Friday, January 29, 2010

magnesium boosts memory

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Self Control

Via Frontal Cortex

Self-Control and Peer Groups
For the most part, self-control is seen as an individual trait, a measure of personal discipline. If you lack self-control, then it's your own fault, a character flaw built into the brain.
However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-control contains a large social component; the ability to resist temptation is contagious. The paper consists of five clever studies, each of which demonstrates the influence of our peer group on our self-control decisions. For instance, in one study 71 undergraduates watched a stranger exert self-control by choosing a carrot instead of a cookie, while others watched people eat the cookie instead of the carrot. That's all that happened: the volunteers had no other interaction with the eaters. Nevertheless, the performance of the subjects was significantly altered on a subsequent test of self-control. People who watched the carrot-eaters had more discipline than those who watched the cookie-eaters.
What accounts for this contagion of discipline? One possibility, of course, is that watching someone eat a cookie makes us think about the deliciousness of cookies. In other words, we're primed to crave a reward, since we just saw a reward get consumed. vanDellen, however, argues that the spread of self-control is mostly driven by the "accessibility" of thoughts about self-control. When we see someone resist the cookie, we're cognitively inspired, and temporarily aware that resistance is possible. We don't have to surrender to impulse.
Consider the last experiment described in the paper. In this study of 117 subjects, those who were randomly assigned to write about friends with good self-control were faster than a control group at identifying words related to self-control, such as "achieve," "discipline" and "effort". This suggests that thinking about self-control - or watching it happen - makes us more attuned to its benefits. We think about our waistline and calories, and not just chocolate-chips.
The contagiousness of self-control has important consequences. For one thing, it helps explain why Dominos, Taco Bell and McDonald's spend so much money on television ads. Their commercials are testimonials for indulgence - they show people happily consuming thousands of calories - and so that makes us less likely to resist. Why munch on carrots when a large pepperoni pizza is only a phone call away?
This study also begins to reveal the ways in which culture can impact character. Kids who grow up surrounded by rituals of discipline - they watch people counter their impulses all the time - have a very different sense of their own potential. They don't have to eat the cookie because they've watched their parents and peers eat the carrot. This is an implicit kind of knowledge - it's not something you can measure on a multiple-choice test - and yet it has profound implications for our success in the real world.
Last year, I wrote about this idea in the New Yorker:
Mischel is also preparing a large-scale study involving hundreds of schoolchildren in Philadelphia, Seattle, and New York City to see if self-control skills can be taught. Although he previously showed that children did much better on the marshmallow task after being taught a few simple "mental transformations," such as pretending the marshmallow was a cloud, it remains unclear if these new skills persist over the long term. In other words, do the tricks work only during the experiment or do the children learn to apply them at home, when deciding between homework and television?
Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the program. She first grew interested in the subject after working as a high-school math teacher. "For the most part, it was an incredibly frustrating experience," she says. "I gradually became convinced that trying to teach a teen-ager algebra when they don't have self-control is a pretty futile exercise." And so, at the age of thirty-two, Duckworth decided to become a psychologist. One of her main research projects looked at the relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found that the ability to delay gratification--eighth graders were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week--was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said that her study shows that "intelligence is really important, but it's still not as important as self-control."
For the past few months, the researchers have been conducting pilot studies in the classroom as they try to figure out the most effective way to introduce complex psychological concepts to young children. Because the study will focus on students between the ages of four and eight, the classroom lessons will rely heavily on peer modelling, such as showing kindergartners a video of a child successfully distracting herself during the marshmallow task.
The point is that self-improvement isn't impossible, and that changing the habits of one kid just might help change a classroom. Nobody is an island.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


