Friday, April 29, 2011

More Elitist Crap

I see Tam one Brooks Brothers ad and raise her one Patek Phillipe watch advertising campaign with the slogan "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation."

When people tell me my son looks like me, I am nonconsciously relieved to hear evidence that is inconsistent with the boy being the chauffeur's bastard

I hate this campaign, which runs constantly in The Economist.  The two ads above aren't even the most annoying of the lot.  I think I hate the one with the woman and her daughter, who look like twins only Mom has been dieting extensively for a couple extra decades and has had more work done, the most.  Ah, here it is.

You can never be too rich or too thin or too prone to awkward, obviously-fake cross-generational synchronized giggling...and did I mention rich?

This whole buying your own heirloom vibe smacks of a weird and disgusting aspirational elitism.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weekend Warblers

This past weekend, Robert and I went out looking for migrants (and summer birds).  Robert really wanted to see some warblers (as did I), and I had a special hankering for orioles and tanagers.  We spent 3 hours on trails near the university and saw a total of 35 species.  I was disappointed on the tanager front, but we did see four species of warbler and one oriole:

Yellow-rumped warbler (myrtle subspecies)

Black and white warbler

American redstart


Baltimore oriole

I also had an eerie precog thing going with birds.  Several times, I commented that we hadn't seen a given species of bird that we expected to see (e.g., ruby-crowned kinglet, wood thrush, carolina wren, white-eyed vireo) and one appeared within a couple of minutes.  We were also doing surprisingly well (by our standards) at identifying birds by sound.  So all and all, a fun and successful outing. 

The weather was cloudy and in the 50's/60's, which felt absolutely wonderful.  Today it's up to the mid-80's, to which I say BAH.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Small World

Today I got an email from the U. of Snow sent to the four of us who are entering the marketing PhD program.  One of the other students is currently getting her MBA at ... yes, My Masters University.  Weird, huh? 

Another one is in a masters program at Arizona and the fourth is currently at USC (in some capacity I couldn't easily figure out), so both warm humid places and warm dry places will be well-represented in my cohort.  We need the Groupon for a discount on snow boots.  I'm feeling partial to the Keen ones featured on this Snow City blogger's round-up - they're like the boot equivalent of mary janes.  (I've started reading her blog for useful information on how people dress places where it gets really, seriously, snot-freezingly cold.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does Money Buy Happiness, Revisited

I enjoyed reading this two part series about the money-happiness link based on research by Dan Gilbert (the author of Stumbling on Happiness) and colleagues. 

The researchers put forth 8 principles for spending money wisely to increase happiness:

1. Buy more experiences and fewer material goods.  You won't adapt to experiences as quickly as you do things.  You'll be more likely to anticipate and revisit your memories of your experiences, providing enjoyment over a longer period of time.  You'll feel engaged while doing - "A wandering mind is an unhappy mind, and one of the benefits of experiences is that they keep us focused on the here and now." Experiences are also more likely to be shared with others, which is itself a source of happiness.

2. Use money to benefit others rather than yourself.  It influences social relationships positively and gives you the opportunity for positive self-presentation.

3. Buy many small pleasures rather than a few large ones.  You're less likely to adapt (due to novelty, surprise, variability, and uncertainty.)  Small pleasures are less suceptible to diminishing marginal utility.  Taking a large pleasure and breaking it up into pieces, separated by time, gives you more "bursts of delight" than having the entire experience at once.

4. Avoid extended warranties, generous return policies, and other forms of overpriced insurance.  You'll adapt to a negative experience (e.g., your camera breaking) quicker than you think you will.  Even if it's your own fault, the powers of rationalization, shifting blame, and other forms of motivated cognition will help minimize your feelings of regret.

5. Delay consumption.  Not only does it keep you out of financial trouble, the anticipation of your pleasure is itself a big source of happiness (and anticipation provides a bigger emotional bang than does reminiscence). It also alters your choices to things that provide more long-term well-being (e.g., a healthy snack rather than junk food) and creates a pleasurable kind of uncertainty. 

6. Consider how peripheral features of purchases affect your daily life (e.g., the maintenance requirements of owning a vacation home).  We usually construe these big purchases at a high level and do not think about the annoying concrete details. 

7. Beware of comparison shopping.  It often makes you focus on the attributes of a product that allow you to differentiate between the gazillion choices available rather than the attributes that really matter to you. The context you're in when shopping is not the context you're in when consuming; by the time you're using the product or having the experience, the other options will no longer have as much effect on your enjoyment.

