Higher Status, Better Health

Social status alters gene expression
Caitlin Kirkwood ,

“Started from the bottom, now we
here” is more than just a catchy
Drake hook that youth twerk to in the
club; it is a sentiment echoed
throughout rap and hip-hop culture.
From The Notorious B.I.G. to …

  • Evolution

    Where Did We Come From?
     “You’re an animal!” You’ll often hear this statement used as a pejorative...
  • Bias

    How Fair Are We?
    When someone holds a one-sided point of view, we accuse him or her of being prejudiced, or having a...
  • Emotions

    What Are Feelings For?
    You have a date to see friends for dinner, but you’re feeling anxious, it’s nearly time...
  • Perception

    Do We See the World as It Is?
    After we wake up in the mornings, something fascinating is happening, something we hardly notice. It...
  • Behavior

    Why Do We Do What We Do?
    It’s a hot summer day when you notice an Italian ice cream parlor. At first you resist the temptation...
  • Culture

    How Are We Influenced by Those Around Us?
    Culture is the knowledge, beliefs, behavior, outlook, attitudes, values, goals, traditions, and practices shared by a group of people that cannot be attributed to genetics. We define culture as the universal human ability to encode and transmit our experiences symbolically. Anthropologist Rob Boyd calls culture the “engine of human adaptation,” explaining that it was by accumulating and...
  • The Last Taboo

    Primatologist Frans de Waal on Why
    Psychology Shouldn't Ignore Power
    Being Human ,

    What drives a man to work toward the position of CEO or run for political office? You’d be forgiven if you said it might have something to do with the pursuit of power—but in fact most men who occupy such roles, writes primatologist Frans de Waal, will tell you they’ve got other priorities. They may cite an eagerness to have more responsibility, or to exercise their leadership skills. Few self-respecting modern men will confess to being power hungry, de Waal argues.

  • The New Science of Cuffing Season

    Gene expression modifies monogamy Caitlin Kirkwood ,

    With the first hint of a crisp cool autumn breeze, couples everywhere begin pairing off in a seemingly magical phenomenon known as cuffing season. Cuffing season, as defined by UbranDictionary.com, is a yearly occurrence around the fall and winter months when normally promiscuous singles begin to look for serious relationships (becoming “cuffed” or tied down) due in part to colder weather creating a high propensity for canoodling indoors. Cuffing behavior is likely influenced by the weather and perhaps the dramatic increase in sappy, love-saturated jewelry commercials aired ad nauseam around the holidays. However whimsical cuffing season may seem, true evolutionary and neurobiological causes underpin the many reasons why people enter into monogamous relationships. Monogamy is not something that comes naturally to mammals. Mammalian males do not often take it upon themselves to stick around during long gestational periods and breast-feeding when they could be out-and-about looking for their next available mate to further propagate their genomic line. This notion of promiscuity is in congruence with Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” evolutionary theory where the more seed you spread, the more likely you will have offspring to carry on your genes. But scientists think that despite the inclination for mammals to engage in casual sexual relationships, the evolutionary foundation of monogamy in human beings is likely based on protection, care, and survival of children.

  • Josh Greene on Moral Tribes

    Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us
    and Them
    Being Human ,

    Being Human 2013 speaker Josh Greene will be presenting a talk on on how our social instincts turn Me into Us, but turn Us against Them -- and what we can do about it Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world's tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground. A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings ("portrait," "landscape") as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions -- efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain's manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight -- sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words -- often with life-and-death stakes.

  • Fudging the Numbers to Fit in

    Even math skills are no proof against the
    need to fit in
    Jessica Graham ,

    What did you have to wear in high school in
    order to fit in: designer jeans or jeans that …

  • Decisions, Decisions

    Willpower might be your brain's most
    precious limited resource
    Jessica Graham ,

    Ever wonder why going all week without
    stalking your ex on Facebook usually …

  • The Evolution of the Mean Girl

    Did female competition lead to covert
    Being Human ,

    It isn’t just characters in films like Mean Girls
    and Heathers that backstab and gossip. It …

