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Want to Be Less Biased? Take a Nap

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Outright racism and sexism may not be socially acceptable in many places these days, but long-held cultural beliefs about women and people of color still have a hold on society. Men are still more likely to be hired in the scientific world than women, even if their applications are otherwise identical. In lab tests, people are quicker to categorize black faces with “bad” words than good, and quicker to shoot black targets in video games. However, a study by Northwestern University psychologists published last week in Science finds that people can be taught to shed some of their knee-jerk reactions toward women and people of color. But it helps if they take a nap. 

The researchers tested 40 men and women, all white, on their implicit assumptions of race and gender by showing them pictures of women and black men. Each picture was accompanied by a word—for the gender test, art- and science-related words; for the race test, words denoting good and bad qualities. Initially, the participants expressed implicit social biases, showing a greater tendency to link women with artistic words (not scientific) and black men with unpleasantness. 

Then, participants went through anti-bias training. They were instructed to select only the picture-word pairs that went against the stereotype, linking women with science and black men with goodness. Meanwhile, the scientists played specific sounds when the participants were shown correct (non-stereotypical) pairings, with one sound for the racial counter-bias pair, and one for the gender-related pair. Afterward, people showed decreased bias compared to their original baseline levels. 

Image Credit: Hu et. al, Science 2015

Later, the participants took a 90-minute nap. As they slept, the scientists played one of the two auditory cues. Once they woke up, the participants’ implicit biases were tested again. If they heard one of the cues during sleep, their implicit biases were significantly reduced compared to before sleeping. Those who didn’t hear the cue sound didn’t exhibit any change in implicit bias between going to sleep and waking up. A week later, those who heard the cues during sleep retained their bias reduction. 

Previous research by some of the same psychologists found that in general, sleeping helps reinforce memories of what you’ve already learned. Apparently, this applies not just to learning facts. 

"Biases can operate even when we have the conscious intention to avoid them," as co-author Galen Bodenhausen explained in a press statement. Even well-intentioned people exhibit racial and gender biases, which are often reinforced by portrayals in media. Anti-bias training could help people shed some of those unconscious associations. 

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]

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