8. Pay attention to the happiness of others - i.e., follow the wisdom of the crowd. Heed how other people enjoyed a particular product or experience and listen to the advice of others about what you seem to like. Other people can read a lot into your nonverbal signals of liking or disliking that are not apparent to you yourself.

There's a lot of good stuff here.  Where do you stand on these principles? 

I am good about buying experiences (e.g., bird trips) not things (e.g., matching furniture).

I sort of miss buying presents for other people (though the stress reduction during the holidays kind of offsets the loss of enjoyment).

I enjoy the weekly small pleasure of eating out for lunch with Robert.  It's a highlight of my week and I really look forward to it.  (I'm already looking forward to eating outside and drinking iced tea on Saturday, with projected sunny skies and 79 degrees.)

I think I delay purchasing too long, if anything.  I wish I could get better at delaying my consumption of yummy treats.

I have avoided the major hassles associated with things like home purchases and plan to do so for a while.

I'm more of a satisficer than a maximizer when it comes to purchases and do a rather limited amount of comparison shopping.  Of course, I have the advantage that Robert likes doing that sort of thing, so I deploy him to do comparison shopping for many things (most recently, health insurance). I certainly don't comparison shop after the fact, which some people do (e.g., my mom's best friend) and which seems crazy to me. 

I could do better in using the recommendations of others in making my purchases; to too great an extent, I believe that I'm a unique snowflake with idiosyncratic preferences (as most of us do - see, I'm not even unusual in that!).

One thing that really interests me is the way that uncertainty can lead to more happiness than certainty in some situations, even though ample research demonstrates that most people have a strong desire to achieve and maintain certainty.  (Certainty is considered one of the primary human motives that underlies many other particular motives; e.g., Kagan, 1972).  I've spent a lot of time with the (un)certainty literature for my thesis. 

However, I suspect that this effect depends upon the uncertainty being more along the lines of "Will we go to the awesome Thai restaurant or eat at the Italian place I love?" and not "Will my biopsy show this tumor as benign or malignant?"  I was a bit surprised during my long PhD application period that I was not more impatient about making a decision and gaining certainty about where I will be living for the next 5 years (bad forecasting on my part).  Once I had a good acceptance in hand, it was a matter of which good-to-wonderful program I'd be attending and not, like other anxious applicants, a matter of getting into a program (that I could afford, etc.) or not.  Before the wave function collapsed (if you will excuse a questionable quantum physics metaphor), I got to pseudo-experience-in-anticipation all of the possibilities, and that was kind of fun.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Personality Research Round-up

"After three-quarters of a century of research on traits the catalog of basic facts concerning the relationships between personality and behavior remains thin. If, for example, one were to go to the literature and look for a list of contextualized behaviors that had been shown to be robustly associated with, say, extraversion, one would find surprisingly little. There would be no shortage of hypotheses tested concerning extraversion (e.g., do extraverts respond less intensely than introverts to lemon juice on the tongue), and an outright surplus of data concerning the correlations among extraversion questionnaires and other similar measures, but as for what extraverts have been observed to actually do, beyond some indication that they speak loudly (Scherer, 1978), little would be found. Even less information is available about the behavioral correlates of other personality traits." (Funder, 2001) [My personality psych professor does studies looking at real-world behavioral correlates of traits.]

"The idealized scene that I am now envisioning involves my wife and me leaving the dinner party sometime around midnight, getting into our car, and finding nothing worth listening to on the radio, beginning our traditional post-party postmordem. Summoning up all the personological wisdom and nuance I can muster at the moment, I may start off with something like, 'He was really an ass.' Or adopting the more 'relational' mode that psychologists such as Gilligan (1982) insist comes more naturally to women than men, my wife may say something like, 'I can't believe they stay married to each other.' It's often easier to begin with the cheap shots." (McAdams, 1995 - "What do we know when we know a person?")

"The authors investigated measurement of chimpanzee 'happiness' based on the human trait of subjective well-being (SWB).  Zoo workers at 13 zoos used a 7-point scale to rate 128 chimpanzees on four items related to their SWB. The items included assessment of pleasure derived from social interactions, balance of positive and negative moods, success in goal attainment, and the desirability of being a particular chimpanzee [this last measure was called Bechimp in their analysis]....Chimpanzee SWB varied positively with Dominance, Extraversion, and Dependability factors. SWB was negatively correlated with frequency of submissive behaviors. Age and sex were not significantly related to SWB." (King & Landau, 2003 - "Can chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) happiness be estimated by human raters?")

