Archive for 'Newspaper column'

Be still my beating heart … smashed fingers, battered shins and fake murder

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

If you (yup, you) use a fake weapon to brutally beat a stranger, and then slit his throat, and then shoot him in the face, and then you assault a little baby, will your heart and blood pump like mad — even if you know that it’s all a trick and the man will suffer no harm and the baby is just a life-like doll? An American experiment sought an answer to that question.

You can read about it in a study called Simulating Murder: the Aversion to Harmful Action, published in the journal Emotion. The authors, Fiery Cushman [pictured below, with colleagues from his lab], Kurt Gray, Allison Gaffey and Wendy Berry Mendes, are respectively at Harvard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of California, San Francisco.

So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

cushman

People-calculating: open doors and closed doors

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

RosenbaumWhether one person holds a door open for another is not simply a question of etiquette, says a study by Joseph P Santamaria and David A Rosenbaum [pictured here] of Pennsylvania State University. No, they say. Nothing simple about it.

Santamaria and Rosenbaum worked to pursue the answer through a tangle of belief, logic, probability, perception and calculation. Their study, Etiquette and Effort: Holding Doors for Others, was published in 2011 in the journal Psychological Science. It is, one way or another, a gripping read....

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS: This graph is from an economist’s alternative take on the question:

door open

Why do so many people so often say “so”?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
Galina Bolden

Galina Bolden

So … in this era when so many people use the word “so” to begin so many of their sentences, one scholar has written three studies analysing what happens when people begin their sentences with the word. Galina Bolden’s first “so” study, in 2006, explains that sometimes people use the word as a way of “moving on with [a] conversation that has been temporarily stalled” (“So, how are you?”).

Her second “so” study, in 2008, is called “So What’s Up?”: Using the Discourse Marker So to Launch Conversational Business. Bolden, an associate professor of communication at Rutgers University in New Jersey, expands on the earlier idea….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Beach study suggests tourists like good weather

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Do not assume that tourists prefer good weather when they visit a beach. A study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology in 2013 challenges that easy-to-make assumption. The researchers gathered evidence – rather than relying on mere guesses and assumptions – as to what kind of weather brings beachgoers to the beach.

Here is what they discovered: “The conditions preferred by beach users, as found in this study, are no precipitation, higher temperatures, light-to-moderate wind speed (less than 30 km/h) and low wave height (up to 1.25m).”

Thus, you need no longer assume tourists prefer good weather when they visit a beach – now you know they do. At least, you know it to the extent that the study’s findings are accurate….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Pippa Middleton’s backside – the Freudian and Marxist interpretations

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

The scholarly community, a portion of it anyway, is diving ever-deeper in the analysis of the rear end of the sister of the wife of the man whose father’s mother sits on the throne of the United Kingdom.

The interest has spread westward, to the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has no monarch, and thus does not have a monarch’s child’s child’s spouse’s sibling’s butt of its own to analyse.

Gavin Wilkinson, who recently obtained a graduate degree from University College Dublin, wrote a treatise called Fetishising Pippa Middleton: Celebrity Posteriors, Whiteness and Class Aspirationalism….

—So begins the latest Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

CONTEXT: Here’s video of the object of the scholarly discussion:

BONUS: The Wilkinson paper extends the scholarly community’s attempt to grasp the essence of the Middleton buttocks.