The Principle of Least Interest

The Principle of Least Interest for Writers quote

Sociologists, economists, therapists, and every other sort of -ists have studied The Principle of Least Interest, but it’s incredibly important for writers as well. This is one of those areas in which science has confirmed what common sense has long maintained: the person who cares the least has the most power. This principle works everywhere from the housing market to the marriage market. (I wrote about this topic previously in 2015.)

That’s definitely a selling point.

If the buyer is more eager to buy than the seller is to sell, the seller will determine the selling price. If he loves her more than she loves him, he could end up the proverbial hen-pecked husband of so many comedies; vice versa and she is a candidate for the downtrodden foot-wipe—perhaps abused—wife of so many tragedies.

This principle is so well understood that sometimes people try to disguise their true levels of caring/interest (talk of other great offers forthcoming, flirting with or dating a rival). Inherent in disguise is the understanding that what counts is often the perception of least interest.

The First Take-Away for Writers:

For your characters, know who has the power (the least interest) and who is perceived to have it. And if your work has more than two characters, you need to understand the power relationships for each pair.

The elephant has the least interest in this relationship.

Unlike a credit score, people can’t go on-line and check out their power ratings. The primary reason that power relationships are often unclear is that the bases of power are virtually limitless: expertise, physical attractiveness, intelligence, wealth, athletic ability, knowledge of secrets, ability to make the other’s life miserable, being popular, great sense of humor—anything and everything that is important to that pair. Knowing the facts doesn’t tell you/the reader who has the power.

If she married him for the money and he married her for the Green Card, who cares more? What if we add in that she is beautiful and he’s a great problem-solver; she’s moody and he’s uncommunicative; he’s a natural athlete and she manages their money; they’re both extremely intelligent and care mightily for their two children. As the author, you can determine who has the power by giving weight to these factors based on the characters’ perceptions of what is important.

The Second Take-Away for Writers:

Anytime you think humans have total power over dogs, just remember which one is picking up the other’s poop.

Power is seldom one-dimensional, and if you don’t recognize the complexity, your characters will be flat and unrealistic.

In many relationships—for example, boss/employee, parent/child, older sibling/younger sibling, teacher/student—the general expectation would be that the total power package would favor the former. But my guess is that most readers don’t read to confirm the norm; they like to be surprised.

The Third Take-Away for Writers:

You should at least consider writing against common power expectations.

And just to end on a high-brow note: according to Lord Acton, “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Consider how less-than-absolute power might corrupt your character(s).

Bottom Line

  • Know who has the power and who is perceived to have it.
  • Power is seldom one-dimensional, and if you don’t recognize the complexity, your characters will be flat and unrealistic.
  • You should at least consider writing against common power expectations.

Learn more

“Who Has the Upper Hand? Power, Sex, and Seinfeld” by Dr. Benjamin Le

The Personal Use of Social Psychology by Michael J. Lovaglia (2007)

Social Psychology and Human Sexuality: Essential Readings by Roy F. Baumeister (2001)

THE NOSE KNOWS!

Suku Jahai from Penang, Malaysia – Suku Jahai, CC BY-SA 2.0
By Muhammad Adzha

English is pretty anaemic when it comes to scent. We have to attach adjectives like “putrid” or “mown grass.” On the other hand, the Jahai people of Malaysia have words attached to specific smells, with meanings like “to have a stinging smell, to smell of human urine,” and “to have a bloody smell that attracts tigers.’

Horse nose (scent)

Researchers at Rockefeller University estimated that humans can detect at least a trillion distinct smells. That leads me to conclude that need determines what we do with specific ones.  This conclusion is supported by other evidence: in tribes that have recently switched from hunting and gathering to farming, smell words often vanish. 

Abigail Tucker explores the sense of smell in the Smithsonian Magazine article “Scents and Sensibility.”  (Full reference below). Do read it! To whet your appetite, here are some bits that I found particularly interesting.

Cow nose (scent)

Scents and the Body

Proboscis monkey nose (scent)

Females are more sensitive to smells than males.

Research indicates that infants are habituated via mothers’ milk to react more positively to the smell of things the mothers eat.

The human nose comes in 14 basic shapes and sizes.

(FYI, not in the article: noses and ears do not continue to grow during adulthood. They do change shape, however, due to skin changes and gravity.)

Many “tastes” are actually smell; chocolate, for example.

(I remember a classic psychology experiment that demonstrated that, without olfactory or visual clues, people couldn’t tell bits of apple from bits of onion.)

Nose (scent)

The exposed nature of scent receptors in the nose make them especially vulnerable to environmental toxins.  

Apparently olfactory receptors can become fatigued.

The sense of smell declines with age, especially in those over 50. By age 80, 75% of people exhibit what could be classified as a smell disorder. (Oh, sigh.)

Pretty much everyone has “blind spots” when it comes to smell. For example, not everyone can smell asparagus in their pee—but if you can, you can smell it in anyone’s urine.

Also not covered in this article: virtually everyone can become noseblind when exposed to the same smell for a prolonged period of time. Consider entering a room and noticing an odor at first but not later.

Vintage advertisement

Scent Power

Tapir nose (scent)

A human without visual or auditory cues can track a scent through the grass of a public park—but not as well as a dog can.

Some psychological conditions affect sense of smell. For example, research has linked autism to an enhanced sense of smell. On the other had, depression and Parkinson’s disease are related to decreased sensitivity.

Culture affects what we smell and how we react to specific smells. 

