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Who knows the trolley dilemma?
It’s a simple little thought experiment in ethics. Here’s a variation:
You are a station master at a railway and a runaway train is speeding through the station. Ahead of it is a split line, and the train is headed down Line A if you do not act. At the end of Line A is a single surveyor, inspecting the tracks, oblivious to the fact there is a train headed for him. At the end of Line B is a group of 4 or 5 workmen doing some maintenance.
You cannot stop the train, but you can redirect it down Line B. Do you?
Most people will answer No. It’s a tragedy, but the loss of one life is better than the loss of 5.
You are a station master at a railway and a runaway train is speeding through the station. Ahead of it is a split line, and the train is headed down Line A if you do not act. At the end of Line A is a group of 4 or 5 workmen doing some maintenance, oblivious to the fact there is a train headed for them. At the end of Line B is a single surveyor, inspecting the tracks.
You cannot stop the train, but you can redirect it down Line B. Do you?
Many people will answer Yes for the same reason. The loss of one life is a tragedy, yet your actions (though difficult and emotional) will save the lives of many.
You’re standing on top of a bridge with a work colleague (this is the first time you met him, you know nothing of him, and you’ve not exchanged any words) and you notice a runaway train (underneath the bridge) is headed for a group of workmen. You know (being a veteran train-yard employee) that you can stop the train if you pushed your work colleague off the bridge and in-front of the train. Assuming it is not an option to jump yourself; do you push your colleague?
And here the same reasoning applies – the loss of one life is a tragedy, and the saving of many lives is virtuous. Yet here people come unstuck. There’s a hundred different questions people will ask to avoid answering, “Can I push a weight instead of them?”, “Why can’t I jump?”, “Can I yell to the workers?” All valid questions, but missing the point. The point is – do you act and save the lives of many, for the life of one? There are also some valid perspectives, some people say the act of killing is always wrong, thus to let 5 people die is the moral decision. Others may also argue that it’s fate or destiny, or providence, that the 5 will die, and so saying No is moral. Yet most people in western countries waver.
What if you were told that the very same event – one man was pushed by another to save a group – happened 6 months ago. Did that man act ethically? One a scale of 1 – 5 (where 1 = despicable and repugnant, and 5 = even Mother Teresa would’ve pushed him) how would you rate that man’s actions?
What if you had special foresight and you knew that in exactly 6 months one man would be pushed to save the lives of 5 others. Nothing could be done in the intervening period to change this fact. One a scale of 1 – 5, how would you rate that man’s actions?
Do those scores differ?
Findings by Caruso (2010) suggest that they might. Over a series of experiments (relating to far tamer examples) it was found that events in the past were rated as more ethical / fair than the exact same events depicted in the future. The examples they used related to economic fairness, involving the ultimatum game, as well as real-life examples such as vending machines that charge more during hot days.
They argue that emotional reactions are there to prepare an organism to react to a given situation. They argue (in part) that past events evoke less emotional response because less action need be taken. Additionally, events in the future appear to be under our influence, and so it appears as though there are more options to be taken. Additionally, once a tragedy occurs we engage in all kinds of psychological processes to rationalize it, and to integrate it into our functioning (or reject it completely).
I think it’s an interesting idea, but the future and past are necessarily very complex and abstract concepts. My thoughts are if emotional responses are there for an organism to act (a very acceptable proposition, as far as I’m concerned) then the hypothesis should hold of distance as well. And so you might pose the question:
How do you feel about the following? Just last week, in (insert hometown here) A man on a bridge… pushed another… saved many lives…”
Just last week in (insert faraway-but-domestic-town) that A man on a bridge… pushed another… saved many lives…”
In both cases (past – distant vs. future – near) emotions are limited in their usefulness. You need not act (or even feel) if the event occurred on the other side of the country in a place you’d never likely go, yet you may need to act if such an event occurred three streets over, at a place you go frequently. There’s obviously more to the problem, but I’d be interested to see how it turns out…
What are your thoughts on the topic? Is it ethical to push? Do you think that the weight of this example outweighs the tamer examples of Caruso (2010) and so is not applicable, and do you think my alternative would yield different results?
Caruso, E. (2010). When the future feels worse than the past: A temporal inconsistency in moral judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139 (4), 610-624 DOI: 10.1037/a0020757
I have stumbled upon an interesting area of research. It seems that, like some other seemingly arbitrary measures (like digit ratios), that it has the capacity to have modest (if rough) predictive power. It also seems, at first glance, to border on the kooky side of science, and in parts reminds me of old arguments about racial intelligence and head-bumps, cranial capacity, and ol’ fashioned racism.
It is the study of eye colour and its predictive power.
Eye colour is genetic (and follows Mendelian rules*), so the possibility exists that eye colour can reveal details about our genetic make-up. It’s a rough-and-ready kind of measure, but like digit-ratio measures, it may serve a purpose. Data exists to suggest that blue-eyed children are more behaviourally inhibited than their brown-eyed counter-parts, blue-eyedness is correlated with infant timidity, and, may serve as a marker for social wariness (in children) (Kleisner et al, 2010). In an interesting study Kleisner et al (2010) took a bunch of photos of guys and girls, and asked subjects to rate them on a number of subjective measures. They found that brown-eyes in men were correlated with a higher dominance rating than blue-eyes (at p =.031). After controlling for age in the target-photo eye-colour remained significant (p =.05). As good scientists, they then changed the eye colour in all the photos and found that eye colour no longer predicted dominance scores. Thus, they found that males who are perceived as more dominant (i.e. having traits linked to higher testosterone) had brown eyes significantly more often. Oh, and for the record, eye-colour had no relation to attractiveness scores, but…
In a separate study it was found that blue-eyed men found blue-eyed women more attractive than brown-eyed women, and that brown-eyed men demonstrated no preference either way (Laeng, Mathisen & Johnson, 2007). What’s that mechanism, and why did Kleisner et al (2010) miss it? Well, it’s likely they missed it because they didn’t record participant eye colour (a strange oversight). But what’s the mechanism here? Is it in-group out-group stuff (as per this infamous excercise)? Apparently not. Laeng and friends (2010) argues that, given that eyes are mendelian in nature, a blue-eyed man may preferentially select a blue-eyed women because, once their child is born, blue eyes would serve as a rough indicator of paternity. If the child’s eyes were brown he could be pretty sure it wasn’t his. Brown-eyed men don’t seem to care because there’s a 25% likelihood (in any given situation) that the kid is going to have brown eyes anyway, and since there are more brown eyed men out there than there out with blue eyes…
Finally, here’s a quick study before we enter the murky depths of plausibility. Suedfeld et al (2002) administered a survey to Jewish Holocaust survivors and an American Jewish control group. They found the European Jewish survivors were significantly more likely to have blue eyes and blonde hair (i.e. ‘lighter’ features) than the control group. They also found that male survivors had lighter eyes and hair than female survivors, and that survivors who hid from the nazi’s did not different significantly either way (Suedfeld et al, 2002). This is predicated on the assumption that Jews did have darker features. I’m relying on the validity of the paper to support this assumption.
