The hurdles to adopting driverless cars

September 2017

Driverless cars pose an ethical and psychological challenge. Overall, they are undoubtedly safer than cars driven by humans, because people are bad drivers.

But public acceptance and adoption of driverless cars will face hurdles, especially since they essentially allow algorithms to make complicated moral choices. When faced with difficult moral dilemmas -- should a car sacrifice a passenger to save three pedestrians? -- humans are no longer in control.

And who decides what choices the algorithms should be programmed to make?

Defense lawyers increasingly use genetic arguement

September 2017

Pinning a crime on particular gene is a tricky and fraught business. Although certain genes have been linked to more antisocial or criminal behavior, many factors, such as their social environment, play a role in whether a person commits a crime.

But lawyers may still be inclined to claim their defendants had a genetic predisposition toward crime -- and should be held less responsible because of that.

Should donors give to Hurricane Harvey relief, or long-term problems in developing countries?

September 2017

Thankfully, altruistic donations to the victims of Hurricane Harvey are pouring in -- as donations frequently do after such disasters.

But are those donations really the best use of donors' money? Or could donors spend their money more effectively elsewhere, by, for instance, giving to aid programs that seek to end disease or starvation in developing countries?

Listening, respecting and avoiding name-calling open up political dialogue

September 2017

To convince someone with a differing opinion of your point of view, it's wise to distinguish between your view of the person and your view of their opinion. Indicating that you believe the person as worthy of debate opens up the dialogue, says Peter Ditto, professor of psychology and social behavior.

What shuts people down? Name-calling, point-scoring and direct antagonism, which put people on the defensive.

Prentiss Foundation gift creates research opportunities for Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research

August 2017

Gift will help lab expand real-life application of non-invasive salivary testing.

A $150,000 gift from the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Foundation will enable a new direction for the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research: to translate basic scientific research into clinically useful information and methods.

The gift will fund a project to explore the feasibility of using saliva – rather than blood – to monitor lithium levels in patients taking lithium medications.

The perils of false memories in political investigations

June 2017

Politicians and officials under investigations like the one probing the Trump campaign's Russia ties often say they cannot recall certain events. Investigators and prosecutors don't look kindly on such statements.

But high-profile public figures do sometimes develop incorrect memories, such as Brian Williams' on-air exaggerations, and Hillary Clinton's story of coming under sniper fire in Bosnia.

"Educated, successful people in society can have pretty huge false memories," Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of psychology and social behavior, told Politico.

Read the story.


Journaling methods help improve mental and physical health

June 2017

A journaling method called "expressive writing" -- recording your deepest thoughts and feelings for 15 to 30 minutes a day, usually for period of days or weeks -- has numerous physical and psychological benefits, according to a meta-analysis of 146 studies on expressive writing conducted by Joanne Zinger, associate professor of teaching. The practice can improve mental health and even cause wounds to heal faster.