Besides genetic and cultural factors, certain smells evoke a visceral reaction specific to the individual, depending on life history.  Research participants are able to access more emotional memories when exposed to a smell as opposed to a picture of the source of the smell. 

Anteater nose (scent)

Andreas Keller, a prominent neuroscientist specializing in olfaction, has opened a gallery, Olfactory Art, where smell is central to the experience!

How does the nose know? We still don’t know!  “Olfaction has always been an underdog sense. It’s both primitive and complex, which makes it hard to study and harder still to transfer to our increasingly digital existence. … smells cannot at this point be recorded or emailed or Instagrammed.”

In a 2011 survey, more than half of the young adults said they’d rather give up their sense of smell than their cell phones. Little did they know what that sacrifice would entail.

BOTTOM LINE: COVID’s notorious effects on the sense of smell has triggered a new appreciation of the role of scents in our lives, for both pleasure and safety.

“Scents and Sensibility” by Abigail Tucker, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2022, pp 66-80.

Pig snout scent

THE WONDER OF WATER

I’m in Corolla, NC now, reveling in the wonder that is water. I grew up more-or-less in the middle of Ohio—not exactly water country. I first saw the ocean at age twenty, during spring break on the east coast of Florida near Tequesta/Jupiter. It was love at first sight: soft, white sand; clear, warm water; and the sounds of moving water… 

Since then I’ve been near—or better yet, sailing on—water at every opportunity. Life is just better on water.

And this isn’t a placebo effect, specific to me! 

The Wonder of Water Outside the Body

There are psychological benefits to water, especially oceans.  Research indicates that, being by the sea has a positive impact on mental health.  (Psych Central)

  • Minerals in the sea air reduce stress
  • Negatively charged ions in the sea air combat free radicals, improving alertness and concentration
  • Salt in the water preserves tryptamine, serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain, which aid in diminishing depression or increasing your overall sense of wellness
  • The sounds of waves alter the brain’s wave patterns, producing a state of relaxation

So, even the sound of water is powerful, soothing. Water sounds have long been used in meditation.  The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicized, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖浪裏)
from Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai

Whenever I’m near the ocean, a bay, a river, I’m awed by the vastness and the interconnectedness of water. Water makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface. I often think about cells sanded off my feet and ending up oceans away. 

And I’ve experienced nothing more awesome than being on the water in a small boat during a storm. Watching lighting go from the earth up. Furling the sails and trying to hold the tiller steady. And knowing that the water is primal, and ultimately has all the power. I’m inconsequential.

Listening to ocean sounds is a popular sleep aid:  people are able to let go of thoughts and allow sleep in.

And then there is the beneficial environmental factors, such as less polluted air and more sunlight. Also, people who live by water tend to be more physically active – not just with water sports, but walking and cycling. (The Guardian)

The Wonder of Water Inside the Body

In addition there are physiological benefits of water: reducing muscle tension and joint stress, and keeping skin moisturized, hair shiny, etc. (Fix)

When was the last time you thought about—really thought about—water? (Not counting hurricane Ian, of course.) How many times a day do you unthinkingly turn on a faucet? Water is so prevalent it’s easy to forget that life depends on it. People deprived of food and water will die of dehydration first. 

Water makes up 75% of the human brain. People who consume too much alcohol often wake so parched that their tongues stick to the roof of their mouths and their lips stick together. Imagine what has happened to your watery brain. (For the handful of you out there who have never had such an experience, think cotton balls and glue.)

The Wonder of Water and the History of the Body

The Nile, as seen from space
Even in modern times, human settlements cluster around rivers and seashores.

Much of our nutrition comes from seafood. Waterways have long been a means of transportation and an avenue of trade. But the wonder of water goes way beyond its utility.

Once upon a time, our ancestors slithered out of the sea. People still want to live and stay by water. Water property values are consistently higher than others. Of course, which water, and whether there is access to it, etc., count for a lot, but still… 

For suggestions about how to bring more water benefits into your life, see Blue Mind: The Health Benefits of Being by the Water.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s nothing more wondrous than water.

GIVING: BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER (OR YOURSELF)

Overall, Americans are giving people. According to one study, in 2009-2018, the United States was #1 among the world’s most charitable countries (#2 was Myanmar). But this is another area where one-size doesn’t fit all. Giving people vary on all sorts of dimension, especially reasons for giving and patterns of giving.

Giving Reasons

According to 16 Personalities,Some research suggests that people may be hardwired toward generosity, and life and other influences teach them selfishness. But generosity, like most human behaviors, is likely influenced by personality types and traits.”

Giving Just Because It Feels Good 
Society in general (as well as various religions) encourage giving. Most people have probably inculcated at least some of that into their personalities, and feel good about themselves accordingly. Some research (see above) suggests that just thinking about being generous can lift a person’s mood, regardless of whether one is thinking big or small. 

Giving Because It’s the Right Thing to Do 
Some people give because they feel it is the right thing to do, either practically or because of tradition. 

Paying Back
This is someone who has been the recipient of others’ giving and wants to reciprocate. For example, getting help when down and out might well lead someone to give labor and/or money to that organization in the future. 

Guilty Giving
This would be a person who feels so blessed/fortunate/lucky that NOT giving feels too selfish to tolerate.  Sentinels are practical people who are unlikely to overthink an issue like generosity. They give because they feel it is the right thing to do, either practically or because of tradition. Their reasons are usually uncomplicated.

Sir Terry Pratchett
Jingo

Making the World a Better Place 
Here we tend to think of BIG money givers, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But this reason for giving comes in all sizes and shapes. To paraphrase: give a person a fish, you give food for a day; teach a person to fish, you give food for a lifetime.

