Errol Morris has a confession

Just about a month ago, documentarian Errol Morris asked in a survey on the NYT Opinionator blog if we were optimists or pessimists regarding a collision with a killer asteroid.

Well, as it turns out, Morris had a hidden agenda. He wasn’t interested in asteroids at all, but in the way that fonts can effect people’s thinking. As he explains in a two-part follow-up post:

We all know that we are influenced in many, many ways — many of which we remain blissfully unaware of. Could fonts be one of them? Could the mere selection of a font influence us to believe one thing rather than another? Could fonts work some unseen magic? Or malefaction?

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One)

Is transparency really always a virtue?

Organizations tend to regard transparency as a virtue. Certainly it’s a good thing when it comes to financial statements and accounting principles. But when it comes to managing people, or harnessing the creativity of all contributors to a team, too much transparency may actually inhibit progress. A recent article by HDSL investigator Ethan Bernstein reflects on the case of a manufacturing facility where limiting transparency actually led to the improved productivity — exactly because it empowered worker autonomy.

Can behavioral science help build habits of peace?

We’re often asked what relevance the science pursued in the laboratory here has to the world outside. Here’s a very readable summary by Wray Herbert of a study conducted by Eran Halperin of the Interdisciplinary Center (Israel), in which emotion regulation — a focus of scientific study — was translated into a training protocol by which a randomly selected group of subjects were taught techniques of cognitive reappraisal. The result might hold clues to policy prescriptions that could help defuse conflict and open greater possibilities for conciliation and stable negotiated settlements.

Can we learn empathy?

Everyone wants their doctor to be both competent and caring. Medical knowledge can be taught. But is the same true of empathy? A recent article by Pauline Chen in the New York Times details a study using psychophysiology tools to help teach empathy to doctors in training. Read the article on the Times’ website here.