The Weird Ways Your Politics Affects Your Morals

When news breaks about wrongdoings of our favorite politician, the other side inevitably argues that we have a scandal on our hands. We like to think that our superior grasp of logic is what enables us to reason through and reject the other side’s concerns.

But, a series of three studies I recently published suggest such decisions are not just the result of reasoning. Rather, feeling moral aversion toward political opponents compels us toward positions that help our team “win.” This is true even if it means adopting positions with which we’d otherwise disagree.

Here’s the effect in a nutshell: Imagine that you walked into an ice cream shop on Election Day. You discover that the shop is filled with supporters of the presidential candidate you oppose, and you find supporters of that candidate morally abhorrent. When you get to the front of the line, the worker tells you all of the other customers just ordered red velvet – normally your favorite flavor.

My studies demonstrated that when asked to order, you are likely to feel an urge to stray from your favorite flavor toward one you like less, politically polarizing an otherwise innocuous decision.

To understand what’s meant by “urge” here, it helps to understand the Stroop effect. In this classic experiment, people see a single word and are asked to name the color in which the word is printed. When the color and the word match – for example, “red” printed in red – the task is easy. When the color and the word are incongruent – for example, “red” printed in blue – the task is harder. People feel an impulse, or “urge,” to accidentally read the word. This urge interferes with the task of naming the color, and what should be a simple task becomes oddly difficult.

A theory of morality put forth by Jonathan Haidt suggests that morals “blind” people to alternative viewpoints such that even considering the other side’s opinions is taboo. With that theory in mind, I thought that moral aversion might be a social cause of unproductive urges similar to urges experienced in the Stroop task. That is, just as people in the Stroop task feel the impulse to incorrectly read the word, I thought that strong moral beliefs might cause people to feel impulses to make decisions that maximize their distance from people they believe have different morals.

Here’s how I tested it:

I first had people do several Stroop trials to make them aware of what that urge to make an error feels like.

Next, I asked people six fairly trivial consumer choice questions, such as preference for car color (forest green vs. silver) or vacuum brand (Hoover vs. Dirt Devil).

Here’s the twist: After answering each question, participants were told how a majority of other participants answered the same question. The identity of this majority group was random. It could be either a group that everyone belonged to (for example, Americans) or a more politically charged group (for example, Trump supporters, Clinton supporters or white supremacists).

Finally, I showed participants the set of questions a second time, and asked them to simply state their previous answer a second time. I also asked participants to rate their urge to change their answer – similar to the urge to make an error in the Stroop test.

This should have been straightforward.

Participants were not asked to evaluate the majority answer or reconsider their opinion in any way. Still, just like the interference felt in the Stroop task, knowing the majority response caused people to feel an urge to give the wrong answer.

When participants belonged to the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they had previously disagreed with the majority. Despite just being asked to repeat what they said a moment ago on a fairly trivial opinion question, they felt a conformist urge.

Similarly, when participants had strong moral distaste for the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they agreed with the group. In other words, participants’ initial responses were now morally “tainted,” and, even for these rather inconsequential questions, they felt an urge to abandon that response and distance themselves from their opponents. This urge made the trivial task of stating their opinion again slightly more difficult.

As America is more ideologically divided now than any other point in history, these results illuminate two things about the psychology behind political polarization.

First, people might think they are able to use their reasoning to decide whether, say, a minimum wage increase will have positive or negative consequences. However, moral impulses have likely already nudged people toward disagreeing with their opponents before any deliberative thinking on the issue has begun.

Second, the effects observed here are likely a passive process. Participants did not want to feel urges to make an error in the Stroop task, and they likely did not want to feel urges to contradict their own opinions in my studies. The urges just happen as a result of a morality-driven psychology.

These results suggest that efforts to bring those on the fringe closer to the middle will likely fall on deaf ears. A more optimistic interpretation is that polarization might have its roots in unintentional partisan urges. While there is no shortage of moral issues that lead to polarization, polarization does not necessarily result from the malice of those involved.

Punxsutawney Phil’s Greatest Hits

This morning, Punxsutawney Phil, America’s most beloved forecasting groundhog, made his annual appearance in Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania. As a bevy of men in top hats egged him on, Phil spied his shadow, a sure sign that we will have a long, long winter.*

People do a lot of weird things, but the Groundhog Day behavior exhibited in the United States—which may have evolved from the European tradition of Candlemas—is pretty far out there. And for something so steadfastly traditional, the holiday has a funny way of reflecting the current moment. Here are six times when we looked for Phil’s shadow and saw, instead, ourselves.

