Culture

Why do we suddenly become generous during the holidays? Why do gifts often bear greater symbolic than economic value? Why do we anonymously give to strangers?

"Because giving back is a societal norm," says Marcel Fournier, a sociology professor at the Université de Montréal. "Human beings are social beings and no society can survive without mechanisms of solidarity and reciprocity. Giving becomes an obligation."

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Two Brown University economists have created a new data set explaining differences in the world's current per capita gross domestic products (GDPs). In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Louis Putterman and David N. Weil introduce a "World Migration Matrix" showing that inequality among countries can be largely explained by where the ancestors of each country's people lived some 500 years ago. "What matters is the history of the people who live in a country today, more than the history of the country itself," they say.

TORONTO, ON – Physicists at the University of Toronto have cracked the mystery behind the strange and uncannily well-ordered hexagonal columns found at such popular tourist sites as Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway and California's Devil's Postpile, using water, corn starch, and a heat lamp.

A new University of Colorado at Boulder study shows the periodic "breathing" of Earth's upper atmosphere that has long puzzled scientists is due in part to cyclic solar wind disturbances, a finding that should help engineers track satellites more accurately and improve forecasts for electronic communication disruptions.

Research led by Johns Hopkins Children's Center scientists has figured out why a respiratory syncytial virus vaccine used in 1966 to inoculate children against the infection instead caused severe respiratory disease and effectively stopped efforts to make a better one. The findings, published online on Dec. 14 in Nature Medicine, could restart work on effective killed-virus vaccines not only for RSV but other respiratory viruses, researchers say.

GREENBELT, Md. - Observations made by NASA instruments onboard an Air Force satellite have shown that the boundary between the Earth's upper atmosphere and space has moved to extraordinarily low altitudes. These observations were made by the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite, which was launched aboard the U.S. Air Force's Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite on April 16, 2008.

Picture a ball. It's an ordinary ball in every way except that it is roughly 4,300 miles in diameter and is moving through the cold of space some 35 million miles from Earth, and hurtling around the sun in just less than two Earth years. This is Mars.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As the cold weather creeps in, so do brown recluse spiders. True to their name, the brown recluse is a shy, reclusive spider looking for a warm home. Drawn to clutter, closets and complex storage environments, the spiders actually want to stay away from humans. But, if care is not taken, people could find themselves sharing their home with one of 'the big three,' according to a University of Missouri entomologist. The brown recluse is one of three spiders in the United States considered venomous – the other two are the black widow and the hobo spider.

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2008 -- A rat thought extinct for 11 million years and a hot-pink, cyanide-producing dragon millipede are among a thousand new species discovered in the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia in the last decade, according to a new report launched by World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The experience of purchasing art shares much in common with viewing it in exhibits, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Author Yu Chen (Oakland University) shows that visiting a gallery can provide many of the same benefits as buying a painting.