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Category labels matter. On the color spectrum, blue transitions gradually into green. But at some point we place a dividing line between the blue wavelengths (to the left) and the greens (to the right). Once we do so, equally different wavelengths are harder to distinguish when they share the same label, such as blue, than when on opposite sides of the blue-green naming line.


Similarly, two locations seem closer and more at risk for the same natural disaster if labeled as in the same state, rather than being equally distant across state lines. As Nathan DeWall and I write in Psychology, 12th Edition, “Tornadoes don’t know about state lines, but people do.”


This curious effect of labels on our thinking came to mind when reading about a new study showing that young children think that birthday parties cause aging. We adults don’t have this magical thinking. Moreover, we rationally know that on our birthdays we are only one day older than the day before . . . exactly as the previous day we were but one day older than the day before that.


Yet category labels matter. So, do our birthdays make us feel just a tad older?


Mine does. You too?

David Myers

Do Guns Protect Us?

Posted by David Myers Expert Jan 17, 2018

Over lunch recently, a friend told about taking a firearm course, which enabled her to carry a concealed pistol and thus, she presumed, to live at less risk of harm.


Isn’t it obvious: If more of us have guns, and if gun-toting criminals therefore fear our having a gun, then they will be less likely to rob or attack us? The NRA likes to remind us that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”


But two new Science reports indicate quite the opposite.


It’s no secret, as Stanford researchers Philip Cook and John Donohue report, that some 36,000 Americans a year die of gunshot, and that the U.S. gun suicide rate is eight times that of other high-income countries, and the gun-murder rate is 25 times higher. More newsworthy is their reporting an “emerging consensus,” using sophisticated statistical analyses, that right-to-carry laws “substantially increase violent crime.”


For example, from 1977 to 2014, U.S. violent crime rates fell by 4.3 percent in states that adopted right-to-carry laws, but by a whopping 42.3 percent in states that did not adopt such laws. In tense situations, from car accidents to barroom and domestic arguments, guns enable deadly responses. Anecdotes of private guns deterring violence are offset by many more incidents of innocent deaths.


In the second report, economists Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight studied firearm sales after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and six adults. They associated a spike in firearm sales after the massacre with a corresponding spike in firearm deaths—in the very places where firearm sales had significantly increased. “We find that an additional 60 deaths overall, including 20 children, resulted from unintentional shootings in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.”


These new findings confirm what other evidence tells us: Guns purchased for safety make us less safe.