World Bank Launches Behavioral Science Team, Self-Driving Cars Have a Trolley Dilemma, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • The World Bank launched its own behavioral science team, officially titled the Global Insights Initiative (GINI). The announcement follows the publication of their World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior late last year, which described how behavioral science can inform policy and development. You can watch the announcement here. In addition to the World Bank leadership, Maya Shankar, Dan Ariely, and a number of others shared their thoughts on the new initiative. (Social Science Space, The World Bank)
  • Self-driving cars don’t just need to be able to spot cyclists and merge on the highway, they also have to make ethical decisions. In the case of unavoidable accidents, “should it minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants, or should it protect the occupants at all costs? Should it choose between these extremes at random?” To decide, manufacturers are polling the public. (MIT Technology Review)
  • Any chef will tell you the eye eats first, but the ear? Nicola Twilley reports in The New Yorker how scientists are changing flavors without ever entering a kitchen. (The New Yorker)
  • Arguments against government assistance, by liberals and conservatives alike, are largely about behavior. One is, welfare makes people lazy. Another, welfare encourages single motherhood. A third, welfare conditions children to be dependent. But as Eduardo Porter reports, recent research suggests cash assistance does none of those things. (New York Times)
  • You bought kale? Treat yourself! Took a vitamin? Treat yourself! Went for a jog? Treat yourself! Alex Hutchinson reviews the “licensing effect,” where we tend to overindulge in bad behaviors for doing good ones. (New York Times)
  • What can measures of non-cognitive ability—also known as character, personal qualities, or virtues—add to the high school and college admissions process? A recent article in the APA Monitor illustrates the benefits of assessing applicants in areas other than standardized test scores. However, as the article points out, many of the measures aren’t yet robust enough and and can often be gamed. A recent paper by Angela Duckworth and David Yeager echoes this point and urges caution in using current measures of character for assessment just yet. (APA Monitor, Educational Researcher)

 

Payday Lenders Offer Prepaid Cards, Why Premium Gas Sales Are Up, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Payday loans could well be the most exploitative banking practice around, charging mostly low-income consumers astronomical triple-digit interest rates and fantastical fees to borrow small sums of money. Some payday lenders are making it easier for their customers to spend with payday loan prepaid cards. People tend to spend more with cards than cash, so this effectively combines the worst of two evils. God help us. (CreditCards.com)
  • You could have saved $41 last month. Instead, you bought premium gas. A recent report by JPMorgan Chase Institute shows that when gas prices go down, people buy more expensive gas. (New York Times)
  • Medicaid patients across the state of South Carolina can now expect to pocket $25 for attending an annual health exam, $20 for receiving a mammogram, and $10 for getting a flu shot, thanks to a new incentive program aiming to increase the number of Medicaid recipients receiving preventative medical care. At first blush, many are wondering whether it’s fair to pay people to do what they should already be doing. However, long-term benefits of the plan could persuade skeptics of its worth. (Forbes)
  • You can’t really understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, the saying goes. But it doesn’t say anything about compassion. In a recent series of experiments, researchers found those who had actually walked the proverbial mile—as in being bullied, struggling with unemployment, or jumping in a cold lake—were less compassionate towards others facing the same challenges. (Harvard Business Review)
  • The melancholy Sarah McLachlan music cues, and a tear-jerking slideshow of suffering animals takes the screen. Do you change the channel or keep watching the commercial? Synthesizing a large body of evidence, Stanford Psychologist Jamil Zaki illustrates how empathy can be a choice, rather than an automatic process out of our control. (Edge)
  • One interesting thing psychologists have learned from studying bullying over the past two decades is that bullying in rural areas is substantialldifferent than bullying in urban or even suburban areas. It’s worse—more intractable and pervasive. What about cyberbullying? Well, as Maria Konnikova writes, “the Internet has made the world more rural.” (The New Yorker)
  • Are you the bossy oldest, the spoiled youngest, or the neglected middle child forced to be the mediator of the two? There are mountains of studies showing that birth order is an important factor in shaping your personality, but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports no correlation between the two. Julie Beck reports for the Atlantic. (PNAS, Atlantic)

 

