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Good For Charity, Good For Business

[ 1 ] July 22, 2010

An article in the latest issue of Science argues that pay-what-you-want pricing schemes, when combined with charitable donations, increase profits for sellers and charities.  Ayelet Gneezy et al, carried out a study on over 100,000 theme parkers. They manipulated two price-schemes for “souvenir photos:”  One group could “pay what they want” ($0-whatever), the other paid a fixed price (i.e. $5.00).  Additionally, half of each group was told that a large portion of their money was going to charity. Intriguingly, the group with the pay-what-you-want choice not only raised more money for chairty, but maximized profits for the amusement park as well.

In addition to offering a new strategy and incentive for firms to donate to charity, this article also sheds light on the psychology of philanthropy — “Free-riding” (paying $0) was decreased by the philanthropic factor. It appears that individuals are more likely to choose to pay a lot of money for an item if its cost is flexible and it’s “the right thing to do.”

Robert Seyfarth Explains Theory of Mind

[ 2 ] July 21, 2010

The “Theory of Mind” is an important concept in the study of cognition, communication, and child development.  ToM refers to one’s ability to attribute thoughts, feelings, and knowledge to individuals other than themselves.   Dr. Robert Seyfrath is one of the leading researchers in the field of animal communication, and offers a precise, succinct account of ToM in this nice little clip…


[ 0 ] July 20, 2010
NYU neuroscientist Daniela Schiller with an excellent piece in Scientific American about the recent research on courage, linked in last week’s QuickHits:

Mouse OCD linked to Immune System

[ 5 ] July 15, 2010

A recent study published in Cell magazine has shown that mice who exhibit “excessive grooming behavior,”  which is analogous to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in humans (OCD), can be cured by a bone marrow transplant.  The disorder was linked to deficient immune microglia cells, the street-cleaners of the body (they clear-up cluttery microbes and broken down cellular byproducts).  Healthy-mouse bone marrow was transferred to the OCD mice and within four months they returned to normal grooming patterns.  The gene responsible for healthy microglia – Hox8 – is a vital developmental gene, and it’s connections to observable behavioral patterns, like OCD, are intriguing and will certainly inspire further research.

Audio from the Authors:  Pathological Grooming in Mutant Mice


The Music of Your Genes

[ 2 ] July 14, 2010

Scientists and composers worked together to create an epic production fusing genetics and music performed yesterday by the New London Chamber Choir at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

DNA is composed of just four chemical compounds, which inspired musician Andrew Morley to tie each compound of the genetic code to a different note, leading to the final composition entitled “Allele,” where each performer moves through a sequence of notes that is based on a sequence of their own DNA processed in a lab. Here is a three minute clip via the BBC of a recent rehearsal of the piece:

London Chamber Choir rehearse “Allele” (MP3)


Consilience, Before it was the Buzz

[ 1 ] July 11, 2010

From Aldous Huxley, Literature and Science (1963):


Thought is crude, matter unimaginably subtle.  Words are few and can only be arranged in certain conventionally fixed ways; the counterpoint of unique events is infinitely wide and their succession indefinitely long.  That the purified language of science, or even the richer purified language of literature should ever be adequate to the givenness of the world and of our experience is, in the very nature of things, impossible.  Cheerfully accepting the fact, let us advance together, men of letters and men of science, further and further into the ever-expanding regions of the unknown.

Aldous Huxley

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