Patterns Of Giving

Membership Giving (Whether One Takes Advantage of Member Benefits or Not)

  • Botanical garden
  • Fine arts museum
  • Historical society
  • Symphony orchestra or other musical groups 
  • Public broadcasting

Regimented Giving

“Tithe Pig Group”
Derby Porcelain c 1770
  • Tithing to a religious organization
    • Tithe” comes from the Old English word for “tenth” and originally meant to give one-tenth of one’s possessions to support the clergy
    • Almsgiving (zakat) is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam
  • Yearly gifts, particularly at holidays or birthdays
  • Monthly commitments
    • (For example, to Shriner’s, St. Jude’s, animal rescue, etc.)

Periodic but Repeated Giving

  • Favored causes (Save the Bay, Native American education, food drive/pantry)
  • Campaign donations at election time
  • Gifts to one’s college/university/library/etc.

Impulsive/Unplanned Giving

Busking
  • Street performers
  • Christmas bell-ringers
  • Panhandlers—or not
  • “Rounding up” on a purchase 

Geographic Giving

  • Local giving only
  • Giving within one’s own country
  • Giving for international causes/disasters

Giving by Cause

Waterway clean-up
  • Animal rescue
  • Environmental issues
  • Political parties/candidates
  • Hunger eradication
  • Medical research
  • Recycling

Strategic Giving

  • Tax-deductible giving
  • Estate planning
  • Donations as part of a company’s PR campaign
  • Participation in online fundraising trends

Socially Elicited Giving

  • Friends’ birthday fund raisers
  • Supporting one’s friends/family charities
  • Team participation in fundraising events
  • Giving to someone who’s given to you, a charity that has benefited you
    • (Such as a cancer survivor donating to a cancer support fund)

Non-Monetary Giving

Volunteering at a medical clinic
  • Volunteering labor
    • Cleaning up lakes/oceans/rivers/bays
    • Big Brother/Big Sister
    • Poll worker -soup kitchen
    • Building Habitat houses
    • Working in a COVID vaccine clinic 
    • Community theater usher
    • Cleaning up after environmental disasters
  • Gifts of needed items
    • School supplies
    • Clothing
    • Furniture
    • Food drives
    • Blood drives

Overall

Reasons and patterns of giving are not mutually exclusive, nor are they immutable over time. 
Also, we tend to think of giving as coming from the heart, but sometimes the act is highly cerebral. 

“Thus, to give money away is quite a simple task, but for the act to be virtuous, the donor must give to the right person, for the right purpose, in the right amount, in the right manner, and at the right time.”

Aristotle

Bottom line: Consider — what’s your (character’s) style of giving? Is this too little? Too much? Or just right? How does your (character’s) personality type influence all of this?

WHY?

You and I are perfect, of course—but the people we live with? They drive us nuts all around the house, in ways too numerous to count! And some rooms are more irritating than others. Some say such minor annoyances are the signs of imploding domestic happiness. Others claim habits like these are simply what happens when people become comfortable with each other, possibly even a sign of healthy relationships. Consider the ways irritability might be bad for you. And think about ways these little things can add tension to writing scenes.

Kitchen

~Putting the peanut butter on top of the jelly or the jelly on top of the peanut butter
  • Leaving scraps in the sink, even the side that has the garbage disposal
  • Leaving empty or near-empty cups, mugs, and glasses all around the house instead of taking them to the kitchen
  • Leaving cuttings/crumbs on the counter
  • Using twice as many utensils as necessary
  • Not turning off the stove burners/oven
  • Starting a dish cooking, leaving the room, and letting the food burn
  • Never adding salt and pepper while cooking (or adding far too much)
  • Leaving herbs, spices, and other seasonings on the counter
  • Not wiping up spills
  • Not checking the vegetable drawer for partials before cutting a new pepper, onion, or cuke
  • Leaving partially eaten food out (pizza, sandwich, fruit)

Bathrooms

~Washing dishes in what is clearly the dolls’ bathtub
  • Soaking the bathmat
  • Leaving dirty clothes on the floor
  • Sprinkling the counters with grooming products
  • Not flushing
  • Not replacing a spent toilet paper roll
  • Putting new TP roll on so new sheets come from the back, when everyone knows the new sheets should come over the top. (Or vice versa!)
  • Leaving hair in the washbasin
  • Using your washcloth or towel
  • Running out the hot water
  • Leaving the cap off toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, whatever

Bedroom

~Kicking while dreaming of chasing squirrels
  • Restless sleeping or kicking
  • Snoring
  • Using a C-Pap machine
  • Taking too much closet and dresser space
  • Leaving clothes around
  • Hogging the covers
  • Insisting on a night light—or total darkness
  • Needing a noise masking machine
  • Eating in bed
  • Reading in bed
  • Allowing pet on the bed

Living Room/Family Room

~Taking up the whole sofa, even if they’re actually the smallest member of the household
  • Toys/games sprinkled about
  • Putting feet on furniture
  • Cluttering end tables, coffee tables, ottomans…
  • Not using coasters
  • Spilling food and drink on upholstery, carpets, curtains, etc.

