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“and he aren’t” June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, comedy, foreign policy, iraq war, politics, psychology, race, religion.
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“full metal mccain” – matt taibi at rolling stone… hilarious article:

Even the briefest of surveys of the supporters gracing McCain’s events underscores the kind of red-meat appeal he’s making. Immediately after his speech in New Orleans, a pair of sweet-looking old ladies put down their McCain signs long enough to fill me in on why they’re here. “I tell you,” says one, “if Michelle Obama really doesn’t like it here in America, I’d be very pleased to raise the money to send her back to Africa.”

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nudge April 22, 2008

Posted by KG in econ, interviews, neuroscience, politics, psychology, science.
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freakonomics q&a with richard thaler and cass sunstein about their new book:

Q: You talk about heuristics and decision-making biases which influence most people’s thinking. Which heuristic or bias has taken you for a ride? Are we as a society more or less vulnerable to heuristics than we were 20 years ago and why?

CASS: The one that has most gotten to me is the availability heuristic, which means that people assess probabilities by asking whether examples easily come to mind.

For about two years after 9/11, I was scared to fly, even though I knew, from my own work, that the risks were really low. And after a bad incident with Chinese food (I have a severe shrimp allergy, and the vegetarian dish contained shrimp), I have been ridiculously nervous about shrimp hiding somewhere in Chinese food.

Fortunately, I am also subject to optimistic bias — with respect to just about everything — and so I now fly contentedly and eat Chinese food happily if sometimes a bit warily.

I don’t know if our society is more vulnerable to bad heuristics and errors than it was 20 years ago. Certainly there’s a lot of vulnerability to those things, but the same as been true for a very long time.

Q: Is there a situation where it would be imperative to shove instead of nudge. How would you, as a libertarian paternalist, justify such a situation?

A: When children and third parties are at risk, mandates and shoves may be OK. We are not opposed to mandatory vaccination laws, in part because those who don’t get vaccinated endanger others.

Many antipollution laws are fine too. A full answer here would point to the costs of bargaining: when people can’t contract their way to a sensible outcome, because of collective action problems and a lack of information, the argument for a mandate gets stronger.

Shoves that aren’t that big an intrusion, such as mandatory seatbelt laws, are OK too, if they can be shown to save a lot of lives. But generally, we like freedom of choice.

neuroscience and price February 29, 2008

Posted by AP in econ, food, neuroscience, psychology.
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the boston globe discusses a caltech/stanford study where researchers:

provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices.

The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

The experiment was even more unusual because it was conducted inside a scanner – the drinks were sipped via a network of plastic tubes – that allowed the scientists to see how the subjects’ brains responded to each wine. When subjects were told they were getting a more expensive wine, they observed more activity in a part of the brain known to be involved in our experience of pleasure.

frustration February 18, 2008

Posted by AP in international, psychology, religion, sex, terrorism.
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from the new york times:

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

i remember steve fish briefly covering this idea in his democracy class: the basic contention is that sexual frustration is a major contributing cause of suicide terrorism and a hindrance to democracy.

Today, Ms. Ashour dresses in a loose black gown called an abaya, and covers her head, all but her eyes, with a black piece of clothing over her face called a niqab. When she goes outside she wears black gloves as well. Even in this conservative town, she looks like a religious fundamentalist.

not only does your religion forbid extramarital sex, masturbation, and homosexuality, but it also prevents you from being able to look at females. for teenage boys, do you think this quells sexual desire?

on the contrary, it means that EVERY girl you meet is HOT.

michael shermer @ google February 18, 2008

Posted by KG in books, cognitive science, econ, history, marketing, media, neuroscience, politics, psychology, science, speeches, talks, tech.
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michael shermer @ google discussing his new book – the mind of the market: compassionate apes, competitive humans, and other tales from evolutionary economics

discusses the ultimatum game @ 27min, the evolution of moral sense/trolley car experiment @ 33min & how hormones affect trust/cooperation @ 43min:

related: shermer speaking about debunking superstitions @ TED & “why people believe weird things about money

duh February 11, 2008

Posted by AP in econ, politics, psychology.
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greg mankiw relays:

The Washington Post reports:

Republicans are happier than Democrats. A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of Republicans describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with only 30 percent of Democrats (and 29 percent of independents). This is a sizable gap and a remarkably consistent one, too. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey, conducted biannually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, began asking about happiness in 1972.

if you’re happy, then you probably don’t see a need to change things and will tend to vote conservatively. if you’re generally unhappy, then you will want to change things, and hence vote progressively.

tim harford @ google February 2, 2008

Posted by KG in books, econ, media, neuroscience, psychology, speeches, talks, tech.
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discussing his new book, the logic of life: the rational economics of an irrational world…interesting bit about “hyperbolic discounting,” or the idea that “consequences which occur at a later time, good or bad, tend to have a lot less bearing on our choices the more distantly they fall in the future” @ 43min:

steven pinker on npr January 29, 2008

Posted by KG in cognitive science, interviews, language, neuroscience, news, psychology, religion.
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discussing his nytimes magazine article, “the moral instinct,” on talk of the nation.

30min segment

“why people believe weird things about money” January 16, 2008

Posted by KG in books, cognitive science, econ, psychology, science.
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michael shermer discusses the evolutionary roots of loss aversion:

This research goes a long way toward debunking one of the biggest myths in all of psychology and economics, known as “Homo economicus.” This is the theory that “economic man” is rational, self-maximizing and efficient in making choices. But why should this be so? Given what we now know about how irrational and emotional people are in all other aspects of life, why would we suddenly become rational and logical when shopping or investing?

Consider one more experimental example to prove the point: the ultimatum game. You are given $100 to split between yourself and your game partner. Whatever division of the money you propose, if your partner accepts it, you each get to keep your share. If, however, your partner rejects it, neither of you gets any money.

How much should you offer? Why not suggest a $90-$10 split? If your game partner is a rational, self-interested money-maximizer — the very embodiment of Homo economicus — he isn’t going to turn down a free 10 bucks, is he? He is. Research shows that proposals that offer much less than a $70-$30 split are usually rejected.

Why? Because they aren’t fair. Says who? Says the moral emotion of “reciprocal altruism,” which evolved over the Paleolithic eons to demand fairness on the part of our potential exchange partners. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” only works if I know you will respond with something approaching parity. The moral sense of fairness is hard-wired into our brains and is an emotion shared by most people and primates tested for it, including people from non-Western cultures and those living close to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived.

When it comes to money, as in most other aspects of life, reason and rationality are trumped by emotions and feelings.