Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Physical and Financial Fitness Divide

A couple of posts on GRS about the similarities between weight management and financial management have annoyed me just a bit recently.

Yes, there are a few obvious similarities:

* Both often involve budgeting and tracking the balance between your intake and your expenditures.

* Both (arguably) draw on the same limited self-regulatory resource.

* Hence, both benefit from the development of implementation intentions, rules, and good habits.

But the differences loom large to me:

* Tracking calorie intake and expenditure is infinitely harder than tracking money. With calories (or carbs or fat grams or whatever), it is impossible to be accurate.

* Going on a spending fast, like Operation Cheap Ass, does not have weird negative consequences for your ability to earn/spend nor for your life overall. You can do it for a while, stop, and pick up your life where you left off. Going on a severe diet screws up your metabolism and can lead to serious health problems.

* Once you get out of debt and start saving money in an interest-bearing account, the money you have multiplies without you really doing anything. The more successful you are, the more successful you become. A virtuous cycle emerges. You end up with more money to spend on more things. Once you lose your extra weight, your body burns fewer calories than before. The more successful you are, the less successful you become, in a sense, because you have to reduce your net calorie intake to maintain a given weight.

* When you get older, there are some things you can get for less money with your "senior discount." This lets you consume more. When you get older, your metabolism slows down. This forces you to consume less.

One pet peeve of mine, that came up in the comments of those blog posts, is the idea that physical and financial fitness both boil down to delayed gratification. Am I missing something or is this a wrong-headed idea?

If you are in the black financially, then yes, to a certain extent you can make delayed gratification work for you. You have $1,000 to buy a stereo but instead invest it so that later you have $1,000 to buy a stereo plus $100 (or whatever) to buy music to play on it (assuming your interest > inflation for those goods).

But even if you are in the enviable position of already being at your ideal body weight / strength, you don't earn interest on "unspent" calories. I don't think there's any reason to believe that if I "saved" 500 calories per day for a month that I would be able to spend those 15,000 calories plus another 1,500 calories at the end of the month (on a cruise, say) without ending up weighing more than I started the month with. I mean, yes, I can delay the gratification, and given the circumstances it might make a lot of sense to save calories from my daily allotment toward a calorie-bash later, but I don't end up being able to consume more overall.

And if you are trying to lose weight or get out of debt, you do not have the luxury of delaying gratification. You are in the sucky position of needing to forgo gratification. You've already spent too much money or eaten too many tasty treats and now you have to pay the bill. While there may be some psychological self-regulatory advantage in telling yourself, "I am going to eat / buy this desirable thing tomorrow," and having tomorrow never really come (like Alice's jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today dilemma), it's just a trick to get you to cut your consumption. This is not a "think of the one pretzel as a dry stick to keep yourself from eating it now so you can get a double portion in a little while" delayed gratification situation. If you are trying to lose weight / cut debt, you have to avoid consuming the one pretzel, full stop.

I have to assume that in many cases, people suggest that delayed gratification is important because they are thinking not of one pretzel today, two pretzels tomorrow, but trading the gratification of consumption today for the gratification of fitness way down the line. Now you're looking at two qualitatively different sources of gratification. I am probably just splitting hairs, but I'd like to think of this in terms of managing across short-term goals (I want to consume now!) and long-term goals (I want to be healthy/thin/rich) that are in competition rather than calling it delayed gratification (which is just a matter of time).


`Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'

`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

Sadly, no. Next, I am going to analyze some data and write up Experiment 2.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dow Jones: 28,000,000

Cali Gov. Arnold S.'s tentative deal with four public-sector unions to scale back future pension benefits is considered "historic" by The Economist:

"This is because it would begin the undoing of a policy disaster dating back to 1999. That was when the Democratic legislature and the then governor, Gray Davis, a Democrat elected with union support, thanked the unions by giving state workers pension increases of between 20% and 50%. Many highway-patrol officers, for example, were allowed to retire at 50 with 90% of their final salary. All told, California now has probably the most generous public-sector benefits in the country.

That, however, is not what outrages Mr Schwarzenegger, a Republican, or his brainy economic adviser David Crane, a Democrat. Rather, it is that the pension plans—above all the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest such scheme in America—pretended that this generosity would not cost anything. In 1999 the dotcom bubble was still inflating, and the plans’ actuaries predicted that their retirement funds would gain enough value to pay the increased pensions. By implication, they assumed that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would reach 25,000 in 2009 and 28m in 2099. It is currently at around 10,300."

Who were these actuaries and were they high when conducting these calculations?

Wait, is this hindsight bias on my part? I can't be sure it's not, but all the same, these actuaries appeared to commit a pretty obvious extrapolation error. (Of course, they were not alone in their irrational exuberance / incompetence.)

...And to be fair, they haven't been proven wrong on the 28,000,000 thing yet.

And Journal Editors!

"Journal editors, too, can fall prey to it [hindsight bias]. Even when submitted research is novel, it is likely to be deemed obvious after reading it, and thus unpublishable (Miller & Pollock, 1994)."

Gross, Holtz, & Miller (1995). Attitude certainty, Attitude strength: Antecedents & consequences.

Creatures of the Dusk

Last weekend, Robert and I went to the park around dusk to take a short walk and we got to see a couple mammals - a bat, squirrels, and a small (first-year) eastern cottontail rabbit (cute!). On the way home, Robert stopped the car suddenly because he saw a skunk. But with a longer view, it was clear that although it had a skunk-like quality, it was huge, had an unusually flattened shape, and was colored wrong (black and white, but not striped like a skunk - it looked like it was a black animal wearing a white cape). When we got home, we looked up the mammals of NC and could not find anything that really matched what we saw. The next day, I had the thought that perhaps we didn't see it on the list of NC wildlife because it isn't wild at all - maybe it's an exotic pet that escaped or was set loose. With further googling, Robert suggested that perhaps it was a honey badger, and I think it was.

Putting the bad-ass in badger
The honey badger is native to Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is considered the most fearless animal in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

According to wikipedia:

"The honey badger is found in arid grasslands and savannahs. Honey badgers are fierce carnivores with a keen sense of smell. They are known for their snake-killing abilities; they use their jaws to grab a snake behind its head and kill it. Honey badgers can devour a snake (150 cm/5ft or less) in 15 minutes.

Badgers have a large appetite for beehives. Commercial honey producers do not take kindly to this destruction and sometimes shoot, trap or poison badgers they suspect of damaging their hives, although badger-proof commercial bee hives have been developed.

The badger is among the fiercest hunters in its range, with prey including earthworms, insects, scorpions, porcupines, hares, ground squirrels, meerkats, mongooses and larger prey such as tortoises, crocodiles up to one metre in size, young gazelle and snakes (including pythons and venomous species). They also take lizards, frogs small rodents, birds and fruit.

The badger's ferocious reputation reflects its tendency to attack animals larger than itself; it is seldom preyed upon...

In a recent study (2009) undertaken by the magazine Scientific American it has been found that pound for pound the honey badger is the world's most fearsome land mammal as a result of its favourable claw to body ratio and aggressive behavioural tendencies...

It was also mentioned by Jeremy Clarkson on BBC Top Gear's Botswana Special that 'A Honey Badger does not kill you to eat you. It tears off your testicles.'"

I guess we need not worry about too much about whether this creature will be able to survive in the wild. As Robert pointed out, it appears the only real danger to him in W-S is cars.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Job Done

I had decided that I would send my advisor the first draft of something I've been working on by tomorrow afternoon at the latest, and I'm happy to report I sent it just now. It's a kick in the pants to realize that school starts again in two months.

It's also a relief to remember that just because it was 97 degrees today (I know, WTF? It's normally about 85 this time of year), it's not actually August already. I know that everybody always talks about the weather all the time, but for the past couple weeks, it seems that every single person I meet has been doing so compulsively and with a sort of dazed yet intense desperation that is atypical. I walked to the dumpster and back around noon today (it took 11 minutes - I timed it) and several people looked at me from their air-conditioned cars as if my obvious insanity might lead me to do something even more reckless in the next few seconds.

This evening I needed to go to the grocery to buy eggs, got in the car, spent the whole time I was driving evaluating the quality of the light and clouds and their implications for the possibility of us getting rain soon, and realized I was about to pull into the school parking lot. Oops.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Opposites Do Attract For Some Definitions of Opposites

For the most part, I agreed with this post debunking the popular romantic fiction notion that opposites - people with vastly different characteristics - attract. Research has shown that people in successful relationships usually share attitudes, interests, background, etc. However, there is one way in which it seems that opposites do attract.

A common way that personality psychologists studying relationships (and social behavior more generally) conceptualize traits is the interpersonal circumplex, a way of pictorially representing the fact that people can differ along two important dimensions - power and warmth - using a circle. (These are similar to the Big 5 personality traits of extraversion and agreeableness.) There are a lot of different versions, but here's an example.

Each person will occupy a place on the outside of the circle depicting their levels of warmth and power. The top half of the circle is for dominance, the bottom half is for submissiveness. The right half is for warmth and the left half is for hostility. In this particular version, a person occupying the "Gregarious-Extraverted" position would have a blend of warmth and dominance.

People seem to be attracted to other people who are similar to themselves but have high quality romantic relationships with partners who are similar to themselves on the warmth dimension but opposite themselves on the dominance dimension.

And Cats...And Dogs!

The interpersonal circumplex has also been applied to relationships between people and their pets. One recent study (Ziegler-Hill & Highfill, 2010) had undergraduate pet owners answer questions about their own personality, their pet's behavioral style, and their attitudes toward their pet; they found the following:

"Cats were given higher scores for the assured-dominant (PA), arrogant-calculating (BC), cold-hearted (DE), and aloof-introverted (FG) octants, whereas dogs were given higher scores for the unassuming-ingenuous (JK), warm-agreeable (LM), and gregarious-extraverted (NO) octants. Dogs and cats received similar ratings for the unassured-submissive (HI) octant. These octant differences led to cats being given significantly lower ratings on the warmth dimension than dogs which indicate that pet owners considered cats to be less friendly and more hostile than dogs. No differences were found between dogs and cats on the dominance dimension or the positivity of the attitudes expressed by their owners... The direction of the arrow represents the single location on the circumplex that best characterizes the behavioral style of the pet...

It is also important to note that there were no differences between dog owners and cat owners on any of the octant or dimension scores from the IAS-R (Fs <>ns). That is, dog and cat owners reported very similar interpersonal styles...

Pet owners report the most positive attitudes toward their pets when they perceive them as possessing behavioral styles characterized by dominance and warmth...

The results of the present study suggest that owners are more satisfied with their pets when there is correspondence on the warmth dimension. That is, both dog owners and cat owners are more satisfied with their pets when they believe their pets exhibit a level of warmth that is similar to their own. Although this pattern emerged for both dogs and cats, the association was significantly stronger for cats... Complementarity on the dominance dimension did not emerge as a significant predictor of positive attitudes toward dogs."

To my knowledge, no study testing the complementarity hypothesis among rabbits and their humans has been undertaken.

First Round Match at Wimbledon

(A guest post by RVMan)

A first round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut has been suspended due to darkness, and will finish tomorrow.

Currently, it is split 2 sets to 2, playing the 5th set. It is (6-4) (3-6) (6-7) (7-6) (59-59).

That is not a typo.

The fifth set, alone, is the longest grand slam tennis match ever played, at slightly over 7 hours. The total over the two days has thus far been 10 hours playing time. It took, literally, all day – they played the first four sets on Tuesday, were suspended due to darkness, went out this morning and played 118 games, before suspension due to darkness, again. (The prior grand slam record is 6:33, at the French Open a few years ago.) I assume this is also a record for tennis as a whole; I can’t imagine a 3 set match ever went this long. Both players have broken the Wimbledon record for most aces. (Which is part of the problem, as neither player seems capable of breaking the other’s serve. ) The 5th set has already had more games than any full match in known history – the record was 100, in a match in 1969 (pre tie-breaker).

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Couple Kinds of Self-Regulation

I decided this morning that I had to finish reading articles about self-regulation today so that I can move on to the million other things I need to do for this project, and after a big push (OK, about 11 hours of high productivity), I did. I also typed up my sources into a bibliography tonight - all 53 of them. I feel a little sorry for the future self that is going to have to attempt to synthesize all that information (though I think I'll do fine in the end; I'm pretty good at this). Verdict: self-regulation working well today.

I think tomorrow I will start writing the results section from my first year project. It'll make a nice change from all this reading.

I also made two decisions tonight:

(1) I can't eat fruit by itself in any kind of appreciable quantity without getting my blood sugar way out of whack. All the berries I've been buying need to be turned into muffins or something that won't cause me to sugar crash later - trembling all over, general weakness, heart palpitations, dizziness.

(2) I need to start waking up early and exercising in the morning before I start work because I simply cannot get the temperature cool enough in my apartment in the evening to use my treadmill comfortably. Tonight, for instance, after 2 hours of full-time A/C blasting, the temperature managed to come down less than 2 degrees. I think every time Robert called me last week, and especially tonight, I felt super-grouchy and didn't want to talk to him because I was feeling so uncomfortable. (I was not to the point of a friend on Facebook who got so hot and miserable on her bike ride - doing one of those bike across the state things - that she cried for an hour, but it's not been good.) The fact that I don't sweat easily is a problem in these situations.

