language at the University of California, San Diego, the short answer is that no one knows why we're so good at reading garbled nonsense. But they've got strong suspicions.

"My guess is that context is very, very, very important," Kutas told Life's Little Mysteries.