But here things get… messy.
“… it is argued that the predicted relationship between eye color and personality resulted from the higher need to be competitive in the North European climate. A competitive person is characterized by a tendency to be antagonistic, egocentric, and sceptical of others’ intentions rather than cooperative and, as such, could be expected to score low on a measure of Agreeableness. Since eye color is weakly sex-linked (Frost 2006) we do not anticipate this phenomena to still be present in only females. We argue that lighteyed people, whatever their sex, would be more competitive psychologically than dark eyed people if they are of north European descent.”
- Gardiner and Jackson (2010)
I’m a little wary of the premise. They cite an evolutionary story that Northern Europeans hunted in more dangerous conditions, thus more men were hurt and killed. Women had less to forage for, and so relied on the men. So here you’ve got a shortage of males and the fact that the environment was so unforgiving that it was difficult for a man to provide for a great number of offspring. This lead to the assumption that men were less polygamous. Therefore, any adaptive advantage (i.e. being a kick-ass hunter, being dominant, being able to secure resources) you can convey would win you your pick of the ladies. Apparently eye-colour can do this, but not in the direction you’d expect. It has a blue-eye bias. Despite the weak link to testosterone and dominance, being blue-eyed (i.e. different) in Northern Europe you some how managed to convey greater mate-worthiness.
I’m skeptical. They only reference a book, by Frost, published in 2006, to support their just-so story. I’m thinking there might have been more rigorous methods to validate it.
So they give these Northern Europeans some personality tests. They find that, yes, blue-eyed Northerners are… less agreeable. I don’t know why they didn’t measure Competitiveness more directly, and they use a referenced link stating that blue-eyes and digit-ratio correlation indicate higher testosterone. If you read the link, and know about digit ratios, it’s a measure of prenatal androgen exposure. I guess that’s when the eyes are formed, but a lot can happen between then and adulthood.
Unsurprisingly, evidence to the contrary exists suggesting there’s no meaningful correlation between eye-colour and behaviour (Elias, Nicolas & Abramson, 2008).
Personally, I’m unconvinced. It’s a very poorly researched area ["eye color" = DE only gets 45 hits], and thus far, these are not very rigorous findings. My thoughts are that if you want to make a claim saying that Blue-Eyed Northern Europeans are less Agreeable than their brown-eyed counter parts, you should at least be measuring it by some objective outcome (say, criminal records?). Additionally (and this wouldn’t be hard) identify the proportion of blue-eyed and brown-eyed Northerners in a matched sample comparison. If Blue-eyes were selected for, we’d see a disproportionate number of blue-eyes in the population. If it’s competitiveness your after, it almost certainly correlates with something else – such as income, or sporting representation (just guessing). Despite the fact that blue-eyedness is recessive, we do have evidence to suggest it is maintained systematically by blue-eyed men. They make an excellent falsifiable prediction (both as their premise, and in their study) yet fail to rule out some of the more obvious possibilities.
Prior to that, however, is some suggestion that eye-colour does predict simpler behaviours in children. Perhaps such things hold over time…? I’m not sure, I’m skeptical, and would like to see much more research.
So what’s the moral here? Eye colour has the potential to be marginally revealing about people, not in an Iridology kind of way**, but you know, in an actual way. But if you’re a blue-eyed lady, my guess is you have a slightly better chance of securing a blue-eye boy than a brown-eyed boy, all other things being equal. I guess I blew my chance though, my girlfriend is brown-eyed and from an Asian country… there goes my chance at mendelian markers…
*That is, if both parents are blue, the child will be blue. If parents are mixed (blue-brown) then the child will be 1/4 blue, 3/4 brown. Blue has been found to be recessive at all grades of brown (Laeng and friends, 2007).
** Iridology basically subdivides the eye up into ~90 components, then assess the health of your organs based on some magic feature of your eye. Note to these idiots: The Iris does not change over the life-span!
Gardiner, E., & Jackson, C. (2010). Eye color Predicts Disagreeableness in North Europeans: Support in Favor of Frost (2006) Current Psychology, 29 (1), 1-9 DOI: 10.1007/s12144-009-9070-1 Kleisner, K., Kočnar, T., Rubešová, A., & Flegr, J. (2010).
Eye color predicts but does not directly influence perceived dominance in men Personality and Individual Differences, 49 (1), 59-64 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.011 Suedfeld, P., Paterson, H., Soriano, E., & Zuvic, S. (2002).
Lethal Stereotypes: Hair and Eye Color as Survival Characteristics During the Holocaust1 Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32 (11), 2368-2376 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2002.tb01867.x Suedfeld, P., Paterson, H., Soriano, E., & Zuvic, S. (2002).
Eye color as an indicator of behavior: revisiting Worthy and Scott. Psychological reports, 102 (3), 759-78 PMID: 18763448
Laeng, B., Mathisen, R., & Johnsen, J. (2006). Why do blue-eyed men prefer women with the same eye color? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61 (3), 371-384 DOI: 10.1007/s00265-006-0266-1
[Wherein our Hero whether sharing = caring, and what, exactly, do we get out of it?]