Dining Room

~Eating your fingers when you’re just trying to eat your mush
  • Chewing with mouth open
  • Wolfing food or eating absurdly slowly
  • Talking with mouth full
  • Not using a napkin
  • Reaching for things that should be passed
  • Making a mess around the plate/bowl

All Around the House

~Forgetting to pay the gravity bill, leaving everyone to float upside-down
  • Squeezing tubes from the middle (toothpaste, anchovy paste, etc.)
  • Playing TV/radio/etc. too loudly
  • Controlling the TV remote/program
  • Flipping channels on TV or radio
  • Not picking up after her/himself
  • Singing, humming, whistling out of tune
  • Dominating the conversation
  • Interrupting
  • Not saying please or thank you
  • Leaving doors open/unlocked
  • Leaving lights and fans on when leaving a room
  • Not setting the alarm
  • Not watering houseplants 
  • Leaving bird feeders empty
  • Paying bills late
  • Leaving the newspaper a mess

Bottom line: These are just a very few examples of domestic minor annoyances. There are always more, especially when you’re looking for them. Is the irritating behavior really worth the irritation? Or could you make use of it?

Behavioral Analysis for Authors

Guest blog by Kathleen Corcoran

There are lots of ways to determine how a fictional character will react in any given situation. Generally, an author has some idea of how the main characters will behave during the major plot points. However, one of the keys to making a story believable is writing actions and reactions that make sense.

To get details of a very different system of understanding motivations, I talked with Angela Johns, BCBA, LBA, about her work as a Behavior Analyst.

Four Primary Functions

When a person (or animal) performs an action, that action fulfills one of four basic functions. A behavioral analysis therapist works to change behavior patterns by identifying the function and substituting the unwanted behavior with a more acceptable behavior that meets the same function.

Attention
from Portland Center Stage

When the Bennets attend the Netherfield Ball, Mary Bennet wants attention and praise, so she takes over the piano and embarrasses her family by playing and singing rather obnoxiously. Mary gets negative attention and lukewarm praise, but her original need for attention has still been met. (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Access to Tangible Rewards

Santiago, having finally caught a fish, would quite like to keep that fish. The story is filled with metaphor and lovely language, but Santiago ultimately holds on to the fishing line because he wants to reel in and keep the marlin that he caught. (The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway)

Sensory or Automatic

Dr. Polyakov initially takes morphine to relieve pain in his stomach. Later, he takes morphine to alleviate the despair and heartache of his life. As the addiction becomes worse, he takes morphine because he becomes unable to function without it. (“Morphine” by Mikhail Bulgakov)

Escape or Avoidance

While waiting for Odysseus to return to Ithaca, Penelope delayed giving in to any of the suitors badgering her by claiming she had to weave a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. Every night, she unwove the portion she’d woven during the day. She managed to avoid either giving in to any of the suitors or giving any of them a pretense for starting a war. (The Odyssey by Homer)

“We Work Ourselves Out of a Job”

A behavioral analysis expert will work with a patient (and caregivers) to adjust behaviors by identifying which function an unwanted behavior fulfills and substituting another behavior that meets the same function. For example, raising a hand for attention from a teacher rather than shouting in class.

As Johns put it, “The whole point of us [behavioral analysts] is to work ourselves out of a job.”

They do this by observing the behavior (often in a patient’s home), looking at the antecedents, defining the consequences, and determining the function. Experts work with patients to reduce harmful behaviors, establish beneficial habits, focus at school, improve communications, and a variety of other goals.

Behavioral analysis experts primarily work with autistic patients, but applied behavioral analysis also serves a role in everything from fitness training to consumer spending research.

Fictional Behavioral Analysis
Sometimes behavioral antecedents are easily identified.

An author can use a similar technique to create believable motivations for a character’s actions. Identify which behavior is needed to advance the plot or set up a situation, then create circumstances that will trigger that behavior. Rather than identifying antecedents, an author has the luxury of creating antecedents.

  • If the clue to identifying a murderer is in the kitchen, make the character hungry so they’ll go in search of food.
  • If a character needs to go to jail for theft, that character first needs a reason for the theft, even if that reason is kleptomania or greed.
  • Perhaps a character spills their soul to a new acquaintance because they are looking for attention.
  • Maybe someone lights a cigarette so they don’t have to answer uncomfortable questions.

Stories don’t make much sense (and aren’t much fun to read) if characters do things for no reason.

This is, of course, a major oversimplification of the years of training and work a behavioral analyst does. For more information, check out the Kennedy Krieger Institute or The IRIS Center.

BEYOND THE BIG THREE

When “addiction” comes up, it’s most often in the context of the “Big Three”: alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. But gambling can be an addiction, too. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (2020), in the United States approximately 2 million adults have a “gambling disorder” (i.e., addiction) and another 4-6 million struggle with problem gambling.  As of May 2, 2022, according to therecoveryvillage.com, that figure is as many as 10 million. 

We watch lots of TV sports in this house, especially MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), CBS Richmond, and who knows how many other channels. And what I’ve noticed is that sporting events are riddled with commercials for “risk-free” on-line betting. During baseball games, they pop up every half inning!

By risk-free, I mean that upon enrollment, the bettor gets anywhere from $200 to $2000 to gamble without fear of losing actual money. Just imagine the scene: a bunch of people watching the game, knocking back a few, and deciding as a group, “Why not?” 

Internet access and online betting platforms and games of chance can only increase the likelihood of developing gambling problems. According to a combination of national studies, 1 in 20 college students are compulsive gamblers, more than twice the rate of the overall adult population.  “Some studies indicate that 23% of college students report gambling online, with 6% doing so weekly.” (therecoveryvillage.com) The American Psychiatric Association has identified Internet Gaming Disorder as a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience” before including it in the next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Candy Crush isn’t a gambling game, but the micro-transactions in it (buying extra lives) have a similar effect on the brain as gambling and may be priming players for development of later gambling addictions.

