We Trust Strangers, Even When It Doesn’t Make Sense to Do So

Paper Boat Creative—Getty Images

There’s a reason why those bank scams on the internet continue to flourish. Because we feel guilty if we don’t trust people

Relationships, businesses, governments—almost every interaction people have is built on trust. eBay can’t survive without it. But why do we put so much faith in others? What makes us so sure that the person who puts a mint condition baby carriage up for sale a) Actually owns the carriage, b) Isn’t lying when he says it’s in mint condition, and c) will send the said carriage when you pay him?

David Dunning, a psychology professor at Cornell University and his colleagues, say that all rational behavior theories predict that people shouldn’t trust complete strangers. We have no way of knowing that the other person will do what he promises in any transaction, because we know nothing about that person. Any rational model of behavior predicts that the other person will renege on any promise as soon as it’s in his best interest to do so. Survival of the fittest and all.

But in a series of trust experiments with 645 undergraduates, the scientists found that 62% would give away a small sum of money even if their two options were that the other person would keep it all, or, if the person decided to return it, that both would get back a larger amount. If the students were actually calculating the odds of getting their money back or increasing it, only 20% would have taken the gamble.

MORE: Faith in Humanity: 10 Studies to Restore Your Hope for the Future

What does that tell us about ourselves? That we’re more of a society than we thought. Most of the participants talked about politeness and rudeness as motivating them to trust their fellow study subject, even if it meant potentially getting exploited by them. “Their behavior was a comment on the other person’s character,” says Dunning. By not giving up the money, in other words, the volunteers were concerned that they would be implying that the other subject was untrustworthy and a crook, because by keeping the money, they had decided it wasn’t going to be returned. “People feel a social duty to respect the other person,” says Dunning.

How does he know that the first person wasn’t simply acting out of greed over potentially quadrupling their payoff? Through other variations of this game, in which participants chose between trusting a stranger to return the money or a coin flip that would decide, people did not take such gambles on getting their money back if they were told the coin flip would determine whether they got their money back. “That tells us that people are responding to issues in the other person’s character,” says Dunning. “The signal they are sending is that ‘I respect your character.’ As soon as you take out that issue, people gamble at the rate that would be consistent with greed.”

You can interpret that as either being a sign of solidarity, an inexplicable sense of belonging to and being a member of a community in which everyone treats everyone with respect, or you can view it in a slightly more cynical way – that people trust others because they think they have to, and are guilted into acting in the more magnanimous way. Different people may justify their behavior in different ways, says Dunning. That’s because although most people will act in the more generous, way that shows respect and trust for their fellow man, that doesn’t mean that they believe internally that everyone is trustworthy. “The situation causes internal conflict,” he says. “We get 30% to 40% of people saying something like the odds are that I am going to get screwed, or not get the money back, but they still give up the $5 to the other person.”

That strength of community norms, or an obligation to act in ways that may be counter to their internal beliefs, is something that Dunning hopes to explore further. Does it come from an even deeper faith in the goodness of the world and an optimism that people are good and nice to each other? Perhaps. For now, it’s enough to know that even strangers tend to trust one another – even if it’s driven by a sense of obligation.


Some People Are Wired to Want More Sex, Brain Study Shows

If it were an app, it would be worth millions. Here’s the best way to tally up how many sex partners a paramour has had in the past year

It turns out that some people are actually wired to have more sex—or at least be really, really motivated to hook up.

Research from the University of California Los Angeles and published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience shows, thanks to an old fashioned brain recording, EEG-style, that some people’s brains are simply more sensitive to sexual cues than others — which means it takes less to get them aroused and ultimately leads them to find sexual partners.

MORE: How Changing Your Birth Control Can Make Sex Worse

Nicole Prause, an assistant research scientist in psychiatry at University of California Los Angeles, and her colleagues recruited psychology students to get an electroencephalogram of their brains and to view 225 standardized pictures of pleasant, neutral or unpleasant things. The pleasant images included sexually stimulating ones and these ranged from PG stuff like people kissing to more explicit pictures of people having sex. The students were also asked about their number of sexual partners in the past year.

Some of the participants showed strong reactions on the EEG to nearly all of the intimacy-themed images, regardless of whether they were explicit. And these were the same people who reported having more partners. Prause says the EEG is a good measure of how motivated the brain is – stronger responses typically occur when we’re faced with new and unfamiliar things, for example. In this case, the sexual cues are motivating for some.

