TIME psychology

The Myth of the Diseased Immigrant

Border Patrol agents process a group of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala, mostly women and children, found walking near the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, June 18.
Border Patrol agents process a group of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala, mostly women and children, found walking near the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, June 18. Jennifer Whitney—The New York Times/Redux

The debate over the border crisis has descended to a sad—and depressingly familiar—place

Want to know how far we’ve sunk? Here’s how far: There was never any chance at all that we would handle the crisis of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children running for their lives and arriving at our border with any maturity or grace at all. There was never a chance we’d take them in, get them fed and settled, and then consider sensibly how we can address the immigration-emigration mess on both sides of our border—and on our border—while working to send the kids safely home.

Instead we got the usual circus, the usual call to send in the troops, lock down the border, impeach the president—because, well, why not?—and under no circumstances to consider the comprehensive immigration reform bill languishing in the House. And now, at last, we have arrived at the inevitable sub-basement level of the debate. Now the nativists and xenophobes have played their nastiest—and least surprising—card: the border must be secured and the immigrants sent back because they are, of course, diseased.

That ugly cawing has been growing in the past week—and a lot of it has come from the usual sources. “Our schools cannot handle this influx, we don’t even know what all diseases they have,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Alan Long, the Mayor of Murrieta, Calif., where sign-waving protesters blocked buses carrying immigrants detained at the Texas border, argued, “[Y]ou don’t ship people that are ill and contagious all over the country.”

In a letter to the Centers for Disease Control, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) added his addled voice: “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles. This makes Americans who are not vaccinated—and especially young children and the elderly—particularly susceptible.”

But as numerous sources, most notably The Texas Observer and the New Republic, have reported, the immigrants have more to fear from us than we do from them. The fact is, children from Guatemala, where health care is fully subsidized by the government, have a better chance of being vaccinated than kids in Texas, where one in six people is uninsured. The fact is, in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala again, the vaccination rate for measles is 93%, compared to 92% in the U.S.—and it’s much lower in some poorly vaccinated pockets like New York City, where there has been a recent measles outbreak.

The myth of the diseased immigrant is not exclusively an American phenomenon. All cultures exhibit it and none can completely avoid it. The behavior is deeply, deeply rooted in our brains—specifically in our amygdalae, where base feelings like rage and suspicion and impulsiveness lie. As I write in my upcoming book The Narcissist Next Door, this form of tribal narcissism—of elevating your group above others—was essential for our early survival. The clan that knows you best is the one that is likeliest to protect you and feed you and keep you alive. Wander too far from the campfire and you may run into the alien other—unfamiliar people who would just as soon eat you as say hello. So we’re hardwired to see them as strange and menacing and the people we know as familiar and good.

In the modern era, that simplistic truth becomes harder to sustain, so we lard it up with invented justifications: it’s not that people from the other side of the border are innately bad, it’s that they pose a particular menace. Their frail genes will weaken our hardy stock; their dark-skinned men can’t resist our light-skinned women; and, inevitably, they bring diseases that can strike us all dead.

The nativists and their raging amygdalae have always made claims like this and surely always will. The measure of a culture is not in silencing them—they will never go completely quiet—but in marginalizing them. They are free to descend to—and live in—the sub-basement of the debate. Everyone else is welcome to come up and enjoy the daylight.

TIME animals

Not Just Penguins: Many Animals Partner With Same Sex

A homosexual penguin couple from New York’s Central Park Zoo are back in the news now that a book about their relationship has been banned in Singapore. Keith Wagstaff looks at the core question about homosexual behavior in animals.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Would Rather Endure Electric Shocks Than Sit Alone With Your Thoughts, Study Finds

If you’re crazy busy like most of us and crave some time — just a few minutes, please! — to stop and just think, be careful what you wish for. That’s the upshot of a new study just published in the journal Science. The summary is written in such plain English (very unusual!) that you might as well read it for yourself:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Yes, people would rather stick their finger in an electric socket than sit quietly and think. Or rather, men would: 67% of male participants in one study “gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period,” write University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and his co-authors. On average, the study participants who elected to self-zap gave themselves 1.47 shocks in a 15-minute interval — “not including one outlier,” the paper says, in an impressively straightforward way, “who administered 190 shocks to himself.” (O.K., they didn’t involve actual electric sockets, but it’s still kind of surprising.) Women were far less likely to shock themselves, with only a 25% participation rate.

