Harry Potter is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading Harry Potter books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
Current Event July 5, 2017
In the mid 1800s our understanding of the brain was radically changed as a result of a freak accident. Phineas Gage survived an accident that drove an iron rod through his head, but he had some changes in his personality. This case highlighted the relationship between the structural parts of the brain and changes in behavior. Listen to hear more about what this case can tell us about the brain and personality.
Current Event June 28, 2017
Two teenagers started a relationship in 2012, mainly through texting, which ended tragically. When Conrad Roy became depressed, his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, encouraged him to seek treatment, but then began to encourage him to commit suicide. Roy intentionally filled his truck with carbon monoxide and Carter sent him emails urging him to stay in the truck. For her encouraging texts and failure to act, Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The judge based his ruling on the words she used, extending the boundaries of criminal law. Listen to hear more about this ruling and what it might mean for future cases.
Current Event April 26, 2017
A team of neuroscientists is working on studying how the brain reacts when we tell lies. What they found is that as one tells more lies, each progressive lie shows less brain activity associated with conscience or guilt. This means that being dishonest becomes easier overtime. However, facing negative consequences as a result of lying will cause the brain to react and discourage lying. Listen to learn more about the brain science behind lying.
Current Event March 27, 2017
The results of the 2017 World Happiness Report are in, and Norway is at the top of the list as the happiest country in the world. As one might imagine, developing countries show some of the lowest rates of happiness, but some low- and middle-income countries such as Nicaragua are showing encouraging gains. Interestingly, the United States has dropped from 13th to 14th place on the list, which the World Happiness Report attributes to declining social support. Listen to learn more about the findings and what factors support happiness around the world.
Current Event March 16, 2017
Studies show that teen girls are more vulnerable to depression. In fact, girls are three times more likely than boys to become depressed, due in part to social pressures such as the overemphasis on physical appearance and the prevalence of social media. Not only are girls more likely to use social media, they also appear to be more vulnerable to the emotionally damaging effects of a constant, virtual connection. Listen to learn more about trends in teenage depression and the role of social media.
Current Event March 2, 2017
New studies have found that when people eat the same food, they feel more connected, leading to greater trust and cooperation. Scientists have found that in addition to the experience of spending time together and enjoying conversation during meals, people also strengthen connections when they eat the same food. Listen to learn more about the relationship between food, trust and cooperation.
Current Event February 17, 2017
Charities are beginning to use virtual reality as a way to make donors feel more empathetic to a cause and potentially increase the amount they might donate. Several charities have created virtual reality experiences designed to put ordinary people in the place of others who are suffering. The hope is that virtual reality will make these unfamiliar experiences more concrete, and therefore, make people feel more empathetic. Listen to learn more about the virtual reality experiences being developed and then debate whether you think virtual reality can make you more empathetic.
Current Event October 25, 2016
Combat veterans have started long-distance hiking on wilderness trips across the country as a way to transition to civilian life. Having time in nature can help veterans process the war. A non-profit, Warrior Expeditions, sponsors dozens of combat vets each year to walk the Pacific Crest, the Continental Divide and the Appalachian Trail. They hike with other veterans who can support each other since they have been through similar experiences. Listen to hear from veterans who have hiked over 2,000 miles together and their reflections on the journey.
Current Event October 7, 2016
There is a common belief that busy people get more done than less busy people. This may seem counterintuitive, but researchers at Columbia University have discovered there is some truth to this claim. It turns out that there are certain times when being busy can make people feel overwhelmed, and there are other times when being busy can be helpful. Listen to hear about the series of experiments tracking busy people and what they reveal about business, motivation and recovering from setbacks. Then debate whether you think that busy people really do get more things done.
Current Event September 30, 2016
Across college campuses, the idea of "trigger warnings," giving a heads-up to students before uncomfortable topics are discussed, and creating safe spaces for students to feel comfortable talking about their experiences, is gaining traction. Some people think this provides support for people who have been victimized and prevents triggering a recurrence of past trauma. Others people think this makes it possible for students to avoid certain topics and different perspectives that make them feel uncomfortable. The University of Chicago has decided not to give ‘trigger warnings’. Listen to this story to understand why and then debate the different perspectives on this policy.