Sharing is caring, so they say (or at least 13 million hits on google says so). In my experience that phrase is used regarding the sharing of emotions and thoughts, rather than things and objects. And I’ve never really understood it. Why, if I share my feelings with you, does that show I care? Surely ‘listening is caring’ would be a more appropriate truism?
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m a touch neurotic, but I vet what I’m going to say. I might have a story about myself, and in some way it seems important to me, but why would you care, why would anyone care? If it’s a story that his a wider impact, it’s funny, or generally interesting, or relevant to another party – sure – but if it’s just me getting my thoughts and feelings out there, what’s the point?(Internal Consistency Alert: this particular thought will segway into some science, so it falls under the category of ‘generally interesting’, bear with me).
Lots of things happen to me every day that I just don’t share. Yet other people feel compelled to tell you just about anything, irrespective of it’s potential significance of impact.*
So let’s say I had a compliment paid to me by a stranger, as an example of event. You can even extend that to being hit on, in some circumstances (but there’s obvious reasons why you wouldn’t share that with everyone). But let’s stick with a personal positive event, such as a compliment. I can’t see a personally significant reason why you’d want to share that with anyone else**.
Keeping this in mind, Alea (2010), looked at the the quality and kinds of (positive) autobiographical memories that we share (disclose), that we recall easily but do not share (socially silent), and that we do not recall easily and do not share (silent). Before we get onto the results, it’s interesting to point this out – silent memories (that is, ones poorly remember and unshared) may remain unshared because they are poorly remembered, alternatively, they may be poorly remembered because they are unshared. It’s an interesting little thought that has some fascinating consequences – for example – I have read/listened to a good argument for sharing in couples because couples become like memory-banks for each other, and sort of save and backup memories that might otherwise atrophy. I think we’ve all experienced our parents talking about such-and-such and Mum corrects Dad on some detail, or vice versa, thus lending anecdotal support to this position.Yet in a sample of young and older males no difference was found between disclosed and socially silent memories – each was qualitatively rich and vivid. Silent memories, on the other hand, were less vivid and less rich. Alea (2010) took this a step further and looked at life-span memories, and found similar results. Alea (2010) also found that negative memories were shared less often. However an interesting point arises that some research (cited in Alea, 2010) suggests that the act of sharing information can lead to a de-emphasis on the negative aspects of the memory and a focusing on the positive. Perhaps negative memories appear to be shared less often because the negative memories that were shared have qualitatively changed over time.
So this seems to suggest that there might be personal benefit to sharing which may impact on one’s own quality of life. But who gets what out of this? Reis, Smith & others (2010) speak of a process known as capitalization - Where sharing events with others leads to making the events more memorable, social, and leads us to maximises their significance. It is suggested that in doing this, and implicitly ensuring others acknowledge these events, that they become more positive (as above), more accepted and more memorable, thus bathing us in a more positive light – and being seen in a positive light is a highly prized and valuable social resource. They speak of the fine line between creating acceptance and creating envy (a back-fire, as it were), which is not positive. Although they don’t appear to cover it in their paper, it might also go a ways to explaining why hanging out with complainers is so unpleasant, and why we often strive to avoid them (and might explain why complaining is not a very good social strategy – though I’m sure there are benefits to it, such as eliciting sympathy and support). And so it becomes a little more evident that if you scratch my ego’s back, I’ll scratch yours, and we can all feel a little bit better knowing what each of us thinks about the others.
Rime (2007) brings together the above points and makes some interesting prediction. Sharing a) reactivates the emotional significance of the event, and b) strengthens social bonds. He suggests this is important because it positively impacts on the social and emotional ‘climate’ of the group or community. Furthermore, it increases group cohesion and solidarity, and increases collective memory. His paper is not one of research, but of theoretical frameworks, but you can take a stab at it yourself. Look at your family. You can probably estimate (say, out of 10) the degree of openness of sharing in your family, and the degree of cohesion, and the degree of positivity of the emotional climate. Sure, there’s going to be some confounds, but I’m guessing that the more a family shares, the more cohesive and together they feel – which likely reinforces the whole sharing thing, and keeps they cycle flowing.
So perhaps sharing is caring, on some emotional level.It seems to have a bunch of benefits, which may include the reinforcement of memories, the re-evaluation of the nature of the memory, your own ability to regulate your self-image in others, and more broadly, fostering a climate for others (and yourself) to continue self-regulating your image (an over-generalization? What can I say, I like Evo-Psych).
So it’s a the christmas-season, if you’re not really a sharer (like me) maybe it’s worth giving it a shot over the next few weeks. Who knows, at the very least it’ll give you an opportunity to drop hints as to what you want as presents.
*as an aside – When people tell me they’re going to go ‘take a shit’, that’s a real turn off. In no universe yet conceived by the most abstract mathematics is it somehow important for me to know this.
** FYI, I’m not a robot. My girlfriend and I talk about these things. I just don’t do it more generally.
Reis HT, Smith SM, Carmichael CL, Caprariello PA, Tsai FF, Rodrigues A, & Maniaci MR (2010). Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99 (2), 311-29 PMID: 20658846
Alea, N. (2010). The prevalence and quality of silent, socially silent, and disclosed autobiographical memories across adulthood Memory, 18 (2), 142-158 DOI: 10.1080/09658210903176486
Rimé, B. (2007). The Social Sharing of Emotion as an Interface Between Individual and Collective Processes in the Construction of Emotional Climates Journal of Social Issues, 63 (2), 307-322 DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00510.x
[Wherein our hero looks at our general online credulousness, and why
So we recorded our second trial of the Psychobabble Podcast the other night, I’m yet to edit down into a nice ipod-size programme, but I thought I might make a post regarding an interesting paper, and series of points that came up.
Back in the day, when I was studying business, a lecturer described the internet (pre-bubble) as a wild-west-like frontier, where you could pretty much get away with anything. People were still grappling with the technology, and bunch of really smart people took it by the reigns and made a killing. I think a lot of it had to do with novelty, but a lot of it had to do with the credulousness of people, too. Yet I’m not sure it was entirely their fault. We were all unfamiliar with the what constitutes credentials online – our best cues to legitimacy were often poor, and included things like how professional the site looked, and other simple things like spelling errors. The problem with these kind of cues is that credible institutions had equal access to good webdesigners to the same extent as Nigerian Princes.
