The Frontal Cortex

Archives for January, 2007

The Secret of Happiness

According to a new study published in the BMJ, the Danish are happier than people in other developed nations because they have low expectations. That’s the dismal secret of happiness: not expecting very much from life in the first place. “It’s a David and Goliath thing,” said the lead author, Kaare Christensen, a professor of…

Puzzles vs. Mysteries

In his latest New Yorker article (an otherwise problematic discussion of Enron), Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting distinction between “puzzles” and “mysteries”: Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bi Laden, and until…

Repeating the Milgram Experiment

I’ve always thought that most reality television was nothing more than unethical psychological experiments in disguise. (What else could Temptation Island or Wife Swap possibly be?) But now ABC has taken this idea to its logical extreme. Last week, the news show Primetime Live, along with social psychologist Jerry Burger, recreated the infamous Milgram experiment.…

Public Libraries and Popular Culture

According to The Washington Post, public libraries are tossing little-read classics so that they can make more room on their shelves for popular best-sellers. I think this is a good thing. Public libraries exist so that people can read books for free. Their purpose is not to force-feed the public a canon of Proust, Faulkner,…

Prehistoric Climate Change

Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up: Foreshadowing potential climate chaos to come, early global warming caused unexpectedly severe and erratic temperature swings as rising levels of greenhouse gases helped transform Earth, a team led by researchers at UC Davis said Thursday. The global transition from ice age to greenhouse 300 million years…

The Heuristics of War

Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon have a great article in the new Foreign Policy magazine on “Why Hawks Win.” They describe some of the mental biases discovered by Prospect Theory, and explain how these biases affect our foreign policy decisions. (Last week, I speculated on the influences of loss aversion on Bush’s decision to escalate…

The Psychology of Small Cars

From Dan Neil, the wittiest writer in the newspaper business: Desire, the Buddha informs us, is the root of all suffering — also, a leading cause of alimony, but let’s move on. The craving for comfort, luxury, prestige and me-first acceleration drives us to buy more car than we absolutely need to go from point…

Dynamic Pricing on Amazon

Since I spend most of my disposable income on Amazon, I found this article on their pricing strategy somewhat disturbing: Imagine this: You go to a bookstore, browse, choose a couple of volumes. But you don’t want to carry the books around. So you ask the clerk to hold the tomes until Saturday, when you’ll…

The Neuroscience of Music

There was a nice article in The Times on Sunday about the research of Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill (and former record producer) who studies the neural substrate of music: Observing 13 subjects who listened to classical music while in an M.R.I. machine, the scientists found a cascade of brain-chemical activity. First the music…