Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Teaching, Parenting, Happiness, and Dogma

What popular activity leads to a statistically significant drop in personal happiness, drastically reduces leisure time, and decreases romantic satisfaction? Parenting, of course. We engage in other activities that are, in general, displeasing, but they are often a means to a greater end: We endure traffic or crowded public transportation to live in a neighborhood that better suits our lifestyle, or we work to earn money to sustain that lifestyle. That’s not to say that driving home or working universally reduce people’s happiness—but, when it does, it’s generally for a clearly more desirable end. Not so with raising children. Child-rearing or creation is supposed to, in itself, generate the sort of transcendental happiness that makes it all worth it. New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior questions the dogma of parenting as a universal good.

Why is there such a dogma? Surely the reverence most religions accord to raising and bearing—well, sometimes just bearing—children plays some role. Maybe parents are aware of the negative effect of children on their happiness level, but merely follow the broader trend of embracing altruistic acts as the ultimate good—the epitome of which is committing most of your life to another human or two. But, perhaps something else not unique to parenting is at work.

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On Mutual Experience

Mutual experience* presents a paradox.

*Mutual experience, simply put for purposes of this post, is doing the same thing as someone else. It could be simultaneous (e.g. riding a roller coaster with a friend) or temporally divided (e.g. reading a novel after a friend has read it).

There is little in life that is a more consistent source of pleasure than mutual beneficial experience. It explains the joy in reading old yearbook entries (where friends write of inside jokes) and the pleasure of jogging our memories with a friend or lover over a pleasant past mutual experience.** The pleasure of mutual experience is behind the nauseating (to me, but pleasing to many others) back-and-forth over travel experiences.

**It may be more than momentary. One study has shown that couples’ reminiscences of events of shared laughter improve overall satisfaction with their relations.

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Intentionality and Apologism (or In Defense of Apologism)

I intend to make a simple point: Apologism isn’t bad. In fact, it’s necessary to correct for the human tendency to ascribe intentionality when it’s not there.

Psychological research has demonstrated that when there are morally bad* “side-effects” to a particular purposive (i.e. goal-directed) action taken by Person A, individuals ascribe those side-effects as being intended by Person A. When those side-effects are morally good, meanwhile, individuals generally believe that Person A did not intend the side effect.

*Morally bad in a very generic “murder = bad” sense.

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Extroversion Bias

What factors influence the people we gravitate towards in new situations? Are these factors the factors that ought to influence our social decisions?

If I’m in a social situation with several new people, I’m naturally going to gravitate towards that outwardly warm and bubbly one, the one who is more likely to talk and emote and carries the conversation. Most other people do this too. This isn’t surprising: When faced with a choice, people want to engage (consciously or subconsciously) in social situations that are low cost as opposed to high cost. An extroverted individual is easier to talk to; you don’t have to pry information out of them or worry about coming up with new strands of conversation. When meeting new people, there are a few factors to discriminate by and one of those factors is how extroverted an individual is. So, naturally, when introduced to new people, people will gravitate towards extroverts due to the lower cost of conversing with them.*
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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner: Why Running is Bad for You

I went running today. One and one-tenth of a mile around my neighborhood. It was mostly downhill, except for right near the end, which was one prolonged inclined plane. I didn’t time myself because, well, I’m the kind of person who prefers to ignore bad news.

Thirty strides in, I was in complete, Ron Burgundy “I immediately regret this decision” mode. I considered turning around before deciding such a move would look bad to my older brother, to whom I’d already announced—unnecessarily proudly—that I was going for a run. Of course, I only decided this would look bad after carefully considering the various places I could hide from him during the 10-15 minutes I would be “running.”

It was a tortuous thing to do. This was unsurprising because running has always been tortuous to me. I have tried running on numerous occasions—at least biennially since my youth. I tell myself I should run at least once a week throughout the year, and one percent of the time, I talk myself into it with things like (cue the Mitch Hedberg voice), Last time wasn’t so bad. I was just really out of shape then; you know, that time two years ago after I finished that basketball season. I was totally tired and out of shape by all the exercise I had been doing. Now that I work 12 hours a day on a computer and sit around watching TV when I’m home, running will be a breeze.

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Height Matters

Height matters. Particularly for men. Out of 44 U.S. Presidents, only five have been more than an inch below average height. Teen height differentials explain wage premiums that taller workers receive in adulthood, presumably because of the self-esteem boost that tallness gives you as a teenager. Tall men are more likely to find a long-term partner and are less likely to be childless. Being tall is pretty great, isn’t it?

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Predictably Paternalistic

arielyWhen I had a class with Dan Ariely—author of the highly acclaimed Predictably Irrational—last semester he performed a dollar auction, where students could bid on a $20 bill. The highest bidder got the $20, but the second-highest bidder had to pay the second-highest bid. What generally results is a bidding war that goes above $20, causing both the highest and the second-highest bidder to lose money. Predictably, then, this led to an irrational escalation of the bids up to $30, at which point the two remaining bidders agreed to split the cost.

Now, the Freakonomics blog directs us to Swoopo, an auction website that takes full advantage of this behavioral economics insight:

“How can Swoopo, the online auction site, rake in $2,151 selling a laptop for $35.86? Easy: set an opening price of $0.01 (almost free!), then let each new bidder top the last by only a penny, and extend the auction each time someone places a bid in the final seconds. Oh, and collect $0.60 from each player for each bid they place. The winner of the auction might walk away with a good deal, but the losers will have racked up big fees chasing their sunk costs. The house always wins. Writer Mark Gimein calls the site “the evil bastard child of game theory and behavioral economics.”
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