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Science in Society

Do People Like Government ‘Nudges’? Study Says: Yes

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On Oct. 9, Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago won the Nobel Prize for his extraordinary, world-transforming work in behavioral economics. In its press release, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences emphasized that Thaler demonstrated how nudging – or influencing people while fully maintaining freedom of choice – “may help people exercise better self-control when saving for a pension, as well in other contexts.”

In terms of Thaler’s work on what human beings are actually like, that’s the tip of the iceberg – but it’s a good place to start.

Attitudes to Same-Sex Marriage Have Many Psychological Roots, and They Can Change

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As the Australian same-sex marriage debate heats up it may be time for cool reflection on the sources of our polarised views. Recent research shines a revealing light on the roots of pro- and anti-marriage equality sentiment. It helps explain the roots of our attitudes to same-sex marriage, and whether they are shallow enough to allow attitudes to change.

Healthy Choices are Neither Good or Bad; Only Thinking Makes Them So

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Doing healthy things can feel like a battle between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil impels me to order the bacon burger for lunch, but the angel nudges my hand toward the salad.

“Work-Life Balance” and “Empathizing” Do Not Explain Women’s Career Choices

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A viral letter by then-Google employee James Damore has renewed the conversation about diversity in Silicon Valley. One thread of the ensuing debate has focused on the scientific validity of Damore’s claims that men and women do in fact differ in their preferences. An unspoken assumption has been that differences in preferences—if such differences exist—would go a long way toward explaining why women have remained underrepresented in tech and similar fields, despite efforts to increase diversity.

Can We Foresee the Future? Explaining and Predicting Cultural Change

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What does the future hold? Our enduring fascination with predicting the future is reflected on the silver screen, as excitement builds over the Blade Runner sequel. We continue being mesmerized by ancient prophecies, such as Nostradamus' Quatrains. And we certainly pay very well to pundits, economists, and intelligence analysts who try to predict coming social, economic, and political events. Unfortunately, this abiding interest in prediction has not translated into the ability to forecast future events with much accuracy.

Rationalizing the “Irrational”

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Economists are famous for attempting to rationalize seemingly irrational behavior. One of the more extraordinary is Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy’s theory of rational addiction, in which they hypothesized that addicts plan their consumption of addictive goods. When deciding whether to smoke a cigarette or take a hit, the theory goes, addicts choose in full knowledge and consideration of the health costs and the future costs of their smoking or drug use due to addiction.

A Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell: Revisiting Brown v. Board

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Malcolm Gladwell is the best-selling author of books that explore the implications of behavioral science research on our lives and society. His books include OutliersThe Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw. Last year, he launched a new podcast, Revisionist History, which recently began its second season. The podcast is dedicated to taking a closer look at the past, and Gladwell’s treatment of the events and people he examines is often informed by behavioral science.

Our Enemies Are Human. That’s Why We Want to Kill Them

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On Saturday (August 12), James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, injuring 30 people and killing Heather Heyer. Earlier that day, white supremacists nearly beat Dre Harris to death. Throughout the afternoon, violence erupted between white supremacists and counter-protesters.

Does biology explain why men outnumber women in tech?

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It’s no secret that Silicon Valley employs many more men than women in tech jobs. What’s much harder to agree on is why.

The recent anti-diversity memo by a now former Google engineer has pushed this topic into the spotlight. The writer argued there are ways to explain the gender gap in tech that don’t rely on bias and discrimination – specifically, biological sex differences. Setting aside how this assertion would affect questions about how to move toward greater equity in tech fields, how well does his wrap-up represent what researchers know about the science of sex and gender?

So Many in the West are Depressed Because They’re Expected Not to Be

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Depression is listed as the leading cause of disability worldwide, a standing to which it has progressed steadily over the past 20 years. Yet research shows a rather interesting pattern: depression is far more prevalent in Western cultures, such as the US, Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand, than in Eastern cultures, such as Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China.

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