Human Nature


Reading minds with 90 percent accuracy.

New column 3/5 on coercion, money, and population control. (For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)

Scientists read the visual content of a human mind with 92 percent accuracy. Method: 1) Two people were shown 1,750 pictures. 2) Brain scans showed the blood-flow patterns triggered in each person by each picture. 3) From the scans, scientists computed which pattern reflected which type of image. 4) The same people were shown 120 new pictures while being scanned. Results: The computer correctly predicted which new image was being viewed 92 percent of the time for one person, and 72 percent for the other. The probability of a correct prediction by guessing was less than 1 percent. When the number of new images increased from 120 to 1,000, the computer still got it right 82 percent of the time. What’s new: Previous mind-reading used pictures the subjects had already seen; in this study, the pictures were new. What’s next: 1) Quadriplegics issuing commands to computers via brain scan. 2) Watching or analyzing another person’s dreams. 3) “A general brain-reading device that could reconstruct a picture of a person’s visual experience at any moment.” Related: Human Nature’s take on the recently demonstrated ability to predict a person’s intentions.

People who were spanked as kids are more likely to have masochistic, unprotected, or coercive sex, according to studies. Findings: 1) The more you were spanked or hit before age 12, the more likely you are to have “verbally coerced sex.” 2) The more you were spanked or hit, the more likely you are to have “hit or held down a partner” to get sex. 3) Having been spanked makes you twice as likely to say you’ve insisted on sex without a condom. 4) Spanking also increases a teen’s likelihood of having sex with multiple partners. 5) In a sample of 200 college students, 40 percent of the never-spanked group said they’d “enjoyed masochistic sex,” but 75 percent of the spanked-a-lot group said so. Theories: 1) Corporal punishment creates a psychological “fusion of love and violence.” 2) It reduces “concern for the well-being of other people.” 3) It teaches poor impulse control. 4) It makes your kids ignore your relationship advice. Authorized take-away: Spanking is bad. Unauthorized take-away: Half of college kids admit they’ve enjoyed masochistic sex? (Related: Guess how many admit they’ve tried, ahem.)

The high-tech immigration fence flunked its pilot test.  Problems: 1) The software was designed for police dispatching, whereas military “battle management” software is needed. 2) It doesn’t process data fast enough to help operators direct remote cameras to moving targets. 3) The cameras are only half as sharp as advertised. 4) The cameras don’t synch with the radar. 5) The radar can’t distinguish targets from trees. 6) Rain sets off the radar. 7) The gear is housed in towers that are easy targets for drug gangs. Government spins: 1) “The concept works.” 2) The mistakes aren’t fatal. 3) We’re learning from them. New plan: 1) More “mobile ground surveillance units.” 2) More aerial drones. (Related: Are drones the answer to terrorism?)

Animals are the next target of the crackdown on sports doping. 1) A bull-riding association has begun random testing of bulls. 2) On Wednesday, horse racing’s top executive joined a congressional hearing on performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Horse-racing industry  spins: 1) We test at least one horse in every race for various drugs. 2) That’s tougher than what other leagues do to human players. 3) Few horses flunk. Congressman’s rebuttal: Horse racing is dragging its hooves on banning steroids, which human leagues have already done. Bull owner’s allegation about steroids: “You can tell by looking at some of those bulls and their sizes. It’s just like human beings.” Rebuttals: 1) Bull owners have stopped using steroids because the drugs sterilize the bulls, which is financially disastrous. 2) Bulls don’t benefit from steroids, because you can’t make them exercise to add muscle while they’re on the drugs, as you can with humans. (Related: Doping and Roger Clemens’ wife.)

Latest Human Nature columns:  1) Coercion, money, and population control. 2) Roger Clemens’ doping defense. 3) Abortion and sex selection. 4) Growth hormone and Clemens’ wife. 5)  Fat genes and responsibility. 6) The messy biology of human embryos. 7) Obama and the white vote. 8) Bush, stem cells, and stubbornness. 9) Why the polls botched New Hampshire.