We live in the age of the public apology. Turn on your TV or open a magazine and, chances are, you’ll find somebody begging for your forgiveness, promising to be a better person.
What was once a sign of weakness has become a badge of moral strength. Corporations release official apologies when their factories in Bangladesh collapse. Celebrities embark on carefully organized, Oprah-approved contrition tours—shedding a tear, getting a stern talking to from someone on the Today Show, then huddling with their publicists to monitor their Q scores. Politicians offer a heartfelt mea culpa whenever a new dick pic pops up on an intern’s cell phone and are more than willing to liberally spread around the official apologies for past atrocities committed by their forefathers (Japanese-Canadians thrown into internment camps, residential school victims, Chinese immigrants who paid the head tax: we offer to you a belated but entirely heartfelt “I’m sorry”).
When Canada’s pandas arrived last year, they were met on the airport tarmac by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, various dignitaries, and an orchestra of Canadian children playing sweet music in their honour. The bears reacted exactly the way a panda reacts to most anything that happens in its vicinity—by sitting, blinking, chewing on bamboo, and looking blankly into the middle-distance. People whooped, cameras flashed. This is how celebrity works: your every snack and bewildered yawn becomes noteworthy.
The arrival was the culmination of years of political haggling—the panda dreams of prime ministers from Trudeau onwards at last made flesh. According to a recent study in the journal Environmental Practice by three researchers from the University of Oxford, it also marked the beginning of the newest phase in China’s “panda diplomacy,” the term used to describe the country’s practice of gifting adorable bears to countries in order to build strategic friendships.
Over the last few weeks, Canadians who pay even the vaguest attention to politics have been forced into an extended meditation on the concept of shame. How does it feel, really? Can we catalogue its infinite shades and varieties? And, most urgently, what happens in its total absence?
It seems impossible, but does Stephen Harper really not feel a twinge of embarrassment standing in front of parliament, furiously avoiding questions from MPs while trotting out hapless mopes like Paul Calandra? How does someone like Mike Duffy, who seems to have tried to charge taxpayers for meals he ate at home, manage to summon so much righteous indignation? And then, of course, there’s Rob Ford, who, during the council meeting that stripped him of some of his mayoral powers, mimed drinking and driving, bowled over a female colleague, and ventured over to the gallery to mock the taxpayers he claims to love so dearly. “Shame! Shame!” the gallery shouted. Ford didn’t respond, as if the word were a foreign concept in a language he couldn’t possibly understand.
Edward Furlong wasn’t looking for fame. In 1990, the 12-year-old was hanging out on the steps of the Boys & Girls Club in Pasadena when a casting director approached him. The kid had the right face. Would he think about auditioning for a role? The movie was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the unknown Furlong was cast as John Connor—the adorable scamp and future saviour of the world who teaches Arnold’s Schwarzenegger’s roided-up robot some questionable slang and, also, exactly why humans cry.
Furlong had never been in a blockbuster before. He’d never acted at all. Now, suddenly, he was everywhere—the heartthrob on the cover of teen magazines, a model for Calvin Klein and the Gap. He was big in Japan, singing a shlocky cover of a Doors song. He was in the video for Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge” as a teenage badass—crashing a stolen car and contemptuously throwing away the condom his dad had just given him. He was very, very famous.
Language is kind of like the economy; even though humans supposedly invented it, we don’t really get how it works. One idea that’s been around for a long time (since Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the fathers of semiotics) is that words are essentially arbitrary—the word “table” has nothing to do with the object it describes. It’s not that all things made of wood start with the letter t, or that the cross on the t is supposed to look like a tabletop. Even in languages that do have a comparatively high degree of iconicity—American Sign Language, Chinese—some words look like the thing they describe, but many do not.
Even before the current crisis, Egypt had a problem: it has long been a populous nation with an iffy economy. Mubarak was all about cajoling Egyptians into having fewer children; in the 1990s, state television ran ads with slogans like “Before you have another baby, secure its needs.” And since the 1960s, Egypt’s birth rates have declined, aside from a spike in 2012.
A new study in the journal Demography, conducted by a team of researchers from Atlanta’s Emory University, the University of Chicago, and John Hopkins University, examines childrearing from an “investment” perspective. The research for this article was completed before the 2012 spike in Egypt’s birth rate, but the question they ask is still relevant: What makes people put resources into their children, and will they get the return on this investment that they expect?