Man, hypoglycemia, blood pressure dropping whenever I get up, problems sweating, pupils poorly responsive to changes in light levels (hence my inability to drive at night), etc., etc. - I really do seem to have an autonomic system problems...which, ironically, indicates that while my controlled self-regulation is working well, my automatic, physiological regulation is not so great. Weird. I guess I know what I'm titling this post now.

And to cap this off, I present to you a lolbun my sister just sent me:

Could I get this bun to write my major area paper?

This rabbit's got his self-regulatory act together.

Computer-Aided Self-Regulation

I enjoyed this article from The Economist about some popular software that helps people stay on task by disabling the Internet (or specific, easily-abusable sites like Facebook) or turning your screen into a blank piece of paper for typing on. I agree that the name Freedom for the software that severs your Internet connection for a length of time you specify is brilliant.

On this note, it's time for me to get to work...using the Internet to finish up my search for articles in the self-regulation literature.

Universities by Conference

So with Colorado joining the Pac-10 and Nebraska joining the Big 10, the Big 12 conference (once the Big 8) will become the Big 10 and the Big 10 (actually the Big 11 right now) will become the Big 12. Confused?

Last night, I had to admit to my dad that I am planning to apply to several schools in the Big 10, which would pit my school against his beloved Cornhuskers. Here are my current plans, by conference:

Big 10 - 5 schools
ACC - 2 schools
Pac-10 - 2 schools

Of the remaining Big 10, I am definitely not applying to 2, probably not applying to 1, and possibly applying to 3.

The other schools I haven't decided about yet:

Big 12 - 1
Pac-10 - 3
SEC - 2
ACC - 2
Big East - 1
Other (non-major) - 3

I think the only reasonable thing is for Stanford to admit me right away, so that my father can remain unconflicted and my sister and I could share an alma mater. I was going to emphasize my research interests and experience in my statement of purpose, but for Stanford, I clearly need to play up this peace in the family angle because adcoms are infamously impressed by this sort of logic. Or I could always write the kind of SOP that is generally effective and rely on my mom to call Stanford and explain why I should be admitted.

Note to tone-deaf reader who googled this entry: I am being sarcastic. Parental involvement in your grad school application process is a very bad idea. DO. NOT. DO. THIS. PERIOD. I appreciated this quote from an article on over-involved parents of grad school applicants:

"Derrick Bolton, dean of admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, has become immune to parents who want to know what their children should study in high school, to get in to the right college, to get in to the right business school.

“People go to business school to learn to lead other people,” says Mr. Bolton, who views the application process as a proxy for the rest of life. “And if they’re not taking ownership of the application process, it makes you wonder — is this person going to take ownership in life, without someone pushing him or her?”

That is, if they can’t apply without Mommy, how will they hold a quarterly earnings conference call with hostile investors, or argue a case in front of a judge?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Denver Trip

LivingDeb gives a good overview of Tam's graduation weekend with some photos (including window bunny art).

I will say that I did look up the weather before I left, but still did not pack enough warm (and water-resistant) clothes to deal with going into the mountains. (It did not occur to me that people would want to do such a thing when it is 35 degrees up there and raining/hailing, but apparently so.) Anyway, nobody has room in these days of the $25 per checked bag fee to pack big fuzzy fleece jackets in their carry-on luggage; it's a given that I will be borrowing this kind of gear from my host.

It was established once again that I would rather be right than happy.

There was a hell of a lot of riding in Tam's rented white van of doom. It worked out that Tam's own vehicle held the religious vegetarians and the van carried the irreverent omnivores. (I think RB managed to wear only T-shirts with vegetarian/carnivore themes over the weekend.)

Robert established himself as the king of all things sports trivia. My favorite was when people were marveling over his knowledge of Babe Zaharias (a person that nobody else knew of but me because I remembered her from the US stamp and because Robert had talked about her before as one of the best, most versatile female athletes in modern history), he offered that she went to school in the Houston area. When asked where exactly, he said he didn't know because he didn't know all that much about her. (Um, yes, except for the 47 million things he did know.)

At the graduation party, I think I could have eaten my weight in butter drenched mushrooms on small sourdough rounds, but I'm glad I didn't because the actual meal was really good, too. As were the various wines and the grappa. And though I still don't have a working elevator speech (a 2-minute synopsis of my research), I got to try out a made-up-on-the-spot (5-minute? 10-minute?) half-drunken dinner party speech, which I think was at least reasonably coherent based on the questions I was asked about it.

Now that Frontier and Midwest airlines have merged, you can fly on a plane with a cute animal on the tail while eating complementary, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. (You can also be glad that you have a 3 hour layover in Milwaukee when your first flight leaves 90 minutes late.) On the way back to NC, once we were going into our descent, I looked down and was like, Oh my god, we're home - look at all the trees! I know MV was glad to be in Colorado again and out of the actual desert where he lives, but Colorado was like a desert to me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Psychology and Proverbs: Nothing New Under the Sun

I found the examples for hindsight bias (the tendency to believe that you've always believed what you believe now or to find things obvious in retrospect without remembering that you didn't know it before) in this post quite strange.

The author shows the results of two fake studies (with the conclusions "you can't teach a dog new tricks" and "you're never too old to learn") and says in effect, Gotcha - you believed both of them, didn't you! You're not so smart! He suggests this as an explanation: "Both of those fake studies seemed probable because when you learn something new you quickly redact your past so you can feel the comfort of always being right."

This is an odd take for several reasons, including fact that most people started reading this post already believing that both statements are true. I don't think that reading about these studies caused most of us to "learn something new" at all (though we were not familiar with the specific research that supported these beliefs, neither idea is novel).

He points to an actual study in which people read contradictory proverbs and evaluated them as true, e.g. that both "love is stronger than fear" and "fear is stronger than love" are true. He suggests that this provides evidence for hindsight bias.

It is a common observation that people often think that the science of psychology (particularly social and personality psychology) doesn't tell us anything we don't already know - that it's basically all "common sense."

In some cases, this probably is a matter of hindsight bias. For example, the Asch conformity experiments (people give incorrect answers to an easy visual perception task because other participants gave that answer), the Milgram experiment (people are willing to give others levels of electric shock they believe are lethal when instructed to by an experimenter), and studies of the bystander effect (a person in trouble is less likely to get help the more observers there are) give classic examples of counter-intuitive findings from social psychology. Once people become familiar with these findings, they may forget that they ever believed anything to the contrary.

However, I think finding contradictory statements from psychological research both true and obvious demonstrates a different kind of common effect: the illusion of explanatory depth.

People think they know more about things than they actually do. We often think we know how something (such as a machine) really works, but when challenged to explain it, it is clear that our understanding is rudimentary and facile at best. We have only the most cursory, simplistic understanding of a lot of things yet think of ourselves as very knowledgeable, hence, our sense of having "explanatory depth" is illusory. (For empirical research on people's understanding of how objects work, see: Rozenblit, L., & Keil, F. (2002). The misunderstood limits of folk science: An illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive Science, 26, 521-562.)

I believe the same illusion is at work with people's understanding of psychological processes and thus their evaluation of psychological research as only demonstrating ("proving") the obvious. I think part of this illusion arises from the fact that most people view psychological research in terms of establishing various facts, such as that birds of a feather flock together and that opposites attract. But figuring out the "what" is just a small part of the scientific enterprise. We're also very interested in "how" (understanding the mechanisms of the process in detail), "when" (what are the boundary conditions on the effect - i.e., under what parameters do the claims hold), and sometimes "why" (what purpose does it serve). People often conflate description with explanation, perhaps not even realizing that there are other levels of understanding beyond the one they have.

In the introduction to my undergraduate social psychology textbook, the author describes the kinds of responses he gets when people at a party ask him what he does and he says that he is a social psychologist. In addition to the Fraidy-Cats who get frightened that he is going to try to "psych" them out and the Know-It-Alls who proclaim formal psychology to have no bearing on the Real Social World, he has to deal with Mini-Experts who "take the opportunity to instruct me in their favorite theories of why various parts of the social world do or do not function effectively; unfortunately, this is often about as illuminating as hearing a medieval monk discuss the workings of the modern automobile." (Schneider, D. J. (1988). Social psychology.)

Of course, people's understanding of psychology is much worse, even at the basic factual level, than they think it is. The recent book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology (a book I have not seen or read, but want to read) outlines these errors. How many of these ideas do you (or did you, if you can overcome the hindsight bias) believe? I have believed a lot of them.

1 Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power
2 Some People Are Left-Brained, Others Are Right-Brained
3 Extrasensory Perception Is a Well-Established Scientific Phenomenon
4 Visual Perceptions Are Accompanied by Tiny Emissions from the Eyes
5 Subliminal Messages Can Persuade People to Purchase Products

6 Playing Mozart’s Music to Infants Boosts Their Intelligence
7 Adolescence Is Inevitably a Time of Psychological Turmoil
8 Most People Experience a Midlife Crisis in Their 40s or Early 50s
9 Old Age Is Typically Associated with Increased Dissatisfaction and Senility
10 When Dying, People Pass through a Universal Series of Psychological Stages

11 Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera, and Accurately Records the
Events We’ve Experienced
12 Hypnosis is Useful for Retrieving Memories of Forgotten Events
13 Individuals Commonly Repress the Memories of Traumatic Experiences
14 Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives

15 Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Certain Groups of People
16 If You’re Unsure of Your Answer When Taking a Test, It’s Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch
17 The Defining Feature of Dyslexia Is Reversing Letters
18 Students Learn Best When Teaching Styles Are Matched to Their Learning Styles

19 Hypnosis Is a Unique "Trance" State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness
20 Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning
21 Individuals Can Learn Information, like New Languages, while Asleep
22 During "Out-of-Body" Experiences, People’s Consciousness Leaves Their Bodies

23 The Polygraph ("Lie Detector") Test Is an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty
24 Happiness Is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances
25 Ulcers Are Caused Primarily or Entirely by Stress
26 A Positive Attitude Can Stave off Cancer

27 Opposites Attract: We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ from Us
28 There’s Safety in Numbers: The More People Present at an Emergency, the Greater the Chance that Someone Will Intervene
29 Men and Women Communicate in Completely Different Ways
30 It’s Better to Express Anger Openly to Others than to Hold It in

31 Raising Children Similarly Leads to Similarities in Their Adult Personalities
32 The Fact that a Trait Is Heritable Means We Can’t Change It
33 Low Self-Esteem Is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems
34 Most People Who Were Sexually Abused in Childhood Develop Severe Personality Disturbances in Adulthood
35 People’s Responses to Inkblots Tell Us a Great Deal about Their Personalities
36 Our Handwriting Reveals Our Personality Traits

37 Psychiatric Labels Cause Harm by Stigmatizing People
38 Only Deeply Depressed People Commit Suicide
39 People with Schizophrenia Have Multiple Personalities
40 Adult Children of Alcoholics Display a Distinct Profile of Symptoms
41 There’s Recently Been a Massive Epidemic of Infantile Autism
42 Psychiatric Hospital Admissions and Crimes Increase during Full Moons

43 Most Mentally Ill People Are Violent
44 Criminal Profiling Is Helpful in Solving Cases
45 A Large Proportion Of Criminals Successfully Use the Insanity Defense
46 Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It
Skills and Pills: Myths about Psychological Treatment
47 Expert Judgment and Intuition Are the Best Means of Making Clinical Decisions
48 Abstinence Is the Only Realistic Treatment Goal for Alcoholics
49 All Effective Psychotherapies Force People to Confront the "Root" Causes of Their Problems in Childhood
50 Electroconvulsive ("Shock") Therapy Is a Physically Dangerous and Brutal Treatment

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Constitutional Ambiguity

Of course, sometimes the US Constitution can be really hard to interpret, and basically it means what the Supreme Court decides that it means. Guns, abortion - this stuff is complicated. But I don't see what's so difficult about Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the Unites States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

What drugs are the lawmakers of Arizona on that they think denying citizenship to so-called "anchor babies" (a derogatory term for children of Hispanic illegal immigrants) would not be an obvious violation of the Constitution?

I agree with the representative quoted as saying that the intent of the amendment was not to provide citizenship to illegal aliens. (I don't believe there even was a distinction between legal and illegal immigration in 1868 when the amendment was ratified. The purpose was to ensure that black ex-slaves would not be denied citizenship.) But I find it basically impossible to imagine that the Supreme Court will be swayed by his reasoning.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


One thing struck me about this scenario:

"Imagine you are very good at a particular game.

Pick anything – chess, Street Fighter, poker – doesn’t matter.

You play this game with friends all the time, and you always win. You get so good at it, you start to think you could win a tournament.

You get online and find where the next regional tournament is; you pay the entrance fee and get your ass handed to you in the first round.

It turns out, you are not so smart. All this time, you thought you were among the best of the best, but you were really just an amateur. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s a basic element of human nature."

It reminds me of the 8 gazillion grad school applicants who do not seem to understand that even though they write good Jane Austen essays by the standards of undergrads at Random State University, they really don't have a chance at a top tier PhD program.

I'll also just note that there is a debate in this literature about whether some (or all) of the finding that the least competent tend to be over-confident about their ability or knowledge and the most competent tend to be under-confident arises due to a statistical or methodological artifact of the research. My guess is that even when you correct for unreliable measurement, regression to the mean, etc., there is still a tendency for the big fish in the small pond to fail to recognize just how small that pond really is. But I am less willing than the author to endorse the proposition that this effect is a basic element of human nature. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine what this relative lack of certainty indicates about my knowledge of judgment and decision-making vis-a-vis his. Hah.

My brother in law made me aware of this blog through this post. I thought it was interesting, and I agree with the general premise that people compete for status through their purchasing behavior and that counter-cultural tastes do not buck capitalism in any way. I did find it rather quaint (read: dumb) to believe that back in the good old days, "there was a weight, an infusion of soul, in everything a person owned, used and lived in" because stuff was made by hand (I like making stuff by hand, but hellooo magical thinking), and I couldn't see how this was relevant to the larger point of the article.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weird Schedule

It seems that at about 9 p.m., my allergies stop bothering me and I finally start feeling alert, reasonably energetic, relatively headache-free, and fully brain-functional. Lately, this means I've been staying up until about 2 a.m. (oddly enough, usually working on my major area paper) and sleeping until about 10 a.m. This is sort of bothering me - it's totally out of line with my usual schedule and my current self-conception as more of a morning person - but there is not any real reason that it's a problem since there's no place for me to be at a particular time.

I feel like for minimum allergy suffering and maximum productivity this summer, I could arrange my schedule so I'm awake from about 7 p.m. until 11 a.m.

Or I could go see a freaking doctor about my allergies. (I say "a" doctor because I do not yet have any doctor in NC. I did not have an allergist in Austin, but I think I need to see one. My current regimen of drugs is not doing the trick, even without the rabbit fur / hay problem. The pollen in this state exists in crazy amounts.)

Incidentally, was I the only person who was really annoyed that Al Pacino's character in the movie Insomnia was a supposedly intelligent homicide detective but could not figure out how to darken his room in the 24-hour sun of the Alaska summer so that he could get some sleep? I mean, I get it that the man was haunted and deranged by guilt, so he had other issues affecting his sleep, but I find it frustrating when an adult is so completely incapable of handling such a basic life task.

You know, a basic life task like going to the doctor because your allergies are bad enough that you are contemplating becoming a nocturnal creature against habit and all sense. Argh.


Rabbits can't reach the second floor balcony to nibble these tender herbs
Today I harvested a bunch of basil from my thriving container herb garden and made enough pesto for two lasagnas. Then I decided to harvest oregano, too, and added it to the basil pesto, making a sort of mixed herb pesto (about 75% basil, 25% oregano). While there is probably some law in Italy about how pesto is to be made (no doubt using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor, too), I believe it is still allowable in America to make pesto partly from oregano leaves. Some people may argue that it is allowable, but not advisable. Some people will not be eating the incredibly good lasagna I will be making with this pesto.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Great Name

I think the current counterpart to Dave Barry's "that would be a great name for a band" thing is "that would be a great name for a blog."

I would like to nominate The Hidden Homunculus as a great name for a blog.

Source: MacCoon, D. G., Wallace, J. F., & Newman, J. P. (2004). Self-regulation: Context-appropriate balanced attention. The Handbook of Self-Regulation.

In this case, the hidden homunculus arises in the context of how attention is allocated. The authors argue, if "I" allocate attention, who is this "I"? A little person inside my head (i.e., a homunculus)? If I propose that "I" select my goal and my attention is allocated according to how various cues relate to my goal, this invokes a hidden homunculus.

The basic issue is that attributing something to a homunculus doesn't really answer the question because the same question can be asked of the homunculus itself. Does that homunculus have its own homunculus? Does the homunculus's homunculus have a homunculus of its own?

I guess you can think of this as being the intrapsychic version of "it's turtles all the way down."

And you know, The Homunculus's Homunculus is a pretty good blog name, too.

This Weekend in Ten Minutes

* Robert brought blackberries from the farmers market that were approximately 2" long and 1" in diameter and impossibly sweet. He also brought the Oatmeal Cookie of the Gods, containing golden raisins and coconut.

* I purchased new car insurance (at half the cost of my current policy) and renter's insurance.

* We went out early one morning with hopes of seeing the rabbit at the community garden, and just as I had given up, Robert spotted him outside the garden fence and only a few feet away from the safety of the bushes. He is indeed a big, healthy rabbit. He stood stock still while we watched him, and he kept his ears tilted 180 degrees backwards the better to monitor this potentially dangerous situation. I could have stood there all day but only looked for a very brief time so we didn't scare the poor guy to death. I love the way rabbits often have that reddish-brown fur on the napes of their necks.

* I guess I have reached some magical number with my investments because I got a very expensive direct mail piece welcoming me to the next level of service with the company.

* I am ready to find out what the hell is happening with the Big 12.

OK, back to work for me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And Monkeys!: Space Training Edition

"In studies of monkeys trained for space flight, a series of training programs has been found to be very appealing to the primates and to result in general improvements in aggression, social relations, and hyperactivity (Rumbaugh & Washburn, 1995). We have now adapted these programs for use with toddlers and young children, and trials are under way to determine the range of improvement possible, and which children and which brain networks are likely to reflect those improvements."

M. R. Rueda, M. I. Posner, & M. K. Rothbart (2004). Attention control and self-regulation. Handbook of Self-Regulation.

I love that first phrase -- in studies of monkeys trained for space flight.

I was curious whether applying these monkey programs to human kids worked, and it appears that they did:

"Our exercises began by training the child to control the movement of a cat on a computer screen by using a joystick and to predict where an object would move on the screen, given its initial trajectory. Other exercises emphasized the use of working memory to retain information for a matching-to-sample task and the resolution of conflict.

We have tested the efficacy of a very brief five days of attention training with groups of 4- and 6-year-old children...The first and last days involved assessment of the effects of training by use of the ANT [an attention task], a general test of intelligence [K-BIT], and a temperament scale...

Five days is of course a minimal amount of training to influence the development of networks that develop over many years. Nonetheless, we found a general improvement in intelligence in the experimental group as measured by the K-BIT. This was due to improvement of the experimental group in performance on the nonverbal portion of the IQ test. Our analysis of the brain networks using EEG recording further suggested that the component most closely related to the anterior cingulate in prior adult studies changed significantly in the trained children to more closely resemble what is found in adults."

M. I. Posner & M. K. Rothbart (2006). Research on attention networks as a model for the integration of psychological science, Annual Review of Psychology.

You Think Herding Cats is Tough

In my sleep last night, Robert and I spent a long time in the guest bedroom of his grandmother's house trying to get an ever-increasing number of rabbits to go into and stay in a cage. The rabbits were all about 6 pounds, varied in color from cream to beige, and seemed to change gender randomly; the vast majority of them were named Kitty, which could have been confusing if any of them reacted in any way to their name, which they didn't. They were too busy eating papaya tablets that were scattered on the floor, running around in circles, and humping each other. At one point Robert left the bedroom door open and one rabbit escaped; he returned a few minutes later with three rabbits. Even when a rabbit was successfully lured/pushed into the cage, it escaped again almost immediately because the cage kept falling apart. This would have been more troublesome if the cage had been large enough for all the rabbits at any given time to fit. Even at the beginning of this doomed process, the cage could not have held as many as half of the rabbits, even if they had been crammed in, clowns-in-a-Volkswagen style.

It was basically a relief when Robert's intention to buy his grandmother's Christmas gift came up (it was Christmas Eve):

R: "I need to skip this dinner tonight and find a designer because I think my grandmother really wants a custom-designed Mork shirt for Christmas."

S: "Mork? You mean, like, from Ork?"

R: "Yeah."

S: "As in, na-nu na-nu Mork?"

The idea of Robert's grandmother in anything that could be described as a "custom-designed Mork shirt," which I pictured being worn with rainbow striped suspenders, was enough to wake me up from this madness.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Semester Closure

I finally went back to campus last week to pick up my graded papers and to meet with my advisor about what I'm doing over the summer.

I closed out my semester/first year with:

* An A on the developmental paper and an A/A- on the final exam

* An A- on the personality paper

* An A (actually, over 100) on the stats final exam

* Good feedback on my first year review

This summer, I am working on:

* Finalizing list of PhD programs/profs I'm applying to and collecting relevant info for that bitch of a process

* Writing my major area paper covering my first year project and setting the stage for the thesis (the outline/bio is due the first week of class with the final paper due Oct 1 but I want to get it finished this summer if I can); this will also form the basis of the journal submission I will write

* Coming up with how I want to extend the research for the thesis (I have some ideas)

Today I read the book Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields and was glad to discover:

* I already have a pretty reasonable grasp of what is going to happen when in terms of the process and the product

* However the book adds a lot of both general and specific advice that I believe will prove useful both for the major area paper and the thesis

I have a little under 3 months until classes start again. If all goes well in the future (i.e., I go to a PhD program), this will be the easiest, most relaxing summer I'll experience for a long time.