It turns out that men and women were equally like to fall into this category; Prause’s team did not find any gender-based differences in the EEG patterns.

Does that mean some people are wired to be addicted to sex? Prause isn’t willing to go that far. “People may be more sensitive to sexual cues and engage in behaviors that aren’t helpful for them, but this study suggests you don’t need to use the label of addiction to describe that,” she says. For these people, it’s not a chasing of a “high” or a reward, but a biological sensitivity to sexual cues that sets their arousal threshold at a much lower level.

MORE: Why Science Needs More Sex

But before you track down the nearest EEG lab, Prause says the purpose of the study wasn’t to suss out the promiscuous among us. Because the EEG reading is a measure of motivation, understanding that some people’s sexual activity is a function of their biologically guided arousal should help in understanding risky sexual behavior and finding better ways to intervene.

“Being aware that if you are going out, and there is the possibility of having a new partner, and thinking about ways to not get too excited may sound silly, but managing that rather than ignoring it may help with better ways to control risky sexual behavior,” she says. We may be wired to want sex, but that doesn’t mean the wiring can’t be re-routed.


The Best Help for Alcoholics Is One We’re Not Using


There’s a drug treatment for alcoholism, but few are taking advantage of it.

Naltrexone, which has been used for years to help alcoholics avoid relapsing, isn’t as widely used as it should be, say some addiction experts. The reason? Many of the studies that show it can be effective in helping alcoholics to avoid returning to drinking have been conducted with those who were also getting behavior therapy and counseling. So it’s hard to know how much the drug is helping to keep these patients sober.

But a growing number of doctors are looking at naltrexone not as a cure for alcoholism, but as an ally in helping alcoholics to calm their cravings so behavior therapy and counseling, which equip patients with skills to manage their addictions over the long term, can be more effective.


12 Breakfast Cereals That Are More Than 50% Sugar

Getty Images

In a year, kids eat more than 10 pounds of sugar by weight from breakfast cereal.

Cereals are taking a hit when it comes to their health claims. First Kashi’s manufacturer Kellogg was forced to remove the words “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some of its products after a lawsuit in which plaintiffs showed that the company used synthetic, decidedly not-natural ingredients. And comes a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which shows that the cereal aisle in the grocery store might as well become the sugar section.

The researchers analyzed 1556 cereals, and all of the 181 marketed specifically to children contained added sugar. Adult options fare a little better – if you really look, you can find 47 that contain no sugar at all – but most are still sweetened to taste more appealing. And brand names aren’t the worst offenders; some of the sweetest cereals come from store brands.

Here are EWG’s Hall of Shame cereals that contain more than 50% sugar by weight:

National Brands

Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (56% sugar by weight)

Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs (56%)

Mom’s Best Cereals Honey-Ful Wheat (56%)

Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch with Marshmallows (53%)

Post Golden Crisp (52%)

Grace Instant Green Banana Porridge (51%)

Blanchard & Blanchard Granola (51%)

Store Brands

Lieber’s Cocoa Frosted Flakes (88%)

Lieber’s Honey Ringee Os (67%)

Food Lion Sugar Frosted Wheat Puffs (56%)

Krasdale Fruity Circles (53%)

Safeway Kitchens Silly Circles (53%)

For less sugary options, here are the kids’ cereals with the least amount of sugar per serving:

National Brands

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Gluten-Free (1g)

General Mills Cheerios (1g)

Post 123 Sesame Street, C Is For Cereal (1g)

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (3g)

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (4g)

Kellogg’s Crispix Cereal (4g)

Store Brands

Springfield Corn Flakes Cereal (2g)

Valu Time Crisp Rice Cereal (3g)

Roundy’s Crispy Rice (4g)

Shop Rite Scrunchy Crispy Rice (4g)


Single Gene Responsible for Group of Heart Disease Risk Factors

It’s rare, but a genetic mutation may explain the collection of heart-harming factors, including obesity, known as metabolic syndrome

Researchers have been pretty successful at identifying individual genes that can contribute to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. Having any—or a combination of these risk factors—can significantly increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

But by studying three families whose members had higher than average rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, researchers zeroed in on a single gene, DYRK1B, that when mutated, can contribute to nearly all of these risk factors, which together are known as metabolic syndrome.

“Historically, there has been debate about the existence of metabolic syndrome. The question is, are the [risk factors] together coincidentally or are they here because the patient has a unifying [problem that explains them all],” says Dr. Ali Keramati, a resident in internal medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. “This study shows that it’s possible for one patient to have all the risk factors that are all explained by one mutation.”

