Psychology & The Mind

Mind of a Rampage Killer

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
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Have You Heard? Study Says Gossip Protects You

By Sanjay Salomon   |   Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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May 31, 2011

A new study from Northeastern says swapping secrets about people -- especially negative ones -- actually changes the way we look at them. The study does not say anything about gossiping flamingoes. (* Cati Kaoe */Flickr)

BOSTON — It’s no secret that dishing the dirt on the latest scandal is fun. But a Northeastern University study says gossip evolved as a protective mechanism — and it’s meant to be good for us.
 
Study author Lisa Feldman Barrett says gossip helps the brain distinguish friends from enemies because it literally changes how people see each other. The research was published this month in the journal Science.
 
“Normally the assumption is when you see something it changes your feeling and it might change your belief and knowledge,” Feldman Barrett said. “But in this experiment we showed the opposite is true also. What you feel in a given moment… actually influences what you see in quite a literal way.”

Watch Greater Boston. (Click for larger view)

Feldman Barrett and her team conducted a pair of experiments to test the effects of gossip. In the first experiment, a group of participants were shown ordinary, expressionless faces. The faces were then paired with a specific piece of information, such as “threw a chair at his classmates,” “helped an elderly woman with her groceries,” or “passed a man on the street.”
 
When the participants viewed the faces again, they were more likely to focus on the face associated with negative gossip.
 
In the second experiment, the researchers examined how the volunteers responded to different kinds of visual information by showing different images to their left and right eyes at the same time. For example, one eye might see a face, while the other would see a house.
 
The experiment triggered something called “binocular rivalry.” In other words, because the human brain can only handle one image at a time, it unconsciously lingers on the image it considers more important. Researchers found volunteers were more likely to focus on faces associated with negative gossip than on a house.
 
Feldman Barrett says the research indicates that gossip serves a protective function, since the brain is focusing on people who may pose a threat.
 
“Gossip is a really potent way to learn about other people when you don’t have to suffer the consequences of their actions,” she said.
 
Feldman Barrett said gossip also indicates who is a friend.

“Evolutionary biologists think this is kind of a social glue,” says Feldman Barrett. “If you look at non-human primates, they groom each other then the eat flies. What we do is we digest the same tasty kind of tidbits….that seems to serve the same purpose.”

Now that’s something to talk about.
 

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A Nutrition Label for the News

By Cristina Quinn   |   Tuesday, March 13, 2012
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Mar. 14, 2012

news nutritional label
Dee-lish. (Clay Johnson)

EXTRA: We don't always consume the most whole-grain information. What's your biggest guilty-pleasure media "junk food"? Tell us in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — We take in a lot of information these days ... from the radio, television and every size screen imaginable.

Just look at the media diet of one patron at Out of Town News in Harvard Square: "I usually read the newspaper — a little old-fashioned — then I check my iPhone to see the breadth of news that’s out there, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and the London Times. I listen to the news on radio, but also Bloomberg Radio."

The media, like the food we consume, provides different tastes for different moods. But would you consider your media diet a balanced one? Are you getting the recommended daily dose of media nutrients? According to a 2009 study from the University of California San Diego, Americans consume an average of 12 hours of media a day.

But just as we're tempted to skip that apple and snarf some chips, with media, "The problem is that there is a difference between what people want and what they need," said theorist Clay Johnson.

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