So what are the consequences of conquering such a frontier? Chesney & Su (2010) looked impact of credibility of anonymous blogs. They had three conditions – completely anonymous (known by a pseudonym only), semi-anonymous (where a psuedonym was accompanied by some demographic details, like age, sex ) and non-anonymous (actual name, photo and demographic details). Now for those of you into the wider science-blogging scene you can probably make a pretty good guess at how it turns out. Chesney & Su (2010) found no difference in the degree of credibility between any of these three conditions. They even replicated this study cross-culturally (in the UK and in Malaysia) (suggesting that net-norms might really transcend borders?).
This lead to a second experiment based on conclusion of the first – perhaps readers were simply responding to ‘the feel’ of the blog. And so they introduced some grammatical/spelling errors into one post, and some factual errors into another (content held the same). Again, Chesney & Su (2010) found that although the author was perceived as being slightly less credible in the poorly-constructed condition, both blogs were perceived as being equally credible. They suggest that the blog format is fairly liberal and we’ve all come to expect some spelling and grammatical mistakes, due to the lack of editing and redrafting.
And so this raises the argument that science-bloggers are not doing good. Without such editing they can write any ol’ crap and people will lap it up, as they surely do. To be fair, this is not limited to science-bloggers, but arguable they do the most harm with their misinformation (I mean, what’s peer-review for homeopathy? It’s all woo).
The natural counter-argument is that science-bloggers speed the ‘peer-review’ process up. Where it would normally take months to deconstruct bad science, the science-bloggosphere leaps to and crushes bad science when and where it appears.
So is this good or bad? Well, let’s take the arsenic-life story. Everyone is blaming NASA for saying something stupid. Now I was following this story at Universe Today, on twitter, and generally across the blogosphere. The first I heard of it was (from Universe Today) generally exclaiming a bit of excitement, but not making any bold claims. Then I saw the tweets – NASA to reveal alien life… blah blah blah. You know what, I’d put money on it that for every science blogger that said something stupid, 10 kooks said something even more stupid. And so rumour and speculation spread like wildfire. People lapped it up, due to this apparent problem of free credability on the internet.
Here’s what the original announcement said:
“…to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.”
To discuss a finding that will have an impact. There’s a bucketload of unaccountable Methane on Venus, but people didn’t lose their shit about gassy Venutians. That finding has an impact on astrobiology, too. A big one. We’re just not sure how to interpret it.
My point is that no-one cuts deeper than a science-blogger. If you’re going to believe what you read, there are worse things to read than the writing of a science-blogger. For every scathing review of a paper, a science blogger is slicing into another science blogger. Science Bloggers self regulate, not to mention they respond – NASA made their announcement and every microbiologist worth their phosphate had something to say. To say they’re doing science an ill-service is to be completely niave of what science bloggers actually do, and it’s something you don’t see the kooks and the laymen doing. Kooks aren’t going to self-regulate, science-bloggers do. And so long as it’s well written, anyone can say anything, and people will swallow it.
Given this, to complain about science-bloggers doing an ill-service to science is to complain about all bloggers, everywhere. It’s an every day affair to find some academic routing another on some point of contention, and they don’t mince their words.
In my opinion (for whatever that’s worth) science-bloggers are the good guys. If people are going to google ‘arsenic life’ it’s better they stumble onto some microbiologist, than on to some kooks. Sure, they might get some technical points wrong, maybe even grossly, but the correct sentiment will usually emerge, in their post, in their comments, or in some other science-bloggers rebuttal.
And given that we that pretty words dazzle us this is a good thing.
Chesney, T., & Su, D. (2010). The impact of anonymity on weblog credibility International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68 (10), 710-718 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2010.06.001
Wherein our Hero discusses why you should be doing voice exercises as well as your morning push-ups]
The study I’m running is finally about to get underway. We didn’t completely solve the ‘true magnitude sexy’ problem, but we decided to add a few measures to try and explain it a little better.
How’d we do that? Well, we’re kind of employing the same methodology to participant’s voice. This particular little trick does have its own problems (you don’t hear your own voice as it actually is), but we can manipulate change in the voice to true and objective measures (i.e. percentage change in pitch).
What, might you ask, does voice have to do with it? We can all fairly readily accept that a guy with a strong jaw line and big hands is probably dripping with testosterone. They’re the kind of guy, nice as they might be, whom we quietly make the mental note: don’t get into a fight with him. Big muscles, too, we accept as a fairly decent sign of masculinity. Now you ladies might argue – no, muscles and big hands are passé and crass, I like my man to be sensitive and emotional – but, from everything I’ve read, there’s still a little part of you that loves Mark Wahlberg for those very reasons – and not his apparent boyishness and performing talent.
But there are many other cues that suggest what constitutes a good choice in mate – voice quality among them. It has been demonstrated that women who prefer more masculine faces also prefer more masculine voices (Feinberg and friends, 2008), but also that a more masculine voice predicts a more masculine face (Vukovic and colleagues, 2010).
You know, this makes sense. I’m not a tall guy, but I’ve got a decent jaw-line and reasonable degree of a muscle. Where my height fails to make predictions about my inner-qualities, other characteristics pick up the slack. And when it comes to mate selection, it’s an arms race between every guy out there (or perhaps, every guy in the room) – how does a woman pick the best mate (in any species)? Well, it’s multiply determined – and if you’re lucky enough to have the whole suite: voice, jaw, muscles, height, and everything else, well… never fear, I probably don’t want to fight you…
Which is interesting, because Watkins and others (2010) have shown that taller men (height being an excellent predictor of dominance) are less sensitive to cues of dominance and masculinity in less dominant men. Which might lend a little bit of scientific cred to the whole ‘Napoleon Complex’, whereby men who perceive themselves as inferior (usually due to their height) strive to over compensate to prove their own dominance and status.
But you can’t manipulate height anymore than you can manipulate your jaw-line, and unlike muscles (which takes weeks to manipulate) you can change the pitch of your voice in a flash. In fact, we all have a natural range of vocal pitch that we can manipulate over tiny spans of time (the length of a single syllable, for example). So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Hughes, Farley, & Rhodes (2010) have found that, when men talk to an attractive opposite-sex partner, they actually lower the pitch of their voice. Though this is not usually perceptible (one of its very subtle strengths), when independent raters could tell the difference they rated the lowered pitch as being more pleasant.
