How effective is nudging?

23 Jun

Nudging, in this context, means social policy designed to encourage desirable behavior without restricting choice. A paper in the most recent Psychological Science looks at the effectiveness of nudging:

Governments are increasingly adopting behavioral science techniques for changing individual behavior in pursuit of policy objectives. The types of “nudge” interventions that governments are now adopting alter people’s decisions without coercion or significant changes to economic incentives. We calculated ratios of impact to cost for nudge interventions and for traditional policy tools, such as tax incentives and other financial inducements, and we found that nudge interventions often compare favorably with traditional interventions. We conclude that nudging is a valuable approach that should be used more often in conjunction with traditional policies, but more calculations are needed to determine the relative effectiveness of nudging.

Here is Cass Sunstein defends the idea of nudging:

And, of course:

The Phonograph School of Languages for Parrots

21 Jun

Atlas Obscura tells the remarkable story of Philadelphia’s Phonograph School of Languages for Parrots established in 1903:

One of the school’s most distinguished alums was a parrot that, in the morning, could tell the children in its house it was time for school and, at night, could “ask them, with a knowing look, if they have mastered their lessons and express the hope that they have been good scholars.” This bird belonged to an unnamed famous actress.

A woman named Mrs. Hope—the school’s founder and only teacher—started the academy because her husband, a bird seller, found that he could make 10 times the profit on a single parrot if it could talk. She wanted in.

Return to Chautauqua

19 Jun

On Saturday, I returned, as I do every summer, to the amazing Chautauqua Institution on the banks of Lake Chautauqua in western New York.

Here’s a one minute promotional video:

And here is a video of my friend, Chautauqua Institution archivist, Jon Schmitz:

Does Tyler Cowen have a limited vocabulary?

16 Jun

In a recent blog post, Tyler Cowen wrote  “I think of myself as commanding only a limited English-language vocabulary.”

I am very skeptical of this claim.

Cowen has a Ph.D. from Harvard and higher education is positively correlated with vocabulary size. Cowen is also a famously fast reader of complex academic texts. I do not see how such a reading speed would be possible without good sight reading knowledge of a very large vocabulary.

Here is Cowen’s advice for reading fast.

And here is his trip to The Strand with Michael Orthofer.

Thomas Kuhn’s Ashtray

14 Jun

Ludwig Wittgenstein once threatened Karl Popper with a poker. Years later, philosopher Thomas Kuhn threw an ashtray at his student Errol Morris. Morris would go on to quit philosophy and become an Oscar winning documentary filmmaker.

A recent episode of the podcast Hi-Phi-Nation tells the story and I highly recommend it. For many years I have thought that Kuhn’s explanation of scientific change  is deeply flawed and cringe anytime someone utters the phrase “paradigm shift.” You can also read Morris’s own account here.

One minor geeky criticism, philosopher Lydia Patton misidentifies a Leyden jar as a battery containing liquid acid. Actually a Leyden jar has no liquid, but holds static electricity. I think she either means a either voltaic pile or a Daniell cell.

Here is the trailer for one Morris’s documentary:

The Lassie Effect

12 Jun

Not a big surprise, but still interesting, The New York Times reports on the Lassie Effect. Dog owners who walk their dogs are healthier than those who don’t. The dogs are also healthier.

But even though walking the dog can have lifesaving health benefits for owners and pets, a surprisingly large number of dog owners rarely, if ever, walk or otherwise exercise their dogs, research shows. Scientists who had studied the Lassie effect remained puzzled about why someone would forgo an activity that is good for them, potentially imperiling the well-being of both owner and pet.

Individual differences in automatic tendencies in everyday life

9 Jun

I tend to like to follow routines. I get up every morning at about the same time and try to go to bed every evening at the same time. I have lots of routines for remembering information and learning languages. Recently, I have even taken to making breakfasts days in advance and storing them in the refrigerator.

A recent paper in the journal Personal and Individual Differences suggests that your degree of daily behavioral uniformity may be a stable individual difference. Here is the abstract:

Our daily lives involve high levels of repetition of activities within similar contexts. We buy the same foods from the same grocery store, cook with the same spices, and typically sit at the same place at the dinner table. However, when questioned about these routine activities, most of us barely remember the details of our actions. Habits are automatically triggered behaviours in which we engage without conscious awareness or deliberate control. Although habits help us to operate efficiently, breaking them requires great effort. We have developed a 27-item questionnaire to measure individual differences in habitual responding in everyday life. The Creature of Habit Scale (COHS) incorporates two aspects of the general concept of habits, namely routine behaviour and automatic responses. Both aspects of habitual behaviour were weakly correlated with underlying anxiety levels, but showed a more substantial difference in relation to goal-oriented motivation. We also observed that experiences of adversity during childhood increased self-reported automaticity, and this effect was further amplified in participants who also reported exposure to stimulant drugs. The COHS is a valid and reliable self-report measure of habits, which may prove useful in a number of contexts where discerning individuals’ propensity for habit is beneficial.

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