Tag Archives | Behavior

Today’s Environment Can Influence Behavior Generations Later

He's Coming!

Photo: An-d (CC)

Via ScienceDaily:

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Washington State University have seen an increased reaction to stress in animals whose ancestors were exposed to an environmental compound generations earlier.

The findings, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, put a new twist on the notions of nature and nurture, with broad implications for how certain behavioral tendencies might be inherited. The researchers—David Crews at Texas, Michael Skinner at Washington State and colleagues—exposed gestating female rats to vinclozolin, a popular fruit and vegetable fungicide known to disrupt hormones and have effects across generations of animals. The researchers then put the rats’ third generation of offspring through a variety of behavioral tests and found they were more anxious, more sensitive to stress, and had greater activity in stress-related regions of the brain than descendants of unexposed rats.

“We are now in the third human generation since the start of the chemical revolution, since humans have been exposed to these kinds of toxins,” says Crews.

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A Paean to Masochism: A New Philosophy of Life

Painful PleasuresVia Adequacy:

First of all, let us ask “What is masochism?”

Many people seem to think masochism is just a desire for pain. But it is so much more than that. Certainly pain is a large part of it – whether it be emotional or physical. Pain is inflicted through domination. The whip doesn’t just lash you, it dominates you, and brings a new awareness. Thigh high leather boots grinding into your face don’t merely inflict pain, but a value system too. Pain is the grease that lubricates the passage of higher types of civilized behaviour, values and ideas. I would define as masochistic any person, body, institution, country, whatever, that welcomes being dominated and taken over by another, and even seeks it out.

Why would a body want such a thing? Well, if one accepts that it is impossible to get anywhere in life without learning from another, we can see that already our culture is quite masochistic—we regularly herd the youngest into “schools” where they have their minds invaded and shaped.

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Soldiers Who Desecrate the Dead See Themselves as Hunters

The Lion HunterVia ScienceDaily:

Modern day soldiers who mutilate enemy corpses or take body-parts as trophies are usually thought to be suffering from the extreme stresses of battle. But, research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) shows that this sort of misconduct has most often been carried out by fighters who viewed the enemy as racially different from themselves and used images of the hunt to describe their actions.

“The roots of this behaviour lie not in individual psychological disorders,” says Professor Simon Harrison who carried out the study, “but in a social history of racism and in military traditions that use hunting metaphors for war. Although this misconduct is very rare, it has persisted in predictable patterns since the European Enlightenment. This was the period when the first ideologies of race began to appear, classifying some human populations as closer to animals than others.”

European and North American soldiers who have mutilated enemy corpses appear to have drawn racial distinctions of this sort between close and distant enemies.

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The Trust Molecule

Paul J. Zak, author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, asks “Could a single molecule—one chemical substance—lie at the very center of our moral lives?” in the Wall Street Journal:

Research that I have done over the past decade suggests that a chemical messenger called oxytocin accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted louts, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and why women tend to be nicer and more generous than men. In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.

Known primarily as a female reproductive hormone, oxytocin controls contractions during labor…

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It’s Not Only Beeps and Vibrations: Learn How to Focus From Within

homeworkRecently my research team observed nearly 300 middle school, high school and university students studying something important for a mere 15 minutes in their natural environments. We were interested in whether they could maintain focus and, if not, what might be distracting them. Every minute we noted exactly what they were doing, whether they were studying, if they were texting or listening to music or watching television in the background, and if they had a computer screen in front of them and what websites were being visited.

The results were startling. First, these students were only able to focus and stay on task for an average of three minutes at a time and nearly all of their distractions came from technology. [By the way, other researchers have found similar attention spans with computer programmers and medical students.] The major culprit: their smartphone and their laptop were providing constant interruptions. We also looked at whether these distractors might predict who was a better student.… Read the rest

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Young Drug Users Ingest ‘Mystery White Powders’

A poll by The Guardian and Mixmag magazine reveals that in many cases people have no idea what drugs they are taking:

A fifth of young drug users admit to taking “mystery white powders” without any idea what they contain, according to an international Guardian survey that reveals the extent of reckless behaviour among a new generation of high-risk drug takers.

The poll of 15,500 people by the Guardian and Mixmag magazine also found that more respondents in the UK and US admitted taking cannabis than either tobacco or energy drinks. Those who defined themselves as clubbers were more likely to take ecstasy than smoke cigarettes…

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Cellphone Use Linked To Selfish Behavior

Photo: Ed Poor (CC)

Photo: Ed Poor (CC)

From ScienceDaily:

Though cellphones are usually considered devices that connect people, they may make users less socially minded, finds a recent study from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Marketing professors Anastasiya Pocheptsova and Rosellina Ferraro, with graduate student, Ajay T. Abraham, conducted a series of experiments on test groups of cellphone users. The findings appear in their working paper, “The Effect of Mobile Phone Use on Prosocial Behavior.”

Prosocial behavior, as defined in the study, is action intended to benefit another person or society as a whole.

The researchers found that after a short period of cellphone use the subjects were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity when asked, compared to the control-group counterparts. The cell phone users were also less persistent in solving word problems — even though they knew their answers would translate to a monetary donation to charity.

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Psychopathy: A Misunderstood Personality Disorder

AlexVia ScienceDaily:

Psychopathic personalities are some of the most memorable characters portrayed in popular media today. These characters, like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Frank Abagnale Jr. from Catch Me If You Can and Alex from A Clockwork Orange, are typically depicted as charming, intriguing, dishonest, guiltless, and in some cases, downright terrifying.

But scientific research suggests that psychopathy is a personality disorder that is widely misunderstood.”Psychopathy tends to be used as a label for people we do not like, cannot understand, or construe as evil,” notes Jennifer Skeem, Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Skeem, Devon Polaschek of Victoria University of Wellington, Christopher Patrick of Florida State University, and Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University are the authors of a new monograph focused on understanding the psychopathic personality that will appear in the December issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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Was Darwin Wrong About Emotions?

Charles Darwin, ‰ÛÏNatural Selection‰Û?Via ScienceDaily:

Contrary to what many psychological scientists think, people do not all have the same set of biologically “basic” emotions, and those emotions are not automatically expressed on the faces of those around us, according to the author of a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

This means a recent move to train security workers to recognize “basic” emotions from expressions might be misguided.”What I decided to do in this paper is remind readers of the evidence that runs contrary to the view that certain emotions are biologically basic, so that people scowl only when they’re angry or pout only when they’re sad,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University, the author of the new paper.

The commonly-held belief is that certain facial muscle movements (called expressions) evolved to express certain mental states and prepare the body to react in stereotyped ways to certain situations.

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Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept, and Corrupt Systems?

Corrupt Legislation

Detail from Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder (1896).

Via ScienceDaily:

Why do we stick up for a system or institution we live in — a government, company, or marriage — even when anyone else can see it is failing miserably? Why do we resist change even when the system is corrupt or unjust?

A new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, illuminates the conditions under which we’re motivated to defend the status quo — a process called “system justification.”System justification isn’t the same as acquiescence, explains Aaron C. Kay, a psychologist at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who co-authored the paper with University of Waterloo graduate student Justin Friesen. “It’s pro-active. When someone comes to justify the status quo, they also come to see it as what should be.”

Reviewing laboratory and cross-national studies, the paper illuminates four situations that foster system justification: system threat, system dependence, system inescapability, and low personal control …

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