Tag Archives: study

There Goes Another One….

I think I’m beginning to figure out why so many ostentatiously pious people reject science and empirical data. (And yes, Ben Carson, one of the examples I’m looking at is you…) It’s because those darn scientists keep telling us stuff we don’t want to hear.

And now, they’ve done it again.

It’s frequently argued that we need religion because–to use religious language– it leads people to “love their neighbors as themselves,” to be generous and giving. The accuracy of that assertion was recently tested by Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. The results of his study have just been published in Current Biology. As the Economist reports,

Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project, and focused on one child per family. Five hundred and ten of their volunteer families described themselves as Muslim, 280 as Christian, 29 as Jewish, 18 as Buddhist and 5 as Hindu. A further 323 said they were non-religious, 3 were agnostic and 2 ticked the box marked “other”.

Decety and his collaborators used a variety of measurements to assess the religiosity of participating families, and arranged for the children to play a version of what is known to psychologists as the dictator game—an activity measuring altruism, that involves the willingness of the children to give up “stickers” that they have been awarded.

The upshot was that the children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3. Moreover, a regression analysis on these groups of children showed that their generosity was inversely correlated with their households’ religiosity. This effect remained regardless of a family’s wealth and status (rich children were more generous than poor ones), a child’s age (older children were more generous than younger ones) or the nationality of the participant. These findings are, however, in marked contrast to parents’ assessments of their own children’s sensitivity to injustice. When asked, religious parents reported their children to be more sensitive than non-believing parents did.

This is only one result, of course. It would need to be replicated before strong conclusions could be drawn. But it is suggestive. And what it suggests is not only that what is preached by religion is not always what is practised, which would not be a surprise, but that in some unknown way the preaching makes things worse.

Happy Sunday morning….

And This is Supposed to be Good News?

The average amount of time Indy folks spend commuting hasn’t increased since last year, according to the IBJ. The headline suggests that this is a positive finding. We should all cheer.

An Indianapolis commuter spends an average of 41 hours in freeway delays during rush hour each year, according to a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Forty-one hours–an entire week of one’s life, each and every year–spent behind the wheel, looking at someone else’s tail lights.

What could you do with that week? Read a book, play with your children, volunteer for a charity…sleep? Make love?

I’ve always had difficulty understanding the folks who live in far-flung suburbs, and willingly trade convenience for the privilege of mowing more grass. My own commute is less than 2 miles, and during rush hour can take up to 8 minutes, so I’m not the most empathetic person to be commenting on the waste of time involved. But let’s do a thought experiment: what if Indianapolis had real mass transit?

By “real,” I mean public transportation with 5 or at most 10-minute headways, on clean and comfortable trains or buses with wi-fi. Such a transportation system wouldn’t just improve the environment by saving lots of carbon emissions. It wouldn’t just jump-start the local economy by getting employees to work. It wouldn’t just encourage smart urban growth.

It would give that average Indianapolis commuter a week of his or her life back. Every year.

The grass aficionados could have their cake and eat it too: they could spend their commuting week reading, emailing, working–or just listening to music. Or sleeping. (Sex probably isn’t an option.)

If I were one of the people spending a week of every year stuck in traffic, I’d be down at the Indiana Statehouse demanding the right to hold a referendum. And if the micro-managing legislators actually allowed us a measure of self-determination, I’d beat the drums for a positive vote–and my chance to recapture that lost week.