from the world's big
Cognitive ability tied to better social distancing
Working memory is the workhorse of cognition. Having less of it has side effects.
- A new study finds that people with lower working memory capacity were less likely to practice social distancing.
- The study also found working memory was related to how fairly a subject behaved in an ultimatum game.
- The findings help explain why some people don't social distance and offer new ways to encourage proper distancing.
Social distancing is difficult. Few people would contest that fact. Despite this, in this time between the beginning of a pandemic and the creation of an effective vaccine, it is essential. An endless stream of scientists, major organizations, and public health experts agree on the benefits social distancing provides to public and personal health. Many of them add that proper social distancing could lower infection rates and return us to normalcy sooner.
Despite the best efforts of these experts, many other people continue to crowd bars, refuse to wear masks, and host parties. This frequently leads to predictable results, new outbreaks, and longer waits until the rest of us can go out again.
Luckily, the exasperated guideline followers of the world can take solace in the findings of a new study that suggests people who don't follow the rules test lower for cognitive ability than those who do.
Working Memory or Hardly Working Memory?
Working memory is that part of our memory concerned with limited amounts of information used in the service of other mental processes for a short time. Several studies associate having more working memory with higher cognitive function. Of particular interest are the many studies that have shown that a higher working memory relates to being better able to follow new and complex rules, especially under stress.
This led the authors of the new study to suspect that there might be a connection between the working memory a person has and how well they socially distanced in the early days of the outbreak.
To find out, they surveyed 850 American adults from the Mechanical Turk platform immediately after the beginning of social distancing recommendations in March 2020. The questions focused on how well they were abiding by recently imposed social distancing orders. Participants also completed tests designed to measure working memory, fluid intelligence, how they viewed the costs and benefits of distancing, and the Big Five Personality Test.
Test subjects with stronger working memories were much more likely to report that they had taken precautions to avoid COVID-19, such as avoiding large gatherings, than others. The researchers also found a similar, but smaller, relationship between how well a subject socially distanced and their scores on a fluid intelligence and agreeableness test.
The researchers looked for a possible mediator in the form of the test subject's cost-benefit analysis of social distancing. By asking subjects how much they agreed with statements such as "Social distancing may minimize the burden on medical resources, so people in need can use them," and comparing the results between the cost and benefits questions, the researchers were able to determine how each test subject viewed the cost and benefits of distancing.
While they did discover a relationship between cost-benefit analysis and how well they distanced- people who decided the benefits of distancing outweighed the costs to themselves and others were better at distancing-the effect was only a partial meditator. This means that even after accounting for it, the amount of working memory a person had was still a factor in how much they choose to socially distance.
In a separate experiment, the researchers had test subjects play an ultimatum game. In this game, participants had to determine if they would share surplus resources with another player. In one iteration, the computer that played as the test subject's opponent could penalize the test subject if the offer they made was deemed "unfair."
As some of your might expect, the players with the best working memory came closest to a "fair" split, defined here as dividing the surplus in half, by a large margin. The authors suggest that this was because these subjects were better able to evaluate the consequences of not being fair and worked both to avoid punishment and maximize their reward.
So, what does this mean for us?
The findings suggest a correlation between working memory capacity and how well people stick to social distancing rules. This holds up after controlling for variables that might impact someone's ability to isolate, such as socioeconomic status, age, or even mood. As the authors mention in their concluding thoughts, this does make sense given the evidence that working memory aids both in following social norms and determining benefits and risks.
As they put it:
"…our findings are in line with the theoretical framework that social distancing compliance during the early outbreak of an infectious disease is driven by deliberate thoughts about the costs and benefits of this practice. Our novel observation is that the decision to follow the social distancing norm in prioritizing societal benefits over personal costs is contingent on one's WM capacity, the core of human cognition."
Co-Author Weizhen Xie expanded on this in an interview with PsyPost:
"The decision of whether or not to follow social distancing guidelines is a difficult one, especially when there is a conflict between the societal benefits (e.g., prevent straining public health resources) and personal costs (e.g., loss in social connection and financial challenges). This decision critically relies on our mental capacity in retaining multiple pieces of potentially conflicting information in our head, which is referred to as working memory capacity."
Before you start getting too smug about how well you've followed social distancing regulations thus far, Co-author Weiwei Zhang wrote in an online post that working memory isn't the whole story:
"There is no doubt that many factors we did not include in this study may also contribute to social-distancing compliance, perhaps with even stronger relationships. It is, therefore, inappropriate to attribute individual differences in social distancing behaviors entirely to one's cognitive abilities such as working memory capacity and fluid intelligence."
Within the study, the authors suggest that these findings might lead to new ways of helping the public comply with social distancing mandates in the future. They also express optimism that the amount of working memory needed to follow the rules will decline over time as the notion of wearing a mask and social distancing becomes more prevalent. These findings reinforce previous studies which suggest that working memory is an integral part of cognitive ability and may lead to further research on the practical results of having more or less to work with.
Many people agree that social distancing is difficult. In what sense it is difficult appears to vary between people. While it is fun to say that people who aren't wearing masks are stupid, the findings of this study speak to the inherent difficulty in assuring mass compliance with vital yet largely voluntary and frequently novel measures.
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Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.