Everyone’s a Phish, the Myth of the Autistic Shooter, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • The invisible hand wields a phishing rod and we phools are on the hook. So suggests Nobel Prize winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller in their new book Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. In it they describe how, under our current economic system, companies survive and thrive based on their ability to exploit our emotions and cognitive biases. Cass Sunstein reviews. (The New York Review of Books)
  • This year, the government organizations overseeing the United States’ 2015 Dietary Guidelines decided to drop sustainability as one of the factors they considered when making their recommendations for Americans’ food choices. This had some members of congress applauding the USDA and HHS for “sticking to the science,” illustrating that, well, “sticking to the science” means different things to different people. (NPR)
  • The vast majority of gun crimes are committed by those without mental illness, yet “the myth of the autistic shooter” remains. “It’s very reassuring to have an explanation for acts of horror,” writes Andrew Solomon. “If killings like this are mostly undertaken by people with autism, the thinking goes, and your children and their friends don’t have it, then you are safe.” (New York Times)
  • Malcolm Gladwell explores “how school shootings catch on” in The New Yorker. “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts,” he writes. “It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.” (The New Yorker)
  • The link between austerity and mental illness is so strong that some have said if austerity were tested like a medication, clinical trials would have long been halted. Mary O’Hara, writing in Mosaic, looks at the strain cuts to public spending puts on society’s most vulnerable, in the U.K. and around the world. (Mosaic)
  • The way Germany tries to treat pedophiles is radically different from other countries. That is, before they become perpetrators. Kate Connolly reports for The Guardian about a Berlin hospital’s voluntary therapy program for people who fear they might offend. (The Guardian)

Home page image courtesy of Kenneth Lu.

 

Do Touchscreens Change How We Vote? Sounding Smart, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • They can make you eat more bacon, but will touchscreens change how Americans vote? Shlomo Benartzi reviews the research this week. (Daily Beast)
  • When it comes to communicating your intellect and ideas, research suggests you drop the pen and use your voice. In a study of the “sound of intellect,” researchers found that MBA students were considered smarter and more likely to get hired when their job pitches were heard, rather than read. (Harvard Business Review)
  • Science is often flawed because the humans that do it are, well, human—computers haven’t necessarily helped, either. Regina Nuzzo writes in Nature about the cognitive biases that shape science and what researchers can do to overcome their worst tendencies. (Nature)
  • Are creative geniuses destined to be miserable loners? We’re not sure, but researchers tracked over a hundred creative professionals and found their work was incredibly draining. On busy days, creatives tended to spend less time of lesser quality with their spouses. No wonder burnout is so high. Researchers think something called “idea validation” could help. (Boston Globe)
  • There are 10 times more mentally ill people in jails and prisons than receiving care in state mental health facilities. To break a “vicious cycle of arrest, detention, release and re-arrest,” peer recovery specialists are working to reinforce rehabilitation within the justice system. Additionally, new programs and initiatives, such as the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, offer innovative approaches to reducing incarceration while ensuring public safety. (Washington Post)
  • “If my family writes in my obituary that I died after a hard fought battle against cancer, I will come back from the dead to haunt them until the end of time,” New Jersey resident Mike Burns told On The Media this week. Journalists love using war metaphors to describe cancer treatment, but as social psychologist David Hauser is finding in his research, framing cancer as an enemy may distort the way we think about prevention. (On The Media)
  • Are athletes contributing to the obesity epidemic? Junk food companies are paying professional athletes nearly double their salary to win over the food choices of their young fans. (Pacific Standard)
  • A city in the U.K. is introducing a voluntary “sugar tax” to nudge its residents away from soft drinks. “Voluntary” means businesses can choose to impose a small surcharge on sodas with the proceeds going to a children’s health education trust. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver is on board, but many local business still aren’t sure what’s going on. (Guardian)

 

Everyone Thinks They Have a Growth Mindset, Empathy Problems, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Everyone wants to have a growth mindset—the belief that intelligence can grow with effort. It’s led lots of teachers to say they have it, even as their methods haven’t changed. Carol Dweck, who pioneered the theory, takes to Education Week to discuss how we’re still teaching kids a fixed mindset and what’s to be done. Step one? Admit we have a problem. (Education Week)
  • Who calls for the most severe responses to drug-dealers, murderers, and ISIS? Likely, the most empathetic among us. That’s according to research from Yale’s Paul Bloom, writing this week in The Atlantic. He finds the stories of victims motivate us to seek justice through revenge, and the more empathetic we are, the harsher the punishment we say should be inflicted. Even, as he notes, retaliation doesn’t necessarily help the victims with whom we empathize. (The Atlantic)
  • There’s a correlation we need to talk about. One strong difference stood out to researchers analyzing their first batch of data from the massive and impressively-endowed Human Connectome Project: those with more “positive” traits—higher education, better physical endurance, better memory—had more strongly wired brains than those with “negative” attributes—smoking, aggressiveness, family history of alcohol abuse. Of course, what causes what is still a mystery, but it provides researchers with promising new directions (Nature).
  • Google is killing our empathy. And not just Google, but all apps that let us seamlessly log in and out of human interactions whenever they become boring or uncomfortable. MIT’s Sherry Turkle, writing for the New York Times, looks at how technology is altering our ability to connect in person. She writes, “Our phones are not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are.” (New York Times)
  • Can partisans separate their feelings about behavioral science from their political orientation? In a recent study, Craig Fox and his colleagues found a “partisan nudge bias.” Of those they surveyed, which nudges they supported depended largely on whether those nudges were described as aligning with their liberal or conservative beliefs. However, without presentation of any specific policy goals, nudges were equally accepted across the political spectrum. (New York Times)
  • If a character on your favorite TV show eats healthier, will you? If she registers to vote, will you follow her lead? Elizabeth Levy Paluck and her colleagues attempted to find out. They embedded socially desirable behaviors in a series of Spanish-language soap-operas to investigate whether behavior product placement can change viewers social behavior. (PloS one)

