Caring for Aging Parents: Should There Be a Law?
( TIME )

China’s government thinks so, and as the population of elderly in
nearly every society starts to swell, such eldercare laws are
becoming more common. But are they effective?

What kind of care and devotion is expected of adult children toward
their aging parents? Not surprisingly, siblings can hold fiercely
different positions about what they “should” do. Some make huge
sacrifices of time and money to comfort and care for mom; others
rarely show their faces even when parents pine for them. But if
families can’t resolve these difficult issues, can governments do
any better?

In China, a new law that went into effect this month requires
children to provide for the emotional and physical needs of their
parents, which includes visiting them often or facing fines and
potential jail time. One woman who was found negligent in visiting
her 77-year-old mother has already been charged under the Law on
Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly and was ordered
to visit her mother at least once every two months, and on at least
two national holidays a year.

Enforcing the law will certainly be challenging, and critics have
raised the very real possibility that in an effort to alleviate some
of the impending burden that 200 million people over the age of 60
represent for the Chinese government, the law may end up causing more
familial strife and resentment toward elderly parents. While no
government can legislate loyalty or love, more legislatures are
finding it necessary to mandate responsibilities, especially those
of the financial kind.

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Does Organic Food Turn You into a Jerk?
( TIME )

Are these strawberries organic? Is this omelette made with free-range
eggs? Can you swap out the rice for quinoa? Is this kale locally
sourced? Pesticide-free? Fair trade? Are the hazelnuts local?

The onslaught of questions from an enlightened eater can test the
patience of even the calmest restaurant server.

And a new study shows that organic foodies’ humane regard for the well-
being of animals makes some people rather snobbish. The report,
published last week in the Journal of Social Psychological &
Personality Science, notes that exposure to organic foods can “harshen
moral judgments.” Which, to us, sounds like a nice way of saying that
organic-food seekers are arrogant. But that seems rather paradoxical:
organic eaters are more likely to seek benevolence in their food, so
why don’t they seek it in their relationships? Well, according to the
study, they tend to congratulate themselves for their moral and
environmental choices, affording them the tendency to look down on
others who don’t share their desire for pesticide-free living.

Reacting to the events on a numbered scale, the organic-food
participants were more judgmental than those in the comfort-food
category. They were also more reluctant when asked to volunteer time to
help strangers, the study found, offering only 13 minutes vs. the
brownie eaters’ 24 minutes. It’s like the group had already fulfilled
its moral-justice quota by buying organic, so it felt all right
slacking off in other ethics-based situations. Eskine labeled it
“moral licensing.”

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Losing Your Religion? Analytic Thinking Weakens Religious Belief
( TIME )

Most of the world’s population believes in God, or gods, but alongside
them there are also hundreds of millions of nonbelievers. What makes
one a believer or not?

Religious faith is likely a complex phenomenon, shaped by multiple
aspects of psychology and culture, say the authors of a new study. But
the researchers, Ara Norenzayan and Will Gervais of the University of
British Columbia in Canada, showed in a series of clever studies that
at least one factor consistently appears to decrease the strength of
people’s religious belief: analytic thinking.

“Religion is such a big force in the world,” says Norenzayan, an
associate professor of psychology. “Hardly a day goes by without
allegiances made to God, but we know very little about it. We are
trying to fill this gap in our knowledge.”

In one study, the researchers correlated participants’ performance on
a test of analytic thinking with measures of their religious belief.
The thinking task included three problems requiring participants to
analytically override their initial intuition. For example, one
question asked: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs
$1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The immediate,
intuitive response is 10 cents. Those who take the time to figure out
the right answer (5 cents) are judged to be more analytical, and these
people tended to score lower on the measures of religious belief.

There are surely many factors at play here, but the researchers say
their results suggest that one’s style of thought may be a crucial
contributor to religious belief. Intuitive thinkers are more likely to
be religious; analytical types, less so. “One explanation for belief
is that it is based on a number of intuitions we have about the world
around us. People don’t necessarily come to belief because they reason
into it. Intuition helps us,” says Norenzayan.