Why is just sitting and thinking so difficult and unpleasant, you probably wonder. So do the authors, in just those words. Perhaps, they say, “when left alone with their thoughts, participants focused on their own shortcomings and got caught in ruminative thought cycles.”

Another possibility, the authors suggest, is that thinking is just too complicated. In order to do it, you have to choose a topic to think about — a trip to the beach, for example — then mentally experience the trip. Exhausting!

But no. Questioning participants after the experiments revealed that neither explanation held much water. The reason we hate sitting and thinking, despite our fond hopes to the contrary, remains a mystery.

And yet, write the authors, stating the painfully obvious: “There is no doubt that people are sometimes absorbed by interesting ideas, exciting fantasies and pleasant daydreams,” and they do have an answer of sorts.

Research has shown that minds are difficult to control, however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.

Which may not be good news — but it’s at least good to know.

 

 

 

 

TIME You Asked

You Asked: Is Biting Your Nails Dangerous — or Just Gross?

Nail Biting
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Social stigma aside, experts say gnawing on your nails could lead to some scary health issues

You do it while you’re reading emails or watching television; the tip of a finger creeps up between your teeth, and you nibble away for a few minutes before catching yourself. Your mom always told you it was a bad habit, and you worry about coworkers eye-balling your shredded digits. But is biting your fingernails actually dangerous?

“Yes, and for a number of different reasons,” says Richard Scher, M.D., an expert on nail disorders at Weill Cornell Medical College and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

To begin with, your nails harbor all sorts of germs. In particular, a family of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae — which includes salmonella and E. coli — tends to thrive in the cozy crevice beneath the tips of your nails, Scher explains. When you bite your nails, those bacteria end up in your mouth and gut, where they can cause gastro-intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Long-term, habitual nail nibblers can also suffer from a type of infection called paronychia, Scher says. Tears or abrasions in the skin of your fingertips allow strains of bacteria or yeast to get inside. Both cause swelling, redness, and a buildup of puss around and under the nail, which has to be drained surgically and treated with antibiotics or antifungal agents, he explains.

If the infection is bacterial, the nail can also become tender and painful. “You’ll see it where every fingertip becomes inflamed,” Scher adds.

The wart virus HPV is also a common infection among nail biters, says Chris Adigun, M.D., a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. After infecting the fingers, these warts can then spread to your mouth and lips, Adigun adds.

The perils of nail biting also extend to your teeth. “Constant biting can lead to poor dental occlusion, so the biter’s teeth shift out of position or become oddly shaped,” Scher says. Biters also suffer from higher rates of gum disease and infection, he adds.

So how do you quit the habit? For a lot of people, nail biting is a manifestation of stress or psychological disorders.

“Both tend to cause teeth grinding, and your fingernails are a handy buffer.” You’ll have a hard time stopping without help from a psychiatrist or mental-health professional, he says. If your habit is mild, Scher says there are over-the-counter products you can spread on your nails that have a bitter taste. “The taste reminds you not to bite,” he explains.

TIME behavior

These Goosebump Sensors Can Read Your Emotions

The Goose Bump Detector is a goose bump monitoring sensor attached to the arm. Young-Ho Cho/KAIST

Sounds crazy right? Read on

South Korean researchers are developing a technology that can measure your goosebumps—which are activated when you’re cold, sure, but also when you’re scared, moved or otherwise emotionally aroused. It sounds weird until you consider the potential applications for such a thing, some of which are fascinating while others seem unsettling when it comes to emotional privacy.

