TIME human behavior

The Weird Reason Humans Shake Hands as a Greeting

It's to smell each other

It may not be as undignified as two dogs greeting each other but a handshake may amount to the same thing, according to a new study.

Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science found that people use the traditional greeting of shaking hands to surreptitiously smell each other.

The researchers secretly filmed subjects to see how frequently they touched their own faces, and if that number changed significantly after shaking someone’s hand. When people received a handshake from someone of the same gender, face-touching with the right hand increased by more than 100 percent.

Nasal catheters were fitted to subjects to measure airflow, which proved they weren’t just touching their hands to their faces. They were sniffing them.

“It is well-known that we emit odors that influence the behaviour and perception of others but, unlike other mammals, we don’t sample those odors from each other overtly,” Professor Noam Sobel, Chair of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, said in a press release.

Interestingly, hand-sniffing only increased on the right hand, used for the hand shake, among subjects of the same gender. When people shook hands with someone of the opposite sex, they were more likely to smell their left hand.

 

TIME Research

See the Human Body Under a Microscope

Closer than you thought possible

'Science is Beautiful'
‘Science is Beautiful’

The new book ‘Science is Beautiful’ shows how the human body can be alluring even in minutia.

TIME human behavior

Using Phonics Makes Learning to Read Easier, Says Study

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Getty Images

People are able to read better when their visual processing is more sensitive to auditory information

New research suggests that relying on phonics, a method of learning where an individual sounds out words, helps students to learn reading faster when compared with the whole-language technique, which hones in on visually memorizing word patterns.

In a study published in Brain & Language, scientists at the University of Buffalo utilized neuroimaging technology to suggest that phonological information is vital to helping an individual identify words while they’re being read. Moreover, individuals perform better at reading when they are more sensitive to auditory information.

“Better readers seem to have more of these neurons taking advantage of auditory information to help the visual word recognition system along,” says Chris McNorgan, an assistant professor of psychology who managed the study.

[Science Daily]

TIME human behavior

Fast Food Could Make Children Perform Worse in School

Jamie Grill—Getty

New study shows that kids who eat the most fast food have lower test scores in science, math and reading

A new study shows that children who regularly eat fast food don’t perform as well as their fellow students in school.

“Research has been focused on how children’s food consumption contributes to the child-obesity epidemic,” Kelly Purtell of Ohio State University, who led the study, told the Telegraph. “Our findings provide evidence that eating fast food is linked to another problem: poorer academic outcomes.”

The study, published in Clinical Pediatrics, measured the fast-food consumption of 8,500 American 10-year-olds and then reviewed their academic test results three years later. The children were a nationally representative sample and researchers took into account more than two dozen factors other than fast food that could skew the results.

Among those who ate fast food on a daily basis, the average science score was 79, as compared with 83 for those who never ate fast food. Similar results were discovered for reading and math.

[Telegraph]

TIME human behavior

New Google Doodle Honors Renowned Psychoanalyst Anna Freud

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Ergy Landau/Photo Researchers—Getty Images/Photo Researchers Anna Freud

Freud, the youngest child of "father of psychoanalysis" Sigmund Freud, pioneered the field of child psychology

Google’s latest Doodle celebrates the 119th anniversary of the birth of Anna Freud, whom TIME once referred to as “that pioneering lady of psychoanalysis.”

She was the youngest child of Sigmund Freud, the modern day architect of psychoanalysis, and the only one of his six children to follow in his footsteps.

Born in Vienna in 1895, Freud’s tryst with psychology began at the early age of 13, when she would take part in her father’s weekly discussions on psychoanalytic ideas.

She went on to become one of the founders of the field of child psychoanalysis, having been drawn to it when she taught at an elementary school in the early 1900s.

The Freud family fled Austria during the Nazi occupation in 1938 out of fear of persecution, and emigrated to London where Anna established the Hampstead War Nurseries for children rendered homeless during World War II. She applied her training and knowledge to the children at the institution, which was renamed the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic after being granted charity status in 1952.

Following her death in 1982, it was renamed the Anna Freud Centre and continues to be one of the major global institutions for the mental health of young children.

