EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Tag Archives: social science
Monday, January 7, 2013
The classic documentary and social experiment continues with the release this week of “56 Up”. Michael Apted began this remarkable process with a documentary called “7 Up” in 1964. It followed the lives of 14 British children aged 7, from different socio-economic backgrounds. Although the 7 Up documentary was initially planned to be a one-off, subsequent installments followed in seven-year cycles. Each time Apted would bring us up to date with the lives of his growing subjects. Now, they are all turning 56 years old. Fifty-six years on the personal stories are poignant and powerful, yet class divisions remain.
From the Telegraph:
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Why study the science of climate change when you can study the complexities of climate change deniers themselves? That was the question that led several groups of independent researchers to study why some groups of people cling to mistaken beliefs and hold inaccurate views of the public consensus.
From ars technica:
By just about every measure, the vast majority of scientists in general—and climate scientists in particular—have been convinced by the evidence that human activities are altering the climate. However, in several countries, a significant portion of the public has concluded that this consensus doesn’t exist. That has prompted a variety of studies aimed at understanding the large disconnect between scientists and the public, with results pointing the finger at everything from the economy to the weather. Other studies have noted societal influences on acceptance, including ideology and cultural identity....read more
Thursday, November 15, 2012
There is a commonly held myth in the United States that anyone can make it; that is, even if you’re at the bottom of the income distribution curve you have the opportunity to climb up to a wealthier future. Independent research over the last couple of decades debunks this myth and paints a rather different and more disturbing reality. For instance, it shows how Americans are now less socially mobile — in the upward sense — than citizens of Canada and most countries in Europe.
From the Economist:
Friday, October 12, 2012
Since behavioral scientists and psychologists first began roaming the globe we have come to know how and (sometimes) why visual appearance is so important in human interactions. Of course, anecdotally, humans have known this for thousands of years — that image is everything. After all it, was not Mary Kay or L’Oreal who brought us make-up but the ancient Egyptians. Yet, it is still fascinating to see how markedly the perception of an individual can change with a basic alteration, and only at the surface. Witness the profound difference in characteristics that we project onto a male with male pattern baldness (wimp) when he shaves his head (tough guy). And, of course, corporations can now assign a monetary value to the shaven look. As for comb-overs, well that is another topic entirely.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Up for a promotion? If you’re a man, you might want to get out the clippers....read more
Thursday, October 4, 2012
If you ride a bike (as in, bicycle) you will find that you probably belong to a specific tribe of bicyclist — and you’re being observed by bicyclist watchers! Read on to find out if you’re a Roadie or a Beach Cruiser or if you belong to one of the other tribes. Of course, some are quite simply in an exclusive “mayo jaune” tribe of their own.
From Wall Street Journal:
Bird watching is a fine hobby for those with the time and inclination to traipse into nature, but the thrill of spotting different species of bicyclists can be just as rewarding. Why travel to Argentina to find a black-breasted plovercrest when one can spy a similarly plumed “Commuter” at the neighborhood Starbucks? No need to squint into binoculars or get up at the crack of dawn, either—bicyclists are out and about at all hours....read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Social media is great for notifying members in one’s circle of events in the here and now. Of course, most events turn out to be rather trivial, of the “what I ate for dinner” kind. However, social media also has a role in spreading word of more momentous social and political events; the Arab Spring comes to mind.
But, while Twitter and its peers may be a boon for those who live in the present moment and need to transmit their current status, it seems that our social networks are letting go of the past. Will history become lost and irrelevant to the Twitter generation?
A terrifying thought.
From Technology Review:
On 25 January 2011, a popular uprising began in Egypt that led to the overthrow of the country’s brutal president and to the first truly free elections. One of the defining features of this uprising and of others in the Arab Spring was the way people used social media to organise protests and to spread news....read more
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Thursday, July 26, 2012
From the New York Times:
WHO is happier about life — liberals or conservatives? The answer might seem straightforward. After all, there is an entire academic literature in the social sciences dedicated to showing conservatives as naturally authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking. And it was the candidate Barack Obama in 2008 who infamously labeled blue-collar voters “bitter,” as they “cling to guns or religion.” Obviously, liberals must be happier, right?...read more
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
This may sound like another job from the future, but “wantologists” wander among us in 2012.
From the New York Times:
IN the sprawling outskirts of San Jose, Calif., I find myself at the apartment door of Katherine Ziegler, a psychologist and wantologist. Could it be, I wonder, that there is such a thing as a wantologist, someone we can hire to figure out what we want? Have I arrived at some final telling moment in my research on outsourcing intimate parts of our lives, or at the absurdist edge of the market frontier?
