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One form of mental accounting is where you give yourself separate budgets for things like food, entertainment, gas, etc. It’s suboptimal because these separate budgets make you less flexible in your consumption plans. For example in a month where there are many attractive entertainment offerings, you are unable to reallocate spending away from other goods in favor of entertainment.
But it could be understood as a second-best solution when you have memory limitations. Suppose that when you decide how much to spend on groceries, you often forget or even fail to think of how much you have been spending on gas this month. If so, then its not really possible to be as flexible as you would be in the first-best because there’s no way to reduce your grocery expenditures in tandem with the increased spending on gas.
That means that you should not increase your spending on gas. In other words you should stick to a fixed gas budget.
Now memory is associative, i.e. current experiences stimulate memories of related experiences. This can give some structure to the theory. It makes sense to have a budget for entertainment overall rather than separate budgets for movies and concerts because when you are thinking of one you are likely to recall your spending on the other. So the boundaries of budget categories should be determined by an optimal grouping of expenditures based on how closely associated they are in memory.
(Discussion with Asher Wolinsky and Simone Galperti)
Oliver Sacks on the social costs of plagiarism stigma:
Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism when she was only twelve.2 Though deaf and blind from an early age, and indeed languageless before she met Annie Sullivan at the age of six, she became a prolific writer once she learned finger spelling and Braille. As a girl, she had written, among other things, a story called “The Frost King,” which she gave to a friend as a birthday gift. When the story found its way into print in a magazine, readers soon realized that it bore great similarities to “The Frost Fairies,” a children’s short story by Margaret Canby. Admiration for Keller now turned into accusation, and Helen was accused of plagiarism and deliberate falsehood, even though she said that she had no recollection of reading Canby’s story, and thought she had made it up herself. The young Helen was subjected to a ruthless inquisition, which left its mark on her for the rest of her life.
There is a subtle defense of plagiarism in the connection he draws with false memories, and the value of ignoring the source.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
Kepi kiss: David Olson.
In our paper, Alex Frankel, Emir Kamenica and I argue that soccer is among the most suspenseful sports according to our theoretical measure. Now, via Matt Dickenson, comes an empirical validation of this finding using German cardiac arrest data:
The red line shows the spike in heart attacks on the dates of 2006 World Cup matches involving the German national team. Note that point 7 is the third place match against Portugal after Germany had been eliminated in their semi-final match against Italy (point 6.)
Many laws that restrict freedoms are effectively substitutes for private contracts. In a frictionless world we wouldn’t need those laws because every subset of individuals could sign private contracts to decide efficiently what the laws decide bluntly and uniformly. But given transaction costs and bargaining inefficiencies those blunt laws are the best we can do.
Some people might want to sign contracts that constrain themselves. For example I might know that I am tempted to drink too many Big Gulps and I might want to contract with every potential supplier of large sugary drinks, getting them to agree never to sell them to me even if I ask for it. But this kind of contract is plagued not only by the transaction costs and bargaining inefficiencies that justify many existing planks in the social contract, but in addition a new friction: these contracts are simply not enforceable.
Because even with such a contract in place, when I actually am tempted to buy a Slurpee, it will be in the interest of both me and my Slurpee supplier to nullify the contract. (It doesn’t solve the problem to structure the contract so that I have to pay 7-11 if I buy a Slurpee from them. If that contract works then I don’t buy the Slurpee and 7-11 would be willing to agree to sign a second contract that nullifies the first one in order to sell me a Slurpee.)
These considerations alone don’t imply that it would be socially efficient to substitute a blanket ban on large sugary drinks for the unenforceable contracts. But what they do imply is that it would be efficient for the courts to recognize such a ban if a large enough segment of the population wants it. (And this is no way intended to suggest that one Michael Bloomberg by himself constitutes a large enough segment of the population.)
Since you’ve only ever been you and you’ve had to listen to yourself talk about your own thoughts for all this time, by now you are bored of yourself. Your thoughts and acts seem so trite compared to everyone else so instead you try to be like them. But you fail to account for the fact that to everybody else you are pretty much brand new and indeed you would be a refreshing break from their boring selves if only you would just be you.
