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News on holidays, career and more.

Holiday Blues On The Brain

Loneliness shuns company.

Two things we know about Ebenezer Scrooge: He had no friends, and he loved money.

A brain-imaging study at the University of Chicago has shown that the pleasure centers of lonely individuals are activated by positive images of objects more than by positive images of people.

Lonely people, therefore, are less likely to seek out interactions with others because they don't find them satisfying, which only leads to increased alienation. This vicious cycle has serious consequences: loneliness is a proven predictor of depression, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems.

When looking at pictures of fellow humans in distress, lonely people—compared with those satisfied with their relationships—also show less activation in a part of the brain that plays a role in understanding others' points of view. Not recognizing when someone needs comforting could handicap social bonding, says co-author Catherine J. Norris of Dartmouth.

Researchers don't know whether neural differences bring about perceived isolation or whether unrewarding social experiences come first. Either way, don't turn down that holiday dinner invitation. —Sonya Sobieski

Haunted by Michael

Polishing the pop star's halo

This year we lost royalty. It's been noted that, pursuant to his death, the man we've known in recent years as "Wacko Jacko" has been reinstated in the headlines as the "King of Pop." Why the renewed reverence?

Your parents may have taught you not to speak ill of the dead. How come? Jesse Bering, a psychologist at Queen's University Belfast, suggests this dictum of etiquette may come from a fear of ghosts.

A few years ago he and some colleagues found that we'll give a stranger higher marks on kindness and morality if we've learned he just died. Bering has also found that people instinctively believe in life after death, and also think the dead wield power over the living.

So your change in attitude toward the deceased may act as "a preemptive gesture" to ward off any misuse of his newfound supernatural powers, Bering speculates. "Think of a plebe falling to his knees in front of an all-powerful king." A king who can moonwalk. —Matthew Hutson

Real-Life Reruns

Layoffs hurt worse the second time.

As the country careens toward a national unemployment rate above 10 percent, more and more people may be learning a difficult truth: Losing your job once is hard enough, but losing another is even harder.

The impact on our well-being of certain repeated life events—such as unemployment, divorce, and marriage—varies. According to a recent study conducted in Germany, repeated unemployment lowers our satisfaction with life below the level to which we sunk the first time.

This "sensitization effect" is not seen, however, with divorce. A second breakup doesn't bother us quite as much. And even if the split turns ugly, a second wedding feels just as good as the first.

Society's methods for coping with divorce or other negative life events are far better established than those for coping with unemployment, according to Jim Stringham, a psychologist and the co-author of The Unemployment Survival Guide . "The solution is to seek community support," he says. —Dave Levitan

Thanks, And Apologies

Shedding light on the Pilgrims' misdeeds

Barack Obama must decide this fall whether to break another barrier involving race. No president yet has acknowledged the genocide of Native Americans in his Thanksgiving proclamation.

The holiday is key to national identity, says Glenn Adams, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, and one's view of America determines what is important to celebrate. Adams and collaborators found in a new study that Americans who believe most strongly in our nation's supremacy most strongly prefer speeches that ignore the natives.

But reading the 1970 speech from a Wampanoag leader declaring Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning reduced subjects' nationalistic views and increased support for the religious freedom of indigenous peoples.

Adams suggests Obama use his speech to showcase the community and diversity present at that legendary meal—and then point out that "to be a more perfect union, we have to consider our past mistakes." —Matthew Hutson

Two Takes On Thanks

Of the past 16 presidential Thanksgiving proclamations, only 6 mentioned indigenous peoples—all of them by Clinton. Textual analysis by Tugçe Kurtis at Kansas revealed which themes the presidents highlighted:

President George W. Bush

  • National identity
  • Positive emotion
  • Military
  • Religion
  • Freedom

President Bill Clinton

  • Global citizenship
  • Tolerant diversit

The Green Monster

Good money makes you go bad.

It's not unusual for corporations to make headlines for unsavory practices—GE joined the party this summer when it was caught cooking the books to exaggerate earnings. A study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes finds that the mere presence of large sums of money pushes people past their moral limits, making them more likely to lie, cheat, and steal.

Subjects took a test in one of two rooms; one contained just enough cash to pay them, while the other was stocked with an extra five grand. The participants were paid based on performance, but test results were self-reported. Over twice as many people cooked their own books and overstated their performances in the "wealthy" room than in the "poor" room.

Such misbehavior comes from seeing green, literally and figuratively. Being in an environment of abundant wealth highlights the financial disparities between ourselves and others and stimulates envy, according to study co-author Francesca Gino of the University of North Carolina. Which means imposing executive salary caps may just keep all of Wall Street in line. —Sophie Chen