Research Lead: Social Tipping Points, a Marshmallow Dilemma, the Most Annoying Sound in the World, and more

You’re reading the Research Lead, a monthly digest connecting you to noteworthy academic and applied research from around the behavioral sciences.

Social tipping points to mitigate climate change

Researchers have identified six social tipping point interventions—societal and technological adjustments that could cascade into rapid change—that they believe could help us get on a more sustainable course. The international and interdisciplinary team combined workshop and survey data to first identify over 200 social tipping point elements, like social norms and financial markets that, if made more sustainable, could lead to more efficient decarbonization. From there, they categorized the elements and outlined six interventions that could accelerate change, such as building carbon-neutral cities, decentralizing energy production, and divesting from fossil fuels. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

Call it the marshmallow dilemma 

In a modified version of the marshmallow test, researchers from the Max Planck Institute paired children up to understand the effect of cooperation on self-control. After playing together for a few minutes, pairs were separated and placed in different rooms, alone … with a cookie. Children were told they would get an extra treat if both she and her partner could wait to eat the cookie. Researchers found that these cookie co-conspirators held out more often than those on their own. Sometimes you just need a buddy. [Psychological Science]

The most annoying sound in the world?

A 3,000 year-old Egyptian priest has spoken…sort of. Recently, a team of European scientists slid an ancient, mummified priest named Nesyamun into a CT-scanner to measure his vocal tract. With the measurements, they were able to 3-D print a replica of it. From there, it was just a matter of hooking the replica up to Vocal Tract Organ, which allows you to produce a vowel sounds through 3-D printed vocal tracts. The result?

Ok, so Nesyamun won’t be having conversations anytime soon, but it does seems like a rather unique way to link up with the past. And forgive me, but I couldn’t help but think of this scene from Dumb & Dumber. [Nature Scientific Reports]

A 3000 year-old mummy is placed in a CT-scanner, in order to measure his vocal tract.
After 3,000 years in a coffin, a CT-scanner probably feels pretty roomy.
Image: Leeds Teaching Hospitals/Leeds Museums and Galleries

Debating the data on racial bias in police shootings

Two sets of researchers have called into question a study published last year, which concluded that white police officers were not more likely than nonwhite officers to shoot racial minorities. The first critique argues that the original data analysis left out a critical piece of information—the rates at which police officers encounter people of different races. If white and nonwhite officers use deadly force on minority citizens the same number of times but white officers encounter minority citizens much less frequently, then white officers are using deadly force at a higher rate. The second critique takes issue with how certain variables were controlled for in the original study. The authors of the original article acknowledge the encounter-frequency arguments, but disagree on other aspects of the critiques. They’ve provided their own reply. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: original article, critique 1, critique 2, reply]

Judge sludge and women’s health

In Texas, it appears judges may be getting in the way of women’s health wishes for nonlegal reasons. When a teenager seeks an abortion, states often require her to get approval from her parents, which has been the case since 2000 in Texas. If she does not want to notify her parents or it could lead to her harm, she requires a judicial bypass—permission from a judge allowing her to complete the procedure. In 2016, this process became more difficult. Researchers analyzed 18 years of data, from 2001 to 2018, to understand trends in the judicial bypass process. The rate of denials for the first few years after the parental requirement was enacted in 2000 hovered around 5 percent, before falling to between 0 and 3 percent. And in 2016, when the process was made more difficult, denials again increased to about 13 percent, before falling again to around 5 percent. The researchers argue that these bumps in denials, after the institution of the parent requirement and change in the bypass process, suggest something other than the merits of the case are influencing judges’ decisions. [American Journal of Public Health]

Evolution of European sign languages

A new study sheds light on the development and dispersal of sign languages in Europe. A team of researchers built a database of 36 historical and 40 contemporary manual alphabets, which they analyzed to identify common features across languages. They identified six main lineages of European sign languages and identified how certain features of the languages spread beyond Europe to the rest of the world. [Royal Society Open Science]

Different signs for the latin letter “g” and the corresponding letters in Cyrillic, Greek, and Persian/Urdu. Image: Royal Society Open Science

Effects of psychedelics on festival goers

A research team surveyed over 1,200 people at six festivals in the U.S. and U.K. to find out how psychedelics impacted their experience. Evidence from their large-scale field study suggests psychedelics may boost your mood, feelings of connection to others, and sense of personal transformation. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

Can I have a word?

A large linguistic database just got a whole lot larger. The CLICS database (Cross-Linguistic Colexifications) just grew from 300 languages varieties and 1,200 concepts to 3,156 and 2,906, respectively. The term colexification refers to instances when a word can have multiple comparable meanings. For example, “wood” and “tree” in Russian are both called dérevo. The purpose of the database is to help researchers understand how the meaning of words varies across languages, in order to understand things like how languages developed and patterns in human cognition. In addition to expanding the database, the organizers have emphasized tools to go along with it that help ensure accurate and replicable research. [Nature Scientific Data]

“Tell it like it is”

Researchers will be familiar with the advice to have your research tell a story. The pressure to tell a good story, though, can get in the way of good science. In an editorial for Nature Human Behaviour, the journal’s editors outline the pressures and pitfalls for researchers to produce a “clean” narrative. They articulate their support for authors to be “transparent about what they did and what they found” and “commit to publishing work that is robust, transparent and appropriately presented, even if it does not yield ‘clean’ narratives.” [Nature Human Behaviour]