 

The Deadly Problem With Paxil, Spectacular Savants, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Study 329 gave doctors the confidence to prescribe Paxil to millions of adolescents, adults, and even children. A recent investigation calls much of that study into question, suggesting the drug is neither safe nor effective and could be the cause of thousands of suicides. The study’s original researchers, however, refuse to comment. (The Atlantic)
  • Last week, President Barack Obama used his executive order to establish a ‘Nudge Unit’ aimed at helping the government design better programs based on how real humans think and behave. Nudge Co-Author Cass Sunstein calls it the greatest accomplishment of the president’s second term. (New York Times)
  • Psychologist Alison Gopnik shares her incredibly personal “search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment.” As she looks for the philosophical origins of David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature she discovers how Buddhism, via Catholic missionaries, may have made its way into one of the foundational works of Western philosophy. (The Atlantic)
  • Savant Stephen Wiltshire can draw the New York City skyline from memory, while Kim Peek, the inspiration for Rain Main, could remember thousands of books word-for-word. In the latest installment of The Psychology Podcast—”Spectacular Ability in a Sea of Disability”—Scott Barry Kaufman explores the psychology of savantism in a conversation with Dr. Darold Treffert. (The Psychology Podcast)
  • How much time do you lose by having your phone buzz every time you get an email, a text, a tweet? Shankar Vedantam looks at new research studying the cost of interruptions. (NPR)
  • Why do our environments affect how much we favor short-term rewards over long-term gains? New research looking at hunter-gatherers and farmers in the Congo sheds new light on how markets shape our expectations. (PLOSone)
  • Many high-achieving students from low-income communities fail to apply to top universities because they assume they can’t afford it. To overcome this problem, called undermatching, the University of Michigan just launched a streamlined application and scholarship initiative for 1,000 students across its state. (University of Michigan)
  • Why are less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs women? Francesca Gino and her colleagues at Harvard Business School suggest that a difference in life priorities between women and men plays an important role in the gender-gap observed in high-level positions. They write, “One reason women may not assume high-level positions in organizations is that they believe, unlike men, that doing so would require them to compromise other important life goals.” (Harvard Business Review)

 

CVS Puts Oreos in the Back, Psychology’s Perspective Problem, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Behavioral science improves policy—it saves governments money and helps citizens lead better lives. President Barack Obama knows this, which is why this week he formally established the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. Our story here. (The White House, The Psych Report)
  • Unfortunately, it’s not too infrequently that a major western, rich, industrialized, democratized group of do-gooders assumes things about the people they’re trying to help that simply aren’t true. Claire Melamed writes why it’s so important for organizations to collect data about what their constituents really think. (Aeon)  
  • Like neuroeconomics and neuroeducation, neuroaesthetics is all the rage. But it has its limits. Philosopher Alva Noë explains. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • First they stopped selling you cigarettes, now CVS wants you to eat healthier too. The drug store chain is using choice architecture to nudge customers to buy less junk food. Oreos to the back, granola to the front. (Huffington Post)
  • An important lesson from psychology is the benefit of diverse viewpoints. Teams with differing points of view tend to be more creative and better problem-solvers. Ironically, psychology suffers from a lack of diversity in a key area—political perspective. A newly published article examines the causes and consequences of a lack of political diversity in psychology. (Behavioral and Brain Sciences)
  • Death by brain cancer, life by neuroscience? Before dying at age 23, one aspiring neuroscientist raised $85,000 to have her brain frozen and preserved in hopes scientists will one day revive the contents of her mind. (New York Times)

 