This is an interesting article, albeit breathless and probably completely deluded, about acquired savantism: people suffering traumatic brain injury and as a result developing a talent that they did not have before. Here’s at least one bit that sounds legit:
Last spring, Snyder published what many consider to be his most substantive work. He and his colleagues gave 28 volunteers a geometric puzzle that has stumped laboratory subjects for more than 50 years. The challenge: Connect nine dots, arrayed in three rows of three, using four straight lines without retracing a line or lifting the pen. None of the subjects could solve the problem. Then Snyder and his colleagues used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to temporarily immobilize the same area of the brain destroyed by dementia in Miller’s acquired savants. The noninvasive technique, which is commonly used to evaluate brain damage in stroke patients, delivers a weak electrical current to the scalp through electrodes, depolarizing or hyperpolarizing neural circuits until they have slowed to a crawl. After tDCS, more than 40 percent of the participants in Snyder’s experiment solved the problem. (None of those in a control group given placebo tDCS identified the solution.)
(I know this problem because it was presented to us as a brain teaser when I was in 2nd grade. Nobody got it. The solution while quite simple is “difficult” to see because you instinctively self-impose the unstated rule that your pencil cannot leave the square.)
The suggestion is that with some drugs or surgery we could all unlock some hidden sensitivity or creativity that is latent within us. Forget about whether any of the anecdotes in the article are true examples of the phenomenon (the piano guy almost certainly is not. Watch the video, he’s doing what anyone with some concentrated practice can do. There is no evidence that he has acquired a natural, untrained facility at the piano. And anyway even if we accept the hypothesis about brain damage and perception/concentration why should we believe that a blow to the head can give you a physical ability that normally takes months or years of exercise to acquire?)
The examples aside, there is reason to believe that something like this could be possible. At least the natural counterargument is wrong: our brains should already be using whatever talents they have to their fullest. It would be an evolutionary waste to build the structure to do something useful and not actually use it. This argument is wrong but not because playing the piano and sculpting bronze bulls are not valuable survival skills. Neither is Soduku but we have that skill because its one way to apply a deeper, portable skill that can also be usefully applied. No, the argument is wrong because it ignores the second-best nature of the evolutionary optimum.
It could be that we have a system that takes in tons of sensory information all of which is potentially available to us at a conscious level but in practice is finely filtered for just the most relevant details. While the optimal level of detail might vary with the circumstances the fineness of the filter could have been selected for the average case. That’s the second best optimum if it is too complex a problem to vary the level of detail according to circumstances. If so, then artificial intervention could improve on the second-best by suppressing the filter at chosen times.
What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. For example, one of the most popular techniques used to memorize playing cards involves associating every card with an image of a celebrity performing some sort of a ludicrous — and therefore memorable — action on a mundane object. When it comes time to remember the order of a series of cards, those memorized images are shuffled and recombined to form new and unforgettable scenes in the mind’s eye. Using this technique, Ed Cooke showed me how an entire deck can be quickly transformed into a comically surreal, and unforgettable, memory palace.
The author documents his training as a mental athlete and his US record breaking performance memorizing a deck of cards in 1 minute 40 seconds. I personally have a terrible memory, especially for names, but I don’t think this kind of active memorization is especially productive. The kind of memory enhancement we could all benefit from is the ability to call up more and more ideas/thoughts/experiences related to whatever is currently going on. We need more fluid relational memory, RAM not so much.
People don’t like to be idle. They are willing to spend energy on pointless activities just to avoid idleness. But they are especially willing to do that if they can make up fake reasons to justify the unproductive busyness. That’s the conclusion from a clever experiment Emir Kamenica told me about.
In this experiment subjects who had just completed a survey were told they had to deliver the survey to one of two locations before being presented with the next survey 15 minutes later. They could walk and deliver to a faraway location, about a 15 minute roundtrip, or deliver it nearby, in which case they would have to stand around for the remainder of the 15 minutes.