TIME human behavior

The One Equation That Explains All of Humanity’s Problems

Relax, it's not nearly this complicated
niarchos Getty Images Relax, it's not nearly this complicated

There's you, there's me and there's everyone else on the planet. How many of those people do you care about?

Good news! If you’re like most Americans, you don’t have much reason to worry about the dangerous state of the world. Take Ebola. Do you have it? No, you don’t, and neither does anyone in your family. As for Ukraine, it’s not your neighborhood, right? Ditto ISIS.

Reasonable people might argue that a position like this lacks a certain, well, perspective, and reasonable people would be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a position way too many of us adopt all the same, even if we don’t admit it. If it’s not happening here, it’s not happening at all—and we get to move on to other things.

I was put freshly in mind of this yesterday, after I wrote a story on the newest—and arguably least honest—argument being used by the dwindling community of climate deniers, and then posted the link to the piece on Twitter. Yes, yes, I know. If you can’t stand the tweet heat stay out of the Twitter kitchen. But all the same, I was surprised by one response:

Just out of curiosity, how has ‘climate change’ personally affected you? Has it brought you harm?

And right there, in 140 characters or less, was the problem—the all-politics-is-local, not-in-my-backyard, no-man-is-an-island-except-me heart of the matter. It is the sample group of one—or, as scientists express it, n=1—the least statistically reliable, most flawed of all sample groups. The best thing you can call conclusions drawn from such a source is anecdotal. The worst is flat out selfish.

No, climate change has not yet affected me personally—or at least not in a way that’s scientifically provable. Sure, I was in New York for Superstorm Sandy and endured the breakdown of services that followed. But was that a result of climate change? Scientists aren’t sure. The run of above-normal, heat wave summers in the city are likelier linked to global warming, and those have been miserable. But my experience is not really the point, is it?

What about the island nations that are all-but certain to be under water in another few generations? What about the endless droughts in the southwest and the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap and the dying plants and animals whose climates are changing faster than they can adapt—which in turn disrupts economies all over the world? What about the cluster of studies just published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society firmly linking the 2013-2014 heat wave in Australia—which saw temperatures hit 111ºF (44ºC)—to climate change?

Not one of those things has affected me personally. My cozy n=1 redoubt has not been touched. As for the n=millions? Not on my watch, babe.

That kind of thinking is causing all kinds of problems. N=1 are the politicians acting against the public interest so they can please a febrile faction of their base and ensure themselves another term. N=1 is the parent refusing to vaccinate a child because, hey, no polio around here; it’s the open-carry zealots who shrug off Sandy Hook but would wake up fast if 20 babies in their own town were shot; it’s refusing to think about Social Security as long as your own check still clears, and as for the Millennials who come along later? Well, you’ll be dead by then so who cares?

N=1 is a fundamental denial of the larger reality that n=humanity. That includes your children, and it includes a whole lot of other people’s children, too—children who may be strangers to you but are the first reason those other parents get out of bed in the morning.

Human beings are innately selfish creatures; our very survival demands that we tend to our immediate needs before anyone else’s—which is why you put on your own face mask first when the plane depressurizes. But the other reason you do that is so you can help other people. N=all of the passengers in all of the seats around yours—and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all flying in the same plane together.

TIME human behavior

How Not to Apologize

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BFG Images—Getty Images/Gallo Images ROOTS Collection

Sometimes “sorry” really does seem to be the hardest word. Not so for Marjorie Ingall, mistress of the art of the apology.

This post originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

When I was nine, my friend Debbie Levitt and I were at the community pool, doing silly jumps into the deep end. Two older girls were staring at us in a mean way, which we, in our naïveté, took as a challenge to make them laugh. We began upping the silly factor, sticking out our tongues and waving goofily at them as we leapt from the diving board. Later, in the locker room, they cornered us. “You think it’s funny to make fun of us?” one said. And she slapped me so hard across the face that she left a handprint.

