It has been studied and proven that human beings learn socially. We observe that it is right and polite to hold the door open for others instead of slamming it in their faces and we learn that you don’t cause a loud ruckus in a crowded library (especially during finals week) or you will be hated by everyone in there. These are not lessons we are told explicitly; rather these are lessons we learn through observing the behavior of other humans. Similarly, animals learn socially just as we do.
In a study reported on by The New York Times, researchers discovered that monkeys learned socially. The monkeys had been previously classically conditioned to only eat pink or blue-dyed corn and to shun the other colored corn. When the monkeys were moved to a different location in which the other colored corn was the corn that the local monkeys were conditioned to eat, the pink and blue-dyed corn eating monkeys switched to eating the colored corn that the local monkeys were eating.
Humpback whales have also demonstrated that they socially learn, as reported in this article on National Geographic. A renegade humpback whale in the Gulf of Maine made a new method in catching fish that was much different than the normal routine. Soon enough, 40% of humpback whales have adopted the practice to catch their dinner.
These phenomena can be understood through Social Learning: An Introduction to Mechanisms, Methods, and Models, a new book on social learning that is available this summer.
Many animals, including humans, acquire valuable skills and knowledge by copying others. Scientists refer to this as social learning. It is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of behavioral research and sits at the interface of many academic disciplines, including biology, experimental psychology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience. Social Learning provides a comprehensive, practical guide to the research methods of this important emerging field. William Hoppitt and Kevin Laland define the mechanisms thought to underlie social learning and demonstrate how to distinguish them experimentally in the laboratory. They present techniques for detecting and quantifying social learning in nature, including statistical modeling of the spatial distribution of behavior traits. They also describe the latest theory and empirical findings on social learning strategies, and introduce readers to mathematical methods and models used in the study of cultural evolution. This book is an indispensable tool for researchers and an essential primer for students.
- Provides a comprehensive, practical guide to social learning research
- Combines theoretical and empirical approaches
- Describes techniques for the laboratory and the field
- Covers social learning mechanisms and strategies, statistical modeling techniques for field data, mathematical modeling of cultural evolution, and more
William Hoppitt is senior lecturer in zoology at Anglia Ruskin University. Kevin N. Laland is professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews. His books include Culture Evolves and Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution
Philip E. Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, is heading into Year 3 of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s forecasting tournament. The competition began in fall 2011 to see what team could best predict a series of short-term foreign affairs issues. The competition is based on Tetlock’s book which evaluates expert opinion and ways to make better decisions.
Check out this feature on the New York Times to learn more about the tournament.
By DAVID BROOKS
In 2006, Philip E. Tetlock published a landmark book called “Expert Political Judgment.” While his findings obviously don’t apply to me, Tetlock demonstrated that pundits and experts are terrible at making predictions.
But Tetlock is also interested in how people can get better at making forecasts. His subsequent work helped prompt people at one of the government’s most creative agencies, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, to hold a forecasting tournament to see if competition could spur better predictions.
In the fall of 2011, the agency asked a series of short-term questions about foreign affairs, such as whether certain countries will leave the euro, whether North Korea will re-enter arms talks, or whether Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev would switch jobs. They hired a consulting firm to run an experimental control group against which the competitors could be benchmarked.
Five teams entered the tournament, from places like M.I.T., Michigan and Maryland. Tetlock and his wife, the decision scientist Barbara Mellers, helped form a Penn/Berkeley team, which bested the competition and surpassed the benchmarks by 60 percent in Year 1.
How did they make such accurate predictions? In the first place, they identified better forecasters. It turns out you can give people tests that usefully measure how open-minded they are.
For example, if you spent $1.10 on a baseball glove and a ball, and the glove cost $1 more than the ball, how much did the ball cost? Most people want to say that the glove cost $1 and the ball 10 cents. But some people doubt their original answer and realize the ball actually costs 5 cents.
