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Are Women Less Competitive? Or Smarter?

The “gender and success” group should take a look at a new study that casts a different kind of light on some classic social science work that suggests that women shy away from competition.   This study asks if that is or isn’t a good thing.  Here’s a popular account.  Check out the work itself and see what you think:

Our Valentine’s Day Class Photo

Our Valentine’s Day Class Photo . . . more to come! Video! Experiments! Blogs! Sweets.

Courtesy of Duke News

Cartooning and Neuroscience

Two inspiring cartoonists who make us think:   Lynda Barry is teaching a course on cartooning and neuroscience:


And my friend Nick Sousanis is writing the first dissertation about comics as a comic, at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.  He’s pretty amazing.  Check this out:       Check out his very cool blog post on “Talking Comics as a Way of Thinking”:

Only the Internet: Kitty Dressed as Breaking Bad’s Walter White

I guess it was only a matter of time . . .,92171/

What We Ask About When We Ask About Love

As part of our Valentine’s Day video and classroom posting on love, romance,  heartbreak, and passion, we’ve compiled a list of questions that the students in @DukeSurprise and others are asking about love.   These would be great discussion topics in any Valentine’s Day class.   For the readings for the day plus the blogs and suggested questions and books, see       We are taping this segment on February 4 and will have it posted before Valentine’s Day.


Philosophy of Love

  1. Is there a decreasing marginal utility for love (i.e., does the utility you get from love decrease as the number of past and current partners increase? (Batman)


  1. Can love ever be rational? Or it is as what Nietzsche says—a “many brief follies” followed by “one long stupidity” which is marriage?  (S. Mo)


  1. What is the most important characteristic of love? (jatlantis)


  1. People complain that literature and films (“the Disney movie effect”) have twisted their expectations of love. Does literature hyper-idealize love and romance, or does it actually show us a version of the truth that we just have not attained? (scoobydu)


  1. Is love irrational? (Abu)


  1. Does love always make one blind, and how is this blindness related to attention blindness? (Abu)


  1. Is love more of a fleeting feeling, or is it more permanent of a choice? As in, if somebody “loved” somebody and stopped later, was it really love? (Aether)


  1. Do people love better the older they get? (Phia)


  1. I would also like to ask whether or not we first have to love ourselves before we can love other people? (Phia)


  1. Also how do the wonders of being in love impact self control and attention blindness? (Phia)


11.Do you believe in soul mates? Why or why not? (GossipGirl)


  1. What is love? Is the immediate attraction at first sight or the sustained intimacy?
 (earl grey)


  1.  Is love emotional or rational? (earl grey)


  1.  Is the thing we call love actually simply a un/conscious mechanism of estimating what is good for us vs what is not? (earl grey) 
Does everyone fall in love? (earl grey)


  1. Is love a universal language? Or does “love” mean different things in different cultures?


  1. What are the social and political reasons that polygamy, once an accepted norm of many cultures, has become taboo? Furthermore, why are there far more historical and cultural instances of polygamy than polyandry even in areas with skewed gender ratios? (chuchutrain)


  1. Is the idea of fate romantic? Do we fall in love because of choice, or because of coincidence? (zanpanda)



Attraction/Romantic Interest


  1. Is making your girlfriend jealous an effective strategy in edifying her interest in you?
(Gordon Gekko)


  1. Do girls like receiving gifts (flowers, chocolates etc) because of the thought or simply because they like to advertise this to their friends?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Are women secretly attracted to arrogant men?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Does success in our society attract gold diggers while pushing away the girls who are genuinely attracted to us?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Does “playing hard to get” actually work? If so, does it work better for one sex than the other? (CE)


  1. Is playing hard to get a legitimate strategy for getting someone to be interested in you? Does it create a misguided understanding of feelings? Does it create a lack of trust?


  1. Conversely, is being too available unattractive? Does it not allow people to give you a real chance because it hinders the game (makes it too easy)? (kanga)


  1. Is it bad to be a ‘tease’? What are the pros/cons from both perspectives? (kanga)


  1. How do different people make the distinction between “love” and “like”?


  1. What are the biggest misconceptions that guys have about girls, and girls have about guys, in regards to love and relationships? (scoobydu)


11.What’s the difference between “I love you” and “I’m in love with you”? (Aether)


  1. Is the “When Harry Met Sally” theory true — that is, can men and women ever be just friends? Does “friends with benefits” work? Can exes be friends? (Red Smith)


