Americans perceive overweight Asian people as 'less foreign' than skinny Asians

In Unexpected Gains: Being Overweight Buffers Asian Americans From Prejudice Against Foreigners (Sci-Hub mirror), a paper published in Psychological Science, a group of social scientists from UK and US universities as well as Microsoft evaluated the role that weight plays in the perceptions of people of Asian descent in the USA. Read the rest

Majority of Republicans think higher education is bad for America

58% of "right-leaning Americans" believe that colleges and universities "have a negative effect on the country"; only 36% of Republican-leaning voters support higher education. Read the rest

Limn 8: a social science journal issue devoted to hacking

Gabriella Coleman is the hacker anthropologist whose work on the free software movement, Anonymous and the Arab Spring, the politicization of hacking, and the true role of alt-right dank memes in the 2016 elections are critical reading for the 21st century. Read the rest

People really, really suck at using computers

The OECD's 2011-2015, 33 country, 215,942-person study of computer skills paints a deceptively grim picture of the average level of computer proficiency around the world -- deceptive because it excludes over-65s, who research shows to be, on average, less proficient than the 16-65 cohort sampled. Read the rest

Psychology's reproducibility crisis: why statisticians are publicly calling out social scientists

Princeton University psych prof Susan Fiske published an open letter denouncing the practice of using social media to call out statistical errors in psychology research, describing the people who do this as "terrorists" and arguing that this was toxic because of the structure of social science scholarship, having an outsized effect on careers. Read the rest

Bellwether: Connie Willis's classic, hilarious novel about the science of trendiness

It's been nearly 20 years since the publication of Bellwether, Connie Willis's comic novel about scientists caught in the turmoil of bureaucratic fads. I had very fond memories of this book, though I hadn't read it in more than a decade, so I gave the DRM-free audiobook a whirl, and fell in love with it all over again. Read the rest

Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities: when science changes everything

Amara's Law states, "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run" -- Robert Charles Wilson's gripping conspiracy novel The Affinities brings the experience of that process to life.

Scientific study: real vampires don't want to be stereotyped

People who claim to be real vampires and must drink others' blood for energy are hesitant to talk to psychological counselors and other helping professionals about their lives because they fear being "judged as being wicked or evil or viewed as being psychotic, delusional or having a psychological problem," according to a new scientific study. Read the rest

Poverty is a tax on cognition

In an outstanding lecture at the London School of Economics, Macarthur "genius award" recipient Sendhil Mullainathan explains his research on the psychology of scarcity, a subject that he's also written an excellent book about. Read the rest

Economics of apologies

Ben Ho is a behavioral economist who studies apologies. He presents an economic theory of apologies that predicts when apologies will change the outcome of disputes, and proposes policies to increase the frequency and sincerity of apologies. The best evidence for economics-driven apology policies are the laws that make doctors' apologies inadmissible in court; Ho cites research that claims that this leads to more physicians' apologies, which reduces patient grief and anger, and cuts down on malpractice suits. Read the rest

Coming soon: More than one data point on the transgender experience in the military

Part of the problem with the Chelsea Manning situation is that it's spawned a lot of not-terribly-well-informed discussion about the roles and experiences of transgendered people in the military. There's a risk of this one big anecdote coming to represent the whole. Enter the Kinsey Institute — America's favorite source of sexuality science — which just got a grant to do actual research on the lives of transgender service members. Read the rest

Humans will befriend a stick — as long as it moves properly

Human emotions and social interaction have a lot to do with body language — how our faces express what we're thinking and feeling, how our gestures are read by other people, and how we invade (or retreat from) each other's personal space. In fact, those movements and behaviors are so important that, if you map them onto an otherwise completely non-human, non-animal form, we'll start interpreting it as engaging with us — even if that form is nothing more than a moving stick.

This video, clips from a study that was published in 2011 by computer scientists at the University of Calgary, shows what test subjects did and said when they were left alone in a room with a stick-like robot, and asked to just think out loud and interact with the robot in whatever ways felt natural. Some people made friends. Others tried to fight it. And a few tried to talk it out of wanting to fight them.

Video Link Read the rest

Experimenting on orphans

There's a fantastic long read up at Aeon Magazine about the science of child development and the ethics of running scientific experiments on vulnerable populations. Virginia Hughes goes to Romania to follow a long-term study comparing children placed in orphanages with children placed in foster homes. The catch: Scientists already know that foster homes are better for kids than institutions. But that fact isn't well-known or accepted in Romania. So scientists had to ask — is it ethical to run an experiment involving kids when you already know the answer if there's a chance that it might help other kids in the future? Read the rest

What happens when actual prisoners play The Prisoner's Dilemma?


The Prisoner's Dilemma is a basic part of game theory. Two prisoners are given the choice between informing on the other, or staying silent. They can't communicate with each other. The choices they make determine how many years in prison they both get.

This analogy/brain game is often used to demonstrate the ways that different people can work with or against each other in economic and social situations. Now, for the first time, scientists have done a study based on The Prisoner's Dilemma that used real prisoners. Instead of time off their sentences, they were given the choice of competing or cooperating to earn goodies like coffee and cigarettes.

And here's the surprise: Compared to college students, the prisoners actually cooperated with each other much more often. Read the rest

Actually, most college students aren't hooking up as much as you think

Really interesting little bit of social science at Slate where Lisa Wade looks at the "OMG COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE JUST INDISCRIMINATELY BANGING EACH OTHER WHILE DRUNK ALL THE TIME" scare story, and finds a very different picture of what's happening in reality. The catch: In order to understand why both the pop narrative and the reality can co-exist, you have to break college students down by demographics. Some students really are engaging in what's come to be called "hook-up culture", but they tend to be the most privileged students — the ones whose wealth, race, and social status can better protect them from the consequences of mistakes, and who think about their college life (and future goals) in very different ways compared to less-privileged peers. Read the rest

The messy science that spotted J.K. Rowling's secret novel

Behind the unveiling of J.K. Rowling as the author of a pseudonymously published detective novel lies a messy and not-terribly-precise science called "forensic stylistics". Using specially designed software — or, less often, just a trained eye — experts in the field try to match writing styles and discern the true authorship of disputed texts. But, even when they turn out to be right, as in the Rowling case, their findings are less than exact. Linguist Ben Zimmer explores the field and its usefulness at The Wall Street Journal. Read the rest

Read this before you read another story on epigenetics

At Download the Universe, i09 editor Annalee Newitz critiques a new e-book about epigenetics — the science of how environmental factors can influence genetic expression — and violence. The book makes some pretty terrible (and non-scientific) insinuations about the idea of an inherent propensity towards violence and Newitz does a good job of both taking down the specific book and explaining the nuance behind a complicated topic. Read the rest

More posts