Saturday, May 01, 2010

Derby Day!

Today is the central ritual of Kentucky's civil religion, the Kentucky Derby.

My favorite part of the whole ritual pageant is the parade of Derby hats. An excellent array can be found here.

I favor the comparatively constrained classics.

I understand that there is also a horse race involved.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Surrogates Beat Imagination to Predict How Something Will Make Us Feel

I have been reading Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. This is not really about happiness, but about the many ways in which memory and imagination mislead us. If we want to know how some choice might make us feel, we are not likely to get it right if we go by either how we remember it made us feel in the past, nor how we imagine it might make us feel in the future. Instead, our best source of how something would make us feel is how it is making someone else feel in the present. We are better off, in other words, treating other people's feelings as a surrogate for what our own would be.

However, we resist relying on stranger's feelings to predict our own because they are not us. The best line in the book, I think, is this: “if you are like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people.” We tend to think ourselves more unusual than we really are - both better and worse.

Each year I find that this is a hard lesson to teach students who are trying to develop a sociological imagination. Most people are average and normal. That means most of my students are average and normal. That means I am average and normal in most things. Of course there are exceptional points. But not as many as we think. The belief that we are unusually unusual is an average and normal belief.

As I often tell Mrs. G., I am a regular guy. She and the kids deny it. That is normal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Daily Sex Challenge

A British couple, seven years married, set themselves a challenge of daily sex for a month. They were returning to the practice of their first years of marriage, which they had drifted away from. However, they found that the daily sex experiment was harder to stick to than they thought it would be - normal life raised many hurdles. Still, they also found that it brought them closer together, made them more attentive to one another, and they looked and felt better.

What struck me about this experiment was that they found it so challenging without children. One weekend they babysat their small nieces, who wished to stay up and be entertained. When she fussed to her sister that the kids would cramp their challenge, the mother of the small girls simply said "welcome to my world."

The Kavanaghs ended the account of their experiment in the Daily Mail by saying they were glad they did it, never felt closer, and wanted to start a family.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Feeling That Your Spouse Supports You and Is Pulling In the Same Direction Keeps You Healthier

There is a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine by Tara Parker-Pope about how a happy marriage helps you stay healthy.

One of the several findings she reports is that women, especially, benefit from the sense that their spouse is present and feeling emotionally supportive. For men the cue is a little different: they like to feel that their spouse is working with them on the same project, not fighting to control them or the relationship.

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Babies Cry it Out, Are They Really Learning Helplessness?

When our eldest was a baby we tried the advice in some parenting books to let her "cry it out" and learn to just go to sleep without being held. I was able to stand her crying for about 15 minutes, uttered an expletive that became famous in the family, and picked her up. End of experiment.

Now Penelope Leach, the favorite parenting advice source of the knowledge class, argues that crying it out is so stressful to babies that they can be scarred, even brain-damaged, by the high cortisol levels this experience induces.

I will be interested in how the scientific argument develops. As for me and my house, we will hold the baby to sleep. More fun for us, too, in the long run.

Sunday, April 25, 2010