Pre-1900s: Phil’s Predecessors

Phil is merely the latest creature to dupe us. According to Pennsylvania historian Christopher R. Davis, humans have looked for spring-related omens in “the position of a cat sitting by a fire, the size of the black markings on woolly-bear caterpillars, the measure of fur around a rabbit’s feet … crickets in chimneys, the height of anthills, and the elevation of hornets’ nests,” as well as early appearances of woodchucks, badgers, marmots, wolves, foxes, and bears. Davis also traces the strange fear of shadows to a need for cloudiness in the winter—without enough snow and rain through February, he explains, crops will be dry, and spring won’t be worth looking forward to at all.

1889: Phil On Toast

Before Groundhog Day meant placing faith in the shadow-based whims of groundhogs, it meant eating them. According to Davis, the Groundhog Club actually started as a group of people who liked to hunt and eat groundhogs, and tended to celebrate this trait on one particular day of the year. “Fellowship, oratory, skits, and rites of initiation were soon emphasized,” Davis writes, and it was only a short hop from there to groundhog worship. No wonder the poor thing is scared of his shadow.

1920: Phil Gets Sauced

According to the official Groundhog Day website, during Prohibition, “Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.” In soberer times, Phil’s favorite foods are apparently dog chow and ice cream.

1958: Phil In Space

In 1958, as the Soviet Union beat the United States into space, Phil came out with a conspiracy theory—that a “United States Chucknik,” not Sputnik, was currently orbiting the earth, presumably collecting weather data.

2013: Phil Gets Sued

Despite a stellar show-up record (records show that since 1900, he has only skipped one year—1943—due to World War II), statistical analyses have found that Phil is pretty bad at his job. In 2013, Ohio prosecutor Mike Gmoser sued Phil for “misrepresentation of early spring, an Unclassified Felony.” Gmoser sought the death penalty, but eased up after Phil’s then-handler offered to take the blame.

2009-2017: Phil Goes Political

Phil’s Big Apple stand-in, Staten Island Chuck, does not get along well with New York mayors. In 2009, he bit Michael Bloomberg on the hand after stealing an ear of corn from him. In 2014, Bill de Blasio dropped Staten Island Charlotte, who died a week later from injuries sustained in the fall. This year, Chuck disagreed with Phil, further dividing the nation. Maybe we need a Groundhog Debate.

What Your New Years Resolution Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Aries

(March 21st to April 19th)

This year vow to work on taking things down a notch. You’re very impulsive and only want things when you want them so this year take a step back. Learn to appreciate things for what they are and give yourself more time before you jump into something you might not actually want just because it sounds good at the time.

Taurus

(April 20th to May 21st)

This year vow to work on letting people in. I know you’re reserved, you think you can do everything on your own (and you can) but that doesn’t mean you have to. Start working on accepting that and slowly begin to peel back the layers around your heart.

Gemini

(May 22nd to June 21st)

This year vow to do what makes you happy. This year let all the outside voices pass you by and focus on what you really want out of life.

Cancer

(June 22nd to July 22nd)

This year vow to owning your choices. Not every choice you make will be a good one, but that’s a perfect way to learn. Somethings might be really challenging but find it in yourself to keep moving forward, this will be a year of growth for you as an individual.

Leo

(July 23rd to August 22nd)

This year vow to stop comparing yourself to others. Stop looking at your friends lives on social media and people you’ve never even met. On social media people only post the positives that they want you to see and filter out the bad, anyone can take a beautiful photo while having an awful time, remember that. You are good enough as you are, you don’t need to compare yourself to others.

Virgo

(August 23rd to September 22nd)

This year vow do just doing it, whatever it is to you. Don’t keep living life in the back seat, grab the wheel and take control. If you want to travel, go travel. If you want to quit your dreadful job, quit. This year just do it, stop thinking about it so much and make it happen.

Libra

(September 23rd to October 22nd)

This year vow to chase after what you want and don’t let anything hold you back – not your pride or  your fears. Just go after your dreams because that’s the only way they’ll ever happen.

Scorpio

(October 23rd to November 22nd)

This year vow to not setting unbelievably challenging standards. Don’t get me wrong it is great to have standards, but don’t set them so high you set yourself up for failure. You are very capable of achieving so much, just don’t beat yourself up if you tried your best and didn’t get to where you wanted. Just keep working hard, but also enjoy yourself while doing it.

Sagittarius

(November 23rd to December 21st)

This year vow to work on breathing. Vow to take a break, to realize the little things are just the little things and there is no real reason to stress about them. Know that things will work out the way they should, you just have to trust.

