Can Science Beat Jet Lag? Airlines Seek Help for 19-Hour Flights

A wave of ultra-long flights that will get you halfway around the world in one hop is pushing airlines to deal with the one extra you can’t escape: Relentless insomnia, debilitating fatigue and tormented bowels, better known as jet lag.

Qantas Airways Ltd., which will start the first non-stop service between Australia and Europe in March, is working with scientists in Sydney to discover ways to limit body-clock breakdown on the 17-hour flight. They’ve tried to make the color and intensity of the jet’s interior lights mimic dawn and dusk. Cabin temperatures and specially made meals will aim to put passengers to sleep or keep them awake—depending on the time at the destination.

Key to the problem is circadian disruption—messing with the internal body clock that regulates everything from brainwave activity to hormone production and cell regeneration.

The main cue for resetting that clock is light, said Steve Simpson, academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, which is carrying out the research with Sydney-based Qantas. But there’s a baked-in biological catch: the clock can only reset by about 90 minutes a day, even in the right conditions. An ill-timed dose of sunshine or a badly chosen snack at the wrong hour can mean days of suffering, he said.

Angus Whitley, Bloomberg, February 5, 2018

What makes some men sexual harassers? Science tries to explain the creeps of the world.

Over the years, Pryor — a psychologist at Illinois State University — and others have used socially engineered situations in laboratories to study how well the test predicts people’s behavior. And over time, they’ve identified these factors as the most distinctive in harassers: a lack of empathy, a belief in traditional gender sex roles and a tendency toward dominance/authoritarianism.

They also found in studies that the environment surrounding such harassers has a huge effect, Pryor said in a phone interview.

“If you take men who score high on the scale and put them in situations where the system suggests they can get away with it, they will do it,” he said. “Impunity plays a large role.”

“In study after study, we’re seeing that power makes you more impulsive. It makes you less worried about social conventions and less concerned about the effect of your actions on others,” said Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkley.

One of Keltner’s experiments, for example, found that people who see themselves as wealthier were more likely to cut pedestrians off on a crosswalk. Another found that those who felt powerful were even more likely to take candy from childrenOther experiments have shown that powerful people become more focused on themselves, more likely to objectify others and more likely to overestimate how much others like them.

William Wan, Washington Post, December 22, 2017

This simple solution to smartphone addiction is now used in over 600 U.S. schools

He founded a company, Yondr, whose small, gray pouches swallow phones and lock them away from the fingers and eyes of their addicted owners. Since it started in 2014, hundreds of thousands of the neoprene pouches have been used across North America, Europe and Australia

People entering a school, courtroom, concert, medical facility, wedding or other event are asked to slip their phones into the pouches when they enter. Once locked, the phones stay with their owners until they are ready to leave the premises, and then the devices are released from their tiny prisons at an “unlocking base.” The pouches can be rented for a single event or on extended leases. They are now used in more than 600 U.S. schools.

At San Lorenzo High School in California, which this school year began requiring students to Yondr (yes, it’s a verb) their phones from the beginning of first period until the end of the last, the difference has been stark. Grades have gone up, and discipline problems have plummeted, said principal Allison Silvestri. Referrals for defiance and disrespect are down 82 percent, she said, adding that before Yondr, most of them stemmed from arguments between students and teachers over phone use in class.

Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, February 5, 2018

More Than a Trillion Planets Could Exist Beyond Our Galaxy

Scientists have long been unable to find exoplanetsplanets outside the solar system—beyond the confines of the Milky Way. After all, our galaxy is a warped disc about a hundred thousand light-years across and a thousand light-years thick, so it’s incredibly difficult to see beyond that. But now, a new study is saying there could be extragalactic exoplanets.

The study, published February 2 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, gives the first evidence that more than a trillion exoplanets could exist beyond the Milky Way.

Beyond Our Galaxy

Using information from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and a planet detection technique called microlensing to study a distant quasar galaxy , scientists at the University of Oklahoma found evidence that there are approximately 2,000 extragalactic planets for every one star beyond the Milky Way. Some of these exoplanets are as (relatively) small as the moon, while others are as massive as Jupiter. Unlike Earth, most of the exoplanets are not tightly bound to stars, so they’re actually wandering through space or loosely orbiting between stars.

Elaina Zachos, National Geographic, February 5, 2018

Spending Time With Grandparents Makes Kids Less Prone To Ageism, Says Study

A new study published in the journal Child Development found that children who have good relationships with their grandmas and grandpas are less likely to show bias towards older adults.

“The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” says lead researcher Allison Flamion, a psychology graduate student at the University of Liege, in a press release. “When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”

Annamarya Scaccia, Huffington Post, February 2, 2018

Why do fans riot after a win? The science behind Philadelphia’s Super Bowl chaos.