via frontal cortex

The Economist reviews an interesting new study that investigates the immorality of power:
In their first study, Dr Lammers and Dr Galinsky asked 61 university students to write about a moment in their past when they were in a position of high or low power. Previous research has established that this is an effective way to "prime" people into feeling as if they are currently in such a position. Each group (high power and low power) was then split into two further groups. Half were asked to rate, on a nine-point morality scale (with one being highly immoral and nine being highly moral), how objectionable it would be for other people to over-report travel expenses at work. The other half were asked to participate in a game of dice.
The dice players were told to roll two ten-sided dice (one for "tens" and one for "units") in the privacy of an isolated cubicle, and report the results to a lab assistant. The number they rolled, which would be a value between one and 100 (two zeros), would determine the number of tickets that they would be given in a small lottery that was run at the end of the study.
In the case of the travel expenses--when the question hung on the behaviour of others--participants in the high-power group reckoned, on average, that over-reporting rated as a 5.8 on the nine-point scale. Low-power participants rated it 7.2. The powerful, in other words, claimed to favour the moral course. In the dice game, however, high-power participants reported, on average, that they had rolled 70 while low-power individuals reported an average 59. Though the low-power people were probably cheating a bit (the expected average score would be 50), the high-power volunteers were undoubtedly cheating--perhaps taking the term "high roller" rather too literally.
The scientists argue that power is corrupting because it leads to moral hypocrisy. Although we almost always know what the right thing to do is - cheating at dice is a sin - power makes it easier to justify the wrongdoing, as we rationalize away our moral mistake. For instance, when Lammers and Galinsky asked the subjects (in both low and high-power conditions) how they would judge an individual who drove too fast when late for an appointment, or whether it was acceptable to cheat on the income tax, people with power consistently said it was worse when others committed those crimes than when they did. In other words, the powerful people believe they had a good reason for speeding - they're important people, with important things to do - but everyone else should follow the posted signs. We become the exception to the rule, which is the law.
The real question, of course, is what causes this blatant hypocrisy. One possibility is that power makes us less sensitive to the needs and feelings of others - it silences our empathy - and so we only think about our own motivations and needs. Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, was the first modern thinker to emphasize the importance of empathy in shaping morality. "As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel," Smith wrote, "we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation." This mirroring process leads to an instinctive sympathy for our fellow man⎯Smith called it "fellow-feeling"⎯which formed the basis for our moral decisions.
Smith was right. Just look at the ultimatum game. In this simple experimental task, an experimenter pairs two people together, and hands one of them $10. This person (the proposer) gets to decide how the ten dollars is divided. The second person (the responder) can either accept the offer, allowing both players to pocket their respective shares, or reject the offer, in which case both players walk away empty-handed.
When economists first started playing this game in the early 1980's, they assumed that this elementary exchange would always generate the same outcome. The proposer would offer the responder approximately $1⎯a minimal amount⎯and the responder would accept it. After all, $1 is better than nothing, and a rejection leaves both players worse off. Such an outcome would be a clear demonstration of our innate selfishness and rationality.
However, the researchers soon realized that their predictions were all wrong. Instead of swallowing their pride and pocketing a small profit, responders typically rejected any offer they perceived as unfair. Furthermore, proposers anticipated this angry rejection and typically tendered an offer around $4.
Why are most people so generous? The answer returns us to the "fellow-feeling" described by Smith: proposers make fair offers in the ultimatum game is because they are able to imagine how the responder will feel if they make an unfair offer. (When people play the game with computers, they are never generous.) They know that a lowball proposal will make the other person angry, which will lead them to reject the offer, which will leave everybody with nothing. So the proposers suppress their greed, and equitably split the ten dollars. (When people are given oxytocin, a hormone released during childbirth and during moments of social bonding, they make offers that are nearly 80 percent more equitable than normal.) This ability to sympathize with the feelings of others leads to fairness.
Unfortunately, states of power seem to induce a temporary state of mindblindness, so that our sympathetic instincts are repressed. A simple variation on the ultimatum game known as the dictator game makes this clear. Unlike the ultimatum game, in which the responder can decide whether or not to accept the monetary offer, in the dictator game, the proposer simply dictates how much the responder receives. (In other words, they have absolute power.) What's surprising is that these petit tyrants are still rather generous, and give away about one-third of the total amount of money. Even when people have power, they remain mostly constrained by their sympathetic instincts.
However, it only takes one minor alteration for this benevolence to disappear. When the dictator cannot see the responder⎯the two players are located in separate rooms⎯the dictator lapses into unfettered greed. Instead of giving away a significant share of the profits, the despots start offering mere pennies, and pocketing the rest. Once we become socially isolated, we stop simulating the feelings of other people.* As a result, our inner Machiavelli takes over, and our sense of sympathy is squashed by selfishness. The UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found that, in many social situations, people with power act just like patients with severe brain damage. "The experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior," he writes. "You become very impulsive and insensitive, which is a bad combination."
Of course, we live in an age when our most powerful people - they tend to also have lots of money - are also the most isolated. They live in gated communities with private drivers. They eat at different restaurants and stay at different resorts. They wear different clothes and skip the security lines at airports, before sitting at the front of the plane. We shouldn't be surprised that they're also assholes.
*I think this helps explain the public preference for politicians with ordinary preferences, or why Scott Brown kept on talking about his truck. And it also justifies Obama insistence on not becoming informationally isolated, whether that's by reading ten letters from constituents every day or following a variety of blogs.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Finding E8

Dan Areily on Placebo

The Main Point: Frank O'Hara reads "Having a Coke With You"

Friday, January 22, 2010

enough info

Once we think we have sufficient data for a decision, our brains constrain the accumulation of addition information. de Lange et al. actually view this process using magnetoencephalography (MEG, which records the weak magnetic signals generated by brain activity)

via derek bownds

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reactions to Hill

Reaction to King Logs appears fairly muted

Geoffrey Hill Sources

Another AK reading

August again, longer reading

Kleinzahler reading

Monday, January 18, 2010

John Glenday Interview

- - [Technorati] Poemanias Technorati cosmos for Poemanias Wed, 09 Mar 2005 09:48:55 GMT 474652 2 3 Technorati v1.0 - Technorati logo 60 - Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium: "Poemanias" ... Via Poemanias , I've found this tribute site to Michael Donaghy, surely one of the best poets of the late 20th century in English. There's video, audio, and links to poems and transcripts of talks. I met Michael only briefly ...
Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium View Technorati Cosmos
Mon, 07 Mar 2005 21:39:33 GMT 2005-03-07 20:34:58 GMT
- Silliman's Blog: "Edward Farrelly" ... Amanda Drew Joseph Duemer Cliff Duffy Jilly Dybka E Martin Edmond kari edwards Stuart Eglin AnnMarie Eldon Scott Esposito Steve Evans F Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof (Philly Artblog) Edward Farrelly Rona Fernandez Caterina Fake Ryan Fitzpatrick Jim Flanagan Flarf Debby Florence Juan Jose Flores Paul Ford William Fox Gina Franco Suzanne Frischkorn G Jeannine Hall Gailey C.P. ...
Silliman's Blog View Technorati Cosmos
Mon, 07 Mar 2005 15:48:43 GMT 2005-03-07 14:50:46 GMT