Capricorn

(December 22nd to January 20th)

This year vow to work on yourself. Vow to stop being so wrapped up in material items that you forget what truly matters. Money is nice, but it isn’t everything. Your friends and family are what makes life worth living, not material items that wear out and need to be replaced.

Aquarius

(January 21st to February 18th)

This year vow to work on treating others better. Sometimes you get carried away in yourself and your own problems that you forget that other people also have their own problems. Try taking the focus off you and start to realize that everyone has their own shit going on in some way or another.

Pisces

(February 19th to March 20th)

This year vow to face your fears. Even if it’s just one, do it. It will make you feel so much more sure of yourself in confident in multiple ways. A fear is only as real as you make it out to be, so try to pick one and conquer it.

All the Gods Born to Virgins on December 25 Before Jesus Christ

There are common themes in ancient religion that make one wonder if Christianity was not the one exception to the rule that societies tend to adopt beliefs, stories, and traditions from one another.

True, it’s not always clear whether common themes are a testament to the human exchange of ideas or to the universal imagination of early human thought (parallels may exist between religions on entirely different continents, for example, but that does not necessarily mean one influenced another).

But what is clear is where certain ideas in human history did not originate.

Long before Yahweh and Jesus Christ, many religions had gods who were born in strange, miraculous ways, at times to virgins, who came to earth, and (though these are not the focus of this article) performed miracles, taught about judgement and the afterlife, were killed, reborn, and ascended into heaven.

True, these stories are different from those of Christ, but the common archetypes in cultures in close proximity to Palestine suggest pagan influences on the biblical story of Christ’s birth.

For example, December 25 was an important birthday for many human gods.

Most Christians understand Christ was not actually born on this date (biblical scholars believe he was born in the spring, because the Bible mentions shepherds in the fields at the time of his birth).

The idea that Christ was born on December 25 doesn’t appear in the historical record until the fourth century A.D.; the earliest Christian writers, such as Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the gospel authors, are silent on the subject.

Late December, the time of the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year), was full of pagan European celebrations. The Roman Empire declared December 25 a holiday to celebrate the birth of their adopted Syrian god Sol Invictus in 274 A.D. Some 50 years later, Roman Emperor Constantine officially adopted December 25 as the day for celebrating Christ’s birth.

Before 1,000 B.C. we have the following gods or demigods born on December 25: Horus, Osiris, and Attis. Before 200 B.C. we have Mithra, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis, and others (see All About Adam and Eve, by Richard Gillooly). Some of these characters, you will see below, were also born to virgins.

Interestingly, in ancient mythology, many gods are born to women with names derived from “Ma,” meaning mother: Myrrha in Syrian myth, Maia in Greek myth, Maya in Hindu, Mary in Hebrew.

A god or demigod’s birth was often accompanied by incredible sights and came about through the actions of another god.

John D. Keyser writes,

We learn, from classical authors, that the notion of the gods visiting mortal women and becoming fathers of their children was commonly entertained throughout the near East in Greek and Roman times…

‘The gods have lived on earth in the likeness of men’ was a common saying among ancient pagans, and supernatural events were believed in as explanations of the god’s arrival upon earth in human guise.

Stars, meteors, and heavenly lights allegedly signaled the birth of many man-gods, including Christ, Yu, Lao-tzu, various Roman Caesars, and Buddha (see Gillooly). This parallels the strange and fantastic events that surround the births of purely mythological figures, such as Osiris in Syria, Trinity in Egypt, and Mithra in Persia.

But nothing was more spectacular than virgin birth.

Virgin birth, and a reverence and obsession with virginity, was a common theme in ancient religions before the time of Christ and near where Christianity originated (see “The Ancient Beginnings of the Virgin Birth Myth,” by Keyser). It marked the child as special, often divine.

Two thousand years before Christ, the virgin Egyptian queen Mut-em-ua gave birth to Pharaoh Amenkept III. Mut-em-ua had been told she was with child by the god Taht, and the god Kneph impregnated her by holding a cross, the symbol of life, to her mouth. Amenkept’s birth was celebrated by the gods and by three kings, who offered him gifts.

Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was supposedly born of a virgin, Net. Horus was the son of the virgin mother Isis. In Egypt, and in other places such as Assyria, Greece, Cyprus, and Carthage, a mythological virgin mother and her child was often a popular subject of art and sculpture.

Attis, a Phrygian-Greek vegetation god, was born of the virgin Nana. By one tradition, Dionysus, a Greek character half god and half human, was the son of Zeus, born to the virgin Persephone.

