Cupid’s Arrow: Light Shed On Laws of Attraction

Feb. 8, 2013 — We’ve heard the clichés: “It was love at first sight,” “It’s inner beauty that truly matters,” and “Opposites attract.” But what’s really at work in selecting a romantic or sexual partner?

University of Notre Dame Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock studies the impacts of physical attractiveness and age on mate selection and the effects of gender and income on relationships. Her research offers new insights into why and when Cupid’s arrow strikes.

In one of her studies, “Handsome Wants as Handsome Does,” published in Biodemography and Social Biology, McClintock examines the effects of physical attractiveness on young adults’ sexual and romantic outcomes (number of partners, relationship status, timing of sexual intercourse), revealing the gender differences in preferences.

“Couple formation is often conceptualized as a competitive, two-sided matching process in which individuals implicitly trade their assets for those of a mate, trying to find the most desirable partner and most rewarding relationship that they can get given their own assets,” McClintock says. “This market metaphor has primarily been applied to marriage markets and focused on the exchange of income or status for other desired resources such as physical attractiveness, but it is easily extended to explain partner selection in the young adult premarital dating market as well.”

McClintock’s study shows that just as good looks may be exchanged for status and financial resources, attractiveness may also be traded for control over the degree of commitment and progression of sexual activity.

Among her findings:

  • Very physically attractive women are more likely to form exclusive relationships than to form purely sexual relationships; they are also less likely to have sexual intercourse within the first week of meeting a partner. Presumably, this difference arises because more physically attractive women use their greater power in the partner market to control outcomes within their relationships.
  • For women, the number of sexual partners decreases with increasing physical attractiveness, whereas for men, the number of sexual partners increases with increasing physical attractiveness.
  • For women, the number of reported sexual partners is tied to weight: Thinner women report fewer partners. Thinness is a dimension of attractiveness for women, so is consistent with the finding that more attractive women report fewer sexual partners.

Another of McClintock’s recent studies (not yet published), titled “Desirability, Matching, and the Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection,” tests and rejects the “trophy wife” stereotype that women trade beauty for men’s status.

“Obviously, this happens sometimes,” she says, pointing to Donald Trump and Melania Knauss-Trump as an example.

“But prior research has suggested that it often occurs in everyday partner selection among ‘normal’ people … noting that the woman’s beauty and the man’s status (education, income) are positively correlated, that is, they tend to increase and decrease together.”

According to McClintock, prior research in this area has ignored two important factors:

“First, people with higher status are, on average, rated more physically attractive — perhaps because they are less likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces and nice clothes and trips to the dermatologist, etc.,” she says.

“Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity — in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness.”

After taking these two factors into account, McClintock’s research shows that there is not, in fact, a general tendency for women to trade beauty for money.

“Indeed, I find little evidence of exchange, but I find very strong evidence of matching,” she says. “With some exceptions, the vast majority of couples select partners who are similar to themselves in both status and in attractiveness.”

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Notre Dame. The original article was written by Susan Guibert.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth Aura McClintock. Handsome Wants as Handsome Does: Physical Attractiveness and Gender Differences in Revealed Sexual Preferences.Biodemography and Social Biology, 2011; 57 (2): 221 DOI: 10.1080/19485565.2011.615172
University of Notre Dame (2013, February 8). Cupid’s arrow: Light shed on laws of attraction.ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 10, 2013, from

Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth

Feb. 4, 2013 — For decades, popular writers have entertained readers with the premise that men and women are so psychologically dissimilar they could hail from entirely different planets. But a new study shows that it’s time for the Mars/Venus theories about the sexes to come back to Earth.

On physical characteristics, like strength (top graph), men and women fall into distinct groups with very little overlap. But for most psychological attributes, including masculine attitudes (lower graph), variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is extensive. The physical strength graph shows statistical analysis of the scores for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s long jump, high jump, and javelin throw competitions. The masculinity-assertiveness graph is based on self-reported measures of competitiveness, decisiveness, sense of superiority, persistence, confidence, and the ability to stand up under pressure. (Credit: University of Rochester)

From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.