So here’s hoping that this new measures bears upon the face manipulation, and lends a bit of extra power to the study. But for every other guy out there doing their daily push-ups and sit-ups, you might consider a few vocal exercises that generally lower the pitch of your voice. Considering when you’re anxious or stressed the pitch of your voice increases (first phone call for a date, anyone?) you should be pulling in all the biological favours that you can.
Hughes, S., Farley, S., & Rhodes, B. (2010). Vocal and Physiological Changes in Response to the Physical Attractiveness of Conversational Partners Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 34 (3), 155-167 DOI: 10.1007/s10919-010-0087-9
Watkins, C., Fraccaro, P., Smith, F., Vukovic, J., Feinberg, D., DeBruine, L., & Jones, B. (2010). Taller men are less sensitive to cues of dominance in other men Behavioral Ecology, 21 (5), 943-947 DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq091
Feinberg, D., DeBruine, L., Jones, B., & Little, A. (2008). Correlated preferences for men’s facial and vocal masculinity Evolution and Human Behavior, 29 (4), 233-241 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.12.008
Vukovic, J., Jones, B., DeBruine, L., Feinberg, D., Smith, F., Little, A., Welling, L., & Main, J. (2010). Women’s own voice pitch predicts their preferences for masculinity in men’s voices Behavioral Ecology, 21 (4), 767-772 DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq051
[Wherein our Hero seeks to understand the benefits of both reading and writing blogs]
How meta- of me. A blog about blogging. It was sure to happen, as surely as it has happened everywhere else.
In my defence at least it’s a researchblogging article about blogging.
I have to say that the decision to start a blog was one of unintended consequences, all positive, I assure you.
I had two motivations in doing so – the first was to combat the rash of opinion being passed off as fact. I was sick of reading how so-and-so says this, but you-who say that, and the meaningless, factless battles the followed. I know that my blog does not begin to make a dent in the wealth of opinion-as-fact out there, but at least I proved to myself that one can be a solid skeptic and student-of-fact when dealing with my own life.
The second goal was to self-educate. I could just as easily have blogged about any given field, any given hobby, or broaden my range to ‘what’s in the news’, but since I hope to make a career in Psychology it seemed prudent to self-educate in Psychology.
With regard to the second fact I must recount a story. I was in Lab Group the day, and we (there were about a dozen of us) were trying to chip away at a problem another student was having in making his PhD application. The topic was ego-depletion, and they were looking at ways of restoring executive function after a depleting task. It went on for some time before I summoned up the balls to raise a point – a point that, if wrong, would expose my ignorance for what it was; but if relevant, would serve to demonstrate my commitment above-and-beyond to the cause of the undergrad and volunteer research assistant.
Let me point out that the professor running the Lab Group is currently Head of School, and has what appears to be encyclopaedic mental-access to papers and authors covering a huge range of topics. In any discussion he’s entirely likely to say “… there’s work by Smith and Jones on this, but you could check out McDonald and Sanders, too”.
So anyway, Ego-Depletion is his thing, and I – taking a risk – managed to bring up a paper I had blogged about previously that he had not heard of, and with its own novel implications to the work at hand.
It was a brief conversation, followed up by an email and a pdf, but it was a fairly proud moment. In a certain sense I stood on my own – a feat I would like to describe as being before its expected time. I am, after all, only an undergrad. Undergrads aren’t expected to know anything…
And so, given my fortuitous example of blogging as a useful educational tool, I wondered what research was out there.
Chong (2010) was looking at a small group (N=3) of third-year undergrads who were asked to blog about their research in order to determine what kind of relationship between student-teacher emerge, and how the students benefited. It was interesting the distinction they cited between blogging and research (and presumably research blogging):
Blogging is personal, transparent and ‘just in time’. Research is impersonal, filtered and time-consuming (Chong, 2010).
That’s not to say the two aren’t mutually beneficial. My anecdote highlights the personal benefits of doing so. Yet I would be truly hesitant to ‘come out’ as a blogger to my Prof. I would feel way too exposed. That’s not to say I object to his knowing, just that I would rather it find its way to him (or he to it) than me introducing one to the other.
Chong (2010) also cites evidence that suggests integrating blogging into course work can be an effective learning tool. However, ‘flogging’ (forced blogging, ha ha) is rarely met with success. Notably PZ Myers asks his students to blog, and gives them huge amounts of publicity via his blog, Pharyngula.
Chong (2010) finally concludes that the value in ‘academic’ blogging, as it were, is that the supervisor can keep a close eye on progress and coach or redirect where needed. Interestingly, as I would be hesitant to ask for such input from my Prof, I seem to attract it from other highly competent academics in the Blogosphere anyway, which correct and encourage where appropriate.
Then I found a separate paper which is more about you, the reader, than it is about me, the author. After an initial scan I thought this seemed like a pretty interesting paper, but after thinking it over, it seems to have lost some of its gloss – but I’ll persevere anyway.
Li & Chignell (2010) asked a number of participants to write a blog entry (that was either a diary or commentary style blog) and to take a personality test. A second group of participants then read the entry, and rated the personality of the author, and took the test themselves.
Unsurprisingly, readers liked reading blogs with authors who have similar personalities to their own (remembering this is about commentary and diary-style entries). The mechanism? ‘psycholinguistic style’. Apparently this written linguistic style is a stable trait, where text can be analysed to accurately predict personality traits (notably neuroticism and extraversion). It seems to all come down to the choice of words. Now I’ve blogged about first impressions before, and how we seem to be able to make reasonably reliable inferences about someone based solely on their photograph. So it’s hardly surprising that our powers of social inference are equal to (if not greater) when analysing the expressions of an individual.
However, they did find some other interesting things. Not all blogs are equal. Diary-style blog authors are generally considered more introverted – because their blogs are all about their thoughts on their life. Whereas authors of commentary-style blogs were more conscientious and considered to be more emotional stable (Li & Chignell, 2010).
