Insights: News

Tidbits from inspiration to secret trysts.

By Matthew Hutson, ChiChi Madu, Arikia Millikan, published March 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Post-Avatar Glow

Inspiration comes from vastness

While some Avatar fans report depression and disappointment in the drab real world after exiting the theater, research suggests the film may boost creativity, social connectedness, and even spirituality.

By any measure, Avatar is awe-inspiring; it's vast and it rejiggers your ideas about what's possible. In one study at UC Berkeley, recalling an experience that induced awe made people more likely to want to go explore nature or do something creative like play an instrument or write. They also felt the presence of something greater than themselves. And in a Belgian study, watching short videos depicting childbirth or panoramic nature scenes heightened subjects' feelings of connection with and commitment to humanity and increased their belief that life has a purpose.

For sure, awe can also make you feel small, but if watching acrobatic cat people uplink their ponytails and fight giant exoskeletons in 3-D for two and a half hours doesn't make you want to run outside and play or at least write some erotic Na'vi fan fic, you may have bigger problems back here on Earth than not having a tree house and a hot blue girlfriend. —Matthew Hutson

Open Tax Season

Catch me if you can

Time again for that cat and mouse game of auditor and tax evader. (Minus all the excitement of actual cats and mice.) One eternal question in this pursuit: What makes people cheat? New research has found that windfalls are more likely than hard-earned money to go unreported. People do place more value on what they work hard for, and they'll fight to keep it. But they're also less likely to put it at risk; unexpected gains end up on the gambling table more often than other earnings. And tempting an audit is indeed a gamble. In the end, Erich Kirchler of the University of Vienna and collaborators found that taxpayers in business simulations were less compliant with the law when money came easy.

So how should victors of lotteries and IPOs escape temptation? "Keep separate mental accounts" for take-home earnings versus income tabbed for the IRS to avoid the sense of losing what's yours, Kirchler says. "Further, consider what you receive for your money." Who do you think pays for research like this? —Matthew Hutson

A Cure For Crime

When pills help police

According to FBI reports, crime rates around the country are steadily dropping. Can we thank increased law enforcement? Tougher crack cocaine laws? Roe v. Wade? A recent study by two economists sheds light on an unacknowledged hero.

The recent decline in crime may in part be the result of psychiatric medication, according to Dave Marcotte of the University of Maryland and Sara Markowitz of Emory University. Because many violent criminals suffer from severe mental illness, they argue, increased treatment and awareness have helped prevent crimes.

Over a 10-year survey period, drops in violent crime followed increases in psychopharmaceutical prescriptions even after controlling for income and education levels (but not for rates of talk therapy).

Markowitz advocates increasing access to anti-depressants and stimulants (such as Ritalin). She estimates that just a 10 percent increase in prescription rates for these drugs could decrease the national violent crime rate by 0.6 and 0.7 percent respectively, which would prevent close to 10,000 violent crimes nationwide. —ChiChi Madu


Secret romances are unhealthy.

The new book Game Change reports suspicions about Bill Clinton's post-Lewinsky affairs—trysts especially ill-advised given his history of heart problems. Researchers have now found that those who keep covert companions suffer health problems, including headaches, nausea, and fatigue, more than couples inclined to publicly display their affection.

The study also found that those who prefer to keep their love on the down-low are less committed to one another and have lower self-esteem. Previous research has suggested that keeping a flame secret makes it burn hotter, but the study's author, Justin Lehmiller of Colorado State University, says secrecy can act like more of a wet blanket. "Keeping a secret relationship limits the degree to which you see yourself and your secret partner as being interconnected—being one larger entity."

But Lehmiller noted that secret relationships are not inherently bad. In some parts of the world, for instance, same-sex couples are thrown in jail or put to death. "For some people, the benefits of keeping a relationship secret outweigh the costs," Lehmiller says, "because they just don't have any other options." —Arikia Millikan