“People think about the sexes as distinct categories,” says Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a co-author on the study to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “‘Boy or girl?’ is the first question parents are asked about their newborn, and sex persists through life as the most pervasive characteristic used to distinguish categories among humans.”

But the handy dichotomy often falls apart under statistical scrutiny, says lead author Bobbi Carothers, who completed the study as part of her doctoral dissertation at Rochester and is now a senior data analyst for the Center for Public Health System Science at Washington University in St. Louis. For example, it is not at all unusual for men to be empathic and women to be good at math — characteristics that some research has associated with the other sex, says Carothers. “Sex is not nearly as confining a category as stereotypes and even some academic studies would have us believe,” she adds.

The authors reached that conclusion by reanalyzing data from 13 studies that had shown significant, and often large, sex differences. Reis and Carothers also collected their own data on a range of psychological indicators. They revisited surveys on relationship interdependence, intimacy, and sexuality. They reopened studies of the “big five” personality traits: extroversion, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness. They even crunched the numbers on such highly charged and seemingly defining gender characteristics as femininity and masculinity. Using three separate statistical procedures, the authors searched for evidence of attributes that could reliably categorize a person as male or female.

The pickings, it turned out, were slim. Statistically, men and women definitely fall into distinct groups, or taxons, based on anthropometric measurements such as height, shoulder breadth, arm circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. And gender can be a reliable predictor for interest in very stereotypic activities, such as scrapbooking and cosmetics (women) and boxing and watching pornography (men).

But for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet. Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum — the way they do with, say, height or physical strength — psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders. With very few exceptions, variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is so extensive that the authors conclude it would be inaccurate to use personality types, attitudes, and psychological indicators as a vehicle for sorting men and women.

“Thus, contrary to the assertions of pop psychology titles like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, it is untrue that men and women think about their relationships in qualitatively different ways,” the authors write. “Even leading researchers in gender and stereotyping can fall into the same trap.”

That men and women approach their social world similarly does not imply that there are no differences in average scores between the sexes. Average differences do exist, write the authors. “The traditional and easiest way to think of gender differences is in terms of a mean difference,” Carothers and Reis write. But such differences “are not consistent or big enough to accurately diagnose group membership” and should not be misconstrued as evidence for consistent and inflexible gender categories, they conclude.

“Those who score in a stereotypic way on one measure do not necessarily do so on another,” the authors note. A man who ranks high on aggression, may also rank low on math, for example. Caution the authors: “the possession of traits associated with gender is not as simple as ‘this or that’.”

Although emphasizing inherent differences between the sexes certainly strikes a chord with many couples, such simplistic frameworks can be harmful in the context of relationships, says Reis, a leader in the field of relationship science. “When something goes wrong between partners, people often blame the other partner’s gender immediately. Having gender stereotypes hinders people from looking at their partner as an individual. They may also discourage people from pursuing certain kinds of goals. When psychological and intellectual tendencies are seen as defining characteristics, they are more likely to be assumed to be innate and immutable. Why bother to try to change?”

The best evidence we have that the so-called Mars/Venus gender division is not the true source of friction within relationships, says Reis, is that “gay and lesbian couples have much the same problems relating to each other that heterosexual couples do. Clearly, it’s not so much sex, but human character that causes difficulties.”

The findings support the “gender similarities hypothesis” put forth by University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde. Using different methods, Hyde has challenged “overinflated claims of gender differences” with meta-analyses of psychology studies, demonstrating that males and females are similar on most, though not all, psychological variables.

Those results were not a surprise for Carothers. Raised by two physical education teachers, the self-described tomboy grew up with “all kinds of sporting equipment… I did not question stereotypical attitudes, I just knew that they did not necessarily fit me and the folks I hung out with.” That experience, she says, fueled a lifelong interest into the biological basis of behavior. When she discovered in graduate school that she could apply her prowess in statistics to exploring sex differences, the project became “a marriage of two interests.”

The authors acknowledge that the study is based largely on questionnaires and may not fully capture real life actions. “Methods that more pointedly measure interpersonal behaviors (how many birthday cards have they sent this year, how many times a month do they call a friend just to see how he or she is, etc.) may more readily reveal a gender taxon,” they write.

