Quick Study

The freest market; lottery melancholy

Blaming the Brain

Could neuroscience excuse violent criminals? Most states don’t consider “impulsive aggression” a viable defense, holding that a sudden urge to act violently doesn’t interfere with the ability to understand right and wrong. But new brain research may compel courts to distinguish between an “impulse that was irresistible” and an “impulse not resisted.” This could undermine standards of criminal autonomy, force judges to evaluate science they don’t understand, and “unravel the fabric of the criminal justice system.”

“Without Thinking: Impulsive Aggression and Criminal Responsibility,” Behavioral Sciences and the Law

Beards of Iniquity

Although Brigham Young wore a beard, today’s Mormon leaders insist that a clean-shaven face shows piety and obedience. But some bearded Mormons are resisting: they say they feel shame and resentment when told to shave, because their beards express “deeply felt, even intimate, identities.” Appearance is a “highly charged” marker of loyalty in the church, and growing a beard is increasingly becoming “a serious breach that sets in play a uniquely Mormon social drama.”

“Men’s Grooming in the Latter-Day Saints Church: A Qualitative Study of Norm Violation,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture

Price of Freedom

Given the option to name any price for a lunch buffet, a movie, and a hot drink, consumers paid an average of 86 percent of the regular prices, and never chose to pay nothing. Although the customers said a sense of fairness and a desire not to appear cheap influenced their pricing, the scheme seems to work even in the anonymous market of the Internet. When Radiohead let fans name their price for downloads of a 2007 album, the band earned more money than from downloads of all its previous albums combined.

“Pay What You Want: A New Participative Pricing Mechanism,” Journal of Marketing

Winner’s Remorse

Winning the lottery leads not to instant gratification, but to almost three years of mental strain and angst. Receiving a windfall of cash causes cognitive dissonance that is alleviated only when the tainted money comes to feel as deserved as earned income.

“Delay and Deservingness After Winning the Lottery,” University of Zurich

Memory Holes

Lots of people rolled their eyes when Scooter Libby claimed he didn’t remember outing a CIA officer to the press in 2003. But his story isn’t far-fetched: when the brain recognizes that a piece of information is significant, it will encode and organize it in ways that promote long-term memory. But if its full importance is clear only down the road—say, in testimony before a jury—accurate retrieval is much less likely.

“Misconceptions of Memory: The Scooter Libby Effect,” Psychological Science

Rough Justice

Iraq’s Central Criminal Court is completely overwhelmed and failing to meet even minimum standards of justice. A handful of judges are trying thousands of cases—on offenses like terrorism, corruption, and sectarian violence—and suspects can be locked up for years before a hearing. Some children share cells with adults, prisoner abuse is common, defense lawyers are usually worthless, and the whole thing shows a “disturbing continuity” with Saddam Hussein’s reign.

“The Quality of Justice: Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” Human Rights Watch

The Fat Tax

Can taxes on soft drinks reduce our horrible rates of obesity? Not by much. The average soda tax of 3 percent does almost nothing to curb weight gain. And while heavy “sin taxes” on cigarettes have decreased consumption, taxing soda at a tobacco-like 55 percent would reduce the overweight or obese population by less than 0.7 percent.

“Can Soft Drink Taxes Reduce Population Weight?,” Emory University