Tetlock and company gathered 3,000 participants. Some got put into teams with training, some got put into teams without. Some worked alone. Some worked in prediction markets. Some did probabilistic thinking and some did more narrative thinking. The teams with training that engaged in probabilistic thinking performed best. The training involved learning some of the lessons included in Daniel Kahneman’s great work, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” For example, they were taught to alternate between taking the inside view and the outside view.
Women occupy fewer positions of power in business than men. Why is that? What explains the types of relationships that men have with women and the different ways in which men and women network with friends and acquaintances? In this Social Science Bites podcast, Paul Seabright, author of ‘The War of the Sexes‘, combines an economist’s perspective with insights from biology and evolutionary science to give answers to just these questions.
Of course you do. You could probably refresh your memory of the story in a few clicks. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, which argues that the all-too-perfect memory of the digital realm has serious implications for all of us. Case in point: Just last week, Mitt Romney suffered a setback at the hands of a certain widely released fundraiser video. It’s a familiar story. Politicians and public figures have suffered countless humiliations courtesy of cyberspace’s refusal to let bygones be bygones, a comeuppance that can seem unfair when the result can mean an entire career of public service cancelled out by one all-too-visible error in judgment (or tweet). Perhaps with so much of life digitally preserved, mankind can learn to adjust and filter accordingly? Read Schönberger’s Election 101 post here.
Mitt Romney’s dog, tied to the roof of the family car during a long vacation drive, is one picture (even if only imagined, based on the light-hearted story told by Romney’s son) that fails to fade. A year ago, aspiring young Democratic Congressmen Anthony Weiner, married to Hilary Clinton’s long-time personal aide abruptly resigned; he had sent partially nude digital pictures of himself together with explicit messages to at least six women he barely knew.
This election cycle is no different from the last. Stories and pictures from a politician’s past appear and shape our perceptions of who he (or she) is. And these images don’t go away, they stay in our collective mind, and no matter how hard politicians try, these images continue to define them in the public eye. At best they go away when the politician does. Rep. Weiner’s images have faded from the public eye, because so has he.
With so much of our daily lives captured digitally, so many digital photos taken, so many billions of emails exchanged, Tweets sent, Facebook Status messages posted, many of the digerati, the self-proclaimed Internet experts, predicted that humans would swiftly adjust to comprehensive digital memory, and develop robust cognitive filters. We would, the argument went, simply disregard the meme of Romney’s dog or Weiner’s explicit messages as an irrelevant little piece of digital trivia that is not representative of Governor Romney or Representative Weiner. If everyone has such skeletons in the closet, why should we bother? Wouldn’t we be better advised to scrutinize politicians’ agendas than their digital memories?
It’s an admirable viewpoint – and always struck me as terribly naïve. For one, not all of us strap our dogs to car roofs for long rides, or send sexually explicit messages to people we barely know. And the ubiquity of digital cameras (and the ease of sharing photos) does not turn us into Exhibitionists or Peeping Toms. But even more importantly, human cognition is primed to remember the exceptional, and to forget the ordinary. That is how we think. For thousands of years it helped us to quickly recognize changed conditions; it made us aware of dangers and saved our ancestor’s (and perhaps our) lives. We have this particular ability to see the red rose in a field full of yellow tulips – and that rose is what we later remember in detail, not the thousands of tulips around it. Because we recognize and remember exceptions, we can’t quickly forget Romney’s dog and Weiner’s explicit messages, even if we wanted to.
Thus, if more of our lives is captured digitally, preserved, and kept accessible, neither politicians nor we ourselves can hope for a cognitive adjustment that lets us put aside extraordinary bits of the past.
In politics this means that we may continue to remember Romney’s dog as much (or more) as his political agenda, even though that’s not how most of us like to see ourselves: rational and objective. It does not only complicate a politician’s life (she has to assume to be constantly watched), it also makes politics an unattractive career. That is troubling for a democracy.
But retaining an ability to forget in the digital age is important not just for democracy, but for all of us. We all have trespassed in the past, and unlike in the analog age these misdeeds are more frequently captured digitally now, and preserved long-term. It may be time to think how we best can rid ourselves of some of these digital memories that are no longer relevant to who we are today.
