Issue 6


In this issue:

  • Our brains can trick us into denying the reality of climate change. Here's what we can do about it.

  • Think humans are smart? Turns out birds aren't always fooled quite as easily as we are.

  • How artificially extending daylight might be mucking with your sleep patterns & memory.


Feeling like people who don’t “believe in” climate change are crazy?

Global temperatures are risingExtreme weather is on the rise. Whether it's oil combustion from cars, or dumping oil directly into the ocean, humans seem to be proficient at increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. Some of us also seem proficient at polarizing ourselves on this topic. And while it might seem strange to not support a healthy climate, this new paper (preprint) suggests there might be deep cognitive biases at play.

But I’m not biased. I just read the facts.

You might think that, but as the authors lay out in a convenient "problem-example-solution" format, most people are subject to unconscious biases that affect how they act.

What do you mean?

We like to think we’re rational, but our brains aren't optimized for logic — they're optimized for survival. This makes social decision-making wildly complicatedThe authors of this climate change paper highlight eight cognitive biases that impact how we think about climate change and suggest debiasing tools for each of them.

Like what?

For example there’s “pseudoinefficacy”: the false sense of not being able to make a difference in a large problem through small, individual actions. You might think that buying bottled water is no big deal, but when the majority of plastic isn’t recycled, it really does add up. The authors suggest countering pseudoinefficacy through “inoculation”, which they define as “preemptive refutation to protect individuals from misinformation”.  

And that’s just one of the biases?

Yup. People also tend to overweight the costs of climate mitigation (think, climate tax) and undervalue future benefits (think, actually having a planet in 100 years). But if we trained ourselves out of our natural biases using psychological tools, we could slow climate change down drastically.


The Leak: Whether or not you “believe” in climate change (and we hope you do), the world’s global temperature is undeniably rising. Human decision-making is riddled with biases that can hinder our ability to accept climate change and act against it. But it is possible to train ourselves out of these biases, when we recognize they exist.  


What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for work?

For these scientists, it was doing magic tricks for birds. 

What does that even mean?

Exactly what it sounds like. In a new study, some scientists did magic tricks while Eurasian blue jays watched. The goal? To see what kinds of illusions they would fall for.

How exactly is this science...?

Glad you asked. Magic tricks only work because magicians are especially good at duping your brain. This is of great interest to some neuroscientists. If we can figure out how the brain is deceived, we can infer how it operates. In this particular study, the scientists turned to birds to uncover the ways in which the human brain might be unique in its ability to be fooled.

The experiment: A group of blue jays were shown a magic trick in which a magician appeared to transfer a worm from their left hand to their right hand. The birds then picked the hand that they believed contained the worm. In some versions of the trick, the magician used sleight of hand techniques to fake the transfer (check out "French drop” if you don’t mind looking like a dork). Other times, the magician just executed the trick very quickly and relied on speed to fool the bird.

What did they find?

Birds only fell for the trick when it depended on speed. They did not fall for the sleight of hand.

So are birds smarter than us?

Not necessarily. The researchers explained that to fall for a sleight of hand, you need at least some understanding of…hands. As you’re probably aware, birds don’t have hands, which means they also lack preconceived notions about how palms and fingers operate. Since the magician can’t exploit these nonexistent expectations, sleight of hand techniques don’t work.


The Leak: Birds don’t always fall for the same tricks that fool people, which highlights the unique ways in which the human mind can be deceived. Keep that in mind if you ever have to do a magical performance at the aviary (you never know — it could happen). 


That feeling when your date dims the lights to set the mood…

You’ve got to be joking.

Nope. Humans are pretty much the only species that artificially extend their daily light exposure way past the natural cycle set by the sun. A group of scientists became curious about whether this artificial extension might have negative effects on our health. And you already know what scientists do when they become curious (experiments, they do experiments).

The experiment: The researchers placed a group of mice under a light regimen that kind of resembled what humans experience: 12 hours of normal light, followed by 4 hours of dim light, and finally 8 hours of darkness. Immediately, these mice began to undergo changes.

Tell me more.

The first change was that the mice started staying up later than usual, even after the dim lights had gone off. It was as if the dim light exposure was messing with their circadian rhythm and making it harder for them to fall asleep after the room got dark. More concerningly, these mice also experienced changes to their short-term memory abilities. So there you have it — if you ever feel like you struggle to fall asleep and can’t think straight during the day, it’s not just you — apparently mice can relate.

Am I doomed to just have bad sleep?

Don’t throw out all your dimmers just yet. The researchers also showed that despite these negative effects, dim light was still considerably better for the mice than extended exposure to bright light. Others have shown that circadian rhythms are actually most disrupted by blue light (this is why switching to “night mode” on your phone makes it look more orange).


The Leak: When mice experienced extended exposure to dim light in the evening, their sleep patterns and cognitive abilities took a hit. But all is not lost — dim light is still not as bad for you as bright light, so maybe just stick to lamps with yellow lightbulbs in the evening

In case you missed it:

  • Lots of people take melatonin to catch extra Zzzs. A recent paper suggests that this sleep-aid might support bone growth and could be used to treat osteoporosis. 🦴

  • Look out for our next issue in 2 weeks (every other Wednesday)! 🙌

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