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David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
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Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
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Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Who you find attractive is based on how hot you are

Question: What is "assortative mating?"

Dan Ariely:  So "assortative mating" is the idea that if you took all men and you ranked them on how attractive they are, from the most attractive to the least attractive and you rated all women from the most attractive to the least attractive, and you can think about attractiveness as built, being built from lots of stuff—like it’s not just beauty, it could be beauty and intelligence and so on—but if you created this, it was mostly about beauty, but, you know, if you created that, it turns out that the most attractive would date the most attractive.  The middle attractive would basically date the middle, and the low would date the low.  Now, there could be slight deviations, but that’s what happened, and why?  Because if you’re at the top and you’re a guy, you can pick anybody you want, so you would pick a woman who’s in the top and if she’s at the top, she could pick anybody she wants, she would pick you.

So now the question is, what happens to people in the middle?  You know, most of us.  Or, what happens to people in the middle, how do we make sense of where we are in the social hierarchy?  And for me that thought actually became very kind of crucial and apparent when I got injured.  So here’s what happened: you grow up, and you have some kind of space in society and you know basically where you are and you know who would date you and who would not date you, who is kind of outside of your league, in general terms, and you know where you fit in the social hierarchy.  And I knew where I was in the social hierarchy, but one day I got badly injured.  And, you know, I couldn’t think about romantic stuff for a long time, but when I could, all of a sudden I started wondering about where do I fall now in the social hierarchy?  I was trying to think about, do I fall in the same place?  I’m kind of the same person inside, but I look much less attractive.  Right?  And would the women who would date me before would keep on dating me now?  And I said, "Why would they?  They have other options, right?  I’m not the only guy in the world."

So it was kind of a very difficult concept for me to think about where do I fall?  Like I fell differently on the social hierarchy, I basically lost my space all of the time and I was trying to understand how this social dance happened and how we find our place.  And I was really wondering about where would I find my own mate?  Where would I fit in this, in this scale? And there was a lot of personal complexities with it.  But eventually it led me to a study, and the study was really asking the question of how do we make sense of where we fit in the hierarchy?  And there are basically kind of multiple explanations, right?  You could say, you never adjust.  You never, if you're kind of in the middle range, or the low range and you only are, you have to date somebody else who is in the middle range, you never make peace with it.  You wake up every morning, you look at your partner across your shoulder and you say, "Well, that's the best I could do.  I really wanted more, sadly, you know, I have to admit my limitations, that's the most I could do."  That means you don't adapt.

It could be that you adapt.  It could be that, for example, if you're unattractive, you start looking at other features that are unattractive and see them as attractive.  You remember the story from Krilov when you have this wolf sees these grapes over the fence and he tries to get them and he can't get them and eventually he said, "Ah, they were sour anyway," and he goes and eats something else.  All right?  So you could imagine if you're unattractive yourself, you start valuing... if you're a woman you start valuing short men who are bald with bad teeth, right?  I mean, you just say, these are really wonderful features: I like hairy chests, I like bald head.  You basically change what you like and that actually helps you adjust.  Or you can imagine that you start liking other things, you stop paying attention to attractiveness and start paying attention to other things.  So we tried that in an experiment.

Initially we went to this Web site called HotOrNot.  It's a wonderful Web site, you see pictures of people and you decide, you rank them on a scale from 0 to 10 about how attractive they are and then you see how you rated this person, how other people rated them.  But the nice feature about this Web site is if I rate people, the Web site knows how I was rated as well, because I have my picture there as well—by the way, I'm not rated very high, I think I'm like 6.4. But the people who are rating, you know how they're rating and you know how they're rated.  So now the question is, the people who are providing the rating, the people who are really attractive that are providing rating and people who are really unattractive providing the rating.  And the first thing you can ask is, do they have different ratings?  Are the people who are inherently unattractive, do they see beauty differently?  And the answer is no, we all see beauty in the same way.  The people who are 9 rate people the same way as the people who are 4 in the hotness rating.  So people don't change their sense of beauty.  Now you could say, so maybe they don't adjust at all, maybe they don't adapt, that the people who are 4 keep on looking for the people who are 9, or maybe they adapt some other way.

So HotOrNot has another feature which is a site called Meet Me, in which you see pictures of people and you decide, do I want to meet them or not?  Now it's not just rating, it's about also thinking about the probability that you will be accepted or turned down.  And it's not so embarrassing to be turned down online, but it's still a little bit embarrassing.  So the question is, do people who are 9, will they approach different people than the people who are 4?  And the answer is absolutely yes.  The people who are 4 basically approach people who are 4 or 5, the people who are 9 approach people who are 9 or 10.  People are a little optimistic, they approach a little too high, but they basically know their range.

So what happened is, people know their range, they know where they are in the social hierarchy, but at the same time, they see beauty as the same thing.  So what happened?  So how people solve it?  Do they wake up every morning feeling bad or do they solve it in some way?

So the last step we did a speed dating event.  We got people to do a speed dating event and we asked them to rate other people and lots of attributes, not just attractiveness, but all kinds of other things.  And what we saw was that people who are very attractive cared more about attractiveness.  This is like one of the dominating criteria, they want to date somebody who is attractive.  While the people who are unattractive basically say we don't care so much about attractiveness, we want people who are kind and have a good sense of humor.  So what happened is that the way people adapt, the people at the low end of the scale, is by changing your priorities.  All of a sudden saying, "I want people with a different set of attributes, I don't care so much about beauty, I want somebody who's kind, goodhearted, with a good sense of humor."  And that's actually the story of adaptations, so that's the story of  how we are coming into a social hierarchy in a certain place, and based on our circumstances, come to understand differently what we want and don't want and how we view the world in a way that is compatible with where we are in the social hierarchy.

Recorded on June 1, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

People who are very attractive care more about attractiveness in a mate, while unattractive people want a partner who is kind and has a good sense of humor.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • 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.
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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • 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."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • 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.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

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.

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Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.

Videos
  • When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
  • "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
  • Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.
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