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Science in Society

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.

Beyond the Bystander Effect

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Imagine a rural Texan who commutes in an F-150 truck to a distant job in the oil industry. Given the cost of gas, he is considering trading in his truck for a vehicle with better mileage. Take a guess: will he choose a Prius® hybrid? It's an economically rational choice. However, the Prius® is less popular in rural Texas than hybrids that look like normal cars (Sexton & Sexton, 2011).

Exercising Helps Us Bounce Back From Stress

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We all know, or have at least heard the rumors, that exercise is good for us. There’s this intuition that says when we get moving we’ll feel mentally or emotionally stronger, quicker, and better. Research shows that regular exercisers do tend to report less depressed and anxious mood. Moreover, there are encouraging clinical trials showing that when people who have mood and anxiety disorders engage in exercise programs, they tend to have better mental health outcomes. But why?

Psychologists Go to War

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One hundred years ago, on April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I by declaring war on Germany. When American psychologists heard the news, they dispatched Robert M. Yerkes, then president of the American Psychological Association, to Canada to confer with Carl C.

Overcoming the Biases That Come Between Us

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Elvis counsels, “Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse … walk a mile in my shoes.” Dylan wishes, “For just one time, you could stand inside my shoes.” Paul McCartney asks us once again to try to see it his way. If you are The King, a Nobel laureate, or a knight—not to mention a rock star—perhaps it is reasonable to expect that everyone else should take your perspective. For the rest of us, if we hope that “we can work it out,” it seems vital for us to try harder and try smarter to understand others—especially these days.

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