At GM, Safety Could Be Mary Barra’s Silver Bullet

General Motors CEO Mary Barra appears onstage during a launch event for new Chevrolet cars before the New York Auto Show in New York April 15, 2014.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra appears onstage during a launch event for new Chevrolet cars before the New York Auto Show in New York April 15, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

When Toyota suffered its humiliating and costly recall over faulty accelerator pedals in 2010, the Japanese auto giant was forced to look inward. Its vaunted manufacturing culture had become outwardly focused, bent on becoming the world’s largest automaker. It had stopped listening to its own people. Communication was flowing out from Toyota City and any information that might delay the production mission—reports from the field, say, about jammed accelerators—either didn’t make it back or lacked the amplification needed to be noticed.

So Toyota had to reinvent its safety culture around being a better listener, much the way GM is talking about doing this week. CEO Mary Barra announced the creation of a new Global Product Integrity organization that sits within its Global Product Development Team, a team she once headed. The idea is that safety rides along with other aspects of product development—power train performance, comfort, ride dynamics—as vehicle platforms are developed globally. “We will mirror this approach to focus on safety performance. Our goal is to ensure the highest levels of execution consistently across all our vehicles,” she said in the kickoff address to the New York Auto Show.

It’s not that safety isn’t a factor in car design because it obviously is: any car that any company creates has to meet global safety standards. But what Barra is suggesting is that, at GM, safety systems have been adapted to new cars in development as opposed to being integral to the design of new vehicles.

And in creating a “Speak Up for Safety “ program for all GM employees, Barra is expanding the responsibility for safety across the company. It’s not a department, it’s a mission. “We need to make sure we break down the organizational silos and work across,” she said in an employee town meeting recently. The program is formatted to recognize employees who contribute ideas, or those who raise questions about safety issues before they become bigger problems. Call it an internal whistleblower program. “We need to drive cultural change to make sure people are going to go that extra mile in this area,” she said.

Just the usual corporate blather? Her critics, including Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, aren’t buying the new act yet. Blumenthal said that if Barra is truly dedicated to safety she’d pull the recalled cars off the road until replacement ignition parts arrive at dealers. Barra has said she’d still let her own son drive one of the recalled Cobalts. “How can you let your own son behind the wheel of a car that the recall notice says is unsafe to drive,” he asked on Bloomberg television.

But even before the Cobalt crisis, Barra had begun to change GM’s corporate culture, particularly in the product development area. Her focus has been on a leaner, more responsive management organization.

And there’s a precedent for a culture of safety approach. In the 1980s, Paul O’Neill took over as CEO of aluminum maker Alcoa and announced that safety would become his top priority. In a metals industry that accepted injuries as a cost of doing business, the idea was greeted with more than a little skepticism. But focusing on safety forced the entire —including its unionized work force—to take greater responsibility for everything that it could control, from quality to accounting. Through safety, O’Neill made everyone take ownership Alcoa’s performance. Alcoa thrived with its safety focus and it probably saved lives in the process.

GM should do so as well.


Nine Hard-Won Lessons About Grief

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After journalist Jill Smolowe buried her husband, sister, mother and mother-in-law within the space of 17 months, she expected to fall apart. To her surprise — and relief — her grief bore no resemblance to the portrait of paralyzing despair depicted in American films, TV shows and memoirs. Here, she shares the coping strategies that helped her keep going:

1. Remain connected to your life. When a loved one passes away (or receives a dire diagnosis), your life undergoes a seismic shift. As your Old Normal totters, well-meaning friends and relatives reinforce your feeling of disconnect from your old life by assuming that the only topic you want to talk about is your worry and sorrow. Perhaps that’s true. But if you, as I did, find the concerned “How are you’s” more exhausting than comforting, direct the conversation toward more familiar terrain. “How do you read Putin’s moves in Ukraine?” “What is ‘conscious uncoupling,’ exactly?” Your heart may not be in it, but as the focus moves away from your distress, you may find your thoughts do, too. Even a few minutes respite can be replenishing.

2. Do not assume your sorrow will overwhelm you. Bereavement research of the last 20 years shows that a clear majority of mourners are quite resilient. They experience their grief as a constant oscillation between sadness and lighter moments. This helps them not only to endure their sadness, but also to experience pleasure even during the earliest days of loss. As for the five-stage cycle of grief so popular in our cultural script, it is a myth. Dismissed by bereavement researchers long ago, the cycle’s five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s observations of the dying — not the people left behind.

3. Tune into what you actually feel and need. When I lost Joe, my beloved husband of 24 years, I assumed that collapse would follow. The way I envisioned it, one day soon I would get into bed, pull the sheet over my head and not get up. To my surprise — and relief — that day never arrived. Instead, I continued to function much as I normally do, albeit with emotions more intense than usual. Within two weeks of Joe’s death, it became clear to me that sitting home only added to the weight of his absence. So, I went back to work. I resumed walks with friends. I attended my daughter’s crew regattas. Though my sorrow accompanied me everywhere, the effort helped me to get out of my head and reconnect with the parts of my life that remained intact.

4. If you don’t want to, don’t. This piece of advice, offered by three widowed acquaintances on separate occasions, proved a keeper. Early on, I let it guide my responses to social invitations. I also let it inform my responses to inquiries, both sincere and casual, about how I was doing. If I didn’t feel like talking about my grief, I didn’t. As weeks, then months went by, I came to understand that, for me, grief was an intensely private experience. If I was going to cry (as I did daily for many months), I preferred to do it when I was alone. My feelings of loss were too personal and too impossible to explain. Talking about them did not help.

5. People are not mind readers; tell them what you need. Friends want to be supportive, but they will lean on their own (often untested) preconceptions about grief if you don’t speak up. For me, the commiserating hugs, worried looks and somber conversations got old, fast. I let friends know that what I needed most was for them to talk to me about their lives, their kids, their work. That response felt awkward, even ungracious, at times. But later several friends told me that by giving them clear guidance, I made it “easy” for them to help me. (Note to friends: helping a grieving person to focus on her strengths, rather than her sorrow, can be very therapeutic.)

6. For those who aim to lend support, watch for cues, listen carefully. Heartfelt though it may be, an offer of “If there is anything I can do …” is tantamount to offering nothing. (Trust me. A bereft person doesn’t want be saddled with the task of making you feel useful.) Instead, be attentive. If your concerned “Tell me how you are” meets with a brisk “Fine, how was your vacation?” that’s a signal to change the channel. If you notice a grieving neighbor’s trashcans are still curbside two days after the garbage pickup, ask if she wants them returned to her porch — or better yet, just do it. If your phone messages aren’t being returned, try email. Mourners appreciate your concern, but they may not be ready to deal with it on your schedule.

7. Express your love and appreciation. If there was any silver lining in Joe’s death, it was that we had time to prepare. While we didn’t anticipate that he would die, we knew from the day of his leukemia diagnosis that death was a possible outcome. Over the next two and half years, we constantly expressed not only our love, but also our appreciation for each other and for the life we’d built together. I’d always known that Joe loved me, but his acknowledgments of things I’d done for him and sacrifices I’d made on behalf of our marriage would later prove consoling. Those conversations also provided opportunity to address our unresolved issues. After Joe died, my grief was unencumbered by either unfinished business or regret that I’d left something important unsaid.

8. Gratitude is a potent antidote. As I worked on Joe’s eulogy, it occurred to me that too often such loving sentiments are reserved for memorial services. I wanted the people whose kindness had touched or steadied me during Joe’s long illness to know what I valued most about their support. Now. Before it was too late. So, I began writing thank-you letters that detailed what exactly it was about each person’s support that had lightened my load. Each time I unbottled my gratitude, it helped me to recognize the many reasons I had to go on without Joe.

9. Know your loved one’s final wishes. During a particularly gruesome hospitalization, Joe told me, “There are some things I want you to know, in case I die.” He specified the items he wanted me to save for our daughter, and told me to discard the rest. He told me he wanted to be cremated and wanted a memorial service. And he told me, “You should remarry.” Though numbing in the moment, his stated wishes proved a gift. Weeks later when he died and I was in the blur of new grief, I didn’t have to second-guess his burial preferences. His detachment about his possessions enabled me to sift and discard as I chose. And his generous statement about marriage enabled me to move on without guilt, knowing that he wanted me to build a new life.

Jill Smolowe is the author of the new memoir Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief.


The Problem With America’s Twin Epidemic

Americans undergoing fertility treatments have gotten used to the prospect of the 'instant family'—but it may carry unnecessary risks.

Remember the days when getting pregnant with twins was a surprise? Now if you’re undergoing fertility treatment, you actually have to decide in advance whether you’re up for double trouble by authorizing how many embryos to have implanted in your uterus. But a new study commissioned by the March of Dimes urges doctors to reduce the health problems caused by multiple births by encouraging patients to get pregnant one embryo at a time.

You don’t have to get mowed down by a double-wide stroller on a city sidewalk to know we’re in the middle of a twin epidemic. Twins account for more than 20 to 30 percent of babies conceived via in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which reached an all-time high with more than 165,000 cycles performed in the U.S. in 2012, according to the latest statistics by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. National data show twin births nearly doubled over the last three decades to 1 in 30 babies born in the United States in 2009, from 1 in every 53 babies in 1980.

“In the old days of IVF, we had such low pregnancy rates that we had to transfer multiple embryos at a time just to have a good chance of creating a successful pregnancy,” explains Robert Anderson, MD, a fertility doctor from Newport Beach, California. Yet as fertility medicine improved over the past few decades, rates of multiples eventually spiked until the American Society for Reproductive Medicine tightened guidelines in 2012 about how many embryos could be transferred at a time to prevent another “Octomom,” whose doctor’s license was revoked after he implanted eight embryos into Nadya Suleman’s uterus. The current rule of thumb: one to two for women under 35 and three to five for women in their early 40s, depending on the quality of the embryos.

Yet doctors like Anderson are making the case that we should rethink the trend of buying our babies in bulk, since a singleton pregnancy is better for the health of the mother and baby. The latest numbers show that nearly 15 percent of women under 35 opted for a single embryo transfer in 2012, which is double the number from three years earlier. “Over the years, we grew to accept a certain percentage of twins, but it’s a big problem,” says Anderson. “They’re born three to four weeks premature on average, and there’s an increased risk of birth defects, not to mention the mother suffering from getting gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. A study last year found that medical costs associated with care for the mother during pregnancy and immediately after birth and for the infants up to one year cost on average about $105,000 for twins, compared to $21,000 for a single baby.

Despite the increasing acceptance of the technique known as elective single embryo transfer,the rates are still low compared to some European countries, where IVF is often covered by national health insurance and doctors prefer to implant just one embryo in the vast majority of cases. The concept has been a hard sell on American patients, since many can’t afford multiple IVF cycles and are thrilled at the idea of getting “two for the price of one.” Or they’re older patients who worry they’ll have a harder time getting pregnant the second time around a few years later. “When I talk to my patients about single embryo transfer, the vast majority of their eyes glaze over,” explains Fady Sharara, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist in Reston, Virginia. “They’ve already made up their minds. They say, ‘Doctor, I’d rather have twins, and then we’re done.’” This twin mindset has become so entrenched among patients that even in a recent study in which they were offered financial incentives to go for a singleton pregnancy, 40 percent still declined.

Yet the math of “more is more” is misleading, and proponents say success rates can be similar. Anderson’s team at the Southern California Institute for Reproductive Sciences published a study last fall in Fertility & Sterility showing that pregnancy rates involving single embryos that had been genetically tested were equivalent to those with a double transfer. Here’s how it works: Although a woman undergoing IVF might produce enough eggs to create a half-dozen embryos, only a certain percentage will be chromosomally normal and likely to lead to a pregnancy. So doctors boost a patient’s chances of success by transferring one of those good embryos, which has a pregnancy rate of up to nearly 60 percent. (National IVF pregnancy rates involving untested embryos, on the other hand, range from 47 percent in women under 35 and 20 percent for women in their early 40s.) She’ll freeze the extra embryos and come back for another pregnancy attempt later, if they first one fails or she wants another child. “You don’t have to have the whole family at the same time,” explains Sharara, pointing out that even though the first cycle might cost around $20,000, including genetic testing, subsequent transfers of frozen embryos will cost a couple thousand each.

Doctors claim they can boost success rates even more by tinkering with the timing of transfers. During conventional IVF, a woman undergoes weeks of hormone stimulation after which her eggs are retrieved, fertilized with sperm, grown into embryos and implanted into her uterus immediately afterwards. But if a woman chooses genetic testing, her embryos will be frozen while she waits for results, and Anderson says she has a better shot of pregnancy if the embryo is transferred during a later month when her reproductive system isn’t flooded with so many hormones.

Fertility medicine has come a long way from throwing a bunch of embryos into a womb and seeing what sticks. Still, the piecemeal approach may not be for everyone, especially older women who want a ready-made family as soon as possible. Also, the insurance companies who do cover IVF, may not cover genetic testing or embryo freezing, which can cost thousands extra. But the growing popularity of the singleton method is a good trend for patients who want more control in shaping the size of their families.


The Science Of ‘Happily Ever After’: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France
Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France Jorge Fajl—Getty Images/National Geographic RF

As Daniel Jones, author of Love Illuminated, explains: we spend youth asking “How do I find love?” and midlife asking “How do I get it back?”

Anyone in a relationship or who plans on being in one needs to know how to keep love alive over the long term.

But how do you learn the secret to this? Everyone is happy to explain “how they met” but few give the details on “how they stayed together.”

So let’s look at what science has to say.

“Happily Ever After” Ain’t Easy

Aside from being the epitome of lazy writing, “happily ever after” is not simple.

Ty Tashiro explains that couples in their first year of marriages score 86% for marriage satisfaction. By the seventh year, it’s under 50%.

The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

Yes, about 50% of couples get divorced. Another 10-15% separate but do not file paperwork. And 7 more percent are chronically unhappy.

So the real stat is two-thirds of marriages do not live “happily ever after.”

Via The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love:

The divorce rate often reported by the media is 50 percent, which is based on Census Bureau data. However, census data does not capture the 10 to 15 percent of couples who permanently separate but do not file formal paperwork for a legal divorce. This means that a conservative estimate of the divorce and permanent separation rate is 60 percent. Add the additional 7 percent of chronically unhappy couples who do not divorce or permanently separate but are consistently unhappy in their marriage, and this means that two-thirds of all married couples do not live happily ever after.

Why is marriage so hard over the long term?

One of the main reasons is what science calls it “habituation.” Which is a fancy way of saying we get bored.

Early on, when a couple can finish each other’s sentences it’s romantic. But over time “predictable” is a huge negative.

Chris Rock gets the point across humorously in this video (NSFW):

Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, explains that surprise is key to romantic feelings:

Seduction involves a degree of surprise, which is generally the first thing that disappears after you’ve been in a relationship, and why there’s no more seducing that goes on. Everything is familiar and you’re no longer surprised by the other person.

So is there any way to bring those tingles back?

Yes. Here’s how.

What You Can Learn From Arranged Marriages

“Arranged marriage! AGH! Weird!”

Hold on a sec. We can learn something here. What do researchers find when they compare at 50 arranged marriages and 50 “love” marriages?

Love marriages start out happier — but that declines quickly.

Arranged marriages start out less happy, but after 10 years, they’re happier than love marriages. And stay that way.

Via The Art of Choosing:

The couples who had married for love and been together less than a year averaged a score of 70 points out of a possible 91 on the love scale, but these numbers steadily fell over time. The love couples who had been married ten years or longer had an average score of only 40 points. In contrast, the couples in arranged marriages were less in love at the outset, averaging 58 points, but their feelings increased over time to an average score of 68 at the ten or more years mark.

What’s the secret behind the long term success of arranged marriages?

They have to work at it.

They don’t passively rely on “magic” and intense emotion. They have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it work.

Via Love Illuminated:

That process of discovery is ostensibly the fun of courtship, too, except that in arranged marriage the goal is to figure out how to be married, not whether to marry.

Research shows expecting a fairy tale relationship is a prescription for disappointment.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Elements of fairy tales such as Cinderella were present in 78 percent of people’s beliefs about romantic love. Those people were more likely to have experienced disillusionment, devastation, and angst in their relationships than were those who gave less credence to fairy tales. – Lockhart 2000

Feeling like it’s all magic means it’s out of your control — and that without that initial magic, it’s hopeless.

The happiness of arranged marriages means a couple can make magic if they try.

So you need to actively keep the marriage happy. How do you do that?

Don’t Fix The Bad. Increase The Good.

Look at your spouse as something you purchased “as-is.” Research shows trying to change them doesn’t work:

…when participants (N = 160) focused their relationship improvement attempts on changing the partner, individuals reported more negative improvement strategies, lower improvement success, and, in turn, more negative relationship evaluations… results suggest that targeting the partner may do more harm than good despite that relationship evaluations pivot on whether the partner produces change.

John Gottman, researcher and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says 69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual.

These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year.

Via The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.

So if you can’t change them and they won’t change you, how can you reduce the bad stuff?

You can’t. But you don’t need to.

The best relationships are more about increasing the good than reducing the bad.

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.

Okay, so you need to increase the good times. What’s the best way to do that?

(This part is exciting. I mean, literally.)

Forget Romance. Think Excitement.

Think a pleasant date night is all it takes to keep love alive?

Researchers did a 10 week study comparing couples that engaged in “pleasant” activities vs “exciting” activities. Pleasant lost.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Those who had undertaken the “exciting” date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the “pleasant” date night group…

Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship?

Because we’re lousy about realizing where our feelings are coming from.

Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you’re with, even if they’re not the cause of it.

As happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains, excitement experienced mutually brings the tingles back.

Via The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does:

…Whether the couples were only dating or long-married, the ones who did the shared novel activity were more likely than the ones who did the shared neutral activity to agree to statements like “I feel happy when I am doing something to make my partner happy” and “I feel ‘tingling’ and ‘an increased heartbeat’ when I think of my partner” after the activity than before.

So no boring, lame date nights. Go do something exciting. Go dancing together or anything else you can both participate in as a couple.

Sum Up

Keeping love alive can be tricky. You need to actively work at it and it’s more important to increase the good then to reduce the bad.

And the best way to do that is by increasing excitement.

So you’re hopping on roller coasters and going white water rafting — but what do you need to do when you’re there?

Pretend you’re on your first date.

Studies show pretending time with a romantic partner was a first date makes it more enjoyable for you and for your partner:

Across a series of studies, participants underestimated how good they would feel in situations that required them to put their best face forward… participants who were instructed to engage in self-presentation felt happier after interacting with their romantic partner than participants who were not given this instruction…

Why? On first dates we make an effort to impress. And we’re full of hope.

Love means being a little delusional (Some researchers even think love might qualify as a mental illness.)

Thinking your partner is better than they really are makes for longer, better relationships.

Via The Science of Love:

Sandra Murray and her colleagues have been studying romantic relationships now for several decades, and have found that idealising one’s partner is a sure recipe for marital success; moreover, the higher one’s ideals are and the more one idealises one’s partner, the more satisfied one is with the relationship – and the longer it is likely to last.

Letting yourself be a little crazy — crazy for your partner — pays off.

What’s Next?

Other posts you should read on improving marriage, love and romance:

Want to learn more? Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.


Drive Carefully This Tax Day

Why memorizing a 7-digit number makes you more likely to eat poorly, and filing your taxes makes you more likely to crash your car.

Stress is not all bad. I often remind my PhD students that some degree of stress can be a useful motivator for increased performance and productivity. (Have to present your research project next month? Better get started!) The problem, of course, is that many of us live with too much stress, and it seems that every year we discover new levels of busy-ness, new ways of falling behind, and new heights of stress.

The biggest stressors in our lives — nearing deadlines, dysfunctional relationships, difficult coworkers — are relatively clear. And although we don’t always know exactly what to do about them, their existence and their impact on our well being is pretty straightforward. Less clear, however, is the profound effect of the smaller stressors — those tiny nagging annoyances that accumulate. To fully appreciate the effects of (seemingly) small stressors, consider this:

In a study published in 1999, researchers Baba Shiv and Alexander Fedorikhin asked one group of participants to remember a two-digit number (something like, say, 35) and another group of participants to remember a seven-digit number (say, 7581280). In order to get paid for the experiment, all of these participants would have to repeat the number to another experimenter who was waiting for them at the other end of a long corridor. And if they didn’t remember the number? No reward. The researchers wondered whether being under a low cognitive load (2 digits) vs. a high cognitive load (7 digits), would influence the participants’ ability to think and make good decisions.

With their respective numbers in mind, down the corridor they went. As the participants walked down the hall toward their destination, they unexpectedly passed a cart displaying pieces of rich, dark chocolate cake alongside bowls of colorful, healthy fruit. As participants walked by the cart, another experimenter stopped them in their tracks to offer them one of the two snacks.

What decisions did participants make, and did these decisions depend on whether they were under a low or high cognitive load? Was their choice of cake or fruit related to the number they had in their heads? The results showed that those under a high cognitive load condition (think about those of us with large to-do lists, or many things on our minds) chose the cake much more frequently than the participants in the low cognitive load condition. With their higher-level faculties preoccupied, the seven-digit group was less able to overturn their instinctive desires, and many more of them ended up succumbing to the instantly gratifying chocolate cake.

A second, more timely, example of the impact that seemingly small stressors have on our decisions, is based on an analysis carried out by Donald Redelmeier and Christopher Yarnell. Examining car accidents over a 30-year period, they found that on April 15th (which is Tax Day in the U.S.), Americans have about a 6% increase in fatal road crashes. This increase in fatalities puts tax days in the same risk category as Super Bowl Sunday, although presumably the effect is due to alcohol in one case and stress in the other (though from the data we can’t be certain).

Together, the controlled cognitive load experiment and the analysis of fatalities in car accidents suggests that our cognitive capacity is dangerously low, and that even relatively small external interventions can tax us — and they can tax us to a level that is hard to believe. The results also suggest that you should be extra careful driving this April 15th.

Beyond the questions of cake and driving on Tax Day, the applications of these findings to our daily life are important. If (seemingly) small stressors can derail our decisions to such a degree, what should we expect in a world where people keep 100 to-dos in one list, 50 in another, trying to juggle home and work responsibilities, while being surrounded by multiple electronic devises that alter us that all kinds of important things are happening (someone liked a picture we posted on Facebook!)?

Could it be that the same wonderful technological advances also tax our limited cognitive ability and attention? I suspect so. I suspect that many of us live a mindset that is equivalent to trying to remember a 27-digit number while driving on a day that is both Tax Day and Super Bowl Sunday.

What can we do about this? The answer is technologically complex but conceptually simple. The first step is to realize our limitations, and the second is to design tools for the Homer Simpson in each of us. We need devices, alerts, to-do lists and calendars that don’t tax our limited cognitive capacity, but free some of it instead. We need tools that decrease our stress, and we need tools that allow us to make better decisions. And until we get these, lets drive extra carefully this April 15th.

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and the author of Predictably Irrational and, most recently, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.


Overland Park Shooting: A Church Responds to Hate

Three Killed As Gunman Attacks Jewish Centers In Kansas
A police car is seen at the entrance of the Jewish Community Center after three were killed when a gunman opened fire on April 13, 2014 in Overland Park, Kans. Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Faith leaders respond to the shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City

St Thomas the Apostle lies within a mile of the sites where a shooter targeted Jewish communities yesterday, killing a man, a woman, and a teenaged boy from our neighborhood of Overland Park. Our members attend activities at the Jewish Community Center, and we have had members in residence at Village Shalom. Many of us know people who are affected, and some of us knew the victims and their families. For all its size and population, Overland Park is a small town; we know each other, and we care for one another.

As we heard the first terrible reports, we determined to hold a vigil – to offer a place to come together immediately as a community. Rabbi Jacques Cukiekorn of Temple Israel helped us plan, with hymns and prayers from Judaism and Christianity. We announced by local news that we would open our doors, and hundreds came: families and neighbors, and dozens of youth who had put on school shirts and theatre shirts in support of the young man who had been killed.

We offered prayers – not only for those who had been killed but that such broken places might be healed, and that we might have the courage to respond not by learning to hate, but by choosing to love more fiercely. We prayed that we might act to build a more just world.

But surely the most powerful moment came when a woman named Mindy Corporon explained who she was: the daughter of one man who’d been killed, and the mother of another – a teenage boy.

Mindy spoke to our assembled neighborhood, thanking everyone for coming. She explained the random events that caused her father to be the one taking her son to this audition, as the rest of the family juggled sports and other activities, finally summarizing it with profound words: “We were in life; we were having life. And I want you all to know that we’re going to have more life, and I want you all to have more life.” These were the words of a woman who had lost both father and son only hours before.

Our Christian community had entered Holy Week that morning, with a service of palms remembering that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Later this week, we will hold services on Good Friday – a day that has been used in history for evil by other Christians, who encouraged it to be an occasion for violence against Jews. It is a sober reality that Christian churches have their place among those who have helped create the terrible lies that teach hate and violence.

Our parish and Temple Israel have worked against this idea of division, and worked to build on what unites us. When Temple Israel began, we offered them space at St Thomas for their Sabbath worship until they could build their own synagogue. Rabbi Jacques has taught classes about Judaism for our members, and co-led a trip to Israel with members of both communities. Two years ago, Temple Israel returned to hold their Passover Seder meal in our church as we held our Good Friday services – two traditions in friendship on a day that had formerly taught hate, celebrating our faiths in two rooms under a common roof. As our service ended, they welcomed a number of us to join them in their celebration. This is the strength that we leaned on together yesterday, as violence targeting Jewish centers killed Christians. And we will continue to build up that strength.

The Jewish Passover begins this week, and we will again open our space to our neighbors. The Christian Holy Week continues as well, and Good Friday will be a moment when we repent of our role in the sins of the world, and face the stark truth that when God offered a message of love, humanity offered violence for it.

But we will also remember in our celebration of Easter that when we offered violent death, God responded instead with love: raising Jesus from that death and showing that the message of God’s love was not destroyed by our violence, and neither was the commandment to love one another. We held vigil together, because love has not ended, even in the face of grief.

“We are still in life. We will have life, and we are going to have more life, and we want you all to have more life as well.”

The Reverend Gar Demo and the Reverend Benedict Varnum are Episcopal priests serving at St Thomas the Apostle in the Diocese of Kansas, and worked to organize a vigil service in response to the shootings in Overland Park on Sunday.


How to Flirt — Backed by Scientific Research

How To Flirt — Backed By Scientific Research
Jacquie Boyd—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Does Flirting Actually Work?

Very much so. In fact, research says it’s more effective than looking good.

Signaling availability and interest trumps attractiveness.

Via How to Make Someone Fall in Love With You in 90 Minutes or Less:

Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist at Webster University in St. Louis, has conducted research on the flirting techniques used in singles bars, shopping malls, and places young people go to meet each other. She concluded that it’s not the most physically appealing people who get approached, but the ones who signal their availability and confidence through basic flirting techniques like eye contact and smiles. Just signaling your interest in someone gets you halfway there, whether you’re a man or a woman.

What Type of Flirting Works Best?

Two types of flirting are universal: smiling and eye contact are indicators pretty much everywhere and work for both sexes.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

…the available evidence suggests that men and women around the world use many of the same nonverbal behaviors to communicate romantic interest… smiling and eye contact do appear to be universal methods used by men and women to convey romantic interest.

In fact, eye contact is not only a signal – it can actually make someone more attracted to you.

But what works better than anything else?


And research has isolated which types of touching are regarded as “merely friendly”, in the zone of “plausible deniability”, or “going nuclear.”

  • Friendly: Shoulder push, shoulder tap, handshake.
  • Plausible Deniability: Touch around the shoulder or waist, touch on the forearm.
  • Nuclear: Face touch.

Via Close Relationships:

The behavior that participants rated as reflecting the most flirtation and the most romantic attraction was the soft face touch, followed by the touch around the shoulder or waist, and then the soft touch on the forearm. The least flirtatious and romantic touches were the shoulder push, shoulder tap, and handshake. Thus, touching that is gentle and informal, and that occurs face-to-face or involves “hugging” behavior, appears to convey the most relational intent.

Research has shown that even a light touch on the arm makes a man more successful in getting a girl’s number.

But don’t ignore context.

Behavior is perceived differently in different locations. The more formal the setting, the more obvious you need to be to get the signal across.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

For each scenario, participants indicated whether they believed the stranger was flirting with them or not. The results revealed significantly higher percentages of “yes” (i.e., flirting) responses when the stranger was in the restaurant bar as opposed to the school hallway (61% vs. 49%), when the stranger made an effort to go out of his or her way as opposed to making inadvertent and non-effortful eye contact (68% vs. 41%), and when the stranger paid a compliment as opposed to asking for the time (83% vs 26%). Not surprisingly, given this pattern of results, the scenario that produced the highest percentage of “yes” responses (74%) was that involving a stranger who went out of his or her way to compliment the target while in the “flirt-friendly” setting of a restaurant bar.

And, ladies, after you’ve caught his attention with flirting, keep in mind that studies confirm that “playing hard to get” works.

(Here’s the trick to doing it the right way.)

What About For Men?

Touching is almost always acceptable for women, but can get men in hot water real fast. And hair flips and lip licking are pretty sex specific to women.

So, early on, how can a guy flirt without getting in trouble?

Research has shown that flirting which emphasizes physical attractiveness has little effect when males do it.

The flirting that is most effective for men involves displays of social dominance.

Via Close Relationships:

The results indicated that the men who successfully initiated romantic contact with women exhibited a greater number of particular kinds of nonverbal flirting behavior than men who did not establish romantic contact. Specifically, successful men directed more brief glances at their intended, engaged in a greater number of “space maximization” movements (positioning the body so that it takes up more space; e.g., extending one arm across an adjacent chair, stretching so that both arms extend straight up in the air), changed their location in the bar more frequently, and displayed greater amounts of non-reciprocated touching to surrounding men (e.g., playfully shoving, touching, or elbowing the ribs of other men). In discussing their findings, the researchers concluded that men who provide signals of their positive intentions (e.g., through glancing behaviors) and their status (e.g., through space maximization and non-reciprocated touch of male peers) receive preferential attention from women.

How do you know if it’s working? When you start talking to her, ask yourself: “Is she speaking smoothly and quickly?”

Because MIT research says that’s a very good sign.

Overall, ask yourself, “What would James Bond do?” And here’s a guide to what makes Bond so irresistible.

Why Aren’t They Getting My Signals!?!

Here’s something you probably don’t hear a lot: it’s most likely your fault.

Researchers have documented a bias where people think they’re being clear about their intentions but, in reality, nobody but them thinks they’re flirting.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

A more recent series of investigations by Vorauer and her colleagues (Vorauer, Cameron, Holmes, & Pearce, 2003) demonstrated that the fear of being rejected by a potential partner can produce yet another pernicious attributional bias. The “signal amplification bias” occurs when people believe that their social overtures communicate more romantic interest to potential partners than is actually the case and thus fail to realize that they have not adequately conveyed their feelings of attraction.

You may need to amp it up, even if that makes you a bit uncomfortable.

Research shows that women are more successful in their flirting when they’re more direct.

