Thursday, October 30, 2008

Human Nature

An FBI Warning...An Honest Girl...Guilt Is A GOOD Thing...A Foreclosed Homeowner Gets It Back...A Thin Line Between Love & Hate...King Solomon's Mines...and Ladies In Red Make Men Drool

FBI Warns of 'Anthrax' Letters Sent to Media Outlets

The FBI is warning media outlets to be vigilant about opening their mail after a California man was arrested on suspicion of sending more than 100 hoax letters labeled "anthrax" to newspapers and TV stations.

Marc M. Keyser, 66, sent more than 120 envelopes containing a compact disc that had a packet of sugar labeled "Anthrax Sample" along with a biohazard symbol, the FBI said in a news release. The CD was titled "Anthrax: Shock & Awe Terror." None of the packets has so far tested positive for hazardous material, the agency said. Authorities did not say what was on the CD.

More mailings will probably be received over the next few days, authorities warned. Recipients should contact their local FBI office, said FBI agent Steve Dupre. Dupre said the arrest is not connected to another series of bogus mailings containing a white powder that were sent to financial institutions and announced by the FBI last week.

Keyser was taken into custody without incident at his home in Sacramento on three counts of sending a hoax letter, the FBI said. At least some of the packages had Keyser's return address on them, said Dupre. Keyser is being held at the Sacramento County jail and was expected to make his first court appearance Thursday. It wasn't known Wednesday evening whether he had a lawyer. The investigation began after The Atlantic magazine received a letter Monday, Dupre said. The Charlotte Observer newspaper in North Carolina received an envelope Tuesday.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newsroom was evacuated briefly Wednesday after an editor opened a package that the FBI says appears to be connected to the other mailings. The Seattle Times reported it received a similar package. The FBI collected the Post-Intelligencer's envelope. Seattle FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs said it appeared to be part of a wave of mailings that originated in Sacramento, Calif.

"Out of an abundance of caution," she said the material would be sent to a lab for testing "but the assumption is that it is sugar."

The letters also were received Wednesday by at least one Sacramento television station, The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper and the office of Republican Congressman George Radanovich in Modesto. A McDonald's restaurant in Sacramento also received a package. Radanovich's office was evacuated early Wednesday after a staffer opened the mailing. Some employees went to a hospital for precautionary examinations and were released with a clean bill of health.

Radanovich spokesman Spencer Pederson said the congressman was at a meeting in Fresno when the package was opened. Pederson said later Wednesday that the office had been cleaned as if the substance were anthrax. One entrance to the Union-Tribune was closed for part of the afternoon after a large envelope labeled "anthrax" was opened in the newsroom.

Members of a hazardous materials team, all wearing full protective suits, went into the building to test the package. The Associated Press office in San Diego is also in the building but did not receive a threatening mailing. Anthrax mailed to congressional offices and others in 2001 killed five people and sickened 17.

Girl Returns $1000 Found in Thrift Store Videotape

The best bargain at the Salvation Army thrift store in Kailua-Kona was a Richard Simmons videotape. But Mikela Mercier, 11, decided to pass up the chance to buy the tape for a few coins after she found a surprise inside: $1,000 in $100 bills. Mikela says that when she discovered the money while browsing through the used tapes, she immediately looked for her mom who was inside the dressing room and told her they needed to turn it in.

Store manager Jimmy Thennes put out a news release on the discovery, praising Mikela for her honesty. Her mother, Jodi Mercier, says she is very proud of her daughter who she says knew it belonged to the Salvation Army so the agency can help more people in need.

Woman Buys Foreclosed Home, Gives It Back to Owner

A Texas woman went to a housing auction distraught about the prospect of watching strangers bid on her foreclosed home. Then one of those strangers bought it back for her. Now Tracy Orr can return to her Pottsboro home, making payments to the woman who unexpectedly and impulsively bought it for her.

"It means so much to all of us," Orr told Dallas television station WFAA. "It's not just a house."

