Cultural differences determine when children learn to play fair, by Chris Cesare.

Katherine McCauliffe and Peter Blake have been playing sharing games with children in different countries. Children learn to reject unfair deals at different ages in different countries.

They are critical of the fact that most psychological investigations take place in the WEIRD countries: Westernised, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. This study is an attempt to redress that imbalance.

You can click straight through to read this article on line, and there is also a nice video to watch which demonstrates the sharing game.

Nature, 18th November 2015.


We Could be Heroes by Michael Bond

This article in the New Scientist asks what makes people risk their own well-being to help strangers. This altruism is often dramatic and impulsive. Why?

“It took Michael McNally about 10 seconds from hearing the crash to run from his house in the Cape Cod village of Marstons Mills to the road outside. When he got there, the car was already burning… He looked inside and saw a young woman in the passenger seat… if she stayed there another minute she would die.”

New Scientist No. 3005, 24th January 2015, p36-39.

The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo

lucifer“The ‘Lucifer Effect’ describes the point in time when an ordinary, normal person first crosses the boundary between good and evil to engage in an evil action.”

Zimbardo is mainly (in)famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment. This book goes further, and explains how ordinary people are capable of evil acts. Zimbardo gave evidence at the trial of the Abu Ghraib torturers; this book explains his thinking on one of the most important psychological issues that there is.

“I summarize more than 30 years of research on factors that can create a “perfect storm” which leads good people to engage in evil actions. This transformation of human character is what I call the “Lucifer Effect,” named after God’s favorite angel, Lucifer, who fell from graceand ultimately became Satan. Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts.”

The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.

The-Better-Angels-of-Our-NatureSteven Pinker is one of those writers that everyone talks about but few people have actually read. He is one of the most well known proponents of evolutionary psychology, and if you call yourself a psychologist then you really have to know what he is about. Don’t just take my word for it. “This is one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.” – Bill Gates. “An astonishingly good book.” – The New York Times. “He writes like an angel.” – The Economist. This one is his most recent work (2011) but you might also look at How the Mind Works, which is a more general overview, and not at all out of date even though it was published in 1999.

Dark Rites by Dan Jones

This article in the New Scientist offers a psychological explanation for rituals like the Japanese tea ceremony, and religious rituals.

“Collective rituals are public signals that you are committed to the group, which facilitate co-operation with the group and create a sense of shared purpose.”

There is a description of an experiment in which children are copy ritualistic actions more accurately if they have previously been made to feel ostracised.

Another experiment compares two groups of children. One group worked together to make necklaces of beads based upon an invariant ritualised procedure: “first we add a green heart, then an orange square”, and so on. A control group simply made freestyle necklaces. After seven minutes the experimental group expressed greater feelings of affiliation and connection to their group than the controls.

“Children copy apparently aimless sequences of actions more faithfully than ones with a clear goal.”

New Scientist, No. 3004, 17th January 2015, p37-39.