Deb and I ran to tell a grown-up. The girls were brought to us and made to apologize. The one who had hit me stared into my face, gritting out “I. Am. Sorry.” Her squint, clenched jaw, and rigid demeanor made it clear that she was not, in fact, sorry. She added, “I only hit you because you’re older than she is.” (Deb and I were the same age. I was just taller. And, wait, no one should get hit, period! What kind of excuse was that?) The adult said to the mean girls, “I bet you learned your lesson, huh?” Mean Girl No. 1 smiled sweetly at him. “Yes.” Then she looked at us and whispered, “I bet you learned your lesson, too.” We did. We called Deb’s mom to pick us up, even though we usually walked home from the pool, and I pretty much stopped swimming after that. It was a lousy lesson for a nine-year-old to learn.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Win People Over)

I never saw or heard from the scary pool girls again. But maybe their lesson in how not to apologize got imprinted on my psyche. Today, when I watch terrible apologies from public figures on the news, I think about those girls. They apologized only because they were collared by an adult wearing athletic pants and a whistle. Not so different, really, from celebrities and elected officials apologizing because a team of publicists told them that their popularity or endorsement deals would suffer otherwise. But here’s the thing: An apology that comes without a little soul-searching and a genuine acknowledgment of wrongdoing is not an apology at all.

These days I have kids of my own. I’m not a scared nine-year-old. (I even swim.) When my daughters were little, I made them apologize for Lego-throwing and refusing to share. I wanted them to develop the muscle memory of apologizing. Saying that you’re sorry is a skill you have to learn, like tying your shoes and pretending your grandmother’s gefilte fish is not disgusting. But as my kids got older, at around age six or seven, I stopped forcing them to drag the words out from some deep and resentful place in their diaphragms. There’s nothing worse than a grudging apology. Now that they’re tweens, I do not demand and plead for apologies in the heat of the moment. I may banish them to their rooms. I certainly let them stew. But I invariably wait until they’re calmer and quieter before bringing up the impact of their bad behavior on others. They usually know when they’ve messed up. (We’re Jews. We do guilt.) And they’re more willing to own what they did wrong after a little time to marinate in their own thoughts.

I’m not saying that apologizing is easy. (I’m also not saying that I’m some kind of amazing parent. Rest assured that my kids still horrify me with great regularity and vice versa.) Apologizing well is hard because pride and shame get in our way. Even when we want to apologize beautifully and generously, our wee brains hate acknowledging the fact that we screwed up. So we find ways to convey (implicitly or explicitly, consciously or unconsciously) that the other person is actually at fault. That’s what’s wrong with all those celebrity apologies; they don’t fully inhabit the offense that they’re putatively addressing. Every “Sorry if anyone was offended” or “Sorry I responded badly when I was provoked” is an instance of transferring blame to other people. And anytime you or I say, “Sorry for what happened,” we are (also) being weasels.

(MORE: What Do Your Fingers Say About You?)

In truth, the mechanics of good apologies aren’t difficult to understand. A bad apology is cagey and ungenerous, an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility. Good apologies are about stepping up.

The 12th-century sage Maimonides said that true repentance requires humility, remorse, forbearance, and reparation. Not much has changed since then. Basically, you must take ownership of the offense, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Name what you did, even if it makes you squirm. Employ the first person. (“I’m sorry that I kicked your Pomeranian,” not “I’m sorry that your dog got hurt,” or, worse, “I’m sorry that it was impossible to ignore the incessant yapping of your undersocialized feral hell beast.”) Acknowledge the impact of what you did. (“My lateness was disrespectful of your time and inconvenienced you on what I know was a busy day.”) Be real, open, and nondefensive. (“What I said was moronic and mean, and I’m ashamed of myself.”) Offer a teeny bit of explanation if it’s relevant, but keep it short and—this is key—don’t use it as justification for your actions. (“I was tired and crabby because I had to work late, but that’s no excuse for being nasty to you.”) There’s a distinction between an explanation and an excuse; an explanation gives a little backstory without justifying bad behavior. And never follow “I’m sorry” with “But you need to lighten up.” Apologizing to a friend and then telling her that she’s overreacting is like giving someone a delicious homemade cookie, then grabbing it back and stomping on it.

(MORE: 5 Types of Friends Everyone Should Have)

When you’ve said your piece, let the other person have his or her say. You need to listen and absorb, even if it’s uncomfortable. If the other person is clipped and abrupt but accepts your apology, say “thank you” and mean it. Don’t continue to plead your case or dispute his or her interpretation of events. And if he or she remains mad, well, you’ll have to sit with that for a while. Maimonides said that if your first apology isn’t accepted, you have to try three more times. If, after that, the person won’t forgive you, you can stop trying.