Marilyn Mock said she was acting on instinct on Saturday when she decided to buy a house she had never seen for a woman she had never met. Mock was at the foreclosure auction to help her 27-year-old son bid on a house when she struck up a conversation with Orr, who was crying about losing her home.

Orr had bought the house for $80,000 in 2004 but fell behind on the payments. She lost her job a month after taking out the loan, and earlier this year she lost the house. On the spot, Mock decided to buy it, eventually bidding $30,000.

"She didn't even know if I had a job or was a nut case," Orr said in a story for Wednesday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News. "She didn't even see a picture of the house."

Mock told a crying Orr she could stay in the house, making payments to her instead of a bank.

"She needed help. That was it," Mock told the newspaper. "I just happened to be there and anybody else would have done the same thing."

Orr said she hopes others will do as Mock did.

"More than my house, she gave me something inside, and that's more important than material or financial things," she said. The two are waiting on final approval from Fannie Mae before visiting the home. Mock's son also got a home at the auction.

Guilt, Not Religion, Makes People Do Good

Religion and its promotion of empathy get undue credit for our unselfish acts. Instead, it's our less-than-virtuous psychological perception that a moral authority is watching us that promotes altruism, a new review essay suggests. The essay is based on two psychologists' re-examination of dozens of studies that have dealt with the relationship between religious participation and so-called prosocial behavior , a term that includes charity, cooperation, volunteerism, honesty, trust and various forms of personal sacrifice.

The Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic example. The upshot is surprising: While religion can play a role in fostering altruism, it is far from the only institution capable of doing so and it might not work the way we assume, says review co-author Azim Shariff, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia.

To the extent that religion does promote altruism, it might actually be effective because adherents think that some authority figure is watching them to make sure they "do the right thing," or because they want to maintain their reputations as righteous followers of religious teachings.

Also, studies that do show a link between altruism and religion are often based on self-reports -- subjects saying they did something unselfish, rather than direct observation of them doing so. This type of data is notoriously unreliable.

"We found little or no evidence that empathy plays any role in religious prosociality," said lead author Ara Norenzayan, a UBC social psychologist, adding that jury is still out.

Religious types might engage in unselfish generosity coming from a place of empathy or compassion, but there is currently no data to support this, he said. Humans are evolved to be acutely sensitive to our reputations as do-gooders in our social groups because this promotes strong cooperative bonds that help the species. This psychological mechanism was originally unrelated to religion, the authors write in the Oct. 3 issue of the journal Science.

The review also shoots down the idea that religion is necessary to make people choose to engage in altruistic behavior -- or do something that benefits others at your own personal expense. Religion has no monopoly on good behavior today, Norenzayan said.

In fact, the courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities can serve the same purpose nowadays, encouraging proscial behavior among large groups of strangers.

"The fact that many non-religious people act as cooperatively as religious ones, and that many predominantly secular states are as (and often more) stable and functional as predominantly religious ones, attests to this," Shariff told LiveScience.

Not to mention that not all religiously inspired prosocial behavior is good -- it can have a "dark side," the authors say. Charity is obviously for the good of all, but giving for the group at your own expense is very undesirable when taken to extremes, as in the case of suicide bombers, who make the ultimate sacrifice. Similarly, kamikaze pilots in World War II made a prosocial sacrifice with their fatal flights -- it was for the good of their nation's war effort but they killed and bombed others, which is very antisocial.

Also, altruism is sometimes extended only to the "worthy" or excludes certain people. Shariff stresses that he and Norenzayan have no axe to grind with religion.

The essay they wrote "is only out there to help understanding," Shariff said. The desirability of religion and its ability to get at the truth is an issue best left to philosophers and theologians, Norenzayan said. The writing of the essay was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant.

Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center who has done research on spirituality and medicine but was uninvolved in the new review essay, said he agreed that empathy, compassion and altruism can be induced in society without religion.

"I don't believe there is any evidence to support the necessity of religion for prosocial behavior," Sloan said. "There are people who make the argument that altruism and prosocial behavior evolutionarily preceded the development of religion for a long time. You can see evidence of altruistic behavior in humans dating back for a long time."