By the same token, however, as gender roles are liberalized, the authors speculate that new studies may show even less divergence between men and women in the United States. The opposite may be the case in cultures that are far more prescriptive of male and female roles, such as Saudi Arabia, Reis and Carothers predict.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Rochester.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Bobbi J. Carothers, Harry T. Reis. Men and women are from Earth: Examining the latent structure of gender..Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013; 104 (2): 385 DOI: 10.1037/a0030437
University of Rochester (2013, February 4). Men are from Mars Earth, women are fromVenus Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 5, 2013, from

Working Alone Won’t Get You Good Grades

Jan. 31, 2013 — Students who work together and interact online are more likely to be successful in their college classes, according to a study published Jan. 30 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports and co-authored by Manuel Cebrian, a computer scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego.

A graph showing interactions between 82 students during the last week of a course. High performing students are in dark blue and form a core where the highest density of persistent interactions can be observed. Mid-performing students are in red and low-performing student sin green. Persistent interactions are shown in thick blue edges, while dotted thin grey edges indicate transient interactions. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California – San Diego)

Cebrian and colleagues analyzed 80,000 interactions between 290 students in a collaborative learning environment for college courses. The major finding was that a higher number of online interactions was usually an indicator of a higher score in the class. High achievers also were more likely to form strong connections with other students and to exchange information in more complex ways. High achievers tended to form cliques, shutting out low-performing students from their interactions. Students who found themselves shut out were not only more likely to have lower grades; they were also more likely to drop out of the class entirely.

“Elite groups of highly connected individuals formed in the first days of the course,” said Cebrian, who also is a Senior Researcher at National ICT Australia Ltd, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence. “For the first time, we showed that there is a very strong correspondence between social interaction and exchange of information — a 72 percent correlation,” he said “but almost equally interesting is the fact that these high-performing students form ‘rich-clubs’, which shield themselves from low-performing students, despite the significant efforts by these lower-ranking students to join them. The weaker students try hard to engage with the elite group intensively, but can’t. This ends up having a marked correlation with their dropout rates.”

This study co-authored by Luis M. Vaquero, based at Hewlett-Packard UK Labs, shows a way that we might better identify patterns in the classroom that can trigger early dropout alarms, allowing more time for educators to help the student and, ideally, reduce those rates through appropriate social network interventions.

Cebrian’s work is part of UC San Diego’s wider research effort at the intersection of the computer and social sciences, led by Prof. James H. Fowler, to enhance our understanding of the ways in which people share information and how this impacts areas of national significance, such as the spread of health-related or political behavior.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California – San Diego.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Luis M. Vaquero, Manuel Cebrian. The rich club phenomenon in the classroomScientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01174
University of California – San Diego (2013, January 31). Working alone won’t get you good grades. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from

Empathy Varies by Age and Gender: Women in Their 50s Are Tops

Jan. 30, 2013 — According to a new study of more than 75,000 adults, women in that age group are more empathic than men of the same age and than younger or older people.

“Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured,” says Sara Konrath, co-author of an article on age and empathy forthcoming in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences.

“They reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others.”

For the study, researchers Ed O’Brien, Konrath and Linda Hagen at the University of Michigan and Daniel Grühn at North Carolina State University analyzed data on empathy from three separate large samples of American adults, two of which were taken from the nationally representative General Social Survey.

They found consistent evidence of an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more.

According to O’Brien, this pattern may result because increasing levels of cognitive abilities and experience improve emotional functioning during the first part of the adult life span, while cognitive declines diminish emotional functioning in the second half.

But more research is needed in order to understand whether this pattern is really the result of an individual’s age, or whether it is a generational effect reflecting the socialization of adults who are now in late middle age.

“Americans born in the 1950s and ’60s — the middle-aged people in our samples — were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various antiwar countercultures,” the authors explain. “It may be that today’s middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of other groups.”

Earlier research by O’Brien, Konrath and colleagues found declines in empathy and higher levels of narcissism among young people today as compared to earlier generations of young adults.