Does the Future of Social Science Lie Outside Academia? A New Kind of Smart, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Scott Barry Kaufman is breaking down traditional conceptions of intelligence and working to define a “a new kind of smart.” (APA Monitor)
  • Barry Schwartz has a new book titled Why We Work (based on his most recent TED talk embedded below), in which he confronts the idea that we work primarily for pay. In a recent interview, Schwartz discusses work “Beyond the Paycheck.” In his review of the book, Sanford DeVoe asks “How is the notion that we work only for money not as jarringly antiquated as seeing a pregnant Betty Draper smoking and drinking?” (The Atlantic, The Psych Report)

 

Psychology’s Largest Attempt at Replication, the Trouble With a Plastic Bag Ban, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Hundreds of researchers from around the world spent the last three years trying replicate 100 studies from three top psychology journals. Their success rate was 39 percent. While at first blush this seems to reflect badly (really badly) on psychology, as Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic, there’s both good and bad news here, as well as a lot of nuance. (Science, The Atlantic)
  • Two years ago, environmentalists in Austin, Texas celebrated a city-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. Yay, environment! But a recent follow-up report shows people just threw away sturdier, reusable bags as if they were disposable, creating more waste and costing more energy, not less. Whoops. (Bloomberg)
  • Before Hurricane Katrina hit, a group of researchers were laying the groundwork for a study on college scholarships and well-being. The storm dashed all chances of completing that study, but they were able to salvage their data for a study on the health effects of Katrina. Ten years on, they’re reporting something interesting: most of the survivors in their study have fully recovered psychologically and as many as a third experienced post-traumatic growth, saying they are stronger for having survived what’s considered the most damaging hurricane in U.S. history. (Nature)
  • How can you spot tax evaders? Just look at their passports. Shankar Vedantam reports on a study with intuitive findings and uncomfortable implications. (NPR)
  • The New York Times Amazon exposé illustrated a “bruising workplace,” where strings of all-nighters, strategic backbiting, and forgoing parenthood are de rigueur. Burnout is high, but so are profits. So, does overwork work? Looking at one angle—long hours—Sarah Green Carmichael reviews the research on the law of diminishing returns: “Keep overworking,” she writes, “and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.” (Harvard Business Review)
  • Picking up another angle—stress—the New York Times reports on new research suggesting stress at work can be just harmful to your health as second-hand smoke. Really. (New York Times)
  • Santiago Ramón y Cajal is known for discovering neurons (He won a nobel prize for it). He also painstakingly kept a dream journal because he thought Freud—that “surly and somewhat egotistical Viennese author”—was full of it and wanted to prove him wrong. Previously thought to be lost, his dream journal was rediscovered and then published in Spanish last year. This week, Nautilus has a selection of entries from that diary translated into English for the first time. (Nautilus)

 

Science Isn’t Broken, You’re More Creative Than You Think, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • The Atlantic published a litany of troubling statistics this month about the rate of fraud and error in science. Nature reported mass retractions—some 64 articles in 10 journals. Then there’s the hoard of psychology studies that can’t be replicated. This is hardly a new conversation, but in case you were worried about the state of science, the folks at FiveThirtyEight say don’t be, “Science isn’t Broken.” (The Atlantic, Nature, National Geographic, FiveThirtyEight)
  • Among the hundreds of thousands of documents Edward Snowden leaked were ones that exposed a secret British intelligence unit aimed at influencing human behavior. Those revelations turned out to be more revealing of the UK’s lack of psychological insight than the brainwashing prowess of their so-called “magicians of persuasion.” Times change, and as Vaughan Bell writes, we should expect psychology to play an increasingly central role in new military strategies. (The Guardian)
  • When you’re the boss, it’s easy to forget just how bossy you are. Social psychologist Adam Galinsky, writing in the New York Times, describes why “when you’re in charge your whisper may feel like a shout” and suggests some practical ways to improve your communication. (New York Times)
  • Researchers recently tested if Google search data could be used to forecast suicide risk across the country. They found Google is actually a better predictor of completed suicides than traditional surveys, like the ones currently used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Clinical Psychological Science)
  • What makes you you? Psychologists Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols’ recent research suggests it’s your morals. (Pacific Standard)

 

