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Children know what makes a leader more than some adults
Even kids get that a real leader puts others' interests first.
To some, attaining leadership is like winning the ultimate prize, while for others it represents an opportunity to help. A new study in Child Development finds that young children have a very clear opinion about what makes a leader, and it has nothing to do with arriving at a position of privilege. It turns out 5-year-olds understand the attributes that make someone worthy of being a leader better than lots of adults do, including some powerful people.
The question at hand
Credit: Charlein Gracia/Unsplash
The study was authored by cognitive development post-doc Maayan Stavans of Central European University in Budapest, Hungary and psychologist Gil Diesendruck of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Children have to learn how to function socially by developing a sense of what they can expect in their interactions with others. When dealing with an adult, certainly the adult assumes a leadership role. However, in groups of children, leaders also emerge. The researchers were interested in exploring how kids feel about, and what they expect of, their leaders.
We understand how this works for adults with decades of social experience. "In leadership hierarchies," says the study, "individuals show respect and defer freely to those who take charge."
Grownups will generally accept two types of leaders:
- Authoritative leaders accept the power to give orders and make decisions for a group, and members of the group are expected to obey them.
- Prestige leaders are awarded disproportionate benefits, and are not concerned with commanding others.
The study investigates, on the other hand, what constitutes leadership for a person who is not yet fully socialized and is also likely to be at an especially pragmatic — "Who will feed me? Who will keep me safe?" — stage of life. Young children may thus serve as a sort of tabula rasa through which we can discern signs of how grownups really feel, or maybe should feel, about leadership and authority.
In the experiments, the person with a hat is the leader.
Credit: Stavans, et al./Child Development
The researchers tested 5-to-6-year-old children in particular for a couple of reasons. First off, kids of this age are known to be aware of social hierarchies and leadership roles. Second, they're capable of tracking the contributions of individuals within a group and will withdraw from situations where others aren't doing their part.
The researchers conducted three experiments. 48 children from local secular Israeli kindergartens participated in the first experiment, 40 in the second, and 48 in the third. In all of the experiments the participants were led through onscreen stories that presented amusement park scenarios exploring:
- pairs, or dyads, of kids where one member was an authoritative leader
- entitlement dyads with a prestige, or "entitlement," leader
- egalitarian dyads of co-equal children
The story narratives involved the need to contribute coins to activate rides — the children were given physical coins to make the contributions feel more tangible. Decisions were also to be made regarding who got to go on rides, and on which rides.
Children were allowed to influence the stories at times, and were also presented "actual" narratives onscreen to which their reactions were recorded. For each story, the kids assessed how fairly and effectively the protagonists and/or leaders in a dyad served the attainment of that group's common goal.
In the first experiment, when children experienced egalitarian relationships, they expected that both members would contribute an equal number of coins — kicking in either more or less than one's equal share was unacceptable. For dyads with leaders, those leaders who contributed more than their equal share of coins were seen as acceptable. Leaders who offered fewer were deemed unacceptable. This suggests that to these children, leaders are expected to sacrifice toward a common goal, and that entitlement leaders are not qualified to lead.
The most significant finding of the second experiment was that when one member of a dyad was identified as a leader — without the type of leader being specified — the children assumed that the person was an authoritative leader, with decision-making power and a greater measure of responsibility for achieving the goals of a dyad.
In this experiment, kids were shown supposedly egalitarian relationships were one dyad member kept more coins for themselves. The children adjudged that person to be an entitled leader, and they were none too pleased about it.
Leadership to the young
"These findings show that children view leaders as more responsible (not more entitled), relative to non-leaders," Stavans told Bar-Ilan University,
She adds, "Because children were not asked about familiar kinds of authority figures, such as teachers and parents, nor about situations in their everyday lives, their responses reflect sophisticated ideas about leadership applied to novel protagonists and situations. While impressive, we have yet to understand how children come to think leaders have increased responsibility, at what point do they begin to represent leaders' increased entitlement (as adults do!), and how dependent are these representations on context."
The authors hope that they study can provide some guidance for adults when dealing with the young ones in their charge. First, by themselves being the leaders children expect. Second, the study highlights a need to help children who eventually begin to convey entitlement upon leaders to understand that these entitlements are valid only when they are rewards for a leader whose responsibilities have been fulfilled.
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.
- It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
- Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
- Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
For some time, scientists have suspected that sharks belong among the growing number of animals known to navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Testing anything with a shark, though, requires some care.
The key was selecting the right candidate. Keller and his colleagues chose the bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, a small critter that summers at Turkey Point Shoal off the coast of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory with which Keller is affiliated.
Bonnetheads elsewhere have been known to complete 620-mile roundtrip migrations. As the lab's Dean Grubbs puts it, "That's not bad for a shark that is only two to three feet long. The question is how do they find their way back to that same estuary year after year." There's a report of a great white shark migrating between two locations, one in South Africa and another in Australia, year after year.
The research is published in Current Biology.
Keller and his team rounded up 20 local juvenile bonnetheads and transported them into a holding tank at the marine lab. For the tests, the researchers simulated three real-world magnetic fields. As the various magnetic fields were activated, the sharks' movements were captured by GoPro cameras and their average swimming orientations calculated by software.
The first simulation, serving as a control, mimicked the magnetic field of the nearby shoal from which the sharks had been captured. When this field was activated, the sharks essentially acted like they were "home," just swimming around as they do.
A second field was the magnetic equivalent of a location 600 kilometers south of the lab within the Gulf of Mexico. When this field was activated, the sharks, apparently mistaking themselves for being far south in the Gulf, began swimming northward toward the shoal.
The opposite occurred with a field standing in for a location in continental North America 600 km north of their home shoal — the sharks began swimming southward.
"For 50 years," says Keller, "scientists have hypothesized that sharks use the magnetic field as a navigational aid. This theory has been so popular because sharks, skates, and rays have been shown to be very sensitive to magnetic fields. They have also been trained to react to unique geomagnetic signatures, so we know they are capable of detecting and reacting to variation in the magnetic field."
His team's experiments confirm what's long been suspected, Keller says: "Sharks use map-like information from the geomagnetic field as a navigational aid. This ability is useful for navigation and possibly maintaining population structure."
A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.