A team of scientists at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea have developed a very thin sticker-like sensor that can easily be applied to the skin. The wearable 20mm x 20mm polymer sensor measures goosebumps, and the researchers believe it provides insight into human’s emotional states.

Although the sensors are still in early development, the team believes they could provide insight into physical and emotional responses so that they can determine how people experience and react to the world around them. This could help lead the way to personalized music streams and advertising, the researchers suggest in a statement. “In the future, human emotions will be regarded like any typical biometric information, including body temperature or blood pressure,” study author Young-Ho Cho said.

Social media sites like Facebook are already tapping into what the site perceives as your interests in order to curate advertising targeted just for you. Analyzing your emotions would take that kind of monitoring to a whole new level. Emotion sensing is something retailers are interested in, and companies like 3VR are rolling out initiatives like “big data video-mining,” which uses video cameras that can estimate the age, gender, and mood shoppers as they pass through a given store.

But what can goosebumps tell us? The obvious reason we get goosebumps is that it’s a biological method to combat chills. Goosebumps occur when tiny muscles attached to each of our hairs contract, and the areas surrounding that contraction rises. In animals with a lot of fur, this retains heat. We don’t have a lot of fur, so it doesn’t exactly serve the same purpose for us—but it does clue us into when our bodies are at an uncomfortable level.

When it comes to getting goosebumps while watching a sad or inspiring movie, it’s a little more evolutionarily confusing, but researchers think it’s because we release the stress hormone adrenaline when we feel strong emotions, and that hormone can trigger goosebumps to rise. “This response is an evolutionary holdover from our primate ancestors. Those ancestors had long hair that stood out when those tiny muscles contracted, making the individual look larger and usually more fierce when something threatening or scary occurred,” says Dr. Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution. “There was an evolutionary advantage for our ancestors, but for us, the advantage has disappeared—though we retain the impulse of those tiny muscles contracting just beneath the skin.”

The research is published in the journal Applied Physics Letters and it’s still preliminary. But knowing there’s a market for understanding your emotions is enough to give us goosebumps.

TIME Advertising

Like My Facebook Page, Buy My Product? Well, No

A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 1
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Social media doesn't drive sales, research says

People go on Facebook and Twitter mostly to learn about companies or products. True or false?

Answer: Are you kidding me? I don’t do it. You don’t do it. Nobody you know does it. We use social media to brag about our accomplishments, post vacation photos, see what our friends and family (and maybe a few celebrities) are doing and talking about.

This seems almost too obvious to mention—but companies are desperate to reach consumers, and with hundreds off millions of them visiting social media sites every day, marketers feel like they simply have to be there too, so they are—to the tune of more than $5 billion last year in the U.S. alone, according to social media consultants BIA/Kelsey. By 2018, that figure could rise to $15 billion.

Evidently, they’re wasting their money. A new report from the Gallup Organization titled State of the American Consumer has now quantified the obvious: 62% of consumers say that social media have “no influence at all” on purchasing decisions, while only 5% say the sites have “a great deal of influence.”

That’s not to say that social media isn’t a great place to get advice about stuff to buy—it’s just that we tend to look or advice from people we know and trust. And those people aren’t usually named “L’Oreal” or “Coca-Cola.”

Like much of the research that gets published, the results of this survey seem pretty obvious. Still, a study like might be useful for advertisers and marketers who aren’t always at the forefront of understanding how society is changing (think of Don Draper confronting the ’60s on Mad Men). What they should do, writes Gallup’s Ed O’Boyle in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, is to come across as more authentic, be more interactive, and make their content more compelling. “Gallup research has consistently shown,” he writes, “that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections—but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.”

Good advice. Now let’s see if anyone is paying attention.

