Category Archives: Socio-cultural theory

New York Times on “the hormone surge of middle childhood”

The New York Times reports:

Said to begin around 5 or 6, when toddlerhood has ended and even the most protractedly breast-fed children have been weaned, and to end when the teen years commence, middle childhood certainly lacks the physical flamboyance of the epochs fore and aft: no gotcha cuteness of babydom, no secondary sexual billboards of pubescence.

Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service — on forging, organizing, amplifying and annotating the tens of billions of synaptic connections that allow brain cells and brain domains to communicate.


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.

The “science of self-delusion”


Update: My original post omitted the link to Mother Jones’ article. Sorry for any confusion. —MGS

Mother Jones Magazine reports:

An array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

Teenagers in a group are more prone to risk-taking

The New York Times reports:

In studies at Temple University, psychologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on 40 teenagers and adults to determine if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus with their friends. The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching.

The human inclination to gossip might have evolutionary benefits, new study suggests

Many psychologists argue that psychological traits found in modern human beings exist not merely by happenstance but because our distant ancestors who possessed a given trait were better adapted to their environment and thus survived (at least long enough to propagate their genes) while humans possessing other, less well-adapted traits died out.

USA Today reports on a new study in this vein:

Gossip, whether “delicious or destructive,” serves a function, according to the study [by Anderson et. al.], to be published online May 19 by the journal Science. In lieu of direct experience, social tittle-tattle allows people to learn about others across a very wide group, the team say. That, in turn, gives people cues on who to befriend (or not) without having to actually have to spend lots of time with them first.

The Anderson et. al. article is available online here (subscription required).

The psychology of belief and perception

Writing for, Jonah Lehrer reviews research on belief and perception:

It turns out that the human mind is a marvelous information filter, adept at blocking out those facts that contradict what we’d like to believe. Just look at this experiment, which was done in the late 1960’s, by the cognitive psychologists Timothy Brock and Joe Balloun. They played a group of people a tape-recorded message attacking Christianity. Half of the subjects were regular churchgoers while the other half were committed atheists. To make the experiment more interesting, Brock and Balloun added an annoying amount of static – a crackle of white noise – to the recording. However, they allowed listeners to reduce the static by pressing a button, so that the message suddenly became easier to understand. Their results were utterly predicable and rather depressing: the non-believers always tried to remove the static, while the religious subjects actually preferred the message that was harder to hear.

Multitasking, redux: New research finds ‘mindset switching’ impacts self-regulation

I’ve posted in the past on multitasking (see this update, for example). Generally, researchers have found that without special training (such as that received by airplane pilots or other specialists), true multitasking is difficult, and even if we believe we are successfully multitasking, the impact on our decision-making processes can be greater than we consciously understand.

In this new article by Hamilton et. al., published in the May 2011 issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, the researchers examined not multitasking but rather mindset switching. A mindset is a mental state that is intended to achieve a certain goal. Thus, a mindset is a kind of forerunner of multitasking. Interestingly, just as multitasking drains our cognitive capacity, mindset switching appears to impact our capacity to self-regulate – that is, to alter our typical or ‘normal’ actions.

Hamilton et. al. write:

Our findings suggest that the benefits of switching mindsets to accommodate changing situational demands should be weighed against the drawbacks of mindset switching. The results from five experiments demonstrated that switching mindsets taxes limited self-regulatory resources… Repeatedly switching mindsets can impair executive functioning and cause self-regulatory failures on subsequent tasks.