Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.

 

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October 7th, 2010

iffriendsdrinktoomuch-flashOne more to add to the series of social network studies out there: If your friends drink a lot, you will, too.

Writes Time.com

After a statistical analysis of social connections and alcohol consumption patterns, the researchers found that, like so many other things, drinking habits can be contagious: if a close connection (friend, relative, coworker) drank heavily-defined as an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men-participants were 50% more likely to drink heavily themselves; if someone connected by two degrees of separation (a friend of a friend) drank heavily, participants were 36% more likely to do so.

We’ve already seen that loneliness, happiness, obesity, self-control, voting habits and more are “contagious.” This most recent study was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Clearly a group of social scientists are building a career on studying the effects of friends and family on our behavior. And it’s interesting stuff. But the results are the same every time. Is everything contagious? If so, does any of this research matter past what our parents (and numerous Biblical passages) always told us?

Pick your friends wisely. And for a rather …

October 6th, 2010

My memory… it slips sometimes.  I wish I could blame it on my advancing age.  After all, forty is right around the corner and I’d like to simply believe that as time passes, so do the hard drive of my brain has to let go of some of the storage in order to make room for more up-to-date files… of course then I’d have to ignore my past history, including one of my more infamous episodes from college.

I was visiting some friends after my junior year of school one summer evening and everyone decided to hit the bars… as many of my friends were wont to do during that time of our lives.  But since going out in that manner was something I did a lot at that particular time of my life, I volunteered to be the designated driver.  We had a good time throughout the night, my buddies downed some beers while I shotgunned Diet Cokes.  As the bars began to close, we all go into the car to head home with me driving.  Not thirty seconds after pulling out of the parking lot, a police car turned on his lights and we pulled over.

In those …

October 5th, 2010

family-time-onrise-flashAccording to a recent working paper presented at Brookings, Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California at San Diego report that

Parents are spending more time with kids, even when both parents work outside the home
College-educated parents are now spending twice as much as time with their children than less-educated parents
The gap between well-educated and less-educated parents providing childcare is widening

Why the change-especially among college-educated parents? Drs. Ramey attribute the increase in time educated parents are spending with their children to an effort to get their kids into elite colleges. But oddly, the New York Times coverage of this report makes no mention of that focus nor does the Times really focus on the increasing educational disparities for the different in one-on-one time with children.

It’s not news that parenting strategies among the educated are very different. (For more on this, I recommend Annette Lareau’s research in Unequal Childhoods.) And by saying that parents want to get their kids into good colleges, what we’re really saying is that college-educated parents realize that this is important in ensuring a bright future for their children. That’s what all parents want.

But it’s what’s …

September 30th, 2010

music-as-religionFor as long as I can remember, I’ve turned to music when questioning life and making major decisions. While some find solace in prayer, going to church or synagogue, I simply go to my iTunes playlist.

Blasphemy?

To some.

For me, not so much. My criteria is simple.

Major life questioning: Switchfoot

Simply unwinding: John Mayer

Nostalgic for my childhood: Backstreet Boys

And my most recent addition:

Sheer disbelief and being thankful: Pat Benatar

The last category is currently my favorite. You see, last month I interviewed the infamous Pat Benatar. The original “Heartbreaker” and the singer who will forever be known with her declaration, “Love Is a Battlefield.”

I’m still in disbelief myself.

A few days after my interview I got word that a friend of a friend had a pair of tickets to her New York show. Naturally I went.

While my avid church-going grandmother will surely roll over in her grave as I type this, I had more of a religious experience standing a few feet from the stage at Nokia Theatre than I have ever witnessed in a church. As Pat Benatar sang her second song, “Shadows of the Night” an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness enveloped …

September 30th, 2010

factsfaith-whatishellWhat does Church catechism tell us about the nature of hell? Is it the hell we see represented in popular culture like the fiery caves of South Park? Is it Dante’s Inferno? Fr. Dave and Fr. Larry discuss what the church teaches.…

September 30th, 2010

economy-shapes-morals-flashI totally missed when it came out a few months back… and in case you, did, too, check out this Economix blog about whether the bad economy might reshape our collective morality.

My colleague Jesse McKinley has a fascinating article today about how legal-marijuana advocates are promoting the fiscal virtues of their cause. Not coincidentally, another banned substance was legalized in the wake of major economic upheaval: alcohol, during the Great Depression. The “Noble Experiment” known as Prohibition ended in 1933, when a legalized alcohol market promised more job opportunities and additional sales tax revenues for governments under stress.