"We assert, without providing evidence, that most people care about their own health and well being, care about their marital relationships, and care about success and satisfaction in their career. These may not be outcomes understood as universally important across time and culture, but neither are they concerns unique to our own venue of southern California at the start of the twenty-first century." (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006)

"...There is no 'physics of carpets.' Although carpets may have characteristic physical components, what makes something a carpet is its relationship, at a much higher level of analysis, with the world of human beings. No amount of physics would ever lead to an explanation of why some objects are carpets." (Turkheimer, 1998)

"With goal-setting theory, specific difficult goals have been shown to increase performance on well over 100 different tasks involving more than 40,000 participants in at least 8 countries working in laboratory, simulation, and field settings. The dependent variables have included quantity, quality, time spent, costs, job behavior measures, and more. The time spans have ranged from 1 minute to 25 years. The effects are applicable not only to the individual but to groups, organizational units, and entire organizations...Isn't it time that psychologists took consciousness, including conscious motivation, seriously?" (Locke & Latham, 2002)

"We examined the relationship between subjective well-being and the ethnic/racial homogeneity of the Facebook friendship networks of first-year college students...Among European American participants, having a more homogeneous friendship network was associated with higher life satisfaction and positive affect, as well as lower felt misunderstanding." (Seder & Oishi, 2009)

Also, disappointingly, the "Jackson-5 Scales" (Jackson, 2009) have nothing to do with 1970's music.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Developmental Research Round-up

As part of the Big Clean Out of Spring 2011, I'm throwing away hard copies of articles I read for classes and that I don't have any reason to keep (i.e., they are outside my research areas).  Here is a dabbling of quotes from articles in developmental psychology for your edification and/or amusement.

"There is extensive work, for example, documenting the change in patterns of gene expression associated with learning and the formation of new memories. It has also been demonstrated that exposure to enriched environments induces changes in patterns of gene expression associated with neural structure, plasticity, and transmission. Additionally, there is recent evidence that early experience can have differential effects on carriers of different alleles of the same gene and that those differences in early gene-environment interactions have long-term effects on behavioral outcomes such as propensity to depression and IQ. Even something as simple as exposure to the smell of coffee has been shown to induce differential gene expression in rats, particularly under conditions of stress. Indeed, there is so much evidence for behavioral effects on gene expression that a neurobiologist would likely counter the question about whether behavior can influence gene expression with the possibly more interesting question of whether there are any behaviors that do not influence gene expression and activity." (Stiles, 2009)

"As Gottlieb (1997) relates, ducklings hatched from eggs incubated in isolation show a species-appropriate preference toward the maternal call of their species, and this auditory bias facilitates imprinting to associated visual cues. Lorez was quick to attribute this preference to innate, species-specific auditory recognition governed by genes. Gottlieb, however, experimentally demonstrated that the preference was not expressed by hatchlings that were incubated in isolation and devocalized, and therefore deprived or all prenatal auditory experience (i.e., maternal and sibling vocalizations as well as their own vocalizations). Indeed, self-stimulation from embryonic vocalizations tunes the auditory system and establishes a bias that shapes the later preference for the maternal call. In this way, embryos - so-called talking eggs - help create their own species-specific environment." (Spencer et al., 2009 - "Short arms and talking eggs: Why we should no longer abide the nativist-empiricist debate")

Title: "Theory of mind may be contagious, but you don't catch it from your twin" (Cassidy, Fineberg, Brown, & Perkins, 2005)

"Moffitt concluded that adolescent delinquency 'must be a social behavior that allows access to some desirable resource' and suggested 'that the resource is mature status, with its consequent power and privilege' (p. 686). GS [group socialization] theory suggests a different explanation: Adolescents are not aspiring to adult status - they are contrasting themselves with adults. They adopt characteristic modes of clothing, hairstyles, speech, and behavior so that, even though they are now the same size as adults, no one will have any trouble telling them apart. If they truly aspired to adult status they would not be spraying graffiti on overpasses, going for joyrides in cars they do not own, or shoplifting nail polish from stores. They would be doing boring adult things, like figuring out their income tax or doing their laundry." (Harris, 1995)

"Older individuals may indeed be more psychologically mature than younger people and may be happier as a result." (Sheldon & Kasser, 2001)

