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Concept: Reason


Using human evaluation of 100,000 words spread across 24 corpora in 10 languages diverse in origin and culture, we present evidence of a deep imprint of human sociality in language, observing that (i) the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias, (ii) the estimated emotional content of words is consistent between languages under translation, and (iii) this positivity bias is strongly independent of frequency of word use. Alongside these general regularities, we describe interlanguage variations in the emotional spectrum of languages that allow us to rank corpora. We also show how our word evaluations can be used to construct physical-like instruments for both real-time and offline measurement of the emotional content of large-scale texts.

Concepts: Mathematics, Cognition, Language, Word, Root, Programming language, Translation, Reason


Traditional fact checking by expert journalists cannot keep up with the enormous volume of information that is now generated online. Computational fact checking may significantly enhance our ability to evaluate the veracity of dubious information. Here we show that the complexities of human fact checking can be approximated quite well by finding the shortest path between concept nodes under properly defined semantic proximity metrics on knowledge graphs. Framed as a network problem this approach is feasible with efficient computational techniques. We evaluate this approach by examining tens of thousands of claims related to history, entertainment, geography, and biographical information using a public knowledge graph extracted from Wikipedia. Statements independently known to be true consistently receive higher support via our method than do false ones. These findings represent a significant step toward scalable computational fact-checking methods that may one day mitigate the spread of harmful misinformation.

Concepts: Truth, Epistemology, Graph theory, Knowledge, Logic, Path, Shortest path problem, Reason


Cardiac vagal tone (indexed via resting heart rate variability [HRV]) has been previously associated with superior executive functioning. Is HRV related to wiser reasoning and less biased judgments? Here we hypothesize that this will be the case when adopting a self-distanced (as opposed to a self-immersed) perspective, with self-distancing enabling individuals with higher HRV to overcome bias-promoting egocentric impulses and to reason wisely. However, higher HRV may not be associated with greater wisdom when adopting a self-immersed perspective. Participants were randomly assigned to reflect on societal issues from a self-distanced- or self-immersed perspective, with responses coded for reasoning quality. In a separate task, participants read about and evaluated a person performing morally ambiguous actions, with responses coded for dispositional vs. situational attributions. We simultaneously assessed resting cardiac recordings, obtaining six HRV indicators. As hypothesized, in the self-distanced condition, each HRV indicator was positively related to prevalence of wisdom-related reasoning (e.g., prevalence of recognition of limits of one’s knowledge, recognition that the world is in flux/change, consideration of others' opinions and search for an integration of these opinions) and to balanced vs. biased attributions (recognition of situational and dispositional factors vs. focus on dispositional factors alone). In contrast, there was no relationship between these variables in the self-immersed condition. We discuss implications for research on psychophysiology, cognition, and wisdom.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Critical thinking, Cardiology, Cognition, Empiricism, Knowledge, Reason


There would be little adaptive value in a complex communication system like human language if there were no ways to detect and correct problems. A systematic comparison of conversation in a broad sample of the world’s languages reveals a universal system for the real-time resolution of frequent breakdowns in communication. In a sample of 12 languages of 8 language families of varied typological profiles we find a system of ‘other-initiated repair’, where the recipient of an unclear message can signal trouble and the sender can repair the original message. We find that this system is frequently used (on average about once per 1.4 minutes in any language), and that it has detailed common properties, contrary to assumptions of radical cultural variation. Unrelated languages share the same three functionally distinct types of repair initiator for signalling problems and use them in the same kinds of contexts. People prefer to choose the type that is the most specific possible, a principle that minimizes cost both for the sender being asked to fix the problem and for the dyad as a social unit. Disruption to the conversation is kept to a minimum, with the two-utterance repair sequence being on average no longer that the single utterance which is being fixed. The findings, controlled for historical relationships, situation types and other dependencies, reveal the fundamentally cooperative nature of human communication and offer support for the pragmatic universals hypothesis: while languages may vary in the organization of grammar and meaning, key systems of language use may be largely similar across cultural groups. They also provide a fresh perspective on controversies about the core properties of language, by revealing a common infrastructure for social interaction which may be the universal bedrock upon which linguistic diversity rests.