The APA’s Landmark Resolution, What Not To Say In College, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Members of the American Psychological Association voted unanimously (save one) this past week on a policy barring psychologists from participating in national-security interrogations. It follows what’s been called the darkest hour in the APA’s 123-year history, when an independent review confirmed accusations that APA leaders assisted the CIA and U.S. military in their program of torture. Peter Kinderman, president-elect of the British Psychological Society, told Democracy Now! he was glad to see American psychologists rejoin the 17th century. (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Democracy Now!)
  • Trigger Warnings. Microaggressions. What we say has never been taken so seriously. Civil liberties lawyer Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt take the cover of The Atlantic this month warning students that their increasingly correct political correctness is ruining college and their thinking. Cognitive-behavioral therapy could help. (The Atlantic)
  • But what words should you really never say in college? “Statistically reliable,” “hypnotic trance,” and “the scientific method,” to name a few. In an effort to promote clearer scientific communication, a handful of psychologists recently put together a list of 50 often misleading psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid. (Frontiers in Psychology)
  • The courtroom may be the last place in America where you can still be diagnosed as “insane,” a psychological throwback illustrating “a legal system shaped by history, not by science,” as Sarah Zhang writes in Wired. She looks at three assumptions fundamental to America’s legal system that simply aren’t supported by science: that eyewitnesses are reliable, jurors are impartial, and people don’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit. (Wired)
  • There are prisoners who have spent years in solitary confinement. Tens of thousands of them, living in small, often windowless concrete cells for 23 hours a day. No visits. Rarely, a brief phone call. Social psychologist Craig Haney, whose research dates back to the Stanford Prison Experiment, has interviewed dozens of prisoners isolated for more than a decade in solitary confinement. Now he’s an expert witness in a federal class action lawsuit against one of America’s hardest prisons. (New York Times)
  • Elsewhere on the Internet, Meehan Crist takes a dive into an isolation tank and investigates the therapeutic as well as torturous effects of being alone—and what it can teach us about consciousness. (Nautilus)
  • How do you put a price tag on nature? In the event of a catastrophe—like the BP oil spill—appraisers usually just ask a bunch of people what they think it’s worth and tally it up. But the accuracy of “contingent valuation,” as the method is called, is now being questioned by more than just economists and oil tycoons. Neuroscientists found the brain looks different appraising nature than when it’s evaluating, say, cars or vacations. They just can’t tell us more, yet. (New York Times)

 

Hacking the Time/Money Trade-off, An Unsuccessful Nudge, plus more weekly links

thepsychlist_greenA selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Facebook released a series of videos this week aimed at helping other companies address unconscious biases in the workplace. Announcing the new project, Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “We know we still have a long way to go, but by helping people recognize and correct for bias, we can take a step towards equality—at work, at home and in everyday life.”  (Facebook)
  • How much is your time worth? If you’re like most, you’re probably a pretty poor judge. You rely on your intuition and ego to decide whether you should hire a laundry service, do your own tax return, or buy the cheap (and slow) flight to New York. New apps are helping people see the true value of their time, while others are asking if it’s really all that good to know how much every minute is worth. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Research has shown again and again and again that if you want people to do something, just tell them most people do it. But in a recent experiment, employees were actually less likely to sign up for a retirement plan when told that most of their co-workers had already done so. Researchers are still scratching their heads at why. (NPR)
  • A white lab coat symbolizes prestige, competence, and authority, which is probably why doctors in the U.S. are fighting so hard to keep them despite overwhelming evidence they’re usually rife with antibiotic-resistant super bacteria and other germs that spread disease and lead to unnecessary deaths. (Vocativ)
  • Everybody likes trees, and research suggests they’re pretty good for you, too. Hospital patients with leafy views recover sooner and people who walk in nature feel happier. Adding to the case for trees is a recent study that surveyed 94,000 Toronto residents and found that greener blocks had significantly healthier residents—an additional 10 trees was equivalent to being $10,000 richer or 7 years younger by their estimates. (The New Yorker)
  • If you read about Mike Norton’s and Dan Ariely’s study of Americans’ perception of inequality back in 2011, you know we’re shockingly ignorant. A new study supports this finding. They found wealthy people largely believe other people are wealthier than they actually are, illustrating a troubling symptom of America’s increasingly segregated classes. (Washington Post)
  • For students preparing to head off to college this fall, network science has some insight into how freshmen should spend those first few awkward, nerve-wracking weeks. As Yale Sociologist and Physician Nicholas A. Christakis writes, “Whether students feel happy or sad, or catch the flu, or learn new things can all depend, in significant measure, on their ties to one another.” (New York Times)

 