TIME Food

Eat More Gluten: The Diet Fad Must Die

Yum, right? Well, eat up!
Yum, right? Well, eat up! Getty Images

For more than 93% of the world, gluten is perfectly fine. But marketers don't mind a bit if we all think otherwise

If you’ve got a hankering to make some money, now might be a good time to trademark a brand name for gluten-free salt. If they’re all taken, try gluten-free sugar or gluten-free water. And if they’re gone too, well, there’s still gluten-free shoes.

What’s that? None of those things had gluten to begin with? Well neither did Chobani yogurt or Green Giant vegetables or a whole lot of other foods that have nothing at all to do with wheat or rye or barley—where gluten lives—yet shout about that fact all the same in order to catch a ride on the no-gluten train before the latest nonsensical health fad pulls completely out of the station.

Gluten is to this decade what carbohydrates were to the last one and fat was to the ’80s and ’90s: the bête noir, the bad boy, the cause of all that ails you—and the elimination of which can heal you. As has been clear for a long time, and as the Wall Street Journal reports today in a splendid and about-time piece, a whole lot of that is flat-out hooey, a result of trendiness, smart marketing, Internet gossip and too many people who know too little about nutrition saying too many silly things.

Gluten is not entirely without blame in this, and for some people it comes by its nasty rep rightly. Celiac disease—an immune reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine—is a very real thing, affecting between two and three million Americans. Gluten ataxia is a scarier condition that attacks the brain, leading to problems in gait and muscular control. I’ve seen that up close, in a now-8-year-old nephew who exhibited terrifying symptoms at age 2 and today must avoid foods that contain wheat, barley and rye, as well as any pots or utensils that have come in contact with them, at least until he is done growing and his brain is through developing. Another 18 million Americans may have some lesser forms of gluten sensitivity that cause intestinal discomfort but no damage.

So, crunch the numbers and what do we get? Perhaps 1% of Americans definitely need to be gluten-free and another 5.7% ought to be careful. As for the other 93.3% of us. Break out the Parker House rolls.

But that’s not how things are working out. It’s not clear just when talking heads and bloggers caught the gluten fever, but once they started buzzing about how avoiding the stuff can help you lose weight, fight infertility, overcome fatigue, treat diabetes and—again and always—reduce the symptoms of autism, there was no going back. The website Glutenfree.com offers tips on “Preparing Your Gluten-Free Kitchen,” “Going Gluten-Free For the New Year” and, for nutritionists, “Empowering Clients in Their Gluten-Free Lifestyles.” There’s also “The Gluten-Free Guide for Guys,” because…well, who knows why.

But here’s one reason, at least for marketers: gluten-free is big money. As the Journal reports, U.S. sales of products carrying the gluten free label jumped from $11.5 billion to $23 billion in just the past four years. General Mills alone has added 600 such products to its inventory since 2008, when it first marketed its gluten-free line of Chex cereals. But while the manufacturers are getting rich on the craze, consumers might be getting sick. Not only will gluten-free products do you no good if you’re not gluten-sensitive, taking out the offending ingredient requires replacing it with something else for texture or taste. A whole range of products, including spaghetti, pancake mix and potato chips, therefore have less fiber and protein and more sugar and sodium in their gluten-free formulation than in their supposedly less healthy one.

As a representative of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the Journal: “The gluten-free fad has actually undermined people’s health because now there are gluten-free varieties of all that junk food. Whether your doughnut is gluten-free or not, it’s still a doughnut.”

The anti-gluties will surely tell you they feel better, fitter, more energetic, that their withdrawn child has suddenly blossomed and that their man—following the Guide For Guys—is healthier and happier. But the placebo effect—even the placebo effect by proxy, seeming to see better health in someone else—is a very real thing. Most of the time, however, it has nothing to do with the perceived cause.

Food fads are nothing new, and they do run their course. Eventually, the gluten-free cookbooks will wind up in the same river of pop detritus as the no-carb wines and the fat-free cookies and the crock pots and fondue sets and woks everyone in America seemed to buy at once in 1988 and stopped using sometime around 1989. When that happens, the people with celiac or gluten ataxia or genuine gluten sensitivity will still have to wrestle with their illnesses, while everyone else returns happily to their baguettes—searching for the next big thing to exorcise.

