We need to maintain ponds for their beauty, for their cultural significance, and protect next generations of people and other inhabitants of the Earth.
Cute animals are the perfect distraction from our hectic lives.
Videos and images of cats, dogs and other animals make up the most viewed content on the web. Science proves it: looking at these images can actually boost productivity, motivation, focus, and lift mood.
Real-life interactions are even more powerful. Pets provide social and emotional support, boost self-esteem, conscientiousness and make us happy.
Elections are bad for your health.
More than half of Americans, independently of their party preference, are stressed about upcoming elections (see this August 2016 survey of over 3.5 thousand adults conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of American Psychological Association). Especially the oldest and the youngest voters (Traditionalists and Millennials). Social media is one of the major factors making this stress even worse.
Election stress is higher than we think - judging by cortisol levels in saliva versus self-reported emotional distress. Stress is high at the ballot box - higher than when voting at home by mail-in ballot and significantly higher than on an average day and a few days after the election - unless we strongly dislike post-election media coverage.
Elections may cause anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior and even depression. And then there are post-election blues. Stock market always performs weaker. Supporters of the winning candidate go through withdrawal pains, although, research shows, they might get more interested in the Internet porn. Supporters of a losing candidate move through sadness and decreased levels of testosterone.
Yet, anxiety can sharpen our eyes and help us learn.
To vote is like the payment of a debt (R.B. Hayes, 19th US president). One who does not vote has no right to complain (novelist Louis L'Amour). Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost (John Quincy Adams, 6th US president)
And no matter what happens, we should not feel powerless for we actually possess more power than ever before to control our own lives and make them what we want to be.
Stanton SJ, Beehner JC, Saini EK, Kuhn CM, & Labar KS (2009). Dominance, politics, and physiology: voters' testosterone changes on the night of the 2008 United States presidential election. PloS one, 4 (10) PMID: 19844583
Markey, P., & Markey, C. (2011). Pornography-seeking behaviors following midterm political elections in the United States: A replication of the challenge hypothesis Computers in Human Behavior, 27 (3), 1262-1264 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.01.007
Waismel-Manor I, Ifergane G, & Cohen H (2011). When endocrinology and democracy collide: emotions, cortisol and voting at national elections. European neuropsychopharmacology : the journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 21 (11), 789-95 PMID: 21482457
Blanton, H., Strauts, E., & Perez, M. (2012). Partisan Identification as a Predictor of Cortisol Response to Election News Political Communication, 29 (4), 447-460 DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2012.736239
Neiman J, Giuseffi K, Smith K, French J, Waismel-Manor I, & Hibbing J (2015). Voting at Home Is Associated with Lower Cortisol than Voting at the Polls. PloS one, 10 (9) PMID: 26335591
What can we learn from Halloween?
A lot, judging by numerous scientific studies and less scientific surveys.
Halloween could help to collect a wide range of extreme facial expressions, including highly negative situations when children discover their parents ate up all their Halloween candy. This is what was done in the recent paper published in Emotion, the journal of American Psychological Association, and in an ongoing Jimmy Kimmel's challenge pictured above.
Smile! In the era of the Internet of things we are been watched. And our facial expressions show how we feel. Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming more proficient at recognizing micro-expressions of human faces, mastering emotional intelligence and resurfacing our fears of humanity's extinction. But are we there yet?
The Halloween emotions paper shows that even if you are not a poker player or a strategically-controlling-emotions athlete, just a simple kid, isolated facial expressions may not tell the whole story.
Halloween provides a look into human psychology in many other ways. This celebration helps to learn about "uninhibited" human behavior. The kind that increases hospital statistics on Halloween, including sugar-high accidents for kids and alcohol-/drug- related injuries for adults. And the kind of "bad behavior" that supports steeling Halloween candy.
Two more Halloween experiments - investigating children's fantasy beliefs and political preferences - showed that kids are not as simple as one may think and Halloween can provide deep insights into human psychology.
Retail trends provide additional insights - telling that the 11-year reign of princesses is over, as superheroes are now more popular than ever. It's a digital geek-centric age after all.
Still, all those techno hipster and simply magical characters always bring Halloween fun.
And most importantly it teaches once again that you'll get further with treats than with tricks. Diversity is not optional!