Finally, make reparations. Pay for the broken window or the dry cleaning, tell coworkers that the error was yours and not your underling’s, make a donation to the wronged party’s favorite charity. If you said something boneheaded, educate yourself about why your remark was offensive.

And, for heaven’s sake, never present yourself as the aggrieved party. You are not the hero of this story. That’s why you have to say, “I’m sorry that I did something hurtful,” not “Sorry if you were hurt.”

A good apology means laying yourself bare. It means putting yourself in the other person’s position, giving her what she wants and needs.

In short, it’s not about you.

(MORE: 6 Funny Movies to Watch This Weekend)

About the Author
Marjorie Ingall is a cofounder, with Susan McCarthy, of the blog SorryWatch.com, which examines apologies in history, literature, and pop culture. She is working on a book about Jewish mothers.

TIME human behavior

13 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Laughing

Health: Laughter
Glenn Glasser—Glenn Glasser

This post originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

1. Contrary to popular belief, the number one catalyst for laughter isn’t a joke: It’s interacting with another person.

2. That’s because the modern-day ha-ha! probably evolved as a form of communication. Our primate ancestors used a similar sound—a sort of pant-pant—to reassure one another that their rough-and-tumble play was all in good fun and not an attack, says Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the author of Curious Behavior, and one of the foremost experts on laughter.

(MORE: 8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Feel Happier Right Now)

3. One of Provine’s earliest experiments proved that just listening to recorded laughing could evoke fits of giggles in subjects (which is why television studios use laugh tracks on sitcoms). In fact, according to his research, you’re 30 times more likely to laugh when someone else is around than when you’re by yourself.

4. The ideal number of words in a joke? 103.

5. “There is no magic formula or key for what’s funny,” says Scott Weems, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why. But, in general, he says, what often makes us laugh is when our brain is expecting one thing and then, in the space of a few words, that expectation is turned on its head. Take the classic Groucho Marx joke: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.”

6. Ten to 15 minutes of daily laughing burns 10 to 40 calories.

(MORE: 40 Classic Children’s Books)

7. Our appreciation for the unexpected starts as early as infancy, although on a very basic level. “Parents will notice that they can elicit a giggle from their baby by making a funny face, talking in a funny voice, or playing peekaboo,” says Merideth Gattis, Ph.D., a psychologist at Cardiff University, in Wales.

8. British psychologist Richard Wiseman, Ph.D., the author of Quirkology, has revealed clear regional preferences for what we find funny. Americans often like jokes that include a sense of superiority. (Texan: “Where are you from?” Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.” Texan: “OK, where are you from, jackass?”) Europeans tend to laugh at jokes that make light of anxiety-provoking topics, like marriage and illness. (A patient says, “Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip. I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say, ‘Could you please pass the butter?’ But instead I said, ‘You silly cow. You have completely ruined my life.'”) And Brits? Wiseman finds that they are tickled most by wordplay. (Patient: “Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum.” Doctor: “I’ve got some cream for that.”)

9. An adult laughs an estimates 15 to 20 times a day.

(MORE: How Not To Apologize)

10. “The same pleasure sensors in the brain that are activated when we eat chocolate become active when we find something funny,” says Weems. “It’s a natural high.” In fact, a 2003 brain-scan study published in the journal Neuron found that the dopamine reward centers and pathways in the brains of subjects lit up when they were treated to a funny cartoon, but not when they were shown an unfunny version.

11. Research has linked laughter with boosts in immune function, pain tolerance, cardiovascular health and maybe even memory retention.

12. A typical 10-minute conversation has an average of 5.8 bouts of laughter.

13. Even those with zero sense of humor can reap the benefits of laughter. How? Fake it. A 2002 study in Psychological Reports reveals that forcing yourself to laugh (or even just to smile) can improve your mood. The human brain is not able to distinguish spontaneous laughter from self-induced; therefore the corresponding health-related benefits are alleged to be alike, according to a 2010 report in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine by Ramon Mora-Ripoll, M.D., Ph.D., an advisory board member of the Laughter Online University, a supplier of online laughter education.