Persephone also supposedly birthed Jason, a character with no father, human or divine. Perseus was born to a mortal woman named Danae, and fathered by Zeus. Zeus also slept with a mortal woman (though daughter of a nymph) named Io, and they had a son and a daughter. He slept with the mortal Leda, who gave birth (hatched, actually) Helen of Troy and other offspring.

Even Plato in Greece was said by some to have been born to a virgin, Perictione, and fathered by the god Apollo, who gave warning to Ariston, Perictione’s husband-to-be.

Some followers of Buddha Gautama decided he was born to the virgin Maya by divine decree. Genghis Khan was supposedly born to a virgin seeded by a great miraculous light. The founder of the Chinese Empire, Fo-Hi, was born after a woman (not necessarily a virgin) ate a flower or red fruit. The river Ho (Korea) gave birth to a son when seeded by the sun. Krishna was born to the virgin Devaka. In Rome, Mercury was born to the virgin Maia, Romulus to the virgin Rhea Sylvia (see “An Old Story,” Chapman Cohen).

The Persian god Mithra was made the “Protector of the Empire” by the Romans in 307 AD, right before Christianity was declared the official religion. Some versions of Mithra’s story, predating Christianity, make him the son of a human virgin. His birth, on December 25, was seen by shepherds and Magi, who brought gifts to a cave, the place of his birth (see Godless, by former pastor Dan Barker).

Why Do Kids Believe in Santa Claus?

The holiday season is upon us, and so are its attendant myths, most prominent of which is the Santa Claus story. This is the time that many children are told about a man who lives forever, resides at the North Pole, knows what every child in the world desires, drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer and enters one’s house through a chimney, which most children don’t even have.

Given the many absurdities and contradictions in this story, it’s surprising that even young children would believe it. Yet research from my lab shows that 83 percent of five-year-olds think that Santa Claus is real.

Why?

At the root of this paradox is a very basic question regarding the nature of the young child as an inherently credulous being – that is, believing everything he or she is told – versus a rational one.

The noted author and ethologist Richard Dawkins, in a 1995 essay, proposed that children are inherently credulous, and prone to believing in just about anything. He even suggested that it was an evolutionary advantage for children to believe.

He illustrated that quite convincingly with an example of a young child living near an alligator-infested swamp. His point was that the child who is skeptical, and prone to critically evaluating his parents’ advice not to go swimming in that swamp, has much less chance of surviving than does the child who unthinkingly heeds his parents’ advice.

This view of young children who believe easily is shared by many, including 18th-century philosopher Thomas Reid, and developmental psychologists, who argue that children are strongly biased to trust what people tell them.

Yet research from my lab shows that children actually are rational, thoughtful consumers of information. In fact, they use many of the same tools as adults to decide what to believe.

So, what are some of the tools that adults use to decide what to believe, and what evidence is there that children possess them?

I’ll focus on three: One is attention to the context in which new information is embedded. A second is the tendency to measure new information against one’s existing knowledge base. And the third is the ability to evaluate the expertise of other people.

Let’s look first at context.

Imagine reading an article about a new species of fish – let’s call them “surnits.” Then imagine you’re reading this article in two very different contexts – one in which your doctor is late and you’re in the waiting room reading the article in a copy of National Geographic, the official magazine of a scientific society.

In another context, you encounter a report of this discovery while waiting in line at the grocery store and perusing the National Enquirer, an American supermarket tabloid. My guess is that the context surrounding your introduction to this new information would guide your judgment about the reality status of this new fish.

We essentially did this with children. We told them about animals they’d never heard of, like surnits. Some children heard about them in a fantastical context, in which they were told that dragons or ghosts collect them. Other children learned about surnits in a scientific context, in which they were told that doctors or scientists use them.

Children as young as four were more likely to claim that surnits really existed when they heard about them in the scientific context versus in the fantastical context.

One of the primary ways we, as adults, learn about new things is by hearing about them from others. Imagine hearing about a new kind of fish from a marine biologist versus from your next-door neighbor who often regales you with reports of his alien abductions. Your evaluation of the expertise and trustworthiness of these sources presumably will guide your beliefs about the true existence of this fish.

In another research project, we presented young children with novel animals that were either possible (e.g., a fish that lives in the ocean), impossible (e.g., a fish that lives on the moon) or improbable (e.g., a fish as big as a car). Then we gave them the choice to figure out on their own whether the entity really existed or to ask someone. They also heard reports from either a zookeeper (an expert) or a chef (a nonexpert).