What’s Next?

Here are research-based guides on related topics:

For more tips you won’t find on the blog, join 45K+ other readers and get my free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Kansas City shooting

Kansas City Shooting Is Hate of an Ancient Vintage

Classmates of one of the victims hug during a prayer service for the victims of the Jewish Community Center shootings in Leawood, Kans., on April 13, 2014 John Sleezer—Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty Images

Though the police remain cautious on motive, for many the attack at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City leaves little doubt over the assailant's anti-Semitic views

At a press conference four hours after three people were killed in shootings at two Jewish facilities near Kansas City, Mo., authorities cautiously noted that they did not yet know the motive. Only after prompting did John Douglass, chief of police in the sprawling suburb of Overland Park, Kans., say “We are investigating it as a hate crime.”

At 10:15 p.m. E.T., when I asked Douglass over the phone why the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City (JCC) was targeted, he reiterated, very reasonably, “We’re being very careful not to put out anything that we don’t know for certain.”

But one look at the campus of the JCC leaves little doubt. Set well back from nearby thoroughfares, nestled behind berms on the campus of Sprint’s corporate headquarters, the center is not the sort of place that a gunman finds at random.

And if history teaches anything, it’s the sad fact that when a gunman seeks out a Jewish center and opens fire, the motive is hate of an ancient vintage.

Three people were dead on Sunday, the eve of Passover, two more had narrowly escaped being wounded (in one case, a student’s backpack was hit), and a suspect was in custody. Apparently, the gunman first murdered a woman on the parking lot of Village Shalom, a Jewish-oriented retirement development, then drove a short distance north to kill a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather at the JCC.

A short time later, police arrested a bearded man in his 70s outside an elementary school a mile from the second crime scene. Reporters at the scene said he smiled as he was taken away from a white sedan with a Missouri license plate, and that he may have called out “Heil Hitler!”

Roiling dark rain clouds swept over the neighborhood as police and FBI agents began gathering evidence. They spoke to witnesses who told them that the JCC facility was bustling on Sunday at about 1 p.m. Members were working out in the fitness center, actors were rehearsing for an upcoming performance of To Kill a Mockingbird, and throngs of teenagers from throughout the metro area were gathering to audition for the KC SuperStar talent competition.

“There were tons of kids because this was about to start at 1 o’clock,” competition publicist Ruth Bigus told the Kansas City Star.

One of the victims — identified by the Kansas City Star as Eagle Scout Reat Griffin Underwood, a high school freshman — may have been on his way to the tryouts. The gunman used a shotgun to kill the boy and his grandfather, identified by the Star as William Lewis Corporon, a physician, as they arrived in the parking lot.

Overland Park police have long been sensitive to the possibility of anti-Semitic violence in the area, which is home to a number of synagogues and other prominent Jewish institutions. An off-duty police officer was reportedly stationed at the JCC and may have played a role in ending the rampage. Police chief Douglass reported that the gunman may have had other weapons besides the shotgun — suggesting that he might have planned to kill more people.

As the suspect fled, staff at the community center put a well-rehearsed disaster plan into action. Dozens of people were ushered into inside rooms as outside doors were locked tight. Young musicians huddled on the auditorium floor, while others crowded into locker rooms. Given the ominous spring weather, many people initially believed they were responding to a tornado warning; only after about 15 minutes were they told about the shootings.

Douglass confirmed that an off-duty officer was at work inside the JCC at the time of the shooting. The officer helped guide people to safety, then rushed outside as the gunman was driving away. By then, calls were flooding into 911. “We realized we had an active shooter in the vicinity, so the protocol is to flood the zone with first responders,” said the chief. “We quickly found the suspect sitting in his car at the school parking lot.”

Officials at the Church of the Resurrection, a large United Methodist congregation in nearby Leawood, Kans., reported on Sunday evening that Corporon, who died at the scene of the crime, and Underwood, who died as surgeons struggled to save him at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, were members of their church. There was nothing remotely surprising about the fact that a Christian teenager and his grandfather were visiting the JCC. Thousands of Kansas City residents of every faith (and no faith at all) are made welcome each year at the center’s many public events.

Unfortunately, that spirit of community means nothing to a bigot with murder in his heart. He sees the word Jewish and the word shalom (peace), and that’s all he needs to know.

Chief Douglass was being a careful professional when he said “It’s too early in the investigation to try to label it. We know it’s a vicious act of violence.” Douglass continued, but before calling it a hate crime “we’re going to have to know more about it.”

For the rest of us, the facts speak for themselves.


How Smart Is That Doggy in the Window?

Is your dog an Einstein?
Illustratrion by Leah Goren for TIME

Once thought too insignificant and too corrupted to study, the mind of the canine is now a topic of intense interest to scientists. A trip to the Duke Canine Cognition Center reveals how we became the Internet for dogs.

The Duke Canine Cognition Center is one of the world’s most prestigious dog laboratories, but you’d never know it from the looks. Located at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, it’s just three small rooms in the subbasement of the school’s Biological Sciences Building, a faded red-brick structure that stands in a clump of similarly nondescript buildings on the west end of campus. My tour of the facility — a modest lounge, a barren rectangular room, and a narrow alcove filled with cabinets — took all of about thirty seconds. It turns out you don’t need much to probe the secrets of the dog’s mind.

‘If human beings were as smart as animals,’ the driver told me, ‘we’d be a lot better off.’I had come here to witness the final stage in the transformation of our pets from wild animals into family members. Dogs and cats may have entered our homes, but there’s still so much we don’t know about them. Are they as smart as we think? Do they love us as much as we love them? We can’t truly accept these creatures as family until we can glimpse what’s going on in their heads.

I’d actually gotten my first peek at the canine intellect a day earlier. I had arrived in the middle of a triple-digit heat wave, and the driver of the mercifully air-conditioned shuttle that picked me up from the airport asked why I was in town. “I’m going to visit a scientist who studies dogs,” I told the man, a pale gentleman in his early seventies who spoke with a mellow southern accent. Then, guessing a bit, I added, “He’s trying to figure out if dogs are smarter than we thought.” The driver laughed. “Heck, of course they’re smart,” he said. “They’re smarter than us!”

As the van plowed along a highway that cut through a dense forest of pine trees, the driver told me about Shadow, a four-year-old Siberian husky he’d adopted from a local shelter. The dog, he said, was a regular canine Einstein. “When I go to bed, I look at him and say, ‘Shadow, seven o’clock. Shadow, seven o’clock.’ And sure enough, at seven in the morning he barks until I wake up. I don’t need an alarm clock!” Shadow, the man claimed, could also ring his doorbell and open the sliding glass doors of his boat. He understood more than 30 words and kept track of his owner’s schedule. “When I put my suitcase by the front door, he knows I’m going away for a couple of days, and he just sits at the door and sulks.” The dog even knew when he’d done something wrong; when he knocked a plant over or whizzed on the carpet, he turned his head and looked away in guilt. “If human beings were as smart as animals,” the driver told me, “we’d be a lot better off.”

After my visit to Duke, I realize he was a lot closer to the truth than he knew.

Canine Einsteins

When I arrive at the Duke Canine Cognition Center, the man I’m here to see isn’t around. Brian Hare, the biological anthropologist who runs the lab, is sprinting across campus with a cooler full of what he later told me was the “world’s largest collection of bonobo pee,” scrambling to find dry ice so he could ship the samples to a colleague. Fortunately, three of his graduate students are around, and they volunteer to show me some of their work. They lead me to an empty room, a 10-by-16-foot space with a white tile floor that looks like it has been vandalized by a geometry teacher. Multicolored tape decorates the ground in a variety of shapes and patterns: green brackets float near yellow squares; long red lines balance on red triangles. The students tell me the tape designates places where researchers are supposed to sit or where equipment is supposed to stand. The markings ensure that each experiment is replicated precisely.