There was candy waiting for them at the delivery point. In a benchmark treatment it was the same candy at each location. In that treatment the majority of subjects opted for the short walk and idleness.
In a second treatment two different, but equally attractive (experimentally verified) types of candy were available at the two locations and the subjects were told this. In this treatment the majority of subjects walked the long distance.
The researchers conclude that the subjects wanted to avoid idleness and rationalized the effort spent by convincing themselves that they were getting the better reward. Indeed the subjects who traveled far reported greater happiness than their idle counterparts regardless of what candy was available.
Comes from being able to infer that since by now you have not found any clear reason to favor one choice over the other it means that you are close to indifferent and you should pick now, even randomly.
Ever seen this? There’s a panel of experts and every couple weeks they are presented with a policy statement like “The debt ceiling creates too much uncertainty” and each one has to say individually whether they agree or disagree.
Randomize whether you put the statement in the affirmative or the negative: ”The debt ceiling creates too much uncertainty” versus “The debt ceiling doesn’t create too much uncertainty”, and see how that affects how that affects which experts agree or disagree.
It’s the opposite of deduction. We didn’t sit down and try to figure something out.
It’s as if the computation happened so deep within our head, like all this time the basic facts were already there and in our subconscious minds they are stirring around until by chance one set of facts come together that happen to imply something new and the reaction creates an explosion big enough to get the attention of our conscious mind.
And at a conscious level we say “aha! I instinctively know something is true. But why?” And here’s where the 99% perspiration comes. We have to go back to find out why it’s true.
Ok sometimes we discover we were wrong. Other times we discover conclusively why we were right.
But almost always we can’t decide conclusively one way it another but we find reasons for what we believe.
And we believe what we believe. Rationally. We felt it instinctively. And that belief, that sensation is a thing. Its a signal. That we had that inspiration serves as information to us. We have faith in our beliefs.
To lack such faith would be to invite the padded cell.
So that’s another piece of evidence to go along with the facts. And it just might, again perfectly rationally, tip the balance.
- When you turn a bottle over to pour out its contents it is less messy if you do the tilt thing to make sure there is a space for air to flow back into the bottle. But which way of pouring is faster if you just want to dump it out in the shortest time possible? I think the tilt can never be as fast.
- I aspire to hit for the cycle: publish in all the top 5 economics journals. But it would be a lifetime cycle. Has anyone ever hit for the cycle in a single year?
- If you know you’ll get over it eventually shouldn’t you be over it now? And if not should you really get over it later?
- The efficient markets hypothesis means that there is no trading strategy that consistently loses money. (Because if there were then the negative of that strategy would consistently make a profit.) So trade with abandon!
- I predict that in the future the distinct meanings of the prepositions “in” and “on” will progressively blur because of mobile phone typos.
One reason people over-react to information is that they fail to recognize that the new information is redundant. If two friends tell you they’ve heard great things about a new restaurant in town it matters whether those are two independent sources of information or really just one. It may be that they both heard it from the same source, a recent restaurant review in the newspaper. When you neglect to account for redundancies in your information you become more confident in your beliefs than is justified.
This kind of problem gets worse and worse when the social network becomes more connected because its ever more likely that your two friends have mutual friends.
And it can explain an anomaly of psychology: polarization. Sandeep in his paper with Peter Klibanoff and Eran Hanany give a good example of polarization.
A number of voters are in a television studio before a U.S. Presidential debate. They are asked the likelihood that the Democratic candidate will cut the budget deficit, as he claims. Some think it is likely and others unlikely. The voters are asked the same question again after the debate. They become even more convinced that their initial inclination is correct.
It’s inconsistent with Bayesian information processing for groups who observe the same information to systematically move their beliefs in opposite directions. But polarization is not just the observation that the beliefs move in opposite directions. It’s that the information accentuates the original disagreement rather than reducing it. The groups move in the same opposite directions that caused their disagreement originally.
Here’s a simple explanation for it that as far as I know is a new one: the voters fail to recognize that the debate is not generating any new information relative to what they already knew.
