Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No one wants to cuddle with you? It is not you, it is your GENES!! wow..

 “What ultimately makes us kind and cooperative is a mixture of numerous genetic and non-genetic factors. No one gene is doing the trick. Instead, each of these many forces is a thread pulling a person in one direction or another, and the oxytocin receptor gene is one of these threads,” Kogan said.

Yesterday, Yasmin Anwar of the UC Berkeley News Center highlighted the results of a new study co-authored by the Greater Good Science Center’s faculty director, Dacher Keltner:

There’s definitely something to be said for first impressions. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests it can take just 20 seconds to detect whether a stranger is genetically inclined to being trustworthy, kind, or compassionate.

The findings reinforce that healthy humans are wired to recognize strangers who may help them out in a tough situation. They also pave the way for genetic therapies for people who are not innately sympathetic, researchers said.
“It’s remarkable that complete strangers could pick up on who’s trustworthy, kind or compassionate in 20 seconds when all they saw was a person sitting in a chair listening to someone talk,” said Aleksandr Kogan, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral student at the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

Two dozen couples participated in the UC Berkeley study, and each provided DNA samples. Researchers then documented the couples as they talked about times when they had suffered. Video was recorded only of the partners as they took turns listening. 
 A separate group of observers who did not know the couples were shown 20-second video clips of the listeners and asked to rate which seemed most trustworthy, kind, and compassionate, based on their facial expressions and body language.

The listeners who got the highest ratings for empathy, it turned out, possess a particular variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype.

“People can’t see genes, so there has to be something going on that is signaling these genetic differences to the strangers,” Kogan said. “What we found is that the people who had two copies of the G version displayed more trustworthy behaviors—more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture. And it was these behaviors that signaled kindness to the strangers.”

The study, which builds on previous UC Berkeley research on the human genetic predisposition to empathy, is published in the Nov. 14 online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An earlier UC Berkeley study looked at three combinations of gene variations of the oxytocin receptors AA, AG and GG.
It found that the people who were most empathetic – in that they were able to accurately interpret others’ emotions – had two copies of the “G allele.” In contrast, members of the AA and AG allele groups were found to be less capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others and more likely to get stressed out in difficult situations.

Widely known as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone, oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, bonding and romantic love, among other functions.
Kogan pointed out that having the AA or AG instead of the GG genotype does not mark a person as unsympathetic.

“What ultimately makes us kind and cooperative is a mixture of numerous genetic and non-genetic factors. No one gene is doing the trick. Instead, each of these many forces is a thread pulling a person in one direction or another, and the oxytocin receptor gene is one of these threads,” Kogan said.

His coauthors are UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner; Laura Saslow, a postdoctoral student at UCSF; Emily Impett, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto; Christopher Oveis, an assistant professor at UC San Diego, and Sarina Saturn, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Here’s a simple arithmetic question

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: “A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”
The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs 10 cents. This answer is both incredibly obvious and utterly wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.) What’s most impressive is that education doesn’t really help; more than 50% of students at Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology routinely give the incorrect answer.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this for more than five decades. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way that we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents, Mr. Kahneman and his scientific partner, the late Amos Tversky, demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.
When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on mental short cuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. The short cuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.
Although Mr. Kahneman is now widely recognized as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, his research was dismissed for years. Mr. Kahneman recounts how one eminent American philosopher, after hearing about the work, quickly turned away, saying, “I am not interested in the psychology of stupidity.”
But the philosopher missed the point. The biases and blind-spots identified by Messrs. Kahneman and Tversky aren’t symptoms of stupidity. They’re an essential part of our humanity, the inescapable byproducts of a brain that evolution engineered over millions of years.
In Mr. Kahneman’s important new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” his first work for a popular audience, he outlines the implications of this new model of cognition. What are the most important mental errors that we all make? And can they be overcome?
Consider the overconfidence bias, which drives many of our mistakes in decision-making. The best demonstration of the bias comes from the world of investing. Although many fund managers charge high fees to oversee stock portfolios, they routinely fail a basic test of skill: persistent achievement. As Mr. Kahneman notes, the year-to-year correlation between the performance of the vast majority of funds is barely above zero, which suggests that most successful managers are banking on luck, not talent.
This shouldn’t be too surprising. The stock market is a case study in randomness, a system so complex that it’s impossible to predict. Nevertheless, professional investors routinely believe that they can see what others can’t. The end result is that they make far too many trades, with costly consequences.
And it’s not just investors who suffer from this mental flaw. The typical entrepreneur believes that he or she has a 60% chance of success, though less than 35% of small businesses survive more than five years. Meanwhile, CEOs who hold more company stock—taken here as a sign of self-confidence—also tend to make more irresponsible decisions, overpaying for acquisitions and engaging in misguided mergers.
Even consumers are hurt by this bias. A recent survey of American homeowners found that they expected, on average, to spend about $18,500 on remodelling their kitchens. The actual average cost? Nearly $39,000.
We like to see ourselves as a Promethean species, uniquely endowed with the gift of reason. But Mr. Kahneman’s simple experiments reveal a very different mind, stuffed full of habits that, in most situations, lead us astray. Though overconfidence may encourage us to take necessary risks—Mr. Kahneman calls it the “engine of capitalism”—it’s generally a dangerous (and expensive) illusion.
What’s even more upsetting is that these habits are virtually impossible to fix. As Mr. Kahneman himself admits, “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.”
Even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall.