Economists researching psychological topics, again January 4, 2016Posted by larry in economics, Game Theory, Psychology.
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Susan Webber aka Yves Smith makes a trenchant critique of this research undertaken by economists. If you look at the early work of Tversky and Kahneman, you find that, essentially, people are classed as being irrational if they fail to follow the Kolmogorov axioms (of probability) first set out in 1938. Game theorists tend to view people as irrational if they fail to maximize their utilities, whatever these might be. Gerd Gigerenzer has shown fairly conclusively in a number of studies that people, even medics, do not understand probabilities if presented to them in the standard way. But do understand them if presented in what he calls standard frequencies, for instance, asking people what the odds are for people like X to be (or have) Y. Behavioral economics, except as practiced by a few exceptional researchers, is almost unremittingly awful.
This research is another example of discipline overreach. Physicists do it. Biologists do it. Social scientists tend not to. But perhaps not for the best reasons. In this particular case, the researchers are investigating what makes for a “team player”, what leads to social cooperation, and the like.
The author of this piece is a personnel economist. WTF is that?
Another example is economists researching into happiness. They are completely missing the point. Psychologists have shown that what makes people happy is all over the place, but what they wish to avoid is much more circumscribed. And these researchers, in addition, think contentment may be a more tractable research topic than happiness. Another example of economists not doing their reading. This could be the title of a book: Economists, Why Don’t They Read?.
On Phil Pilkington’s question concerning whether there could be an economic induced psychosis August 14, 2014Posted by larry in Culture, economics, Mind, Philosophy, Psychology, Science.
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I take Phil’s question to be an important, though unusual, one. But in order to approach an answer, we need to set up our framework. First, we need to define what a psychosis is. And I think it reasonable to define a psychotic state as one where the individual suffers from neurological malfunctioning of the brain that results in them seeing and/or hearing things that are not there, that is, that do not exist.
Second, we need to distinguish between the mind and the brain. We could go into great detail but for our purposes here it should be sufficient to use the term ‘brain’ to refer to the neural connections and activity of this organ’s neurons. (For anyone who has difficulty with this, I recommend a look at Gordon Shepherd’s Foundations of the Neuron Doctrine (1991), and the term ‘mind’ to refer to what we ordinarily consider to be mental activity and conceptions. There is an entire literature on this in both psychology and philosophy.
Third, we need to divide economics into two, possibly overlapping, spheres. One would be economics qua conceptual construct (or idea or belief or the like). The other would be economics qua economic activity. The first is a mental construct, while the second is a behavioral activity. They are naturally related, though any causal link could go in either direction.
We now have two related questions before us. 1) Can having a particular economic idea or conceptual construct drive a person into having a psychotic delusion? 2) Can engaging in a particular kind of economic activity drive a person into having a psychotic delusion? The film, Gaslight, involves both, as the husband places ideas in his wife’s head while simultaneously engaging in certain kinds of behavior, all designed to drive her into having a psychotic delusion, in terms of the film, the delusion that she is insane whereas there is, in fact, nothing wrong with her. In the terms which we have set, she does not exhibit either the types of behavior typical of someone who does have a psychosis or have a malfunctioning brain in the sense defined above.
Now Phil has rightly raised the specter of certain religious notions. Would we want to claim that someone, perhaps an entire group of people, even an entire society, was psychotically deluded because they have a belief in a god of some sort? Are they psychotic because they indulge in a communal ritual of communion, which, in principle, involves the doctrine of transubstantiation?
Let us leave religion and consider the Nazis. We assume, for which there is evidence, that there existed true believers. One of their beliefs was that there was such a thing as a pure Aryan race. Another was that there was a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany qua its racial essence. Is anyone who holds such beliefs or even virtually an entire society holding such beliefs and engaging in the activities indicated as being appropriate by the beliefs in the grip of a psychotic delusion?
Most people would probably answer No to the former case and Yes to the latter. But what is the difference between them? Both involve engaging in activities and entertaining conceptions for which there is no empirical evidence that would justify either and, indeed, there is (and was) abundant evidence to the contrary. Both cases involve people believing falsehoods and acting on them, blatant or otherwise. Surely, we would not wish to contend that anyone in the grip of a false belief is ipso facto in the grip of a psychotic delusion.
The answer, it seems to me, lies in our original definition of ‘psychosis’. With respect to either case, is it reasonable to ‘believe’ that an entire society, that is, its members, could be more or less simultaneously experiencing a particular brain malfunction? We need another term, I think, to describe what is going on in cases such as these.
The case that Phil really has in mind is the neoclassical economic paradigm, which has true believers and for which there is abundant contrary evidence. Are followers of this ‘false’ paradigm in the grip of a psychotic delusion? I honestly do not know the answer, but it is possible that Phil has asked the wrong question. And the answer concerning what question he ought to have asked instead depends on what term we replace ‘psychosis’ with. And to that conundrum, I have no real answer at the present time.
Definition of the Situation April 24, 2014Posted by larry in Culture, Frame Analysis, Philosophy, Psychology.
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The concept of the definition of the situation originates with William Isaac Thomas, possibly in Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’sThe Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-1920). The concept was given new vigor and poignancy in the fifties by Erving Goffman in his study of roles in face-to-face social interaction in Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1957). Goffman agreed to a significant extent with what has become known as the Thomas theorem (1928): “If men define things as real, they are real in their consequences”.