I’m curious how much today’s economic pressures will eventually reshape Americans’ thinking on other “social issues.” After all, many states desperate for revenue have already started expanding state-sanctioned gambling, whose perceived sinfulness no longer appears to outweigh its fiscal usefulness.

But what’s weird to me is that legalizing pot has become a moral issue. Yes, self-harm is immoral. And if getting high makes you unable to uphold your responsibilities, that’s not good either. But for the vast majority of pot smokers, we’re not in either territory.…

September 29th, 2010

mexicanwedding-insideWe were lucky enough to attend the wedding of a good friend this past weekend.  We had someone watch Olivia so we were able to be there for all of it: the rehearsal dinner, the Nuptial Mass, the whole reception.  It was quite a treat.

It made us reminisce a lot about our wedding.  The thing that I still chuckle about when I think of our wedding is what things people assumed happened at our wedding because I’m Latina and what things they didn’t really seem to notice.

Things that people assumed:…

Many people asked me if my wedding dress had been passed down from La Lupe.  Nope, just happened to like a dress that had that old lace, traditional vibe.
People asked me if the big flower I wore in my hair was so that I looked more Spanish (I guess it did look flamenco-y).  Nope, I actually am not sure how much Spanish blood I have in me anyways.  I know I’m mostly native Mexican, like Indian Mexican.  I just found a $3 flower hairpin at H&M in New York when I was visiting and fell in love with it.
People asked me if I was going to

September 23rd, 2010

farrahThere comes a time in everyone’s life when they consider online dating.  “Too religious” for JDate (I keep Shabbat and kosher), but not necessarily religious enough for Frumster (I’ve been known to sunbathe on Shabbat), I often struggle with which box to check and which label to apply to my Judaism.  Am I somewhere on the line that spans widely in Modern Orthodoxy?  While applying that label loosely, it always feels like a sweater that never fit right.

Having started my religious journey nine years ago, I’ve had the privilege of slipping in and out of various circles that range from Chabad houses and Upper West Side “fashion show” Shabbats to Kabbalah Centres and soul searchers who are a little lost now and then.

See, I know the lingo now, and I secretly get great joy out of surprising religious men who stick out like sore thumbs in Brooklyn bars with my knowledge of halacha (Jewish law) while I’m wearing clothing that isn’t modest.  The looks on their faces are priceless, and I see the cogs turning trying to figure out how I know the things I do and what brought me to this place.  They don’t come from where …

September 23rd, 2010

SJ-AE182_28LEDE_NS_20100326214203In the Wall Street Journal and then featured again on their terrific blog, The Juggle, there’s a great discussion about financial lessons children should learn. Here’s the list (see graphic) of 15 Money Rules parents should teach children.

These are terrific, and ones that big kids should (re)learn, too.

Millennials are a generation of young-adults raised during a time when the savings rate for households dipped below zero and where credit card debt spiked. Some young adults watched as their parents gambled on state lotteries or were taken for a ride by pay-day loan agencies separating the less savvy (or desperate) from their cash, while others learned terrible lessons about easy-credit as their families accepted promises of no down-payments on cars and homes luring even the wealthiest into spending beyond their means. Millennials were raised to consume-and consume on borrowed money if necessary.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that on the first day of the semester, in a self-help class I taught at the University of Iowa, the vast majority of students couldn’t define the word “thrift.”

After a few seconds of blank stares, I suggested that they had heard this word in conjunction with “thrift stores.”

“So thrift …

September 22nd, 2010

family-idolsI’m happy that the last post has really sparked some good dialogue about trying to balance spirituality and family and how to integrate the two.

I was remembering one of my professors back in college. We were discussing Advent and Christmas liturgy when he went off on a tangent about family life. He said, “You know, sometimes I think people make idols out of their family.” He then went on to talk about this Christian church around his house that actually had no services on Christmas Eve or on Christmas because they believed that you should be at home with your family and not having to take time away from your family by having to come to a church service. I thought that story illustrated his point perfectly.

For the longest time we faithfully went to Mass every Sunday and all holy days of obligation except for Christmas Mass. Why? Because too much needed to be done at home to get ready for Christmas dinner with the family. Cleaning and prepping and decorating and cooking. No time for Mass.