Prior to the debate the voters had seen the candidate speaking and heard his view on the issue. Even if these voters had no bias ex ante, their differential reaction to this pre-debate information separates the voters into two groups according to whether they believe the candidate will cut the deficit or not.
Now when they see the debate they are seeing the same redundant information again. If they recognized that the information was redundant they would not move at all. But if don’t then they are all going to react to the debate in the same way they reacted to the original pre-debate information. Each will become more confident in his beliefs. As a result they will polarize even further.
Note that an implication of this theory is that whenever a common piece of information causes two people to revise their beliefs in opposite directions it must be to increase polarization, not reduce it.
Free as in liberated. Here’s the opening paragraph:
I wrote this paper with the recognition that it is unlikely to be accepted for publication. There is something liberating about writing a paper without trying to please referees and without having to take into consideration the various protocols and conventions imposed on researchers in experimental economics (see Rubinstein (2001)). It gives one a feeling of real academic freedom!
The paper reports on long-running experiments relating response times to mistakes in decision-making.
With social networking you are now exposed to so many different voices in rapid succession. Each one is monotonous as an individual but individual voices arrive too infrequently for you notice that, all you see is the endless variety of people saying and thinking things that you can never think or say. It seems like the everyone in the world is more creative than one-dimensional you.
SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.
Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.
So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero.
The final seconds are ticking off the clock and the opposing team is lining up to kick a game winning field goal. There is no time for another play so the game is on the kicker’s foot. You have a timeout to use.
Calling the timeout causes the kicker to stand around for another minute pondering his fateful task. They call it “icing” the kicker because the common perception is that the extra time in the spotlight and the extra time to think about it will increase the chance that he chokes. On the other hand you might think that the extra time only works in the kickers favor. After all, up to this point he wasn’t sure if or when he was going to take the field and what distance he would be trying for. The timeout gives him a chance to line up the kick and mentally prepare.
What do the data say? According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, icing the kicker has almost no effect and if anything only backfires. Among all field goal attempts taken since the 2000 season when there were less than 2 minutes remaining, kickers made 77.3% of them when there was no timeout called and 79.7% when the kicker was “iced.”
So much for icing? No! Icing the kicker is a successful strategy because it keeps the kicker guessing as to when he will actually have to prepare himself to perform. The optimal use of the strategy is to randomize the decision whether to call a timeout in order to maximize uncertainty. We’ve all seen kickers, golfers, players of any type of finesse sport mentally and physically prepare themselves for a one-off performance. The mental focus required is a scarce resource. Randomizing the decision to ice the kicker forces the kicker to choose how to ration this resource between two potential moments when he will have to step up.
If you ice with probability zero he knows to focus all his attention when he first takes the field. If you ice with probability 1 he knows to save it all for the timeout. The optimal icing probability leaves him indifferent between allocating the marginal capacity of attention between the two moments and minimizes his overall probability of a successful field goal. (The overall probability is the probability of icing times the success probability conditional on icing plus the probability of not icing times the success probability conditional on icing.)
Indeed the simplest model would imply that the optimal icing strategy equalizes the kicker’s success probability conditional on icing and conditional on no icing. So the statistics quoted in the WSJ article are perfectly consistent with icing as part of an optimal strategy, properly understood.
But whatever you do, call the timeout before he gets a freebie practice kick.
From the blog (?) notes.unwieldy.net:
The average New York City taxi cab driver makes $90,747 in revenue per year. There are roughly 13,267 cabs in the city. In 2007, NYC forced cab drivers to begin taking credit cards, which involved installing a touch screen system for payment.
During payment, the user is presented with three default buttons for tipping: 20%, 25%, and 30%. When cabs were cash only, the average tip was roughly 10%. After the introduction of this system, the tip percentage jumped to 22%.
He calculates that the tip nudge increased cab revenues by $144,146,165 per year.
Kunz was a sociologist at Brigham Young University. Earlier that year he’d decided to do an experiment to see what would happen if he sent Christmas cards to total strangers.
And so he went out and collected directories for some nearby towns and picked out around 600 names. “I started out at a random number and then skipped so many and got to the next one,” he says.
