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Reasoning evolved to help us win arguments Add to ...

We're the arguing ape?

"In their new paper, 'Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory' (just published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences), cognitive scientists Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier propose a new account of the origins of reasoning," The Boston Globe reports. "Reasoning, they argue, actually didn't evolve to help us find the truth; it evolved to help us make, win and evaluate arguments. … 'The emergence of reasoning,' they argue, 'is best understood within the framework of the evolution of human communication.' We don't need reasons to think, but to explain our thoughts to other people, especially to people who have no particular reason to trust us. In fact, even when we reason quietly, in our own heads, we do so 'anticipating a dialogic context.'"

The boss is in a meeting

"Thanks to closed doors and fierce gatekeepers, bosses are tricky to observe in their natural habitat," says The Economist. "Yet it might be useful to know what they do all day, and whether any of it benefits shareholders. A new Harvard Business School working paper sheds some light. Researchers asked the chief executives of 94 Italian firms to have their assistants record their activities for a week. You may take this with a grain of salt. Is the boss's assistant a neutral observer? … The average Italian boss works for 48 hours a week and spends 60 per cent of that time in meetings. The most diligent put in another 20 hours. And the longer they work, the better the company does. Less diligent chief executives are more likely to have one-to-one meetings with people from outside the company. The authors speculate that such people are trying to raise their own profile, perhaps to secure a better job. Bosses who work longer hours, by contrast, spend more of them meeting their own employees."

Roly-poly night owls

"Night owls trying to lose weight may want to set an earlier bedtime," reports the Chicago Tribune. "People who go to bed late and sleep in tend to eat more calories in the evening, more fast food and full-calorie soda, and fewer fruits and vegetables than people who are early to bed and early to rise, according to a study published online in the journal Obesity. These nocturnal habits can increase the risk of weight gain if they aren't offset by exercise, said the researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. A calorie is a unit of energy. One that's eaten at 8 p.m. isn't any different than one that's consumed at 1 p.m., as long as activity offsets the weight gain. But sleep and meal timing may be more important than previously thought, the study suggested."

African middle class

"One in three Africans is middle class, a rising group of consumers to rival those of China and India, researchers have found," says The Guardian. "Record numbers of people in Africa own houses and cars, use mobile phones and the Internet and send their children to private schools and foreign universities, according to the African Development Bank. Mthuli Ncube, the bank's chief economist, said the findings should challenge long-held perceptions of Africa as a continent of famine, poverty and hopelessness. … Ncube said the study used an absolute definition of middle class, meaning people who spend between $2 and $20 a day, which he believed was appropriate given the cost of living for Africa's nearly one billion people."

Tears on demand

"To teach acting students to cry at the New York Film Academy, Glenn Kalison reminds them to consider that since they were babies, they have been building barriers to prevent themselves from crying," says The Wall Street Journal. "The trick is to imagine a character's pain and sadness, and then to connect with the barriers that character would have built, he explains. The realistic way to portray crying isn't to let tears flow, but to show the struggle not to cry. 'It's the attempt at suppressing the crying that is the familiar sensation,' says Mr. Kalison, chairman of the academy's acting for film department. 'Only actors want to cry.'"

Why Canadians are happy?

"The Caribbean may have sandy white beaches, but tropical temperatures can't compare to the cold when it comes to contentment," Working Mother magazine says. "Turns out, people in colder climates tend to be happier, according to the World Database of Happiness. One theory suggests that in colder places everyone must work together to survive, and that gives way to something powerful and lasting: 'love,' writes Eric Weiner in his book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World."

Thought du jour

"There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent."

- Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), French writer

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