20 We often refer to a strong sexual attraction as animal magnetism, but arousal involves more than just base instinct. At the Mind Science lecture series, psychologist Stephanie Ortigue will describe how desire depends on complex mental processing. Her talk, “The Consciousness of Desire,” will reveal the brain regions associated with longing and how they are influenced by mirror neurons—brain cells that fire when we either perform or observe an action.
San Antonio, Tex.
1 At its core, economics is the study of incentives—why people do what they do—according to Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the book Freakonomics. In their documentary film adaptation of the best seller, Levitt and Dubner apply economic theory to human behavior in real-life scenarios. Among other provocative ideas, they explore the consequences of baby-naming—does giving your baby a suggestive name, such as “Temptress,” seal her fate?—and propose that making abortion legal and available may actually reduce the population of dysfunctional children.
28 What motivates people to keep in shape? If you live near a park or in a ritzy part of town, you may be more inclined to walk than to hop in a cab or train. Although desirable surroundings create an incentive to exercise, research suggests that an even stronger motivator is destination. When people are excited about where they are headed—like a coffee shop or a friend’s house—they are more willing to traverse unfriendly terrain by foot. At the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Psychomotor Learning and Sport Psychology, researchers will explore the factors that shape our exercise choices.
29 Change the structure of a gene, and you change its function. But that is not the only way to alter what a gene does. The emerging field of epigenetics explores how our lifestyle and environment can change gene expression, for example, by adhering molecules such as methyl groups to the DNA strand. The Behavioral Epigenetics conference, hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences and the University of Massachusetts Boston, is one of the first to examine how epigenetic changes take place, how they alter behavior, and how they can trigger the onset of disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. [For more about epigenetics, see “The New Genetics of Mental Illness,” by Edmund S. Higgins; Scientific American Mind, June/July 2008.]
30 Although spying on others’ intimate acts is a clear violation of privacy, research suggests that voyeurism is quite common. In a 2007 study 74 percent of women and 84 percent of men said they would watch an attractive person disrobe if they wouldn’t get caught. Exposed, a new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on display through April 17, 2011, examines how voyeurism pervades our everyday life, focusing particular attention on 19th- and 20th-century photography, celebrity culture and the growth of new surveillance technologies.
Roundup: Curating Creativity
A colorful concert, a Nobel exhibit and an insightful podcast series reveal the secrets of exceptionally creative minds.
11 We’ve all experienced an “aha!” moment. Although these creative flashes are not well understood, recent research suggests that moments of inspiration coincide with spikes of electrical activity in the brain. Driven: True Stories of Inspiration, a podcast series hosted by the San Francisco Exploratorium, investigates the origins and impact of creative insight—and even whether feeling inspired can be contagious.
What if someone told you that yellow sounds like a trumpet? People who can hear colors or taste shapes have synesthesia—a condition in which the senses are paired in unique ways. Synesthetes often generate innovative visual art, music and theater. To experience the world through a synesthete’s eyes, visit the Hayden Planetarium’s show, SonicVision, where you might see the color of a crescendo or the shape of a B-flat.
New York City
Creative thinkers are not simply blessed with genius; they are also incredibly persistent. In 1895 German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s obsessive tinkering culminated in his discovery of x-rays and, soon after, a Nobel Prize in Physics. At the Nobel Museum’s Cultures and Creativity exhibit, viewers can explore the creative processes of Nobel laureates such as Röntgen, Martin Luther King and Ernest Hemingway.
Gamla Stan, Stockholm