The trend of micro-transactions in video games has also contributed to online gambling addictions. Players exchange real-world money for virtual rewards in the game, often starting at less than a dollar (hence the micro-” descriptor). Studies show that players who purchase loot boxes or in-game currency and engage in risky behaviors within games are more likely to develop gambling addictions. This might be a case of correlation rather than causation, and the limited sample size makes research difficult.

Probably not coincidence: per a 2018 study by WalletHub, the most gambling-friendly state in the US, Nevada, also had the highest rate of gambling addiction. (Once upon a time I was shocked to find slot-machines right next to the condom machines in women’s toilets.)

As with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, gambling is usually not illegal (laws vary greatly among states, and online gambling is even more complicated). And as with the Big Three, many people who are diagnosable as addicts don’t recognize/rationalize their behaviors. Only 21% of incarcerated people assessed as having gambling addiction thought their gambling was  problematic.

Also like the Big Three, 69% of adolescent gambling addicts started gambling before age 12, and the earlier the onset, the greater the severity.

Types of gambling

  • Games of chance (e.g., lottery, roulette)
  • Games of skill (e.g., poker)
  • Blended betting (my term, e.g., horse racing)

Male vs. Female

  • More men are compulsive gamblers
  • Women start gambling at a later age
  • Women become addicted to gambling more quickly

The gambling personality (scientificamerican.com)

  • The more one gambles, the harder it is to stop
  • Gambling alters many of the same brain circuits in the same way as drugs
  • Pathological gamblers display genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking
  • Gambling releases dopamine
  • Gamblers lose sensitivity to their highs leading to riskier behavior
  • Between 2% and 7% of Parkinson’s patients are compulsive gamblers

Why be concerned? 

Unlike the Big Three, gambling doesn’t directly cause physical health problems. So what’s the big deal? Aside from the risk of financial ruin, gambling addiction is also associated with: 

  • Domestic violence
  • Children who are more likely to develop depression, substance abuse, and behavioral problems
  • Criminal activity to get money for gambling, reported by 80-90% of people attending Gamblers Anonymous, including stealing from family and work and writing bad checks
  • Being arrested seven times as often as on-gamblers
  • Increased risk for alcohol or drug dependency
  • Overall worse mental health

Warning signs

  • Gambling as a distraction from problems 
  • Gambling to feel better (There’s actually a chemical basis for this in the brain’s reward systems.)
  • Hiding gambling from loved ones
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after gambling

Treatment options are parallel to the Big Three:

  • Residential
  • Outpatient
  • Self-help (Gamblers Anonymous)
  • Medications used to treat substance abuse, some anti-depressants
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy

More info

Bottom line: Yes, life is a gamble, but the gambling life is hazardous to your health!

LUCK: GOOD, BAD, AND QUESTIONABLE

Nazur, lucky pendants to ward off the evil eye. A Turkish shopkeeper told me, “They are a lightning rod. The nazur takes the curse away from you and puts it somewhere safe.”
(Nazur pendants outside Cappadocia, Turkey)
For more hand signs used to attract good luck or ward off bad luck, check out my post on Thumbs!

“If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” How often have you heard that? When it’s better to have no luck at all, what’s a person to do?

Is it possible to change one’s luck?

Note: the following not-exhaustive lists were compiled from articles in Wikipedia, on history.com, at liveabout.commom.com

Warding Off Bad Luck

  • Carrying a 4-leaf clover reveals fairies hiding behind flowers, allowing one to prevent the mischief they could do. Some species of clover all have four leaves, but those have no power. The powerful 4-leaf clover is a mutant of the 3-leaf clover, occurring approximately 1 in 10,000.  To know you’ve found a true four-leaf clover, look for one leaflet that’s smaller than the others. If all four leaflets are the same size, you are probably looking at the wrong variety of clover.
  • Lucky rabbit foot: The original legend says that the left hind foot of a rabbit that is captured in a cemetery at night can ward off evil magic. These amulets definitely do not ward off bad luck for the rabbit!
  • Romans were very superstitious, and a lot of that superstition centered on reproductive organs.
    • Soldiers carved phallic totems for good luck and protection from Pompeii to Hadrian’s Wall.
    • According to the ancient writer Marcus Terentius Varro, Roman boys were even known to wear fascinus (winged penis) amulets around their necks to prevent harm from coming to them.
  • It was once thought that giving someone an evil eye (what might be called a stink eye these days) could cause all manner of bad, from mental illness to physical ailments.
    • People used evil eye talismans, or nazur (from Arabic نَظَر‎), to ward off the bad luck caused by these curses. Popular and beautiful evil eye talismans from Turkey use glass beads or discs with alternating blue and white circles. These are still widely in use in Turkey.
    • Some cultures use a hand with an eye in its center for protection.
    • Others use blue or green beads.

