Saturday, January 08, 2011

Women's tears reduce men's sexual arousal

This is such a nifty study. Lots of animals have tears, but people make tears to express emotions. Women's emotional tears have a chemical that causes men to dial back their (easily aroused) sexual desire. This says to me that we have yet another ingenious system to calibrate the sexual communication between men and women.

Friday, January 07, 2011

What the Government Does Is What Matters, Not Simply How Big It Is

David Brooks has a great column on "The Achievement Test" for judging government. His core point:

The size of government doesn’t tell you what you need to know; the social and moral content of government action does. The budgeteers and the technicians may not like it, but it’s the values inculcated by policies that matter most.

Right. Shrinking government is not a good in itself. Judgment is required.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Liberal Brains vs. Conservative Brains

A small study of University College London students found this interesting result:

"Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala - a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion. ... However, those aligned to the left had thicker anterior cingulates - which is an area associated with anticipation and decision-making."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Strong Marriages Develop Shared Traits

This is a lovely experiment, by psychologist Arthur Aron:

"In experiments by Dr. Aron, participants rated themselves and their partners on a variety of traits, like “ambitious” or “artistic.” A week later, the subjects returned to the lab and were shown the list of traits and asked to indicate which ones described them. People responded the quickest to traits that were true of both them and their partner."

The article that this experiment is reported in, Tara Parker-Pope's "The Happy Marriage is the 'Me' Marriage," sensationalizes, or at least misreads, the data it is based on. She draws a false contrast between enduring and "sustainable" marriages, without offering any evidence that there are many enduring but unsustainable marriages to begin with.

Nonetheless, this experiment is an interesting demonstration of the way in which strong marriages shape the couple into one.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Homely Work in A Deep Society

Alain de Botton writes light, thoughtful books about living a meaningful life. In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, he follows various kinds of work and workers. He explores how the work may or may not lead to a fulfilling life for the worker, and for the society in which they work. One of his chapters is devoted to the creation and marketing of a new British biscuit ("cookie" in American). De Botton uses this homely case to see both how narrow this work seems in itself, but also how it is part of a larger economy of wealth and deeper human value.

From the beginning, observers of these [commercial] societies have been transfixed by two of their most prominent features: their wealth and their spiritual decadence. ... Their self-indulgence has consistently appalled a share of their most high-minded and morally ambitious members, who have railed against consumerism and instead honoured beauty and nature, art and fellowship. But the premises of a biscuit company are a fruitful place to recall that there has always been an insurmountable problem facing those countries that ignore the efficient production of chocolate biscuits and sternly dissuade their ablest citizens from spending their lives on the development of innovative marketing promotions: they have been poor, so poor as to be unable to guarantee political stability or take care of their most vulnerable citizens, whom they have lost to famines and epidemics. It is the high-minded countries that have let their members starve, whereas the self-centered and childish ones have, off the backs of their doughnuts and six thousand varieties of ice cream, had the resources to invest in maternity wards and cranial scanning machines.