  1. I remember in health class my senior year of high school our teacher gave a lecture about four types of love. One of them was “Addictive Love” which is a more extreme version of co-dependency. It describes how a couple can be so addicted and absorbed by their relationship that they treat each other poorly without realizing it. What is the verdict on love addiction? Can people truly love each other so much that they end up victimizing one another or isolating themselves? Is there psychological research on this phenomenon? (DJ Pauly D)


  1. What is the difference between the people that we fall in love with from the people that we don’t? (earl grey)


  1. What makes us choose that single person from other possibilities?
 (earl grey)


  1. Can long-distance relationships work? (earl grey)


  1. Along the same lines, is any love forbidden? Even among siblings?
(James P. Duke)


  1. How long does it typically take to “fall in love” with someone? 5 months? 2 years? Ever?


  1. Does “love at first sight” actually happen? Or is it just lust at first sight? (Butter)


  1. Is there always a “reacher” and a “settler” in every relationship?


  1. To what extent does intellect play a role in love? Do people with similar levels of intelligence tend to fall in love? Is a similar level of intelligence necessary to sustain love? (Mufasa)


  1. Can best friends fall in love? Can men and women ever really be just friends? (Mufasa)


  1. How do introverts and extraverts differ in their approach to love? What are the nuances of relationships between two introverts v. two extraverts v. introvert/extravert ? (Mufasa)


  1. Do first loves really never go away? Does losing your virginity to someone create a unique sense of attachment? (Mufasa)



Biology of Love

  1. According to Einstein, “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” Well, if it’s not gravitation, then how do we explain the phenomenon of “falling in love”? From the perspective of social science and your own experience, what causes two people to fall for each other? Specifically, I’m interested in the extent to which the fall is predetermined by laws—apparently not gravity, but perhaps genetics or social norms—and the extent to which it depends on environmental factors or chance occurrences. (Jellie Bean)


  1. Is love experienced similarly by everyone –both mentally and biologically (as in, does love cause the release of more endorphins, is it the same biological reaction for everyone, etc)? Or is how we experience love overwhelmingly affected by external /cultural factors? Are some people “hardwired” to fall in love easily –at least more so than others? (afivez)


  1. What is the psychology and neurology of “falling in love”? (CE)


  1. There seems to be, in some way or another, a biological tension at the heart of sexual relationships. Man is wired to procreate prolifically, to spread his genes wherever possible. On the other side, women bear greater responsibility in sexual relationships, most fundamentally because they will see 9 months of pregnancy through, and thus are more commitment focused. (Obviously there exist exceptions to these rules, but evidence suggest that they generally hold). How can we deal with this conflict, especially given the vast emotional and societal components of love that exist beyond its simple biological impulses? (…)


  1. Sometimes when guys cheat, people justify it with “He couldn’t control himself because he’s a guy.” Is it true hormonally/biologically that some boys actually cannot control themselves, or do they just choose not to? (kanga)


  1. Are there biological differences that influence the way men and women feel about sex or are the societally perpetuated differences primarily of cultural origin? (Buck Mulligan)


  1. What can you tell us about the scientific reasoning explaining homosexuality? (James P. Duke)


  1. Is it chemically/ biologically possible to stay in love forever? (zanpanda)



  1. What is the most efficient way to get over an ex? Is the “rebound” an effective or ineffective strategy?


  1. Can exes ever be friends? (GossipGirl)


  1. What affects how long it takes for someone to get over their ex? (scoobydu)


  1. Is the amount of attachment between two partners in a relationship correlated to how long it takes for the partners to get over each other if they break up? (bluedevil4life)


  1. Who typically takes longer to “get over” break ups? Women or men?



Love and Sex

  1. Why is it that the mental aspect of a relationship is so intimately related to the physical aspect? (Jonathan Batson)


  1. In this modern age, do people still equate sex with romance?


  1. Do people fall in love while casually hooking up?


  1. Secondly, a question regarding college culture — and especially the Duke culture. Why is “hooking up” so prevalent? Is this an unhealthy trend that reveals larger problems with the culture at Duke or is it natural? And finally, to what extent does the hook up culture have an impact on — or reflect — ones self-esteem, and happiness? (Cosmo Kramer)


  1. Why do we want to feel as though “it’s the first time doing/experiencing x” or “this is so special” when in love? (Batman)


