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Preview: - Department of Human Behavior by Shankar Vedantam - Department of Human Behavior by Shankar Vedantam

Science news from The Washington Post. Read about the latest breakthroughs in technology, medicine and communications.


Between Hubris and Vision

Thu, 12 Mar 2009 00:00:00 EDT

President Obama appears serenely confident as he goes about fixing the worst global financial crisis in more than half a century while simultaneously revamping the national health-care system, changing the way Americans use and produce energy, giving tax breaks to 95 percent of all households, an...

The Rational Underpinnings of Irrational Anger

Mon, 02 Mar 2009 00:00:00 EST

"I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you, I get it. But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger."

The Computer as a Road Map to Unknowable Territory

Mon, 16 Feb 2009 00:00:00 EST

Last year, as the financial meltdown was getting underway, a scientist named Yaneer Bar-Yam developed a computer model of the economy. Instead of the individuals, companies and brokers that populate the real economy, the model used virtual actors. The computer world allowed Bar-Yam to do what...

How a Self-Fulfilling Stereotype Can Drag Down Performance

Mon, 02 Feb 2009 00:00:00 EST

Here's a trick question, so think carefully before you answer: If someone mentions the word "beast" to you, which word would you match it with?

Why the Ideological Melting Pot Is Getting So Lumpy

Mon, 19 Jan 2009 00:00:00 EST

Americans like to live in diverse communities. At least, that's what they say.

Mass Suffering and Why We Look the Other Way

Mon, 05 Jan 2009 00:00:00 EST

When President-elect Barack Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, asked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- who helped to authorize the war -- to be his secretary of state, many liberals scratched their heads.

High-Status Criminals Face Greatest Public Wrath

Mon, 22 Dec 2008 00:00:00 EST

Let's say the FBI hears a senior elected official on a tapped telephone line demanding kickbacks in exchange for favors and shaking down donors for campaign contributions in exchange for plum contracts.

In Face of Tragedy, 'Whodunit' Question Often Guides Moral Reasoning

Mon, 08 Dec 2008 00:00:00 EST

When nearly 200 people in India were killed in terrorist attacks late last month, the carnage received saturation media coverage around the globe. When nearly 600 people in Zimbabwe died in a cholera outbreak a week ago, the international response was far more muted.

Who Are the Better Managers -- Political Appointees or Career Bureaucrats?

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 00:00:00 EST

Every time the White House changes hands between the Democrats and the Republicans, the outgoing party quickly sees the virtues of staffing government departments with competent managers. The incoming party invariably seeks to reward loyal campaign operatives with political appointments.

Big Political Donors Just Looking for Favors? Apparently Not.

Mon, 10 Nov 2008 00:00:00 EST

The Center for Responsive Politics recently estimated that it cost $5.8 billion to finance the 2008 general elections. To most people that is a staggeringly large sum and evidence of the profoundly corrupting role that money plays in politics, but to some very smart political watchers, the better...

Your Neighbors Could Find Out, So You'd Better Vote

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 00:00:00 EDT

After nearly two years of political jockeying for the presidency, hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising and wall-to-wall campaign coverage in the media, nearly half of all Americans eligible to cast ballots in the presidential election may not bother to vote. Turnout for primaries, as well...

Does Your Subconscious Think Obama Is Foreign?

Mon, 13 Oct 2008 00:00:00 EDT

A few years ago, psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Thierry Devos showed the names of a number of celebrities to a group of volunteers and asked them to classify the well-known personalities as American or non-American. The list included television personality Connie Chung and tennis star Michael ...

My Team vs. Your Team: The Political Arena Lives Up to Its Name

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 00:00:00 EDT

With America divided right down the middle for the third presidential election in a row, most people would not be surprised to hear that Democratic and Republican partisans perceive a widening gap between their presidential choices. In 2004, for example, die-hards in both parties felt that the...

The Power of Political Misinformation

Mon, 15 Sep 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Have you seen the photo of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin brandishing a rifle while wearing a U.S. flag bikini? Have you read the e-mail saying Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was sworn into the U.S. Senate with his hand placed on the Koran? Both are fabricated -- and...

