Summoning the Past: Why This and Not That?
My memory baffles me. There is no rhyme or reason to what I recall and what I forget, whether it’s today’s to-do list or recollections of childhood. Important information vanishes, yet I have a random collection of odd facts and memory traces taking up space in my mind. I'm not alone in this. Everyone I know has a story about the quirkiness of memory, and scientists have been fascinated and perplexed by these oddities for years. Why isn’t memory a better system, more efficient and organized, if remembering is so crucial to daily functioning and future planning? Why do we remember so many trivial and irrelevant things? Why this and not that?
Feeling anxious? Think again.
Americans' number one fear is public speaking, hands down. Pollsters have reported time and again that the average person dreads speaking more than disease or even death. These polls merely confirm what our sweaty palms and elevated heart beat make undeniable: Standing up and addressing an audience brings out our worst misgivings about performance and failure and the judgment of others. We all experience some measure of social anxiety, but some people suffer much more than others, and not just with public speaking. Dates, job interviews, even idle cocktail chatter—any kind of social encounter can be a source of unbearable dread for people with a social anxiety disorder, or SAD.
Is Religion Just An Assortment of Gut Feelings?
The vast majority of the planet’s 7 billion people ascribe to some kind of religious belief—that is, a faith in things that cannot be proven. This makes no sense from a scientific and psychological point of view, because supernatural beliefs—in contrast to our evolved thinking in general—serve no apparent purpose. They don’t help us comprehend and navigate the world. Why would the human mind create them, and allow them to persist? Two cognitive psychologists now offer an intriguing explanation for this philosophical puzzle. Nicolas Baumard of the University of Pennsylvania and Pascal Boyer of Washington University in St.
Budgets and Biases: Summing Up American Values
Our lawmakers may have averted the fiscal cliff on the first of the year, but the threat of sequestration still looms over the nation. If the Congress and the White House cannot agree on the particulars of deficit reduction by March, draconian across-the-board cuts will slash both national security spending and core domestic programs, ranging from education to public health to environmental protection. Every federal budget is, underneath those numbers, a set of values—many related to protecting Americans from harm. But the mandate to cut spending means choosing among those values and safeguards.
Who Am I? The Heroes of Our Minds
One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Ice Road Truckers, which tells the stories of the heavy haulers who deliver vital supplies to remote Arctic territories of Alaska and Canada. In just two months each year, these truckers make more than 10,000 runs over hundreds of miles of frozen lakes, known as ice roads. We get to share in the treacherous drives—and just as important, the personal travails—of the veteran Hugh “The Polar Bear” Rowland, the brash tattooed Rick Yemm, the cold-hating rookie T.J. Wilcox, and former school bus driver and motocross champ Lisa Kelly, one of the rare women to break into this man’s world. I’m not alone in this fascination.
It’s Complicated: The Psychology of “Singlism”
I’m married, but I have also been single for significant stretches in my life. I think I’m being honest when I say that I can see the virtues in both life choices, and understand why someone might opt for either. And I have certainly never felt judged, or discriminated against, for choosing to be single or for choosing a partner. So it came as a surprise to me to read recently about “singlism.” Apparently, some people do feel judged, and unfairly, for their status. And intriguingly, this subtle form of discrimination appears to cut both ways.