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You Really Can Work Longer Hours Without Killing Your Productivity

So you think you’ve got it bad?

According to a paper by Stanford economics professor John Pencavel, which The Economic Journal published online, back in World War I, the workweek stretched anywhere from 60 to 100 hours, to meet the demand for war-related materials. (Here is a pdf of a longer version of the report published earlier this year, via The Economist)

Even in 1916, the British government found the work hours excessive. According to a report that Pencavel dug up from the British Health of Munition Workers Committee, tasked with figuring out how to increase efficiency in munitions plants, the committee recommended making some changes. It proposed giving a rest day on Sundays, and reducing work hours to 65 to 67 a week for men and boys, and to 60 hours a week for girls and women (who by the end of the war accounted for 77.6 percent of ammunition and explosives industry employees).

The committee claimed that total output would be unchanged, even with shortened hours. Pencavel was curious to test that hypothesis, applying statistical analysis techniques to the data the committee had gathered for their report. Here’s what he found:

Below 49 weekly hours ...

How to Predict Personal Wealth

Just as weight, nutrition, and exercise can give you an idea of someone's physical health, a few basic personal characteristics can predict financial well-being with surprising accuracy. Among them: Did you save any money last year? Did you miss payments on any obligations in the past year? And did you have a balance on your credit card after the last payment was due?

This is according to a "financial health scorecard" recently released by the St. Louis Fed, which tracked both financial health and net wealth. Authors William Emmons and Bryan Noeth relied on a series of demographic groupings including age, race and ethnicity, and educational achievement to form 48 non-overlapping groups. While the groupings helped establish correlation across questions, they also revealed some troubling patterns.

Chief among them: While educational attainment has long been considered crucial to expected future financial health, it's not as strongly associated as either age or race and ethnicity (things Americans can't change about themselves). Older families tend to have greater financial health than their younger counterparts, regardless of race and ethnicity or education. And white and Asian families typically enjoy better financial situations than Hispanic and African-American ones, irrespective of other ...

If I Were 22

A funny thing happens when you’re 22. You dream big. You work hard. You charge forward. But you are not so sure where you are going. 

At 22, I had just graduated from college and had started teaching pre-K in an inner city school in Denver. My ambition was to be a great teacher. I thought that would define my success. That was my plan, or so I thought. What I didn’t realize then was, there would be many, many more turns in the road.

I soon figured out that each year brings another set of experiences and growth. And each experience, each opportunity to learn, exponentially broadens the possibilities of who you can be. In reality, it takes a great deal of strength to move past who you are in the moment to who you can be in the future. And often that means just being willing to take a risk and follow your passion. It was taking risks and following my passion for public service that led me from the classroom to community service to government leadership.

It turns out that what I had imagined for myself at age 22 wasn’t exactly the right plan ...

The Myth of the Brain Game

In Phaedrus, Plato's 2,400-year-old set of dialogues, Socrates narrates a conversation between the King of Egypt, Thamus, and a god, Theuth. Theuth had invented various fields of learning, including arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and writing, and he wanted the king to share them with his people. While each discovery had its pros and cons, writing, Theuth said, was the best invention of all, since it would “improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians.” The king unconvinced, described writing as the “conceit of wisdom,” arguing that it would cause men to become forgetful, because they would rely upon written texts rather than remember things for themselves. The god's discovery wasn’t a tool for memory, said the king. It would only enable reminiscence.

Almost two-and-a-half millennia later, our impulse to remember things, and to do so efficiently, remains fierce. The tools we use include grocery checklists, photo albums, flash cards, smartphone memos, and even scrawls on Post-Its. Over the past decade, digital brain-training games have emerged as the newest way to sharpen memory skills. They’re often touted as having a wide range of benefits, from helping people remember names and childhood stories to possibly staving ...

Scientists Say They Have Found a Cure for Fear

If love can’t conquer all, at least now there’s hope that it conquers fear.

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany found that doses of oxytocin can help eliminate fear. The hormone bonds to the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) and parts of the prefrontal cortex. In addition to playing a role in mother-child and romantic bonds, oxytocin reduces anxiety, according to the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

When people go through a traumatic experience, certain triggers associated with that experience can set off that fear for them. The researchers simulated this fear by using Pavlovian fear conditioning—they showed images of houses and faces to 62 men, then administered a light electrical shock to their hands to associate that image with pain multiple times. Eventually, that image evoked fear for the subjects, as measured by their cold sweat and brain scans showing the part of the brain that registers fear.

Then, half the subjects received doses of oxytocin sprayed through the nose as they saw the images they were now conditioned to fear. Initially their fear response increased upon receiving the oxytocin (studies have shown that oxytocin can also make the brain ...