Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘research’

23 NOVEMBER, 2010

The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families


Why four in ten people are timetravelers from 1960.

From pop culture diversions like Modern Family to serious political and human rights issues like Proposition 8, there seems to be a palpable cultural shift in the concepts of marriage and the family. The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, a new study by Pew Research in partnership with TIME, aims to qualify and quanitfy that shift.

Some of the most curioius findings — which, if we were cruder than we are, which we aren’t, we could summarize as “So, Americans are still sexist homophobes who believe money buys happiness and human beings are innately evil.” — can be found below:

The Class-Based Decline in Marriage

Much of the 20% drop in marriage rates since 1960 has happened along class lines. But contrary to our liberal conceit that more and more educated young adults are choosing domestic arrangements other than marriage, those with a high school diploma or less have been the ones dodging marriage the most. The reason? They place a higher premium on financial stability than college graduates as an important reason to marry, but lower education equals lower pay within that demographic, hence lower marriage rates.

Marriage en Route to Obsolescence

4 in 10 people believe marriage is becoming obsolete, up from 28% in 1978. Even so, more Americans (67%) remain optimistic about marriage than about the educational system (50%), the economy (46%) or human morality (41%). In other words, people think you’re more likely to get married than to get a good education, live comfortably or be a decent human being.

The Resilience of Families

Despite views on marriage, faith in the family as a social unit remains strong. 76% of people identify their family as the most important thing in their life and 80% say the family they live in now is as close or closer than the one they grew up in. Unsurprisingly, however, married couples gave far more positive responses than the unmarried.

In the past 50 years, women have reached near parity with men as a share of the workforce and have begun to outpace men in educational attainment.”

Changing Spousal Roles

While the survey cites the six-in-ten working wives, double the number from 1960, as a sign of social progress to be celebrated, we were actually surprised by how low that number is. What about the other four? Worse yet, only 62% of people believe the husband and wife should both work and share household and childrearing responsibilities — which means 38% don’t. Two thirds believe a man should be a breadwinner in order to be “ready” for marriage, yet only a third say so about a woman.

The Definition of Family

Most people don’t see marriage as the only route to having a family. However, while 86% say a single parent raising a child constitutes a family, nearly 20% fewer think a gay or lesbian couple raising a child does — a disheartening bit of bigotry as we ask ourselves how one parent could possibly be better for a child’s emotional, physical, mental and social well-being than two, regardless of what gender the two may come in.

Read the full study here and draw your own conclusions.

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01 JULY, 2009

The Human Face, Up Close and Personal


What the CIA has to do narcissism, attractiveness and Autistic children.

The face, with its intricate lace of 33 different muscles, is a powerful gateway to human emotion and thus the subject of relentless research aiming to pin down how and why we express our inner selves on that living canvas. Here are 3 fascinating projects that probe what lies beneath.


NYU Media Research Lab professor Ken Perlin has the ambitious goal of isolating the minimal number of facial expression elements that capture our character and personality.

His project, Responsive Face, is a 3D animation demo that lets you play with various facial elements — brows, gaze, head tilt, mouth and more — to see how they change as they capture emotions like fear, anger, surprise, disappointment and happiness.

The eventual goal of this research is to give computer/human interfaces the ability to represent the subtleties we take for granted in face to face communication, so that they can function as agents for an emotional point of view.

The demo is based on the iconic Facial Action Coding System (FACS) developed by psychologist Paul Ekman, who pioneered the study of emotions through the taxonomy of all conceivable facial expressions and whose work is now being used by anyone from lawyers to actors to the CIA. (Ekman also collaborated with the BBC on the excellent series The Human Face, which we couldn’t recommend enough.)

Perlin’s work is also being implemented in helping children with Autism, teaching kids not only how to “read” other people’s expressions, but also how to manipulate their own faces to communicate their emotions.


If you’ve ever made a few beer bucks in college participating in paid psych experiments, you know those can be long, tedious, and possibly involving being stuck in a a big, noisy fMRI machine for an hour.

Enter Face Research, an online portal for psychology experiments about people’s preferences for faces and voices, where you can help the advance of science from the comfort of your own living room. The project invites users to take a series of personality questionnaires and participate in various experiments in exchange for a look at the findings once data is collected. Granted, that won’t pay for beer, but it does indulge the psych geeks among us.

Previous studies have investigated fascinating topics like the relationship between averageness and attractiveness, women’s preference for masculinity in men’s faces, and various other aspects of why we like what we like.

The project is a joint venture between the University of Aberdeen School of Psychology Face Research Lab and The Perception Lab at the University of St Andrews. Sign up and help coin the cultural definition of attractiveness.


That’s My Face lives in that awkward limbo between the scientific and the bizarre, with one foot firmly planted in the questionable. Simply put, it’s a tool that lets you upload photos of yourself and explore your face in 3D as you manipulate age, race, gender and other attributes.

So far so good. But then comes the questionable — the site offers various souvenirs of narcissism, such as your own action figure, framed 3D portrait, and custom 3D crystal. There’s even an affiliate program, where the more, um, entrepreneurial can make a few bucks off of other people’s self-worship.

That’s My Face was founded by a grad student from University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. We think it’s an interesting metaphor for the value of a PhD in today’s cultural environment — make what you will of that statement.

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29 APRIL, 2009

Pure Process: Picking the Creative Brain


What coffee, ironing and crying newborns have to do with the birth of an idea.

UPDATED: The Creative Process Illustrated: How Advertising’s Big Ideas Are Born is now out and we highly recommend it.

What if we knew how great ideas were born? Do great minds really think alike, or is the creative process as unique as our DNA? Can insight into another person’s process help you enrich and polish your own?

Creative academics and researchers Glenn Griffin, PhD and Deborah Morrison, PhD set out to answer these questions and more in an exploratory project-turned-book-deal dubbed Pure Process — an investigation into the minds of the advertising industry’s greatest creative thinkers. In a series of experiments, the researchers analyzed the “process drawings” of these top creative professionals — a visual answer to the question:

 What does your creative process look like?

Illustrated with a Sharpie on what Griffin and Morrison call a “process canvas,” the creatives revealed the routes they take to finding and catching ideas. The results: Just as incredibly diverse, wild and, yes, messy as you’d expect them to be.

So far, the lineup includes all-stars like Alex Bogusky, David Kennedy, Luke Sullivan, Kevin Roddy, Nancy Rice, and David Baldwin, among others. But they’re still looking for submissions — so if you live and work in the larger world of ideas, and you’d like your own creative process dissected and shared with the world, shoot them an email to be considered for inclusion.

It’s important to spend time NOT thinking of ideas. It often comes together when I’m neutral and quiet like in the shower or sound asleep. ~ Danny Gregory, ECD of McGarry Bowen

Pure Process is set for publication next summer by How Books. You can follow Glenn and Deborah on Twitter for updates on the project.

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12 NOVEMBER, 2008

Army Goes Ghost


What the U.S. Army has to do with Sarah Palin, the Terminator and Men in Black.

Holograms may be the stuff of CNN laughability these days, but it turns out the U.S. Army is working hard on the real stuff. According to Dr. John Parmentola, Director of Research and Laboratory Management with the Army’s science and technology office, they are “making science fiction into reality” using quantum computing.

Holographic futureHere’s the gist: There’s a special kind of photons that don’t bounce off of objects but off of other photons, which have bounced off of objects themselves. This causes the object to be reflected in the second set of photons, creating a “ghost” image. Hence, the technique name: “Quantum Ghost Imaging.”

The Army hopes to use it in confusing the enemy with objects rendered through smoke and clouds. And we thought ghost soldiers were the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.

The interesting part is that the military has been dabbling in quantum mechanics, neuroscience and robotics a lot lately, making nice with scientists and major research universities so they can grab revolutionary technologies before the general public.

Amnesia Beam Remember the Boston Dynamics Big Dog that shot straight to the YouTube top a few months ago? The technology was actually developed years ago and its possible military applications were first discussed by roboticist Rodney Brooks in his TED talk back in 2003. They’ve also dabbled in stem cell research for “growing back” body parts, turned to neuroscience for memory-erasing amnesia beams, and looked into controlling robots with nothing but thought.

Creeped out yet? You should be — it’s scary, Big-Brother-meets-Terminator stuff. But it’s also exciting to observe the mind-blowing scientific and technological progress of our day. That, and we loved the amnesia beam in Men In Black.

via Fast Company