Required Reading, 3rd Week of September 2015

Throughout the week, I read a LOT of online articles. What follows are the three most interesting I found this week:

Underwater treasures: 10 stunning vintage photos of the American Dreamvia CNN, I enjoy Americana, especially from 1930-1980. Old photographs are a glimpse back into a world both the same as today, and utterly different. These advertisements are examples of the marketing campaign to sell 1940s and 1950s America as an ideal and innocent time, an impression that lingers on today.

Why Do We Admire Mobsters?via The New Yorker, A psychological explanation for my ‘good old days’ nostalgia: “Ultimately, the mob myth depends on psychological distance, a term coined by the New York University psychologist Yaacov Trope to describe the phenomenon of mental distancing that takes place when we separate ourselves from events, people, emotions, or concepts. In some cases, that distance comes naturally. As painful events recede into the past, our perceptions soften; when we physically remove ourselves from emotionally disturbing situations, our emotions cool. In other cases, we need to deliberately cultivate distance—to “gain perspective.” Trope likens it to the old cliché of missing the forest for the trees: you can wander around in the trees forever or, through training or external intervention, realize that you need to step back to see the full vista.

Once attained, psychological distance allows us to romanticize and feel nostalgia for almost anything. It provides a filter, eliminating some details and emphasizing others. We speak of the good old days, hardly ever of the bad. Psychological distance is, among other things, a coping mechanism: it protects against depression and its close cousin, rumination, which pushes us to dwell too long on unpleasant details from the past instead of moving forward. When, instead, we smooth the edges of the past, remembering it as better than it was, we end up hoping for an equally happy future.”

Why the U.S. Government Is Embracing Behavioral Sciencevia Harvard Business Review, Behavioral science shows promise in making everyday tasks more efficient (assuming they’re engineered responsibly). “Public policy has often relied on assumptions of rationality when accounting for human behavior, which has led to suboptimal policies in the past. For example, citizens are sometimes bombarded by mass-media campaigns (designed to decrease smoking, increase seat-belt use, etc.) that assume they will be able to process an onslaught of messages to their best advantage. But such campaigns often have not worked, and may even have backfired at times.”

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