Current Event September 16, 2016
Social media has an interesting effect on teenagers and the way they think. This study used social media and tested how teens responded to various photos online. Teens were shown an image that was deemed to have lots of "likes." The teens tended to like the image also. They found that teens responded strongly to the more popular pictures, regardless of which ones they were. Seeing popular pictures also produced greater activation in the reward centers of the brain. Listen to hear more about the effect of social media on the way teens think.
Current Event August 20, 2016
After the death of Baltimore native Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore city police officers and subsequent public outcry and protest, the Baltimore Police Department is attempting to use foot patrols to improve relations between law enforcement and the community. The Baltimore Police Department is requiring all officers to undergo a foot patrol refresher class and asking that officers walk on foot for some portion of their ten-hour shift. The idea is that officers will get out into the communities they serve, forming relationships outside of the suspect or victim dynamic that usually define their interactions with citizens. Listen to learn more about the BPD’s plans to improve community relations as well as what types of foot patrols do and do not work.
Current Event March 15, 2016
When we don’t get enough sleep, we often find ourselves eating more. Researchers at the University of Chicago recently published a study that helps explain why. Their experiment showed that sleep deprivation causes an increase in endocannabinoids, which are compounds in our brain. Listen to learn more about how sleep deprivation can lead to overeating.
Current Event March 8, 2016
Some people have trouble staying focused. Many of those people have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. A team at Yale University was able to identify children and adolescents with ADHD by studying certain connections in their brains. This finding adds to the evidence that ADHD is not just a behavioral problem. Listen to hear more about this new research.
Current Event January 29, 2016
Fear of terrorism is rising in the United States. Scientists have been studying reactions to terrorist events, and how those reactions shape public policy. Polls show Americans are currently as afraid of terrorism as they were the weeks after the 9/11 attacks. A research study showed people thought they had a one in three chance of being the target of an attack. The emotional responses are out of proportion to the actual risk. Listen to hear more about how emotions trump reality and then debate whether fear of terrorism is rational.
Current Event January 8, 2016
Research suggests that people see New Year's Day as an imaginary line separating the old from the new. That’s why many people make plans and resolutions for their “new selves” at the turn of the new year. However, most people fail to keep their resolutions, since the “new selves” are usually not much better than the old ones. Listen to hear suggestions on how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Then after hearing these ideas, debate with your students whether we should continue to make New Year’s resolutions.
Current Event December 27, 2015
Theater is meant to be a sensory experience, but for some autistic children, the sounds and lights are overwhelming. Children with sensitivities to light, sound, and touch can’t filter all of this input and can react in different ways. For families with autistic children, going to the theater can be a stressful experience. Trinity Repertory Company, in Rhode Island, has created a innovative theater experience for these families. The house lights are kept on throughout the performance, there are places for children to get out of their seats to move around and sounds are toned down. Trinity Rep also makes a video that prepares children for the entire experience, from the curtain going up through clapping at the end of the performance. Listen to hear more about how children and families respond to this sensory-friendly performance.
Current Event November 26, 2015
One in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s an increase of ten-fold over the last 40 years. The symptoms of the syndrome include a lack of desire to make friends, social awkwardness and a preference to spend time alone. In this conversation between a mother and her twelve-year-old son who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, the two come to understand each other’s view of the world. They discuss animals and friends and happiness.
Current Event October 23, 2015
How much stress we experience growing up can affect our health later in life. This was discovered during a study which assessed the emotional health, diet and habits of hundreds of people from childhood through adulthood. They analyzed the relationship between stress and disease and found people who had persistent stress were at the highest risk for disease. But surprisingly, people who had periods of high stress when they were between the ages of 7 and 16 showed a high risk for chronic illness, even if they were not stressed as adults. Listen to this story and start a debate in your class about whether stress is helpful or harmful to students.