Weekly Roundup 22: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

0. Daniel Kahneman – Links to Lectures (and More) – Via Princeton Edu

1. Casual Fridays: Are we irrational about security? Via Cognitive Daily – Last week we asked our readers about their reasoning behind decisions they and others make about personal security. Are some of us just paranoid? Or do the decisions we make about security and safety reflect the real threats around us? Actually, since this is just a casual study, we’re not going to measure real threats — we’ll have to use a proxy: people’s own perceptions of the threats facing them in their community. How safe do our readers feel their communities are? Here’s how they rated the crime rates where they live:

2. Human children versus apes: Who’s better at tracking hidden objects, and why – Via Cognitive Daily – ResearchBlogging.orgAt 6 months old, the baby can see and reach for an object, but as soon as it is hidden, she doesn’t seem to realize it’s there. The baby is interested and excited by the objects, but when they’re not visible, it’s as if her memory has been wiped clean.

3. Psychology And The Recession, UK – Via Medical News Today – The past 18 months have seen a spectacular reversal of economic fortunes in much of the developed world, particularly in the UK. Current research into the psychological impact of the recession and how psychology could help revive the economy presented yesterday at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton

4. Symbol of remembrance triggers mass false memory: – Via Mindhacks – There’s an interesting short research report in Cortex about how a national symbol adopted in Italy after the 1980 terrorist bombing of Bologna train station likely instilled a false memory about the following 16 years. On the morning of August 2nd, 1980, at 10.25, a bomb exploded in Bologna Centrale station, killing eighty-five people wounding over 200. The blast also stopped the large station clock on the side of the building at the moment of the explosion, freezing the hands in the 10.25 position. Shortly afterwards, the clock was repaired and it continued to function normally for 16 years.

5. Solitary confinement as psychological torture: – Via Mind Hacks – The New Yorker magazine has just published an important article questioning whether the widespread use of solitary confinement in the US prison system should be outlawed as a form of torture. It’s an in-depth piece that piece that looks at numerous cases of people who have experienced solitary confinement first hand, either as hostages or legitimate prisoners, and discusses the psychological impact of this extreme form of social isolation.

6. Is less always more? Testing the limits of the choice paradox – Via BPS Research Digest – When traditional economics claimed that consumers can only gain from having more choice, the supermarkets listened – just look at the explosion in breakfast cereal offerings! But psychology has gone and complicated things by showing that more choice can often leave people feeling less satisfied and less likely to make a purchase. Consider the seminal paper by Iyengar and Lepper (pdf) that showed 30 per cent of participants offered a choice of 6 jams bought one, compared with just 3 per cent of participants offered 24 different jams. It seems we can be paralysed by having too much choice, perhaps because feeling you’ve made the wrong choice is unpleasant, and the more options there are, the more likely it is that we’ll choose the wrong one.

7.Behavioral Economics: What can it do for Environmental and Resource Economics? – Via Endogenous Preferences –

8. The secret network– Via Gene Experssion-A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World is a work of economic history focused on trade. It suffers like many in this genre due to a sloppy grasp of the historical record (the numerous trivial errors are a good sign of a very thin grasp of secondary sources).* But when it comes to the details of trade networks it is relatively informative (though do check the notes!). One of the more interestings aspects of A Splendid Exchange is the deep treatment given to the Indian ocean trade network from antiquity down to the early modern period (also see Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium fora more scholarly take on this topic). The standard model from the extant sources suggest that the trade from Egypt to China had a hinge at Sri Lanka, so that Western and Eastern traders went no further than this point. But there are references by Portuguese soldiers and missionaries to “Roman colonies” in the trading cities of the Malay archipelago in the 16th century, strongly suggesting that the Italian’s networks extended very far to the east. Additionally, during this period the Acehnese of northern Sumatra were a notable presence in the western Indian ocean, as evidenced today by the Malay features of some individuals in the Hadhramaut in southern Yemen. Finally, there is circumstantial evidence that the mercentile elite of Cairo during the phase of Mamluk ascendancy was of Indian provenance, specifically Tamil.

9. New book – ‘Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia’ – Via My Mind On Books – A person with synesthesia might feel the flavor of food on her fingertips, sense the letter J as shimmering magenta or the number 5 as emerald green, hear and taste her husband’s voice as buttery golden brown. Synesthetes rarely talk about their peculiar sensory gift—believing either that everyone else senses the world exactly as they do, or that no one else does. Yet synesthesia occurs in one in twenty people, and is even more common among artists. One famous synesthete was novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who insisted as a toddler that the colors on his wooden alphabet blocks were “all wrong.” His mother understood exactly what he meant because she, too, had synesthesia. Nabokov’s son Dmitri, who recounts this tale in the afterword to this book, is also a synesthete—further illustrating how synesthesia runs in families.

10. ‘SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable’ – Via The majority of the world’s population is religious or believes in supernatural phenomena. In the United States, nine out of every ten adults believe in God, and a recent Gallup poll found that about three out of four Americans believe in some form of telepathy, déjà vu, ghosts, or past lives. Where does such supernatural thinking come from? Are we indoctrinated by our parents, churches, and media, or do such beliefs originate somewhere else? In SuperSense, award-winning cognitive scientist Bruce M. Hood reveals the science behind our beliefs in the supernatural. Superstitions are common. Many of us cross our fingers, knock on wood, step around black cats, and avoid walking under ladders. John McEnroe refused to step on the white lines of a tennis court between points. Wade Boggs insisted on eating a chicken dinner before every Boston Red Sox game. President Barack Obama played a game of basketball the morning of his victory in the Iowa primary and continued the tradition on every subsequent election day.

11. Scientists Show How A Neuron Gets Its Shape – Via ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2009) — Ask a simple question, get a simple answer: When Abraham Lincoln was asked how long a man’s legs should be, he absurdly replied, “Long enough to reach the ground.” Now, by using a new microscopy technique to watch the growth of individual neurons in the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, Rockefeller University researchers are turning another deceptively simple question on its head. They asked, “How long should a worm’s neurons be?” And the worms fired back, “Long enough to reach their targets.”

12. Neuroscientists Demonstrate Link Between Brainwave Acticity And Visual Perception – Via ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2009) — Can we always see what is in front of us? According to Dr. Tony Ro, a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at The City College of New York (CCNY), the answer is “no.” New research published in The Journal of Neuroscience by Professor Ro and colleagues from the University of Illinois demonstrates that the brain cannot detect images when brainwave activity is in a trough.

13.The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty – Via Situationist – From The Economist, here are some excerpts of a summary of research exploring the interior situation of how poverty is passed from one generation to the next. That the children of the poor underachieve in later life, and thus remain poor themselves, is one of the enduring problems of society. . . . But nobody has truly understood what causes it. Until, perhaps, now.

14. Visual Working Memory Computer Model – Via Brain Stimulant – Working memory is a crucially important aspect of intelligence. Working memory basically refers to the brain’s ability to temporarily store information. Many brain disorders often have impaired working memory processes. New neurotechnology methods like transcranial magnetic stimulation have the ability to amp up certain aspects of the brain’s working memory storage capacity. Now researchers have created a new computer model (pdf) of how visuospatial working memory functions at a biophysical level. Visuospatial working memory is how a person remembers an image for a short term period.

15. You, Me and Our Mistakes Make Three: An Interview with Author Joe Hallinan – Via NeuroNarrative- Making mistakes is as human as breathing. But if that’s true, why are most of us so unwilling to admit it? Maybe that unwillingness is itself one of our many little quirks, “design” flaws leading us to make decisions that in retrospect seem ridiculous, miss plain-as-day details right before our eyes, and comfortably consider ourselves well above average.

16. Stress, Poverty, Working Memory via Science Blogs – The income-achievement gap is a formidable societal problem, but little is known about either neurocognitive or biological mechanisms that might account for income-related deficits in academic achievement. We show that childhood poverty is inversely related to working memory in young adults. Furthermore, this prospective relationship is mediated by elevated chronic stress during childhood. The scientists measured stress by looking at the “allostatic load” of the subjects when age 9 and 13, which is based on variables like blood pressure and levels of stress hormone, such as cortisol and norepinephrine. When the children were 17, they were given a simple test that measures working memory, which in this case meant temporarily remembering a sequence of random digits. (Working memory is strongly correlated with g.) The scientists uncovered a statistically significant link: the longer children had been poor, the worse their working memory. Furthermore, levels of chronic stress seemed to be the causal factor.

17. Money Illusion – Via ScienceBlogs – Consider two individuals, Ann and Barbara, who graudated from the same college a year apart. Upon graduation, both took similar jobs with publishing firms. Ann started with a yearly salary of $30,000. During her first year on the job there was no inflation, and in her second year Ann recieved a 2% ($600) raise in salary. Barbara also started with a yearly salary of $30,000. During her first year on the job, there was 4% inflation, and in her second year Barbara received a 5% ($1500) raise in salary. As they entered their second year on the job, who was doing better in economic terms, Ann or Barbara? As they entered their second year on the job, who do you think was happier? As they entered their second year on the job, each received a job offer from another firm. Who do you think was more likely to leave her present position for another job?

18. Would a Business Ethics Class Have Prevented Bernard Madoff from setting up his Ponzi Scheme? – Via Psychology Today – The blank slate (also know as Tabula Rasa) view of the human mind argues that individuals are born with empty minds that are subsequently forged, shaped, and influenced by environmental forces. A natural corollary of this premise is that individuals are born with equal potentiality and predilections. Hence, one’s personhood is construed as strictly driven by one’s idiosyncratic life path. Are charismatic leaders born or made? Are empathetic therapists born or made? Are magnetic and charming personalities born or made? If you believe in the blank slate premise then the answer to each of the latter questions (and countless others) is obvious: they are made!

19. A Closer Look at YouTube EDU – Via Open Culture – What you’re seeing now is essentially version 1.0. Obadiah expects YouTube EDU to evolve over time, especially as his team gathers data and feedback that will inform future iterations. But, make no mistake, this initial product has accomplished quite a bit. It centralizes the video collections from over 100 universities/colleges. This amounts to over 20,000 individual videos and 200 complete courses. It also makes these collections much easier for new users to discover and sift through. Back in early 2007, before YouTube really started working with universities, I kvetched in a public radio interview that GooTube could do more to organize the world of intellectual video, and now I certainly have a lot less to complain about (although I do still see some important tweaks that could be made here and there).

20.Brains of Guitarists in Unison Harmonize Too – Via Physiology Physics – During the 80’s, I listened to heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica, although I couldn’t follow their lyrics always. What used to captivate me in awe was how the guitarists synchronized themselves together so well. It apparently seemed as if only one guitar was playing in the background, which on closer scrutiny revealed the actual truth: it was really a duet. It is only now that scientists are beginning to find the secret behind this ‘time and phase synchrony’. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, have shown that musicians playing the same tune have their brains ‘coupled’ together. They started off experimenting with 8 such musician pairs. They first recorded the brain activity of each ‘duetter‘ by taking their electroencephalographic recordings (EEG). The musicians kept the EEG set-up atop their heads throughout the experiment.

21.An Anatomy of Noise And Its Implications – Via Physiology & Physics – Noise is something we dislike, because by definition, noise means unwanted sound. But this definition is subjective, for what is music to my ears (say the heavy metal band Metallica) is noise to most people. In fact Iraqi prisoners were forced to listen to Metallica songs as a means of torture (culture shock and noise) by the American soldiers. Perhaps a better definition is, wrong sound at the wrong place at the wrong time. Apart from acoustic noise; there is visual noise as found in television as ‘snow’, electronic noise (e.g. thermal noise or Johnson noise), cosmic noise and so on. Speaking of acoustic noise, one can’t help but think about the dreaded ‘noise pollution’ that seems to envelop us all. In addition to the nuisance it poses, it also causes anxiety, insomnia, increased blood pressure (hypertension), deafness and a hell lot of other bad things. So, it seems that noise is all bad. It’s not always so!

22. Not So Golden: Employees — and Employers — Feel the Pinch from Shortfalls in Retirement Funding – Via Knowledge At Wharton – The golden years for most Americans appear increasingly threatened by the global financial crisis. Retirement accounts have lost from $2 trillion to $4 trillion as stocks have tumbled nearly 50% from their peak in 2007. For Americans facing retirement, the details of how these plans work may be fuzzy, but the big picture is clear: Whatever comfortable cushion they may have had is now gone, and the process of building it back up will be arduous and long — perhaps too long for employees who are nearing retirement age. The pain isn’t limited to individuals with plummeting 401(k)s. Sponsors of private and public pensions — which typically invest between 60% and 70% in equities — are also finding their accounts billions of dollars below minimum requirements. The financial crisis “is affecting all types of retirement plans very similarly because they’re all invested in the same assets — stocks and bonds,” says Peter J. Brady, senior economist at the Investment Company Institute (ICI), a Washington, D.C.-based association of investment companies and mutual funds. “People have a lot less in their accounts than they had a short period ago.”

