Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions

Why So Many People Can’t Make Decisions

Some people meet, fall in love and get married right away. Others can spend hours in the sock aisle at the department store, weighing the pros and cons of buying a pair of wool argyles instead of cotton striped.

Seeing the world as black and white, in which choices seem clear, or shades of gray can affect people’s path in life, from jobs and relationships to which political candidate they vote for, researchers say. People who often have conflicting feelings about situations—the shades-of-gray thinkers—have more of what psychologists call ambivalence, while those who tend toward unequivocal views have less ambivalence.

High ambivalence may be useful in some situations, and low ambivalence in others, researchers say. And although people don’t fall neatly into one camp or the other, in general, individuals who tend toward ambivalence do so fairly consistently across different areas of their lives.

Study: Flamboyant Male Dancing Attracts Women Best

Study: Flamboyant Male Dancing Attracts Women Best

John Travolta was onto something. Women are most attracted to male dancers who have big, flamboyant moves similar to the actor’s trademark style, British scientists say in a new study.

Kris McCarty and colleagues at Northumbria University and the University of Gottingen in Germany asked 19 men aged 18 to 35 who were not professional dancers to dance in a laboratory for one minute to a basic drum rhythm. They filmed the men’s movements with a dozen cameras, and then turned those movements into computer-generated avatars so the study could focus on moves, not appearances.

Scientists then showed the dancing avatars to 37 women, who rated their skills on a scale of 1 to 7. According to the women, the best dancers were those who had a wide range of dance moves and focused on the head, neck and torso.

The Privatization of Yoga

The Privatization of Yoga

It is a sign of the predatory nature of markets today that a tradition that goes back 4,500 years now needs to affirmatively defend itself as a common legacy of humankind. Yes, the latest endangered resource is…. yoga.

Yoga was developed in India as a physical and spiritual practice for everyone. The breathing known as pranayama is perhaps the most elemental aspect of human existence. But wouldn’t you know it…. all sorts of scheming entrepreneurs now want to convert yoga into “intellectual property.”

The pioneer in this endeavor was Bikram Choudhury, born in Calcutta, who came to the U.S. and began to franchise his trademarked yoga studios with his own distinctive adaptations of the ancient practice. Bikram’s claimed a copyright in his “original” sequence of 26 postures that his clients perform in 105-degree rooms. Anyone who “stole” his copyrighted yoga postures for commercial purposes would then be liable for damages, he claimed.

Why have UFOs changed speed over the years?

Why have UFOs changed speed over the years?

It is one of those little ironies of historical memory that we sometimes forget why we took an interest in some things. Take flying saucers. How many of us realise that the reason they made headlines in 1947 was not because Kenneth Arnold thought he saw spaceships from another world; but simply because he reported objects travelling at “incredible speed”? Our local paper headlined it “Officials Skeptical of Report of 1200 Mile-an-Hour Object”. The next day: “1200 MPH Flying Saucer Story Has Teller Up in Air”. The initial Associated Press dispatch specifically has Arnold saying that “he could not hazard a guess as to what they were” and ends with him admitting, “It seems impossible, but there it is.”

The reason it seemed impossible was because back in June 1947 aeroplanes were not capable of even half that speed. They had not even broken the sound barrier quite yet, although they were edging up to it. Chuck Yeager would win that prize a mere four months after the Arnold report. In his report to the Air Force, Arnold mentions an Air Force pilot suggested he had seen “some kind of jet or rocket-propelled ship that is in the process of being tested”. A subsequent communication to the Commanding General of Wright Field has him adding that he “felt certain they belonged to our government”.

Are we living in a designer universe?

Are we living in a designer universe?

The argument over whether the universe has a creator, and who that might be, is among the oldest in human history. But amid the raging arguments between believers and sceptics, one possibility has been almost ignored – the idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

As with much else in modern physics, the idea involves particle acceleration, the kind of thing that goes on in the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Before the LHC began operating, a few alarmists worried that it might create a black hole which would destroy the world. That was never on the cards: although it is just possible that the device could generate an artificial black hole, it would be too small to swallow an atom, let alone the Earth.

Sexual selection: lowered expectations edition

Sexual selection: lowered expectations edition

Sexual selection is, for lack of a better term, a sexy concept. Charles Darwin elaborated on the specific phenomenon of sexual selection in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. In The Third Chimpanzee Jared Diamond endorsed Darwin’s thesis that sexual selection could explain the origin of human races, as each isolated population extended their own particular aesthetic preferences. More recently the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller put forward an entertaining, if speculative, battery of arguments in The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. It’s clearly the stuff of science that can sell.

Sexual selection itself comes in a variety of flavors. Perhaps the most counterintuitive one on first blush is the idea that many traits, such as antlers, are positively costly and exist only to signal robust health which can incur the cost without debility. The idea was outlined by Amotz Zahavi in The Handicap Principle in the 1970s. Initially dismissed by Richard Dawkins in the original edition of The Selfish Gene, Zahavi’s ideas have come into modest mainstream acceptance, and the second edition of Dawkins’ seminal work reflects a revised appraisal.

How good are we at estimating other people’s drunkenness?

How good are we at estimating other people’s drunkenness?

Sloshed, trollied, hammered, plastered. We’ve done a sterling job of inventing words for the inebriated state, but when it comes to judging from their behaviour how much a person has drunk, we could do (a lot) better. That’s according to a review of the literature by US psychologist Steve Rubenzer.

We all have our trusted indices for judging other people’s drunkenness. Perhaps it’s when the eyeballs start floating about as if under the control of a clumsy puppeteer. Or maybe the effusive ‘you know I love you’ delivered with a trickle of dribble. However, the vast majority of studies find that lay people, police officers and bartenders are in fact hopeless at distinguishing a drunk person from a sober one, at least at moderate levels of intoxication. To take just one example, after watching drunk and sober people being interviewed and negotiating a stair case, bartenders rated them as slightly, moderately or very drunk with an accuracy of just 25 per cent.

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