  • Being (More Than) Human

    Can we augment ourselves into a better
    Meera Lee ,

    In June, Rich Lee had two small magnets embedded into his tragi, the fleshy portions of the ears that jut out over the ear canal. Rich’s subdermal implants—which he adapted from an Instructables project—are able to receive input from pretty much anything that he can hook up his amp to. He already listens to music without headphones, but he’s got far bigger plans. A simple directional microphone would allow Rich to eavesdrop on distant conversations, and an ultrasonic rangefinder would let him pick up the movements of nearby objects (giving their owner a capacity akin to echolocation). With the addition of a geiger counter, he could even detect radiation. Our mission at BeingHuman.org is to examine how and why we came to be the species we are today; but we’ve also got an eye on the species we may become tomorrow. Invisible headphones are just one small part of a fascinating and polarizing movement whose undertakings also include enhancements like magnetic fingers, the possibility of self-created synesthesia, and a DARPA-funded device for keeping fatigue at bay by rapidly cooling muscle cells. Transhumanism is rooted in the idea that science and engineering can fundamentally change the nature of the human condition for the better—physically, mentally, and in any other way our prodigious imaginations can come up with.

  • Does Reading Literary Fiction Make You a Better Person?

    Well.... Maybe Meera Lee ,

    What would life be like if you lacked a Theory of Mind (ToM) ? For one thing, it would be a lot more serious. Take this scene from a British sitcom about an elderly lady who overhears her family discussing an ailing dog—the humor in it relies entirely on the audience’s ability to infer that the woman mistakenly believes they’re talking about her, and to understand how this would make her feel. Human beings aren’t the only species to possess at least some form of ToM , which some psychologists refer to as “mind-reading”—but we may the only one that can learn to enhance it.A new Science study suggests that reading literature—at least a certain kind—may strengthen the skills that underlie ToM. In the study, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano—social science researchers at New York City’s New School—conducted a series of experiments using the same basic format. In each, volunteers were randomly assigned either to a group that read a short excerpt the researchers considered emblematic of “literary fiction,” or to a comparison group. For example, participants in the fiction group might read a passage from the Chekhov short story Chameleon, about a hypocritical police inspector whose ideas about justice change and change again, depending on the mood of the crowd surrounding him. At the same time, readers in the comparison group might be given a passage from a fact-based article—something like a Smithsonian magazine piece entitled "How the Potato Changed the World”—a passage from what the researchers considered “popular fiction”—something like a best-selling Danielle Steele novel—or nothing at all.

  • Survivorship Bias

    The pitfall of studying (only) success Meera Lee ,

    Imagine a coin-tossing tournament. The last man standing—the ultimate survivor—will have won every single one of his coin tosses in a row. Should we ask him what his secret was? Don’t laugh; it’s a good bet that at some point in your life you’ve fallen prey to some version of the survivorship bias, an incredibly pervasive cognitive illusion that makes an appearance whenever failures disappear or become hidden from view. Have you ever marveled at the purring engine of a classic car, run your fingers down the smooth seams of a vintage coat, or tested the steel on your grandfather’s old hunting knife? Maybe you thought, “They just don’t make things like they used to!” It’s a romantic idea—that people in some hazy, nostalgic past really valued workmanship and quality; that old objects have a kind of inherent staying power. What you probably didn’t think about, in those moments, were all the classic cars that ended up broken down in junkyards. You didn’t consider the coats whose seams had already fallen apart. All you saw were the things that survived to tell their stories. In the context of antique shopping, its effects are fairly innocuous—but David McRaney offers an intuitive example of survivorship bias and a matter of life and death at his blog You Are Not So Smart. During World War II, McRaney explains, military engineers wanted to figure out how to make bomber planes safer for the pilots who risked their lives to fly them. When the engineers looked at returned planes, they saw that bullet damage clustered in three main places: the wings, the body, and the rear gunner. These, then were the places they suggested be reinforced with extra armor.

  • Helen Fisher

    Professor of Anthropology...
    Helen Fisher is an anthropologist specializing in the study of interpersonal romantic attraction. Her research into love and behavior leads her to the conclusion that the desire for love is a universal human drive, stronger than even the drive for sex. She has conducted extensive research into the evolution of sex, love, marriage, gender differences, and how your personality...