Want to Get Stuff Done? Do Stuff Around Other People.

Mental effort is contagious. 


I’m a freelance writer. Often when I tell people about what I do, I hear the Greek chorus: “What a luxury! How nice it must be to work from home.” Except I can’t. Or rather, I could, but I would be fending off a very needy cat and the desire to eat last night’s takeout at 11 AM.

At present, I am writing this article at a cafe surrounded by the furious typing of other cafe patrons who I assume have similar petty distractions awaiting them in the dysfunctional solitude of their apartments. And, according to a recent study by Belgian psychologist Kobe Desender, there’s a reason for my sneaking suspicion: Mental effort is contagious. So contagious that, when Desender and his team tested the human hive mind with a simple computer game that required varying levels of partner participation and difficulty, participants naturally gravitated toward matching the perceived effort of their harder-working partners — not the difficulty level of the task.

‘Swarm theory’ has fascinated scientists for decades: Mainly, why do humans work harder, better, faster when we are tapped into the energy of a group?

Desender and his team determined that partners were not "mimicking" each other, but the reasons why aren’t clear. "Swarm theory" has fascinated scientists for decades: Mainly, why do humans work harder, better, faster when we are tapped into the energy of a group? In fact, brain scans of control groups of children show more activity in regions that recognize facial expressions, faces, and social signals versus groups of autistic children who have trouble interpreting basic human social cues. Even monkeys who are popular have bigger brains.

So is understanding group behavior really the way to understanding how to improve human efficiency and motivation? Working together could be hardwired in our DNA. We are descended from fish, after all.

Steven Kotler explains the neurochemical changes during flow states that strengthen motivation, creativity, and learning.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Hyperdimensional computing discovered to help AI robots create memories

New computing theory allows artificial intelligences to store memories.

Credit: Perception and Robotics Group, University of Maryland.
Technology & Innovation
  • To become autonomous, robots need to perceive the world around them and move at the same time.
  • Researchers create a theory of hyperdimensional computing to help store robot movement in high-dimensional vectors.
  • This improvement in perception will allow artificial intelligences to create memories.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Why inequality is a ticking time bomb – for poor and rich

Riots may ensue as more poor Americans recognize their "miserable" long-term prospects.

Videos
  • How bad is wealth inequality in the United States? About 1 percent of Americans hold 80 percent of the money.
  • In the United States, the correlation between the income of parents and the income of their children when they grow up is higher than in any other country in the world.
  • One of the big underlying reasons for poverty is receiving a crummy education, which in turn leads to crummy jobs. When people recognize their miserable long-term prospects, they are more likely to partake in riots.