Surprising Science Mind Matters Articles

Human behavior in a post-rational world

  • Oh, Great: Now There's a Computer That Detects Sarcasm

    An Amazon product review with ellipsis ... like this ... and a lot of extra punctuation??!? That is, like, so likely to be sincere. I totally mean that, except that I don't: Those two tics are among telltale...

  • Study: People Think Less of Working Moms (And of Their Children)

    Americans may talk a good game about "work-life balance," but according to this study, they're biased against working mothers. More surprisingly, those who liked working moms less also liked the children of those...

  • From the Sloth Whisperer

    Different species have their different tricks for getting by. Human beings are smart, quick-moving and numerous. We're also pretty large, as mammals go. Sloths, on the other hand, take a whole different...

  • To Improve Girls' Science Scores, Show Them Women Scientists

    Standardized tests are supposed to measure innate abilities. The subject of your last conversation, the lead story on the news last night, the pictures on the wall at the test site—this trivia is presumed to have...

  • Another Blow to the Idea That People Are All Alike

    "Our thesis is that the sun people, the African family of warm communal hope, meets an antithesis, the vision of ice people, Europeans, colonizers, oppressors, the cold, rigid element in world history," Leonard...

  • Why (and How) People of a Feather Flock Together

    Seeking the hidden causes of behavior, some scientists work on the scale of brain regions and neurons, searching inside people's heads. Others work on the scale of crowds, neighborhoods and nations, seeking...

  • More On Why Public-Health Messages Backfire

    A while back I linked to a couple of studies in which scary public-health messages had the opposite of their intended effect: These anti-drinking and anti-smoking ads made people want to drink and smoke more. I...

  • A Human Game, Mastered by Rats

    The "Prisoner's Dilemma" is one of game theory's oldest, most influential and most poetic ideas. As in life, a player's best strategy depends on the kind of game she's in (one round? ten rounds? endless rounds?),...

  • Rising Seas Leave Nothing to Fight Over

    South of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, in the Bay of Bengal, lies one of those tiny flecks of land at the center of endless negotiation between two countries—a little patch of ground whose ownership looks worth...

  • New Study: Breast Cancer Screening Is Useless

    Is it time to accept that plenty of cancer-screening in the developed world is motivated by psychological needs, rather than fact? Screening addresses our fears of statistically unlikely horrors, which scare us...

  • Shields Up! Practical Force Fields Are In the Works

    I am not one to endorse stereotypes based on ethnicity, nation or religion. Especially not the ones from the earliest Star Trek series, in which everyone in the galaxy either spoke like a Californian or with the...

  • New Evidence That "Scared Straight" Doesn't Work

    Fear, guilt and shame often push people into coping behaviors, which ease the momentary pain, even as they hurt long-term. Smoking, for instance. Or binge-drinking. And one path to fear, guilt and shame is...

  • For the Love of the Deep

    From the great Carl Zimmer comes a link to a beautiful video of a siphonophore. (Click through jump to watch.) It includes soundtrack from the scientist who has discovered many new species of these beings, each of...

  • God and Ghosts and Robot Sorrow: Why They're All in the Mind

    When you're an infant, the brain makes three dots and a line into a face; later in life, it turns a creak and a shadow into a ghost. Adults too often perceive bad luck as the work of a conscious (if vindictive)...

  • Adopting an Orphan is Humane. Also Simiane.

    "I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins," said the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, neatly summarizing the theory of "kin selection": To predict how much one person will sacrifice for...

  • Want More Customers? Tell Them a Story

    Before there were abstract concepts, and probably before there were numbers, there were stories. She did this; it made him do that; then I heard her say this. According to narrative psychologists the story is our...

  • Black Swans, Male Strippers and Uncertainty

    "This too, shall pass." Folk tales say this was engraved on a ring given to King Solomon, who had demanded a gift that would make him sad when he was happy, and happy when he was sad. I recall it whenever I'm...

  • Crowdsourced Science Is on the March

    Ornithologists have long connected with "citizen scientists" to gather data on bird populations and behavior. Now the Science for Citizens project has come up with a similar strategy for botany: a smartphone app...

  • Hmmm, I Wonder Why <i>That</i> Happened?

    Science is full of surprises. Like penicillin. And X-rays. And LSD. And the cosmic background radiation that is our best evidence for the "Big Bang" origin of the universe. Ever since the original "eureka"...

  • Don't Forget Where We Parked

    The American Museum of Natural History has produced a handy video map of the entire known universe, all to scale. Hypnotically fascinating (it's a reminder, for one thing, that over big distances, space travel...