O’Brien and Konrath plan to conduct additional research on empathy, to explore whether people can be trained to show more empathy using new electronic media, for example. “Given the fundamental role of empathy in everyday social life and its relationship to many important social activities such as volunteering and donating to charities, it’s important to learn as much as we can about what factors increase and decrease empathic responding,” says Konrath.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Michigan. The original article was written by Diane Swanbrow.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. E. O’Brien, S. H. Konrath, D. Gruhn, A. L. Hagen.Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking: Linear and Quadratic Effects of Age Across the Adult Life Span.The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2012; DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbs055
University of Michigan (2013, January 30). Empathy varies by age and gender: Women in their 50s are tops. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2013, from

‘Moral Realism’ May Lead to Better Moral Behavior

Jan. 29, 2013 — Getting people to think about morality as a matter of objective facts rather than subjective preferences may lead to improved moral behavior, Boston College researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


In two experiments, one conducted in-person and the other online, participants were primed to consider a belief in either moral realism (the notion that morals are like facts) or moral antirealism (the belief that morals reflect people’s preferences) during a solicitation for a charitable donation. In both experiments, those primed with moral realism pledged to give more money to the charity than those primed with antirealism or those not primed at all.

“There is significant debate about whether morals are processed more like objective facts, like mathematical truths, or more like subjective preferences similar to whether vanilla or chocolate tastes better,” said lead researcher Liane Young, assistant professor of psychology at Boston College. “We wanted to explore the impact of these different meta-ethical views on actual behavior.”

Ideas have previously been advanced on the subject, but Young and her former research assistant A.J. Durwin, now a law student at Hofstra University, are the first to directly investigate the question.

In one experiment, a street canvasser attempted to solicit donations from passersby for a charity that aids impoverished children. Participants in one set were asked a leading question to prime a belief in moral realism: “Do you agree that some things are just morally right or wrong, good or bad, wherever you happen to be from in the world?” Those in a second set were asked a question to prime belief in moral antirealism: “Do you agree that our morals and values are shaped by our culture and upbringing, so there are no absolute right answers to any moral questions?” Participants in a control set were not asked any priming question.

In this experiment, participants primed with realism were twice as likely to be donors, compared to those primed with antirealism or not primed at all.

A second experiment, conducted online, yielded similar results. Participants asked to donate money to a charity of their choice who were primed with realism reported being willing to give more than those primed with antirealism or not primed at all.

“Priming participants to consider the notion that morals are like facts increased decisions to donate in both experiments, revealing the potential impact of meta-ethical views on everyday decision-making,” said Young. “Simply asking participants to consider moral values, as we did with the antirealism prime, did not produce an effect,” she said, “so priming morality in general may not necessarily lead to better behavior. Considering the existence of non-negotiable moral facts may have raised the stakes and motivated participants to behave better.”

Since “real” moral stakes may be accompanied by “real” consequences — whether good (e.g., helping others, enhanced self-esteem) or bad (e.g., retribution), priming a belief in moral realism may in fact prompt people to behave better, in line with their existing moral beliefs, the researchers say.

The researchers note that priming a belief in moral realism may enhance moral behavior under certain conditions — such as when the right thing to do is relatively unambiguous (e.g., it is good to be generous). A different outcome could be possible when subjects are faced with more controversial moral issues, they say.

Liane Young’s research frequently focuses on the psychology and neuroscience of moral judgment and behavior. In 2012, she was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and was named a Dana Neuroscience Scholar by the Dana Foundation, which also awarded her a three-year grant to support her study of brain activity and moral decision-making in individuals with autism, a project that will provide a valuable research opportunity for BC undergraduates. In addition, she received the 2011 Early Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Social Neuroscience from the Society for Social Neuroscience, among other honors.

Her research on attributions of responsibility to groups (e.g., corporations) versus members of groups was published in the journal Psychological Science in 2012; she is also co-author of a study of moral judgments in adults with autism that was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byBoston College, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Liane Young, A.J. Durwin. Moral realism as moral motivation: The impact of meta-ethics on everyday decision-makingJournal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2013; 49 (2): 302 DOI:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.013
Boston College (2013, January 29). ‘Moral realism’ may lead to better moral behavior.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from

Frequent Multitaskers Are Bad at It: Can’t Talk and Drive Well

Jan. 23, 2013 — Most people believe they can multitask effectively, but a University of Utah study indicates that people who multitask the most — including talking on a cell phone while driving — are least capable of doing so.