We found that children believed in the possible entities and rejected the impossible ones. Children made these decisions by comparing the new information to their existing knowledge. For the improbable animals – ones that could possibly exist but were rare or odd – children were significantly more likely to believe in them when the zookeeper claimed they were real than when the chef did.

In other words, children use expertise, just as adults do.

If children are so smart, why do they believe in Santa?

The reason is simple: Parents and others go to great lengths to support the Santa myth. In a recent study we found that 84 percent of parents reported taking their child to visit more than two Santa impersonators during the Christmas season.

The Elf on the Shelf, originally a children’s picture book about elves who inform Santa about children’s behavior around Christmastime, is now a multi-million-dollar franchise. And the United States Postal Service now promotes a “Letters from Santa” program in which it provides personal replies to children’s letters to Santa.

Why do we feel compelled to go to such great lengths? Why does Uncle Jack insist on climbing onto the roof on Christmas Eve to stomp around and shake jingle bells?

The answer is simply this: Children are not unthinkingly credulous and do not believe everything we tell them. So, we adults must overwhelm them with evidence – the bells on the roof, the live Santas at the mall, the half-eaten carrot on Christmas morning.

Given this effort, it essentially would be irrational for children not to believe. In believing in Santa Claus, children, in fact, exercise their scientific thinking skills.

First, they evaluate sources of information. As ongoing research in my lab indicates, they’re more likely to believe an adult than a child about what’s real.

Second, they use evidence (e.g., the empty glass of milk and half-eaten cookies on Christmas morning) to come to a conclusion about existence. Other research from my lab shows that children use similar evidence to guide their beliefs about a fantastical being, the Candy Witch, who visits children on Halloween night and leaves new toys in exchange for candy.

Third, research shows that, as children’s understanding becomes more sophisticated, they tend to engage more with the absurdities in the Santa Claus myth, like how a fat man can fit through a small chimney, or how animals could possibly fly.

Some parents wonder whether they are harming their children by engaging in the Santa myth. Philosophers and bloggers alike have mounted arguments against perpetuating the “Santa-lie,” some even claiming that it could lead to permanent distrust of parents and other authorities.

So, what should parents do?

There is no evidence that belief, and eventual disbelief in Santa, affects parental trust in any significant way. Furthermore, not only do children have the tools to ferret out the truth; but engaging with the Santa story may give them a chance to exercise these abilities.

So, if you think it would be fun for you and your family to invite Santa Claus into your home at Christmas time, you should do so. Your children will be fine. And they might even learn something.

How Rich Would You Be If You Actually Got A Penny For Every Thought?

Last weekend, as I was pensively staring into nothingness on the bus, a stranger approached me and said, “A penny for your thoughts?”

We struck up a conversation, then, two stops later, went our separate ways. But the idiom — a penny for your thoughts — lingered. And I couldn’t help but speculate: What if the idiom were economically redeemable not just for musings spoken aloud, but the thousands of rapid-fire internal thoughts that go through my mind each day? If I got a penny for every thought I had, how rich would I be?

Let’s find out.

A brief history of the idiom “A penny for your thoughts”

First used by English statesman Sir Thomas More in his 1522 book Four Last Things, the idiom “A penny for your thoughts” has retained the same meaning for nearly 500 years. In his text, he uses the saying to refer to a pensive vagrant on a pilgrimage:

“As it often happeth that the very face sheweth the mind walking a pilgrimage, in such wise that, not without some note and reproach of such vagrant mind, other folk suddenly say to them, ‘A penny for your thought.’”

But it wasn’t really until 1547 that the saying gained any popularity in usage. Twenty-five years after More’s book, a playwright named John Heywood put together a collection of proverbs he’d heard over the years (The Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood).

Buried in its pages, beside gems like “Rome was not built one day” and “all that is well ends well,” was “a peny [sic] for your thought.”

When these texts were written, a penny was actually a considerable sum in England. Adjusted for inflation, it would amount to about 1.6 pounds, or $2.50 USD, today.

Unfortunately for us, today’s idiom remains the same: It has not taken inflation into account. So, in our hypothetical situation, we still get one penny (in 2016 dollars) per thought.

Calculating thought income

As of 2016, we humans have only scratched the surface of the science of our thought process. It remains unknown exactly how many thoughts we have each day — or what even constitutes a “thought” for that matter.

But there are some estimates out there, and the best one comes from the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. Researchers at the lab conducted some rudimentary experiments with student test subjects and electrophysiological monitoring, and found that the average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute. (Again, these studies are not peer-reviewed, and only serve as a rough estimate.)