In the summer, crowd control is often handled by mounted police, probably because people feel bad misbehaving in front of a horse. Horses have the advantage of looking noble but also unpredictable, like they might softly whicker the secret of life’s meaning in your ear, or they might kick the crap out of you for standing too close to them.
A new study in the journal Animal, conducted by a team of Dutch researchers led by C. C. B. M. Munsters of Utrecht University, asks how the stress of being a living squad-car bears on a horse. Are police horses cracking under the pressure?
My parents are both profs, so my sister and I spent a goodly amount of our childhood merrily running up and down the halls of the psychology department unsupervised, no doubt making a ton of noise and annoying everybody. Also, on one historic occasion, my mum went hunting all over the house for a student’s thesis on which she had written her comments (this was the early 1980s, when handwriting still existed) only to find it in our arts and crafts cupboard, where my dad had stuck it, thinking it was scrap. My mum went to her student’s defense holding a paper with squirrels Magic Markered all over the back.
I’ve been riding the same bike since I was 14. It’s a blue Raleigh that my friend named “Pauline,” and I feel about her the way you would about a trusty horse. However, horse-owners aren’t usually encouraged to take Midnight or Destiny’s Child or Chloe to the DIY veterinarian’s and rummage around in their steed’s intestines to see how it’s done.
DIY bike repair shops scare me, which I feel guilty about because I have good friends who work in them. I’m just zero percent handy; I feel stupid even walking into regular bike shops where all I have to do is wheel Pauline over to the counter. They’re always trying to show me or explain to me what’s wrong with her, and when they point to areas and say the names of bike parts I have to nod intelligently and pretend I have any idea what the hell is going on.
Short of spying on people in motel rooms or honeymoon suites, which academic institutions frown upon, the only way interested parties can find out about people’s sexual behaviour is self-report surveys. There’s only one problem: people lie like germ-ridden bearskin rugs. Trying to figure out how to get them to lie less is one of the uphill battles of sex research methodology.
Most of the lying on sex surveys is a function of what researchers call “social desirability bias.” In some of the first attempts at gathering sexual data from a population, by pioneering American scientist Alfred Kinsey in the 1930s, over 17 percent of white college men reported that their erect penises were more than 7 inches long. (The average is 5.1–5.9 inches.) When it comes to what you do with a 7-inch penis, the responses tended to reflect what men thought their sex lives should be like rather than what they actually consisted of.
In Time’s higher education supplement, Annabel Symington recently wrote about politicians who shock their respective nations by getting caught plagiarizing their PhD theses. Earlier this year, Germany’s education and research minister resigned after her thesis, “Person and Conscience: Studies on the Conditions, Need and Requirements of Today’s Consciences,” was discovered to be choc-a-block with uncited passages of other people’s work. Pakistan’s President Zardari may have invented the university he went to.
According to a new study, these fakers may just be happier than the rest of us honest folk. The journal Motivation and Emotion recently published work by Amanda C. Gingerich from Indiana’s Butler University and Chad S. Dodson from the University of Virginia, suggesting that happy people plagiarize and sad people don’t.
I know everyone thinks their dog is the greatest, but you’re all wrong because ours was. When I was growing up we had a yellow Labrador named Sir Lancelot, but he went by Lance because he wasn’t all up in your face about his knighthood. He was a sweet boy, and if you took him swimming in the river you could hold on to his shoulders and he would tow you. When he had to be put down at the age of 15, the vet who came to our house to give him the injection cried.
We think about our dogs a lot, but is it mutual? A new study in the journal Animal Cognition asks whether dogs can see things from our perspective. Apparently, they don’t focus so much on what we’re seeing as on what we’re hearing.
The mystical notion of “calling” was initially about finding a relationship with God. People are “called” to the priesthood or the convent. When we use it now in the secular world, it sounds facetious, and needs a sort of prefatory vocal cringe. But as a concept, it’s still a primary driver for people’s decisions about how to create meaningful lives for themselves. The word “vocation” comes from Latin vocare, to call. A guidance counselor with a binder of personality quizzes does his or her best to mimic the burning bush.
