In 1999, psychologist Robert A. Fein and Executive Director of the US Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center, Bryan Vossekuil, published a study of 83 persons who had attempted or succeeded to assassinate a public figure (Google HTML view of pdf). Those 83 were all the people who were known to have attacked, or approached to attack, a prominent public ofﬁcial or public ﬁgure in the United States since 1949. The goal was to better understand the motives behind such actions, and included interviews with some of the subjects. NPR covered the report today, interviewing Fein and discussing the findings. The summary was that the attacks were not political in motive, but attempts at gaining fame. "They experienced failure after failure after failure, and decided that rather than being a 'nobody,' they wanted to be a 'somebody,' " Fein said. [more inside]
A study just published in Science finds that students who briefly write about their testing anxieties do better on the subsequent test. The abstract at Science, and a podcast interview with Sian Beilock, one of the study authors.
Cryptoforestry: Inner City Reforestation in Utrecht and the G/Local Amazon; Psychogeography is involved
Cryptoforestry is a heady blog that covers cryptoforests of all sorts, from feral forests that thrive next to heavily developed urban environments without human assistance, land in limbo and "states of vegetation for which lay-language has no name", incognito forests that hide in plain view, precognitive forests that are about to become forest or are forest Fata Morgana, and unappreciated forests that are considered wastelands. The scope of the blog covers local Utrecht sites to the "g/local" Amazon basin, and lands in-between. All this is filtered through the lens of psychogeography, emphasizing "the psychological effects of a forest rather than canopy cover or land use as of importance for classification." [more inside]
Separation Anxiety: "Now that there's no escaping the digital world, research is getting more serious about what happens to personalities that are incessantly on."
Following the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology's decision to publish Daryl Bem's writeup of 8 studies (PDF) purporting to show evidence for precognition (previously), researchers from the University of Amsterdam have written a rebuttal (PDF) which finds methodological flaws not only in Bem's research, but in many other published papers in experimental psychology. Could this prove to be psychology's cold fusion moment? [more inside]
"The rich are different than you and me." A new study out of the Harvard Business School suggests that frequent use of luxury goods and services may encourage a narrower, more self-interested view of the world. Here's a link to the report itself. (Achtung! it's a PDF.)
Feel like nobody really cares whether you live or die these days? Well, you might be on to something...
The Empathy Deficit: "A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S." In fact, the report concludes "empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years." Podcast on this topic here.
A Real Science of Mind Neurobabble piques interest in science, but obscures how science works. Individuals see, know, and want to make love. Brains don’t. Those things are psychological — not, in any evident way, neural.
Does the language we speak shape our thoughts? The Economist is hosting an interactive online debate running all this week. Lena Boroditsky, a Stanford psychologist, supports the motion that it does, while Mark Liberman, a linguist from the Univ of Pennsylvania opposes it. Elsewhere you can read a WSJ article in which among other things Boroditsky argues that Japanese and Spanish speakers have a different sense of blame, and listen to a lively in-depth seminar at the Long Now Foundation. All her articles and papers are available in PDF online.
Growing evidence suggests suicide bombers may be just ... well, suicidal. The idea is controversial and contentious, to be sure, but there is a small but growing movement among social scientists that the reasoning behind suicide bombing might be more mundane than religious "fanaticism" or "deluded" ideology. [more inside]
An eight-year, extremely large study (p = 1.34 × 10-11) has found statistically significant results that point towards a human capability for precognition. Reviewers for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology are puzzled by the paper but cannot find any flaws in its methodology. Is this confirmation of the fluid nature of time? Or is it simply another candidate for the Journal of Irreproducible Results?
The Dalai Lama on changing minds only through compassion and respect. He spent several days at Stanford recently, and this session focuses on the neuroscience of compassion. Watch it in full here.
Is seeing believing? BBC Horizon looks at sensory perception, illusions and the interplay of our different senses. (Full program for UK viewers here). Makes you feel like you've entered The Twilight Zone. [more inside]
Live coverage of the rescue operation of the 33 Chilean miners who have been stranded underground for the last 68 days. NASA are helping in more ways than one but it isn't over yet.
In an ideal world, you’d imagine that someone who harmed more people would deserve a harsher treatment: a new paper by Loran F. Nordgren and Mary McDonnell, The Scope-Severity Paradox, suggests people find crime with fewer victims more severe than those with more victims. [PDF link] [more inside]
"What was lost in the realm of economic exchange is reclaimed in the realm of cultural/semiotic performance. Branding also identifies the product relative to the chain of signifiers constituting its brand “family,” in the same way that ranchers brand livestock with the sign of their ranch." [via]
You are more likely to be killed by a pig than a shark. You run a greater risk of dying from an asteroid impact than a terrorist attack. You would have to fly an average of 38,000 years in commercial aviation before suffering a fatal crash. The fears parents have for their children have nothing in common to what will actually kill or hurt them. Our perception of risk has very little relation to threat: some helpful visual guides [PDF] and reasons why.
"We infer that beyond about $75,000/y, there is no improvement whatever in any of the three measures of emotional well-being." Two social scientists at Princeton, Angus Deaton and Nobelist Daniel Kahneman, have a new paper in PNAS about money and the determinants of happiness. Increased income above $75,000 is not associated with higher subjective happiness, though it is associated with superior scores on measures of overall life satisfaction. Other tidbits: "Religion has a substantial influence on improving positive affect and reducing reports of stress, but no effect on reducing sadness or worry... The presence of children at home is associated with significant increases in stress, sadness, and worry."
