The universality of awe and the way it makes you a better person

April 2017

Awe seems to transcend human culture in a way that little else does.

Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior traveled to the Namibian desert with grad students to learn how the deeply traditional and seminomadic Himba people experience awe. Cooking on an open fire underneath a blanket of stars, the grad students and Himba people all were transfixed by the constellations above, Piff says in Sierra Magazine. "Different things inspire awe for different cultures, but the sky did it for all of us," he says. "Awe might be a universal experience that’s been built into the human system ... and one that we share with people around the world."

Granger appointed Chancellor's Professor

April 2017

Doug Granger, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research and a professor of psychology and social behavior, public health, and pediatrics has been appointed a Chancellor's Professor. The appointment took effect April 1 and is reserved for exceptional scholars who have demonstrated unusual academic merit and exhibit high promise for continued achievement.

Sleep deprivation: one reason people give false confessions

April 2017

Innocent people frequently confess to crimes they never committed, and false confessions are, in fact, responsible for 25 percent of exonerations resulting from DNA evidence, according to an essay in Time featuring Psychology and Social Behavior Professor Beth Loftus.

A false confession often starts with police officers presuming guilt, then seeking to detect signs in the suspect's demeanor and voice. Then, they coerce the subject, sometimes with lies about evidence against the suspect. Finally, the police prompt a detailed confession by asking leading questions or showing the suspect crime scene photos.

The science of religion: new open online course taught by Professor Azim Shariff

April 2017

Azim Shariff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior, is mixing science and religion in a new online course that is open to the public.

To clarify: Shariff is using science to study religion, a methodological approach that for many decades was frowned upon, according to Psychology Today. Religious studies scholars frequently invoked notions such as "the sacred," "the holy" and "the transcendent" to bat away empirical examination.

New summer institute at UCI will help scholars tackle tangled legal web of technology, big data and society

April 2017

What are the legalities of a health insurance company changing a premium based on data streamed from a fitness tracker? When an algorithm in a self-driving car decides which route to take when both are fraught with danger, who can be held liable for damages? And what legal issues come into play when more than half of U.S. stock exchange activity comes from automated trading accounts? As we become increasingly more reliant on technology and big data to make decisions that make our businesses and lives more efficient, the legal implications can be a little tricky.  

“Even where big data and algorithmic processes are purposefully incorporated into legal practices, such as in the proliferating use of ‘risk assessment’ tools in the criminal system, their impacts on fairness and justice remain underexplored in sociolegal scholarship,” says Mona Lynch, criminology, law & society professor and co-director of the Center for Law, Society & Culture.

Are prisoners' civil rights being needlessly violated by long-term solitary confinement?

April 2017

Deadly prison riots in the 1960s and 1970s spurred prison officials to clamp down on inmates and lock the ones they deemed the most dangerous in long-term solitary confinement. They built maximum security prisons like Pelican Bay in California to control and sequester these "worst of the worst."

There, thrown in the hole with no human contact and bleak surroundings, many are suffering psychological harm. Little is known about the effectiveness of solitary confinement, or of the long-term societal consequences. Keramet Reiter, assistant professor of criminology, law and society, spoke with Modern Law Library about her research into the conditions at Pelican Bay and the after-effects of solitary confinement -- and the reforms that would help legislators assess whether solitary is actually needed.

You Can’t Unsee That: When Social Media Gives Us Something To Fear

April 2017

On Easter Sunday, a man shot and killed a 74-year-old man in Cleveland, Ohio, then posted the video on Facebook, where it spread widely. It was only the latest act of violence to surge through social media networks.

Though Facebook has since closed the alleged killer's account, the video remains branded in the minds of countless viewers. What does the easy accessibility to unforgettable, violent images do the mind? And should social media websites police such content? Psychology and Social Behavior Professor Roxane Cohen Silver discussed those questions with NPR affiliate WAMU in Washington, D.C.

Did California prison reform lead to an increase in crime?

April 2017

In 2011, Assembly Bill 109 transferred 60,000 felony parole violators a year from state to local control, saving the state $100 million. But the bill has sparked a backlash, with some prosecutors and law enforcement officials blaming it for a recent rise in violent crime.

Charis Kubrin, professor of Criminology, Law and Society, disagrees that AB 109 is to blame. She conducted the first scientific analysis of AB 109 last year, accounting for other factors such as unemployment, and found that while the bill contributed to a rise in property crimes, particularly auto thefts, there was no evidence it led to a rise in assaults, rapes or murders. The research was featured in a Fox News segment on the California's recent rise in crime.

Eyewitness identifications not always shaky: confidence predicts accuracy.

April 2017

Not all eyewitness identifications should be discarded, because in certain circumstances they are accurate, according to a new report in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

The key: eyewitnesses have to feel confident and the timing and conditions of when they identify suspects have to be "pristine." But law enforcement agencies don't always use methods that create such pristine conditions, according to School of Social Ecology professors Beth Loftus and Rachel Greenspan, who wrote a commentary for the new report. The report and commentary were mentioned in an article in Forensic Magazine.

Matthew Desmond wins Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction

April 2017

Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond has won the Pulitzer Price for nonfiction for his book "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City." The School of Social Ecology's Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation awarded Desmond its 2017 Human Security Award.

In the book, Desmond tells the story of eight Milwaukee families living on the edge who are spending almost all they have on rent, and are falling behind. In years past, evictions used to be rare. Today, most poor renting families spend more than half their income on housing and are frequently evicted. They're forced into shelters, increasingly squalid apartments and more dangerous neighborhoods.