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a member of the academic advisory board of Microsoft. His other books include Governance and Information Technology. A former software developer and lawyer, he spent ten years on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
If you’ve ever wondered if the way you’re thinking about things is holding you back, The Five Elements of Effective Thinking is a must-read. Written by the acclaimed teacher and mathematician Edward Burger—a man whose electrifying teaching style has won him countless awards—the book teaches strategic goals for using our minds to realize goals effectively, creatively, and more successfully. Today Burger takes a specific look at how we’re thinking about voting, offering an alternative to heading to the polls armed with sound bites, our preconceptions, and little else (or, as Jason Brennan would call it, being a bad voter.) Check out Burger’s post here:
This fall, the US will once again decide its fate by selecting its next batch of national, state, and local government leaders. In 2008, the previous presidential election year, voter turnout was a whopping 57% of the voting-age population. Using modern political math, that works out to nearly 8 out of every 10 man, woman, and child. If you happen to be one of those patriotic citizens who plans on doing his or her civic duty on November 6 by pulling a lever, “X”-ing a box, or punching a chad, then the 64,000-dollar question (or with the help of today’s Super PACs, the 3.2 billion-dollar question) is: For whom will you vote?
Very recently I co-authored, with Michael Starbird, a tiny but practical guide to better thinking entitled, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. It offers everyone—students, teachers, parents, professionals, and life-long learners—the opportunity to “make up” their own minds and better tap their creativity and imagination through stories and examples as well as concrete action-items that can be directly applied to any circumstance and that can become useful habits to provoke thought. Here I briefly apply some of the lessons we developed to offer a straightforward way of determining your ideal candidate.
Identify and understand the issues that matter. The cost of a candidate’s haircut or a particularly fetching outfit’s designer might not be on the top of your list of issues that truly matter. Despite the topics on which the media or even the candidates themselves decide to focus, you need to determine which issues are important to you—whether they be social, national security, or financial issues, or issues that directly impact your community or family. Don’t let the media dictate what’s important to you. Work hard to deeply understand those issues you identified as well as why you’ve embraced the views you have. Invest the time to prioritize those issues so you know what matters most to you. Focus on the essentials.
Observe how well the candidates fail. Anyone who strives to be imaginative, creative, or bold will eventually make a misstep. If your candidate has never failed, ask yourself, what—if anything—has that person been doing? If your candidate has failed, determine what lessons that person has learned from that experience. Study how the candidates evolved and moved, and decide if you agree with those corrected paths. Failing—unintentionally or deliberately—presents one with a great gift: the opportunity to learn, grow, and innovate. Discover exactly what the candidates have done in the past when they’ve stumbled upon or purposely solicited such a “gift.” If failing did not provoke a new insight or change in thinking, then you might want to keep shopping for candidates. Failure is a fantastic tool for moving forward.
Ask the right questions. Many questions will be hurled at the candidates and it’s often entertaining to watch politicians uncomfortably squirm or use the Teflon-approach and dodge those speeding queries faster than the man of steal. But by watching that drama unfold on-line or on TV, you are merely a passive listener. Instead, become an active listener: Create your own questions as you listen to the candidates or as you read their platforms and proposals. Even if you’re not one of the lucky few who actually get to directly question those politicians, you should still deliberately raise those questions in your mind. Then discover who addresses those issues and assess their stands. By doing so, you are custom-tailoring the campaigns to your interests, concerns, and values. Become an active listener: Hear what is said, and often more importantly, take note of what is missing.
Determine where we’ve been and where you think we should go. One of the quotes that inevitably surfaces during a presidential campaign is: “This is the most important election in this country’s history.” Unless our voting district is Lake Woebegone, every presidential election cannot be the most important ever. A more accurate and less melodramatic statement might be, “This is an extremely important election in this country’s future.” It is not wise to view an event or issue as sitting alone in a vacuum of a single moment in history (even if it’s touted as, “the most important”). You need to examine everything within context: From where we are emerging, to where we are today and where we need to go. With presidential politics, it’s essential to look back (both long-term and short-term) and articulate the gains we’ve made as well as the losses we’ve incurred. Then you can thoughtfully assess our current state, define local and global directions in which to move forward, and find the candidate that shares that similar vision. Always focus on the flow—what’s past, what’s the here and now, and what’s next.
