Tania Lombrozo

Tania Lombrozo is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an affiliate of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Lombrozo directs the Concepts and Cognition Lab, where she and her students study aspects of human cognition at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, including the drive to explain and its relationship to understanding, various aspects of causal and moral reasoning and all kinds of learning.

Lombrozo is the recipient of numerous awards, including an NSF CAREER award, a McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award in Understanding Human Cognition and a Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformational Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science. She received bachelors degrees in Philosophy and Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, followed by a PhD in Psychology from Harvard University. Lombrozo also blogs for Psychology Today.

According to neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, science can answer moral questions. According to philosopher Alex Rosenberg, science can answer "persistent philosophical questions," including the purpose of life and the meaning of human history.

Thomas Kuhn, the well-known physicist, philosopher and historian of science, was born 94 years ago today. He went on to become an important and broad-ranging thinker, and one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.

Every semester, college instructors face a choice: whether to restrict the use of laptops and other devices in their classrooms or to, instead, let students decide for themselves.

And for classrooms that do allow devices, students face an ongoing set of choices: to take notes electronically or by hand, to check the textbook or the text message, to check Instagram or Twitter.

Most of us love movies but won't have a say in which ones win an Oscar next year. Many of us have opinions about whether Britain should remain in the European Union but didn't get to vote in last week's historic referendum.

On June 20, 1840, Samuel Morse received a patent for an early version of the electric telegraph. His ideas for transmitting and recording signals helped revolutionize long-distance communication.

In a talk in Pittsburgh in 1997, the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould allegedly characterized humans as "the primates who tell stories." Psychologist Robyn Dawes went much further, suggesting humans are "the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story."

As a mother of young children, I've heard the following rosy message from more than one slightly more-seasoned mom: "Don't worry, it gets easier!"

It's a message of hope and encouragement, a recognition of how hard some aspects of early motherhood can be. But according to new research, it might also be wrong.

Why Do We Gossip?

May 23, 2016

By some estimates, around 60 percent of time spend in conversation with other people involves some form of gossip about social relationships or personal experiences.

We gossip about our friends, we gossip about our enemies, and we gossip about celebrities we've never before met — and likely never will. Why this fascination with gossip?

Consider the following recent headlines:

"Don't touch baby wild animals, no matter how cute they might be" (Alaska Dispatch News)

"Animals are smarter than humans give them credit for" (New York Magazine)

Last Thursday, for Cinco de Mayo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted an image of himself eating a taco bowl with the words: "Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!"

People were quick to point out some ways in which the tweet was not only inaccurate (taco bowls are available at the Trump Cafe, not the Trump Tower Grill), but also offensive.

My 5-year-old doesn't know much about astrophysics, but she'll cheerfully tell you that a shooting star is not a star, but a meteor — a bit of science trivia that she picked up from an album of children's songs about science by the band They Might be Giants.

Humor is a funny thing. We know it when we see it, but identifying why something is humorous is another thing entirely.

In fact, explaining why a joke is funny is a pretty reliable way to sap it of all humor.

A few years ago, I received an early career award at the annual meeting of a professional society.

Before the awards ceremony, the other recipients and I were herded together, placed in adjacent seats, and told to wait for the event to begin. The five or six of us had a lot in common. Though we worked in different areas of psychology, we were at similar career stages and had overlapping interests.

But we didn't spend our time together talking about science or ideas — the work that had won us the awards we were there to receive. What we talked about was childcare.

Consider two very different views about the human mind.

In the first view, people are like scientists. They go about the world gathering data, constructing theories and using those theories to guide their interactions with the world. As new evidence comes in, they revise their beliefs accordingly.

A 2014 Harris Poll found that U.S. adults rate being a scientist among the most prestigious occupations, topped only by doctors, military officers and firefighters.

When it comes to babies, people don't always think clearly. I don't mean that they erupt into baby talk and make funny faces, though that can happen, too. It's more that babies elicit a strong set of cultural assumptions and values that can influence our thinking, for better and for worse.

Last month, I wrote a review of Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room, a memoir about Pollack's experiences as a physics major at Yale in the 1970s.

I faint once every 10 years.

The first time, I was 16 standing in the sun early one morning. I thought I was going to pass out and immediately told my mother, who caught me as I fell.

The second time, I was in my late 20s. I was on vacation, up early for the views one hot morning. I thought I was going to pass out and stepped toward my husband, who caught me as I fell.

The presidential primaries are a great opportunity to test your skills in political prediction. Who will win which states, and by what margin? And if your predictions aren't all that good, how can you do better?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how to make better predictions in domains both big (world politics) and small (your breakfast), drawing on recent work in psychological science. Today, I'm going to revisit this question from a new angle.

We constantly make predictions about the unknown, at scales both large and small.

Which presidential candidates will win each party's nomination? Which stocks will go up in the next six months — and which down? Should I have a second child? Will I really enjoy the chocolate chip pancakes most, or should I order the pumpkin waffles instead?

As a physics major at Yale in the 1970s, Eileen Pollack learned about gravitation and quantum mechanics and ballistics. She also learned what it's like to be The Only Woman in the Room, the title of her new book, published by Beacon Press last September.

Voters and legislators are constantly confronted with decisions that would benefit from some understanding of the relevant science:

Is cap and trade a good approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions? Evaluating the pros and cons requires some understanding of economics and environmental science. Are standardized tests a good way to measure student learning? An informed answer requires some understanding of education and human psychology.

A friend from high school recently sent me this hilarious and heartbreaking video of twin baby girls fighting over a pacifier:

Suppose you're a 45-year-old woman living in the U.S. You have no history of breast cancer, nor worrisome symptoms. Should you have a mammogram?

What do the United States, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and Tonga have in common?

This weekend, Facebook's "Memories" reminded me of a post from Jan. 2, 2009: "Tania Lombrozo is generating New Year's resolutions...that look a lot like last year's."

I could, unfortunately, post the same again today. In fact, one of my resolutions for 2015 — to be smart about my smartphone — was shared here last year on 13.7, and I can report pretty imperfect success.

What makes for a truly merry Christmas? Is your time better spent picking perfect, personalized gifts and decorating your home, or enjoying holiday cheer with family and friends?

Confusion gets a bad rap.

A textbook that confuses its readers sounds like a bad textbook. Teachers who confuse their students sound like bad teachers.

But research suggests that some of the time, confusion can actually be a good thing — an important step toward learning.

Consider the following two statements:

"We are not an emergent property of a mechanical universe but the seasonal activity of a living cosmos."

"Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty."

Which is more profound?

Representatives from nearly 200 countries are meeting in France today to discuss climate change — and for good reason.

To quote President Obama's State of the Union Address from earlier this year: "No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change."