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THE SCIENCE OF SIN by Simon M. Laham


The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good for You)


Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-71934-8
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Australian social psychologist Laham suggests the seven deadly sins can have positive value.

The author opposes the “simplistic labeling” of them as “uniformly wrong [because it] does nothing but breed contempt for 'sinners' and stifle sophisticated discussion.” He argues that lust, greed and so on are emotions that can motivate the “sinner” to perform at a higher level. Laham cites experiments that provide interesting sidelights on how framing a subject—for example, by placing it in a sexual context—can enhance concentration rather than distract; how males and females, when sexually aroused, will act in ways that are expected to please the opposite sex—women by appearing more accommodating, men by demonstrating leadership qualities—but both sexes will also be more detail-oriented. As might be expected, greed can be tapped by rewarding desired behavior with money, and sloth plays a beneficial role in consolidating memory, as in the case of a good night's sleep or even a quick nap. The author's section on gluttony should definitely please foodies. He distinguishes between a discriminating palate and the tendency to overeat, and suggests that cultural influences play a large part in our behavior toward food. For example, when asked to chose the odd-man-out in a choice of three words, bread, pasta and sauce, health-conscious Americans tend to chose sauce since the first two are carbohydrates, while the French see bread as the misplaced word. Similarly, French people identify fried eggs with breakfast, while Americans deem them to be high in cholesterol. Envy is two-sided because we may also find role models in the people we envy, and anger is properly directed when focused against injustice, provided that it is not coupled with violence.

A lighthearted foray into motivational research.