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January 01, 2013, Tuesday

The 8 most interesting things we learned in 2012

Allow me to congratulate your achievements in the past year and wish you an even better one in 2013. May you have health and peace of mind in the new year.

It is customary to provide a list of what happened in the past year and what can be expected of the coming one. I will not abide by that custom. However, I will share with you some interesting findings published on, in an article titled “The 12 Most Interesting Things We Learned in 2012,” by Joel Smith. I believe social science findings, in contrast to technical findings, may be more interesting and relevant to everyday life.

1. Muscular superheroes change men’s body image: A study from Buffalo University showed that bonding with a superhero character can have a positive effect on the way men view themselves. Among male undergrads who reported no emotional connection to Batman or Spider-Man gave lower ratings to their own bodies after seeing muscly images of the imaginary heroes. Those who reported an affinity with the superheroes, however, had higher self-marks and showed greater strength on a hand-grip exercise later.

2. Children raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to become conservatives: A study published in the Journal of Psychological Science backed up a decades-old theory: authoritarian parents are more prone to produce conservatives, while those who give their kids more latitude are more likely to produce liberals.

3. Odd typefaces reduce bias: A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people’s attitudes became less polarized if they read a short article in a difficult to decipher font. The lack of ease apparently forced them to slow down and use more brain power to understand the text. This, in turn, increased the likelihood that they would respond to the material with an open mind.

4. Attractive people are more likely to have conformist self-centered values: New research from Israel based on 236 university students suggests that “the beautiful strive for conformity rather than independence, and for self-promotion rather than tolerance.” The ones deemed attractive, it turned out, were more likely to be motivated to conform and submit to social expectations.

5. Studying abroad boosts creativity: In research from the University of Florida, three groups of students -- 45 who had studied abroad, 45 who planned to, and 45 who had no interest -- were faced with two creativity tests. On both tests, the students who had studied abroad “significantly outperformed” members of the other two groups. On the second, those who had spent time studying overseas generated “ideas and solutions that were richer in description, detail and humor” than their classmates, including those who were predisposed to studying abroad, and planned to do so.

6. Men with shaved heads are seen as less attractive but more powerful: “Men with shaved heads project an aura of confidence, strength and overall masculinity” is the result of three different studies in the US. Men with shaved heads are perceived as being dominant and having leadership potential even if they might be considered less attractive. So rather than trying to reverse or cure their hair loss, the report suggests, the best strategy for balding men may be to shave their heads.

7. Ballet lessons can protect against the sexualization of young girls: There’s increasing evidence that the pressure to look and act alluring is being felt by younger and younger girls. However dance lessons seem to help. A Knox College study of 6 to 9-year-old girls living in the Midwest found a strong desire to look sexy and to equate sexiness with popularity -- except among those girls who either had a highly religious mother, had a mother who monitored and discussed with them the media they watch, or who were enrolled in dance class.

8. Pop music is getting sadder and sadder: A study published by the journal, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, concluded that Top 40 hits since 1965 have become longer, slower and sadder, and they increasingly convey “mixed emotional cues.” According to the study: “As the lyrics of popular music became more self-focused and negative over time, the music itself became sadder-sounding and more emotionally ambiguous.” So if you’re looking for an uplifting toe-tapper, best stick to the oldies.

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