Entries in memory (5)

Wednesday
Dec172014

All I Want for Christmas is You: The Science of Gift Giving

Each year around mid-November, business owners begin to lick their chops: the next month will arguably be their busiest and most profitable. Last year, for example, Americans spent over $52 billion during the Thanksgiving weekend alone.1 Although large portions of these purchases are surely self-indulging, people also make a lot of purchases to take care of gift shopping for the upcoming holiday season.

Gift giving seems to be a biologically natural phenomenon across a range of species and targets – even organisms as simple as insects feel the need to get in on the giving. Male crickets, for example, gift their sexual partners with a nutritious treat to prevent them from prematurely consuming their sperm ampulla—essentially a big bag of sperm—after mating.2 Insect gift giving extends beyond sexual partners as well: burying beetles provide their young larvae with a tasty carcass to feed on and live in.3

Similarly, humans often provide their loved ones—children, mates, or otherwise—with an assortment of presents. Thankfully, these gifts tend to be less disgusting than those given by our insect counterparts. Although you may look forward to exchanging gifts with your loved ones this time of year, it’s worth asking: is gift giving good for relationships, or is it possible for gift giving to somehow harm close relationships?

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Tuesday
Sep242013

Sleep Tight...Will the Sex Dreams Bite?

In a previous article, I mentioned that having sex dreams is associated with feelings of love and intimacy with romantic partners on the following day. This finding begs the question: What else do we know about sex dreams? Much has been theorized (beginning with some wacky ideas from Freud1 and psychoanalysis, which I won’t go into here) but when you examine the research that has used modern scientific methods, it becomes clear that we don’t know very much. Sex dreams have been documented worldwide, but the frequency of sexual content in dreams is really tough to estimate (some early studies estimated 5-10%,2 while others peg the frequency around 80%3). In addition, some studies have found gender differences (men having more frequent sex dreams than women2), but that has not been replicated in all samples; for example, in a sample of Brazilian participants, sex dreams appeared roughly 10% of the time in both men and women.4 Some of these discrepancies in the research could be due to inconsistent frequency of dreaming in general, or less willingness to report sex dreams in some samples.

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Friday
Dec142012

All I Want for Christmas is You: The Science of Gift Giving

Each year around mid-November, business owners begin to lick their chops: the next month will arguably be their busiest and most profitable. Last year, for example, Americans spent over $52 billion during the Thanksgiving weekend alone.1 Although large portions of these purchases are surely self-indulging, people also make a lot of purchases to take care of gift shopping for the upcoming holiday season.

Gift giving seems to be a biologically natural phenomenon across a range of species and targets – even organisms as simple as insects feel the need to get in on the giving.

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Tuesday
Dec112012

The Warm Glow of the Past

Let’s take a trip down nostalgia lane for a moment. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and try to bring to mind a special memory. What came to mind? You might be thinking about a special time with a loved one or a beloved pet. Perhaps you are recalling an event that has special meaning for you, such as your wedding day or the birth of your child. Maybe the thought of Grandma’s cookies flood your senses – so much so that you can actually smell them baking in the kitchen. Or you could be thinking about the happy-go-lucky days of your youth when you were free to be whomever you wanted to be.

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Thursday
Jul262012

Your Partner and You: One Shared Brain

An interesting idea that has recently emerged in psychology and cognitive science is the extended mind: the notion that your cognition is not merely “in your head,” but can extend to the world around you. Google presents a good example of this phenomenon. People are less likely to remember information when they know it is stored somewhere “outside” of their heads – particularly, a computer or the internet. Hence, we may not trouble ourselves in memorizing a recipe for a delicious dip simply because we know where we can find it online. Likewise, we probably don’t know many cell phone numbers because we know that they are readily available in our phone (although this may lead us to panic when our phone loses all that information).

The extended mind phenomenon also opens a door to another question: given that romantic relationships are characterized by relatively high degrees of self-other overlap, can your romantic partner serve as an extension of your own mind?

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