Wenzler S, Levine S, van Dick R, Oertel-Knöchel V, & Aviezer H (2016). Beyond pleasure and pain: Facial expression ambiguity in adults and children during intense situations. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 16 (6), 807-14 PMID: 27337681
Diener, E., Fraser, S., Beaman, A., & Kelem, R. (1976). Effects of deindividuation variables on stealing among Halloween trick-or-treaters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (2), 178-183 DOI: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.206
Woolley, J., Boerger, E., & Markman, A. (2004). A visit from the Candy Witch: factors influencing young children's belief in a novel fantastical being Developmental Science, 7 (4), 456-468 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2004.00366.x
Jamison, J., & Karlan, D. (2016). CANDY ELASTICITY: HALLOWEEN EXPERIMENTS ON PUBLIC POLITICAL STATEMENTS Economic Inquiry, 54 (1), 543-547 DOI: 10.1111/ecin.12233
In the future all humans will be tall and beautiful look-alikes, as in GATTACA. Or they will split into frail beauties and sturdy beasts, as described in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. British evolutionary psychologist Oliver Curry and paleoanthropologist Matthew Skinner believe in the possibility of similar scenarios, based on either the rich and poor divide ("gracile" vs "robust" species) or climate change-related evolution (pale hairy giants vs aquatic and space humans).
The change may be already happening, as humans continue to evolve. What traits - end products of our individual developmental histories - are most important to succeed in the modern age?
Human history tells that individuals whose brains were better at manipulating others were more likely to survive. Additional abilities of the brain such as processing complex visual, auditory and olfactory clues have been also proven helpful and compensated for diminishing physical and sensory abilities. Invention of more sophisticated weapons, computers and sensors and the increased specialization of jobs may have slowed down the progress in some of the brain areas. Hyperspecialization would offer significant advantages for companies and society, but could it reduce humans into masters of a few simple operations? Stanford geneticist Gerald Crabtree even argues that our brains reached a peak several thousand years and have declined ever since. Not everyone agrees with this conclusion, so the jury is still out on the direction of brain evolution and the future of the intellectual elite.
The evolutionary "beauty race" is also still on. According to scientific research, humans are becoming more attractive, or at least gaining more traits preferred by other humans. It is especially pronounced in those more successful than average. American presidents, for example, are taller and healthier than other American men. French executives are 2.6 cm (1.02 inches) taller than the national average. Unattractive men in England earn 15% less than those deemed attractive, while plain women earn 11% less than pretty ones. Yet most of these traits are not exclusively determined by genes but by the access to resources and knowledge, the abilities to make the most of what you have and the confidence to carry yourself in the best way. Scientists found that height and looks during the most difficult pubescent years, influencing the development of self-confidence, are important in determining future success.
100 years ago, Olympic athletes looked pretty much like each other. Modern Olympians present vastly different versions of an athletic body, illustrating that human evolution could go many different ways. 6'5'' Usain Bolt is less aerodynamic and has far more "fast-twitch" muscle fibers than previous runners and most modern day humans. 5'3'' Kohei Uchimura has BMI of 21 and lower body fat percentage than most Olympic gymnasts of the past.
Commercially available genetic tests related to exercise and sport are widely criticized for ethical and scientific reasons, but height and the length of limbs are already used for pre-screening of children to determine which sport they might excel in. More genetic and physiological measurements will be utilized in the future. One recent discovery is the asymmetrical egg shape of the right hip joints for golfers, although it remains to be established whether professional golfers have this trait because of extensive training or whether players with such hip shapes are more likely to become professional.
Like beauty and brains, bodies are shaped by both nature and nurture and might require early training and specialization. Will the future society be divided into factions with pre-determined fates? In an ever more competitive world starting to resemble Olympic games, will our genes and childhood bodies decide - once and for all - what we do for the rest of our lives?
Crabtree, G. (2013). Our fragile intellect. Part II Trends in Genetics, 29 (1), 3-5 DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.10.003
Williams AG, Wackerhage H, & Day SH (2016). Genetic Testing for Sports Performance, Responses to Training and Injury Risk: Practical and Ethical Considerations. Medicine and sport science, 61, 105-19 PMID: 27287080
Dickenson, E., O'Connor, P., Robinson, P., Campbell, R., Ahmed, I., Fernandez, M., Hawkes, R., Charles, H., & Griffin, D. (2016). Hip morphology in elite golfers: asymmetry between lead and trail hips British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50 (17), 1081-1086 DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096007