The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Each week, Josh and Chuck read tons of material and a lot of it is really good. Here's the best of the bunch.

Empathy in the mind of the psychopath is studied.

You know how there are a lot of elderly couples out there who look a lot like each other. A lot of them are because they're cousins, which I suspect was more okay back in olden times when you had to stock the farm with as many people as you could and it didn't really matter how divergent their genetic lines were. There are also plenty of elderly married couples that look alike who aren't related in any way, and it's these couples who have long puzzled researchers. A 1987 study that sought to get to the bottom of this was recently sent to me by Stuff They Don't Want You to Know's Ben Bowlin, who comes up with good stuff pretty much all the time.

There's long been a line of thought that the explanation for the altogether odd phenomenon of contagious yawning -- feeling the overwhelming urge to yawn after observing another person yawn -- is found in the empathy of the individual observing the yawn. The idea goes that the more empathetic among us are the most susceptible to contagious yawning and research shows this hypothesis tends to hold up among humans and higher apes.

Mirror Neurons: Are there people who feel others' pain?

People with a condition known as mirror-touch synesthesia literally feel the pain of others -- but why? Josh and Chuck trace the cause of this condition to one culprit: the mirror neuron. Tune in to learn more about mirror neurons and neuroscience.

The Effects of Music on the Human Psyche: From Empathy to Hostility to Sleep Deprivation

Music has a real effect on us. Why, I'm listening to music right now (Devo at the moment) and it'll probably help shape this post. Case in point: There's a new study out in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that covers how songs with prosocial lyrics have a prosocial impact on its listeners. Take, for instance, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Remember Band Aid? The all-star group recorded that song 25 years ago to raise money for famine-stricken African nations. And it worked; the single raised over 8 million pounds. That's pretty prosocial.

Yawning is contagious, but why? Check out the leading theories on contagious yawning and empathy in this HowStuffWorks podcast.