Tania Lombrozo

Tania Lombrozo is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an affiliate of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Lombrozo directs the Concepts and Cognition Lab, where she and her students study aspects of human cognition at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, including the drive to explain and its relationship to understanding, various aspects of causal and moral reasoning and all kinds of learning.

Lombrozo is the recipient of numerous awards, including an NSF CAREER award, a McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award in Understanding Human Cognition and a Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformational Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science. She received bachelors degrees in Philosophy and Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, followed by a PhD in Psychology from Harvard University. Lombrozo also blogs for Psychology Today.

Those of my generation have seen enormous advances in speech recognition systems.

In the early days, the user had to train herself to the system, exaggerating phonemes, speaking in slow staccato bursts. These days, it's the system that trains itself to the user. The results aren't perfect, but they're pretty darn good.

As June comes to an end, so do many events associated with Pride Month, a month-long celebration of sexual diversity and gender variance — often geared towards increasing the visibility of the LGBTQIA community, as well as combatting stigma and advocating for equal rights.

One of the challenges that can arise in communicating science and other forms of scholarship to non-experts is the jargon involved.

How many people can confidently explain the meaning of broadband asymmetric acoustic transmission, mural lymphatic endothelial cells, or graded incoherence (to borrow some phrases from recent journal publications)?

When I first became a professor, I was 26. And female. (I'm no longer 26 but still female.)

Two years ago, when my children were 1 and 4, I "found" the following poem with the help of Google's autocomplete search function:

Today, with children now ages 3 and 6, I decided to repeat the experiment:

What I take away: First, motherhood is hard. That's just what the data suggest.

Drawing the boundary between science and pseudoscience isn't always straightforward.

Amid the clear extremes is a murky territory occupied by bad science, fraudulent science, and sometimes even religion. Is creation science, for example, an example of bad science, pseudoscience, or something else entirely?

Calling someone a "skeptic" can be a term of praise or condemnation.

Too often, it expresses approval when the target of skepticism is a claim we reject, and disapproval when the target is a claim we hold dear. I might praise skepticism towards homeopathic medicine, but disdain skepticism towards human evolution. Someone with a very different set of beliefs might praise skepticism regarding the moon landing, but disdain skepticism regarding the existence of God.

Young kids are known for exploration and explanation; they poke and they prod, they open and push, they ask: "Why? Why? Why?"

On Jan. 9, 2007, 10 years ago today, Steve Jobs formally announced Apple's "revolutionary mobile phone" — a device that combined the functionality of an iPod, phone and Internet communication into a single unit, navigated by touch.

It was a huge milestone in the development of smartphones, which are now owned by a majority of American adults and are increasingly common across the globe.

When it comes to assessing the possible risks and benefits of science and technology, who is the relevant authority?

University scientists? Industry scientists? Religious organizations?

In an influential book of ethics first published in 1981, the philosopher Peter Singer offers a striking image of moral progress over the course of human history: an expanding circle of moral concern, beginning with our own family or tribe, and expanding over time to include larger groups, nations, families of nations, all humans and perhaps even nonhuman animals.

Halloween plays on our fears and our fantasies.

We craft haunted houses and scary decorations to evoke particular emotions. We choose our costumes to reflect something about the kinds of people we are or want to be — edgy, sexy, funny, clever. For children, Halloween is an experiment in delayed gratification and negotiation — which candies to eat now, which to trade, which to save. It's no surprise, then, that Halloween might reveal interesting features of human psychology.

But you might be surprised by just what we can learn.

This election season, voters should be evaluating the presidential candidates' attitudes toward science.

ScienceDebate.org proposes a set of 20 science and science policy questions for all candidates, suggesting that "science impacts voters at least as much as the economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values candidates share on the campaign trail."

Many parents who grew up playing outdoors with friends, walking alone to the park or to school, and enjoying other moments of independent play are now raising children in a world with very different norms.

In the United States today, leaving children unsupervised is grounds for moral outrage and can lead to criminal charges.

What's changed?

Last November, a provocative result made the rounds on social media and assorted blogs: A paper with data from over 1,000 participants across six countries reported that children from Christian and Muslim households behaved less altruistically than their peers from non-religious homes.

But a new analysis of the same data set calls this conclusion into question.

The election season is a time of abundance for those who love following politics — each datum, debate or debacle offers new fodder for discussion and commentary. But for those who aren't so keen on politics, a myopic focus on policy and polls can be tiresome.

What accounts for this variation across individuals, from the politically engrossed to the largely apathetic?

In a talk in Pittsburgh in 1997, the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould allegedly characterized humans as "the primates who tell stories." Psychologist Robyn Dawes went much further, suggesting humans are "the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story."

As a mother of young children, I've heard the following rosy message from more than one slightly more-seasoned mom: "Don't worry, it gets easier!"

It's a message of hope and encouragement, a recognition of how hard some aspects of early motherhood can be. But according to new research, it might also be wrong.

Last Thursday, for Cinco de Mayo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted an image of himself eating a taco bowl with the words: "Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!"

People were quick to point out some ways in which the tweet was not only inaccurate (taco bowls are available at the Trump Cafe, not the Trump Tower Grill), but also offensive.

A 2014 Harris Poll found that U.S. adults rate being a scientist among the most prestigious occupations, topped only by doctors, military officers and firefighters.

Consider two very different views about the human mind.

In the first view, people are like scientists. They go about the world gathering data, constructing theories and using those theories to guide their interactions with the world. As new evidence comes in, they revise their beliefs accordingly.

When it comes to babies, people don't always think clearly. I don't mean that they erupt into baby talk and make funny faces, though that can happen, too. It's more that babies elicit a strong set of cultural assumptions and values that can influence our thinking, for better and for worse.

Last month, I wrote a review of Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room, a memoir about Pollack's experiences as a physics major at Yale in the 1970s.

I faint once every 10 years.

The first time, I was 16 standing in the sun early one morning. I thought I was going to pass out and immediately told my mother, who caught me as I fell.

The second time, I was in my late 20s. I was on vacation, up early for the views one hot morning. I thought I was going to pass out and stepped toward my husband, who caught me as I fell.

As a physics major at Yale in the 1970s, Eileen Pollack learned about gravitation and quantum mechanics and ballistics. She also learned what it's like to be The Only Woman in the Room, the title of her new book, published by Beacon Press last September.

Voters and legislators are constantly confronted with decisions that would benefit from some understanding of the relevant science:

Is cap and trade a good approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions? Evaluating the pros and cons requires some understanding of economics and environmental science. Are standardized tests a good way to measure student learning? An informed answer requires some understanding of education and human psychology.

What do the United States, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and Tonga have in common?

This weekend, Facebook's "Memories" reminded me of a post from Jan. 2, 2009: "Tania Lombrozo is generating New Year's resolutions...that look a lot like last year's."

I could, unfortunately, post the same again today. In fact, one of my resolutions for 2015 — to be smart about my smartphone — was shared here last year on 13.7, and I can report pretty imperfect success.

What makes for a truly merry Christmas? Is your time better spent picking perfect, personalized gifts and decorating your home, or enjoying holiday cheer with family and friends?

The results of a new poll, released last week by the Pew Research Center, suggest that the American public's scientific literacy is — to use a technical term — so-so.

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