Friday, January 3, 2014

One New York Times, three PBS students: From "highchair philosophers" to schadenfreude, a recent New York Times features the work of current and former PBS students

For an explanation of why we watch reality TV or why toddlers play vigorously with their nonsolid food, take a look at the December 23rd Science Times. You will also find in these stories the names of several current and former PBS students: Katie Boucher, a current postdoctoral student of Mary Murphy and former grad student of B. J. Rydell; Lynn Perry, a former PBS undergraduate major who completed her honors thesis with Linda Smith; and Larissa Samuelson, former graduate student of Smith. Perry is now a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Samuelson is an associate professor at the University of Iowa.
Boucher is featured in a book review of "The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature" by University of Kentucky psychology professor Richard Smith. Boucher worked with Smith as an undergraduate on the topic of “schadenfreude,” the pleasure taken in others’ pain.
Schadenfreude, the reviewer explains, is an antidote to the envy we feel when we measure ourselves against others and come up short. The urge to make social comparisons may be hard-wired—studies show that even monkeys and dogs measure themselves against their peers. Yet schadenfreude, somewhat perversely perhaps, enables us to undo the envy we may feel as a result of negative comparisons. It also may  explain the satisfaction we get from watching reality TV or reading the National Enquirer, two topics of Boucher’s research as an undergraduate. Seeing others’ downfall, especially if they have more fame and fortune than ourselves, makes us feel better about our own un-filmed or un-prosperous lives.
In "To Smoosh Peas is to Learn," Perry and Samuelson provide the fodder (so to speak) for science writer Perri Klass in her musings on toddlers' table manners. Children are generally much better at learning about solid objects than nonsolid objects, which require a bit more exploration. The highchair provides an effective context for learning about nonsolid substances because it is where children are accustomed to encountering them, and the more they interact with those substances, the more they learn.

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