Building Consciousness, Suffocating Marriages, and the Dark-side of Self-Control, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Michael Graziano, who we featured in a Q&A this week, explains in Aeon how one might build a conscious brain. In an intriguing thought experiment, Graziano details his Attention Schema theory, which might make you rethink the way you think. (Aeon)
  • Give a chimpanzee a typewriter and infinite time and you’ll get Shakespeare. But who has an infinite amount of time? Can’t we speed up the process? Researchers recently linked the brains of two chimpanzees, who learned to control a robot arm that incorporated signals from both their brains. Researchers also linked up trios of rat brains, showing their combined learning was better than a single rat on its own. Given these advances, we can probably expect something akin to 50 Shades of Grey by the end of 2017. Oh how far we’ve come since giving a group of macaques an actual typewriter in 2003. (New York Times)
  • New research suggests that more self-control may come at a price, particularly for those from impoverished backgrounds. A study recently published in PNAS found that people with more self-control tended to have cells that aged prematurely, but only if they were of low socioeconomic status. For those from more advantaged backgrounds, better self-control meant more youthful cells. Does this finding point to a need to find ways to “circumvent the adverse effects of self-control,” as The Economist suggests? Or is the problem not too much self-control, but too much poverty? (The Economist, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

economist_self-control

  • Poverty can negatively impact brain development, cognitive functioning, and physical health. The APA Monitor reviews the latest psychological research on poverty, revealing a sobering reality. But the article also highlights some hopeful lines of research, including Matthew Diemer’s work understanding how “critical consciousness” can lead people to break out of poverty’s grasp. (APA Monitor)
  • A workplace policy of unlimited vacation sounds too good to be true. For employees at British company Triggertrap it was. People stopped taking vacation. However, with a few adjustments to the policy, including bonuses for employees that take more than 14 days off every six months, Triggertrap hopes to strike the perfect balance between autonomy and accountability. (Slate)

On your wedding day,
he took your breath away.
Yet despite your vow,
it’s a different story now.
He’s breathing your air,
stifling, exasperating,
and always there.

  • Researchers at Northwestern recently examined how marriage has evolved in the US in an article titled, “The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage in America Is Becoming an All-or-Nothing Institution.” (Current Directions in Psychological Science; Link to full article)
  • Was the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron (better known as Evita) the victim of a forced lobotomy? A new look into her death reveals evidence that President Juan Peron, her husband, may have ordered the operation as a way to silence her and keep her under control. (BBC)

 

APA linked to CIA torture program, “Shit Academics Say,” plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • The New York Times made public a 542-page report Friday detailing new revelations about the collusion of top APA representatives with CIA officials on their Bush-era program of enhanced interrogation. Following the report’s release, the APA issued an apology for their “organizational failures,” called “deeply disturbing” by one leading member, and announced possible steps to prevent future wrong-doing. (New York Times)
  • “We know of no senior policy-maker, or senior business leader who ever reads any peer-reviewed papers.” Two scholars argue in the London School of Economics Blog that “Citations are not enough: Academic promotion panels must take into account a scholar’s presence in popular media.” (London School of Economics Impact Blog)
  • Psychologist Nathan Hall is the academic behind Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay), arguably one of the most influential (yes, influential) academic twitter accounts. He tells the story of how his fun way to procrastinate turned into an international research project on well-being in academia. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

  • “One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic.” Or is it? In a New York Times Op-ed, a trio of behavioral scientists review recent evidence to suggest that far from being a resource in short supply, “empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” (New York Times)
  • Why did the chicken cross the road? A better question might be why, despite its predictable outcome and severe overuse, do people still find the poultry paradox funny? In a recent article in PNAS, Caleb Warren and Peter McGraw try to understand what makes things funny. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS)

 

The Behavioral Science and Policy Journal releases its inaugural issue, MTurk hikes up the price, and more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • The Behavioral Science and Policy Association released its first issue of the Behavioral Science and Policy Journal. Check out Volume 1 Issue 1. (Behavioral Science and Policy Association)
  • Amazon announced a substantial increase in price for their Mechanical Turk research platform, set to take effect July 22, 2015. The announcement has lead researchers to begin searching for other options. Rival service Prolific Academic is currently offering a 0% commission option, and Money Pantry lists other Mturk alternatives here. (The Chronicle of Higher Education).
  • Happiness is big business. How has the commodification of happiness and well-being changed the way we work and live? An interview with Will Davies, author of the recently released book The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold us Well-Being. (Mindhacks)
  • Barry Schwartz calls for less choice. But no choice? Meet the design firm pioneering “anticipatory design” with aims to eliminate every micro-decision you have to make each day. (Quartz)
  • It Pays to Be Nice.” The Atlantic features the research and culture of Yale’s Human Cooperation Laboratory lead by Psychologist David Rand. (The Atlantic)
  • Dan Ariely’s Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University is hoping to incubate several startup companies (for-profit and not-profit) that incorporate academic research into their business plan and are “interested in building digital solutions that address decision behavior in the health and finance fields.” The application deadline is July 1, 2015. (DanAriely.com)

