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Michael Kesterton

Social studies Add to ...

Talking: as good as sex?

"Scientists say they have located the brain areas that may determine how sociable a person is," BBC News reports. "Warm, sentimental people tend to have more brain tissue in the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes and in a structure deep in the brain's centre. These are the same zones that allow us to enjoy chocolate and sex, the Cambridge University experts report in the European Journal of Neuroscience. The work suggests that some people may get a similar buzz from being sociable."

Money guards

"A new book, Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day , takes a detailed look at the daily income and expenses of 285 families in South Africa, India and Bangladesh," Farah Stockman reports in The Boston Globe. She interviewed co-author Daryl Collins, who said: "Rich Americans now may be waking up to the idea that 'Do I have a problem with self-control?' But these [poor]households very clearly said, 'I get it. I need to delay gratification.' … They know that when they get money into their hands, they are going to spend it, because there are a bunch of useful things they could spend it on. So as soon as they get cash, they try to put it somewhere … [One mechanism is]money guarding. If you get a fairly decent chunk of money, you give it to a money guard, a neighbour or relative or friend that you trust and say, 'Hold this, and don't let me touch it.' Sometimes the same money guard asks you to hold their money. … It works."


A battery-powered "e-cigarette," or electronic cigarette, "contains no tobacco, gives off no smoke but instead is a nicotine delivery device that gives off heated water vapour," Stephanie Desmon writes in The Baltimore Sun. "Some companies are pitching e-cigarettes simply as less harmful alternatives to smoking, saying that smokers who can't quit might be better off 'vaping' one of their products. Other companies, though, are selling their e-cigarettes as smoking-cessation tools, claims that have not been backed up by any science."

Call that a smile?

"Service with a smile could soon be an enforceable rule," BBC Focus magazine reports. "Japanese firm Omron has developed software that can analyze your smile with a camera using factors like the angles of your mouth. The company says the package could be used to train shop assistants to be friendly to customers."

When your staff's all wet

"Showering during the working day helps employees become more productive and more creative, according to a new study," The Daily Telegraph reports. Four British businesses - a restaurant, an architecture firm, an advertising agency and a lingerie company - took part in the eight-week study, conducted by the PR firm Lucre. Staff took a shower break in addition to their daily wash, and results showed improvement across a range of areas, from mood to productivity. Over all, there was a 42-per-cent increase in productivity and a 33-per-cent rise in creativity.

Useless on purpose?

In her book The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life , developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik describes children as being "useless on purpose." She explains to Seedmagazine.com: "It's related to one of the basic things that came out of our research: Why do children exist at all? It doesn't make tremendous evolutionary sense to have these creatures that can't even keep themselves alive. … The evolutionary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the ability to learn and imagine - which is our great evolutionary advantage as a species - and our ability to apply what we've learned and put it to use. … [C]ildren are like the R&D department of the human species. They're the ones who are always learning about the world. But if you're always learning, imagining and finding out, you need a kind of freedom that you don't have if you're actually making things happen in the world."

The diploma speaks

Harvard diplomas and iPhones send the same kind of signal as the ornate tail of a peacock, contends evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, author of Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior . John Tierney writes in The New York Times: "Suppose, during a date, you casually say, 'The sugar maples in Harvard Yard were so beautiful every fall term.' Here's what you're signalling, as translated by Dr. Miller: 'My SAT scores were sufficiently high (roughly 720 out of 800) that I could get admitted, so my IQ is above 135, and I had sufficient conscientiousness, emotional stability and intellectual openness to pass my classes. Plus, I can recognize a tree.'"

Thought du jour

"Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses - for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it and out with it - not in a set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation."

- Herman Melville

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