(MORE: Could This Much Money Make You Happier At Work?)

TIME human behavior

4 Ways of Choosing Happiness from Within

What makes you happy?

Reflect on what you’ve done today. What do your behaviors say about your approach to happiness?

These are the question I usually ask students on the first day of my psychology courses. Often, their responses sound something like this: food, shopping, a new car, a better job, money, sex, an honest spouse, and nice teachers.

For many, this is a very familiar list as it represents a very common approach to happiness.

All of these answers refer to something outside of us. Hence, the common approach is to change the external conditions of our lives, and we end up treating happiness like buried treasure: something that we have to find, attain, and pursue.

However, this may not be a very effective approach. It might be hard to believe, but studies indicate that the circumstances of our lives only account for approximately 10% of our long-term happiness. Sure, we may get a happiness high after buying the new shoes or electronic device, but (as your closet may attest to) that high does not last very long.

Instead of enhancing our happiness, the common approach may be a detriment, since shortly after attaining our pursuits we may begin craving even more of it in order to recreate our previous emotional boost. We can become trapped in what positive psychologists (those who study human happiness) refer to as the hedonic treadmill—the non-stop desire for more or greater pleasures: the bigger house, bank account, sound system, etc…

It’s no wonder some of us never feel truly fulfilled. If we think getting more will make us happy, we can never be happy, since there’s always more to be had.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to improve our lives. It’s only saying that if we believe our happiness is solely dependent on crossing the finish line, it may be impossible to have a happy life if we continually push that line further out with each step.

Instead of the conditions of our lives, research indicates that our long-term level of happiness is more influenced by how we choose to think and what we choose to think about.

So based on this research, instead of searching for happiness on the outside, what can we do to choose happiness from within?

Don’t be Your Own Worst Enemy

While some of our suffering is the result of unpleasant experiences, if you take an emotional inventory of your day, you may notice that much of your suffering is actually self-induced—judgments about oneself or others, replaying unpleasant past experiences, or fixating on possible problems that have yet to occur. Even when rain does ruin your party, how much of your suffering is the result of you prolonging the misery with your own negative judgments about the experience? So choosing happiness from within includes choosing the contents of your own mind, directing your attention away from exaggerated negative assessments and imagined conflicts and towards more neutral or joyful thoughts.

Practice Gratitude

Due to our bias to focus on past failings, we often fail to give all the positive events in our lives their just due. In order to compensate, we can choose to dedicate some time to remembering what has gone well for us. Make it a habit to reflect on your day and take a short account of what experiences you may have taken for granted.

Savor Pleasant Experiences

How frequently do you choose to savor an experience? Did you actually savor your warm shower this morning or your most recent meal, or did the experience just pass you by? While gratitude helps to refocus our perception of our past, choosing to savor pleasant experiences gives us a way to appreciate that which that fills our present, thereby building our repertoire of positive memories.

Exercise Optimism

We don’t know the future. So, why choose to only focus on negative possibilities when neutral or positive events are often more likely? Instead, make an effort to exercise optimism. Choose to imagine what could go right with tomorrow and anticipate positive occurrences since we can often miss them if we aren’t open to seeing them. Choosing to be optimistic is not only more realistic, but it can invigorate our lives as we become more aware of the wonderful possibilities that lay before us.

These choices are not always easy since we are going against some natural tendencies, including our tendency to search outside ourselves for a happy life. It’s a difficult habit to break since at every turn advertisements advocate “happiness from without” rather than the less profitable “happiness from within” approach.

Yet, through practice, choosing happiness can also become habit. Through practice we can more deeply realize that happiness is not the result of what we bring into our life, but the consequence of how we choose to experience our life.

 

Javy W. Galindo is currently a popular Humanities and Social Science professor at John F. Kennedy University and De Anza College, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. His latest book, based on his graduate course on the psychology of happiness, is entitled Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails: A philosopher’s simple guide to the psychology of joy, satisfaction, and a meaningful life. Javy is also the author of The Power of Thinking Differently: An imaginative guide to creativity, change, and the discovery of new ideas. For more information visit www.JavyGalindo.com.

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.

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