Most situations bring their histories along with them. To do well in a situation, it pays to know something of its history. And to successfully redefine a situation, it may be essential to know that situation’s history. Sometimes the history can be daunting and intimidating thereby rendering the situation daunting and intimidating.
The concept of the definition of the situation is closely related to frame analysis, although this relationship is not always explored, to the detriment of both approaches, I think.
‘Logic’ of Sociopathy April 3, 2013Posted by larry in Philosophy, Psychology.
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In a previous post, I briefly discussed and distinguished between true psychopathy and sociopathy. I will assume here that the concept of psychopathy is understood and concentrate on the concept of sociopathy, particularly as I define the term differently from Hare.
Hare defines “sociopathy” as behavior associated with a social group that is considered to be anti-social by a more inclusive group, which may consist of the entire society.
Although Hare does not explicitly mention social groups in his definition of psychopathy, the term could be defined as behavior considered to be extremely anti-social by the entire society, no matter what social role the individual is playing or what situation he is in. (Most of them are male.) According to my definition of sociopathy, sociopathic behavior is anti-social behavior carried out only in certain situations, such as work environments, or when the individual is playing certain roles, such as the role of the CEO. No essential reference is made to any social group.
According to both our definitions, there are more sociopaths than true psychopaths. Hare estimates that around 2% of the US population is psychopathic. There is evidence to suggest that true psychopathic behavior involves neurological alterations in the brain of the psychopath not found in the normal brain. Sociopathic behavior need involve no such neurological functionality. It may be completely situationally determined, or influenced. If the latter is the case, there will be a significant cultural component involved in bringing out sociopathic behavior in certain people (e.g., general ideas or particular beliefs concerning what is appropriate).
Experiments comparing so-called normal people with those diagnosed as psychopathic show distinct differences in reactions to emotional words. Certain kinds of cruel behavior has also been found in the teenage behavior of those diagnosed as being psychopathic. I will mention again that in order to properly diagnose someone as being a true psychopath, you need an immense amount of clinical and behavioral data over a number of years. This is often available for those who have been imprisoned. It is not so easily available for the organized psychopath who is not violent. Nevertheless, it can and has been acquired. For detailed, authoritative accounts, see Babiak and Hare, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2007) and Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2005).
Sociopathic Behavior & the Economic Crisis April 3, 2013Posted by larry in economics, Psychology.
The IMF, psychopaths, and the Greek fascists October 10, 2012Posted by larry in economics, Psychology.
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James Kwak in his blog has mentioned a recent paper dealing with inequities in the distribution of wealth and the consequent instabilities that can be caused by this. It is “Instability and Concentration in the Distribution of Wealth” by Fernholz and Fernholz — http://www.ricardofernholz.com/Redistribution.pdf.
Pinker on violence is barely treading water in the shallow end October 20, 2011Posted by larry in Psychology.
Tags: anthropology, data analysis, Pinker, pseudo-science, violence
This is a response to a post by Steve Clarke in Practical Ethics. It is my critical response to Pinker’s violence thesis, which I consider deeply flawed and largely wrong, indeed even misleading.
Gray is right that Pinker’s thesis is rubbish even if his own argument needs a bit more support (http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/09/john-gray-steven-pinker-violence-review/). The graph that Theo (a commenter to Clarke’s blog who is familiar with the Yanomamo) points to is, of course, complete rubbish (the graph he is referring to is this one: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn/201103/steven-pinkers-stinker-the-origins-war). These tribes are special cases and hence not a representative selection. The Yanomamo are an example of this. In fact, there is an American anthropologist, Napoleon Chagnon, who married one of their women, a kind of princess, who finds them and their society to possess advantages the West does not. They take their children back to her tribe every year. She finds Western society incredibly superficial and shallow. I don’t think we can say she is wrong.
And the graph that Pinker has which “corrects” for deaths over the centuries by adjusting for the total world population is deeply flawed. Another instance of this kind of crap from scientists with no real understanding of the social science literature is an example provided by E O Wilson in his Sociobiology. There he discusses an instance where Moses, in conquering another competing group, orders the killing of all pregnant women and young boys &c. Wilson then claims that this is analogous to gibbon behavior, which confers a selective genetic advantage on the predatory group. These are not at all comparable. Moses is not having these people killed for any genetic advantage, unconsciously or otherwise. He is having them killed in order to prevent an internecine civil war in the near future when the conquered group might organize resistance to the rule of his group. His slaughter is an attempt to preempt this.
There is a lot of violence that does not take place on a battlefield. Domestic violence, for example. This has been underreported for years, and unnoticed before that. And what about the psychopaths in our midst, not all of whom are violent? The ordered intelligent psychopath doesn’t need to engage in physical violence. He (the majority are men) are able to achieve their ends without the need for physical violence, but the emotional wreckage they leave behind is extensive. This is itself a kind of violence, though not the kind Pinker is concerned with.
And then there is the distinct possibility that physical violence by groups of the sort Pinker concentrates on is in the slow process of being replaced by more insidious kinds as a consequence of technological innovation, even if it is, as yet, rarely used.
The conclusion it seems to me has to be that Pinker has entered an arena where he needs to better inform himself.