Is it Rational to Have a Child? Can Psychology Tell Us?

A controversial new paper by philosopher L.A. Paul considers whether decisions about life-transforming experiences, such as whether to have a child, can be made rationally. I explain the argument and consider whether psychological evidence about the relative happiness and life satisfaction of those with and without children offers a solution.

Are You a Sucker For Math?

New research reveals a "nonsense math effect": people without training in science, mathematics, or technology are susceptible to the allure of totally irrelevant math when evaluating the quality of research.

Can You Explain Your Moral Choices?

People are remarkably willing to generate post-hoc justifications for their own moral choices and behaviors, even when those justifications don't hold up to scrutiny. A new study reveals that people are sometimes willing to do so even when the choices being justified are not the ones they actually made. Researchers call this moral "choice blindness."

Explaining Gender Differences

Harrods department store recently created a Toy Kingdom with toys arranged according to theme rather than sex, combining sections for girls and boys. The change has the media talking about toys and their impact on boys' and girls' development. Does it matter how the media explains gender differences? Research reveals that it does.

A Simple Lesson From Strep Throat

Sometimes life imitates art. And sometimes life imitates psychology experiments. This month my life took on an uncanny resemblance to fictional scenarios we use to study human explanatory preferences in the lab. Find out what strep throat and ear infections can teach us about what makes an explanation simple.
From Bonawitz et al. (2012)

Does Curiosity Guide Children's Learning?

Children are renowned for their curiosity. They're voracious explorers and loquacious askers, pestering parents with an endless stream of "why?" A clever new paper finds that children's explorations and explanations aren't haphazard, but instead serve a critical role in guiding children's learning and determining whether and when they revise their beliefs.

Explanation Roundup (February/March Edition)

Human curiosity and its consequences are everywhere. Find out about interesting posts and articles concerning the cognitive science of explanation from across the web, including findings on how children's explanations guide their exploration and inform Artificial Intelligence, and how we do (and don't) understand our own storytelling minds.

If Your Mind Made You Believe It, Is It True?

If properties of the human mind make people particularly inclined to reject evolution in favor of creationism, should we be more skeptical of creationist beliefs? More generally, does providing a psychological explanation for why someone holds a particular belief tell us anything about the truth of that belief? Read more for a glimpse into this complex set of issues.

Is Evolution "Just a Theory"?

Evolution's scientific credentials are sometimes challenged by noting that it is a THEORY, not a FACT. Do people reject evolution because it's "just a theory"? Research suggests that understanding the nature of science, and in particular the idea that theories are reliable but revisable, is related to accepting evolution. Read on to find out why.

Do You Wish Evolution Weren’t True?

Many people believe that an evolutionary worldview is existentially challenging, making it harder to find meaning in life and easier to justify selfishness. Do people reject evolution because they don't want it to be true? Do those who accept evolution do so reluctantly? Research in educational and cognitive psychology provides some surprising answers.

Embracing Darwin in an Uncertain World

While scientists overwhelmingly accept natural selection as a well-established scientific theory, it's nonetheless rejected by a sizable minority of Americans. What makes natural selection so unpalatable to so many people? And what makes alternatives, such as Intelligent Design and creationism, so much more attractive?

What’s the Most Beautiful Explanation?

Every year John Brockman and the other folks behind pose a question to dozens of scientists, writers, artists, inventors, and thinkers of various stripes. The question for 2012: What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation? Nearly 200 thinkers weighed in. I share a few of my favorite replies from the psychological and cognitive sciences.

Explanations Everywhere, Even In Improv

Last week thousands of New Yorkers and others across the globe celebrated the 10th anniversary of Improv Everywhere's 2002 No Pants Subway Ride by hopping on public transport without pants. What can these pantless pranksters teach us about the human mind?

Choosing the Best Explanation Is Elementary, My Dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes or Occam's Razor? Do you choose the explanation best supported by the evidence, or the one that's satisfyingly simple? Recent findings suggest that even 4- and 5-year olds show a remarkable capacity to evaluate and choose between explanations, taking both the evidence and simplicity into account.