9/11, Iraq and the Desensitization of the Victimized

Mon, 08 Sep 2008 00:00:00 EDT

In the days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the twin towers vanished from Manhattan's skyline, a poem by W.H. Auden could have been the song of a wounded nation. "September 1, 1939," written on the eve of World War II, seemed eerily prescient:

The Oprah Effect

Mon, 01 Sep 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Political conventions, like all forms of public relations, carry the risk of whiplash. Last week in Denver, for example, Bill Clinton said Barack Obama "has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose" -- all of which sounded a little different from the...

Why Fluff-Over-Substance Makes Perfect Evolutionary Sense

Mon, 25 Aug 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Consider these scenarios. Scandal A: A prominent politician gets caught sleeping with a campaign aide and plunges himself into an ugly paternity dispute -- all while his cancer-stricken wife is fighting for her life.

Happiness on the Medal Stand? It's as Simple as 1-3-2.

Mon, 18 Aug 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Nearly a century ago, American middle-distance runner Abel Kiviat entered the Stockholm Olympics as the odds-on favorite to win the 1,500-meter race, an event in which he held the world record. Kiviat had the lead 1,492 meters into the race but was passed in the final eight meters by Britain's...

The Sprinter's Brain

Mon, 11 Aug 2008 00:00:00 EDT

If American sprinters Tyson Gay and Walter Dix reprise their race in the U.S. Olympic trials at the Olympic finals in Beijing, you will see the athletes crouch low over the starting blocks. Gay's right foot will be in the rear position on the blocks; Dix prefers to have his left foot in the rear ...

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How Terrorist Organizations Work Like Clubs

Mon, 04 Aug 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Osama bin Laden left his compound in Kandahar in Afghanistan and headed into the mountains. His driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, traveled with him. As U.S. and Northern Alliance forces stood poised to capture Kandahar a few months later, bin Laden told Hamdan t...

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When Play Becomes Work

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 00:00:00 EDT

It happens all the time: Two guys in a garage come up with a cool new technology -- and dream of making it big. A thousand people take time off work to campaign for a visionary politician because they feel they are doing something to change the world. A million kids hit baseballs -- and wonder what...

The Face of Innocence

Mon, 21 Jul 2008 00:00:00 EDT

In May, the baby-faced chief executive of IndyMac Bancorp, Michael Perry, lashed out at critics who said the bank was on weak footing: "Given the decline in our stock price, some people have questioned IndyMac's survivability in the current environment. I am here to tell you that I believe we hav...

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Sideline Rage -- Sports Parents Go Berserk

Mon, 14 Jul 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Among psychologists who study sports, there is a code word for parents who lose their temper standing on the sidelines of their children's soccer, baseball and football games: THOSE parents -- Tempestuous, Harried, Overwrought, Self-absorbed and Emotional.

Packing Protection or Packing Suicide Risk?

Mon, 07 Jul 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Seventeen years ago, a couple of criminologists at the University of Maryland published an interesting paper about the 1976 District ban on handguns -- a ban that was recently overturned by the Supreme Court on the grounds it was inimical to the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms to p...

Subprime Mortgages and Race: A Bit of Good News May Be Illusory

Mon, 30 Jun 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Subprime mortgages have been linked to a meltdown in housing and questionable Wall Street practices, and they may have been the original domino that set off America's current economic crisis.

Financial Hardship and the Happiness Paradox

Mon, 23 Jun 2008 00:00:00 EDT

The United States is awash in gloom. Overwhelming majorities of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the country's economic direction, and the intensity of unhappiness is greater than it has been in 15 years, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. The answer, pundits, politicians...

Looking to Avoid Aggressive Drivers? Check Those Bumpers.

Mon, 16 Jun 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Three horrors await Americans who get behind the wheel of a car for a family road trip this summer: the spiraling price of gas, the usual choruses of "are-we-there-yet?" -- and the road rage of fellow drivers.

