Saturday, April 29, 2017
OXYTOCIN AND CONFORMITY - PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
An interesting article by Robert Sapolsky distinguishes between public conformity, in which subjects change their opinions to be more agreeable to the crowd, and private conformity, where the individual actually adopts the crowd’s opinion as his own.
Sapolsky describes a classic experiment for studying conformity, in which solitary subjects are first asked something with an obvious answer such as, “Here’s a line. Which of these three other lines is it closest to in length?” Then a subject is asked the question which amid a group of other “participants,” actually confederates of the researcher who have been instructed to give a unanimously wrong answer. When these false answers were given first, the real study subjects would agree with that answer up to three-quarters of the time.
Neuroscience research suggests that “the discovery that everyone disagrees with you turns out to typically activate the amygdala and the insular cortex, brain regions associated with anxiety, disgust, and unease.”
In another experiment, which involved watching a documentary and then being quizzed about it, subjects were divided into two groups. One group was administered oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling hormone,’ which is said to promote bonding and affiliation in couples and also among social groups. The other experimental group got a placebo. Among the placebo group, about 2/3 conformed to the crowd opinion…but of these, about half reverted to the correct answer when they were on their own again. Among those who got oxytocin, there was a 15% increase in the rate of public conforming, but no increase in the rate of private conforming.
I’m not sure how definitive a 15% increase really is given the sample size of only 92 subjects, but it is consistent with what has been frequently claimed about the effects of oxytocin. It is slightly comforting (again, to the extent that these results are validate-able) that the increase in public conformity does not drive a corresponding increase in private conformity. Only slightly comforting, though–the mob can still burn you at the stake for witchcraft even though most of its members privately believe that there is no such thing.)
This is obviously connected to the idea of the preference cascade. Failure to understand this concept is surely one reason why Hillary Clinton and her minions were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Millions of U.S. parents have taken out loans from the government to help their children pay for college. Now a crushing bill is coming due. Hundreds of thousands have tumbled into delinquency and default. In the process, many have delayed retirement, put off health expenses and lost portions of Social Security checks and tax refunds to their lender, the federal government…“This credit is being extended on terms that specifically, willfully ignore their ability to repay,” says Toby Merrill of Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. “You can’t avoid that we’re targeting high-cost, high-dollar-amount loans to people who we know can’t afford to repay them.”
We already knew, of course, that many former students are suffering under the burden of their student loans for years and decades, and that the problem is so common and so severe that it is impacting major purchases of things like houses and cars, and probably also marriages and business formations. The article indicates that in many cases the exploding costs of higher education are devastating their parents as well.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
In her ‘why I left the Left’ post, Danusha described the prevalence of hate, rather than a true desire to make things better, among today’s ‘progressives.’ That hate is very much on display in the Huffington Post comments.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
The National Museum of Industrial History is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel complex. Most of the original buildings are derelict or partly torn-down, but the above array of blast furnaces and supporting equipment has been preserved.
Suggested musical accompaniment for a visit to the place that was Bethlehem Steel…features a different company and a slightly different geography, but basically the same sad story.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
German Political Thought
...although, in fairness, the trend toward suppression of political speech that challenges the Official Viewpoint is by no means limited to Germany, it appears to be a Europe-wide phenomenon. One might have hoped, though, that Germany, given its history, would be particularly aware of the dangers of this sort of thing.
If this law really goes into force, you can bet that it will be employed largely against those who dare to criticize Islam in any of its manifestations. (Even without the proposed law, a German satirist has been prosecuted for insulting President Ergodan of Turkey.)
Prosecutions for blasphemy and lèse-majesté…not just for the Middle Ages!
(In his memoirs, Kaiser Wilhelm II expressed admiration for the stringent British libel laws and also expressed his regret that a similar level of constraint on newspapers in German had not been possible. If present trends continue, maybe the German democracy in 2017 will manage to actually become a less-free society than the German Empire in 1914.)
Sunday, April 09, 2017
HOW TO SELL NCR CASH REGISTERS IN 1917
Friday, April 07, 2017
Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is, IMO, one of the more thoughtful of the financial industry CEO’s. In his annual letter to shareholders, he devotes considerable space to the current situation of the United States–our assets, our problems, and potential paths for improvement. The public policy section of the letter starts on page 32.
My view of several issues is different from Mr Dimon’s, but I think the letter is well worth reading and thinking about.
(Disclosure: I’m a JPM investor)
Monday, April 03, 2017
FREEDOM AND THE AMERICAN CHARACTER
I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In. It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.
Now, however, I’m not so sure. Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.
Questions for discussion:
–Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?
–If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?