Psychologists and sociologists have studied the phenomenon of sports fan violence and have found some interesting answers. Researchers attribute violent behavior to a heady mixture of factors: intense fan identification with a team, behavioral changes when people become part of a mob, and strong psychological and physiological responses when your team wins or loses.

And when American sports fans riot, it is almost always in celebration of a victory rather than a defeat.

People often split themselves into categories based on occupation, ethnicity, gender or other factors. Unlike race or gender, over which people have no choice, sports fandom is like a religion: It’s self-selecting but also strongly influenced by the environment, including family and other people with whom you grow up.

That sense of belonging it bestows can often be beneficial. In studies on college students, Wann has found that fans who identify strongly with a team often are less likely to feel lonely or alienated and have higher self-esteem.

William Wan and Amy Ellis Nutt, Washington Post, February 5, 2018

Is Your Child Lying to You? That’s Good

This experiment, designed by the developmental psychologist Michael Lewis in the mid-1980s and performed in one form or another on hundreds of kids, has yielded two consistent findings. The first is that a vast majority of children will peek at the toy within seconds of being left alone. The other is that a significant number of them lie about it. At least a third of 2-year-olds, half of 3-year-olds and 80 percent or more of children 4 and older will deny their transgression, regardless of their gender, race or family’s religion.

Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)

Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.”

Alex Stone, New York Times, January 5, 2018

How Mega Millions changed the game so everyone gets rich — except you

[A] recent rule change has made it harder for anyone to win the estimated $450 million jackpot (or $281 million if you opt for the cash buyout).

Mega Millions (and Powerball, whose Saturday-night jackpot now stands at $570 million) discovered that when the jackpot grows to an absurdly high figure, even skeptical players will buy tickets (New York Lottery’s commission tagline: “Hey, You Never Know”). Kelly Tabor, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Lottery, called them “jackpot chasers” in August.

Tabor also said customers wanted more chances to win smaller prizes. In response, both Powerball and Mega Millions tweaked their formulas.

Reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize. But raising the number of Mega balls makes it harder to win the jackpot.

“Starting jackpots will more than double from $15 million to $40 million, and jackpots will grow faster overall. There will be better odds to win $1 million prizes and higher secondary prizes,” the multi-state lottery said in a release.

Alex Horton, Washington Post, January 5, 2018

What I Was Wrong About This Year

I’ve come to realize that I was wrong about a major aspect of probabilities.

They are inherently hard to grasp. That’s especially true for an individual event, like a war or election. People understand that if they roll a die 100 times, they will get some 1’s. But when they see a probability for one event, they tend to think: Is this going to happen or not?

They then effectively round to 0 or to 100 percent. That’s what the Israeli official did. It’s also what many Americans did when they heard Hillary Clinton had a 72 percent or 85 percent chance of winning. It’s what football fans did in the Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons had a 99 percent chance of victory.

And when the unlikely happens, people scream: The probabilities were wrong!

Usually, they were not wrong. The screamers were wrong.

It’s not enough to say an event has a 10 percent probability. People need a story that forces them to visualize the unlikely event — so they don’t round 10 to zero.

Imagine that a forecast giving Candidate X a 10 percent chance included a prominent link, “How X wins.” It would explain how the polling could be off and include a winning map for X. It would all but shout: This really may happen.

David Leonhardt, New York Times, December 24, 2017

Why Surge Prices Make Us So Mad: What Springsteen, Home Depot and a Nobel Winner Know

[U]nderstanding the hidden logic behind concert pricing — or how Home Depot responds to a hurricane, or even how your neighborhood restaurant handles the Valentine’s Day crunch — can provide a guide to solving some of society’s biggest problems while satisfying people’s deep need for a sense of fairness....

Utilities and regulators, in other words, have to think a little like Mr. Springsteen: It’s not just about maximizing the efficiency of the energy market on any one day, just as the Boss isn’t trying to maximize his revenue from any one concert. Rather, it’s about maintaining a relationship in which people do not feel like they have been exploited.

Some short-term inefficiency can buy long-term viability. And that’s never truer than when disaster strikes, whether a heat wave, a blizzard or a hurricane barreling toward the most populous area of Florida.

As Hurricane Irma did just that in early September, about 150 Home Depot officials gathered in the company’s Atlanta headquarters in an auditorium and a series of conference rooms that became the company’s temporary command center. Logistics experts, store operations officials, corporate security staffers, human resources employees, lawyers and representatives of major suppliers were all there, in what is now a well-rehearsed exercise.

The first thing they did was direct all prices to be frozen in areas likely to be affected by the storm. There is no surge pricing at Home Depot stores after a disaster, in both a longstanding corporate policy and a matter of law in many states.

Neil Irwin, New York Times, October 14, 2017