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Taking More Risks Because You Feel Safe

Mon, 09 Jun 2008 00:00:00 EDT

The housing market is in free fall: Quick -- let's protect homeowners against foreclosure.

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When Disadvantages Collide

Mon, 02 Jun 2008 00:00:00 EDT

One hundred forty-three years ago, women's suffrage advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton faced a conundrum: With the Civil War over, Stanton had to decide whether to support the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which enabled black men to vote -- at a time when white women such as herself...

Media Files:

When We Cook Up a Memory, Experience Is Just One Ingredient

Mon, 26 May 2008 00:00:00 EDT

People hate Mondays. And they love Fridays. The Carpenters crooned about being blue in "Rainy Days and Mondays." The restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday's might restrict its clientele to workaholics if it were to rename itself T.G.I. Monday's.

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The Magic Ingredient: Party Unity

Mon, 19 May 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Hillary Rodham Clinton has half a dozen good reasons she thinks she is the best Democratic candidate for president. They are called Pennsylvania and Ohio, Arkansas and Nevada, New Jersey and New Mexico -- states she has won in the Democratic primary contest.

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Where the Conscience Meets the Checkbook

Mon, 12 May 2008 00:00:00 EDT

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces.

The Candidate, the Preacher and the Unconscious Mind

Mon, 05 May 2008 00:00:00 EDT

On the eve of crucial presidential primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has found himself dogged by questions about his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. As the Democratic front-runner's popularity has suffered after public statements by Wright about ra...

Clinton, Obama and the Narcissist's Tale

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Put yourself in the shoes of Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. You are widely seen by Democratic voters as a transformational presidential candidate. Democrats are nearly evenly divided between you and your competitor, and you think you are the best candidate for your party -- and...

Media Files:

What Obama Might Learn From Emily Dickinson

Mon, 21 Apr 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies/Too bright for our infirm Delight/The Truth's superb surprise . . .

Lost in the Smoke-Filled Room: Unexpected Talent

Mon, 14 Apr 2008 00:00:00 EDT

If this were Britain, Russia or India, Rudy Giuliani '08 caps would not be on the clearance racks. In those countries, where bigwigs and insiders get to nominate party leaders, the former Republican front-runner and establishment favorite would have long ago been anointed the winner.

A Dose of Libertarian Paternalism

Mon, 07 Apr 2008 00:00:00 EDT

About 25 years ago, Cass Sunstein opened a retirement account that had two portfolios. One was mostly bonds, the other mostly stocks. Like many academics who use the TIAA-CREF investment program, Sunstein divided his money equally between stocks and bonds.

Hillary Clinton and the Action Bias

Mon, 31 Mar 2008 00:00:00 EDT

On Oct. 10, 2002, Hillary Rodham Clinton stood in the Senate to explain why she was authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq: "In balancing the risks of action versus inaction, I think New Yorkers who have gone through the fires of hell may be more attuned to the risk of not acting. I...

Unequal Perspectives on Racial Equality

Mon, 24 Mar 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Imagine that you are waiting in line to be born . . . Presently, you are scheduled to be born white. However, you are offered an alternative arrangement. In exchange for a cash gift, to be deposited in a bank account for you when you are born, you can choose to instead be born black.

Eliot Spitzer and the Price-Placebo Effect

Mon, 17 Mar 2008 00:00:00 EDT

In Eliot Spitzer's sex scandal and tragicomic downfall, the question that bugged many people did not have to do with ethics or politics, but whether Spitzer got a raw deal.

Petroleum Feeds Patriarchy

Mon, 10 Mar 2008 00:00:00 EDT

Climate change. Pollution. Financial expense. Our gas-guzzling ways have long been associated with a variety of problems, but disturbing evidence now points to a new dimension of our love affair with petroleum: Oil consumption and high oil prices hurt the political, social and economic development...

Rules About Delegates Can Sway an Election

Mon, 03 Mar 2008 00:00:00 EST

Sen. John McCain's quest for the Republican presidential nomination was once seen as dead, but like those robots in the "Terminator" movies that reassemble themselves after being blown to smithereens, he came back. Five years ago, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) was a virtually unknown African American ...

For Political Candidates, Saying Can Become Believing

Mon, 25 Feb 2008 00:00:00 EST

John McCain once called televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance," but now the Republican senator from Arizona is currying favor with social conservatives. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) now opposes the Iraq war, although she used to support it. Sen. Barack Obama...

Why Being the GOP's No. 2 Isn't So Bad

Mon, 18 Feb 2008 00:00:00 EST

Through much of the Republican presidential primary, Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could barely restrain their contempt for each other. During one Republican debate in New Hampshire in early January, McCain landed a zinger that summed up Romney's opportunistic...

Care to Know the Motivation Behind That Gift, Love?

Mon, 11 Feb 2008 00:00:00 EST

If you happen to stop by a Victoria's Secret store this Wednesday evening, on the eve of Valentine's Day, you will learn something fascinating about human nature that will tell you a lot about people and relationships.

Why Voters Play Follow-the-Leader

Mon, 04 Feb 2008 00:00:00 EST

What do you think is more dangerous? Terrorists getting their hands on a biological weapon that can be smuggled into the country or another hurricane like Katrina? Which is the smarter way to keep Social Security solvent? Raise the retirement age or raise taxes? How can the current economic crisi...

The Science of Presidential Complexity

Mon, 28 Jan 2008 00:00:00 EST

Mitt Romney wants to round up 12 million illegal immigrants and deport them. John Edwards wants to put an end to lobbyists. All the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates rail against the ways of Washington.

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'Attraction Effect' Helps Voters Pick From the Pack

Mon, 21 Jan 2008 00:00:00 EST

Some years ago, a political scientist conducted an interesting experiment that speaks to the fractured race for the Republican presidential nomination, which now has six candidates, five issues, and four potential front-runners.

Good Options Can Mask Bad Choices

Mon, 14 Jan 2008 00:00:00 EST

Take a step back from the Republican and Democratic presidential primary races and you will see a sharp difference between the two.

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Obama's Iowa Victory Fits Democratic Trend

Mon, 07 Jan 2008 00:00:00 EST

According to conventional wisdom, front-runners win presidential nominations. Democrats and Republicans who start the race for a presidential nomination with the largest amount of money and the best poll numbers are supposed to be the ones most likely to walk away with victory months later.

Vote Your Conscience. If You Can.

Mon, 31 Dec 2007 00:00:00 EST

Two sociologists and a mathematician recently conducted an experiment that provides an intriguing window into the presidential candidate selection that begins this week. Matthew Salganik, Duncan Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodds had a large group of people rate 48 songs. Based on these ratings, the...

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Reminders of Mortality Bring Out the Charitable Side

Mon, 24 Dec 2007 00:00:00 EST

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge . . . "Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been . . . "

Bad Ideas Can Be Contagious

Mon, 17 Dec 2007 00:00:00 EST

Nearly four decades ago, psychologist Stanley Milgram had a volunteer stand stock still on a busy New York sidewalk and look up at the sky. About one in every 25 passersby stopped to look up, too. When five volunteers were recruited to sky-gaze, nearly one in five passersby stopped to look up.

The Christmastime Self-Esteem Paradox

Mon, 10 Dec 2007 00:00:00 EST

Social psychologist William B. Swann once had a group of married people evaluate their spouses even as their spouses evaluated them. People with high self-esteem, the psychologist found, felt closer to their partners when they received positive evaluations. People with low self-esteem, however, felt...

Wondering Wall Street's Mood? Look Up

Mon, 03 Dec 2007 00:00:00 EST

Forget about buying low and selling high. If you are worried about the recent volatility in the stock market, perhaps you should let the weather be your guide.

With Power Comes a Selfish Point of View

Mon, 26 Nov 2007 00:00:00 EST

In the interest of promoting democracy, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, recently announced that he had to lock up most of his country's democracy activists. And because he wanted the Pakistani Supreme Court to independently rule on whether he could continue as president, Musharraf also...

Count Today's Calories, And Check Your Wallet

Mon, 19 Nov 2007 00:00:00 EST

What do the war in Iraq, your Christmas shopping and this week's Thanksgiving dinner have in common?

The Myth of the Iron Lady

Mon, 12 Nov 2007 00:00:00 EST

If you consult the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is democratically created by Internet users, you will see a pattern emerge in the phrases used to describe the first female leaders of many countries.

Go for It on Fourth Down, Coach? Maybe You Should Ask an Egghead.

Mon, 05 Nov 2007 00:00:00 EST

With just over five minutes to play in yesterday's game against the New York Jets, the Washington Redskins found themselves on their own 23-yard line facing a fourth and one. The team, which was ahead by just three points, elected to do what teams normally do in such situations: They played it safe...

One Thing We Can't Build Alone in Iraq

Mon, 29 Oct 2007 00:00:00 EDT

When Columbia University sociologist Peter Bearman dived into the world of the white-gloved workers who open the front doors of expensive New York apartment buildings, he found that most people who applied for jobs as doormen never got one. Most doormen, however, had not applied for their jobs.

Hoping Someone Else Fixes Everyone's Problem

Mon, 22 Oct 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Let's say there are 10 houses on your street and a giant pothole develops right in the middle of the block. Everyone benefits if the pothole gets fixed, but that might require multiple calls to municipal authorities and a lot of hassle. Since every resident benefits even if he or she does nothing...

When Immigration Goes Up, Prices Go Down

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Last week, a gallon of gas at an Exxon station in the tony suburb of Bethesda cost $2.99.

The Inconsistent Waffle Factor

Mon, 08 Oct 2007 00:00:00 EDT

If you were Barack Obama, you would be scratching your head, too.

Confessions Not Always Clad in Iron

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 00:00:00 EDT

In the courts and in Congress, Sen. Larry Craig is fighting to withdraw his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge that may suggest he tried to solicit sex from a man in June at a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Rather than resign yesterday, as the senator had promised and Republicans had hoped, Craig...

In Judging Risk, Our Fears Are Often Misplaced

Mon, 24 Sep 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, psychologist Jennifer Lerner conducted a national field experiment: She asked a random sampling of Americans how likely it was that they would be the victim of a terrorist attack in the next 12 months.

Lessons in Forced Democracy

Mon, 17 Sep 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Four years ago, during a speech in Manila, President Bush drew an analogy between the history of the Philippines and the history he was rewriting in Iraq.

Along With Grief, 9/11 Survivors Find Resolve

Mon, 10 Sep 2007 00:00:00 EDT

John Duffy lost 67 of his colleagues at the firm of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods six years ago during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among the dead was Duffy's son Christopher. The investment banking firm, located in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, was among the companies hit hardes...

The Insurgency's Psychological Component

Mon, 03 Sep 2007 00:00:00 EDT

At the core of this fall's debate over Iraq lies one simple question: Can an increased number of U.S. troops subdue the Iraqi insurgency?

Spending More for a Little Solace

Mon, 27 Aug 2007 00:00:00 EDT

As big Labor Day sales roll around, computer stores will tell you about laptops that now come with biometric fingerprint readers. Car companies will talk about "variable air suspension" features that allow you to change the ride of a car, depending on terrain. And video game manufacturers will ha...

The Color of Health Care: Diagnosing Bias in Doctors

Mon, 13 Aug 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Long before word recently broke that white referees in the National Basketball Association were calling fouls at a higher rate on black athletes than on white athletes, and long before studies found racial disparities in how black and white applicants get called for job interviews, researchers no...

Hot and Cold Emotions Make Us Poor Judges

Mon, 06 Aug 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Why would David Vitter, a U.S. senator with four young children, have gotten involved with a seedy escort service? Why would Michael Vick, a gifted NFL quarterback, get mixed up with the sordid world of dog fighting? Why would Bill Clinton, a Rhodes scholar, six-time governor and president of the...

Bush and Counterfactual Confidence

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 00:00:00 EDT

In the face of mounting public and political opposition to the war in Iraq, recent reports from the White House suggest that President Bush remains serenely confident.

The Home Run King and I

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Exhibit A: Sometime over the next few days, a San Francisco athlete will break baseball's most treasured record. Despite his achievement of hitting more home runs than anyone else in Major League Baseball, Barry Bonds will be greeted with rage, ridicule and vast amounts of spit -- because many pe...

Campaign Contributions Change Priorities, Not Beliefs

Mon, 16 Jul 2007 00:00:00 EDT

There are two ways to think about the staggering amounts of money given by special interest groups to politicians -- the type of contributions that were detailed for the last quarter in reports filed yesterday by presidential candidates and members of Congress.

Bush: Naturally, Never Wrong

Mon, 09 Jul 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Psychologists once conducted a simple experiment with far-reaching implications: They asked people to describe an instance in their lives when they had hurt someone and another instance when they had been hurt by someone else. The incidents that people described were similar whether they saw...

More Civil Wars, And More Players, Too

Mon, 25 Jun 2007 00:00:00 EDT

A few days ago, Hamas fighters stormed Fatah strongholds in Gaza that were allied with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and effectively took control of one of the two pillars of the evolving Palestinian state. Fatah groups struck back in the West Bank, the other Palestinian pillar, and...

Why We Don't Go for It

Mon, 18 Jun 2007 00:00:00 EDT

This year's National Basketball Association playoffs recently provided not one but two examples of a very interesting facet of human decision making. Even if you are not a sports fan, these moments tell you something about human nature.

Why Torture Keeps Pace With Enlightenment

Mon, 11 Jun 2007 00:00:00 EDT

In the year 65, the Roman emperor Nero discovered that a group of nobles had hatched a conspiracy to kill him. The tyrant captured the suspects one by one and threatened them with torture; most confessed and implicated others. One of the conspirators, Epicharis, was publicly tortured -- her bones...

Out of Unenforceable Laws, Amnesties Are Born

Mon, 04 Jun 2007 00:00:00 EDT

The ambitious immigration overhaul package that Congress is studying has drawn criticism from conservatives who say it offers amnesty to lawbreakers, and from immigration advocates who say it will not do enough to bring millions of people out of the shadows.

The Marriage Penalty

Mon, 28 May 2007 00:00:00 EDT

It's almost June, which means we should soon start to hear the peal of wedding bells.

Are We Judging Actions, Or the People Behind Them?

Mon, 21 May 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Like lunar and solar eclipses, there are some Washington phenomena that are so common they ought to have distinct names. Here is one: A public figure comes to be hated by large numbers of people. But the person cannot be prosecuted or punished, perhaps because his behavior did not involve a crime so...

A Nod to Irresponsibility

Mon, 14 May 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Accountability is in the air in Washington. At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Paul Wolfowitz is struggling to save his job as president of the World Bank after getting caught arranging a sweetheart deal for his, well, sweetheart. A few blocks down the road, President Bush faces endless questions...

Wariness, Not Hatred, Keeps Civil Wars Raging

Mon, 07 May 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Here is a measure of the state of the war in Iraq: The number of Iraqis dying each month now rivals the total number of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

When Seeing Is Disbelieving

Mon, 30 Apr 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Four years ago tomorrow, President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and dramatically strode onto the deck in a flight suit, a crash helmet tucked under one arm. Even without the giant banner that hung from the ship's tower, the president's message about the progress of the war in Iraq was u...

A Social Theory of Violence Looks Beyond the Shooter

Mon, 23 Apr 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Like most people in Virginia, Donald Black was horrified by Seung Hui Cho's shooting rampage last week that left 33 people dead, including the shooter.

Among Taxpayers, Inequality May Equal Cheating

Mon, 16 Apr 2007 00:00:00 EDT

Economists have long known there are two reasons that people cheat on their taxes. One is that they are poor and need the extra cash so badly they are willing to risk getting caught. The other is that they are rich and have lots of "non-matchable" income -- mostly investment income not directly...

Waging War Through the Rearview Mirror

Mon, 09 Apr 2007 00:00:00 EDT

President Bush said last week that his thinking on the U.S. situation in Iraq was informed by an analogy: the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The lack of a sufficient American response to that and other al-Qaeda attacks, Bush said, led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Decoy Effect, or How to Win an Election

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 00:00:00 EDT

If Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ever took a break from fundraising to bone up on psychology, they might realize the need to talk up . . . John Edwards.

Bettors and Pundits: Never Wrong, Just Unlucky

Mon, 26 Mar 2007 00:00:00 EDT

The NCAA men's college basketball championship game was on the line. People in office pools around the country were holding their breath. Louisville was down by four points with a few minutes left on the clock. A UCLA player stole a pass and raced down the court where, after being bumped by a...

What the Bard and Lear Can Tell a Leader About Yes Men

Mon, 19 Mar 2007 00:00:00 EDT

In Shakespeare's "King Lear," a powerful man comes to a tragic end because he surrounds himself with flatterers and banishes the friends who will not varnish the truth to please him.

Disagree About Iraq? You're Not Just Wrong -- You're Evil.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 00:00:00 EDT

The conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby last week gave Americans a chance to pick at the scab of what has become a favored obsession -- the debate over the motives of the Bush administration in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse

Mon, 05 Mar 2007 00:00:00 EST

Two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte sent his armies into Spain to overthrow a monarch who had once been a French ally. Napoleon, who believed he was touched by the hand of destiny, predicted his troops would be welcomed as liberators by ordinary Spaniards. He was wrong. The resulting Peninsular War from 1808 to 1814 seriously undermined French prestige, handed Napoleon a stinging defeat and produced a raft of unanticipated consequences that included the outbreak of deadly civil wars....

Best Supporting? Maybe Not.

Mon, 26 Feb 2007 00:00:00 EST

Let's say someone stuck a microphone in your face and gave you 45 seconds to say something meaningful to a billion people. Let's say, moreover, that this is the only chance you will ever have to directly address the entire world.

Almost Everyone Lies, Often Seeing It as a Kindness

Mon, 19 Feb 2007 00:00:00 EST

The perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby goes to the jury this week. The case speaks to several issues -- how the Bush administration deals with critics of the war in Iraq, and the games that Washington's reporters and politicians play with each other. As far as the jury is concerned, however,...

Plagued With Relationship Troubles? Blame Your Parents.

Mon, 12 Feb 2007 00:00:00 EST

So, Valentine's Day is two days away, but you know he isn't going to bring you any flowers. And instead of a cuddle and a kiss, you know she is going to dig up that old canard about your mother.

A Game of Magical Thinking Leaves Reality on the Sidelines

Mon, 05 Feb 2007 00:00:00 EST

The 58 fans sitting before the big-screen television were watching the Super Bowl. Psychologist Emily Pronin was watching the fans.

Twisting Arms Isn't as Easy as Dropping Bombs

Mon, 29 Jan 2007 00:00:00 EST

Whenever the United States goes to war, pro-war and antiwar advocates immediately reach for different history books. Hawks always equate the situation to a Hitler-Chamberlain standoff to show why hesitation can be fatal. Doves invariably pull the Vietnam War off the shelf to argue that plunging...

How Deep a Distaste for Politicians Who Waffle?

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 00:00:00 EST

When George W. Bush takes the podium tomorrow night to deliver his sixth State of the Union address, what are the chances he will say this? "The war in Iraq has been one gigantic mistake. I am sorry I got us into this mess. I am going to bring the troops home right away."

In Boardrooms and in Courtrooms, Diversity Makes a Difference

Mon, 15 Jan 2007 00:00:00 EST

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called on America to open the doors of opportunity to people of color, the civil rights leader was making a moral argument.

Wars Ultimately Measure Tolerance of Pain

Mon, 08 Jan 2007 00:00:00 EST

Here's a question with three different answers. The first answer is derived from arithmetic. The second comes from common sense. The third is based on psychology.