Category Archives: Human behavior

New research describes “pathological altruism”

The New York Times reports:

The author of “On Being Certain” and the coming “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind,” Dr. [Robert A.] Burton is a contributor to a scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume called “Pathological Altruism,” to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. And he says his colleague’s behavior is a good example of that catchily contradictory term, just beginning to make the rounds through the psychological sciences.

As the new book makes clear, pathological altruism is not limited to showcase acts of self-sacrifice, like donating a kidney or a part of one’s liver to a total stranger. The book is the first comprehensive treatment of the idea that when ostensibly generous “how can I help you?” behavior is taken to extremes, misapplied or stridently rhapsodized, it can become unhelpful, unproductive and even destructive.

Are automated flight controls causing airline pilots to lose some of their flying skills?

The Associated Press (via the Huffington Post) reports:

As planes become ever more reliant on automation to navigate crowded skies, safety officials worry there will be more deadly accidents traced to pilots who have lost their hands-on instincts in the air.

Pilots use automated systems to fly airliners for all but about three minutes of a flight: the takeoff and landing. Most of the time pilots are programming navigation directions into computers rather than using their hands on controls to fly the plane. They have few opportunities to maintain their skills by flying manually…

New study argues that less agreeable people earn more

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A new study finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones. The gap is especially wide for men.

The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.

A pre-press version of the study, by Judge, Livingston & Hurst, is available here (PDF).

New research finds altruism and cooperation among humans may have emerged from prehistoric warfare

The New York Times reports:

Compared with other species, humans are highly cooperative and altruistic, at least toward members of their own group. Evolutionary biologists have been hard pressed to account for this self-sacrificing behavior, given that an altruist who works for the benefit of others will have less time for his family’s interests and leave fewer surviving children. Genes for altruistic behavior should therefore disappear…

Warfare “may have contributed to the spread of human altruism,” [economist Samuel Bowles] and his colleague Herbert Gintis write in their new book, “A Cooperative Species”(Princeton, 2011). “We initially recoiled at this unpleasant and surprising conclusion. But the simulations and the data on prehistoric warfare tell a convincing story.”

Archaeology lends some support to the idea. “Groups that successfully organize themselves to raid others will acquire external resources and, in the long run, will be at a selective advantage against groups that are less well organized,” [archeologists Charles Stanish and Abigail Levine] write of their findings in the Central Andes.

Study finds exposure to image of U. S. flag affected subjects’ political affiliation

Discover Magazine reports:

the star-spangled banner is more than a symbol; it can also influence minds in unexpected ways. Travis Carter from the University of Chicago has found that when people think about voting decisions, the mere sight of the American flag can subtly shift their political views… towards Republicanism.  It’s an effect that holds in both Democrats and Republicans, it affects actual votes, and it lasts for at least 8 months.

Interpersonal aggression seems to be a function of one’s social status, new study finds

The Los Angeles Times reports:

A paper released Tuesday in the American Sociological Review [found] that the more central you are to your school’s social network, the more aggressive you are as well — unless you’re at the top of the heap, in which case you’re more likely to give your peers a break.

“By and large, status increases aggression, until you get to the very top,” said the study’s lead author, UC Davis sociologist Robert Faris. “When kids become more popular, later on they become more aggressive.”

Faris’ article is available online here (PDF).

Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, researchers find

Update: Originally, this post omitted the link to the TIME Magazine article. I’ve added the link – sorry for the oversight. —MGS

TIME Magazine reports:

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have found that the Amazonian tribe Amondawa, has no abstract concept of time. “In English we say things like, her birthday is coming up, or he worked through the night,” researcher Chris Sinha told NewsFeed. “But they (the Amondawa) don’t use such expressions of movement in space to metaphorically talk about time.”

The study was carried out via interviews, observations, questionnaires and experiments, and the results came as a surprise to the researchers, because it’s the first language in which it’s been established that space to time mappings don’t occur.

But although the Amondawa, who were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, don’t have anything like a clock, they do talk in time periods. “They’re just not as strict,” says Sinha. That means that if two members of a tribe were to meet up, they’d say something like “We’ll meet in the afternoon,” or “we’ll meet tomorrow morning.”  This is also explained by the fact that they have a small number system which only goes up to four.