Scientists prove that Mom was right

Science marches on. Every day, a torrent of research pours out of universities, science labs, and corporate R&D departments worldwide. Scientists hypothesize, experiment, log the results, conclude, and publish. Some science news is wowza – new dinosaurs, comets, lasers, nanotech breakthroughs. Some is prosaic – garden moles, chemical reactions, fluid dynamics.

And a surprising amount of it is common sense. When you go to the heart of it, it often just confirms what Mom always said.

Here, for instance, are three Mom-could-have-told-you items extracted from a day’s worth of reports published on the website:

Item 1: “People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor. The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.”

(It turned out that all Osama bin Laden needed was an afternoon of vigorous window cleaning of his Tora Bora bungalow. The whole world suddenly looked brighter. And that lemony fresh smell! OBL shook his head and chuckled: “Gosh, I guess somebody has some apologizing to do.”)

Item 2: “Exercise can help smokers quit because it makes cigarettes less attractive. A new study from the University of Exeter shows for the first time that exercise can lessen the power of cigarettes and smoking-related images to grab the attention of smokers.”

(Huffing across the Madison Avenue Bridge in the New York City Marathon, ad man Don Draper felt funny. Somehow, the cigarette he was puffing just wasn’t helping. He stubbed it out. Sprinting to the finish, his eyes lit up: “Smoking bad,” he thought.)

Item 3: “A new study from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business finds that Americans who believe in equality are more-impulsive shoppers.”

(Why did I bring home another flashlight, honey? I was at the checkout counter of Home Depot and for some reason I started thinking about the Declaration of Independence.)
* * *

The cleanliness experiment validates the time-tested aphorism about the link with godliness. It’s not just that happy homes, safe neighborhoods, and successful businesses are usually also clean and neat; cleanliness and neatness may actually contribute to safety and success. That sort of makes sense.

Smoking and exercising? They just never seemed a natural pairing to me. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a track star light up? I thought so.

The shopping study was a little harder to puzzle out. I contacted Prof. Vikas Mittal at Rice. Eighty percent of luxury goods are impulse purchases, he said. “We started looking and saw important differences in impulsive buying across different countries. Then we wanted to see what specific aspects of culture may explain these differences, and found a systematic pattern with ... a belief in equality.”

Americans, it turns out, don’t expect as much disparity in power and equality as do people in Russia, the Philippines, Singapore, China, and India. Even within the United States, people who believe more in equality are 1-1/2 times more likely to go for chocolate and soda at the checkout counter than yogurt and granola bars.

Equality and the pursuit of happiness are good. That’s freedom. But then there’s the supersizing, overdoing-it problem that Americans are known for. In other words, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. The remedy isn’t less freedom, says Dr. Mittal. Just exercise a little self-control.

Which sounds like something Mom would say.

John Yemma is the editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

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