Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Jun 22, 2015

Psychology News Round-Up (March 7th)

Image of newspapers shaped to spell the word News

By Dave Nussbaum

  • Juliana Schroeder explains how Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied voice in Spike Jonze’s Her can make an inanimate object seem human:

Among the many big questions that the movie Her tackles is that of humanness: What does it mean to be human? Why does Samantha seem as human – or even more human – than other characters in the movie despite being only a voice? In Her, Johansson’s voice brings Samantha’s character to life, and Theodore’s love for her feels not just believable, but entirely plausible. But how? How can a person fall in love with just a voice?

Recent psychological research conducted by Professor Nicholas Epley and I, at the University of Chicago, suggests an answer. According to our research, currently in preparation, voice may uniquely communicate presence of mind and , ultimately, fundamental aspects of being human.

“Humor is something people inherently enjoy,” he told me. “But there also needs to be something wrong, unsettling, and threatening in some way. We call those violations.”Our caveman ancestors lived in a world rife with physical threats. There was relief in discovering that a rustling in the darkness was a mouse rather than a saber-toothed tiger.“Before people could speak, laughter served as a signaling function,” McGraw explained. “As if to say, ‘this is a false alarm, this is a benign violation.’”

The Atlantic article makes some excellent points about the Iranian negotiations, especially in terms of historical events and people’s perceptions of fairness, but it undermines its own credibility by labelling these insights as neuroscience or by gratuitously referencing the brain. It’s as if the authors drank brain soup before writing their article, and just as they’re making an interesting historical or political point, they hiccup out a nonsense neuro reference.




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Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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