Let’s call it an even 49 thoughts per minute. That’s 2,916 thoughts per hour, 69,984 per day, and 25,544,160 per year.

Now, let’s assume that every time you have a thought, you get a penny. Obviously, the idiom requires one to share said thought aloud — but since we want to maximize our thought to money conversion, we’ll count all thoughts (internal or external) here. We’ll also assume your brain thinks at a constant rate of 49 thoughts per minute throughout the day and night.

Our 69,984 thoughts per day would grant us a healthy $699.84 per diem — or an annual take-home of $255,500.

On the economic spectrum, a $255,500 yearly salary would place you in the top 4 percent of all earners in the United States — but you’d still be a far cry from the 1 percent.

In 2015, it took a whopping $450,000 per year salary to crack into the 1 percent. So, even if you did get a penny for literally every single one of your 25.5 million yearly thoughts, you wouldn’t even come close to the average top earner in our country.

But if you thought at a constant rate of 49 thoughts per minute 24 hours per day, you’d be able to join the 1 percent over time.

According to a Pew Research study, the average net worth among America’s 1 percenters is $2.4 million. Bureau of Labor Statistics data tells us that the average American spends about $56,000 per year. Assuming you spend this average and save everything else, it would take you 12 years to accumulate 240 million thoughts ($2.4 million worth).

Of course, as science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once mused, “Thinking doesn’t pay.” But we can dream, can’t we?

After Being Rescued From Storm Drain, Manatee ‘Feisty,’ Showing Signs of Recovery, SeaWorld Says

A manatee rescued from a Jacksonville storm drain is showing signs of progress while recovering at SeaWorld Orlando, but it’s not out of the wilderness just yet.

“Last night she was fairly slow-moving and subdued,” which isn’t surprising considering her plight, said Stacy DiRocco, senior veterinarian at SeaWorld. “This morning she was much more active. She was swimming normally and interacting with the other manatees.”

The 9-foot, 950-pound manatee has been under close observation and care since arriving at the amusement park Wednesday evening following her rescue, DiRocco said.

Hours earlier Jacksonville firefighters, public works crews and state wildlife officials unearthed the pipe and removed part of it to free the manatee that was discovered by a paving crew doing a resurfacing project near Davinci Avenue and Della Robbia Way about 8 a.m.

DiRocco said the manatee has been swimming normally in the critical care pool with two other recuperating manatees where it’s getting electrolytes, undergoing blood tests and receiving antibiotics to fend off any potential infection.

She said the manatee is responding well so far to treatment and rest after the ordeal, noting it was “quite feisty” Thursday morning. “That tells me she’s much stronger than she was when she arrived.”

The manatee came in with mild abrasions, but no deep traumatic wounds. While its pectoral flippers are swollen, DiRocco said she doesn’t believe they’re seriously injured.

“There might be some mild muscle damage from her being trapped for so long,” she said.

Blood work revealed its electrolyte, blood sugar and calcium levels appear to be fine, though the mammal is still a little dehydrated, DiRocco said.

Veterinarians are concerned about the manatee’s abnormally high white blood cell count, which DiRocco attributed to the anxiety it experienced while wedged in the drain amid the flurry of activity to extricate it.

“She did go through a pretty stressful event yesterday and stress can cause those white cells to go up pretty high,” she said.

While the manatee is not yet eating without help, DiRocco said she’s not concerned because it is not emaciated and appears to be a healthy weight.

The goal, DiRocco said, is to get the manatee eating on its own soon. She said the park hopes to release the manatee back into the wild within the next few days barring any setbacks in its progress.

“My sense is that there’s a good chance that this manatee should make a quick recovery,” she said.

Thursday city officials had not yet pinned down how much the endeavor, which prompted them to halt the paving project and shut down nearby roads while crews excavated and removed a section of pipe, cost.

5 Ways Being Thankful Can Improve Your Life

Some Thanksgiving traditions are best in small doses, like pie binges, chair naps and televised parade coverage. But thanks to a group of scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, the holiday’s namesake spirit of gratitude is quickly outgrowing its November context, fed by research that points to wide-ranging health benefits from a steady diet of thankfulness.

The Greater Good Science Center, based at UC-Berkeley, has been studying “the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being” for 12 years, including a recent study on the science of gratitude. That project aims to explain how feeling thankful affects human health, eventually yielding evidence-based practices to be used in schools, workplaces and medical settings.

“Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions,” UC-Davis psychologist and gratitude expert Robert Emmons writes on the GGSC website. “Despite the fact that it forms the foundation of social life in many other cultures, in America, we usually don’t give it much thought — with a notable exception of one day, Thanksgiving.”