  1. How has removing the child bearing/rearing consequences of sex (via birth control) changed sexual dynamics in contemporary society? How will it continue to change it? (…)
  2. What is the deal with public display of affection? The phrase “Get a room” doesn’t get through to some people at Duke. Are they truly so magnetized to one another that they can’t resist being affectionate? Or do couples simply do this for attention? Is it more common among younger couples? Let’s talk PDA! (DJ Pauly D)


  1. How much do familial relationships influence romantic relationships? (Buck Mulligan)


  1. In his New York Times article on the recent deterioration of courtship rituals, Alex Williams blames social media and our “hookup culture” for “leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.” Well, if we’re doing dating wrong, then how to do it right? Using findings from social science about how people fall in love, could you design the perfect date? (Jellie Bean)


  1. Is the hook-up culture at Duke a good thing? Or is it further breeding a culture that allows promiscuity, cheating, and divorce? (Butter)



Relationships and Social Media

  1. Is social media – Facebook, Instagram, twitter – helpful or harmful to the longevity of relationships?
 (Gordon Gekko)



Gender Equality Issues:

  1. Are girls who cheat on guys looked down upon more or less than guys who cheat on girls?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Why do women who sleep around get criticized while men who sleep around get lauded? Do girls prefer guys who sleep with a lot of other girls? (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Why are intelligent and successful women romantically intimidating?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Are women really more emotional/sensitive than men, or do they just express their emotions in different ways? (CE)



Inter-racial Relationships:

  1. What’s the relationship between race and love? (S. Mo)


  1. When people say that they have preferences for people with certain features, are they discriminating in the name of love? Or they are going against what love is which should universal, tolerant and indiscriminating? (S. Mo)


  1. Are divorce rates in the US indicative of a changing dynamic in marriage, or are there other factors that are influencing it?
 (Gordon Gekko)


  1. Is the ever-increasing rate of divorce in the US indicative of a population that misinterprets feelings of love as just passion related to sex? (jatlantis)


  1. What does love feel like in marriage? What was different about that love that, unlike the others, convinced you to commit to forever? (scoobydu)


  1. Which love is stronger: that between happy spouses, or the love that those spouses have for their children?


  1. People seem to follow societal rules in dating and marriage, whether that’s religious tradition, conservative cultural tradition, or the always evolving and often nebulous set of rules that seems to characterize 21st century American society. Given today’s increasing globalization, what happens when people coming from different traditions and societal backgrounds meet and have different expectations? Is there an “optimal” set of rules, or are different sets of rules equally valid? (As two extreme examples, consider arranged marriages on one hand and vaguely-defined hook-up culture on the other.) (Aether)


  1. My first question regards divorce rates. The numbers are staggering — roughly half of marriages end in divorce. Why is this? Should we be disturbed by this trend? And what do such high divorce rates say about societies evolving perception of love? (Cosmo Kramer)


  1. In light of what we know about humans, human relationships, and their biological impulses that underly sexual desire, how, if at all, can we make the institution of marriage work better? (…)


  1. What separates the relationships that remain solid after the passionate, “honeymoon” phase wears off, and those that break down and eventually fail? (…)


  1. What makes love fade? Why do we need the doctrine of marriage to bind a union if love can truly be sustained through many decades? Some people argue that the loss of faith in marriage predicts an increase of entropy in our society. Is marriage as the basic societal unit necessary to maintain order and to promote morality? (chuchutrain)


  1. Does cohabitation make couples more or less likely to get married or get divorced if the relationship proceeds into marriage? (bluedevil4life)


Advice/Personal Questions:

  1. How did you know that you were in love with your significant other?


  1. How does one make love last? (Abu)


  1. And just curious, professor Ariely: has your speed dating experiment led to any lasing relationships among participants? (Abu)


  1. What’s the secret to a girls heart on Valentine’s day? (DJ Pauly D)



  1. What’s the best way to live a romantic life in college, as thought of from an economist’s point of view? (S. Mo)


  1. Is monogamy economically advantageous? (scoobydu)

How To Conduct a Good Interview On Camera

There are lots of blogs out there and videos designed to help you create a good interview.  Here are some:


And here’s a video with Katie Couric on this topic:


First Day of Class: Join Us!

This is reblogged from

Remember the heart-pounding thrill of the first day of class?  I’m starting to get emails from some of the students signed up for “Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature,” the class I’m teaching this term with behavioral economist Dan Ariely and I can feel the rush.  In fact, I’m experiencing it too.  It’s going to be a great semester and the public is invited!