A willowy woman of 55, Ms. Ziegler beckons me in. A framed Ph.D. degree in psychology from the University of Illinois hangs on the wall, along with an intricate handmade quilt and a collage of images clipped from magazines — the back of a child’s head, a gnarled tree, a wandering cat — an odd assemblage that invites one to search for a connecting thread....read more
Monday, April 23, 2012
Online social networks are a boon to researchers. As never before, social scientists are probing our connections, our innermost thoughts now made public, our networks of friends, and our loneliness. Some academics point to the likes of Facebook for making our increasingly shallow “friendships” a disposable and tradable commodity, and ironically facilitating isolation from more intimate and deeper connections. Others see Facebook merely as a mirror — we have, quite simply, made ourselves lonely, and our social networks instantly and starkly expose our isolation for all to see and “like”.
An insightful article by novelist Stephen Marche over at The Atlantic examines our self-imposed loneliness.
From the Atlantic:
Monday, March 26, 2012
Why can’t our kids tie their own shoes?
Are we raising our children to be self-obsessed, attention-seeking, helpless and dependent groupthinkers? And, why may the phenomenon of “family time” in the U.S. be a key culprit?
These are some of the questions raised by anthropologist Elinor Ochs and her colleagues. Over the last decade they have studied family life across the globe, from the Amazon region, to Samoa, and middle-America.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Why do American children depend on their parents to do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves? How do U.S. working parents’ views of “family time” affect their stress levels? These are just two of the questions that researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, or CELF, are trying to answer in their work....read more
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
A collection of answers to some fascinating “have you ever ___?” questions.
Infographic courtesy of Hunch:
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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Stories of people who risk life and limb to help a stranger and those who turn a blind eye are as current as they are ancient. Almost on a daily basis the 24-hours news cycle carries a heartwarming story of someone doing good to or for another; and seemingly just as often comes the story of indifference. Social and psychological researchers have studied this behavior in humans, and animals, for decades. However, only recently has progress been made in identifying some underlying factors. Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and researcher Agata Sagan recap some current understanding.
All of this leads to a conundrum: would it be ethical to market a “morality” pill that would make us do more good more often?
From the New York Times:
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Author Susan Cain reviews her intriguing book, “Quiet : The Power of Introverts” in an interview with Gareth Cook over at Mind Matters / Scientific American.
She shows us how social and business interactions and group-driven processes, often led and coordinated by extroverts, may not be the most efficient method for introverts to shine creatively.
From Mind Matters:
Cook: This may be a stupid question, but how do you define an introvert? How can somebody tell whether they are truly introverted or extroverted?...read more
Friday, January 20, 2012
A group of new research studies show that our left- or right-handedness shapes our perception of “goodness” and “badness”.
From Scientific American:
A series of studies led by psychologist Daniel Casasanto suggests that one thing that may shape our choice is the side of the menu an item appears on. Specifically, Casasanto and his team have shown that for left-handers, the left side of any space connotes positive qualities such as goodness, niceness, and smartness. For right-handers, the right side of any space connotes these same virtues. He calls this idea that “people with different bodies think differently, in predictable ways” the body-specificity hypothesis....read more
Thursday, January 19, 2012
From Scientific American:
We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves that we are better than average — that we are more moral, more capable, less likely to become sick or suffer an accident. It’s an odd phenomenon, and an especially puzzling one to those who think about our evolutionary origins. Self-deception is so pervasive that it must confer some advantage. But how could we be well served by a brain that deceives us? This is one of the topics tackled by Robert Trivers in his new book, “The Folly of Fools,” a colorful survey of deception that includes plane crashes, neuroscience and the transvestites of the animal world. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook....read more
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Different, but similar, or poles apart? You decide with the help of this nerdy and geekish infographic.
Infographic courtesy of mastersinit.org.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
From Project Syndicate:
A leadership transition is scheduled in two major autocracies in 2012. Neither is likely to be a surprise. Xi Jinping is set to replace Hu Jintao as President in China, and, in Russia, Vladimir Putin has announced that he will reclaim the presidency from Dmitri Medvedev. Among the world’s democracies, political outcomes this year are less predictable. Nicolas Sarkozy faces a difficult presidential re-election campaign in France, as does Barack Obama in the United States.
