The Best of the Week


The power of playfulness and “social epidemics” are featured in this week’s best.

What Playfulness Can Do for You – Boston Globe – By Leon Neyfakh

Playfulness isn’t just a childish endeavor. It’s possible adults are meant to engage in it.

The fact is, even the most responsible adults occasionally indulge in what can only be described as playfulness: pursuing delight in all its forms, engaging in friendly, low-stakes competition, and investing precious resources in amusing themselves and others…[We’ve] only recently started getting a grip on what it is that makes otherwise self-possessed, mature adults inclined toward fooling around and being silly—and what long-term benefits they get out of it.

What Value is Culture to Economic Development? – Jamaica Gleaner – By Rose Thompson

Kingston, the largest city and capital of Jamaica. Image: Antwain.

Kingston, the largest city and capital of Jamaica. Image: Antwain.

An interesting meditation on the role a strong national identity plays for a strong economy. The author applies lessons learned from the rest of the world to Jamaica.

George Akerlof, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, and co-author Rachel Kranton, in their academic work of 2000, introduced social identity into formal economic analysis. They considered how identity, a person’s self-image, sense of self or beliefs influence economic outcomes by incorporating the psychology and sociology of identity into an economic model of behavior.


Interestingly, their findings show that inclusion of identity in several models, such as the economics of poverty and social exclusion, substantively changed conclusions of previous economic analysis.

Global Decline in Wildlife Linked to Child Slavery – BBC News – By Matt McGrath

A study shows how scarcity of fish and animals for food has increased youth conscription and other violence.

While in the U.S. the decline was cushioned by federal subsidies to retrain fishermen, in Somalia the increased competition for fish stocks led to the rise of piracy.


The study says there are some approaches that can work. They argue that when local governments give fishers and hunters exclusive rights to harvest some areas, social tensions can be reduced.

The Psychology of the Sunni-Shia Divide – Politico – By David Myers

A psychologist explores four ways minds are influenced when thinking in groups.

When highly prejudiced students discussed racial issues, they became more prejudiced. When less prejudiced students talked among themselves, they became even more accepting. In other words, ideological separation plus conversation equaled greater polarization between the two groups.

A History Hike in Japan – – By Peter Mandel, Washington Post

A stage for classical Japanese Noh theater. Image: Fg2.

A stage for classical Japanese Noh theater. Image: Fg2.

The author travels the Nakasendo Way – one of the five routes of the Edo period – and chronicles its small marvels.

Dating to the seventh century, Japan’s Nakasendo was once a path for shoguns, pilgrims, and samurai – not to mention ordinary travelers like us – who, according to my pre-hike brochure, wore out pair after pair of straw sandals on the rolling terrain.

Mathematicians Explain Why Social Epidemics Spread Faster in Some Countries than Others – Technology Review – By arXiv

Why would Swedes be slower to take up smoking, as well as to stop, than other peoples? The answer, these mathematicians believe, has to do with the level of individualism in a society.

Do Jurors Become Better Citizens? – Huffington Post – By Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

In a nationwide study to be published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, researchers found that jurors who decide certain civil cases demonstrated improved voting rates in future elections. This finding amplifies earlier studies that found increased voting rates for those jurors who decided criminal cases.


Of course, improved voting rates are only one measure of this nation’s civic health. But, in a country where voting rates remain low, and where lackluster juror turnout has forced courts to reschedule trials, both aspects of civic life need a boost. As the new study now shows, jury service provides a double benefit, encouraging improved participation in both the judicial and political process.


The 3 Scariest Words a Boy Can Hear – All Things Considered – With Audie Cornish

Former defensive lineman and current pastor Joe Ehrmann talks male psychology and the need for a healthier kind of masculinity.

There’s two kinds of coaches in America: You’re either transactional or you’re transformational. Transactional coaches basically use young people for their own identity, their own validation, their own ends. It’s always about them — the team first, players’ needs down the road.


And then you have transformational coaches. They understand the power, the platform, the position they have in the lives of young people, and they’re going to use that to change the arc of every young person’s life. I think football is an ideal place — sports in general — team sports are an ideal place to help boys become men. And the great myth in America today is that sports build character. That’s not true in a win-at-all-costs culture. Sports doesn’t build character unless the coach models it, nurtures it and teaches it.

Workplace psychologists believe those transactional and transformational leadership styles not only apply to coaches, but leaders in all sorts of positions, especially workplace bosses.

A map of cultural-linguistic groups of Native American tribes.  Devised by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.

A map of cultural-linguistic groups of Native American tribes. Devised by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.

Pre-Columbian Native Americans Had Baby Boom in 500-1300 CE –

The northern Southwest had as many as 40,000 people in the mid-1200s, but within 30 years it was empty, leaving a mystery. Perhaps the population had grown too large to feed itself as the climate deteriorated. Then as people began to leave, that may have made it harder to maintain the social unity needed for defense and new infrastructure.


Featured Image: A student at a nearby school named after Bob Marley. Credit: Andreastagnaro.