To these 600 strangers, Kunz sent his Christmas greetings: handwritten notes or a card with a photo of him and his family. And then Kunz waited to see what would happen.
But about five days later, responses started filtering back — slowly at first and then more, until eventually they were coming 12, 15 at a time. Eventually Kunz got more than 200 replies. “I was really surprised by how many responses there were,” he says. “And I was surprised by the number of letters that were written, some of them three, four pages long.”
The premise of this article is that people feel compelled to reciprocate your generosity. And once you know that, you can take advantage of it.
Exhibit A: those little pre-printed address labels that come to us in the mail this time of year along with letters asking for donations.
Those labels seem innocent enough, but they often trigger a small but very real dilemma. “I can’t send it back to them because it’s got my name on it,” Cialdini says. “But as soon as I’ve decided to keep that packet of labels, I’m in the jaws of the rule.”
The packet of labels costs roughly 9 cents, Cialdini says, but it dramatically increases the number of people who give to the charities that send them. “The hit rate goes from 18 to 35 percent,” he says. In other words, the number of people who donate almost doubles.
- To indirectly find out what a person of the opposite sex thinks of her/himself ask what she thinks are the big differences between men and women.
- Letters of recommendation usually exaggerate the quality of the candidate but writers can only bring themselves to go so far. To get extra mileage try phrases like “he’s great, if not outstanding” and hope that its understood as “he’s great, maybe even outstanding” when what you really mean is “he’s not outstanding, just great.”
- In chess, kids are taught never to move a piece twice in the opening. This is a clear sunk cost fallacy.
- I remember hearing that numerals are base 10 because we have 10 fingers. But then why is music (probably more primitive than numerals) counted mostly in fours?
- “Loss aversion” is a dumb terminology. At least risk aversion means something: you can be either risk averse or risk loving. Who likes losses?
Remember how baffled Kasparov was about Deep Blue’s play in their famous match? It gets interesting.
Earlier this year, IBM celebrated the 15-year anniversary of its supercomputer Deep Blue beating chess champion Garry Kasparov. According to a new book, however, it may have been an accidental glitch rather than computing firepower that gave Deep Blue the win.
At the Washington Post, Brad Plumer highlights a passage from Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. Silver interviewed Murray Campbell, a computer scientist that worked on Deep Blue, who explained that during the 1997 tournament the supercomputer suffered from a bug in the first game. Unable to pick a strategic move because of the glitch, it resorted to its fall-back mechanism: choosing a play at random. “A bug occurred in the game and it may have made Kasparov misunderstand the capabilities of Deep Blue,” Campbell tells Silver in the book. “He didn’t come up with the theory that the move it played was a bug.”
As Silver explains it, Kasparov may have taken his own inability to understand the logic of Deep Blue’s buggy move as a sign of the computer’s superiority. Sure enough, Kasparov began having difficulty in the second game of the tournament — and Deep Blue ended up winning in the end.
Visor volley: Mallesh Pai.
Suppose that what makes a person happy is when their fortunes exceed expectations by a discrete amount (and that falling short of expectations is what makes you unhappy.) Then simply because of convergence of expectations:
- People will have few really happy phases in their lives.
- Indeed even if you lived forever you would have only finitely many spells of happiness.
- Most of the happy moments will come when you are young.
- Happiness will be short-lived.
- The biggest cross-sectional variance in happiness will be among the young.
- When expectations adjust to the rate at which your fortunes improve, chasing further happiness requires improving your fortunes at an accelerating rate.
- If life expectancy is increasing and we simply extrapolate expectations into later stages of life we are likely to be increasingly depressed when we are old.
- There could easily be an inverse relationship between intelligence and happiness.
My daughter was learning about prime numbers and she had an exercise to identify all the prime numbers less than 100. I made a little game out of it with her by offering her 10 cents for each number correctly categorized as prime or composite within a fixed total time.
As she progressed through the numbers I noticed a pattern. It took her less time to guess that a number was composite than it took her to guess that it was prime. And of course there is a simple reason: you know that a number is composite once you find a proper factor, you know that a number is prime only when you are convinced that a proper factor does not exist.
