Quick Study

Illustrations by Istvan Banyai

Psychic Friends
Lots of people hear voices in their heads—but only some are bothered by them. One group of voice-hearers in a recent study, who considered themselves psychics or mediums, said they found the voices “benevolent” and were more likely to engage with them than resist them. Members of a second group, who had sought psychiatric help, found the voices “malevolent and omnipotent,” and suffered more stress and anxiety. Hearing voices may not be as problematic as what the voices are saying.

“The Relationship Between Trauma and Beliefs About Hearing Voices: A Study of Psychiatric and Non-Psychiatric Voice Hearers,” Psychological Medicine

Pandora’s Mailbox

By law, the U.S. Postal Service has had a monopoly on delivering mail to mailboxes since 1934. Should private couriers like FedEx be able to compete? That could be a big mistake: the government’s highly trained mailmen work with the FBI and other agencies to weed out suspicious packages, prevent identity theft, and alert the public to consumer fraud—a layer of security that could be compromised by opening our mailboxes to hordes of private carriers.

“The Role of the United States Postal Service in Public Safety and Security: Implications of Relaxing the Mailbox Monopoly,” Rand Corporation

Caribbean Calamity

Without major security reforms, Haiti faces growing chaos and political collapse. Lax border control, violent drug runners, and a woeful prison system overburden the corrupt and undertrained police, and riots in April over food prices toppled the prime minister. More ominously, Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike have left 800,000 in dire need.

“Reforming Haiti’s Security Sector,” International Crisis Group

Faith Healing

Religion: revealed truth, or evolutionary vaccine? The diversity of religions in a given country correlates closely with the number of parasites. In regions at greater risk for disease, people limit travel and interaction with outsiders to avoid pathogens. This reduces the flow of ideas and values, creates cultural boundaries, and breeds new religions—presumably further minimizing contact with outsiders. Example: Brazil, which has a poor public-health system and rampant parasites, has 159 religions, while Canada, which has advanced health care and few parasites, has 15.

“Assortative Sociality, Limited Dispersal, Infectious Disease and the Genesis of the Global Pattern of Religion Diversity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society

All In
Election-wagering sites like Intrade are only the latest version of a centuries-old market in political futures. So many Italians were betting on papal elections in the 16th century that Pope Gregory XIV threatened them with excommunication. In 18th-century Britain, wagering on parliamentary elections became a national pastime. After the American Civil War, pari-mutuel political markets grew wildly popular. But such speculation dwindled as scientific polling improved, creating a lull that persisted until the Internet’s rise.

“Historical Political Futures Markets: An International Perspective,” National Bureau of Economic Research

Soldiers of Misfortune

Military personnel make easy marks for predatory lenders: they get paid regularly and are concentrated on bases. But soldiers who have access to payday loans pay a steep price, and not just because of interest rates: their performance declines, they severely misbehave more often, and they’re less likely to be eligible to reenlist than those who don’t have access to loan sharks.

“In Harm’s Way? Payday Loan Access and Military Personnel Performance,” Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Bad Company

From the confirmed-suspicions file: sitting next to co-workers who bad-mouth the company makes you more cynical, less trustful of your bosses, and more likely to engage in bad-mouthing of your own.

“A Test of Coworkers’ Influence on Organizational Cynicism, Badmouthing, and Organizational Citizenship Behavior,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology