Making Better Decisions with the Right Inputs

The wrong pieces of information--even if they’ve been used unthinkingly for decades--should be scrutinized carefully. If mountaineers die because they’re too impulsive, or business leaders fail because they’re better suited to the nuts and bolts of backroom decisions, then those factors should be detected long before they corrupt an otherwise sound decision-making process.

Capitalizing on Flattery to Bolster Hurricane Relief Funds

Since people are more likely to donate to hurricanes that share their first initials, the World Meteorological Organization has the power to increase charitable giving just by changing the composition of its hurricane name lists.

Why It's Impossible to Measure Beauty, Happiness, and Wealth

How attractive are you? How happy are you? How financially comfortable are you? These questions are deceptively simple, but many of the concepts that we measure in the social world are difficult to measure in the absence of reference points, so we're compelled to rely on constantly changing yardsticks.

The Folly of Crowds

Crowds are often wise, and we're in turn wise for listening to multiple voices when making decisions. For example, crowds are famously skilled when their members guess how many jelly beans fill a jar, or how much a large animal weighs. Sometimes, though, crowds are prone to lead us astray.

Limits in Human Imagination

For all its sophistication, our capacity to imagine alternative states is far from perfect. Even our deepest imaginings fall far short of complete immersion, and we're always left in psychological limbo somewhere between the present and a loosely sketched alternative.

Spotting Lies Amidst The Truth

Plenty has been written on the question of truth (and lie) detection--especially on how poorly we detect deception and, consequently, how to improve your chances of picking liars from truth tellers--but a couple of interesting and (mostly) recent findings that suggest that leakage is inevitable and detectable, as long as you know where to look.

Pretty Women Make Simple Men

Scholars, moralists, and writers have warned men to steer clear of beautiful women since antiquity. A spate of recent studies suggests that beautiful women can indeed be dangerous, because they inadvertently induce men to take risks, make mistakes, gamble, and generally behave impulsively.

When the Difference Between Punishment and Absolution Is Just Bad Luck

According to the law, and to common moral intuition, people who voluntarily commit wrongful acts should be blamed accordingly. That's why some homicides are prosecuted with more force than others, and premeditated murder warrants a tougher sentence than homicides caused by accident. But this intuition hits a brick wall when you try to explain why the shooter who kills and the shooter who misses experience strikingly different outcomes.

The Perils of Subtle Miscommunication

According to Alabaman law, it's illegal to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket. It's easy to make fun of the legal system for these isolated but obvious examples of legislative silliness, but the law is far more dangerous when its shortcomings are masked-when players in the legal process who appear to be communicating are actually talking at cross-purposes.

On Paul the Octopus and the Human Penchant for Patterns

People are fascinated with oracles, with the ability of man and beast to divine the undivinable relying on a combination of intuition and obscure rule-based algorithms. Life is a series of confounding coincidences and inexplicable flukes, so we're drawn to anything--oracles, prophets, rulebooks, statutes, religious doctrines--that purport to make order of the chaos.

Sometimes Agony and Ecstasy Coexist

Emotions arise from deep within our reptilian brains, and we sometimes mistake their primitiveness for simplicity. We have an intuitive sense of what it means to be happy and sad, hateful and enamored, proud and embarrassed--but what dawned on me recently was how often we experience two seemingly contradictory emotions simultaneously. 

The Persistent Illusion of Impartiality

It's not enough to want to be impartial; our biases are so well hidden that we're destined to be partisan as long as we're motivated to promote one conclusion over its alternatives.

Why It's Dangerous to Label People

The people we label as "black," "white," "rich," poor," smart," and "simple," seem blacker, whiter, richer, poorer, smarter, and simpler merely because we've labeled them so.

Needless Death on a New York Street

For ninety minutes, Tale-Yax lay in a growing pool of his own blood as dozens of passers-by ignored him, took photos, or stared briefly before continuing on their way. By the time firefighters arrived to help, the sun had risen and Tale-Yax had died. Tale-Yax's death inspires a predictable stream of responses, beginning with contempt for human nature and ending with questions about how and when humans lost their humanity. Were we better citizens 50 years ago? Or 10 years ago? Does New York attract particularly callous residents, or are good people turned vile after spending too long in the city?

Quirks in Time Perception

There's still plenty we don't understand about how humans perceive time, but one fact is clear: we don't perceive time the way clocks portray time, one second at a time, with each second passing just as quickly as its earlier and later counterparts.

Why Politicians (and the Rest of Us) Sometimes Say Too Much

Some people disclose more about themselves than others do, but we're universally driven to self-disclose. Just as other human drives like hunger, aggression, and sexual appetite sometimes lead us astray, our tendency to ‘overshare' occasionally lands us in hot water. Research suggests that surprisingly subtle environmental factors influence our tendency to overshare.

Understanding an Earthquake of Magnitude 8.8

Two massive, tragic earthquakes punctuated the first months of 2010. What's hard to comprehend, though, is that the Chilean quake was 500 times more powerful than the Haitian quake.