SEEING SEX EVERYWHERE
After suffering through the special issue on “Male vs. Female Brains” [May/June 2010], I expected my reading would be free of sex-and-relationship cant for a while. The new issue dashed my hopes.
Too many recent cover photos have been related to sex or relationships: the attractive woman wearing a skimpy T-shirt and looking mysterious, the half-man/half-woman composite, the woman and man gazing into each other’s eyes. Usually a picture of an unclad woman is snuck in somewhere (she’s curled up inside Mrs. K.’s head on page 58 in the July/August issue). And so many article titles have to do with sex: “Sex in Bits and Bytes,” “How Science Can Help You Fall in Love,” and on and on.
Sure, sex may sell more magazines, at least to a certain demographic and at least in the short term. But some folks, including me, subscribed for other reasons. If I want titillation, I’ll buy some other magazine that focuses directly on it (and with which SciAm Mind cannot compete). When I pick up Mind, I expect more well-rounded coverage that is not preoccupied with one particular topic.
A QUESTION OF NERVES
Regarding “Closing the Gap,” by Valerie Ross [Head Lines], I think there is a flaw in the beanbag experiment the researchers used to confirm that desired objects appear closer. True, people tossing at a $25 gift card fell shorter than those tossing at a card worth nothing. But any golfer will tell you that when people putt with money on the line, they will more often putt short of the hole. The difference is not perception but rather performance when risk is involved—the muscles tense up. In addition, when people notice that they have more adrenaline pumping through their bodies, they will often overcompensate in their attempt to relax. I buy the evidence in the other experiment (in which thirsty participants judged a water bottle as being closer than it actually was), but I think other factors affect the beanbag test.
PEOPLE WITH AUTISM
In Erica Westly’s article “Too Much, Too Young” [Head Lines], she uses the phrase “autistic toddlers.” I feel it is important that the editors recognize the disrespect inherent in that construction. The reverent phrasing would have been “toddlers with autism,” because people with autism (or any disability) are people first! This sentiment is exactly why we have the Americans with Disabilities Act and not the Disabled Americans Act. I would recommend, or at least request, editing articles of this ilk with an eye out for similar lapses in judgment.
In “Born into Debt” [Head Lines], Valerie Ross reports that people carrying two “low” versions of a gene are 15.9 percent more likely to go into credit-card debt than those who have two “high” versions. As Ross explains, the gene in question affects levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), a chemical that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain. It occurred to me that some very powerful antidepressants are monoamine oxidase inhibitors—they prevent MAOA from doing its job. It follows that people carrying two “low” versions of the MAOA gene produce less MAOA and are, in effect, genetically antidepressed. I can believe such people would enjoy shopping, restaurants and having fun—and perhaps be too impulsive to care about credit-card bills piling up. In contrast, depressed people usually are deeper thinkers who are less receptive to the modern marketing stimuli.