Here’s the website for Surprise Endings:      #Dukesurprise

The basic idea is that, today, students will divide up into project teams of four students, who will be in charge of each week’s topic.   They will pare down readings and maybe offer alternative readings and viewings on classic ideas in social science: attention blindness; self control; the identifiable victim effect; relativity and defaults;  obedience, evil, and resistance; dishonesty; social proof; gender and success; race, prejudice, and political correctness.  They will read scientific papers and they’ll read literary works or view films that grapple with the same topic, and will host a public online discussion group on the website, on the readings and ideas.  They’ll be tweeting those out too as #Dukesurprise and encouraging the public to become engaged in the conversation.

On camera interview each week with Dan Ariely and Cathy Davidson:    The student project leaders will also formulate questions for a what will be edited into a highly professional 45-minute interview, on camera, with Dan and me.   Dan and I have pledged not to talk to one another before this. Every Monday, on-airinterviewer will pose questions and we’ll answer them spontaneously.   The students will then take the interview and have a week to add subheadings, credits, anything else, and we’ll post it to a Duke YouTube Channel a week later.   We’ll tweet it out so you know when each topic is posted and then the process begins again.

Supplementary Web Material:  The pedagogical fun begins off camera.   After the interviews, the class will break into groups, working with a remarkable team of professional videographers, web developers, and open course developers (the four really astonishing teaching assistants in the course), and will create supplementary course material that is as inventive and interactive as they can come up with.  They’ll preview a draft, we’ll give feedback, and then they will work on their finished product.  At the end of the class, we’ll syncrhonize the videos of me and Dan with the work produced by the students.   Graduate students might also be working to turn it into an actual Massive Online Open Course (MOOC).

MOOC:  Meaningful Online Open Course:  The MOOC we produce will push the boundaries of interactive public learning and teaching-by-doing.   I am increasingly frustrated that with all the exciting digital media and learning happening all over the globe, so many elite universities are signing on to the Talking Heads/Sage on the Stage model of online top-down learning.   This is utterly antithetical to what the Web is about.   We’re hoping by having STUDENTS involved in thinking about Meaningful Online Open Courseware, that they will help return the conversation at the elite universities to the iterative, process-oriented, true learning that all the research shows is the best way to actually learn, as opposed to being entertained.   There are amazing possibilities for learning all over the Web.   Look at Wikipedia or Yelp!   We all love to contribute what we know and think.   Why in the world reduce all that the World Wide Web has to offer, all that we as colearners have to offer, to an idea of education as some static content that some tenured professor at an elite university has to tell you?  It’s faster to read his or her book!

Students as Learning Leaders: a Meta-MOOC.    This class is making an online class, turning our knowledge into public knowledge with public contribution and content.  It’s also about what education is.   It is a Meta-MOOC.  What does it mean to make learning massively?   I am frustrated that the conversation around MOOCs seems to have forgotten that students exist.   And that they have ideas.  And they maybe even have a stake in how they learn and how they are taught.   Our Meaningful Online Open Course (I believe this term was coined, by the way, by educational blogger Audrey Walters) is student led.   We hope all those distinguished Sages on the Stage will listen.   Please, listen!

JOIN US!     Our experiment will have the most impact if there is excitement beyond Duke.   We hope you will go to the Surprise Endings website, let us know what you think.  I’ll be blogging at both places.   Dan will also be blogging on his own blog.   Help us get out the word, join the fun, exchange ideas, contribute, and see if we can’t take the latest learning idea and help it fulfill the potential that we all need and deserve for the future of learning!


Do Women Inhibit Their Own Performance?

Gender is one topic we’ll be addressing in “Surprise Endings.”   What does it mean to be a woman or a man in our society–or in other societies?  Look around us!  The world is gendered.  Why?  Even in such “open access” forums as Wikipedia, only 13% of contributors are women–yet women make up a majority of teachers, librarians.  Why?  What does this mean?  Today, in a column called “Social Science Palooza III,” NY Times opinion author David Broooks writes:  “Women inhibit their own performance. In a study published in Self and Identity, Shen Zhang, Toni Schmader and William M. Hall gave women a series of math tests. On some tests they signed their real name, on others they signed a fictitious name. The women scored better on the fictitious name tests, when their own reputation was not at risk.”   Here’s the url:    The question for our unit on gender might be what does it mean if women inhibit themselves?  Do we blame women–or work on changing culture?  In what different ways to men inhibit themselves in society (i.e. higher high school drop out rate, lower life expectancy, etc)?  Why?   How do literature and social science differently address this deep question?