Decide how you want to change. By following the four previous modes of thinking, you will be transformed—you will realize new insights, identify other points of view, uncover unintended consequences, and even generate original thoughts. Through this process, you will not only quietly and clearly discover to your ideal candidate, but you will also discover your ideal self.
Focusing solely on sound bites, political pundits, and commercials is tantamount to flipping a coin in the voting booth or even worse, mindlessly handing your vote over to the loudest voice. Instead, cast your vote effectively and intelligently. As Mike Starbird and I wrote in the last chapter of our book:
When the American Founding Fathers imagined a democracy that would reflect the will of the people, the people they envisioned were thoughtful, independent-thinking citizens who would understand the issues of their day and would turn their own clear wisdom to making sound decisions for the benefit of society. Surely more than ever, the world needs thoughtful voices—voices that can ignore the bombast and heat of shallow excitement and focus instead on thinking calmly and sensibly about long-term goals and consequences. These elements of effective thinking will help you to become a quintessential citizen of the world—contributing personally and professionally, locally and globally.
Edward Burger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed (on Twitter) @ebb663. For more information about The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, visit www.elementsofthinking.com or follow @5thinking. Burger is the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Mathematics at Williams College, an educational and business consultant, and most recently served as Vice Provost for Strategic Educational Initiatives at Baylor University. He is the author of over 60 research articles, books, and video series (starring in over 3,000 on-line videos). Among his many awards and honors, the Huffington Post named him one of their 2010 Game Changers; “HuffPost’s Game Changers salutes 100 innovators, visionaries, mavericks, and leaders who are reshaping their fields and changing the world.” In 2012, Microsoft Worldwide Education selected him as one of their “Heroes in Education”.
Max Bazerman, co-author of Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It (along with Ann Tenbrunsel) appeared on WNYC’s The Takeaway to discuss the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. You can listen to the interview below.
During the past forty years, thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of happiness. Some have explored the levels of happiness or dissatisfaction associated with typical daily activities, such as working, seeing friends, or doing household chores. Others have tried to determine the extent to which income, family, religion, and other factors are associated with the satisfaction people feel about their lives. The Gallup organization has begun conducting global surveys of happiness, and several countries are considering publishing periodic reports on the growth or decline of happiness among their people. One nation, tiny Bhutan, has actually made “Gross National Happiness” the central aim of its domestic policy. How might happiness research affect government policy in the United States—and beyond? In The Politics of Happiness, former Harvard president Derek Bok examines how governments could use the rapidly growing research data on what makes people happy—in a variety of policy areas to increase well-being and improve the quality of life for all their citizens.
Bok first describes the principal findings of happiness researchers. He considers how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of happiness research, Bok looks at the policy implications for economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental health, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects. Timely and incisive, The Politics of Happiness sheds new light on what makes people happy and how government policy could foster greater satisfaction for all.
“Compelling.”—David Brooks, New York Times
“With his clear analysis and outside-the-box ideas, Bok encourages thoughtful consideration of what we should want for ourselves and expect from our government.”—Sarah Halzack, Washington Post
We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9107.pdf
Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.
BEAUTY AND THE PRESIDENCY
By Daniel S. Hamermesh
The physical characteristics of this season’s presidential candidates have received many comments. Texas Governor Perry had a full head of thick dark hair, as does Santorum; Romney’s jawline suggests strength; Obama looks presidential; and even Gingrich and Paul look fairly decent for men in their late 60s or mid-70s. None of the male candidates is follicly challenged. Among recent female candidates Palin and Bachmann would probably be viewed by most observers as good-looking. Indeed, one Republican advisor noted during the 2008 campaign, “If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?”