 

Why you hate the word “moist,” the pitfalls of online dating, plus more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • What are you feelings about the word “moist”? If you’re like a lot of people, you think it’s weirdly sexual and would like to see it stricken from the dictionary. Psychologists are getting closer to understanding why. (Nautilus)
  • A classic case of maximizing. Aziz Ansari, of Parks & Recreation fame, looks at all the choices modern dating affords people in choosing a mate and how we’re still coming up short (or too tall, as the case may be). (Time) (See Ansari’s Op-ed in the New York Times as well).

 

  • On June 6, 2015, 22-year-old Kalief Browder hanged himself in his home in the Bronx. As a teenager, Browder spent three years imprisoned in a juvenile facility awaiting trial for stealing a backpack (a crime of which he was later acquitted). Much of that time was spent in solitary confinement. His suicide calls attention to the tragic psychological consequences of forced isolation, which many consider torture. (Washington Post)
  • “Tack! Det blod du lämade har nu kommit till nytta för ein patient!” A new initiative aimed at raising blood donation in Sweden sends a text message to a donor every time their blood is used to save a patient’s life. (Independent)
  • Meet the man who worked for five years as a metaphor designer. He helped you understand complex business strategies and confusing scientific discoveries with metaphors tested for social and cognitive usability. (Aeon)
  • Does all this talk of mindfulness and being in the moment make you want to punch someone in the face? It does for writer Stuart Heritage. He suggests you try a bit of mindlessness as he reviews the new book The Power of Negative Emotion. (The Guardian)
  • Richard Thaler, coauthor of the founding behavioral economics book Nudge, just launched a companion blog to his latest book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. There, he and members of ideas42 along with people at Chicago’s Booth School of Business will go beyond the basic tenets and academicese of behavioral economics, offering fresh insights and practical solutions wherever decisions are made. They promise to keep it fun, too. (Misbehaving Blog)

 

The Problem with Perspective Taking, plus more weekly links

thepsychlist_greenA selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • How can you understand what it’s like to be someone you’re not? Many would suggest that you try to take the perspective of that person, that you walk a mile in their shoes. But as Paul Bloom points out, taking another’s perspective isn’t as straightforward or as beneficial as it might seem. Instead of walking a mile in their shoes, you might be better off spending those twenty minutes listening to what they have to say. (New York Times) (If you liked Bloom’s piece, check out our article Be Mindwise: Perspective Taking vs Perspective Getting by Nick Epley)
  • Companies and employees are reaping the benefits of automatic enrollment in retirement and health care plans. Schools have had similar success with automatic enrollment in school-lunch programs. Why not automatic enrollment for voter registration? Oregon launched automatic voter enrollment this year, and now Hillary Clinton is calling for the country to follow suit. (Bloomberg View)
  • A new book titled, The Censor’s Hand: The Misregulation of Human-Subject Research takes a very critical look at how Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) shape research. The author, Carl Schneider, suggests IRBs are a model for precisely how not to regulate. Schneider didn’t mince his words in a recent Q&A with Inside Higher Ed:

“Inside Higher Ed: The United States was home to the Tuskegee experiments, and even today, some researchers are accused of doing research abroad that would never be tolerated with Americans. Is there some need for IRBs, even if not in their present form?

“Schneider: The response to one social disaster should not be to create another. Yet a social disaster is what the fundamentally misconceived IRB system has turned out to be.” (Inside Higher Ed)

  • What explains the endowment effect?—the tendency to place a higher value on things that we own simply because we own them, famously shown with coffee mugs and sports tickets. Carey Morewedge and Colleen Giblin, in a new review article, examine the theories underlying the endowment effect and suggest that something other than loss aversion is at work. (Trends in Cognitive Sciences)
  • Now that Cuba and the United States are on better diplomatic terms, what can the two nations teach one another about promoting psychological health? While the US has the edge in technology, Cuba leads in organization, with psychological services integrated at every level of treatment. The APA recently sent several groups of psychologists to Cuba to begin what will hopefully be a fruitful collaboration between the two nations. (APA Monitor)
  • “In 1966, shortly after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty, 14.7% of Americans were poor…In 2013, 14.5% of Americans were poor.” The issue of poverty, despite the billions of dollars and innumerable programs meant to address it, stubbornly persists. However, the data-driven methods of behavioral science are changing the way governments and organizations attempt to solve this pressing problem. (The Wall Street Journal)