I have found that it is very easy to make an idol out of family. To put family before even God …

September 20th, 2010

This past Sunday, some of the Paulist students were invited to participate in a dialog that was held at Park 51, the site of the new Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan that has been getting so much attention in the news as of late. The event was sponsored by Unity Productions, an organization that has been promoting an initiative entitled “20,000 Dialogues,” in which a particular documentary film is watched about the faith of Islam, followed by a discussion. A few days later, I sat down with Craig Campbell, CSP to ask him about the event.

TG: How did you get involved in this dialogue?

CC: I saw their documentary “Talking Through Walls” on PBS. After the airing, the company who made the film would send it out for free to those who would commit to hosting a dialog, so I ended up hosting one when I was on a parish assignment in Toronto and we had a showing last year here in DC. We’re going to be doing it again in Washington on October 29.

TG: How did the event go?

CC: Very well. 75 people showed up for the dialog at Park 51… the building is basically gutted …

September 16th, 2010

factsfaith-sangennaroFr. Dave Dwyer and Fr. Larry Rice discuss the history surrounding the relic of Saint Januaris, more popularly known in New York City as San Gennaro.  Possible scientific elements are also explained, bringing to question if the relic was made in a lab or if it’s a legitimate symbol of the Catholic culture.…

September 16th, 2010

trust-gap-flashInteresting piece on PsychCentral about the “trust gap” in America: In lab settings and in opinion polls, we tend to report thinking that other people are less trustworthy than we are. But a recent study in Psychological Science suggests that we just don’t have enough practice trusting people because we’re stuck in a vicious cycle of cynicism.

Write authors Fetchenhauer and Dunning of their study:

Participants saw short videos of other people and had to decide whether to trust each person in an economic game. Participants overall underestimated the trustworthiness of the people they viewed, regardless of whether they were given financial incentives to provide accurate estimates. However, people who received symmetric feedback about the trustworthiness of others (i.e., who received feedback regardless of their own decision to trust) exhibited reduced cynicism relative to those who received no feedback or asymmetric feedback (i.e., who received feedback only after they trusted the other person).

Bottom line: When people are shown the trust of others, their trust increases. So show some trust to others, and they are more likely to behave in a kind and trusting way toward you.

While this is interesting, there’s a wide and varied sociological literature on trust… …

September 15th, 2010

lalupe-humilityparenting-flashThroughout my life I have worked with kids a lot.  I started babysitting when I was twelve.  I have about fifty cousins and at least half of them are younger than me.  All throughout high school and college I’ve tutored, mentored, camp counseled, and run programs for kids.  At the Catholic Worker I was basically a second mom to at least 8 kids at any one time.  I helped moms load newborns into the car to ride home from the hospital and had to keep the peace when the kids would fight at dinnertime.  Not that after all this experience I thought I was an expert on kids and discipline but I definitely thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to be a parent.

I could not have been more wrong.

I have quickly come to realize that kids are going to cry, scream, shout, kick, and fuss at exactly the wrong time regardless of how good your parenting is.  Parents should still try to lovingly teach their children discipline, but even the most well-behaved kid will sometimes just totally breakdown in public.

Despite our best efforts to teach Olivia how to act respectfully, she is …

September 14th, 2010

magnetic-morality-flashA team of neuroscientists claim that it’s possible to alter a subject’s moral judgments using a large magnet to temporarily disrupt normal brain activity, according to new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and lead author on this paper, Liane Young, a postdoctoral associate, find that subjects make different decisions about whether a person’s behavior hypothetical scenario is permissible or forbidden after exposure to this magnetic field.

Says Dr. Young:

“It’s one thing to ‘know’ that we’ll find morality in the brain … It’s another to ‘knock out’ that brain area and change people’s moral judgments.”

Here’s how it worked, according to LiveScience:

When people hear news of a crime like a shooting, they likely need more information before they can judge the offender’s actions as right or wrong – was the crime accidental or intentional? If it was an accident or if the shooter was defending him or herself, people are likely to see the act as much more morally acceptable than if it was deliberate and unwarranted.

The study results show that stimulating a specific brain region …

September 9th, 2010

Machete_posterWe often talk about the need positive role models in the media today, but we rarely talk about the need for priests as role models; they are largely absent from today’s modern media landscape. And when they do happen to be included in a television show or a movie, they are frequently presented as older gentlemen spaced out on God who insists on calling everyone he meets “my child” and who inhabit a world few if any of us could reach… and might not want to if we could. Characterizations that on some visceral gut level has the opposite effect of being inspiring.