Attracting Good Luck

Lucky Animals 

  • The Chinese word for bat means “good luck.” Bats are seen as a sign of a long and healthy life. Some Chinese wear bat amulets to bring good fortune. Bats on greeting cards mean the sender is wising the recipient wellness and success.
  • Bears have been revered by both Native American and Siberian cultures. They are seen as good luck because a single bear carcass can feed a family/group for a long time. They were thought to have supernatural powers of good, based on being able to hibernate through the winter. Siberians believed that the bear was an incarnation of their god.
  • Goldfish are one of the eight sacred symbols of Buddha, representing fertility, abundance, and harmony. Ancient Greeks though goldfish brought good luck to marriage. Egyptians kept them in their homes “to add positivity to domestic situations.”
  • Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, and East Indian people all see a bull as a powerful force. It is said to be a sign of positive things from good health to wealth. The Greeks looked upon the bull as a master of love and fertility.
  • The deer is another symbol of Chinese good luck. The word for deer, “lu,” means “income.” Often the deer symbolizes luck, success, longevity and prosperity, and the hope for a long and healthy life.
  • In India, the elephant is seen as a bringer of fortune and wealth.
  • The frog is a good-luck symbol for many cultures that depend on rain for rich and bountiful crops. Others see frogs as a symbol of fertility, transformation and safe travel.
  • Ladybugs: In German-speaking countries, they are literally called lucky bugs, “Glueckskaefer.”  Some cultures say that if a ladybug lands on you and you don’t brush it off, your luck will improve.  The deeper red their color and the more spots they have, the luckier you’ll be!
  • Because lizards are mainly nocturnal, they have become a symbol for good vision and protection against the unseen things in life. 
  • Chinese lore says that pigs bring good luck to business dealings.
  • In Korea, the swallow is considered a sign of good luck thanks to the story of ​Heungbu and Nolbu. According to the story, a sparrow rewarded a kind deed with prosperity.
  • Egyptians looked at beetles, specifically the Egyptian scarab beetle, as lucky. These beetles wrap their eggs in mud and use the sun for incubation. Because of this ability to always find new life through the sun, Egyptians saw the scarab as a transmitter of luck.

Other Lucky Talismans

  • Horseshoes are one of the oldest of lucky talismans, and there are varied legends associated with their strength. Suffice it to say that hanging a horseshoe on or above a door is still popular. Make sure that the points face up, making a U so that the horseshoe can fill with luck.  Hanging the other way will allow all the luck to run out. Irish brides often carry a horseshoe instead of bouquet on their wedding day.
  • “Lucky bamboo” is actually a close relative called Dracaena. It’s hardy and long-lived, which might account for its reputation as lucky.  The more stalks a lucky bamboo plant has, the more luck it brings. A plant with three stalks is said to bring happiness, wealth, and longevity.
  • During World War II, fighter pilots carried a variety of lucky charms with them in the hopes of tipping the odds in their favor and coming back alive. Gambling items like cards and dice were popular.  Deccofelt Corp started marketing fuzzy dice to hang on the rearview mirrors of cars in 1959.
  • A “Fumsups” (“thumbs-up”)is a tiny cherub-faced doll giving the lucky thumbs-up with both hands. They  had metal bodies and wooden heads that allowed their owner to “touch wood” or “knock on wood” for good fortune. Fumsups were  most popular during World War I, when they were given to soldiers. Some versions had a four-leaf clover painted on the doll’s head for an extra dose of good fortune.
  • Hangman’s noose.  The ropes were so valuable that hangmen were even known to cut them into pieces for sale as good luck charms.  Sick people wrapped the ropes around their heads to cure headaches and fevers. This talisman was highly popular among gamblers and cardsharps. Other souvenirs of hangings were also considered lucky, but weren’t as reliably available.
  • caul is a piece of amniotic membrane that covers the face of newborn babies, albeit rarely. From ancient Rome till the 19th C, it was widely believed that having a piece of one would bring its owner good fortune, confer eloquence, good health and financial success. They were so prized that midwives were known to steal them.
  • Bezoars are hardened, pearl-like clumps of indigestible matter that sometimes form in the stomach lining of animals. Around 1000 A.D., the stones became known as good luck charms throughout Europe and Asia. Bezoar stones were often mounted in elaborate gold settings or worn as protective amulets, but they were also prized for their supposed curative powers: an antidote to poisons and a cure for many other ailments including epilepsy, dysentery and  the plague.

Doing Double Duty

Various evil eye amulets from Italy such as the cornicellocimaruta, and lunula (1895).
from Frederick Thomas Elworthy – The Evil Eye – page 203
  • Meaning “the Hand of God,” the Hamsa (from Hebrew חַמְסָה and Arabic خمسة) is a symbol many people in North Africa and Asia Minor have used to ward off the “evil eye” and dark spiritual forces. It is also thought to bring the wearer strength and blessings. 
  • Wearing a gem set in jewelry is used as a shield of protection to ward off troubles and bring happiness. Gems and minerals each are reputed to have specific beneficial properties, so consult a book of stones or search online for info about your favorite stones. (I’ve written more specifics about this before.)
  • Dreamcatchers are made with a web or net stretched over a loop and decorated with bright beads and feathers. They are said to catch bad dreams as they enter a household.  By capturing disturbing dreams, they make the owner happier, more balanced, and luckier. Dreamcatchers can be used as wall art, earrings, etc.
  • Because of its association with the Norse god Odin, the acorn has come to symbolize wisdom. Acorns also signify fertility, youth, and prosperity.  The Norse believed that acorns could bring divine protection and placed them in the windows of their homes to ward off lightning.

Portents of Things to Come

Bad

  • Seeing a lizard scurrying away is a sign for you to flee trouble as well, before it occurs.
  • Black cat crossing one’s path signals catastrophe to come.
  • Breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck.
  • Walking under a ladder disrupts the Christian Holy Trinity, leading to divine retribution.
  • Killing a ladybug hastens the killer’s death.

Good

Spazzacamino, Italian chimney sweeps
  • For the ancient Saxon people, spotting a rabbit was a sign of the spring to come. 
  • Seeing a rainbow, especially a double one, brings prosperity or peace, depending on the setting.
  • Seeing an albatross portends good luck for sailors.
  • According to legend, shaking a chimney sweep’s hand or passing one on the street is a harbinger of good fortune. The tradition is especially associated with weddings, so it’s particularly auspicious for couples to encounter chimney sweeps immediately after leaving the church. (Modern British chimney sweeps often supplement their income by hiring themselves out to wedding parties!)