If you want to know how human intelligence evolved, they said, ask a chimp. Maybe a dolphin or elephant. But never a dog.As the grads begin to move some chairs into the space, something brown whizzes past my ankles. I’ve just caught a glimpse of Napoleon, a three-year-old, seven-pound Yorkshire terrier whose glossy tan head and legs flash out from a jet-black body. He’s chasing a pint-sized tennis ball, tornadoing around the room and jumping onto the legs and crotch of anyone who crosses his path. The dog belongs to one of the students, Evan MacLean, an athletic 30-year-old who informs me that the tiny dynamo will be our test subject for the day. My eyes widen. I have a hard time believing that Napoleon can sit still, much less participate in a scientific experiment. But when the tests begin, he becomes as serious as a college student during final exams.

The first experiment doesn’t seem like an experiment at all. MacLean walks to one side of the room, stands on a stripe of blue tape, and lobs the mini tennis ball toward the opposite wall. Napoleon darts after it, grabs it in his mouth, and scurries back to MacLean, who has turned his back to the dog. Napoleon walks around to MacLean’s front side and deposits the ball. “Good job, Polli!” he says.

Dog with a tennis ball
Illustratrion by Leah Goren for TIME

Napoleon has just passed a test related to having a theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit how others see the world and even, to some extent, know what they’re thinking. Humans develop a more complex form of this ability at about four years of age. In a classic test of developmental psychology, a researcher shows a child where a toy is hidden while his mother is out of the room. When the mother returns, the scientist asks the youngster if his mom knows where the toy is. If the child says yes, he hasn’t developed a theory of mind, because he assumes his mother knows the same things he does. If he says no, he has the skill; he realizes his mother’s knowledge is different from his own.

What Napoleon did wasn’t quite that sophisticated. By dropping the ball in front of MacLean, he demonstrated that he knew where his owner’s attention was focused, which is not quite the same as knowing what MacLean was thinking. Had he released the ball behind MacLean, however, it would be a pretty safe bet that the dog had zero theory of mind. Chimpanzees pass a similar test. Place two chimps in a room with a plate of grapes, and the chimp lower on the social totem pole won’t grab one until the higher-ranking chimp looks away. The animals also clap their hands and make raspberry noises with their lips when they want to get the attention of a researcher who isn’t watching them.

In the next experiment, however, Napoleon does something chimps can’t do. MacLean stands near a wall with the dog on a slack leash, while a female graduate student sits on a chair in the center of the room. She sets two opaque red cups upside down on the floor, one on each side of her. Then, as Napoleon watches intently, a third graduate student enters the room. She places the dog’s tennis ball under one of the cups and pretends to place it under the other, obscuring her motions with a small black board so the terrier isn’t sure which cup contains the ball. If this were a shell game, the dog would have a fifty-fifty shot of picking the right cup. But the seated graduate student gives him a hand, or, more precisely, a finger. She points to the cup on her right, and when MacLean lets go of the leash, Napoleon runs over to it and retrieves his ball. Over several trials, the dog always goes for the cup that is pointed out. Even when the seated student merely gazes at the correct cup, Napoleon gets the message.

This may seem like a simple test, and, indeed, even one-year-old children pass it. But our closest relatives, chimpanzees, fail miserably. They ignore the human helper, pick cups at random, and rarely score above chance. Brian Hare’s lab has become famous for spotting this difference. Napoleon has performed more than just a neat cognitive trick. He has displayed a more complex skill related to the development of theory of mind in children. He wasn’t just clued into the pointing student’s attention; he had shown behavior consistent with understanding her intention. He showed that he realized that the student wanted to show him something, that she had a desire.

When Brian Hare finally arrives at the lab about an hour later, he’s still pumped up from his cross-campus quest to cool bonobo pee. That energy has served him well. In his late thirties, Hare rarely stays put, dividing his year between dogs and lemurs at Duke, baboons at the North Carolina Zoo, and chimpanzees on an island in Uganda. And, of course, there are the urinating bonobos, which live in a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since I visited, he’s also become the cofounder and chief science officer of Dognition, an online research project and business venture designed to help owners probe their dog’s mental abilities.

Hare tells me he got into studying dogs by accident. He was an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta in the late 1990s, exploring the cognitive differences between chimps and toddlers. When he conducted a few pointing tests, he and his advisor, Michael Tomasello, were shocked to learn that toddlers had no trouble understanding what a researcher meant when he pointed to a cup, but chimps were totally perplexed. Tomasello concluded that the ability to follow pointing cues was so advanced it must have only evolved in humans.

“But I told Mike, ‘Um, I think my dog can do that,’” Hare says. “And that’s how it all started.” Back then, almost no one was studying dogs. All those thousands of years of domestication, the thinking went, had corrupted them, at least from a scientific standpoint. Because they were no longer wild animals, researchers considered them artificial and of limited value. If you want to know how human intelligence evolved, they said, ask a chimp. Maybe a dolphin or elephant. But never a dog.

Ironically, however, the history of animal cognition research begins with dogs. And perhaps not surprisingly, it also begins with Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s Dogs

Darwin came along during a time when animals, thanks largely to the writings of French philosopher René Descartes, were viewed as reflex-driven machines with nary a mind in their heads. Everything an animal did, every decision it made, was chalked up to instinct. Only humans possessed true intelligence.

Dog looking at a bust
Illustratrion by Leah Goren for TIME

Darwin didn’t buy it. Perhaps it was because he had spent so much of his life with canines. In her revealing book Darwin’s Dogs, British journalist Emma Townshend writes that the famed naturalist came from a family of dog lovers, and Darwin himself was no exception. He owned at least 13 throughout his life, including a black-and-white mutt named Spark — a childhood companion he fondly referred to as “little black nose” — and a white terrier, Polly, who slept in a pillowed basket near the fireplace as Darwin inked one of his final books, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, in which Polly appears frequently. (Darwin, incidentally, was not a cat person, though as his daughter Henrietta wrote, “He knew and remembered the individualities of my many cats, and would talk about the habits and characters of the more remarkable ones years after they had died.”)

Darwin appears to have first begun thinking about the mental capabilities of dogs when he should have had something far more important on his mind. It was early October 1836, and he had just returned from his five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, a ship that had ferried him to the Galápagos Islands. The variety of finches and tortoises there would eventually help inspire his theory of evolution, but upon arriving home to Shrewsbury in western England, Darwin’s first scientific thought turned to dogs. He wondered whether one of his canines, vicious to everyone else, would remember him. “I went near the stable where he lived, and shouted to him in my old manner,” Darwin wrote. “[He] instantly followed me out walking, and obeyed me, exactly as if I had parted with him only an hour before.” The experience was clear evidence to Darwin that dogs had long memories — and serious intellects.

In later years, Darwin would postulate that dogs were capable of abstract thought, morality, and even language. Dogs, he wrote, understood human words and sentences, and they responded with barks of eagerness, joy, and despair. If this wasn’t communication between the species, what was? The observations affirmed his notions that humans were not unique in having complex minds. “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties,” he wrote.

‘The dog would accept any small biscuit for a halfpenny, but nothing less than a bun would satisfy him for a penny.’Darwin’s close friend and research associate, George Romanes, took that idea and ran with it — some say a bit too far. A Canadian-born biologist 40 years Darwin’s junior, Romanes also glorified the minds of dogs. He related stories of how they could sniff out someone’s social status, play tricks on people, and even understand the value of money. “My friend was acquainted with a small mongrel dog,” Romanes wrote, “who on being presented with a penny or a halfpenny would run with it in his mouth to a baker’s…. The dog would accept any small biscuit for a halfpenny, but nothing less than a bun would satisfy him for a penny.” The wealth of anecdotes convinced Romanes there was practically no difference between the animal brain and the human one.

