Watching High-Brow TV May Actually Make You A Better Person

If you’re looking for a good excuse to curl up and binge-watch “Mad Men” on Netflix, science has your back. Award-winning TV dramas may help increase emotional intelligence, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma examined people in two separate experiments. For the first test, they instructed participants to make the ultimate choice by watching either a TV drama (“Mad Men” or “The West Wing”) or a nonfiction documentary (“How The Universe Works” or a segment from Discovery’s Shark Week).

After watching the show, participants then took a common psychological test that measures emotional intelligence. As part of the assessment, the participants observed 36 pairs of eyes and were asked to judge the depth or level of emotion each pair expressed.

The process was repeated in the second experiment with new volunteers. This time researchers had participants watch “The Good Wife” or “Lost” for a TV drama or “Nova” or “Through the Wormhole” for a nonfiction program. They also added a control group consisting of volunteers who took the assessment without watching any TV.

The study found that people who watched the fictional dramas performed better on the emotional intelligence test compared to those who watched the documentaries or nothing at all. In other words, the results suggest that watching these sort of narratives may lead to more empathy or a better understanding of others.

The findings somewhat mirror previous research conducted on fiction and empathy. A 2013 study found that reading literary fiction may lead to better scores in emotional intelligence. However, the research has been criticized given the literary options were vastly different. As Melissa Dahl at the Science of Us accurately points out, the fiction piece given to participants offered insight into the complexity of humans, while —> Read More

The Microbeads Dilemma: Does your facewash harm wildlife?

Face cream with microbeads.

The Society for Conservation Biology’s North America Policy Program

Face cream with microbeads photo by Chelsea Rochman

The world’s oceans are facing an unprecedented plastic crisis, and your morning routine may be inadvertently adding to it.

Plastic in the ocean is hard to track and quantities are growing every day, but scientists have estimated that concentrations can be as high as 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer (223,880 per square mile). Plastic pollution has become so ubiquitous that over 90% of seabirds and most sea turtles have eaten plastics in their lifetimes, with numbers increasing every day. If you’re like me, you probably imagine that this plastic problem stems from the large pieces of debris we’re likely to see washed up on beaches such as plastic soda bottles, shopping bags, and lighters. But while large pieces of plastic debris are certainly an issue, this huge problem boils down to some much smaller pieces: microplastics. Microplastics are technically under 5mm in size (about half the size of a grain of rice). They can be a result of those larger pieces of plastic breaking down into smaller pieces over time, or can be the result of already small plastics entering waterway. This is where you and I come in, because we might be unwittingly contributing to the microplastic problem in local and global waterways simply by washing our faces or brushing our teeth.

Micro Beads in Back River photo by Julie Lawson, Trash Free Maryland

I only realized that I was probably polluting plastic into the ocean when my friend and colleague, Dr. Chelsea Rochman, told me about her research. Chelsea is a marine ecotoxicologist and environmental chemist, and she specializes in studying how plastics get into our waterways and what the impacts of those plastics are on —> Read More

New tools help provide vital demographics, population statistics to policymakers

Every year, $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed to state, county and local communities for infrastructure, public safety, community development and social services. When it comes to determining how the money is distributed, accurate data are paramount. Those looking for data and analytical reports often turn to the American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census, which provides data such as unemployment, median household income, and housing prices for multi-year periods. Now, using sophisticated statistical methods, University of Missouri researchers have developed a system that improves ACS data, allowing end users to more accurately analyze critical information in predefined geographic areas, making it easier for city, county, state and federal planners to use estimates in policy decisions. —> Read More

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