We learn from Gay that the Lady-fly is used by the vulgar in E., in a similar manner for the purpose of divination.
“This lady-fly I take from the grass
Whose spotted back might scarlet red surpass?
Fly, lady-bird; north, south, or east or west
Fly where the man is found that I love best”.
from The Shepherd’s Week by John Gay, 1714
  • Ladybugs are particularly fortuitous!
    • If a man and a woman see a ladybug at the same time, they’ll fall in love. 
    • In Belgium, a ladybug crawling across a maiden’s hand meant that she would soon marry.  
    • A large number of ladybugs in the spring means there would be a good harvest.
    • If a newlywed couple sees a ladybug, they can foretell how many children they’ll have by counting the ladybug’s spots.
    • A ladybug inside your house signals a period of good fortune to come.
    • Ladybugs on toys or clothes for infants bring health and good fortune.
    • The Norse goddess Freya sent the ladybug to earth in a thunderbolt to bring good fortune and protection.
    • The Hindu Indra Sanskrit Indra’s shepherd

Maybe

  • Birds can symbolize many things to many people. Groups of nests, flight patterns, dropped feathers, spots on eggs, etc. mean all sorts of good or bad luck, depending on the setting. For more details, check out my previous blogs on Birds!
  • Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck—but only if it’s heads up. Tails up, find a penny, let it lay (or give it away) or bad luck you’ll have all day.  Some people say that this is true; after all, any coin lying on the ground is luck.
All the lucky talismans you could need, together in Greece for your shopping convenience.

Bottom Line: Talismans to bring luck and/or ward off bad luck are so varied, most people could accumulate dozens. Do they work? I could not say. They may be nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing confidence boosts and selective confirmations. But as a scientist, I urge you to give them a try. If you do, and they make no difference, you’ve lost nothing. On the other hand, if they can make a difference and you ignore them, you’ve missed a chance big time.

COMPENDIUM OF MARRIAGE

Say “They are married” and your listener/reader makes a whole host of assumptions. But are they correct?

Arranged Marriages in Assam
Maison Vie New Orleans

An article at Maison Vie New Orleans cites Psychology Today for a list of 7 types of marriage possibilities.  I’ve supplied definitions not given in the article.

Perhaps the most famous “Starter Marriage” participants
  • Starter Marriage: First marriage, five years or less, no children.
  • Companionship Marriage: Based on companionship, both partners have mutual consent and equality.
  • Parenting Marriage: Non-romantic, spouses come together to raise happy, healthy children.
    • This can also be the case of parents who would otherwise divorce but stay together for the sake of the children.
  • Safety Marriage: Marrying a “safety” partner, such as a long-time friend or old flame.
  • Living Alone Together Marriage: No standard definition found.
    • Each member of a marriage maintaining a separate household, sometimes far apart. (Jezebel)
    • Unmarried people living in communal (or roommate) arrangements, for financial and social benefits. (Psychology Today)
    • Married people who live together but maintain separate financial and social arrangements. (Center for Growth)
    • People who wish to divorce but cannot for social, religious, financial, etc. reasons. (Marriage.com)
  • Open Marriage: Spouses in a dyadic marriage agree that each may have extramarital sexual relationships, which are not considered infidelity.
  • Covenant Marriage: A legally distinct kind of marriage in three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana) requiring pre-marital counseling and accepting more limited grounds for later seeking a divorce.
Psychology Today

On the other hand, an article on Marriage.com lists 25 types of marriages, including the following. In addition to those listed above, the author provides the following variations. This list includes both “legal” and emotional/motivational aspects.

“The Arranged Marriage” by Vasili Vladimirovitz Pukirev
  • Love Marriage: The ideal of romance movies and wedding magazines, though love is not necessary to marriage, as delineated throughout this blog.
  • Civil and Religious Marriage: when the marriage is recognized by the state, or the recognition is received from a religious body, such as the church, respectively.
  • Interfaith Marriage: When people from two different religions decide to get married, it is called an interfaith marriage.
  • Common-Law Marriage: when two people have declare they are married and live together but do not have a certificate of registry.
    • Cohabitation is not sufficient to be a common-law marriage but it is usually necessary.
    • The laws regarding common-law marriages vary not only from country to country but also between states in the US.
  • Monogamous Marriage: When the married couple “forsakes all others” and doesn’t get emotionally or sexually involved with anyone else outside the marriage.
  • Polyamorous Marriage: When the marriage involves more than two people
    • Polygyny, when a man has more than one wife
    • Polyandry, when a woman has more than one husband.
  • Group Marriage: one or more men are married to one or more women.
    • Differs from polygamous or polyandrous marriage primarily in that all members consider themselves in a relationship with all others rather than being “divided” along gender lines.
Morganatic Marriage: King Frederik VII of Denmark and Countess Danner
  • Left-Handed Marriage: (Not a term I was familiar with) when two people from unequal social rankings marry.
    • It’s also called a Morganatic Marriage, most often in reference to inheritance or succession.
  • Secret Marriage: When the marriage is hidden from society, friends, and family.
  • Shotgun Marriage: When a couple decides to get married because of an unplanned pregnancy or threat of pregnancy. Sometimes, they marry to save their reputations or embarrassment to their families.
  • Inter-Racial Marriage: Also called a mixed marriage, when people from different races marry.
  • Same-Sex Marriage: Legal in many parts of the world, though still not as universally socially acceptable as other types of marriage.
  • Arranged Marriage: When the family finds a suitable match for an eligible person, based on factors such as race, religion, caste, and other specific criteria they might have.
  • Convenience Marriage: When two people get married for reasons that bring convenience to their lives, such as financial security or childcare.
Um… Perhaps not this kind of zombie marriage…
  • Zombie Marriage: Both parties are docile and nice to each other in public but behind closed doors, they do not share any sort of a relationship.
  • Safety Marriage: When a marriage occurs because something tangible, mostly materialistic, is decided to be given in return. These terms are decided before marriage.
  • Open Marriage: When two people who are officially married agree that it’s okay to see others outside the marriage.
  • Partnership: Both spouses are equals, probably both work full-time and share household and child-rearing responsibilities equally.
  • Independents: Spouses live separate lives alongside each other; they may spend their free time apart; around the house, they tend to work separately in their areas of interest and on their own timetables.
    • (See “Living Alone Together”)
  • “Traditional” Marriage: One wife who does not work outside the home but takes care of the house and children; one husband who is the breadwinner and has few if any household duties; works only when/as long as both spouses like it that way.
  • Companionship: Both spouses want a life-long friend and their relationship is familiar and loving.
“The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife” by Daniel Maclise
Non-Romantic Reasons for Marriage