But this was a timed-constrained task and waiting until she knows for sure that the number is prime is not an optimal strategy. She should guess that the number is prime once she thinks it is sufficiently likely that she won’t find any proper factor. And how long that will take depends on the average time it takes to find a proper factor.
In particular, if the average time before she guesses prime is larger than the average time before she guesses composite then she is not optimizing. Because if that were the case she should infer that the number is likely to be prime simply from the fact that she has spent more than the average time looking for a proper factor. At an optimum, any such introspective inference should be arbitraged away.
If someone else comes in, we may have to move. And here, it has been observed that lift-travellers unthinkingly go through a set pattern of movements, as predetermined as a square dance.
On your own, you can do whatever you want – it’s your own little box.
If there are two of you, you take different corners. Standing diagonally across from each other creates the greatest distance.
When a third person enters, you will unconsciously form a triangle (breaking the analogy that some have made with dots on a dice). And when there is a fourth person it’s a square, with someone in every corner. A fifth person is probably going to have to stand in the middle.
I liked the part where it is explained why we are socially awkward in elevators.
“You don’t have enough space,” says Professor Babette Renneberg, a clinical psychologist at the Free University of Berlin.
David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, trash-talked Mitt Romney on Sunday, calling last week’s Republican National Convention “a terrible failure” and claiming Romney did not receive a polling bounce.
Presidential campaign staff are always saying stuff like that. How badly the other side is doing. Promoting polls that show their own candidate doing well and dissing polls that don’t. While that seems like natural fighting spirit, from the strategic point of view this is sometimes questionable strategy.
If you had the power to implant arbitrary expectations into the minds of your supporters and those of your rival, what would they be?
- You wouldn’t want your supporters to think that your candidate was very likely to lose.
- But neither would you want your supporters to think that your candidate was very likely to win.
- Instead you want your supporters to believe that the race is very close.
- But you want to plant the opposite beliefs in the mind of the opposition. You want them to think that the race is already decided. It probably doesn’t matter which way.
All of this because you want to motivate your supporters and lure the opposition into complacency. If you are David Axelrod and your candidate has a lead in the polls and you can’t just conjure up arbitrary expectations but you can nudge your supporter’s mood one way or the other you want to play up the opposition not denigrate them.
Unless its only the opposition that is paying attention. Indeed suppose that campaign staffers know that the audience that is paying closest attention to their public statements is the opposition. Then right now we would expect to be hearing Democrats saying they are winning and Republicans saying their own campaign is in disarray.
David Levine’s essay is all grown up and now a full-blown book. His goal is to “set the record straight” and document the true successes and failures of economic theory. Here is a choice passage:
One of the most frustrating experiences for a working economist is to be confronted by a psychologist, political scientist – or even in some cases Nobel Prize winning economist – to be told in no uncertain terms “Your theory does not explain X – but X happens in the real world, so your theory is wrong.” The frustration revolves around the fact that the theory does predict X and you personally published a paper in a major journal showing exactly that. One cannot intelligently criticize – no matter what one’s credentials – what one does not understand. We have just seen that standard mainstream economic theory explains a lot of things quite well. Before examining criticisms of the theory more closely it would be wise to invest a little time in understanding what the theory does and does not say.
The point is that the theory of “rational play” does not say what you probably think it says. At first glance, it is common to call the behavior of suicide bombers crazy or irrational – as for example in the Sharkansky quotation at the beginning of the chapter. But according to economics it is probably not. From an economic perspective suicide need not be irrational: indeed a famous unpublished 2004 paper by Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker and U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner called “Suicide: An Economic Approach” studies exactly when it would be rational to commit suicide.
The evidence about the rationality of suicide is persuasive. For example, in the State of Oregon, suicide is legal. It cannot, however, be legally done in an impulsive fashion: it requires two oral requests separated by at least 15 days plus a written request signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the applicant. While the exact number of people committing suicide under these terms is not known, it is substantial. Hence – from an economic perspective – this behavior is rational because it represents a clearly expressed preference.