A recent study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior discusses what leads up to that struck-by-lightning experience of finding one’s calling—and how that feeling ebbs away over time.
Recently, Americans have been hunkered down at the extreme edges of the spectrum of opinion, throwing tomatoes. Whether the issue is gun control, environmental policy, or foreign affairs, the U.S. is in a period of severe polarization, and dramatic events like the bombings of the Boston marathon are immediately coloured by the public’s entrenched positions.
Even if you aren’t the kind of person who thinks your moral beliefs come straight from God, we all like to think we’re at least guided by reason. What’s harder to accept is that our moral judgments are strongly influenced by subconscious factors we don’t control. A new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that our moral compass can be spun by something as subtle as a visual metaphor—in this case, an image of a checkerboard.
Only seven awards were announced during the televised broadcast of the Junos. The Carly Rae Jepsens and Serena Ryders of the music world are the big news, and the less popular genres were covered in a few quick voice-over segments. As the Globe and Mail put it, “it’s probably a given most viewers don’t care who won Children’s Album of the Year or Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year.”
This makes it sound like either jazz is objectively boring (classy, Globe), or most viewers are philistines. But it’s also probably a given that most Juno viewers are right-handed. A new study in Psychology of Music suggests there may be a link between strong right-handedness and a distaste for the “weirder” musical genres.
Synaesthesia is the mental aberration I always wish I had. It seems as if it would make writing poetry as easy as arranging your bookshelves by colour. Sometimes I’ll fake it for myself for fun, imagining colours for words or personalities for numbers—I’m pretty sure 4 is a timid younger sister and 9 is a bossy older sister. But for a real synaesthete these experiences are involuntary—they don’t have to imagine them.
But maybe I should be careful what I wish for. A new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, conducted by a team of UK researchers headed by Michael J. Banissy of University College London, suggests that synaesthetes are different from you and me—they’re grumpier.
It’s kind of a luxury to be suddenly terrified of the North Korean government. North Koreans have been for years. Since the partition of North and South Korea in 1945, and the Korean War that followed, many people who ended up on the north side of the border have been risking their lives to get to the south.
In the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the loss of much-needed support and trade for North Korea, and the ensuing famine killed somewhere between 250,000 and a million people. At that time, recorded cases of North Korean defectors who reached South Korea were in the single digits, but by 2008 they peaked at 2,809. In 2012, there were 1,509. They are sometimes referred to saeteomin, “people of new land,” or sometimes as bukhanitaljumin, “residents who renounced North Korea.”
Bees are kind of like migrant workers; they live in ramshackle shared housing, get trucked around to fields and orchards all over North America, and our food economy depends on them. An estimated 30 percent of what Americans eat is either directly pollinated by honeybees, or (if routed to the dinner table via the slaughterhouse) feeding on crops pollinated by honeybees. You may have seen a photo of Einstein with his certified-genius hair stamped over with the quote, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” This quote is almost certainly apocryphal, and the direct line from no bees to no humans is controversial, but you get the idea.
It used to be that the kidneys or liver you were born with were the only ones you could reasonably expect to have a stake in. Giving someone your heart was purely metaphorical. But now that organ transplants are part of the medical repertoire, we also need to decide where they fit in the economy. When you give part of your body to someone else, is it a gift or a sale?
In a recent issue of Transplant International, researchers Klaus Hoeyer and Ida Deleuran from the University of Copenhagen, along with Silke Schicktanz from Germany’s University Medical Center Goettingen assessed public attitudes to financial incentives for organ donors.
So far, the only robotic co-worker I’ve ever had was the robot mail-deliverer at the CBC. It zooted around delivering mail from floor to floor, and when I ran into it in the hallways I’d flatten myself against the wall and hope its sensors or X-ray vision or whatever would tell it not to run me over. It didn’t have a human-like shape—it was just sort of a steel box on wheels—so I didn’t feel obliged to make small-talk about the weather or compliment its outfit. I would describe my emotional reaction to it as “mildly weirded out.”
A new study in the journal Applied Ergonomics, conducted by Jihong Hwang of Seoul National University, Taezoon Park of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Wonil Hwang of Korea’s Soongsil University, examines how a robot’s body shape affects both our emotional response and our perception of the ‘bot’s personality.