The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies. The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments. As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.
““Fuehlometer” (Feel-o-meter) or “Public Face” is an interactive art installation that shows the mood of a city by displaying it in the form of a monumental Smiley. The system allows to read emotions out of random people’s faces. The faces are analyzed by sophisticated software (contributed by the Fraunhofer Institut). The obtained mood data are then stored on a server and processed by the smiley to visualize the emotions in real-time.”
The bank chose to investigate some contextual factors in the process of making its offer. It mailed letters to 70,000 previous borrowers saying, “Congratulations! You’re eligible for a special interest rate on a new loan.” But the interest rate was randomized on the letters: some got a low rate, others a high one. “It was done like a randomized clinical trial of a drug,” Mullainathan explains. The bank also randomized several aspects of the letter. In one corner there was a photo—varied by gender and race—of a bank employee. Different types of tables, some simple, others complex, showed examples of loans. Some letters offered a chance to win a cell phone in a lottery if the customer came in to inquire about a loan. Some had deadlines. … “What we found stunned me,” he says. “We found that any one of these things had an effect equal to one to five percentage points of interest! A woman’s photo instead of a man’s increased demand among men by as much as dropping the interest rate five points! These things are not small. And this is very much an economic problem. We are talking about big loans here; customers would end up with monthly loan payments of around 10 percent of their annual income. You’d think that if you really needed the money enough to pay this interest rate, you’re not going to be affected by a photo. The photo, cell phone lottery, simple or complicated table, and deadline all had effects on loan applications comparable to interest. Interest rate may not even be the third most important factor. As an economist, even when you think psychology is important, you don’t think it’s this important. And changing interest rates is expensive, but these psychological elements cost nothing.
Carlson and Conard break new ground by measuring not the immediate but rather the long-term effect of having a surname at the alphabet’s end, and how that, in turn, affects buying patterns. Their working hypothesis is that “[R]epeated delays imposed on children whose last names are late in the alphabet create in those individuals a chronic expediency motive that is automatically activated” by limited-time offers to buy stuff. In effect, Carlson and Conard believe the R-to-Z set will prove easier prey for “act now!” marketing pitches than the A-to-I set.
a few weeks ago nightclub in New York City promoted an event with “free tattoos,” and we just had to check it out, and see if the offer for free tattoos would tempt people to get one … When we asked the people in line for the free tattoos if they would get the tattoo if it were not free, 68% said they would not. They were only getting it because it was free. … The results indicate that the power of “free” is surprisingly influential. When we face a decision about a tattoo, one would hope that the long term permanency of the decision, coupled with the risks of getting different types of infections would cause people to pay little attention to price, and certainly not to be swayed one way or another by the power of free. But sadly, the reality (at list in the nightclub scene in New York) suggests that the power of free can get us to make many foolish decisions.
Some people meet, fall in love and get married right away. Others can spend hours in the sock aisle at the department store, weighing the pros and cons of buying a pair of wool argyles instead of cotton striped. Seeing the world as black and white, in which choices seem clear, or shades of gray can affect people’s path in life, from jobs and relationships to which political candidate they vote for, researchers say. People who often have conflicting feelings about situations—the shades-of-gray thinkers—have more of what psychologists call ambivalence, while those who tend toward unequivocal views have less ambivalence. … For decades psychologists largely ignored ambivalence because they didn’t think it was meaningful. The way researchers studied attitudes—by asking participants where they fell on a scale ranging from positive to negative—also made it difficult to tease apart who held conflicting opinions from those who were neutral, according to Mark Zanna, a University of Waterloo professor who studies ambivalence. (Similarly, psychologists long believed it wasn’t necessary to examine men and women separately when studying the way people think.) Now, researchers have been investigating how ambivalence, or lack of it, affects people’s lives, and how they might be able to make better decisions. Overall, thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is. It’s a “coming to grips with the complexity of the world,” says Jeff Larsen, a psychology professor who studies ambivalence at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Consciousness has an evolutionary selective advantage: it provides us with the illusion of responsibility, which is beneficial for society, if not for individuals as well. In this sense, consciousness is our “preview function” that comforts us into thinking that we are in control of what we will (or at least may) do ahead of time. As Cashmore notes, the irony is that the very existence of these “free will genes” is predicated on their ability to con us into believing in free will and responsibility. However, in reality, all behavioral decisions are nothing more than a reflection of our genetic and environmental history. “Whereas the impressions are that we are making ‘free’ conscious decisions, the reality is that consciousness is simply a state of awareness that reflects the input signals, and these are an unavoidable consequence of GES [genes, environment, and stochasticism],” Cashmore explained.
People on the “Awaiting Reply” list: THIS IS EVERYONE. This is your former crush, the girl you hate, all your friends, your old TA, some guy you went to camp with that you didn’t even realize knew Erin. This is where it’s at. And this is also what makes Facebook events so frustrating nowadays: here are all the people you should be prepared to see if you go to this event but who may not actually be there - all in one long list. It’s like when teachers used to tell you that you had to memorize ALL the vocab words on the list, but you’d only end up getting tested on five on them.
This may technically be considered a promotional video, but it is a great one.
“I guess kicking my seat is a necessary part of his ongoing development and it will derail his journey to self-actualization if you enforce any rules of behavior or impose any limitations on him because you don’t want him to have to experience disappointment as if there is a more important skill in life than learning to cope with disappointment.”