Looks might not matter in intra-party leadership contests in parliamentary democracies, where small groups of insiders choose the leader—as the Golda Meir example suggests. Nor might they matter in a one-party state, as the rise of Gustavo Dias Ordaz, Mexican president during the PRI era, from 1964-1970, suggests: When his enemies accused him of being two-faced, he remarked, “If I had another face, do you think I’d go around with this one?”
But do the candidates’ looks matter in elections in a democratic two- or multi-party state? Will their good looks, or their bad looks, affect the outcome of the election? A lot of research has shown that candidates’ looks do affect their electoral chances. In German, Finnish and Australian parliamentary elections better-looking candidates have been shown to be advantaged; and the advantage can be quite large, easily enough in many cases to overcome a large disadvantage resulting from voters’ party preferences. In U.S. gubernatorial elections citizens are able to predict who the winners would be based on very brief looks at the candidates speaking—they know that better-looking candidates are more likely to win.
Why does this happen? One reason is that in these lower-level elections the better-looking candidates get more press coverage. Like you and me, journalists, especially television journalists, prefer to look at better-looking candidates; and they know that you and I do too. We are more likely to watch their broadcast, or buy their magazine or newspaper, if they show us better-looking candidates. With additional press coverage comes more familiarity and a greater likelihood that voters will pick the candidate on Election Day.
In presidential primary elections the same factors are at play. In the early stages of the quadrennial presidential process looks may matter in determining who survives the winnowing process, although there is no research demonstrating this. Even before the first primary or caucus, though, some candidates who might think of running know that their bad looks will be a hurdle that will be difficult to jump early in the process. Knowing this, and thinking that they don’t have enough other advantages to overcome their deficient or perhaps only average looks, they will choose not to run. Even before the primary process is far along, otherwise desirable candidates who are looks-challenged will have excluded themselves from consideration, just as few bad-looking people choose to become movie actors.
Things change as the primary season progresses. People’s views about the (good-looking) candidates who have survived the early rounds become more sharply delineated. The candidates’ faux pas have become impressed on the public mind; their general political inclinations and their stances on specific issues have become widely known. Having heard more about and from the candidates, we feel that we know more about them than we infer merely from looking at their pictures. As with any interpersonal relation, the more familiar we are with people’s other qualities and characteristics, the less their looks matter.
It is not surprising that the major presidential candidates are typically quite good-looking. Their looks have already had an effect on our choices; they have already achieved some prominence, and their looks have been a factor in their initial success. Early on candidates self-selected into the process based partly on looks; and their survival in its early stages depended partly on their looks. By March or April of a presidential year, though, looks are much less important. And by the November election we will not be voting because we think President Obama is better- or worse-looking than Romney (or Santorum, or anyone else); we will be voting based on economic and political considerations.
The old comment is that, with his saturnine looks, Lincoln could not be elected President today. The mass media have greatly increased our familiarity with presidential candidates, initially with their looks, eventually with their beliefs and even their character. Lincoln might well not have survived the early stages of a primary season; but if he did, his character and beliefs might have become more widely apparent to the public than was possible in 1860. Exposure through the mass media might have helped him in a “fantasy-league” general election.
Daniel S. Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at the University of Texas, Austin and author of BEAUTY PAYS: Why Attractive People are More Successful (Princeton University Press).
Hypocrisy and politicians seem to go hand in hand. But are most of us ourselves guilty of the kinds of inconsistencies both in our positions and our moral principles that we condemn so readily in politicians? Robert Kurzban, author of Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind had a wonderful piece yesterday on NYT.com’s popular Campaign Stops blog on the widespread existence of hypocrisy in human nature, which inconsistencies “merit further reflection” and to what extent we all tend to invoke moral principles only when convenient. An associate professor of psychology at The University of Pennsylvania, Kurzban draws from an array of great examples, from the gay marriage debates, to healthcare, to the cornerstone of all hypocritical outrage: marital infidelity.
What do you think? Are we holding our leaders to higher standards than ourselves? What’s more, is the lack of inconsistency a higher standard, or simply an impossible one?