Concepts: Sociology, Linguistics, Language, Grammar, Semiotics, Type, Reason, Language family


To maximize survival and reproductive success, primates evolved the tendency to tell lies and the ability to accurately detect them. Despite the obvious advantage of detecting lies accurately, conscious judgments of veracity are only slightly more accurate than chance. However, findings in forensic psychology, neuroscience, and primatology suggest that lies can be accurately detected when less-conscious mental processes (as opposed to more-conscious mental processes) are used. We predicted that observing someone tell a lie would automatically activate cognitive concepts associated with deception, and observing someone tell the truth would activate concepts associated with truth. In two experiments, we demonstrated that indirect measures of deception detection are significantly more accurate than direct measures. These findings provide a new lens through which to reconsider old questions and approach new investigations of human lie detection.

Concepts: Truth, Cognition, Cognitive science, Mind, Logic, Concept, Lie, Reason


The claim that Eskimo languages have words for different types of snow is well-known among the public, but has been greatly exaggerated through popularization and is therefore viewed with skepticism by many scholars of language. Despite the prominence of this claim, to our knowledge the line of reasoning behind it has not been tested broadly across languages. Here, we note that this reasoning is a special case of the more general view that language is shaped by the need for efficient communication, and we empirically test a variant of it against multiple sources of data, including library reference works, Twitter, and large digital collections of linguistic and meteorological data. Consistent with the hypothesis of efficient communication, we find that languages that use the same linguistic form for snow and ice tend to be spoken in warmer climates, and that this association appears to be mediated by lower communicative need to talk about snow and ice. Our results confirm that variation in semantic categories across languages may be traceable in part to local communicative needs. They suggest moreover that despite its awkward history, the topic of “words for snow” may play a useful role as an accessible instance of the principle that language supports efficient communication.

Concepts: Scientific method, Linguistics, Language, Empiricism, Semantics, Semiotics, Reason, Language family


This report evaluates the scientific literature on caffeine with respect to potential central nervous system (CNS) effects, specifically effects on sleep, anxiety, and aggression/risk-taking. Caffeine has been the subject of more scientific safety studies than any other food ingredient. It is important, therefore, to evaluate new studies in the context of this large existing body of knowledge. The safety of caffeine can best be described in a narrative form, and is not usefully expressed in terms of a “bright line” numerical value like an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI). Caffeine intake has been associated with a range of reversible physiological, in a few studies at levels of less than 100mg in sensitive individuals. It is also clear that many people can tolerate much greater levels - perhaps up to 600-800 mg/day or more - without experiencing such effects. The reasons for this type of variability in response are described in this report. Based on all the available evidence, there is no reason to believe that experiencing such effects from caffeine intake has any significant or lasting effect on health. The point at which caffeine intake may cause harm to the CNS is not readily identifiable, in part because data on the effects of daily intakes greater than 600 mg is limited. Effects of caffeine on risk-taking and aggressive behavior in young people have received considerable publicity, yet are the most difficult to study because of ethical concerns and limitations in the ability to design appropriate studies. At present, the weight of available evidence does not support these concerns, yet this should not preclude ongoing careful monitoring of the scientific literature.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Epistemology, Science, Caffeine, Reason


In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements. The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption using both normed estimates of knowledge and individuals' demonstrated knowledge on a postexperimental knowledge check (Experiment 1). Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. Multinomial modeling demonstrated that participants sometimes rely on fluency even if knowledge is also available to them (Experiment 2). Thus, participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Belief, Truth, Epistemology, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Logic, Common cold, Reason


Languages vary enormously in global importance because of historical, demographic, political, and technological forces. However, beyond simple measures of population and economic power, there has been no rigorous quantitative way to define the global influence of languages. Here we use the structure of the networks connecting multilingual speakers and translated texts, as expressed in book translations, multiple language editions of Wikipedia, and Twitter, to provide a concept of language importance that goes beyond simple economic or demographic measures. We find that the structure of these three global language networks (GLNs) is centered on English as a global hub and around a handful of intermediate hub languages, which include Spanish, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese. We validate the measure of a language’s centrality in the three GLNs by showing that it exhibits a strong correlation with two independent measures of the number of famous people born in the countries associated with that language. These results suggest that the position of a language in the GLN contributes to the visibility of its speakers and the global popularity of the cultural content they produce.

Concepts: Philosophy of language, Language, Semantics, Dialect, German language, Translation, Reason, Languages


The challenges in the development of a prophylactic HIV-1 vaccine are unprecedented in the history of vaccinology. But there are reasons for optimism, and indeed, several promising vaccine concepts are currently moving toward clinical efficacy trials.

Concepts: Reason