Which is one of the many reasons I am grateful for the release of the new Robert Rodriguez film Machete. In the interests of full disclosure, films by Robert Rodriguez have been guilty pleasures of mine for a very long time. But when I first saw the trailer for Machete with Cheech Marin as a vigilante cleric…

Priest: “I took a vow of peace… and now you want me to kill all of these men?”

Machete: “Yes bro… I mean, Padre.”

Priest (shrugging): “I’ll see what I can do.”

That’s right, this priest does not only …

September 9th, 2010

ruleofrules-flashI recently came across a fascinating piece on NPR from a few months back in which Alix Speigel interviewed Larry Nucci, a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley about what rules children believe are good, and what rules they think are stupid.

Rules can be broken down into four categories, Dr. Nucci says:

Moral rules: Don’t hit, do share.
Safety rules: Don’t cross the street alone, don’t run with scissors.
Social convention rules: You must say “sir” and “madam.”
Personal rules: Rules about friends and how to express themselves… which is where things get tricky.

According to the NPR report, Dr. Nucci says

“Kids don’t argue at all with parents – or very little argument with parents – when parents come up with reasonable safety rules or rules about not stealing from other children or not hitting other kids… Virtually all of the conflicts that parents are having with kids are over these personal areas.”

Children object to moral rules only about 10% of the time, he finds in his observational studies. But 70% of the “no”s fall into categories of personal rule formation… or at least areas …

September 8th, 2010

lalupe-recdrugs-flash3The latest story about the massacre of immigrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico by the drug cartels has me thinking about the issue of recreational drug use again. Of course it is not a good idea to do anything illegal but I think there is a distinct difference between drug addicts and people who just use drugs at parties or to wind down after a long week. I’ve known plenty of people in this second category. These are educated people, have stable jobs, and are generally aware of social justice issues. We all have skeletons in the closet and we all struggle with certain things but buying drugs, even if only occasionally, is directly supporting the violence that is perpetuated by drug trafficking. How is it justifiable to use illegal drugs?

LA to Santa Barbara. Austin to San Antonio. Chicago to South Bend, IN. Philadelphia to Baltimore. That is how close these immigrants were to the US border. They make the long journey from South/Central America to the US only to be murdered 100 miles from their destination. I can’t stop thinking about how heart-wrenching that is.

Obviously immigration and drug trafficking are extremely complex issues with lots of different factors but …

September 7th, 2010

daily-affirmations-flashOK, I know I’m a little obsessed with self-control research (see my recent posts on Dogging Self-Control and Commitment Strategies 101) but PsyBlog recently posted a fascinating tidbit: Positive affirmations can replenish your self-control.

In a study published last year in the Journal of Personal Social Psychology, participants were asked to write a short essay about something that was important to them-their core values, their relationships etc. But half of the participants had to write this essay without using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’ while the other half could use the entire alphabet.

Proving yet again that self-control is a resource that gets depleted over time, when folks were then asked to submerge their hands in a bucket of ice-water, those that didn’t have to previously exert self-control were able to hold their hands in the freezing, painful water for longer.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Among the group that had exerted self-control in their essay writing, some were instructed to reaffirm good things about themselves – thinking about what makes them proud, focusing on the positives – and for those folks, their self-control recovered quickly and they were able to hold their hands in ice-water …

September 2nd, 2010

Friday night was, for the first time in a while, a much-needed night for Shabbat. And while I had plans to go to an 80’s dance party with my one roommate Annie, I still had to ask Farrah what she was doing for Shabbos.

Photo Credit: Sam Felder

Photo Credit: Sam Felder

“I’m going to dinner at this really cool family’s house. Want to come?!”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I looked for a Shabbos outfit that could somehow translate to 80’s in case I could milk both events for the night. My unruly, curly hair worked out either way.

I got to dinner at 9 pm (Shabbos starts late in the summer) with Stella in hand. About two dozen people were in the apartment, waiting for dinner to start. I was immediately taken back to all the times I kept Shabbat, and how meaningful they were for me.

With phone off, reciting prayers I can only recite with transliteration, good food and meeting new people, I forgot all about the 80’s party I planned to go to, and wasn’t all that upset to miss it. It was past midnight when I left, walking home without thinking about taking the lazier …

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