"The term cognitive reserve is frequently used to refer to the ubiquitous finding that, during later life, those higher in experiential resources (e.g., education, knowledge) exhibit higher levels of cognitive function. This observation may be the result of either experiential resources playing protective roles with respect to the cognitive declines associated with aging or the persistence of differences in functioning that have existed since earlier adulthood....Results suggest that cognitive reserve reflects the persistence of earlier differences in cognitive functioning rather than differential rates of age-associated cognitive declines." (Tucker-Drob, Johnson, & Jones, 2009)


Today I finally got my official notification that I've been rejected off the wait-list at Virginia (psych).  Me and about 27,000 other applicants, it seems.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Beginning the Purge

One (huge) thing I want to do before our move is edit my possessions down to a smaller quantity.  This is a journey of 2,000 steps, at least.  I'm starting with my clothes closet.  Tonight, I tried on every short-sleeved shirt and sweater that I own and made a decision to keep or ditch.  This seemed like a good place to start because the weather here is finally turning short-sleeve-worthy and I've sort of forgotten what shirts I have, like, fit, are not losing their color (damn you, blue t-shirts!), etc.

My final tally:
Keep 27 (63%)
Ditch 16 (37%)

I learned a few things from this process:
(1) I am not really a fan of most shades of pink.  There is the occasional deep pink or salmon that's okay, but I don't like the other shades, especially near my face.  And the difference between a pink that looks okay on me and one that makes my face look like that of a big ol' pink baby is astonishingly slight.
(2) Most woven shirts aren't nearly as comfortable as knit shirts.  (Duh, news flash, right?)  I ended up keeping only two woven shirts, including an ancient (circa 1997) brown, sort corduroy shirt that I bought for like $5 at K-Mart and that is kind of hard to wear (short-sleeved corduroy, you know) but that I just love.  I will make this work!
(3) I really love the way olive green shirts match my eye color.  It almost killed me to get rid of an olive green sweater but it was too short (remember when short tops was really the thing?). 
(4) Sheer white shirts made for spring or summer are pointless.  If you have to wear a camisole under it, it's probably going to be too warm (or just too uncomfortable) to wear.  White woven shirts are the worst.

In addition to the crushing loss of the olive green sweater, I also got rid of every fuschia or red short-sleeved shirt I own, and I love those colors.  While 27 short sleeves shirts is really overly adequate in number, I still want to find a good deep red knit shirt.  I might find other needs once I get to my shorts/skirts collection.

I'm saving shoes for last because shoes are my favorite.  I do not expect that I will do as well decluttering the shoes as some people, but I know that I can get rid of a few.

On this note, it's occurred to me that one advantage of moving from Texas/the South to Snow City is that I will have a great excuse to purchase boots.  And the people around me are going to be wearing boots a lot, and infrequently wearing sandals...or the atrocious flip-flops that every person under the age of 40 wears in Austin, seemingly year-round.  (If I had a dollar for every college kid wearing a coat with flip-flops in December.)

The Countdown to April 15

While other Americans furiously try to finish their taxes, PhD program applicants are on pins and needles because tomorrow is the day when PhD acceptances become binding (i.e., you would need to get a release from the program if you wanted to attend elsewhere) and thus is the day people basically finalize where they are going.  I'm looking forward to the experiencing this excitement vicariously through the various online PhD forums I follow.

This evening, I got a call from the University of Mountains marketing program, where I interviewed several weeks ago but had not heard from again, wanting to update me on their situation and find out about mine.  It was extremely satisfying to be able to report that I have accepted a position at the University of Snow [a higher ranked program].  I mean, it's pretty satisfying to be able to say that to just about anyone, because I'm super happy about the situation, but it was especially satisfying given that I was clearly Mountain's third or fourth choice, who they're now having to talk to because one of their earlier choices has not yet given them a decision (and thus they're having to figure out their Plan B/C/etc.).  I don't mean to sound like I hold a grudge about them not selecting me first (the fit is not as ideal for either party) or that I think they mistreated me somehow with their silence since the interview.  That silence generally means you've been wait-listed, and it did in this instance as well.  But yeah, there was some small petty part of me that felt pleased to say I already have a date for the dance.

Thesis update: I'm printing out copies for my committee members tomorrow and hope to have my defense ASAP (it has to be a minimum of a week after they get the document so they have time to read, criticize, rip to shreds, mock, post embarrassing typos or logical inconsistencies from to their own blogs, etc.).  My advisor was satisfied with it after seeing only two drafts, which feels like a world record.