Normally, that gene is responsible for taking stem cells and turning them into fat or muscle, and for directing the liver to produce glucose to balance out insulin levels. In the aberrant form found among members of the three families, it became overactive, pushing the body to produce more fat cells, and driving the liver to pump out more glucose, raising blood sugar levels. The result is likely metabolic syndrome; family members with the mutated gene were more likely to be obese, have diabetes and early heart disease compared to those who did not.

For those who might think that their genes are to blame for their obesity, hypertension or diabetes, Keramati stresses that the mutation is rare, and likely only explains metabolic syndrome in a very small percentage of people. But for people who are affected, the good news is that a drug may help to control the hyperactivity of the gene. “It may be possible to develop a drug that knocks down the function of this gene,” he says.

And for the vast majority who don’t have the DYRK1B mutation, the finding may still lead to other drug treatments by improving doctors’ understanding of how various risk factors form the perfect storm of conditions for heart. In the meantime, the strongest ways to avoid metabolic syndrome are the most familiar – keeping weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels under control with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise.


See the Bionic “Luke” Arm In Action

The first mind-controlled robotic arm is approved, allowing users to zip up coats, handle eggs and drink from a bottle of water


It took eight years of research, but the inventor of the Segway finally succeeded in developing the closest thing to a replacement for amputated arms—and it’s a game changer.

Dean Kamen’s bionic version works by picking up on the electric signals near the point of amputation and translating those to the prosthetic, a transparent replica of a human arm and hand, complete with fingers and a thumb. Named Luke after the Star Wars hero who lost his hand in a light-saber duel, the arm gives users the ability to perform multiple functions at one time, an advance over most available prosthetics.

The human brain automatically calibrates the amount of grip needed to pick up objects, and knows to adjust strength in order to handle a coin as opposed to a book. The Luke arm does the same, switching between six different grips as the wearer decides. Being able to control several joints at the same time also increases the user’s range of motion, allowing him to open a lock with a key or chop food to prepare a meal.

The device, developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and from Kamen’s DEKA Research and Development, can be fitted for people with amputations at the shoulder, upper arm or lower arm, but not at the elbow or wrist.

TIME prescription drugs

The 5 Most-Prescribed Drugs in America

More Americans take prescription drugs than ever before, and the latest government report breaks down what we’re prescribed and why we’re so reliant on Rxs

In its annual snapshot of America’s health, government health officials this year highlight the growing use of prescription drugs. Between 2007 to 2010, nearly half of U.S. adults and a quarter of children under age 18 used at least one prescription drug in the past month.

About a third of adults take something – cholesterol-lowering drugs or blood pressure medications — to treat heart disease, and 10% rely on prescription-strength pain killers.

While most of these medications are life-saving, or life-enhancing, there are some worrisome trends. Despite a decline, doctors are still prescribing antibiotics to treat cold symptoms, even though these drugs aren’t effective against the viruses responsible for the fevers, sneezes and sniffles. Deaths from overdoses of pain killers more than tripled in the past decade, and uninsured adults were four times less likely to get their prescriptions filled than those with insurance. Here are top five prescribed drugs for adults from 2007-2010, by percentage of users:

Cardiovascular 17.7%

Cholesterol-lowering 10.7%

Antidepressants 10.6%

Analgesics 10.5%

Anti-acid reflux 9%

Source: Health, United States, 2013

TIME psychology

Bullying Is Good For Your Health

A new study in PNAS that investigates the long-lasting physical effects of bullying on both victims and their aggressors finds that bullies show lower levels of inflammation, which is linked to higher risks of chronic diseases like cancer or heart trouble

There’s no denying that being a victim of bullying can leave lasting psychological and social scars. Victims are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and problems in developing healthy social connections for years after the experience. But according to a new study, it gets even worse—the people bullying them may actually experience health benefits from their ruthless behavior.

William Copeland, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, and other researchers report in the journal PNAS that bullies show lower levels of inflammation, a biological process linked to higher risks of chronic diseases such as heart trouble and cancer, while victims show spikes in the very inflammatory markers that could prime them for serious health problems. The results aren’t an excuse for bullying, says Copeland, but serve as a lesson for how social status can have lasting positive effects on health—as long as it doesn’t come at the price of hurting others.

MORE: When Popularity Backfires: Climbing the Social Ladder Can Lead to Bullying

Copeland and his colleagues took advantage of a database involving 1420 children who were followed from the age of 9 to 21, and who were tested at nine different times during that period. They were asked about their bullying experiences, and researchers took their blood to measure things like C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation that is an important for predictor of heart disease, among other ailments.

