Nervous Laughter, Tears of Joy
In Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments, the subjects, called “teachers,” were instructed to shock the “learners” for every wrong answer. The learners, confederates in the study, were not actually shocked, of course, but the teachers believed they were—and they even heard faked cries of pain to add authenticity. Most of the subjects showed signs of distress, as one would expect, and some were extremely agitated. But it’s said that some of the subjects laughed when they heard the screams. We call this nervous laughter—incongruous emotional displays like chuckling uncontrollably at a funeral or some other somber or upsetting event.
At the Ballot Box: Are You a Political Extremist?
Election Day 2014 arrives at a time of extreme political division in the U.S., and moderates of both parties are worried about the fringe. It’s always the case, and especially in mid-term elections, that extremists in their zeal will vote and canvas and rally their troops, while moderates will disengage and stay home. But who are these extremists really? Some dismiss citizens with extremely strong political opinions as rigid and dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity and fearful of uncertainty and change. And it’s certainly not hard to find examples of such overzealous—even loony—extremism on the political stage today.
Holy Safety Net! Religion and Recklessness
Moral instruction is a big part of religion. That’s why most faiths come with strict laws of personal conduct. Indeed, many believe that living a sober life, free of risk and excess and recklessness, is evidence of devotion to a higher power. But most instruction of this sort focuses on recklessness with a moral dimension: Don’t drink too much. Don’t gamble away your family’s security. Don’t let sexual temptations ruin your marriage. Don’t steal someone else’s property. And so forth. These transgressions are considered not only risky, but also wrong. So what about risk taking that has no connection to right or wrong? Sky diving, for example, or cycling without a helmet?
Is Powerlessness the Key to Successful Negotiation?
Leigh Steinberg, the real-life inspiration for the title character in the film Jerry Maguire, is one of the most successful agents in the history of American sports. He is also a master negotiator. It’s said that when he signed quarterback Steve Bartkowski as his first client in 1975, he realized that the NFL rules allowed him no power to bargain over salary. The Atlanta Falcons had drafted his client, so if he was going to play pro ball, it was the Falcons or nothing. So what did Steinberg do? He offered Bartkowski’s services to the Atlanta Falcons for a whopping $750,000—more than any football player had ever been paid.
Troubled #hearts — in 140 characters
I joined Twitter in 2008, and I’ve always been impressed by the diversity of this floating conversation. People will just as soon tweet about dinner as the sorry state of American politics, and they are by turns thoughtful and shallow, original and fraudulent, snide and generous of spirit. In 140 characters or fewer, users reflect the range of human emotion, from joy to rage, wonder to boredom, cynicism to hopefulness. Individual Twitter users can obviously reveal a lot about their lives and feelings, even in terse tweets. But what about very large numbers of tweets, by many people in many places? Is it possible that aggregate Twitter patterns might also be revealing in some useful way?
Remember Me: Personal Legacy and Global Warming
Later this month, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change will release its fifth and latest assessment of the scientific evidence regarding human interference in the world’s climate. Based on the working papers that have preceded this final synthesis, the IPCC will echo the alarms of earlier assessments—that global warming is unequivocal and unprecedented and extremely likely to have been caused by human activity. The report will call for new policies to mitigate climate change and the likelihood of severe and irreversible consequences.