The battle over selfies rages on, but this time science weighs in

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Whether scrolling through photos on Instagram or swiping through matches on Coffee Meets Bagel, we’ve all seen them before: selfies. While most of us situate the photos neatly at the butt of jokes, we can’t seem to escape them. Here, I aim to explain the science behind their typically distasteful nature. It’s likely not what you think.

While clearly not all selfies are bad, many are notoriously awkward things: When we see them, we can’t help but balk. Some have grown so ubiquitous — like the “duck face” and “mirror pic” — that they’ve earned their own little nicknames. …

How An Unencumbered Guffaw Might Help You Climb the Social Ladder

We humans crave social status. We fight for money, promotions, fancy titles—anything for social prestige. We’re like a tamed version of the vicious macaque monkey: constantly clawing for a better spot in the hierarchy.

This ascension up the social ladder isn’t always easy. It often involves the acquisition of expertise, good looks, and other qualities that take either hard work or fortuitous circumstance to obtain. But can laughter be another way in which to make this climb?

The latter question is derived from a relatively recent finding in the social psychological literature. What the research suggests is that different levels…

Our favorite feeling has a hidden dark side

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Aristotle once wrote about the mean between extremes. Emotions like anger, he said, are only virtuous in moderate amounts. If you feel too much, people will find you annoying. If you feel too little, they’ll think you’re insane. The ideal amount is the mean between extremes: not too much and not too little. The same is true of happiness.

While it might be difficult to envision a problem with too much happiness, the reality is there. The lofty feeling comes surprisingly well-equipped with devices built to manipulate our thinking. …

Those thoughts you have while asleep mean far less than you think

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Amy was falling. The air was dark all around her. As she plummeted through the empty void, she realized the pavement coming up beneath her. Her speed gained as she grew more aware of her plight. When the moment came for her to finally hit the ground, she woke up.

Dreams like this happen all across the world. Called common dreams, they occur in most people at least once in a lifetime. Some of the more typical examples include flying, getting chased by something (e.g., …

A deep look inside the world’s most fervent believers

Alex Jones, a paragon of conspiracy

David Icke is an unusual fellow. Unlike your typical conspiracy theorist—one who believes NASA faked the moon landing or 9/11 was an inside job—he believes an elite group of shape-shifting space-lizards is in control of world politics. Seriously.

Oddly enough, there’s a little bit of Icke in each of us. While not everyone believes such cockamamie ramblings, many of us do believe slightly less absurd alternatives. Many think, for instance, that vaccines cause autism or that climate change is a hoax. These pernicious beliefs have terrible real-world consequences.

What follows is an exploration of these bizarre theories — where they…

On the origins, mechanics, and defeat of our least favorite trait

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Ideally, we would never procrastinate. We’d live in a world where obligations came first, personal desires second, and all of our deadlines were met with elegance and ease. Unfortunately, nobody lives in such a world.

The tendency to procrastinate is consistently annoying. Whether we’re avoiding bills, the dentist, or struggling to unpack from our latest trip, some number of life’s routine tasks are being deferred for future us. And, as everybody knows, future us is never happy about it.

To beat back this most pernicious habit, we look to the past. Here, we find that procrastination is the result of…

The surprising science behind our most unfortunate eating habits

Photo by Gabriela Rodríguez on Unsplash

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had days where you can’t escape a craving for sugar. You feel compelled to drive to your local Vons, pick up a pack of Oreos, and gorge. And, while you might not intend on eating two-thirds of the sugary death packets provided, this is invariably what you do.

Curiously, there’s a science behind this unfortunate predilection. It explains everything from our affinity to awful foods to our apparent inability to stop eating them. It also explains why some of us are more drawn to their lure than others.

But this science is more important…

Sex, development, and the varieties of human anatomy

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Your brain and the pancreas aren’t much different. Both are formed prenatally, both are bodily organs, and both interact with the rest of anatomy to give us complex physiological systems. But, unlike the pancreas, the brain also gives us sex.

Sexual differentiation in the brain is the product of a long journey through prenatal development. This journey starts in the DNA, moves to our sex organs, then shapes the rest of the body from there. This shaping organizes our anatomy along male and female lines.

There’s diversity, however, in the way we express these male and female traits. Some of…

Coffee, terror, and the push toward caffeinism

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You’ve just had your fifth double espresso. Things are getting weird: you can’t focus, your chest is tight, and for whatever reason you keep twitching your toes. These are just a few of the myriad ways in which caffeine can make life difficult. They’re each less fun than the last.

Many of us safely avoid this point on the caffeine-consumption spectrum; we have an iced latte or whatever and call it good. Moderate amounts like this can help us focus, study, and — most importantly — do productive things in the morning. …

A New Study Suggests You’re More Like Your Friends Than You Think

Heidi Klum and her fleet of doppelgangers arrive for a 2016 Halloween party.

We tend to organize ourselves by relatedness. Maybe we dress alike, listen to the same music, or caw over the same terrible movies. Whatever it is, the dimensions of friendship cut deep. But do they cut any deeper than this?

The answer is yes. According to a new paper published in Nature Communications, the dimensions of friendship cut so deep as to shape our very perceptions of reality. Instead of the merely superficial—the music, the clothes, the ideology—we also share an interpretation of the world around us. At…

Taylor Mitchell Brown

I used to drum in a hair metal band. Now I read and write. Get my work for free on Twitter @toochoicetaylor. | Biology | Evolution | Neuroscience |

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