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Scientists May Have Figured Out Why Our Lies Escalate

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It starts with a little lie—that haircut is perfect for you!—but before you know it, you’re bragging about your Olympic gold medal in curling. Now scientists at University College London and Duke University say they’ve figured out why we so naturally progress from little white lies to whoppers. They published their findings [PDF] in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Researchers recruited 80 people between the ages of 18 and 65 and brought them into the lab to play a game. Each participant was introduced to their “partner” (actually a researcher), and then some of them were hooked up to an MRI scanner before they started playing. The premise was simple. A participant was shown a clear image of a jar of pennies. They were told that they were responsible for reporting the number of pennies to their partner via a microphone, and that their partner would pass on that information to the researchers. Both participants would then be given a certain amount of money. All participants had reason to believe that their imaginary partners were oblivious and would trust whatever they said. In some scenarios, the participants were told that the more accurate and truthful their guess, the more money they’d make. In others, they were told that they’d make more money if their partners guessed wrong; in other words, they were encouraged to lie.

The tests were set up to create four situations: those in which lying benefited both the participant and their partner; those in which it benefited only the partner; those in which it benefited only the participant; and those in which lying would only hurt them both.

The researchers noticed two clear, if unsurprising trends. First, they saw that participants’ willingness to lie increased as the game went on. Fudging a number and increasing or decreasing the estimate by a few pennies turned into a few more pennies, then a few more. Second, the tests showed that lying only increased for the two situations that benefited the participants, whether with or without their partners.

Reviewing the brain scans, the researchers could actually watch as participants became accustomed to lying. As the initial fib was taking place, the participants’ brains showed activation in the amygdala and other regions associated with strong emotional responses. It’s as if their brains were saying, “This is not a good idea. Let’s not do this.” But the next lie induced less amygdala activation, and the one after that, less still. It was as though they’d built up a tolerance to dishonesty.

Study co-author Tali Sharot compared the experience of lying to wearing a new perfume. At first, she said, the new scent is overpowering. The second time you wear it, it’s simply strong. But “two months from now when you put on the perfume,” she said in a press conference, “you can’t even smell it yourself, so you feel you have to put quite a lot on, and other people turn away. And that’s because the neurons in your olfactory bulb adapt.”

Like our sense of smell, the authors say, each person’s lying profile was different. Some participants lied more than others, and some people’s lies escalated more quickly.

The researchers have not conclusively proven that reduced amygdala activation reduces our pangs of guilt, thereby greasing the slippery slope, but they think it’s pretty likely. “This is in line with suggestions that our amygdala signals aversion to acts that we consider wrong or immoral,” said co-author Neil Garrett. “We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions such as risk taking or violent behavior.”
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Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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6 Totally Normal Behaviors That Might Mean You're a Psychopath, According to Science
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Most people are familiar with the major characteristics of psychopathy (which is essentially the same thing as sociopathy as far as clinicians are concerned). Psychopaths don't feel empathy or remorse, are superficially charming, and prone to manipulating those around them for their own gain. However, research has found links between more out-there characteristics and psychopathy, like the kind of foods you eat or the music you listen to.

Psychopathy occurs in an estimated 1 percent of the population, but don't worry—people who have psychopathic characteristics aren't necessarily serial killers. In 2005, neuroscientist James Fallon, while studying the brain activity of psychopaths (including murderers) in the lab, discovered that his brain showed many of the same patterns.

Below are six unexpected characteristics linked to being a psychopath, according to recent studies. Take this list with a grain of salt: It's entirely possible to have several of them and be perfectly well-adjusted, and many of these studies are small. Still, it's interesting to consider the potential dark side of common traits. 


Different jobs attract different personality types. Most painfully shy people don't go into sales, for instance, while the job might be very appealing for someone who's extremely outgoing and extraverted. If you're a psychopath, on the other hand, you probably are drawn to business. A 2017 Danish study that analyzed how personality traits correlate with choice of undergraduate majors found that students who scored higher on measures of the "Dark Triad"—a collective term for narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy—were more likely to study economics or business than law or psychology. "The desire for power, status, and money characterizing Dark Triad individuals," the researchers write, seems to guide their choice of majors. In other words, going into the business world may not make people unscrupulous as much as unscrupulous people tend to go into business.


Being a psychopath is often linked to a lack of empathy for other people. There's more to empathy than just feeling others' pain, though. One of the theories for contagious yawning is that it's an empathy response, one found in multiple animal species. Psychopaths, however, don't catch yawns, according to a 2015 study of 135 university students in Texas. The students who scored higher on measures of psychopathy didn't yawn as much in response to watching videos of other people yawning, the researchers found. If you're impervious to the sight of yawns, you might have an empathy problem.


Our internal clocks are particular beasts. Some of us will just never be morning people, no matter how hard we try, and others will never be able to go to bed early. To some extent, your circadian rhythm is genetic, though in general, it does change over your lifetime. People with antisocial tendencies, though, may be more likely to stay up late. A small 2013 study found that people on a night owl schedule exhibited greater Dark Triad traits than early risers. Seems like a useful adaptation to have if you're predisposed to doing bad deeds under the cover of darkness.


Plenty of die-hard music fans believe that their tastes speak to their soul, but in the case of psychopaths, personality might be influencing what's on your playlist. According to a preliminary study from New York University, people with higher degrees of psychopathy tend to prefer "No Diggity" and "Lose Yourself" over songs like "My Sharona." The results weren't exactly rock-hard evidence, but the findings were significant enough that the researchers are launching a larger investigation into links between musical tastes and psychopathic traits.


A desire to break the rules doesn't always result in a desire to break the law. Artists and other creatives march to their own beat, too. In 2016, Filipino researchers found that certain traits associated with psychopathy—especially boldness—were linked with scores on a divergent thinking test, a common psychological method for measuring creativity. Being a risk taker can help you think more creatively. Some people put that love of risk to work on the canvas, while other people might come up with more nefarious uses.


Psychopaths are known for cold calculation and manipulation, and that trait may lead them to keep their exes around long after the relationship ends. A September 2017 study from Oakland University psychologists found that in a sample of more than 800 people, people with psychopathic traits tended to keep exes in their lives for pragmatic, transactional reasons, like wanting the ability to hook up with them again later or knowing they had money. "Narcissists hate to fail or lose, so will do what they can to maintain some connection if they didn't make the choice to end it," as narcissism expert Tony Ferretti told Broadly.


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