Stories were one thing. But the first real research into the minds of dogs didn’t begin until 1884, when an English banker named John Lubbock, who dabbled in the sciences, published the earliest study on language ability in a nonhuman. That nonhuman was a poodle named Van. Lubbock taught the dog to distinguish between blank pieces of cardboard and those with the words “Food,” “Tea,” “Water,” “Bone,” and “Out” written on them. Left to his own devices, Van fetched the “Food” and “Tea” cards far more frequently than the other cards, and since tea was one of the canine’s favorite treats, the banker concluded that the dog had learned to communicate with him. Van, “the Talking Dog,” became an international celebrity, and in a clear rejection of Descartes, Lubbock wrote, “No one, indeed, I think, who has kept and studied pets… can bring himself to regard them as mere machines.”

The views of Lubbock and Romanes, however, fell out of favor for many years, replaced by behaviorism — a school of thought that would rule the field of psychology for much of the 20th century. Behaviorists essentially said that scientists should focus only on what they could observe, not on the intangibles inside a creature’s head.

Not until the 1970s did an American zoologist named Donald Griffin challenge the behaviorist dogma. Griffin had made his name discovering that bats could navigate by bouncing ultrasonic signals off objects, a sonar-like ability he termed “echolocation.” But late in his career, he turned his attention to what he felt was a far more extraordinary ability: animals’ capacity to think and reason. Lubbock and Romanes were back, but this time they had hard science on their side. In a series of articles and books, Griffin highlighted new techniques and cutting-edge fieldwork that were showing, for example, that monkeys used deception in their alarm calls and that crows could fashion tools out of twigs. His ideas sparked a scientific revolution and a new approach to studying animal minds, which he dubbed “cognitive ethology.”

Chimps Get Outfoxed

But what about dogs? The old biases — that they were artificial, that they had been corrupted by domestication — still held. Then, two things happened at around the same time. Brian Hare told his advisor that he thought dogs could best chimps at the pointing test, and a Budapest researcher named Ádám Miklósi was told by his advisor to stop studying fish and start studying dogs. Inspired by the antics of his mutt, Flip, the advisor wanted Miklósi to figure out why canines were so smart. Unaware of each other’s research, Miklósi and Hare both published work showing that dogs could understand human pointing in 1998. Over the next decade, nearly a dozen labs, from Berkeley to Yale, Kentucky to Austria, began studying the canine mind. The canine revolution had begun.

It’s as if domestication tunes an animal into the human radio frequency.When Brian Hare opened the Duke Canine Cognition Center in 2009, he worried about getting enough dogs for his studies. Instead, he had the opposite problem. “When we run experiments with kids, sometimes the parents come late, or they don’t show up at all,” he tells me. “Dog owners come thirty minutes early, and there’s a line outside the door.” They bring their entire families. They volunteer their friends’ dogs. Some owners have driven three hours to be at the lab at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. One woman from Brazil wanted to fly her dog over. By the time I visit, more than 1,000 canines have passed through the lab. “The families are just so excited,” he says. “We don’t have enough parking spaces for all of them.”

After all of those experiments, I expect Hare to tell me how smart dogs are; how, more than any other animal, they hold the key to unlocking the secrets of the human mind. But he tells me something far more surprising. “If you want a smart animal,” he says, “select for niceness.” Intelligence, it turns out, may be nothing more than a good attitude.

Hare had his epiphany while studying silver foxes in Siberia — animals researchers have bred for decades, selecting for tamer and tamer animals every generation until today they are docile as golden retrievers. When Hare first noticed that dogs could follow human pointing and chimps couldn’t, he initially thought that they must have simply picked the ability up from hanging around people. The idea made sense. Wolves don’t pass the pointing test, and because they’re nearly identical to dogs, the difference must lie in cohabitation. But when Hare visited the Russian fox farm in 2002, he found that the domesticated foxes were just as good as dogs at understanding human pointing, even though they’d spent almost no time with people.

“The control foxes,” says Hare — the ones not bred to be docile — “were too freaked out to participate in the study. When you’d walk by a row of cages, they’d all run to the back.

Dog listening to the radio
Illustratrion by Leah Goren for TIME

It was like parting the sea. And when they did calm down, they weren’t interested in interacting with you.” The domesticated foxes were a different story. “Their stress response to people was completely gone. And because of that, they could solve all sorts of problems the other foxes couldn’t.” As Evan MacLean, Hare’s graduate student, explained to me, it’s as if domestication tunes an animal into the human radio frequency. Chimpanzees and wolves don’t understand pointing because they don’t get our station. Dogs, on the other hand, are completely tuned in to us. Indeed, we’re the only station they listen to.

What’s a Cat’s Favorite Radio Station?

Now about this time you may be asking yourself what radio station cats listen to. At least I was. My cats Jasper and Jezebel may not like all of my music, but I don’t think they’ve completely tuned me out. Remarkably, one brave scientist tried to find out: Ádám Miklósi. Though the Budapest researcher has been studying dogs for nearly two decades, he’s actually a cat person. Don’t expect him to solve the secrets of the feline mind anytime soon, however. “We did one study on cats,” he laughed over the phone, “and that was enough.”

‘We did one study on cats… and that was enough.’What Miklósi did was essentially repeat the pointing test I saw with Napoleon — with a few small modifications. His team conducted the experiments in the cats’ homes, for example, because he thought a laboratory would freak them out. And he used food instead of toys as bait, because he assumed it would be a better motivator. (Even then, not all of the cats were interested in advancing science. According to Miklósi’s research paper, seven of the initial 26 “dropped out.”) Once a cat was comfortable, a researcher picked up two bowls and showed them to the animal. Then she turned her back, placed food in one of the bowls, and set them down on either side of her legs. Finally, she pointed at one of the bowls, and the owner, who had been holding the cat, released it. Over multiple trials, cats followed the gesture, not the smell; they meandered to the bowl that had been pointed at, performing nearly as well as dogs on the same test.

But in another experiment, Miklósi’s team spotted an intriguing difference between cats and dogs. This time the researchers created two puzzles: one solvable, the other impossible. In the solvable puzzle, they placed food in a bowl and stuck it under a stool. Dogs and cats had to find the bowl and pull it out to eat. Both aced the test. Then the scientists rigged the exam. They again placed the food bowl under a stool, but this time they tied the bowl to the stool legs so that it could not be pulled out. The dogs pawed at the bowl for a few seconds and then gave up, gazing up at their owners as if asking for help. The cats, on the other hand, rarely looked at their owners; they just kept trying to get the food.

Are cats not smart enough to realize when a task is impossible? Are they just more persistent than dogs? Perhaps they’re simply not fully tuned in to our radio frequency. Unlike chimps and wolves, cats can use the information we give them (that is, they understand what we mean when we point), but unlike dogs they don’t actively solicit that information. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that, ultimately, is what makes them so hard to train.

‘You’d Be a Horrible Goat’

We’ve become the Internet for dogs.But back to the Russian foxes. Hare’s experiments had shown that the ability to understand a human gesture like pointing — something scientists had regarded as an advanced cognitive skill — required nothing more than a friendly disposition. Dogs and domesticated foxes seem sharp because they’re calm enough to pay attention to us. Does that mean that doggy smarts are just an illusion? And if so, what does that say about human intelligence? Quite a bit, it turns out. Humans, you see, may also be a domesticated species.

That’s a controversial statement in the field of anthropology, but when you look at the facts, it’s not so far-fetched. Almost all domesticated animals, from cows to pigs to cats, have a few things in common that wild animals don’t share: males and females are about the same size, they store more fat than their wild counterparts, they breed multiple times during the year, and they tend to be pretty laid back. Sound familiar?

Most anthropologists don’t use the term “domesticated” to describe people because domestication implies a human hand in the process. But the definition still holds if you consider that people, like cats and dogs, may have domesticated themselves. The idea is that, as we began to settle down in large numbers, we ostracized the most aggressive and antisocial members of our groups. Over many generations, the only people left, for the most part, were those who had traits and behaviors that allowed them to get along with the group. Eventually, we began to understand each other’s gestures, we developed a complex theory of mind, and we all became fully tuned in to the human radio station.