In the 2008 US presidential election, the press told us that Obama won because he had “charisma” – the special power to inspire fascination and loyalty. If so, how can his re-election be uncertain just four years later? Can a leader lose his or her charisma? Does charisma originate in the individual, in that person’s followers, or in the situation? Academic research points to all three....read more
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Online social networks are an unprecedentedly rich source of material for psychologists, social scientists and observers of human behavior. Now a recent study shows that influence through these networks may not be as powerful or widespread as first thought. The study, “Social Selection and Peer Influence in an Online Social Network,” by Kevin Lewis, Marco Gonzalez and Jason Kaufman is available here.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Social media gives ordinary people unprecedented power to broadcast their taste in movies, books and film, but for the most part those tastes don’t rub off on other people, a new study of college students finds. Instead, social media appears to strengthen our bonds with people whose tastes already resemble ours....read more
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Thomas Rogers for Slate:
Over the last decade, American culture has been overtaken by a curious, overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Everywhere you look, there seems to be some new form of revivalism going on. The charts are dominated by old-school-sounding acts like Adele and Mumford & Sons. The summer concert schedule is dominated by reunion tours. TV shows like VH1′s “I Love the 90s” allow us to endlessly rehash the catchphrases of the recent past. And, thanks to YouTube and iTunes, new forms of music and pop culture are facing increasing competition from the ever-more-accessible catalog of older acts....read more
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Clarifying intent, emotion, wishes and meaning is a rather tricky and cumbersome process that we all navigate each day. Online in the digital world this is even more challenging, if not sometimes impossible. The pre-digital method of exchanging information in a social context would have been face-to-face. Such a method provides the full gamut of verbal and non-verbal dialogue between two or more parties. Importantly, it also provides a channel for the exchange of unconscious cues between people, which researchers are increasingly finding to be of critical importance during communication.
So, now replace the the face-to-face interaction with email, texting, instant messaging, video chat, and other forms of digital communication and you have a new playground for researchers in cognitive and social sciences. The intriguing question for researchers, and all of us for that matter, is: how do we ensure our meaning, motivations and intent are expressed clearly through digital communications?...read more
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Today, I’d like to revisit one of the most well-known experiments in social psychology: Solomon Asch’s lines study. Let’s look once more at his striking findings on the power of group conformity and consider what they mean now, more than 50 years later, in a world that is much changed from Asch’s 1950s America.
How long are these lines? I don’t know until you tell me.
In the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted a series of studies to examine the effects of peer pressure, in as clear-cut a setting as possible: visual perception. The idea was to see if, when presented with lines of differing lengths and asked questions about the lines (Which was the longest? Which corresponded to a reference line of a certain length?), participants would answer with the choice that was obviously correct – or would fall sway to the pressure of a group that gave an incorrect response. Here is a sample stimulus from one of the studies:
Friday, July 15, 2011
One of the most fascinating and (in)famous experiments in social psychology began in the bowels of Stanford University 40 years ago next month. The experiment intended to evaluate how people react to being powerless. However, on conclusion it took a broader look at role assignment and reaction to authority....read more
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Have you heard that divorce is contagious? A lot of people have. Last summer a study claiming to show that break-ups can propagate from friend to friend to friend like a marriage-eating bacillus spread across the news agar from CNN to CBS to ABC with predictable speed. “Think of this ‘idea’ of getting divorced, this ‘option’ of getting divorced like a virus, because it spreads more or less the same way,” explained University of California-San Diego professor James Fowler to the folks at Good Morning America....read more
Sunday, June 12, 2011
David Brooks brings us a detailed journey through the building blocks of the self in his new book, The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character and Achievement. With his insight and gift for narrative Brooks weaves an engaging and compelling story of Erica and Harold. Brooks uses the characters of Erica and Harold as platforms on which he visualizes the results of numerous psychological, social and cultural studies. Placed in contemporary time the two characters show us a holistic picture in practical terms of the unconscious effects of physical and social context on behavioral and character traits. The narrative takes us through typical life events and stages: infancy, childhood, school, parenting, work-life, attachment, aging. At each stage, Brooks illustrates his views of the human condition by selecting a flurry of facts and anecdotal studies....read more
Friday, June 25, 2010
From The Observer:
In spite of all the answers the internet has given us, its full potential to transform our lives remains the great unknown. Here are the nine key steps to understanding the most powerful tool of our age – and where it’s taking us....read more
Monday, March 1, 2010
From The New York Times:
As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.
The force is human culture, broadly defined as any learned behavior, including technology. The evidence of its activity is the more surprising because culture has long seemed to play just the opposite role. Biologists have seen it as a shield that protects people from the full force of other selective pressures, since clothes and shelter dull the bite of cold and farming helps build surpluses to ride out famine....read more
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
From The New York Times:
RETHINKING THE WEB Jaron Lanier, pictured here in 1999, was an early proponent of the Internet’s open culture. His new book examines the downsides.
In the 1990s, Jaron Lanier was one of the digital pioneers hailing the wonderful possibilities that would be realized once the Internet allowed musicians, artists, scientists and engineers around the world to instantly share their work. Now, like a lot of us, he is having second thoughts.
Mr. Lanier, a musician and avant-garde computer scientist — he popularized the term “virtual reality” — wonders if the Web’s structure and ideology are fostering nasty group dynamics and mediocre collaborations. His new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” is a manifesto against “hive thinking” and “digital Maoism,” by which he means the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work at the expense of individual creativity....read more