Welcome to my inaugural “T.W.L.L.T.” (This week, I learned that) post. From here on out, I’ll be publishing a list just like this one every Sunday. My goal is to learn about as diverse a range of subjects as possible, through a broad range of media, and share the insights here with you. If you think there’s an area I should be researching, please let me know. Otherwise, enjoy the info and stay curious!
This Week I Learned That…
- People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to dismiss research connecting cigarette smoking to lung cancer than are people who do not smoke cigarettes. In his 1957 research compilation, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, psychologist Leon Festinger shows how people tend to seek out information that confirms their behaviors and beliefs, and actively avoid information that contradicts their behaviors and beliefs. One such behavior, as seen in the data above, is cigarette smoking. I write in detail about this human tendency in The Curiosity Manifesto, but I just can’t stop finding fascinating examples.
- The lyrics in the chorus of Demon Hunter‘s song, “Lead Us Home,” are: “Lead us home; lead us home. Our tiring hearts are failing now, from the inside out. Lead us home; Lead us home.” It’s the middle section that I finally looked up, and now I can’t get the song out of my head. Demon Hunter is one of my favorite bands. Believe it or not, this is one of its more uplifting tracks.
- There’s a remote block of land about 300 miles off the coast of New Zealand, called Lord Howe Island, in which birds fall from the trees when you call to them from below. In the BBC “Fishing for a Living” episode of its Life of Birds production, host David Attenborough demonstrates this effect by making bird calls into the canopy and watching the birds fall from the sky and waddle up to him. No one knows why, but these birds on Lord Howe Island are remarkably curious and unfazed by human contact.
- A vast number of innocent people actually confess to crimes due to the intense pressure faced in interrogation situations. In her memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, Amanda Knox cites some of the research by psychologist Saul Kassin that suggests the creation of false memories in some interrogations–leading to false confessions. Forensic evidence has, many times, exonerated people who have confessed to crimes. This is, of course, what Knox claims happened in her circumstance. Whether or not you believe her, it’s certainly possible from a purely psychological perspective.
- Praising children for their intelligence prevents them from achieving greater intellectual growth. In Nurtureshock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss a study by psychologist Carol Dweck. She administered a test to two groups of kids. To one group, she fed the line “you must be smart at this” and, to the other, she fed the line, “you must have worked really hard.” Both groups were then given a choice between two other tests: 1) a test that would be more challenging but that they would learn a lot from, and 2) an easy test just like the first one. Of the group that was praised for its effort, 90% chose the harder test. Of the group praised for its intelligence, most children chose the easy test. Dweck cites a great deal of research in many contexts that corroborates this finding in her book Mindset, which I read earlier this year.
- People are driven primarily by their emotions and intuition, not by reason. In a podcast with host Russell Roberts, psychologist Jonathan Haidt discusses some of the ideas from his book, The Righteous Mind (#12 in my project). According to Haidt, the human mind is like a man riding an elephant. Plato used this image to suggest that reason is the master of emotion. Haidt says the opposite, that–based on his research–reason is the elephant in subjugation to emotion, the rider. “Reason,” says Haidt, “plays the role of a lawyer or press secretary.” In other words, we form beliefs based on what we feel is right, and then use our reasoning to justify them.
- Men who are fathers are more likely to be hired by employers than are women who are mothers. In an article for Business Week, data analyst Ben Waber mentions a 2007 study in which researchers tested identical resumes across four different groups, with the only differences being information about the applicant’s gender and parental status. Fathers were judged most hirable, followed by men without children, then women without children, and finally mothers. This gender bias in hiring parents is attributed to the notion that, while people assume that children will distract women from their work, they tend to see being a father as a sign of discipline and leadership.
- Decreasing the class size in schools has absolutely no effect on the performance of students. Conventional wisdom says that smaller class sizes will permit teachers to devote more time to students–presumably increasing the quality of the education Therefore, vast amounts of money are poured into schools in order to decrease the student-to-teacher ratio. In David and Goliath, however, Malcolm Gladwell tells how one economist launched a massive study and determined that there just wasn’t any data to support the assumption.
- Militant Atheists (or “Free Thinkers”) are less likely to change their minds about their beliefs than are extreme right wing political pundits. According to Psychologist Jonathan Haidt (learning a lot from this guy), Atheist activist Sam Harris has challenged people to prove his theory of atheistic morality wrong by offering $10,000 to whoever can write an essay successfully doing so. Haidt answers the challenge with a $10,000 bet that Harris won’t change his mind. Running three of the most popular atheist manifestos through a textual analysis software, Haidt found that these supposedly objective writers used terms such as “always,” “never,” and “certainly,” more frequently in their texts than did the works of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. A closes mind is a closed mind, no matter what’s on the inside when it closes.
- People who “like” brands on Facebook do not always really like those brands “in real life.” A group of researchers administered a survey to 482 students of an Irish university, asking questions about their personalities, consumer preferences, and activities on Facebook. Analyzing the data, four major clusters of information emerged to reveal four specific types of fans on Facebook: 1) people who “like” the brands because they are extremely passionate about them, 2) people who “like” the brands because they think it will impress their friends, 3) people who “like” the brands only because they are offered some sort of incentive, and 4) people who “like” the brand due to a mild personal interest in them.
- The word “teenager” was first used in a 1941 article in Reader’s Digest. In their book, Do Hard Things, authors Alex and Brett Harris explain that the very concept of adolescence did not arise until the early 1900s. Reform in child labor laws and mandated public education through high school created an entirely new class. Before the 20th century, people were considered either children or adults. There was no intermediary period. According to the Harris brothers, the creation of “adolescence” has contributed to a set of low expectations placed on teenagers that prevents them from becoming productive members of society.