“What is alarming is that people who talk on cells phones while driving tend to be the people least able to multitask well,” says psychology Professor David Sanbonmatsu, a senior author of the study. “Our data suggest the people talking on cell phones while driving are people who probably shouldn’t. We showed that people who multitask the most are those who appear to be the least capable of multitasking effectively.”

The new study was scheduled for publication Jan. 23 in PLOS ONE, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

The other senior author, University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, adds, “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.”

Citing humorist Garrison Keillor’s catchphrase about kids in Keillor’s fictitious hometown, Strayer says people who use cell phones while driving “all think they live in Lake Wobegon, where everybody is above average. But it’s a statistical impossibility.”

The study ran 310 undergraduate psychology students through a battery of tests and questionnaires to measure actual multitasking ability, perceived multitasking ability, cell phone use while driving, use of a wide array of electronic media, and personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking.

The key findings:

  • “The persons who are most capable of multitasking effectively are not the persons who are most likely to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously.” Instead, people who score high on a test of actual multitasking ability tend not to multitask because they are better able to focus attention on the task at hand.
  • The more people multitask by talking on cell phones while driving or by using multiple media at once, the more they lack the actual ability to multitask, and their perceived multitasking ability “was found to be significantly inflated.” In fact, 70 percent of participants thought they were above average at multitasking, which is statistically impossible.
  • People with high levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking reported more multitasking. However, there was an exception: People who talk on cell phones while driving tend not to be impulsive, indicating that cell phone use is a deliberate choice.
  • The research suggests that people who engage in multitasking often do so not because they have the ability, but “because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task.”

The researchers conclude, “The negative relation between cellular communication while driving and multitasking ability appears to further bolster arguments for legislation limiting the use of cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.”

Sanbonmatsu and Strayer conducted the study with University of Utah co-authors Jason Watson, an associate professor of psychology, and Nathan Medeiros-Ward, a doctoral student in psychology. The study was funded by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety.

How the Study Was Performed

The researchers say that while people frequently multitask to try to achieve several goals at once, “relatively little is known about when and why people perform more than one attention-demanding task at a time. Related to this, little is known about who is most likely to multitask.”

The study participants were 310 University of Utah psychology undergraduates — 176 female and 134 male with a median age of 21 — who volunteered for their department’s subject pool in exchange for extra course credit.

To measure actual multitasking ability, participants performed a test named Operation Span, or OSPAN. The test involves two tasks: memorization and math computation. Participants must remember two to seven letters, each separated by a math equation that they must identify as true or false. A simple example of a question: “is 2+4=6?, g, is 3-2=2?, a, is 4×3=12.” Answer: true, g, false, a, true.

Participants also ranked their perceptions of their own multitasking ability by giving themselves a score ranging from zero to 100, with 50 percent meaning average.

Study subjects reported how often they used a cell phone while driving, and what percentage of the time they are on the phone while driving. They also completed a survey of how often and for how many hours they use which media, including printed material, television and video, computer video, music, nonmusic audio, video games, phone, instant and text messaging, e-mail, the Web and other computer software such as word processing. The results were used to compute an index of media multitasking.

They also completed well-established questionnaires that measure impulsivity and sensation-seeking.

Who Multitasks and Why?

The researchers looked for significant correlations among results of the various tests and questionnaires.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says Strayer, summarizing the findings.

The 25 percent of the people who performed best on the OSPAN test of multitasking ability “are the people who are least likely to multitask and are most likely to do one thing at a time,” Sanbonmatsu says.

In contrast, 70 percent of participants said they were above-average at multitasking, and they were more likely to multitask.

“One of the main reasons people multitask is because they think they are good at it,” Sanbonmatsu says. “But our study suggests people rarely are as good at multitasking as they think they are.”

Multitasking ability on the OSPAN was significantly and negatively correlated with actual media multitasking and cell phone use while driving, meaning the people who multitask the most have the least ability to do so.

