Academics have a reputation for cluelessness about the “real” world. This is not always deserved, but few things better contribute to the stereotype than expressions of surprise by social scientists when their research reveals something utterly self-evident to the rest of us. Case in point: In the abstract of their article A Cleansing Fire: Moral outrage alleviates guilt and buffers threats to one’s moral identitypublished in Motivation and Emotion Zachary K. Rothschild Lucas A. Keefer write “we test the counter-intuitive possibility that moral outrage at third-party transgressions is sometimes a means of reducing guilt over one’s own moral failings and restoring a moral identity.” Counter-intuitive? Their research, as anyone outside academia could have told them, demonstrated that expressions of moral outrage commonly are self-serving. So people engage in social posturing? The hell you say!
Let us not overlook research about whether alcohol – still the world’s favorite mood-altering drug – really drowns sorrows. As reported in Livescience, “Harder and her colleagues guessed that people would report less anger or sadness after drinking, and more happiness a day after drinking. But the data showed the opposite.” A day after drinking? A day after? Of course they weren’t happy a day after. It’s called a hangover. Did these research people never drink? “Tomorrow” is the last thing on the minds of drunks. Alcohol is all about the now. Drinkers, sorrowful or otherwise, want to get high now, tomorrow be damned. And yes, drinking does make them feel better – not always, but more often than not. That is why people do it. It works while the buzz lasts, that is. Not the next day.
I’ve experienced both effects. I don’t very often (anymore) because I really don’t handle the day-afters as well as some people. This is something that was evident from my very first hangover, which was in my college dorm. 18 was legal drinking age back then, but by the standards of the day (or this day for that matter) that was a late start. As I unsteadily rushed down the hallway toward the bathroom while trying to hold back my stomach contents for the necessary distance, still playing on the stereo in back of me in my room was (no kidding) Melanie’s Leftover Wine, a song I cannot hear to this day without queasiness. Up until that moment, however, C2H6O had been quite enjoyable. I wish I could say one such lesson was enough. It wasn’t. “Enough” eventually did arrive in my life, but even now I see sense in Raymond Chandler’s opinion, “I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle, so he won't let himself get snotty about it.”
Besides, not everyone’s cost/benefit ledger is the same as mine. Winston Churchill: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” Even if you’re not trying to win a war but just trying to distract oneself for an evening, the substance can have value. At an equinox party at the house last week, a majority of the 15 guests found value in it, and surely would have left early without it – or not arrived in the first place. (Yes, driving arrangements were appropriate.) Were they happy the next day? Well, that really wasn’t the point.
There are plenty of other surprises in the journals. Many social scientists are taken aback by evidence that in speed dating trials people (in the words of the Telegraph) “behave like stereotypical Neanderthals.” Regardless of what participants claim they want in a mate when filling out questionnaires (most give very PC answers, which is to say they engage in social posturing), in practice typically women still prefer men to be rich and men still prefer women to be pretty. (See http://www.pnas.org/content/104/38/15011.full.) What? Can this truly be? No, of course that’s not all they want in their mates, but as said Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “my goodness, doesn't it help?”
There is entertainment to be found in witnessing all this scholarly bafflement, of course. I’m eager to read reports by astonished researchers that most kids prefer pizza to kale.
The Speakeasy Three - When I Get Low, I Get High