 

Consciousness, Death, and Advice on a Life Well-lived, plus more weekly Links

thepsychlist_green

A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • “Does a thought know to turn back at the edge of one skull when the paths lead into another?” Peter Watts explores the future of hive consciousness; our minds interfaced—with animals, humans, and machines. (Aeon)
  • Psychologist Julian Jaynes helped launch the public’s interest in consciousness in the 1970s. His grand ideas, eloquently expressed, were simultaneously inspiring and inane. Nearly four decades on, his ideas continue to divide and influence modern neuroscience. (Nautilus)
  • “One in five of patients in vegetative states are entirely unresponsive but will reliably produce conscious awareness activity patterns in the scanner,” reports Mo Costandi. But once you identify awareness in a person who seems otherwise unresponsive what do you do? (PBS)
  • Eminent psychologist and educator Robert Sternberg offers some “Career Advice From an Oldish Not-Quite Geezer,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “You can’t count on your publications and awards to take care of you,” he writes. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • Michael LaCour, author of the retracted study on attitudes toward gay-marriage admitted he lied on several aspects of the study, but maintained the findings were legitimate. (New York Times; Read Lacour’s response to the retraction here).
  • “The Upshot” wants you to take a guess at how family income impacts a child’s chance of going to college by plotting your own line on the graph below. How did you do? (New York Times)

upshot_youdrawImage: New York Times

Dishonesty in science, (Dis)honesty the movie & more weekly links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • A Columbia professor asked Science to retract his study from publication after learning his collaborator, a graduate student at UCLA, likely falsified the data. The study garnered national media attention and even a segment on This American Life for its (almost) unbelievable findings: in just 20 minutes, well-trained canvassers were able to change people’s minds about gay marriage, refuting well-established research on the stubbornness of beliefs. Maria Konnikova explains the bizarre story. (The New Yorker)
  • Dan Ariely’s new documentary film The (Dis)honesty Project was released this week. You’ll find the trailer below, and for an oddly intimate confessional they’ve set up to go with the film check out the Truthbox. (The (Dis)honesty Project)

  • “How do you motivate kids to stop skipping school?” An incentive, such as a reward for good attendance, is often the first thing off the shelf. But when a group of behavioral scientists incentivized school children in India, their reward for positive attendance had the exact opposite effect of what they were hoping for. (NPR)
  • The nonprofit behavioral science innovation firm ideas42 released a new white paper detailing how individuals and organizations can leverage behavioral science to interrupt the cycle of poverty. (ideas42)
  • Is color in our brains or in the world? In her new book, Outside Color, Mazviita Chirimuuta takes up the question that continues to perplex both scientists and philosophers, and proposes her own new color scheme: color adverbialsim. (The New Republic)
  • Can disfluent fonts help people solve math problems? It seems not. A recent article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General details the failed attempt to replicate the original 2007 study which showed making something hard to read led to better scores on counterintuitive math problems. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General)

A Caution to Measuring Character in Schools & More Weekly Links

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A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources worth checking out:

  • Scientists are optimistic they can measure a student’s personal qualities—traits like grit and resilience, often referred to as character traits or non-cognitive skills—but they caution educators and policymakers that the current measures aren’t yet sophisticated enough to be used in student, teacher, or school evaluation. (Educational Researcher)
  • “In 2013, if you were a man between the ages of 20 and 49 who’d died [in the UK], the most likely cause was not assault nor car crash nor drug abuse nor heart attack, but a decision that you didn’t wish to live any more. In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female.” Will Storr, in Mosaic Science, explores why. (Mosaic Science)
  • “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray.” Joshua Rotman writes a beautiful review of London neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s new memoir Do No Harm. (The New Yorker)

 

  • Over the last century, behavioral scientists have revealed numerous biases that humans, despite their best efforts, regularly fall victim to. The trouble is, in their research, behavioral scientists can fall victim to these biases as well. Psychologist Brian Nosek, whose work with the Open Science Framework was featured in Nautilus this week, is hoping to overcome the very human mistakes that scientists can make by creating an entire new framework for the research process. (Nautilus)
  • A portrait of the final days of the beautifully determined Sandy Bem, psychologist and gender pioneer, as she chose to end her own life as the result of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. (New York Times Magazine)
  • When solving problems like California’s drought, should policy makers reach for material incentives or leverage social norms? Drawing on research on cooperation, a team of behavioral scientists suggest the latter in their op-ed in this week’s Sunday Review. (New York Times).