“If you have people who are multitasking a lot, you might come to the conclusion they are good at multitasking,” Strayer says. “In fact, the more likely they are to do it, the more likely they are to be bad at it.”

Sanbonmatsu adds: “Our data show people multitask because they have difficulty focusing on one task at a time. They get drawn into secondary tasks. … They get bored and want that stimulation of talking while they are driving.”

Study participants reported spending 13 percent of their driving time talking on a cell phone, which Strayer says roughly squares with federal estimates that one in 10 drivers are on the phone at any given time.

Media multitasking — except cell phone use while driving — correlated significantly with impulsivity, particularly the inability to concentrate and acting without thinking. Impulsive people tend to be more reward-oriented and more apt to take risks, so they may be less sensitive to the costs of multitasking, the researchers say.

Multitasking, including cell phone use while driving, correlated significantly with sensation-seeking, indicating some people multitask because it is more stimulating, interesting and challenging, and less boring — even if it may hurt their overall performance.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Utah.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. David M. Sanbonmatsu, David L. Strayer, Nathan Medeiros-Ward, Jason M. Watson. Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation SeekingPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e54402 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054402
University of Utah (2013, January 23). Frequent multitaskers are bad at it: Can’t talk and drive well. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from

From Dark Hearts Comes the Kindness of Humankind

Jan. 22, 2013 — The kind­ness of humankind most likely devel oped from our more sin is ter and self-serving ten den cies, accord­ing to Prince ton Uni ver sity and Uni ver sity of Ari zona research that sug gests society’s rules against self­ish ness are rooted in the very exploita tion they condemn.


The report in the jour nal Evo lu tionpro poses that altru ism — society’s pro tec tion of resources and the col­lec tive good by pun ish ing “cheaters” — did not develop as a reac tion to avarice. Instead, com mu nal dis­avowal of greed orig i nated when com pet ing self ish indi vid u als sought to con trol and can cel out one another. Over time, the direct efforts of the dom i nant fat cats to con tain a few com peti tors evolved into a community-wide desire to guard its own well-being.

The study authors pro pose that a sys tem of greed dom i nat ing greed was sim ply eas ier for our human ances tors to man age. In this way, the work chal lenges dom i nant the o­ries that self ish and altru is tic social arrange ments formed inde pen dently — instead the two struc tures stand as evo lu tion ary phases of group inter­ac tion, the researchers write.

Sec ond author Andrew Gallup, a for­mer Prince ton post doc toral researcher in ecol ogy and evo lu tion­ary biol ogy now a vis it ing assis tant pro fes sor of psy chol ogy at Bard Col­lege, worked with first author Omar Eldakar, a for mer Ari zona post doc­toral fel low now a vis it ing assis tant pro fes sor of biol ogy at Ober lin Col­lege, and William Driscoll, an ecol­ogy and evo lu tion ary biol ogy doc­toral stu dent at Arizona.

To test their hypoth e sis, the researchers con structed a sim u la­tion model that gauged how a com mu nity with stands a sys tem built on altru is tic pun ish ment, or selfish-on-selfish pun ish­ment. The authors found that altru ism demands a lot of ini tial expen di ture for the group — in terms of com mu nal time, resources and risk of reprisal from the pun ished — as well as advanced lev els of cog ni tion and cooperation.

On the other hand, a con struct in which a few prof li gate play­ers keep like-minded indi vid u als in check involves only those mem bers of the com mu nity — every one else can pas sively enjoy the ben e fits of fewer peo ple tak ing more than their share. At the same time, the reign ing indi vid u als enjoy uncon­tested spoils and, in some cases, reverence.

Social orders main tained by those who bend the rules play out in nature and human his tory, the authors note: Tree wasps that police hives to make sure that no mem ber other than the queen lays eggs will often lay illicit eggs them selves. Can cer cells will pre vent other tumors from form ing. Medieval knights would pil lage the same civil ians they read ily defended from invaders, while neigh bor hoods ruled by the Ital ian Mafia tra di­tion ally had the low est lev els of crime.