If you’re still not sold, consider the differences between bonobos and chimpanzees. Though the two species are nearly identical in DNA and appearance, they’re miles apart in disposition. Chimps are competitive and can be nasty. They rarely work together, even when it’s to their benefit. And they often settle their disputes by killing each other. Bonobos, meanwhile, are the hippies of the primate world. They’re passive. They’re cooperative. And they’ve found a better way to settle their disputes: they have sex. Bonobos are, in many ways, a self-domesticated species. And not surprisingly, they score much better on theory-of-mind tests than chimps do. “The differences between chimps and bonobos are completely analogous to the differences between wolves and dogs,” Hare tells me. And that’s one of the main reasons he studies dogs. If we can learn how their intelligence evolved, we can understand how ours evolved too.

Even scientists like Hare would have stopped studying dogs long ago if all they could do was follow a pointed finger, however. Recent studies have shown they are capable of so much more. They can recognize objects in photos better than any other animal, evidence of Darwin’s claims of abstract thought. Chaser, a South Carolina border collie, knows more than 1,000 words, the largest vocabulary of a nonhuman, and she learns them using one of the same techniques children use to learn words. And dogs can imitate our actions — walking around a traffic cone, for example, or sticking their heads in a bucket — up to 10 minutes after we’ve done them, demonstrating a demanding type of memory called “declarative memory” that’s only be seen in people.

Canines, in some ways, are even smarter than we are. We used them as tools for thousands of years — as hunters, guardians, and herders — but now they use us. When they’re bored, we provide toys. When they poop, we clean it up. And when they can’t figure out a problem, they look to us for information. We’ve become the Internet for dogs.

Are our pooches really smarter than other animals because they can do all of these things? Of course not, says Hare. Every species has evolved the skills it needs to survive. “You’d be a horrible goat,” he says, “and I’d be a horrible banana slug.” The reason dogs seem so smart is because they’ve evolved to live in our world, to tackle the same social and cognitive problems we have. So, in many ways, when we peer into the mind of a dog, we’re really peering into our own.


David Grimm is a deputy news editor at Science and the author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs (PublicAffairs, 2014), from which this piece is adapted.


The Simple Thing That Makes the Happiest People in the World So Happy

What makes people happy
Anthia Cumming—Getty Images

Research has found about 9 zillion things you can do to increase happiness.

Of course, you’re probably not doing any of them. To be fair, most people don’t really do much to deliberately make their lives happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Researchers found that the majority of the subjects they studied were not able to identify anything they had done recently to try to increase their happiness or life satisfaction.

So you want to start? You want something insanely easy to do that research has demonstrated over and over again works?

Something that the happiest people in the world all do?

Here you go:

Next time something good happens, stop whatever you are doing, give it a second and appreciate that moment.

Old cliches like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life”? They’re true.

The happiness researchers call it “Savoring.” Here’s how it works.

What Is Savoring?

We’re busy. We’re multitasking. And we think this makes things better because we get more done.

But the problem is that means you’re paying less attention to any one thing — and therefore you enjoy all of those things less.

Do you watch TV while you eat? That means you’ll enjoy your food less.

Savoring is all about attention. Focus on the bad, you’ll feel bad. Focus on the good and… guess what happens?

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

The key component to effective savoring is focused attention. By taking the time and spending the effort to appreciate the positive, people are able to experience more well-being.

“Stopping to smell the roses”? It’s true. People who take time to appreciate beauty around them really are happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.

Research shows that the happiest people take the time to appreciate the little things in life.

I know what you’re thinking: correlation isn’t causation. Maybe they’re just wired that way.

Nope. Wrong answer. Research shows it can work for anybody.

Focusing on the positive and appreciating those things more leads to happiness increases in less than a week.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

One group was told to focus on all the upbeat things they could find— sunshine, flowers, smiling pedestrians. Another was to look for negative stuff— graffiti, litter, frowning faces. The third group was instructed to walk just for the exercise. At the end of the week, when the walkers’ well-being was tested again, those who had deliberately targeted positive cues were happier than before the experiment. The negatively focused subjects were less happy, and the just plain exercisers scored in between. The point, says Bryant, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

Impressive, huh?

Okay, so what’s the best way to start savoring?

Savoring 101


Just for a second.

Stop checking texts when your friends are right in front of you. Stop watching TV while you eat. Don’t surf the web while you’re on the phone.

Just do one thing at a time that you like, and don’t hurry through it. Slow down and appreciate it.

Just doing that — that alone — caused significant decreases in depression and increases in happiness.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

In one set of studies, depressed participants were invited to take a few minutes once a day to relish something that they usually hurry through (e.g., eating a meal, taking a shower, finishing the workday, or walking to the subway). When it was over, they were instructed to write down in what ways they had experienced the event differently as well as how that felt compared with the times when they rushed through it. In another study, healthy students and community members were instructed to savor two pleasurable experiences per day, by reflecting on each for two or three minutes and trying to make the pleasure last as long and as intensely as possible. In all these studies those participants prompted to practice savoring regularly showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.

In many ways time is key when it comes to savoring. Knowing something has limited days or hours helps you savor.

When things will soon come to an end we don’t take them for granted. We’re grateful, we savor them and we’re happier.

Seek out those bittersweet moments because research shows they will help you appreciate things more.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

When we are fully mindful of the transience of things—an impending return home from an overseas adventure, a graduation, our child boarding the school bus for the first day of kindergarten, a close colleague changing jobs, a move to a new city—we are more likely to appreciate and savor the remaining time that we do have. Although bittersweet experiences also make us sad, it is this sadness that prompts us, instead of taking it for granted, to come to appreciate the positive aspects of our vacation, colleague, or hometown; it’s “now or never.”

This can really help you get more out of life.

And here’s the best part: you don’t have to do it alone.

How Savoring Can Improve Your Relationships

Sharing good news with your partner is a happiness double whammy.

It helps you savor and improves your relationship.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

Sharing successes and accomplishments with others has been shown to be associated with elevated pleasant emotions and well-being. So, when you or your spouse or cousin or best friend wins an honor, congratulate him or her (and yourself ), and celebrate. Try to enjoy the occasion to the fullest. Passing on and rejoicing in good news leads you to relish and soak up the present moment, as well as to foster connections with others.

But good news doesn’t come along every day. Is there something you can do more regularly as a couple to savor?

Create rituals the two of you can engage in.

Do a toast before drinking and look into each other’s eyes. Or any little thing that slows the moment down for appreciation.

I spoke to Harvard professor Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked, and she said rituals are a great way to promote savoring around a meal:

You can think about rituals that you yourself might engage in prior to consumption experiences. What they do, they make us a little bit more mindful about the consumption experience that we are about to have. Because of that, we end up savoring the food or whatever we are drinking more…

But what about when things aren’t so great? Can we boost our happiness when there are no good things to savor right now?

Yes, you can.

Savoring Is Also a Time Machine

Savoring doesn’t just need to happen in the moment.

Reminiscing about the past and anticipating the future are also powerful, proven ways to savor — and boost your mood.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.

Reminiscing about past good times with others is like sharing good news. It improves your relationship and makes both of you happier.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

Researchers have found that mutual reminiscence—sharing memories with other people—is accompanied by abundant positive emotions, such as joy, accomplishment, amusement, contentment, and pride.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has a four point system that I love:

  1. Anticipate with pleasure,
  2. Savor the moment as I experience it,
  3. Express my happiness to myself or others, and
  4. Reflect on a happy memory.

How much simpler can being happier get?

Sum Up

The cliches tell us to stop and smell the roses. The science agrees.

And when you survey 1200 people over 70 years old, who have had full lives, what advice do they offer?

I asked Karl Pillemer, author of 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. Here’s what they said:

…you should savor small, daily experiences and make the most of every day.

We all want to be happy and sometimes it seems so hard to get there. But the answer is simpler than we think and right in front of us.

(Hey, stop skimming. Slow down. Appreciate the words.)

Seriously: stop and smell the roses today. Enjoy the little things in life.

Science shows us it really does make a difference.

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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