And there are still other marriages not covered above.

Polyandri: Draupadi married the five Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharta
  • Advancement: Enhancing social and/or financial standing; the classic/stereotypical case is a man marrying the boss’s daughter.
  • Age: It’s “time” to get married; varies by class and culture and time period.
  • Alcohol: In Reno or Vegas, it might literally be an inebriated service; more likely an inebriated engagement that turns out to be binding.
  • Duty or Obligation: Feeling duty-bound to marry to carry on the family name (more often males) or to provide some sort of support for children or others.
  • Escape: Leaving an unsafe, unpleasant, or otherwise intolerable living situation.
  • Family Pressure: Could be any want or need that the marriage is expected to fulfill.
  • Financial Security: Assuring the basics of food, shelter, health care, etc.
  • Lust: Less common than formerly, marriage as a way to get sex.
  • Politics: Reinforcing a political or financial arrangement by creating a familial tie through marriage.
  • Religious Orders: In the Catholic Church, nuns are referred to as “Brides of Christ.”
  • Social Pressure: “All my friends are married!”

Bottom line: Just something to think about. Marriage is many things to many people, not a single entity.

FRIENDSHIPS: HIS AND HERS

Group data reveal that, in general, women’s and men’s friendships are measurably different on all sorts of dimensions. “Like what?” you might ask. Read on.

Notable Differences in Male-Male Friendships and Female-Female Friendships

As listed on PsychCentral

  • Male-male friendships are side-to-side, fostered and maintained through shared activity
  • Female-female friendships are face-to-face, fostered and maintained through intimacy, communication, and support
  • Male-male friendships are less intimate than female-female friendships
  • Male-male friendships are less fragile than female-female friendships
    • E.g., men will consider someone a friend even if they do not maintain or stay in constant contact
  • Emotional attachment: females have and desire a strong emotional attachment with persons they perceive to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to remain friends after an argument or a fight whereas women are not
  • Women require more frequent contact with someone they consider to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to use humor to taunt a friend while viewing this as innocent fun
  • Women are more likely to refrain from taunting and humor out of fear it may hurt their friends’ feelings
  • Men tend to hang out more in a group, the more the merrier, while women typically prefer to go out with one good friend

For a slightly different but compatible take, consider the findings from “Sex differences in friendship preferences,” by Keelah E.G. Williams, Jaimie Arona Krems, Jessica D. Ayers, and Ashley M. Rankin.

“Across three studies (N = 745) with U.S. participants—assessing ideal hypothetical friends, actual friends, and using a paradigm adapted from behavioral economics—we find that men, compared to women, more highly value same-sex friends who are physically formidable, possess high status, possess wealth, and afford access to potential mates. In contrast, women, compared to men, more highly value friends who provide emotional support, intimacy, and useful social information. Findings suggest that the specific friendship qualities men and women preferred differed by sex in ways consistent with a functional account of friendship.”

Abstract of “Sex differences in friendship preferences

And a few miscellaneous bits of info:

  • For both women and men, when disclosing intimate, private, or secret information, they are more likely to tell a woman
  • Men’s best friendships are considerably less close than women’s
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have a best friend (98% vs. 85%)
  • The trait of “outgoingness” was a leading factor that men, but not women, mentioned in choosing a friend
  • Men tend to prefer social interaction in groups, whereas women have a stronger preference for one-to-one interactions
  • Humor was an important characteristic for women’s best-friendships, but not for men’s
  • Neither attractiveness nor athleticism played much of a role in the best-friend choices of either men or women
  • A husband will often say his best friend is his wife; wives usually name another woman
  • Platonic friendships between women and men come with a lot of baggage: suspicion of sexual involvement, jealousy, skepticism, etc.
  • Women say they both like and love their husbands/heterosexual partners; men are more likely to report loving but not liking
    • N.B.: liking and loving are different dimensions, not simply different intensities.  There’s a whole body of psychological research on liking and loving, if you want to pursue that topic.

 BOTTOM LINE: In general, men’s and women’s friendships are significantly different. Whether men’s or women’s friendships are “better” depends on what you (or your character) wants friendship to provide. And, remember, these assertions are based on group data, meaning only group outcomes can be predicted confidently, because individuals differ from the norm.