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What is to be done about the problem of creepy men?
Creeps, it seems, are everywhere.
These days, 'creepy' is a popular pejorative.
From 'Creepy Uncle Joe' Biden's hair-smelling antics to Justin Trudeau standing 'too close' to a tennis star, from the random dude who just slid into your direct messages to Zach Braff holding hands with a much-younger actress, many people are invoking creepiness as a factor, even a decisive one, in considerations about what is socially acceptable and even who is fit for political office. Creeps, it seems, are everywhere.
It's a strange development. Why are we calling so many people, usually men, creepy? Despite the prevalence of the creepiness discourse, real research into the nature of creepiness is pretty new. It suggests that creepiness is related to disgust, which is an adaptive emotional response that helps to maintain a physical barrier between our bodies and potentially injurious external substances. Disgust assists us in policing the line between inside and outside our bodies, but also to create and maintain interpersonal and social borders. Physical reactions – such as the shudder response, nausea, and exclamations of 'ew', 'icky' and 'gross' – can be important ways of producing and transmitting commitments to social norms. Signaling disgust helps society maintain the integrity of taboos around sexuality, including pedophilia and incest.
Biologically, being grossed out by, for example, the idea of ingesting feces makes sense: It keeps us from getting ill. Feeling "creeped out" by a person or a social situation, however, is less straightforward. Creepiness is different from disgust in that it refers to a feeling of unease in the face of social liminality, particularly where sex and death are involved. We become uncomfortable when events don't easily fit our expectations or transgress social rules. In a 2016 study, the psychologists Francis McAndrew and Sara Koehnke at Knox College in Illinois concluded that "creepiness is anxiety aroused by the ambiguity of whether there is something to fear or not and/or by the ambiguity of the precise nature of the threat." Emotionally, creepiness helps us externalize our internal sense of confusion and uncertainty when presented with situations that are not easily categorized. Feeling creeped out justifies our decision to shut down, rather than undertake the task of analyzing ambiguously threatening situations. It is a form of cognitive paralysis indicating that we are unsure how to proceed.
Because women are more likely than men to experience physical and sexual threat in their daily lives, they are also more likely to judge others (usually men) to be creepy. Judgments of creepiness, however, are not necessarily reliable.
Conventional wisdom tells us to "trust our gut," but researchers say that our gut is concerned more with regulating the boundaries of social mores than keeping us safe. In a 2017 Canadian study, female undergraduates were shown images of Caucasian male faces from three groups: emotionally neutral faces taken from an image bank; images judged 'creepy' in a pilot study; and images of criminals from America's Most Wanted. They were then asked to rate the faces according to creepiness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. Across all three groups, there was a strong correlation between faces that participants considered trustworthy and attractive, and in some instances general attractiveness was negatively correlated with judgments of creepiness. Further, the faces taken from America's Most Wanted were not rated as significantly more creepy than the neutral group. Participants made their creepiness assessments in seconds, and reported high degrees of confidence in their judgments.
Participants thought that, rather than describing behaviors, creepiness adhered to certain kinds of people and occupations. This is important.
Unkempt and dirty men, men with abnormal facial features, and men between the ages of 31-50 were all very likely to be rated creepy. Furthermore, creepiness was positively correlated both with the belief that the person held a sexual interest in the person making the social judgment, and with individuals who engaged in non-normative behaviors. This finding aligns with the McAndrew and Koehnke study, in which clowns, sex-shop owners, and those interested in taxidermy were among the creepiest kinds of people.
So rather than reliably detecting danger, our internal "spidey sense" often signals social difference or otherness. When we judge a situation or person creepy, we participate in shunning and social ostracism. Creepiness can prevent us from responding to the odd, the new or the peculiar with curiosity, interest and generosity of spirit.
The implicit answer to what we should do with creepy people (usually men) is embedded in the question: We should react to them with suspicion and social hostility. When we fail to do so and a stereotypically creepy person behaves violently, we then look back on the failure to create adequate distance with a "told-you-so" attitude.
This was the legal position taken recently in a case for wrongful death against a grocery store in Maine. The civil lawsuit was brought by the husband of a woman who was murdered in the store by another regular, and reputedly creepy, customer. Although the offender in question "had an angry face, bulging eyes, and clenched jaw, exhibited taciturn behavior, was seen shaking a couple of times" and sometimes appeared to be "'on' something," the judge said that the grocery store had not failed in its duty to safeguard shoppers from reasonably foreseeable third-party violence. However, the judge left open the question whether, in order to avoid risk, shop owners have a duty to exclude customers who appear creepy, but who don't have a known history of violence.
As researchers warn, what most people intuit to be creepy aligns closely with the attributes of individuals and populations already on or beyond the boundaries of social acceptance. The mentally ill and disabled, the physically deformed, those with ticks or other abnormal movements or facial features, the impoverished and the homeless are all more likely to be judged creepy. With this knowledge, we need to guard against confirmation bias when perceived creeps actually do act in harmful ways. It might be tempting to use the story of the Maine grocery-store murder as evidence that creepy people are prone to violence. But we should probably remember what we have known for some time: that the homeless and mentally ill are far more vulnerable to acts of violence than they are threatening to the rest of us. In short, we are far more likely to hurt the "creepy" than they us.
What does this tell us about how we should think about creepiness when it comes to a coworker, a politician, or a celebrity? To date, little has been written about the social and psychological mechanisms that make #MeToo allegations compelling. But it has become common and acceptable to publicly evaluate and judge sexual conduct and experiences according to the capacious affective language of disgust. Today, sex that leaves a woman "feeling gross," or sexually non-normative behavior that reads as creepy, can be enough to cast a man out of polite society.
Much of the #MeToo movement purports to focus on bad behavior; namely, the violation of the requirement of consent in sexual encounters. On its face, #MeToo discourse relies heavily on the supposedly clear line between consent and violation, where the trouble presented by "grey areas" is understood to be fixable if only we better understood – and were more publicly aware of – the nature of consent. But for all the talk about the importance of consent, there is another slippery process at work under the surface. Here, the affective vector of creepiness allows us to express our discomfort with an age-gap relationship or a request for a masturbation audience, even in situations where consent is present.
Creepiness research shows us that our perceptual intuitions about people and situations are at least as important – and perhaps more important than – cognitive judgment based on bad conduct. The line between sex and assault – the line marked by consent – is just one place where evaluation occurs. A sexual encounter can be intensely creepy – and entirely legal.
But if we allow creepiness to stand in for principled normative assessment of the kinds of sex we want to hold up as socially valuable, it will be at the expense of historically sexually marginalized groups: the queers, the perverts, the BDSM community, and others who find joy and meaning in the sexually experimental. Perhaps, instead of spending so much energy excluding creeps, we should all turn our gaze inward and ask, in the words of Radiohead: "I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here?"
- How to Actually Spot a Creep (According to Science!) - Big Think ›
- Men most fear ridicule; for women, it's violence - Big Think ›
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>