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The most important life skills, according to Americans
The Pew Research Group conducted a survey on the most important life skills to several thousand Americans. Here's what they said.
- People are obsessed with learning about what skills they need the most to get ahead in life.
- To try to answer this question, the Pew Research Group surveyed several thousand Americans to identify what most believed were critical life skills.
- Here, we discuss the top three life skills, what their characteristics are, and how to improve them.
Nobody can deny that the world is changing, and it seems to be changing faster and faster. The life skills we'll need in order to navigate this world are changing too. But at the same time, there are certain skills that will always be relevant and necessary. How can we best untangle the world around us and identify which skills we should be cultivating?
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey to answer that very question. They asked a randomly selected, national sample of 3,154 Americans what they thought were the most important skills to have. "Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have," they asked, "which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?" Here's how the results broke down.
1. Good communication
Photo by Nik MacMillan
By far, good communication was considered be the most important skill to have. It's something of a nebulous concept — who can't communicate well, and how would one go about getting better at it anyhow? But people do differ in regard to how well they communicate, and good communicators have better lives in almost every way.
Research has shown that good communicators have better marriages (duh). They also make more money, and communication skills are the number one skill that employers look for in candidates. After all, it's hard to complete a project if you don't understand the requirements and can't explain its benefits. Good communicators like themselves more, are more likely to be successful entrepreneurs, and are better at thinking critically about media and parsing questionable sources.
Unsurprisingly, psychotherapists have much to say on this subject. They've identified four basic types of communication styles.
- The assertive style: Assertive communicators are clear, direct, and explicit. They stand up for themselves, but don't violate others' rights when communicating, even if they're communicating something difficult or unpleasant. It's the style that we should aspire to.
- The aggressive style: Where assertive communicators are direct but respectful, aggressive communicators are just direct. The aggressive communicator is often misunderstood because people pay more attention to the rude or hostile messenger and don't hear the message.
- The passive style: Passive communicators don't open up about themselves. They don't discuss their wants or needs, and so it's not surprising when others take advantage of them or ignore them.
- The passive-aggressive style: Rather than simply failing to communicate, passive-aggressive communicators express themselves in confusing and roundabout ways that not only hurt others but also leads to increased resentment on the communicator's part, creating a vicious cycle of passive-aggression.
2. Strong reading abilities
Like communication, reading seems like a skill that nearly everybody already has and doesn't really need to be improved further. This isn't entirely true. Many of us spend time reading in high school and college, but that practice often falls off in adulthood. In fact, about one-quarter of American adults claim that they haven't read a book in the past 12 months. What are we missing out on when we don't keep our reading skills sharp?
For one, reading makes you more intelligent. A study on 1,890 twins found that whichever twin had the stronger reading ability also scored higher on general intelligence tests, even in nonverbal domains. Reading ability has also been shown to protect memory, to promote self-esteem, and to encourage greater life-satisfaction.
But these benefits aren't gained from the majority of content that we read today. The fast-paced nature of internet articles encourages us to just read the headline and skim the first few paragraphs, but this doesn't provide the total immersion that occurs 10 or 20 minutes after getting into a good book.
Experts can offer us some practical advice as to how we can really upgrade our reading routine. First, reading with intention is an excellent way to dive deeper into whatever work you've chosen. This could look like deliberately setting aside a reading time, taking notes, highlighting, or just telling yourself that "Now I'm going to read for a little while." A lot of people cite a lack of time as the main thing that stops them from reading. But as reading comes to take a larger place in your life, you'll make time for it. Setting small, achievable goals is a great way to start making that time. Just reading for a few minutes at the same time every day, say, five minutes before bed, is a great way to build a habit.
3. Math know-how
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Even though math skills are clearly more tangible than reading or communication, it's still undervalued compared to other, more clearly work-related skills, even ones that involve math like engineering, chemistry, or business. There is no math class in the history of math classes where the question "When am I ever going to use this?" hasn't come up. In reality, possessing strong math skills is at least as beneficial and as ubiquitously needed as possessing strong communication and reading skills.
In fact, research has found that having strong math skills at an early age is the best predictor for later success. Part of this is because of the technical and prestigious fields that a strong math education can lead to, but another part is that mathematics relies on strong executive functioning, like the ability to suppress distracting thoughts and sensations, to mentally hold and work with information, and to think in a flexible manner.
One persistent belief about mathematics is that some people are just born with the right kind of head for it, and others don't have the innate spark that makes some people gifted in this regard. Like any skill, this is only partially true. Researcher Tanya Evans conducted brain scans on groups of children to identify what was going on in the heads of kids who were particularly gifted at math. Evans found that having more gray matter in certain regions of the brain predicted math performance, but that the connections built over time between these regions were extremely important as well. Even identifying these kinds of characteristics in the brain couldn't predict whether a child would be successful at math 100% of the time
"There's a remarkable amount of heterogeneity in how each kid can end up," Evans told The Boston Globe. "That's pretty promising for parents. Just because at this age my kid is not performing as well as I'd like them to doesn't necessarily set them on a path to do poorly."
These three skills — communication, reading, and mathematics — are what Americans believe to be the top three most important life skills for individuals to cope with and thrive in our dynamic world. It's often tempting to look at one of these domains and say that we're just not cut out for it, but this defeatist attitude excludes us from the benefits that even a little work would provide. Not everybody is going to be an orator, a literature professor, or a theoretical physicist, but we can all benefit from learning how to improve our interpersonal communication, from honing our sense of empathy through books, and from thinking about the world in a more precise and rigorous way.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.