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How To Speak Like A Native
( TIME )

Can an adult learn to speak a second language with the accent of a
native? Not likely, but new research suggests that we would make better
progress, and be understood more easily by our conversational partners,
if we abandoned a perfect accent as our goal in the language learning

For decades, traditional language instruction held up native-like
pronunciation as the ideal, enforced by doses of “fear, embarrassment
and conformity,” in the words of Murray J. Munro, a professor of
linguistics at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Munro and a
co-author, University of Alberta linguist Tracy Derwing, argue that
this ideal is “clearly unrealistic,” leading to disappointment and
frustration on the part of most adult language learners. Indeed, a
growing body of evidence points to a “critical period” in childhood
for acquiring correctly accented fluency in a given language; even as
research on neuroplasticity has pushed the limits of what adults can
learn, this boundary has remained stubbornly in place. In light of
these findings, a newer generation of adult foreign-language teachers
has given up pronunciation instruction altogether, assuming it is a
futile effort.

Both of these assumptions are wrongheaded, contend Munro and Derwing.
Pronunciation can be learned -- but it should be learned with the goal
of communicating easily with others, not with achieving a textbook-
perfect accent. Adult students of language should be guided by the
“intelligibility principle,” not the old “nativeness principle.” As
Derwing and Munro note, “even heavily accented speech can be highly

Learners guided by the intelligibility principle focus less attention
on individual vowels and consonants, and more attention to the
“macro” aspects of language, such as general speaking habits, volume,
stress, and rhythm. A study by Derwing and colleagues showed that this
approach can work. The investigators divided subjects into three
groups: the first received foreign language instruction with no
particular focus on pronunciation; the second received instruction with
a focus on pronouncing the individual segments of language; and the
third received “global” pronunciation instruction on the general way
the foreign tongue should sound. After 12 weeks of classes, the
students were asked to tell a story in their new language, and their
efforts were rated by native-speaking listeners. Only the global group,
the listeners reported, showed significant improvement in
comprehensibility and fluency.

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The Myth of the Mama’s Boy
( TIME )

For generations, mothers have gotten the same old message when it comes
to raising sons: beware of keeping him “too close.” A mom who
nurtures a deep emotional bond will prevent him from growing up to be a
strong, independent man. By refusing to cut those apron strings, she is
on track to create the archetypal, effeminate, maladjusted “mama’s
boy.” There’s one problem with this theory: it’s just not true.

From the Oedipus myth (not to mention the complex Freud created around
it) to the movie Psycho, our culture warns us about the dangers of
mother-son closeness. No other parent-child combination is so
stigmatized. We encourage mothers and daughters, as well as fathers and
sons, to stay close throughout their adult lives. And a supportive
father is considered essential to a daughter’s self-esteem. A dad can
coach his daughter’s lacrosse team, wipe her tears and encourage her
loftiest ambitions, all with smiling approval.

These are not unrelated problems, and moms can be part of the solution.
Nurturing mothers can help their sons develop emotional intelligence,
encouraging them to talk about their feelings and recognize those of
others. Certainly boys who are better able to articulate their thoughts
and who have stronger self-control will perform better in the classroom
than boys who retreat into silence or act out. One study of 400 middle-
school boys in New York City public schools revealed that boys who were
closer to their mothers were less likely to define masculinity as a
matter of being tough, stoic and self-reliant. These boys not only had
less anxiety and depression than their more stoic peers but also were
getting better grades.

And contrary to stereotype, boys who can express a broader range of
emotions will not become wimps, forever clinging to their mommies, but
instead independent guys who will make strong, empathetic spouses and
partners, says Dr. William Pollack, a psychology professor at Harvard
University. What’s more, these young men will be better equipped to
navigate today’s economy, in which communication skills and teamwork
are more important for success than brute physical strength or dominance.

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