TIME sexting

Teenage Girls Are Damned If They Sext, Damned If They Don’t

Study finds male adolescents label girls who sext and girls who don't

If you’re asking an adolescent boy, a teenage girl is “insecure” or “slutty” if she sexts and “stuck up” or “a prude” if she doesn’t.

A study published on Jun. 6 in the Journal of Children and Media, appropriately titled “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t … If You’re a Girl,” found that although both male and female adolescents send sexts, teenage girls’ behavior is labeled regardless of whether they sext or not. The discovery was made after University of Michigan researchers Julia Lippman and Scott Campbell distributed open-ended questonnaires to 51 adolescents aged 12-18 inquiring about participants’ sexting practices and thoughts on their peers who engage in sexting.

The study defined sexting as “the transmission via electronic means of sexually provocative or explicit images or videos featuring someone known to the sender and/or receiver.”

“The most striking finding with regard to gender was the extent to which girls, but not boys, were judged for their sexting practices,” the study says. “According to these accounts, then, girls who send sexts are—to use some of our male participants’ words—crazy, insecure, attention-seeking sluts with poor judgment.”

Lippman and Campbell ultimately sorted judgments on girls’ sexting practices into three groups: negative opinions of girls who sext, negative opinions of girls who don’t sext, and opinions that only certain “types” of girls sext.

Most participants who made negative judgments were male, the study says. One 18-year-old male participant wrote: “This is common only for girls with ‘slut’ reputations. They do it to attract attention … [it’s inappropriate, but] it’s the fault of the girl who sent them. That she is being seen like that.”

The researchers emphasized that the boys were quick to pass negative judgments on girls who sext, failing to understand that a variety of factors, such as the boys themselves, influence a teenage girl’s decision of whether to sext or not. Girls, on the other hand, explained that they are sometimes pressured into sexting. A 16-year-old wrote: “My boyfriend or someone I really liked asked for them. And I felt like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t continue to talk to me.”

 

 

TIME animals

Birds Are Getting Lost Because of Our Gadgets, Claims Study

A Robin stands in the snow in Bramall Park in Manchester
Phil Noble—Reuters

A new study shows that man-made radiation stemming from electronic devices disrupts migratory birds' internal compasses

European migratory birds are having trouble finding their way around because of man-made magnetic radiation, a new report shows.

Researchers believe electromagnetic waves from major cities, stemming from electronic devices, disrupt the internal compasses of the birds, hampering their natural orientation skills.

Henrik Mouritsen, co-author of the report published in the science journal Nature, says robins were better able to navigate when their huts were covered with aluminum plating to obscure the magnetic interference.

Otherwise, the electromagnetic waves disrupted the birds’ internal magnetic compasses, he says.

The study was completed through seven years of double-blind experiments.

TIME Innovation

Ready or Not, Driverless Cars Are Coming

There may be an autobot in your driveway sooner than you think

+ READ ARTICLE

Predictions about a future in which cars that will fly, float or drive themselves have been staples of everything from science fiction to pop culture to corporate PR for decades. But now it looks like driverless cars, at least, may finally be hitting the road in short order.

Google announced as early as 2010 that it logged more than 140,000 miles in a self-driving car as part of a secret project. “While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science,” said Sebastian Thrun, a Google Fellow working on the company’s self-driving cars. “And that future is very exciting.”

Since then, Google and auto manufacturers have made great strides in refining and testing driverless technology by integrating semi-autonomous features into cars already on the market and building legal and public acceptance of the concept. But as the technology develops, questions have been raised about what it would mean if autonomous vehicles start hitting the roads in larger numbers. How do “robot cars” determine the best ways to react to an impending collision? How will human drivers and robots interact when they have to share the road? It won’t be long until we begin finding answers to these questions and others.

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