Psychology

It's always a little surreal to see a new comment in the email on an old article. The older the article is, the stranger it is, especially when the comment itself is bizarre.

by Michael W. Taft

Recently I attended a presentation at MIT by Jeff Lieberman called "It's Not What You Think: An Evolutionary Theory of Spiritual Enlightenment."

Lieberman is a science-educated artist and host of a TV show called Time Warp. He's a relatively good presenter, and given his credentials, one would expect him to juxtapose disparate fields of science and art. However, the downside is that one is not left with a single solid believable conclusion or theory--or at least I wasn't. Of course, this was also the first time Lieberman gave this talk, so he might improve it in the future.

In a few short hours, the World Series will begin between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  In the midst of all the talk of how offense is winning games this year (team Earned Run Average by starters in the post-season is over 5) and the strategic match-ups, there will be little attention paid to the belief engines in the skulls of individual players; their brains.

If words are windows into the soul, scientists are learning to be Peeping Toms: Computerized text analysis shows that psychopathic killers make identifiable word choices beyond their conscious control when talking about their crimes and that insight could lead to new tools for diagnosis and perhaps law enforcement and social media.

The words of psychopathic murderers match their personalities, which reflect selfishness, detachment from their crimes and emotional flatness, says Jeff Hancock, Cornell professor of computing and information science, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia.

On October 5th, Steve Jobs died. At first I was surprised at how choked up I got at his death—it’s not like I ever met him—until I realized that I wasn’t the only one. From special issues of The New Yorker and Wired magazines, to spontaneous memorials of flowers and candles at Apple stores, and front page articles everywhere, it seems that the world has taken a moment to mourn the loss of Jobs. The outpouring of sorrow and grief, in the era of Occupy Wall Street, may seem astonishing. Steve Jobs was, after all, a cantankerous stranger who ran a corporation, at a time when little love is lost for corporations. Why do we care? Why all the sorrow?
Abortion is not a contentious issue in America these days - campaign platforms primarily center on differences in taxation and the scope of government but, for the most part, abortion for the left and the 2nd Amendment for the right are really only invoked to whip the fringes into a frenzy.
There may be a sexual upside to an economic downside; more sex.  Maybe 'stimulus plan' means different things to different people.

Omri Gillath at the University of Kansas says men are likely to pursue short-term mating strategies when faced with a threatening environment, according to sexual selection theory based on evolutionary psychology.  How did he determine that?  He and colleagues told men to think about their own deaths, which mimics conditions of 'low survivability' and they found that men responded more vigorously to sexual pictures and had increased heart rates when viewing them, compared to when they thought about dental pain.


Watching almost any episode of FX's Sons of Anarchy, you can’t help but notice that Jax, the young biker protagonist, is a bit of a stud. There's always some vixen falling for his patched,  faded, hairy, tattooed charms. He’s handsome, but not wealthy or powerful, and he's a criminal and murderer who would, in real life, probably spend years behind bars. Hard to imagine him as the ideal mate.

Social projection, where we believe that others agree with us, helps us validate our beliefs. Psychologists say that we tend to believe people who are similar to us in an important way, religion or lifestyle, will act as we do and even vote as we do.

And we exaggerate differences between ourselves and those who are explicitly unlike us, another form of rationalization.