What comes from these arrange ments, the researchers con­clude, is a sense of order and equal ity that the group even tu­ally takes upon itself to enforce, thus giv ing rise to altruism.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byPrinceton University. The original article was written by Mor gan Kelly.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Omar Tonsi Eldakar, Andrew C. Gallup, William Wallace Driscoll. When Hawks Give Rise To Doves: The Evo lu­tion and Tran si tion of Enforce ment Strate gies.Evolution, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/evo.12031
Princeton University (2013, January 22). From dark hearts comes the kindness of humankind.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Of Course the Tooth Fairy’s Real: How Parents Lie in the U.S. and China

Jan. 21, 2013 — Almost everyone teaches their children that lying is always wrong. But the vast majority of parents lie to their children in order to get them to behave, according to new research published in theInternational Journal of Psychology.

The study by Gail Heyman of the University of California-San Diego and her colleagues found certain variations but generally similar trends in the way parents from the US and China use the slippery concept of ‘truth’ to their advantage:

The percentage of parents who reported lying to their children for the purpose of getting them to behave appropriately was higher in China (98%) than in the U.S. (84%), but rates for other types of lies were similar between the two countries. A possible explanation for this difference is that Chinese parents are more likely than in the U.S. to demand compliance from their kids, and will go to greater lengths to make it happen.

Both Chinese and American parents seem to be comfortable lying to their children in order to promote positive feelings, and to support belief in the existence of fantasy characters like the Tooth Fairy.

Parents in both countries reported telling lies about a wide range of similar topics, including ones designed to influence their children’s eating habits, or to dissuade children’s pleas for toys or treats when shopping!

Certain specific lies are extremely common among parents in both countries, such as a false threat to abandon a child who refuses to follow the parent while away from home.

There are good reasons however to be cautious about lying to children. Previous studies have shown that when young children are deciding whom to trust they are sensitive to people’s history of being honest or dishonest with them personally, so when parents lie to their children it may undermine the child’s sense of trust.

These findings suggest parents should choose their battles wisely: is it really that important for them to finish all their peas? Alternative ways to encourage children to behave — such as a system of rewards — might have less risk of confusing them with conflicting ideas about honesty. Above all this study shows the need to stimulate debate about the acceptability of lying under different circumstances, and how children should be best raised to understand the value of honesty.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byTaylor & Francis, via AlphaGalileo.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Gail D. Heyman, Anna S. Hsu, Genyue Fu, Kang Lee.Instrumental lying by parents in the US and China.International Journal of Psychology, 2012; : 1 DOI:10.1080/00207594.2012.746463
Taylor & Francis (2013, January 21). Of course the Tooth Fairy’s real: How parents lie in the U.S. and China. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Engineers Less Empathetic Than Students in Caring Professions, Study Suggests

Jan. 17, 2013 — Are engineering students less empathetic than students in the caring professions? Yes, the findings from a study performed at Linköping University indicate that this is the case. The study comprises more than 200 students from six different study programs and was carried out by Chato Rasoal, a researcher in psychology, together with two colleagues.

The researchers measured empathy with a well-established questionnaire that shows, for example, the degree of imagination, the ability to assume the perspective of others, and whether the subject cares about others, along with the subject´s own worries and anxiety.

“Empathy can have both a cognitive and an emotional aspect,” explains Chato Rasoal. The capacity to see things from the point of view of others is primarily cognitive, while caring about others is a more emotional component.

Earlier research has shown that engineers have a lower degree of empathy than future doctors and nurses. This may seem perfectly natural, after all, you don´t need much empathy to work with machines and calculations, do you? But Chato Rasoal doesn´t agree.

– Advanced engineers often take on leading positions in companies, where they have to be able to lead teams involving many co-workers. This requires both good communication skills and social competence. In today´s global business world you also need intercultural competence, an ability to communicate and collaborate with people from entirely different cultures.

The students responses evinced clear differences between caring-profession students and engineers. The latter had considerably lower scores. However, the differences were mitigated when the data was adjusted for gender. It´s well known that women are more empathetic than men.

Two groups of engineers participated, students of computer engineering and applied physics. For the latter a marked difference compared with caring students remained even after adjusting for gender differences.

