TIL: There are studies that suggest new babies really do smell different, and seem to trigger special brain chemical pathways in women. But, simultaneously, the smells we more consciously associate with "new baby" — i.e., the new baby smell used in baby products and baby-fresh scents — varies widely by culture. Make of this what you will. — Maggie
Research says "to-do" lists don't work, writes Daniel Markovitz at Harvard Business Review. That's not exactly what he means, though. Instead of condemning the very idea of "to-do" lists, Markovitz piece makes an interesting case for re-thinking how you use those lists. If you're throwing a jumble of stuff to be done onto a page, that's probably not going to be terribly effective. A better solution involves breaking down how various tasks fit into allotted spaces of time on specific days, and setting up that more realistic list as a part of your routine, rather than just magnetizing it to the refrigerator. Basically, it's not that "to-do" lists suck. It's that some people probably aren't using them effectively. — Maggie
You are Not So Smart is a new addition to Boing Boing's line-up of terrific podcasts! It's hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark
Why do human beings get into arguments? What does science have to say about argumentation? Is there an evolutionary explanation? Is arguing adaptive? Is all our bickering in comments, forums, social media and elsewhere a good or a bad thing? Those are some of the questions posed in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. We ask those questions of:
Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist. He says that means he researches how humans evolved to draw conclusions from inconclusive data. At 24, he was an elder in the world’s largest hippie commune, but now he lectures at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville California and is a chief researcher at Berkely’s Consortium for Emergent Dynamics where he and others research how minds emerge from matter. He is now working on a book, "Doubt: A Natural History; A User's Guide" and he blogs at Psychology Today.
Hugo Mercier is a researcher for the French National Center for Scientific Research who shook up both psychology and philosophy with a paper published in 2011 titled, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory” (PDF) that proposed humans evolved reason to both produce and evaluate arguments. Respected and well-known names in psychology like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt have both praised the paper as being one of the most important works in years on the science of rationality. You can find his website here.
The Skinner Box, as applied to human infants, was not what you think it was. Psychologist B.F. Skinner did not raise his daughter inside a box without human contact. Nor did she later grow up to be crazy and commit suicide because of said lack of contact. In fact, just a few years ago, Deborah Skinner Buzan wrote a column for The Guardian debunking those powerful urban legends herself.
Instead, what Skinner did was build his daughter the sort of crib that you might expect a scientist raised in the era of mid-20th-century Popular Science-style scientific futurism and convenience to build. He called it the "Air-Crib" and it was designed to maintain a perfectly comfortable temperature, provide baby Deborah with built-in toys to keep her entertained, be simple to clean, and make it easier to stick to the "cry it out" and heavily regimented feeding/sleeping schedules that were, at the time, standard parenting advice.
I'm utterly fascinated by the way culture affects the outcomes of mental illness — whether that's in terms of prevalence of specific disorders, how we interpret and treat those disorders, or even how seemingly innate symptoms express themselves in wildly different ways. Case in point: The voices that schizophrenics hear. In the US, those voices seem to talk a lot about violence — what a person should to do themselves, or to others. In Chennai, India, on the other hand, schizophrenic patients report that voices most commonly command them to do household chores. The disturbing content comes in the form of sexual comments or directions to drink from the toilet. — Maggie
Here's the slide deck [PDF] from a Michael Dearing presentation called "The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done." As Kottke points out, a lot of context is missing, but what's there is fascinating -- an enumeration of the blind spots of "people who get extraordinary stuff done in Silicon Valley," based on interviews with 4,515 founders from 2,481 companies.
We all know about Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, in which volunteers believed that they had shocked other volunteers to death, just because the experimenter had told them they were expected to. But a new book called Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments by Australian journalist and psychologist Gina Perry revisits Milgram's original research documentation and concludes that Milgram fudged his conclusions.
After examining the original tapes of Milgram's experiments and interviewing the surviving subjects and researchers, Perry concludes that Milgram's experimenters didn't stick to a set script (as has always been reported), but rather wheedled and nagged the subjects into turning up the shock dial. What's more, it seems that a substantial fraction of the subjects realized that there were no actual shocks, seeing through the ruse -- they were also recorded as people who were willing to shock strangers to death on the say-so of a man in a labcoat.
Guess what -- Boing Boing has added a new show to its line-up of terrific podcasts! It's called You Are Not So Smart and it's hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. He's the author of the books You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb. David runs the You Are Not So Smart website, a blog about about the psychology of self delusion. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark
In this episode we discuss the how video games can help us understand our delusions and speak with Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com. Also, at the end, we eat a white chocolate oatmeal cookie and discuss a misconception about poverty.
For the last couple of years, each train line on the London Underground has been given its own voice. Ed Jefferson analyzed the lines' tweets to assign Kiersey/Myers-Briggs psychological temperaments to each. [via MeFi]
You might think that Waterloo & City Line couldn’t even have a Myers-Briggs Type, being a tunnel in London with some trains in it, but you’d be wrong. Whilst the normal way to establish a Myers-Briggs Type is get someone to fill in a questionnaire, it’s apparently possible to use a sample of text to analyse the personality of the author. And while the Waterloo & City Line didn’t have much to say for most of its 115 year history, for the last couple of years, it, and all the other London Underground lines, have been tweeting. So I use samples of tweets to discover what kinds of personalities they have.
I just took the test (an enneagram-style sorting hat of dubious scientific rigor) and join the Waterloo & City Line in being an ESFP.
Regardless of type, of course, the Northern Line (ESTJ) is a complete arsehole on Friday nights. One interesting takeaway: the results suggest that two or three individual writers are handling all the lines.
The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.
Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.
There's a theory that seeing something over and over and over will increase your acceptance of that thing. Applied to art, the idea suggests that what we think of as "good art" is actually just the stuff that we've seen a bunch of times. Which is sort of depressing. But here's some good news: There's evidence that this theory isn't true (at least, not always). A recent study found that people exposed to Thomas Kinkade paintings liked his work less and less the more often they saw it. — Maggie
A domesticated ferret has more in common with a domesticated dog, behavior wise, than with its own wild cousins. At The Thoughtful Animal, Jason Goldman writes about research that shows how domestication changes animals' social cognitive skill set, leading to creatures that are more likely to respond to very human social cues like eye contact and pointing. — Maggie
[Video Link] Professor Daniel H. Cohen, a philosopher who specializes in argumentation theory, argues that the loser in an argument is often the real winner.
He explains, “Suppose you and I have an argument. You believe a proposition, P, and I don’t. I’ve objected, I’ve questioned, I’ve raised all sorts of counter-considerations, and in every case you’ve responded to my satisfaction. At the end of the day, I say, ‘You know what? I guess you’re right.’ So I have a new belief. And it’s not just any belief, but it’s a well-articulated, examined and battle-tested belief. Cohen continues, “So who won that argument? Well, the war metaphor seems to force us into saying you won, even though I’m the only one who made any cognitive gain. What did you gain cognitively from convincing me? Sure, you got some pleasure out of it, your ego stroked, maybe you get some professional status in the field but just from a cognitive point of view who was the winner?