King Solomon's Mines Possibly Found in Jordan

The fictional King Solomon's Mines held a treasure of gold and diamonds, but archaeologists say the real mines may have supplied the ancient king with copper. Researchers led by Thomas Levy of the University of California, San Diego, and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan's Friends of Archaeology, discovered a copper-production center in southern Jordan that dates to the 10th century B.C., the time of Solomon's reign.

The discovery occurred at Khirbat en-Nahas, which means "ruins of copper" in Arabic. Located south of the Dead Sea, the region was known in the Old Testament as Edom. Research at the site in the 1970s and 1980s indicated that metalworking began there in the 7th century B.C., long after Solomon. But Levy and Najjar dug deeper and were able to date materials such as seeds and sticks to the 10th century B.C.

"We can't believe everything ancient writings tell us," Levy said in a statement. "But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible."

Their findings are reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study: Brain Draws Thin Line Between Love and Hate

It turns out there really is a thin line between love and hate, as far as your brain is concerned, that is. A new study reveals that the brain's "love" and "hate" circuits share identical structures. Both include regions known as the putamen and insula which are linked to aggression and distress.

"Hate is often considered to be an evil passion that should, in a better world, be tamed, controlled, and eradicated," said Professor Semir Zeki, of University College London, who carried out the brain scan study.

"Yet to the biologist, hate is a passion that is of equal interest to love," he said. "Like love, it is often seemingly irrational and can lead individuals to heroic and evil deeds. "

To find out how two opposite sentiments can lead to the same behavior, Zeki's team scanned 17 male and female volunteers while they looked at pictures of individuals they hated, as well as familiar "neutral" faces. Researchers found that both love and hate de-activate zones within the cerebral cortex of the brain. The cerebral cortex plays a key role in memory, attention, thought, and consciousness. Love, however, causes the biggest de-activation in this area of the brain, however, drawing the thin line between love and hate.

"A marked difference in the cortical pattern," said Zeki, "is that, whereas with love large parts of the cerebral cortex associated with judgment and reasoning become de-activated, with hate only a small zone, located in the frontal cortex, becomes de-activated."

Red on Women Drives Men Wild

Red may be the color of love for a reason: It makes men feel more amorous towards women, a new study reports. From ancient rituals to those red paper lace hearts on Valentines, red has been tied to carnal passions and romance in many cultures over the course of history. In five psychological experiments, University of Rochester psychologists tested how different colors affected men's attitudes towards women .

In one experiment, test subjects were shown a picture of a woman that was framed by either a red or white border and asked to answer a series of questions, such as: "How pretty do you think this person is?" Other experiments contrasted red with gray, green or blue (keeping saturation and brightness levels the same between the different hues). In the final study, the shirt of the woman in the photo was digitally colored red or blue.

In this experiment, men were questioned not only about their attraction to the woman, but about how they would plan a hypothetical date with her. For example, one question asked: "Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet. How much would you be willing to spend on your date?"

In all the experiments, women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women shown with other colors. When wearing red, women were also more likely to be treated to a more expensive outing.

"It's fascinating to find that something as ubiquitous as color can be having an effect on our behavior without our awareness," said study team member Andrew Elliot.

The study, detailed in the Oct. 28 online edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is said to be the first to scientifically document the effects of color on behavior in relationships.

Elliot and his co-author Daniela Niesta said the effect could be due to societal conditioning, though they attribute it to deeper biological roots because non-human male primates, such as baboons and chimpanzees, are known to be attracted to females displaying red. The red effect applied only to males and only to their perceptions of attractiveness; it did not change their ratings of the pictured women in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.

Other research suggests that the effect of color depends on the context. In a previous study, Elliot and his colleagues showed that seeing red in competitive situations, such as sporting events , leads to worse performance. Another recent study suggests that referees favor red-clad competitors because of a subconscious bias for the color.

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And, yes, I look REALLY good in RED!


FBI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Diego Union-Tribune, Associated Press, WFAA-TV, University of British Columbia, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Columbia University Medical Center, University of California @ San Diego, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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