Can (and should) happiness be a policy goal?
How does an individual's happiness level reflect societal conditions? A new article in the first issue of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS) finds that similar to how GDP measures the effectiveness of economic policies, happiness can and should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of social policies.
Authors Shigehiro Oishi and Ed Diener write that periodically recording (e.g., monthly, quarterly) citizens' well-being will allow policymakers and researchers to test whether a certain policy had an intended effect and whether a society is making progress toward its ideal.
“We believe that an ideal society is a society where citizens feel happy, feel satisfied, and find their lives to be meaningful."
Liberal or conservative? Reactions to disgust are a dead giveaway
The way a person's brain responds to a single disgusting image is enough to reliably predict whether he or she identifies politically as liberal or conservative.
P Read Montague of Virginia Tech writes he was initially inspired by evidence showing that an individual's political affiliation is almost as heritable as height. Montague and his colleagues also recognised that those political ideologies summarise many aspects of life – attitudes associated with sex, family, education, and personal autonomy, for instance – and have deep connections to the way our bodies respond to threats of contamination or violence.
“A single disgusting image was sufficient to predict each subject's political orientation," he writes. "I haven't seen such clean predictive results in any other functional imaging experiments in our lab or others."
People change their moral values to benefit themselves over others
According to an old adage, if someone tells you “it's not about the money but the principle,” chances are it is about the money. A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that people are quick to change their moral values depending on which rule means more cash for them instead of others.
“Previous research emphasises people's personalities, genes, and upbringing as the main source of moral values and disagreements about morality," writes Peter DeScioli. "We found that people also adjust their moral values depending on which principle benefits them the most. Our moral principles are more flexible and self-serving than we would like to admit."
Peter DeScioli, is an Assistant Professor in Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University and Associate Director of the Center for Behavioral Political Economy.
Divide and rule: Raven politics
Mythology has attributed many supernatural features to ravens. Studies on the cognitive abilities of ravens have indeed revealed that they are exceptionally intelligent. Cognitive biologists at University of Vienna have now revealed that ravens use a 'divide and rule' strategy in dealing with the bonds of conspecifics: Socially well integrated ravens prevent others from building new alliances by breaking up their bonding attempts.
Thomas Bugnyar and his team have been studying the behaviour of approximately 300 wild ravens in the Northern Austrian Alps for years. They observed that ravens slowly build alliances through affiliative interactions such as grooming and playing. However, they also observed that these affiliative interactions were regularly interrupted by a third individual. Although in about 50% of the cases these interventions were successful and broke up the two affiliating ravens, intervening can be potentially risky when the two affiliating ravens team up and chase away the intervening individual.