So what will I do with myself next week, as my committee chews at my thesis in preparation for the defense?  I want to spend some time tomorrow and over the weekend setting out a plan of action so that the time is not merely lost in a haze of reading crime fiction, playing Fate, and generally wasting time.  (Don't get me wrong - I love leisure time.  It's just that without taking some time to consider what I want to do, I will spend more time on idle junk leisure and less on interesting / useful / effortful leisure than I would prefer.)  One thing already lined up: grading research reports that are due from my lab students on Monday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Fate Diet

I'm extremely surprised to discover that I have never blogged about the Fate Diet.  As you may recall from my very first post (!), Fate is a dungeon crawler / role-playing game in which you and your pet kill underground-dwelling creatures (as Robert notes, always non-humanoid ones - it's family-friendly!) with magic and brawn for fun, profit, and fame, becoming increasingly bad-ass until you defeat your chief nemesis and eventually retire, leaving an heirloom for your descendant, so she can start in a more advanced position (by far the most realistic part of the game).

The Fate Diet, however, does not involve eating the carp, grouper, perch, snapper (etc.) that you fish out of the lakes or the bodies of bugbears, wyverns, salamanders, zombie kings (etc.) that you kill in the dungeon.  Nor does it require magic.

The Fate Diet is simple.  Instead of eating an unnecessary snack (e.g., due to boredom or simple availability), you play Fate, which is a fun distraction and uses both hands (one to move and slay, one to deploy spells and potions). 

This seems to work rather well for me, but I haven't come across research linking distraction with better eating behavior.  Typically, distraction has been associated with overeating among dieters / restricted eaters in lab studies, and paying attention / monitoring one's behavior is often presented as a way to improve eating behavior (including in this recent, rare empirical study on the popular topic of mindful eating).  And of course, let's not forget the importance of thinking of a pretzel as a stick or a marshmallow as a cloud to foster self-control.  So I was pleased to read about the research going on in Traci Mann's lab:

"Most people think that the more attention they can place on their goals and behavior, the better they will be at controlling themselves.  Our work shows that there are certain situations in which people are better at controlling themselves when they are distracted.   First, we have found that there is an optimal amount of distraction that leads to exceptionally good self-control.  We think that amount of distraction keeps people from noticing, and therefore being tempted by, whatever they are trying to resist.  Second, people are also able to control themselves when they are distracted more or less than that optimal amount if they are surrounded by very noticeable reminders of their self-control goals.  Our next step is to see if we can teach people to use these distraction techniques as self-control strategies in their daily life."

For me, Fate hits a sweet spot.  It's challenging enough to be engaging and distracting, but not so difficult as to be stressful or depleting (both of which have bad implications for self-control of eating). 

But by the time my last character (Leopold) retired, he was so bad-ass that the game had gotten boring.  So I gave his awesome magical ring not to his own descendant (Olga), but to the descendant's pet cat (Vlad).  Playing a character on the highest difficulty level without a powerful artifact has been tough but really enjoyable. 

Sadly, however, the advantages of the Fate Diet have been offset in the last few weeks by the myriad disadvantages of the Stuck in the Airport Diet, the Wined and Dined by Marketing Programs Diet, the Watching Live Sports for Hours at a Time Diet, the Feeling Sick and Wanting to Eat Crackers Diet, the I Guess I'm Bringing Another Peanut Butter Sandwich on the Plane for Lunch Diet, and the I Ate Dinner at 4 PM and Now I'm Going to Die if I Don't Eat More Diet.   

Monday, April 4, 2011


I just emailed the University of Snow that I am accepting their offer of admission.  This afternoon I have to contact the other universities about my decision (not as fun).  After thinking about this literally for years, I'm surprised by how much I feel like, "Wow, this is all happening so fast!"  I guess there's a difference between thinking about the process and thinking about the outcome of that process.  Now I will be switching from obsessing about the application process to the process of becoming a U. of Snow PhD student (moving, etc.) and very soon after that, embarking on the journey of 28,000 steps toward earning my degree.

On an unrelated note, I absolutely hate the fact that my current university email account has been moved to a full-fledged google gmail account.  It shouldn't be a problem, but google doesn't have their shit together.  I was able to change the settings so I can be logged into my personal gmail and my school gmail at the same time.  But upon logging into Blogger to write this post, both my school and personal gmail accounts automatically logged out, and now both screens are prompting me to log into my personal account again (i.e., the account linked to my Blogger account).  I just checked the google web site, and it states that Blogger does not support multiple account log ins.  This is annoying in the extreme.  I think logging into Blogger with a different browser window will work, but it's stupid that such a thing is necessary.