Saturday, October 16, 2010

6 Things That Are Secretly Turning You Into A Bad Person: #3. Touch

Of our five senses, the one we pay the least attention to, and science studies the least, is touch. Yet recent experiments indicate that we may be vastly underrating the first sense we develop. Everything from the feel of the chair you sit on to what you're holding can influence your behavior and the decisions you make.

Imagine yourself touching this. You'll be kinder in the comments.
Over a series of studies, scientists found that they could easily manipulate people's feelings and perceptions based on nothing more than what the subjects were touching. Holding heavier objects, for instance, made men think more seriously about things, which in turn made them more likely to donate money to charity if asked. Men holding lighter objects were less likely to donate to charitable causes. People handling rough objects were more likely to see neutral social situations in a bad light, saying that other people were obviously in a bad mood. That means that the answer to arguably the most frequently asked question over the course of human history -- "What the fuck is your problem?" -- might be as simple as "The tag on this new underwear is digging into my ass."

He killed millions. But in his defense, that shirt looks wicked  itchy.
Perhaps the most shocking find was that your hands didn't have to be the things doing the touching. People who sat in hard chairs were more likely to maintain a hard line in negotiations and were less receptive to their partner's way of thinking. So watch out for that next time you try to convince your boss you need a raise. If instead of a chair she offers you a pile of ducklings to sit on, you're basically screwed. After all, to be truly effective, ass kissing probably needs to be taken in new, horrifically literal directions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

6 Things That Are Secretly Turning You Into A Bad Person: #4. Going Green

We've all heard by now how Al Gore campaigns to save the environment while using an inordinate amount of energy at his mansion. The British have their own green punching bag in Prince Charles, another prominent green campaigner who's regularly called out in the tabloids for things like taking private flights to pick up awards for his environmentalism. And of course, we all know some obnoxious "go green" advocate who smugly carries his groceries in reusable bags and then loads them into his SUV.

No, but you are an asshole.
According to studies, if you took better care of the environment you would be more likely to be a selfish, lying, cheating and stealing douche bag. No, they haven't isolated a connection between old-man ponytails and super villainy. Behavioral psychologists believe it has something to do with a psychological mechanism called "moral balancing." It's the same reason you tell yourself not to worry about that second beer after finishing a big exam.
It's a different mechanism that tells you not to worry about that 11th beer after finishing that big 10th beer.
The theory goes that the better you are in one way, the less good you feel like you have to be in others. What makes green behavior special is that with most types of good behavior -- studying for the aforementioned exam or running a marathon -- there's an obvious, long-term return on your investment (one step closer to graduation and one of those shiny tinfoil blankets, respectively). With ecologically conscious behavior, the world isn't exactly in a rush to pay you back. Your grandkids are the ones who get to reap all that sweet breathable air.
To compensate, you cut yourself more breaks when no one else is looking. In the linked study, the green participants were more likely to steal from a group or cheat at video games. In the real world, you might tell yourself it all balances out in the long run when you hit a kid with your smart car.

Besides, your car probably sustained more damage than that kid.

So while your tiny carbon footprint might be saving the rain forest, and your ethical clothing may be saving some kids in the Third World, your lying and cheating is making life hell for those around you. And that's not even mentioning the bumper stickers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

6 Things That Are Secretly Turning You Into A Bad Person: #5. Caffeine

Around 80 to 90 percent of people reading this will consume caffeine in some form today. If you're one of them, you know the drill: You feel like an extra in a zombie flick until you get your fix, and you're ready to conquer the world when it's finally coursing through your veins. Of course, you'd also know that drill if you were addicted to cocaine, heroin or any other hard drug. But your caffeine addiction isn't a problem, right?
She isn't about to suck that dick for an iced mocha.
 Actually, studies show that caffeine addiction can be like a tightrope walk for your sanity. One espresso shot too many on your coffee break, and you risk flying off the handle into a barely controlled rage. Skip your coffee break, and you'll find that you're just as irritable, with the added bonus of flulike symptoms. It's a vicious cycle that is starting earlier than ever, with increasing numbers of elementary school children consuming caffeine each year.
 That's because caffeine actually amplifies your stress level. The same properties that make you feel five different shades of alright in normal quantities can easily push you right past that jittery feeling until you're having a nervous breakdown for no goddamned reason. This happens because your body doesn't know what's making your heart race. It could be a second cup of coffee or a masked gunman. All it knows is that when your heart starts freaking out like this, that usually means it's go time.

So it starts pumping stress hormones into the feedback loop now racing back and forth between your brain and your heart. Next thing you know, that inconsequential email you were just going to dash off to the boss has suddenly become the most important thing you've ever done. You'd think that your brain would put the brakes on at this point, but unfortunately it's too busy trying to figure out what you're going to do when you get fired for choosing the wrong synonym for "motivated."

