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How little information is enough to guess social class?

6 Sep

It turns out not very much.

Researchers from Yale University and the University of California-San Francisco published their findings in the May issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science. The data from these studies showed that participants were able to guess the approximate income level of another person using one of three cues: a 60-second video of their behavior, 20 photos from their Facebook profile, or recordings of them speaking seven standard, isolated words.

You can read the original paper here. Here is the abstract:

By some accounts, global economic inequality is at its highest point on record. The pernicious effects of this broad societal trend are striking: Rising inequality is linked to poorer health and well-being across countries, continents, and cultures. The economic and psychological forces that perpetuate inequality continue to be studied, and in this theoretical review, we examine the role of daily experiences of economic inequality—the communication of social class signals between interaction partners—in this process. We theorize that social class signals activate social comparison processes that strengthen group boundaries between the haves and have nots in society. In particular, we argue that class signals are a frequent, rapid, and accurate component of person perception, and we provide new data and analyses demonstrating the accuracy of class signaling in 60-s interactions, Facebook photographs, and isolated recordings of brief speech. We suggest that barriers to the reduction of economic inequality in society arise directly from this class signaling process through the augmentation of class boundaries and the elicitation of beliefs and behaviors that favor the economic status quo.

“Dying is unexpectedly positive”

23 Aug

This has to be the best journal article title of the year. Here is the abstract:

In people’s imagination, dying seems dreadful; however, these perceptions may not reflect reality. In two studies, we compared the affective experience of people facing imminent death with that of people imagining imminent death. Study 1 revealed that blog posts of near-death patients with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were more positive and less negative than the simulated blog posts of nonpatients—and also that the patients’ blog posts became more positive as death neared. Study 2 revealed that the last words of death-row inmates were more positive and less negative than the simulated last words of noninmates—and also that these last words were less negative than poetry written by death-row inmates. Together, these results suggest that the experience of dying—even because of terminal illness or execution—may be more pleasant than one imagines.

Questioning the implicit association test

7 Jul

New York Magazine has published a devastating critique of the widely cited implicit association test (IAT). The creators of the IAT claim that it can ferret unconscious biases. From the point of view of psychometrics, the first important question we must ask about any instrument is its reliability, that is, does the measure yield consistent results if the measured phenomenon has not changed. It is a basic law of measurement that an unreliable measure can not be valid.

Here is what the article says about reliability:

What constitutes an acceptable level of test-retest reliability? It depends a lot on context, but, generally speaking, researchers are comfortable if a given instrument hits r = .8 or so. The IAT’s architects have reported that overall, when you lump together the IAT’s many different varieties, from race to disability to gender, it has a test-retest reliability of about r = .55. By the normal standards of psychology, this puts these IATs well below the threshold of being useful in most practical, real-world settings.


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:

Documentary: “Resurrect Dead”

10 May

Over the weekend, my wife and I watched the documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.

Toynbee tiles are mysterious plaques that are embedded into the asphalt on many streets in a number of cities. There are two of them in Cleveland. Most of the tiles carry the message:

IN MOViE `2001

The tiles all appear to be carved by the same individual. The documentary is the utterly adsorbing story of a group of men who try to discover the origin of the tiles.

As a psychologist, I was fascinated both by the tiler himself who appears to have schizotypal traits and by the obsession of his pursuers. The film does not disappoint and the we do discover the identity of the tiler. But not until we have pursued leads including a David Mamet play, Larry King, historian Arnold Toynbee, and pirate radio stations.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Videos

19 Apr

Last night I was teaching the prisoner’s dilemma to my students. Turns out there are a lot of entertaining videos on the topic. For example:

My students found these especially enjoyable:

For a more serious look at the background:

My numerology paper published

12 Apr

Just off the presses “A Test of Numerology: Do Birth Numbers Predict Nobel Prize Winners?” published in The Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis. Here is the abstract:

This paper tests a claim made by numerologists – the belief that the digits of a person’s birth date summed to a single integer, called the birth number, has predictive power. In order to test this claim the birth number was calculated for persons winning Nobel Prizes between the years 1901 and 2010. The distribution of birth numbers for prize winners did not differ significantly from chance (χ2 = 4.92, df = 8, p = 0.77). The distribution of birth numbers between winners of different prize categories also did not differ significantly from chance (χ2= 28.9, df = 40, p = .90). These results provide no support for the claims of numerology

You can find the paper here.

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