Victims of bullying showed the greatest increases in their CRP levels, compared to where they started, which wasn’t surprising, since inflammation can spike due to stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep—all of which bullying victims experience. The more often victims were bullied, the more their CRP levels rose. But the real shocker came when the scientists analyzed the CRP levels of the bullies. Their inflammation rates were lower even than those children who had never reported being bullied or being a bully. Bullying seemed to protect the aggressors from inflammatory diseases. “We found that the enhanced social status that came along with being a bully did seem to advantage them over time,” says Copeland. “That finding more than anything else surprised us.”

MORE: How Bullying’s Effects Reach Beyond Childhood

The fact that there are physical benefits to being the top dog socially—and that these effects are long-lasting—is an important message of the study. And it’s not just bullying—other research has linked higher socioeconomic status to lower levels of inflammation. But what distinguishes Copeland’s work is the long consequence of this effect, which extended from childhood into young adulthood. “It shows the possibility of social interactions for positively affecting a person’s health,” he says. “It’s striking that we can still detect that effect down the road.”

Clearly, there are ways to enhance your social status without threatening to pound your peers. Copeland hopes the study serves as an endorsement of more positive ways of promoting self-esteem and confidence: through athletics, extracurricular activities and other experiences that can help people feel good about themselves—and that don’t come at the expense of others. Bullying shouldn’t be its own reward.


Paint and Glue Fumes Mess With Your Brain For Decades

In the first long term look at how solvents affect the brain, researchers say some chemicals are linked to cognitive problems 30 years after exposure

We’re exposed to solvents all the time – they’re used in detergents, dry cleaning, paint, glue and furniture polishes – but how are they affecting our health? Most studies focus on relatively short term effects – a few years or so.

So Erika Sabbath, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and her colleagues decided to take the long view. Taking advantage of data from France, they analyzed solvent exposure among retired electric utility workers at the national company, many of whom started working in their 20s. They correlated that information with results from a series of eight memory and thinking tests that the workers took on average 10 years after they retired.

MORE: Is Spring Cleaning a Health Risk?

“What was really surprising was that some people, whose last exposure was 30 year to 50 years before the assessment, were still exhibiting some cognitive difficulties after they had retired,” says Sabbath. “[Other] studies haven’t shown effects that persist this long.”

The team wasn’t able to pinpoint a specific level of danger that distinguished those with more cognitive problems from those with fewer. But they did find a strong pattern linking higher exposure, even decades prior, to worse outcomes on tests of memory, attention and processing speed compared to those with no or less exposure.

MORE: Children Exposed to More Brain-Harming Chemicals Than Ever Before

Even more concerning, says Sabbath is that her analysis found the first hints of deficits in brain functions that previous studies didn’t identify. Retirees with the highest and most recent level of exposure – in the last 12-30 years – had trouble remembering words they had heard verbally, and in retrieving information such as recalling as many animals as they could in a minute. “These people had cognitive problems even in areas that aren’t classically associated with solvents,” she says. “There was a spillover effect into other domains.”

The solvents measured in the study included chlorinated and petroleum solvents as well as benzene, all of which are used in plastics, rubbers, dyes and compounds like degreasers and paints.

Could the same long term effects be found in people who aren’t exposed in the same way that the utility workers were? The exposures in the study were lower than levels that the French and U.S. governments set for harm, but as the findings show, researchers are only just beginning to analyze, and understand how cumulative and long term the potentially dangerous effects of these chemicals may be. Sabbath hopes that the results alert regulatory agencies to the potential long term damage that solvents can have, but realizes that those changes are challenging to make. “The best possible outcome is that permissible exposure levels are reviewed,” she says. “But given the difficulty in changing regulations, especially with the gridlock in Washington, that could be a long term goal.”

In the meantime, how real is the risk for others who may work with solvents but not at the same level as utility workers? Are people who work at dry cleaners facing similar risk of years of brain damage? Or those who work at nail salons? Are painters at risk too? Because the study did not calculate doses of exposure, Sabbath says those questions can’t be answered yet. But there are ways that those concerned about solvents can modify their risk – by protecting themselves with masks and by making sure that they are in well-ventilated areas, as well as switching to products like paints and cleaners that don’t contain volatile organic compounds. “If it were my family member, I would encourage them to protect themselves based on this evidence,” she says.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser