Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The Ides of March and the enduring romance of prophecy

By Stuart Vyse
“Beware the Ides of March,” warns the soothsayer in Act 1, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and by the end of the play, the Roman dictator, having ignored the soothsayer’s prophecy, is dead at the hands of a conspiracy of foes. The 15th of March was made famous by this single historical event, described in Plutarch’s history of Caesar’s life and made part of our contemporary Western vocabulary by Shakespeare’s tragedy and, more recently, by last summer’s political drama starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.

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Homophobic bullying

Recently I learned of yet another suicide of a young gay may which has been attributed to sustained bullying at school. Phillip Parker was 14 years old when he took his own life on Friday January 20th, 2012. Surely it has to be wrong for any young person to feel so helpless that the only way to be freed from the torment of the bullies is to commit suicide.

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How to communicate like a Neandertal…

By Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
Neandertal communication must have been different from modern language. Neandertals were not a stage of evolution that preceded modern humans. They were a distinct population that had a separate evolutionary history for several hundred thousand years.

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Altruism versus social pressure in charitable giving

Every year, 90% of Americans give money to charities. There is at least one capital campaign to raise $25 million or more underway in virtually every major population center in North America. Smaller capital campaigns are even more numerous, with phone-a-thons, door-to-door drives, and mail solicitations increasing in popularity. Despite the ubiquity of fund-raising, we still have an imperfect understanding of the motivations for giving and the welfare implications for the giver. One may wonder: what moves all of these people to donate? Is such generosity necessarily welfare-enhancing for the giver?

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Imagining depression

“There was in him a mixture of that disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute enquiry, though the effects are well known to be a weariness of life, an unconcern about those things which agitate the greater part of mankind, and a general sensation of gloomy wretchedness.”

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Giving up smoking? Put your mind to it

By Cecilia Westbrook
Everybody knows that smoking is bad for you. Yet quitting smoking is a challenging endeavour – insurmountable for some. Even smokers who get the best help available still have a 50% chance of relapsing. Clearly, the more options we have to help with cessation, the better. Recent research suggests that meditation and mindfulness may be beneficial for smokers looking to extinguish the habit.

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Born to be a sacred midwife

Born with the destiny of becoming a Mayan sacred midwife, Chona Perez has carried on centuries-old traditional Indigenous American birth and healing practices over her 85 years. At the same time, Chona developed new approaches to the care of pregnancy, newborns, and mothers based on her own experience and ideas. In this way, Chona has contributed to both the cultural continuities and cultural changes of her town over the decades.

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Your good = my bad: When helping hurts

By Barbara Oakley
Pathological altruism is, in a great sense, the study of the onramps to the well-intentioned road to hell. That is, it is the study of truly well-meaning behavior that worsens instead of improves a situation, or creates more problems than it solves. Does the concept of pathological altruism then provide a license to steal—as long as it was done for a good cause? Not so fast.

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OCD treatment through storytelling

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an often misunderstood anxiety disorder. It’s treatment of choice, a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), is likewise difficult to grasp and properly use in therapy for both consumers and their therapists. This is in part because of the counter-intuitive nature of ERP, as well as the subtle twists and turns that OCD can take during the course of treatment.

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Sound bites: how sound can affect taste

The senses are a vital source of knowledge about the objects and events in the world, as well as for insights into our private sensations and feelings. Below is an excerpt from Art and the Senses, edited by Francesca Bacci and David Melcher, in which Charles Spence, Maya U. Shankar, and Heston Blumenthal look at the ways in which environmental sounds can affect the perceived flavour of food.

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“Her home contains tens of thousands of pieces of clothing…”

By Christiana Bratiotis

Sharon is a 53-year-old white woman who is unmarried and lives alone in a multi-family home in a northeastern suburb. Sharon recently lost her job due to her multiple mental and physical health disabilities. Because of her job loss, Sharon is unable to afford her rent. She is now 3 months in the rears and her landlord is demanding payment. He recently stopped by to talk with Sharon. She was home but did not answer the door.

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When men are left alone

By Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D.
It was with some excitement that I read the article on men and grief in the July 25th edition of the New York Times. It mentioned Widower: When Men Are Left Alone, which I had written with Scott Campbell, a text that is now 20 years old and still very relevant. I was pleased for another reason that took me a while to recognize. The article

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Computers remember so you don’t have to

By Dennis Baron
A research report in the journal Science suggests that smartphones, along with computers, tablets, and the internet, are weakening our memories. This has implications not just for the future of quiz shows–most of us can’t compete against computers on Jeopardy–but also for the way we deal with information: instead of remembering something, we remember how to look it up. Good luck with that when the internet is down.

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Lizzie Eustace: pathological liar?

By Helen Small
Pathological lying, the philosopher Sissela Bok tells us, ‘is to all the rest of lying what kleptomania is to stealing’. In its most extreme form, the liar (or ‘pseudologue’) ‘tells involved stories about life circumstances, both present and past’.

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7 degrees to Truman Capote

I’d like to take this moment and introduce you all to Frannie Laughner, this summer’s intern extraordinaire. She and I were discussing William Todd Schultz’s Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers, and the conversation somehow collided with The Oracle of Bacon. An idea was born. Frannie seemed up to the challenge, so I told her I would pick three public figures at random and she had to connect them to Truman Capote in seven degrees or less.

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The multitasking mind

By Dario Salvucci

If the mind is a society, as philosopher-scientist Marvin Minsky has argued, then multitasking has become its persona non grata.

In polite company, mere mention of “multitasking” can evoke a disparaging frown and a wagging finger. We shouldn’t multitask, they say – our brains can’t handle multiple tasks, and multitasking drains us of cognitive resources and makes us unable to focus on the critical tasks around us. Multitasking makes us, in a word, stupid.

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