Here’s a closer look at some potential benefits year-round gratitude can bring:

1. Less stress, better moods

Grateful people tend to be happier, according to research cited by the GGSC. A 2003 study used a questionnaire to test “dispositional gratitude,” linking it to several measures of subjective well-being and reporting that “grateful thinking improved mood.” A 2010 study tied gratitude to reduced anxiety and depression, stating it’s “strongly related to well-being, however defined, and this link may be unique and causal.” It also noted the potential for gratitude exercises in clinical psychology.

2. Less pain, more gain

Beyond helping us exorcise anxiety, gratitude might also help us exercise. It “encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health,” the GGSC says, and research by Emmons and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough suggests it contributes to a wide range of physical health benefits, including a stronger immune system, reduced disease symptoms and lower blood pressure. It can even make people “less bothered by aches and pains,” the GGSC adds.

3. Better sleep

A good night’s sleep can make anyone thankful, but a 2009 study found the reverse is true, too. Grateful people get more hours of sleep per night, fall asleep more quickly and feel more refreshed upon waking. “This is the first study to show that a positive trait is related to good sleep quality above the effect of other personality traits,” the study’s authors wrote, adding it’s “also the first to show … gratitude is related to sleep and to explain why this occurs, suggesting future directions for research and novel clinical implications.” As the GGSC puts it, “to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

4. Stronger relationships

Expressing gratitude to a relationship partner — whether a close friend, colleague or significant other — “enhances one’s perception of the relationship’s communal strength,” according to a 2010 study. Feeling thankful for a friend’s generosity or a spouse’s patience helps you appreciate the relationship’s mutual give-and-take, as long as gratitude doesn’t mutate into feelings of indebtedness. “Although indebtedness may maintain external signals of relationship engagement,” the authors of another study wrote in 2010, “gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.”

5. Resilience

Misfortune itself is rarely cause for thanks, but Emmons says a broader sense of gratitude — religious or not — comes from learning to take nothing for granted. “Our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was born and grew out of hard times,” he writes for the GGSC. “The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression.” Even among war veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a 2006 study found that dispositional gratitude predicted things like daily self-esteem, “daily intrinsically motivating activity” and percentage of pleasant days “over and above” the severity of PTSD.

The 2016 Election Is Giving a Lot of People Nightmares, Literally

The nature of dreams is that their origins are, mostly, mysterious. Where do they come from? They start from reality, of course, but the true beginnings are rarely clear.

This year it’s a little bit different, though, mostly thanks to Donald J. Trump, who has a not-implausible shot at being the next leader of the free world. This idea has caused some alarm and panic, specifically, sometimes, in dreams.

So Atlas Obscura asked it’s readers for true tales of their panic dreams. Dozens of readers came through, with everything from the disturbing to the downright absurd. One person said they “woke up screaming,” while another refused to describe the dream, only saying they saw both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Some of the dreams were centered around the color orange. “Donald Trump walked down a short staircase and into my room,” one respondent said. “He was so evil inside that he turned the air and light orange.”

Another said, “Men on motorcycles were dragging people behind them if they posted negative things about Donald Trump. They were called ‘The Oranges.’”

Others were weirdly optimistic:

I dreamt that I was trying to go vote on election day but I couldn’t get out of work. Panicking about not getting to vote in time. Woke up feeling relief that even if I wasn’t able to vote, the election was over. I considered turning on the TV to see if they had called our state or the electoral college. As logic returned to me, I realized that we still had more than a week to go. Sinking feeling returned to my stomach. Though, lesson learned, you can be sure I’ll be out the for bright and early to my polling place before work! Dems and diehards vote early in the day, and I happen to be both.

Others had panic dreams that got pretty dark, especially about sexual assault.

“I dreamed that Donald Trump was pinning me down on my bed, sneering at me and not letting me up no matter how much I struggled,” one person wrote.

Another said: “Being chased by a mob of people trying to take my uterus out. Politicians and scary white men trying to run my body.”

A third:

Yes, I was riding on a train when Trump sat down next to me and proceeded to chat me up. Gen wouldn’t shut up or leave me alone, he just kept shoving identical business card after identical business card into my uninterested hands. I probably had it because of all the women that are opening up about assault by him.

And a fourth:

I was having Donald Trump over to my apartment for dinner. At first, I was taken aback that he seemed nicer and distinctly more down to earth than he appears in the news. However, he kept getting progressively more annoying as the night went on. He followed me into the bathroom, kept blaring one of those cheesy New Years Eve blow-out noisemakers directly in my ear, and then, finally, right before I woke up, he stuck both of his hands into my pockets.

