Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Arizona Hispanics Poised To Swing State Blue

2 hours ago
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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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Would You Accept DNA From A Murderer?

Jun 10, 2013

Modern medicine and technology can change the way we define our physical and psychological selves. Is a prosthetic arm "your own arm" in the same sense that its biological predecessor seemed to be? Might taking antipsychotic medication fundamentally change your personality? Could an organ transplant from a pig, or from a violent murderer, somehow change who you are?

Understanding how people think about significant medical interventions not only has practical implications, it can also shed light on how people conceptualize themselves and their bodies. That's one reason psychologists have investigated how people think about organ transplants and their sources, with some intriguing results.

A 2011 paper by Bruce Hood and colleagues, for example, found that people were much less happy about the idea of receiving a heart transplant from a violent murderer than from a volunteer worker. The researchers speculated that this could reflect a fear of "moral contagion," the idea that morally bad characteristics or their consequences can somehow be transmitted through physical contact. (In one famous illustration of the phenomenon, Carol Nemeroff and Paul Rozin found that most people strongly disliked the idea of wearing a sweater worn by someone they considered evil – think Adolf Hitler – even after it had been carefully laundered.)

But are people merely creeped out by the thought of having a murderer's heart (or wearing a morally-tainted sweater), or do they think that contact with these items will actually change who they are, their very essence? A new paper by Meredith Meyer, Sarah-Jane Leslie, Susan Gelman, and Sarah Stilwell, just published in the journal Cognitive Science, suggests some answers.

The researchers had people indicate how they would feel about a heart transplant, a DNA transplant, or a blood transfusion from a donor who was like them (e.g., same age and gender, same sexual orientation, same background) or not like them (e.g., different gender or different sexual orientation), and also varied whether the hypothetical donor had positive characteristics (e.g., high IQ, well-known for philanthropy and charity work) or negative characteristics (e.g., convicted of violent murder, homeless).

The data revealed that people preferred a donor similar to themselves, and that similarity to self mattered more than positive or negative characteristics. People also reported feeling less creeped out by the thought of receiving donations from those similar to themselves, without a significant effect for positive versus negative characteristics. But most interesting of all, some people believed that they would take on the characteristics of the donors, including their personality and behavior. For example, one participant justified resistance to the donor who was convicted of violent murder by explaining that "the cruel murderer's qualities will come to me."

Could there be something to the idea that a transplant leads the recipient to acquire characteristics of the donor? In one famous example, transplant-recipient Claire Sylvia developed a taste for beer and Kentucky Fried Chicken after her transplant – both characteristics of the organ donor, not her former self. And a 2004 study of male heart recipients found that a full 34% (12 of 35) entertained the idea that they'd acquired characteristics of the organ donor after the transplant.

Meyer and colleagues write that "there is no scientific model to account for why transplants might lead to transference of features," and that their findings instead reflect cognitive biases in how we conceptualize ourselves and our identities. In particular, they take their findings to support "psychological essentialism," the idea that people conceptualize some categories, such as biological species or their individual identities, as having the appearance and behaviors that they do as a consequence of some internal "essence" or force. When one individual's DNA is transferred to another, people may feel that their own essence has been compromised, and that the foreign essence will have causal consequence for appearance and behavior.

There's a lot we still don't know about the causes of people's appearance and behavior, and about how significant medical interventions might lead to changes beyond the targets of intervention. But we can learn a lot about how we conceptualize ourselves and our bodies by considering experiences at the limits of scientific understanding, and judgments about medical interventions provide a unique opportunity to do so.


You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

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