For computer engineering students, the differences were largely eliminated. The researchers have a theory about why: the computer engineering students are taught with PBL, problem-based learning, which is not the case for the applied physics students. Chato Rasoal believes this can influence the degree of empathy.

“In problem-based learning you work in groups a lot. You have to be able to listen to others and accept other people´s thoughts and expressions of emotions. Otherwise it won´t work.”

In a currently ongoing study they want to see if this theory can be confirmed. For five semesters they have followed students of computer engineering to see whether PBL affects their capacity for empathy. The data are now being processed.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byExpertsvar, via AlphaGalileo.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Chato Rasoal, Henrik Danielsson, Tomas Jungert.Empathy among students in engineering programmes.European Journal of Engineering Education, 2012; 37 (5): 427 DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2012.708720
Expertsvar (2013, January 17). Engineers less empathetic than students in caring professions, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Language Mixing in Children Growing Up Bilingual

Jan. 16, 2013 — Language mixing — using elements from two languages in the same sentence — is frequent among bilingual parents and could pose a challenge for vocabulary acquisition by one- and two-year-old children, according to a new study by Concordia University psychology professor Krista Byers-Heinlein. Those results are likely temporary, however, and are often counterbalanced by cognitive advantages afforded to children raised in a bilingual environment.

With immigration and international mobility on the rise, early exposure to two languages has become the norm for many children across Canada, particularly those raised by parents who themselves are bilingual.

How do these bilingual parents use their two languages when interacting with their young children? Until recently, little has been known about how often parents switch between languages when interacting with their toddlers, and whether such exposure to language mixing influences vocabulary size.

To find the answers, Byers-Heinlein, who is also director of the Concordia Infant Research Laboratory and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, collaborated with Dr. Janet Werker’s Infant Studies Centre in Vancouver. She recruited 181 bilingual parents who spoke English as well as another language, and examined how often and in what situations they mixed languages while speaking with their children. Each parent had a one- or two-year-old child being raised bilingually or trilingually, having heard English and one or two other languages regularly since birth.

Rather than being a rare phenomenon, the results showed that language mixing is common in interactions between bilingual parents and their children. Indeed, 90 per cent of parents reported mixing their languages in interactions with their children. Parents did not mix their languages haphazardly, however, but instead reported principled reasons for mixing. For example, they borrowed words from the other language when there was no adequate translation, when they were not sure of a word, and when the word was hard to pronounce. Parents also reported frequently borrowing words from one language when teaching new words to their children in the other. Thus, bilingual parents might use language mixing as a strategy to make sure their children learn words equally in both languages.

Byers-Heinlein then examined the vocabulary size of 168 children of parents who had responded to the study. All of the children were learning English, but their non-English language varied widely — from German to Japanese, French to Farsi. As such, she focused on children’s English vocabulary size, while statistically controlling for the words that children likely knew in their non-English language.

She found that exposure to parental language mixing predicted significantly smaller comprehension vocabularies (words understood) in the younger children, and marginally smaller production vocabularies (words spoken) in the older children.

Why is that? Byers-Heinlein explains that, “high rates of language mixing make it harder for children to categorize words they hear. That could lead to slower word learning and smaller vocabularies. It also seems that it’s more difficult to learn a word from a mixed-language sentence than from a single-language sentence.”

But that in no way means that children raised in a bilingual environment are at a disadvantage. Byers-Heinlein cautions that, “even if exposure to language mixing is initially challenging for vocabulary acquisition, it likely has benefits over the long term.”

“Studies comparing monolingual and bilingual infants have shown that bilinguals are more adept at switching between strategies and are more able to learn two rules at the same time,” she explains. “Infants exposed to frequent language mixing could develop specific strategies for coping with this type of input. That could lead to cognitive advantages that would outweigh any initial difficulties brought about by language mixing.”

Byers-Heinlein is now undertaking new research with French-English bilinguals in Montreal to examine whether these findings hold in other bilingual communities, and when children’s vocabularies are assessed in both of their languages.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byConcordia University.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Concordia University (2013, January 16). Language mixing in children growing up bilingual. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from