And a fifth:

I woke up shouting: “I WILL REPORT YOU.” Scared my husband half to death. I was mad as hell and ready to get some justice … The next morning I was still angry as hell, full of righteous rage. Remembered and cursed the men who’ve harassed me in real life. To hell with them! Makes me mad again to think of it.

Not all of the dreams were so dark, though. Some were about animals.

When I get stressed, I have a reoccurring dream that I was supposed to feed a friend’s pet while they are gone and I have forgotten for days. The last one, I sat bolt upright in bed and thought “I forgot to feed the cat!” Got out of bed and stumbled toward the door “And the goats!” in the doorway “And the flamingos! Waaaaaait…who do I know who has flamingos?!”. And then I went back to bed.

And the stress of animal rescue:

I kept finding hurt animals I had to take care of, but my house wasn’t big enough and I didn’t have enough time and they also started eating each other. I tried to keep them all in my basement because I didn’t want them to hurt my cat and 2 dogs, and I kept forgetting to feed them, and it was pretty stressful. Guessing it relates to my generalized anxiety and trying to juggle obligations.

And then there were those that were downright dystopian or disturbing. Here’s a selection:

I dreamed that I was working for a large…corporation? government agency? Not sure. One day they offered me an opportunity: I could press a button, and it would launch a missile from a drone being flown by somebody else. The missile would take out their target, a single person. This was a person they assured me was deserving. I would be paid $500,000 to push this button, and there would be no record of my involvement.

I was actually trying to go to bed early and I was really relaxed but then my mind just started whirring and pretty soon I was falling into sleep but all of the things that I hadn’t written down or hadn’t accomplished during the day just surged into chaos! Then Donald Trump was there just yelling and looking disgusting. He was in my face and sweating all over and stomping and I just woke up with the sensation that I was falling. I just snapped awake with force. I had the full on heavy chest, hard breathing, and like a headache coming on.

My wife passed out at the wheel of the car, I was in the passenger’s seat trying to figure out how to simultaneously steer and get her foot off the gas pedal, but her leg was rigid and the pedal was on the floorboard. We were approaching 120 mph.

Others, like most dreams, were in the realm of the nonsensical.

I was sick about 3 weeks ago, and my fever dreams were completely inundated with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. They weren’t doing anything in particular; they were just always there. It was agonizing, because I knew every time I managed to get back to sleep they’d be there waiting. … They stopped when I started to recover from my illness. I probably dreamt exclusively about Trump and Pence for three days straight.

Dreamt I was sent to apocalyptic magdalene laundry.

I was hiking the Appalachian Trail when a large tree with the face of Donald Trump chased me off a cliff.

There were zombies.

It was like Jurassic Park, dinosaurs were trying to find my friends and I in a theater to kill us.

Maybe, in another week, we’ll forget all this ever happened.

Day of the Dead: What Is Día De Los Muertos?

Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration that occurs every year on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the day after Halloween. It is a time to worship people who died, but there is much more to know about the festival. To find out more, continue reading below:

1. Is there a difference between Día de los Muertos and Halloween? While the holidays might seem similar, there is one major difference: Death is something that is to be feared on Halloween. Death is something to be celebrated, however, on Día de los Muertos.

2. Why would the living celebrate death? The idea is that the living get to laugh in the face of death. Children play “funeral” with dolls. Since death is a natural part of life, it is not something to be feared.

3. How do the living celebrate the dead? Revelers honor the dead loved ones by decorating altars with offerings or gifts. Typical items include candles, yellow marigolds, sugar skulls (the representation of a departed soul), food, drinks, cigarettes and clothing. A picture of the deceased person is typically included.

4. Are there only Día de los Muertos parties in Mexico? The holiday originated in Mexico, because it was brought to the area by Spanish conquistadores. It combines indigenous Aztec ritual and Catholicism.

Día de los Muertos is celebrated in other countries like as Guatemala, Brazil and Spain. There’s a growing popularity in the U.S. because of the large number of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans.

5. Why are there so many skeletons and skulls (calacas  and calaveras) associated with Día de los Muertos? It’s an old tradition, which dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. Skulls used to be kept as trophies and were used during rituals.

In the 20th century, Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada repurposed the skull. He drew a picture of a skeleton with a glamorous hat, which is known as Calavera Catrina. He was inspired by the Aztec tale of Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. For Posada’s purpose, the picture was a stab against Europhile Mexican leaders during the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship. Calavera Catrina became the symbol of the Mexican Revolution.