What does this have to do with suicide bombers? If it is rational to commit suicide, then it is surely rational to achieve a worthwhile goal in the process. Eliminating ones enemies is – from the perspective of economics – a rational goal. Moreover, modern research into suicide bombers (see Kix ) shows that they exhibit exactly the same characteristics of isolation and depression that leads in many cases to suicide without bombing. That is: leaning to committing suicide they rationally choose to take their enemies with them.
People are taught to us association as a mnemonic device to help them remember things. Well it appears you can do something similar to help you forget:
The experiments started with MacLeod and Noreen showing their subjects a series of different words — “barbecue,” “theater,” “occasion,” “rapid,” for example — and then telling them to generate one specific personal memory in response to each word.
There were 24 words in all, and after the subjects had described their memories, they were all sent home and told to come back a week later.
The following week, when they returned, they were given a transcript of each of the memories they’d shared, along with the specific word that had generated it. They reviewed the words and memories until they knew exactly which word went with which memory, and then were put in front of a computer and told that they would see each of those words flash on the computer screen in front of them.
If the word appeared in green, they were to repeat the memory associated with that word out loud, but if the word appeared in red, it was very important for them not to think about the memory associated with that word.
MacLeod and Noreen showed the subjects 16 of the 24 words over and over and over. Each time a subject either repeated the memory or blocked it. Some people apparently pictured a blank; others distracted themselves with other thoughts.
‘A Significant Forgetting Effect’
At the end of this process, the subjects were tested to see if there was a change in what they recalled. And there was — in the memories that had been repeatedly blocked.
“There was a significant forgetting effect, about a 12 percent drop in the level of details recalled,” MacLeod says. “That’s a large effect.”
Via my favorite source for toilet humor, Adriana Lleras-Muney, here is a paper describing how the urinal game and other bathroom customs can be used in introductory Sociology classes.
the use of “interactive exercises” can also be a valuable way by which to underscore the connection between individual actions and social structure. So stated, this paper identifies a number of “everyday” participatory exercises designed to spur classroom interaction and highlight core sociological concepts. Specifically, I use interactional scenarios within the typical American men’s public restroom to emphasize: 1) that individual actions, even those that exist in the mundane, are influenced by larger social-cultural forces; and 2) that a number of core sociological concepts can be found and explored in a place generally ignored or taken for granted.
Treatment 1 is you give people a cookie and some cake and you ask them to rate how much they like the cookie better (which of course would be negative if they like the cake better.)
Treatment 2 is you present them with the cookie and the cake and you let them choose. Then you also give them the other item and have them rate just as in treatment 1.
Of course those in treatment 2 are going to rate their chosen item higher on average than those in treatment 1. But let’s look at the overall variance in ratings. A behavioral hypothesis is that the variance is larger in treatment 2 due to cognitive dissonance. Those who expressed a preference will want to rationalize their preference an this will lead them to exaggerate their rating.
Now I wouldn’t be surprised if an experiment like that has already been done and found evidence of cognitive dissonance. The next twist will explore the effect in more detail.
The cookies will be tinged with a random quantity of some foul tasting ingredient, unknown to the subjects. Let’s think of the quantity as ranging from 0 to 100. We want to plot the quantity on the x-axis versus the rating on the y.
My hopothesis is about how this relation differs between the two treatments. At an individual level here is what I would expect to see. Consider a subject who likes cookies better. In treatment 1 he will have a continuous and decreasing curve which will cross zero at some quantity. I.e too much of the yucky stuff and he rates the cake higher.
In treatment 2 his curve will be shifted upward but only in the region where his treatment 2 rating is positive. At higher quantities the curve exactly coincides with the treatment 1 curve.
I have in mind the following theory. There is a psychic cost of convincing yourself that you like something that tastes bad. Cognitive dissonance leads you to do that. But when the cookie tastes so bad that it’s beyon your capacity to convince yourself otherwise you save yourself the psychic cost and don’t even try.
Now we won’t have such data at an individual level to see this. The challenge is to identify restrictions on the aggregate data that the hypothesis implies.