In my mind, at any rate, this isn’t very surprising. I read PZ Meyers, but not the Huffington Post. I read Freakonomics, but not the NY Times. I used to read Dilbert, but then Scott Adams became a kook and I stopped. We self-select into this kind of thing. Why would I want to read about something that’s not related to me or my personal interests? I try to read every blog here on labspaces, but sometimes the Bio blogs just don’t catch me. Almost certainly there are posts I make here that people start, but skip after the first two paragraphs. That’s just how people are. We don’t always want to be challenged, we want to be confirmed and reminded how great we are and how great our interests are.
At any rate it’s interesting to know that I can have a fairly decent fix on my readers – they’re like me (at least in some respects). The bigger question, I think, is do I write as I truly am? Or at least, as I think I am? You can probably estimate how positive I am, how neurotic I am, and some other tangential traits (at least, traits not explicitly expressed, as opposed to political leanings, etc).
So take a stab – give me your impression of me on something that I have not explicitly expressed. Am I confrontational? Am I outdoorsy? Am I prone to Anger? Addiction? Sport?
I’d be interested to see how I am perceived through my writings. Personally, I always think I come across as a little stiff and, perhaps, contrived. But it’s more likely that’s who I am I just don’t recognize it.
Li, J., & Chignell, M. (2010). Birds of a feather: How personality influences blog writing and reading International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68 (9), 589-602 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2010.04.001
Chong, E. (2010). Using blogging to enhance the initiation of students into academic research Computers & Education, 55 (2), 798-807 DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.012
[Wherein our Hero discusses a difficult conceptual problem, and explains why you're probably not as hot as you think]
So I’m dealing with a pretty big conceptual problem at the moment. It’s part of the study I’m currently conducting on behalf of another.
The study involves, in part, morphing a participant’s face with that of a more attractive target and with that of a less attractive target.
It follows the methodology of Epley and Whitchurch (2008) who found that, in a task where participants were asked to ‘estimate the likelihood that [a given] face is their own’ they were more likely to pick 20% more attractive than their actual face.
They conducted a number of other experiments within their paper, and generally found that 10% and 20% more attractive faces were routinely accepted as one’s own more readily than 20%+ and actual and ugly-morphed faces. For the astute, there was frequently observed a decline at 10% ugly that is not of the magnitude expected. In discussions we’ve concluded that this is likely due to the fact that morphing (to a small degree) stands to ‘average out’ a face. Thus features that might be anomalous (say, a big nose; a slight asymmetry) get worked out even with ugly faces, and create a strange illusions that begs the question is it me, and is it attractive? Generally there’s a particular features that makes the face less attractive, but there’s something about a ugly-morphed face that is also a little more average (and thus, slightly more attractive than the given anomaly).
Now I need to explain this x% ‘more attractive’ idea. Essentially we take the face of a participant, and one pre-rated attractive face and one pre-rate ugly face. Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that the attractive face is Brad Pitt and the ugly face is Steve Buscemi. Now when you morph a face you match up features and, using a sliding scale, create a 10% Brad Pitt morph on your own face, or a 90% Brad Pitt morph. In the later instance it’s essentially a picture of Pitt but with a 10% influence of your own face on his.
Can you see the problem?
Let’s assume I’m a completely average looking guy – A 5 out of 10.
On the following scale I am represented by the ‘ME’ and each ‘I’ represents a 10% increase in face-likeness to the target. If I am a hypothetical 5, Pitt is a hypothetical 10 and Buscemi is a hypothetical ‘0’ [11 point scale, myself at the midpoint] then each 10% increment represents an equal deviation from myself to the target.
[50% Buscemi] I—I—I—I—I—ME—I—I—I—I—I [50% Pitt]
However, let’s now assume I’m an 8 out of 10.
[50% Buscemi] I—-I—-I—-I—-I—-ME-I-I-I-I-I [50% Pitt]
…or that I’m a 3 out of 10.
[50% Buscemi] I-I-I-I-I-ME—-I—-I—-I—I—I [50% Pitt]
As you can see, a 10% morph does not create a change of equal magnitude depending on your starting point. It’s harder for a good looking guy to get better looking, and harder for a less attractive guy to get less attractive.
In fact, during the morphing process, making an less attractive face less attractive is really quite problematic. As I said before, the acting of morphing a face to a small degree (say, between 2 – 15%) actually makes the less attractive face better looking because it averages out most of the anomolies. This, I believe, explains the less-than-expected decrease at -10% in the Epley and Whitchurch (2008) paper.
The obvious solution is to try and estimate the ‘true magnitude change’ in faces between participant and target. Maybe, a participant (an 8 out of 10) morphed with 17% Brad Pitt is equal to the magnitude change of only 4% Steve Buscemi. In a sense, we need change measured in standard Pitt units and Standard Buscemi units. But this is problematic, subjective, and difficult to quantify or justify in publication.
I’ve personally come up with a few solutions – ball park stuff – which I believe address certain areas of the problem, but are not complete enough to use.
Research into the self-enhancement literature has revealed a few confounds as well. Asking someone to directly compare themselves to a target is more likely to lead to closer approximations to the target than if you manage to implicitly direct them to make a comparison (Stapel & Suls, 2004) – One caveat: it seems to magnify your dominant response. If you think you’re an 8 out of 10, and you’re asked to compare to Brad Pitt, you’re more likely to assimilate your score towards him. But if you think you’re a 3 out of 10 (say, depressives and folks with body disorders) they tend to push away in their scores. Implicit direction seem to elicit more conservative responses in estimates – but it’s unclear whether conservative = true self-perception. I’m inclined to believe it does, at least more so than explicit measures.
Furthermore, people’s estimates of their own abilities seem to be better predicted by levels of narcissism than actual scores (John & Robins, 1994). This is true at least in measures of performance and ability (like interpersonal skills and athletic prowess), it’s unclear if this is also true for things like body-image and measures of self-attractiveness. I’m inclined to believe it is, but I have no evidence for that statement.
