Don’t set off for that long Thanksgiving holiday drive after watching a horror movie. People’s driving behaviors can be subtly influenced by emotionally charged images, and research has shown that people often drive more recklessly after viewing an action movie and more cautiously after seeing a relaxing film.

In the November 20th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Ann Lukits reports that after viewing photos of cute babies, people playing a computer driving game were quick to stop their simulated car during a yellow light. If they’d been watching violent photos, they probably would have driven right through it. This undoubtedly works the same way with any video games you might have been playing before getting behind the wheel.

If you want to meet a group of nice people who always stop their cars for pedestrians, then carpool with some artists. It turns out that if you sing, dance, draw, or act–or if you like to watch others do those things–then you are probably more of a giving person that someone who disdains such things as opera, dance and theater. Research has shown that people with an active interest in the arts contribute more to society than those with little or no such interest.

Researcher Kelly LeRoux says, "Even after controlling for age, race and education, we found that participation in the arts, especially as audience, predicted civic engagement, tolerance and altruism. We correlated survey responses to arts-related questions to responses on altruistic actions–like donating blood, donating money, giving directions, or doing favors for a neighbor–that place the interests of others over the interests of self."

The researchers measured participation in neighborhood associations, church and religious organizations, civic and fraternal organizations, sports groups, charitable organizations, political parties, professional associations and trade unions.

They measured altruistic behavior by whether respondents said they had allowed a stranger to go ahead of them in line, carried a stranger’s belongings, donated blood, given directions to a stranger, lent someone an item of value, returned money to a cashier who had given too much change, or looked after a neighbor’s pets, plants or mail.

A lot of creative people were geeks when they were kids. There’s a reason for this: researcher Sharon Kim says, "For people who already feel separate from the crowd, social rejection can be a form of validation. Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves, that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.

"We’re seeing in society a growing concern about the negative consequences of social rejection, thanks largely to media reports about bullying that occurs at school, in the workplace, and online. Obviously, bullying is reprehensible and produces nothing good. What we tried to show in our paper is that exclusion from a group can sometimes lead to a positive outcome when independently minded people are the ones being excluded."

Schools these days are dealing with budget problems by cutting arts programs because they seem extraneous, but they may actually form the bedrock of a civilized society (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this wonderful show). LeRoux says, "If policymakers are concerned about a decline in community life, the arts shouldn’t be disregarded as a means to promote an active citizenry. Our positive findings could strengthen the case for government support for the arts."

Kim thinks that creative people who have an independent self-concept might even THRIVE on rejection. She says that while repeated rebuffs would discourage someone who longs for inclusion, such slights could continually recharge the creativity of an independent person. Kim says that these types "could see a successful career trajectory, in contrast with the person who is inhibited by social rejection."

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