Ugly Vegas Carpets Want You to Keep Playing. "Mathematician-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” This certainly rings true with Chris Maluszynski’s Las Vegas Carpets series, whose name explains it all. The photos draw out the psychology of Las Vegas through the simple observation of carpet."
Challenging the notion that humans are motivated by monetary reward, Dan Pink presents a variety of studies that test this notion. Inspired by his newest book, Drive
After 17 days, 33 Chilean miners have been found alive 2,300 vertical feet underground in a gold and copper mine. Now the only thing left to do is get them out safely -- in about four months.
Twenty-somethings today don't quite fit the definition of adolescence or adulthood. This has thrown the human development gurus for a loop. [more inside]
In 1939, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark performed an experiment with dolls which was instrumental to Brown vs Board of Education, a case that struck down black/white segregation in American education. Earlier this year, CNN's AC360 aired the results (update, also) of a follow up statistical study on racial bias in today's children. Anderson Cooper himself explains his motives. [more inside]
Shared social responsibility - When customers could pay what they wanted in the knowledge that half of that would go to charity, sales and profits went through the roof ... Gneezy describes the combination of charitable donations and paying what you like as 'shared social responsibility', where businesses and customers work together for the public good. (via mr) [also see 1,2,3]
You think people know what you are thinking. You think that you are rational. You even think that life is fair. Actually, you are not that smart.
The New Science of Morality: An Edge seminar featuring talks (with full video, audio and text transcripts) by Paul Bloom, Roy Baumeister, Joshua Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Sam Harris, Marc Hauser, Josua Knobe, Elizabeth Phelps, and David Pizarro.
Every person is assigned a role at the start of the game. You are randomly sided with either the village, the mafia, or a third party. During the night, the mafia secretly meet and discuss to decide who they want to kill, while other power roles decide what to do. During the day, the village players must figure out who is not sided with the village and get rid of them. [more inside]
In a fundamental re-think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a research team lead by Arizona State University's Doug Kenrick has replaced the personal need to achieve status and respect, culminating in self-actualization, with the biological imperative to find a mate and reproduce, culminating in parenting. Kenrick also replaces Maslow's strict design, in which needs replace one another, with a design in which needs overlap over the course of a lifetime. [more inside]
A nearly 25-year study has concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers. Results were published this month in Pediatrics: the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Abstract. Free PDF. Scribd). [more inside]
New Scientist Special Report: Living in Denial. Includes articles by Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine [more inside]
In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach was gripped by an eccentric plan. He gathered three psychiatric patients, each with the delusion that they were Jesus Christ, to live together for two years in Ypsilanti State Hospital to see if their beliefs would change. Vaughan Bell tells the story of one of the weirdest experiments in the history of psychology. (via)
"A growing body of evidence suggests that humans have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life... Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone... [But] the sense of right and wrong that [babies] naturally possess diverges in important ways from what we adults would want it to be."
We Need a General Theory of Individuality : "One of the unspoken secrets in basic scientific research, from anthropology to zoology (with intervening stops at physiology, political science, psychology, psychiatry, and sociology) is that, nearly always, individuals turn out to be different from one another, and that—to an extent rarely admitted and virtually never pursued—scientific generalizations tend to hush up those differences"
Homeless man Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed several times in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker in New York City. He then bled to death while dozens of people walked by -- one stopping to snap a picture of the dying man with his cameraphone before leaving the scene. [more inside]
"She needed company, sympathy — someone, anyone, to see and feel her loss — and searched the face of her assigned social worker in vain." [more inside]
"Take a little bad psychology, add a dash of bad philosophy and ethics, and liberal quantities of bad logic, and any economist can prove that the demand curve for a commodity is negatively inclined." MIT economist Andrew Lo and string theorist turned asset manager Mark Mueller on the "physics envy" that plagues economics, and how to stop worrying and love uncertainty.
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
Stress: Our collective mood - "there seems to be a correlation between stress and lack of holidays. More important, however, is whether a relationship exists between either and economic performance. The data is equivocal. On average Americans put in an extra two hours a week compared with UK workers. Yet both countries had almost identical crises, while lazier nations fared considerably better." also btw: Why Women Don't Want Macho Men (cf. A Theory for Why Latvian Women are Beautiful) & Study Shows People In Power Make Better Liars (The psychology of power or The Duke and Dirty Harry)
This article, about differences between male and female brains, is doing the rounds on various blogs. (I found it via reddit.) Meanwhile, debunkers are doing their best to rip the author a new asshole.
The Psychology of the Taboo Trade-Off. A set of studies about issues that are considered "sacred" that can have an effect on the trade-offs involved in foreign policy. (via) [more inside]
The "Still Face" Paradigm (YT video) designed by Dr. Edward Tronick of Harvard and Childrens Hospital’s Child Development Unit, is an experiment which shows us how a 1-year old child will react to a suddenly unresponsive parent. It allows us to understand how a caregiver's interactions and emotional state can influence many aspects of an infant's social and emotional development. [more inside]
The Psychology of Video Games. Jamie Madigan has a Ph.D. in psychology. He's also a Gamer with a capital G, has written gaming strategy guides and countless game reviews, and follows the gaming scene like some people follow baseball. In his blog, Jamie tells you "why things are" when it comes to game psychology. Conan the Loss Averse Barbarian. How Reciprocity Yields Bumper Crops in Farmville. Phat Loot and Neurotransmitters in World of Warcraft. [more inside]