So my question to you, and one I’ll continue to tackle – how can I get at true measures of own’s own estimation of their attractiveness which accounts for:
- True magnitude change (because the faces do need to be altered)
- Implicit direction and/or Priming instructions
…and of course, the underlying message is that you’re not as good-looking as you think. You’re probably not as smart, athletic, witty or generally competent. Additionally, you probably also fall prey to thinking you’re above average in intuiting how other people feel and your estimate of your ability to drive a car is above average, too.
These are all interesting topics worthy of a post of their own (once this research is complete), but the good news is it probably doesn’t matter you’re wrong. Unless you’re wrong by such a degree that people call you out, chances are you’re getting away with it
Epley, N., & Whitchurch, E. (2008). Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Enhancement in Self-Recognition Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (9), 1159-1170 DOI: 10.1177/0146167208318601
John, O., & Robins, R. (1994). Accuracy and bias in self-perception: Individual differences in self-enhancement and the role of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66 (1), 206-219 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52
Stapel, D., & Suls, J. (2004). Method Matters: Effects of Explicit Versus Implicit Social Comparisons on Activation, Behavior, and Self-Views. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (6), 860-875 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2060
[Wherein our Hero ponders what makes us dance, and why we might do it.]
Last night I was driving home from work and was stopped at a red light. Across the street, waiting to walk was a girl. And she was dancing to her ipod. For some reason, this always makes me smile.
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of seeing someone dancing along in their own little world. It’s always a bit of a judgment call as to whether you think ‘what a dick’ or ‘good for you’. Can they just not control their impulses? Can they, but choose to ignore them? To ignore what everyone is doing around them? Are they not aware that there are people around them?
Now I’m not a dancer (and I don’t do karaoke, either) so I don’t really understand it. Dance is generally accepted as some kind of emotional expression, but I just don’t get it. I mean, I can watch someone else dance and understand what they’re trying to convey (I’m not completely a-cultural), but if you asked me to spend 30 seconds physically conveying some particular emotion I’d probably end up miming.
Interestingly, children can pick up what is being expressed in dance. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of a paper by Lagerlof & Djerf (2009):
Professional dancers were instructed to improvise on the emotions of joy, anger, fear, and sadness and to transform these improvisations into short solo dances, which were recorded on video. Eight performances were selected for use as stimuli. Children, aged 4, 5, and 8 years, and adults watched these performances and indicated which of the four emotions they perceived in the respective performance. All age groups achieved recognition scores well above chance level. As a rule, 4-year-olds’ recognition was inferior to that of the other age groups, but in some cases either girls or boys of this age achieved as good a recognition as one or more of the other age groups. The 5-year-old children achieved recognition levels close to those obtained for 8-year-olds and adults.
I personally find that fascinating. Kids get it. Now social influences can probably explain a whole lot about dancing, but my initial thoughts were that there is probably something evolutionary about it. I don’t know what, but a few things tipped me off. Chief among them (and we’ve all seen this, for sure) is some silly little baby dancing away to music. Perhaps they’re just trying to match the beat, or follow the melody, who knows what – but they’re doing some kind of a primitive, underdeveloped movement to music.
Here’s an example.
Now the kid could just be modelling the dancers, a highly likely suggestion. But kids do this kind of thing without models as well. I’m not going to try and suggest that kids don’t get any dancing understanding from watching others, they clearly do, but I’m making a bit of a guess that they’d do it anyway.
A paper by Phillips-Silver, Aktipis & Bryant (2010) proposed a frame-work for why we might entrain (to sync) to such stimuli. One suggestion is the capacity to pick detect, perceive and ultimately respond is part of our Vocal Learning system. This ‘Vocal Learning Hypothesis’ suggests that dance is a byproduct of our ability to mimic vocalizations in others. I guess it has some legs – body language is hugely important in communication, and a great deal of rapport is built by mimicking body language during communication – it’s not a huge step to formalize that process and drop the language part altogether. However Phillips-Silver and co. aren’t too impressed by this theory and suggest instead that physical entrainment to both social and environmental stimuli might have led to dance. It’s a nuanced difference, but does address some of the weaknesses in the Vocal Learning account.
Hagen and Bryant (2003) propose that dancing is some kind of coalition quality signalling system. At first I scoffed – what evidence can you cite? But as I read I bought into it a little more. Lots of animals bodily communicate threat or opportunity to others, and humans are no different. In fact, humans are highly co-operative and having some kind of a socially weighted system of communication could have its advantages. They say Musical performances attract, and are greatly enjoyed by, non-group members, precisely the opposite effect desired if music functioned to warn off intruders [Ed: if said intruders are assumed to be human]. The solution to this puzzle can be found in a distinctive feature of human territorial defense: groups commonly enhance their ability to defend their territories by forming alliances with neighbouring groups. Territorial defense and alliance formation both require communicating credible information about group capability to non-group members, information that would deter intruders but attract allies. I intend to read this paper more deeply later, but as it stands I’m not entirely convinced.
I must say, however, it does make some interesting predictions which can be experimentally examined. Food for thought, at the very least.
As for the girl at the lights, I doubt she was signalling the threat of a Lion. If we were to return to social/evo explanations it would be far more parsimonious to bring up some kind of a sexual selection mechanism – maybe she saw a guy she liked the look of and decided to make a neat impression. Hagen and Bryan (2003) have a list of reasons why they don’t like the Sexual Selection hypothesis. Some are reasonably compelling.
I love Evolutionary Psychology, but it has the common pitfall of descending into ‘just so’ stories. For instance – [reason 5 against sexual selection hypothesis] – Heterosexuals of all ages … are strongly attracted to music groups of the same sex. That can be flipped around so many ways it’s essentially useless. Maybe they’re such damn good dancers they can attract hetero’s to them anyway (hell, if you can flip the competition for mates towards you, that frees up access to the opposite sex, right?). Music groups are often terrible dancers. Music makes people dance. Who cares who makes the music, if it means I can dance and get the pretty girl? Also, about a million social explanations that include shared interests, shared ideologies, ingroup/outgroup dynamics, blah blah blah. Evo Psych has the potential to be hugely unifying and powerful, if only its practitioners can move beyond such simplistic just-so fallacies.
But again, the girl, I don’t know why she was doing it. But it was nice to see someone so uninhibited and expressive. It’s just a shame I can’t understand more about it.