23. Music That Makes You Dumb – Via Flowing Data – Virgil Griffith, a CalTech graduate student, follows up books that make you dumb with music that makes you dumb. “Dumb” people listen to Lil’ Wayne and “smart” ones listen to Beethoven, that is, if you believe that SAT is a good judge of smarts. I’m not sure if this is actually new or just became popular again because it was in the WSJ. Virgil put up the book version over a year ago. Oh well, it’s Friday. I’m personally all over the board on this one. What kind of music do you like?

24. What Happens After the Crash? America Faces a Future of Discontinuity – Via Britannica. Com- We’re going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — and even this doesn’t accurately describe a set of global distortions, swindles and unsustainable practices that present even greater challenges than those experienced during the 1930s. But what happens next? Richard Florida, the urban theorist and author of the seminal book, The Rise of the Creative Class, is talking about a fundamental “reset” in the North American economy as a consequence of the crash. The new winners and losers aren’t necessarily who you might expect. For example, the urban Southwest may be at the end of its easy growth of the past half-century. Florida also argues that the “spatial fix” for the economy to come won’t be found in sprawling American suburbia.

25. Women Have Taken Control Of The Internet – Via Big Think – For the first time, women outnumber men online — 51.7% of all users. Increased opportunities for women is just the beginning of why this is interesting. Women make up more of the voices online than men, penning more blogs, writing more emails and, of late, generating the preponderance of all Tweets. Surprised? The Internet has spawned numerous ways for women to become her own bosses, dictate her schedules, and earn a living: eBay stores, mom blogs, Etsy sellers, to name a few. These Internet-era micro-entrepreneurs also use the internet to support each others’ businesses, exchange advice, and organize.

26. Why money messes with your mind – Via NewScientist – Dough, wonga, greenbacks, cash. Just words, you might say, but they carry an eerie psychological force. Chew them over for a few moments, and you will become a different person. Simply thinking about words associated with money seems to makes us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others. And it gets weirder: just handling cash can take the sting out of social rejection and even diminish physical pain. This is all the stranger when you consider what money is supposed to be. For economists, it is nothing more than a tool of exchange that makes economic life more efficient. Just as an axe allows us to chop down trees, money allows us to have markets that, traditional economists tell us, dispassionately set the price of anything from a loaf of bread to a painting by Picasso. Yet money stirs up more passion, stress and envy than any axe or hammer ever could. We just can’t seem to deal with it rationally… but why?

27. The Mark-to-Market Myth – Via Baseline Scenario – Today the Financial Accounting Standards Board voted – by one vote – to relax accounting standards for certain types of securities, giving banks greater discretion in determining what price to carry them at on their balance sheets. The new rules were sought by the American Bankers Association, and not surprisingly will allow banks to increase their reported profits and strengthen their balance sheets by allowing them to increase the reported values of their toxic assets. This makes no sense, for three reasons.

28. Video: Tim Ferris on starting your own business Via Stephen Kinsella – Here’s serial entrepreneur and productivity chappie Tim Ferris talking about setting up businesses. Tim is a rather successful businessman, who claims to work about 4 hours a week. Yes, that’s not 40.

29. Jeffery Sachs – Will Geithner and Summers Succeed in Raiding the FDIC and Fed? – Via VoxEU – This column explains how the Geithner public-private scheme to buy toxic assets at inflated prices is – in expected value terms – a hidden subsidy to bank shareholders paid for by US taxpayers. If the toxic assets turn out to be good investments, there is no transfer, but if they turn out to be bad loans, the taxpayer is left holding the damage while the private investors walk away.

30. Cooking by the Numbers – Via Orgs & Markets – Management by the numbers is out; will cooking by the numbers be next? The WSJ reports: As people look for quicker and easier ways to make everyday meals, some are moving away from the rigidity of recipes and advocating improvisational cooking, where measurements are approximations and ingredients are interchangeable.

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

05. April 2003 by Miguel Barbosa
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