Incentivized? Driven? Fuck this, I quit!
So that cup of coffee that's supposed to get you through the workday can also make you think the workday is impossible to get through. Then there's the fact that according to studies, everyone from teenagers to prisoners is quicker to express anger after consuming caffeine, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Lawyers have actually tried (and sometimes succeeded) in using caffeine intoxication as a defense for murder and running people over. The U.S. Army even recognizes its very anger-inducing effects.
Still not as crazy as the "Twinkie Defense."
 Before you decide to quit the caffeine habit once and for all, you should know that you're still going to be an asshole. At least for a few months, anyway. Caffeine is a drug, and you get withdrawal symptoms from it just like anything else that's addictive. When an alcoholic wakes up in the morning with the shakes and pours himself a highball, we judge him but how many of you can't function in the morning before your cup (or three) of coffee? Those withdrawal symptoms can then lead to ... you guessed it: high irritability, quickness to anger, depression, and anxiety if you have even one less serving of caffeine a day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

6 Things That Are Secretly Turning You Into A Bad Person: #6. Your Own Facial Expressions

Everyone knows that happiness makes you smile, anger makes you frown and louder-than-expected farts make you raise one eyebrow and point at the guy next to you. Well, scientists have found that our facial muscles are actually controlling your emotions more than you think. If that's not weird enough, Nicole Kidman's weird new face is indirectly responsible for the discovery.
Botox has been making women look sexier since the 1980s, assuming you're sexually attracted to smooth skin and people with awesome poker faces. See, in addition to firming up facial skin until wrinkles disappear, Botox also firms up everything else on your face, until people can't tell whether you're smiling warmly or weeping in terror. But hey, it's not like conveying emotion is your job or anything.

She's just a surprised as you are. You can see it in her eyes.
Well, according to a recent study, injecting Botox into your face not only makes you look like you have no emotions, it actually inhibits your ability to feel them at all. We tend to think of the relationship between our emotions and our face as a one-way street, but apparently your brain likes to check in with your facial muscles before deciding what emotion it should feeling at any given moment. Even if you have every reason to be delighted, if your brain checks in and you're not smiling, you'll still be unhappy. We need a complex series of interactions to occur involving our body, hormones and brain to truly feel something like happiness. And it turns out the part involving our facial muscles is way more important than previously thought.

Researchers found that the people who'd frozen their faces with Botox had lost the ability to feel strong emotions, or in some cases, pretty much any emotion. The study participants didn't even feel affected by "emotionally charged" videos. This is all good news for those of us who haven't yet injected poison into our faces. The study, and others like it suggest that smiling when you're down will actually make you feel happy. If you're one of the millions of women (and some men) who sought the fountain of youth, and ended up with the internal and external emotional range of the T-1000 ... well, at least you aren't that kid who got slapped on the back while making a stupid face in fifth grade. He probably needs help tying his shoes by now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

13 Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Ads Aimed at Kids: #1. Cocaine Isn't Just for Daddy Anymore

OK, maybe we're being a little unfair here. Sure, we know cocaine is bad for kids now. But they didn't know back in 1885 when this ad ran. Just like they didn't know that TV rots your brain back when Motorola claimed that TV was a magical learning box ...

Hell, we're just now learning the evils of corn syrup. How should they know not to run an ad specifically telling you to feed babies 7 Up ...

... or just straight corn syrup.

But that doesn't mean that they were worse parents. They still obviously loved their kids, just like parents today. Well, unless the kid's slovenly disregard for her figure was disgracing the family. Then all bets were apparently off ...


Sunday, October 10, 2010

13 Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Ads Aimed at Kids: #2. Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

Yes, the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab came with real live radioactive materials. It was supposedly low-level radiation and "completely safe and harmless!" though this is 1950 we're talking about. It's impossible to know if they were using the modern definition of the word "safe" or the Iver Johnson Revolver definition.
This toy was unofficially promoted by the U.S. government, which advertised a cash reward along with the toy to anyone who used the toy's Geiger counter to find uranium. There was presumably an additional reward for the first brave little boy to successfully use his Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab to kill a communist.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

13 Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Ads Aimed at Kids: #3. Gillette Safety Razor

There are two possible messages from this 1905 ad for a Gillette Safety Razor. The first is that nothing quite says "safe thing for your baby to play with" like a stick with open blades at the end.
Or you could make the fairly logical assumption that in the early 20th century, it was considered a crippling birth defect if you didn't have a thick, full beard at three months. Thus, prior to the invention of the Gillette Safety Razor, parents would have to shave the baby with a straight razor, and this product finally made it safe for the infant to shave himself.