…and just for fun:
Is there not a person in the world who needs to dance as much as a Soldier? As Nietzsche said:
And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.
Lagerlof & Djerf (2009). Children’s Understanding of Emotion in Dance Developmental Psychology DOI: 10.1080/17405620701438475
Phillips-Silver, J., Aktipis, C., & A. Bryant, G. (2010). The Ecology of Entrainment: Foundations of Coordinated Rhythmic Movement Music Perception, 28 (1), 3-14 DOI: 10.1525/mp.2010.28.1.3
Hagen, E., & Bryant, G. (2002). Music and Dance as a Coalition Signalling System Human Nature DOI: 10.1007/s12110-003-1015-z
[Wherein our Hero pops a question - What's so great about Marriage?]
I’m surrounded by marriage at the moment. In just the last three weeks I’ve had two cousins marry off (people my own age, I should add), and – most notably for LabSpaceCadets – Brian ‘Dear Overlord’ Kreuger has become happily married in the last day and a half.
One thing I’ve noticed about Weddings is that it becomes acceptable, if not customary, to harass established couples into getting married as well. For instance, my girlfriend and I have been together for 4 years, and no-on, not ever, suggests we ought to get married in anything more than jest. Yet at a wedding even my own brother is allowed to take a jab and suggest we ought to get married… My Brother, Father, Mother, Cousins 1 and 2, Auntie and probably a few more brought it up. They ask “Do I hear wedding bells?”, to which I respond “I hear nothing, perhaps you have a tumour.”.
Obviously marriage is an important social construct, but in my own little microcosm of white, middle-class first-world society I know no-one that feels actual pressure to get marriage. They do it for themselves, and out of love and commitment for the parties involved. And so I wondered what benefits people get out of being married. Sure, there’s legal benefits – but I’m going to ignore those. Second, I do not ask ‘why people get married’ – that’s not a question I’m fit to answer. I intend to focus the benefits and outcomes of being married.
Soons & Kalmijn (2009) obtained data (via survey and interview) from a total of 31, 465 individuals across 30 European countries, and looked at the difference between Married Couples and Unmarried Cohabitating Couples. The literature hint at a gap in well-being between the two groups, with some studies supporting greater well-being for Married Couples and some reporting no effect at all. It’s a pretty striking proposition, really. What is it that my cousin and her husband will do that differs from what my girlfriend and myself will do? Is the marriage ceremony itself legitimately divine? Does a wedding band have special powers? Or more seriously, might family members support young married couples more than de facto couples?
Soons & Kalmijn (2009) found that in most countries married folk had higher levels of well-being than cohabitants, but found that, in a few select countries (such as Iceland) there was a reverse gap favouring cohabitants. In a striking confound (acknowledged in the paper) when all data was pooled cohabitants were actually happier than married folk – but this was only because countries with high mean happiness had a greater frequency of cohabitants. An interesting thought alone, but a main effect of Marriage on well-being still stands. A few factors that seem to play a role were proposed – Religiosity was more prevalent among married couples and may contribute to well-being, as was the national degree of institutionalisation of the marriage paradigm. Unfortunately, ‘well-being’ was a defined in a vague and subjective way, which may account for some of the differences. For instance, if you live in a country that’s highly religious and you’re living out-of-wedlock then being married itself is a good thing (unto itself) and will contribute to one’s well-being as a direct result, rather than marriage bestowing some kind of implicit, general well-ness.
Having said that Koball et al (2010) do cite evidence that married folk have better physical and mental health, and generally live longer (as do the children of married couples). Yet there might be some weird self-selection going on here. After all, we can’t randomly assign people to get married, right. I did find one article that assessed cardiovascular responses to pleasant, neutral and stressful couple-interaction – but it was terrible. There was no control group (no unmarried couples), it was done in Utah (highly religious and conservative) and ‘found’ that, yes, arguments and stress do bad things to the heart, which increase the risk of cardiovascular problems (Nealey-Moore et al, 2007).
And so marriage is all about love, right? But there are many kinds of love. Some will argue that point, but Psychologists tend to break down love into component parts (oh, the heartless bastards!), and among the most interesting and difficult to study is romantic love. The kind of love that characterizes early relationships – highly intense, obsessive, anxiety fuelled, close-proximity (and often highly sexual) love. More widely it’s referred to as ‘the honey moon period’, to the best of my understanding. Such emotions are correlated positively for the health of the relationship. Sadly, most people get over it, but Acevedo and Aron (2009) cite evidence that those who maintain it well into an established relationship have it correlated well with satisfaction within the relationship. Companionate love, the kind of enduring, sustainable love that long-term couples enjoy, is also correlated with satisfaction in the relationship, but not as highly as the romantic type. The good news is that satisfaction (from wherever it stems) in a relationship has a positive influence global well-being, including happiness, health and satisfaction (Acevedo and Aron, 2009).
In conclusion I am afraid I cannot offer advice to maximise happiness in marriage. There’s probably advice out there, if you were to trawl through the couples-therapy literature, but I think I would find that depressing. But in a way it’s a good to know that when someone wishes you a happy and long life together they’re probably correct, and actually mean to say best wishes for a happier, healthier and longer life than those unmarried heathen.
If I ever get to be a best man and make a speech, it’s definitely going to be scientifically accurate.
Acevedo, B., & Aron, A. (2009). Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology, 13 (1), 59-65 DOI: 10.1037/a0014226
Soons, J., & Kalmijn, M. (2009). Is Marriage More Than Cohabitation? Well-Being Differences in 30 European Countries Journal of Marriage and Family, 71 (5), 1141-1157 DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00660.x
Koball, H., Moiduddin, E., Henderson, J., Goesling, B., & Besculides, M. (2010). What Do We Know About the Link Between Marriage and Health? Journal of Family Issues, 31 (8), 1019-1040 DOI: 10.1177/0192513X10365834
Nealey-Moore, J., Smith, T., Uchino, B., Hawkins, M., & Olson-Cerny, C. (2007). Cardiovascular Reactivity During Positive and Negative Marital Interactions Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30 (6), 505-519 DOI: 10.1007/s10865-007-9124-5