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Tag Archives: cognition

There’s something comforting about this story: even Nobel-winning economists procrastinate! Many of us go through life with an array of undone tasks, large and small, nibbling at our conscience. But Akerlof saw the experience, for all its familiarity, as mysterious. He genuinely intended to send the box to his friend, yet, as he wrote, in a paper called “Procrastination and Obedience” (1991), “each morning for over eight months I woke up and decided that the next morning would be the day to send the Stiglitz box.” He was always about to send the box, but the moment to act never arrived. Akerlof, who became one of the central figures in behavioral economics, came to the realization that procrastination might be more than just a bad habit. He argued that it revealed something important about the limits of rational thinking and that it could teach useful lessons about phenomena as diverse as substance abuse and savings habits. Since his essay was published, the study of procrastination has become a significant field in academia, with philosophers, psychologists, and economists all weighing in.

Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? in The New Yorker via Nellie

As Henrich et al show, many phenomena we’ve assumed are universal probably aren’t: we can only really say they’re universal among Weird people, who make up 96% of subjects in behavioural science, or Americans, who make up 68%, and often only among US college students, who provide US researchers with a supply of guinea pigs. And the Weird, they say, “are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species”.

also

This is more than a curiosity. In his book Crazy Like Us, Ethan Watters argues that American notions of mental illness are colonising the world, with a handful of diagnoses – depression, anorexia – squeezing out culturally specific ones. (Intriguingly, though, the Indonesian concept of “amok”, combining brooding with murderous rage, is listed in the US psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.) It’s also a reminder that even if you are Weird, advice that’s been “experimentally proven” has been proven for only the average person, who doesn’t exist.

This column will change your life: Weirdness just got weirder. We’re all born Weird, but some are born more weird than others. in The Guardian

My favorites from the New York Times. This last couple weeks have been pretty transitional, so I’ve been slow—you’ll probably need a NYT account (free) to view the archived articles.

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

Documentary? Better Call It Performance Art

At least one element in the film was genuine, Mr. Affleck said. That was a snippet of a home movie that showed Mr. Phoenix and his very young siblings performing, Jackson Five style, on the streets of Los Angeles.

The rest, Mr. Affleck said, clearly requires a bit more understanding than he has allowed the viewers to date. “It is a hard movie to watch,” he said.

A Dictionary of the Near Future

DENARRATION The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

CLOUD BLINDNESS The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.

Take a Look at Him Now: Questions for Phil Collins

But now you’re divorced from her. Did I read somewhere that your divorce settlement was $50 million and, at the time, the largest paid by an entertainer in British history?

I think Paul McCartney’s was the largest.

Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend

Chances are, if you are taking the time to read this advice, you already have the quality necessary to undertake the intellectual challenges of a college education — a seriousness of purpose.

Carrot Talk

In the study, children from the ages of 3 to 5 tasted five pairs of identical foodstuffs (including, as it happens, carrots). In each pair, one item was offered in plain, unmarked packaging — and the other was in McDonald’s packaging. The kids, on average, said they preferred the stuff they thought came from the fast-food chain, which of course is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. They thought McDonald’s fries tasted better with branded packaging than without it; they preferred milk in a McDonald’s cup to milk in a plain cup. This, the study noted, “was true even for carrots,” a food they are unlikely to have experienced at the fast-food chain.

The Empowerment Mystique

“Free to Be” was foremost about vanquishing gender stereotypes. By choosing girls to liberate from the tyranny of antimaterialism, Target implied that buying its wares was part of thevictory. That’s part of a trend I’ve noticed across a whole range of sectors over the last several months from big-box stores to high-end fashion to wireless-phone services to politics: all have discovered the sales potential in female pride.

Phys Ed: Looking at How Concussions When Young Influence Later Life

But when researchers looked at the electrical activity of the students’ brains, they found that the concussed athletes showed noticeably less activity in portions of the brain associated with attention. ‘‘They had suppressed attentional resources,’’ said Steven Broglio, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues speculated that, as a result, the injured athletes most likely were devoting a greater percentage of their total mental reserves to each task than the uninjured athletes in order to achieve similar intellectual results. The effort wasn’t obvious. ‘‘These were high-performing college students,” Dr. Broglio said. ‘‘They were succeeding in school.’’

Time Is Money

Maybe I’m the only one who still sees time-shifting as all upside — working your own hours, reading a news story two weeks late, watching TV and movies only on disk, DVR or download. Time-shifting is the enemy of advertising, after all; it may also be the enemy of communal experience.

The Ethicist: Father Exposure

Here’s the key question: Would your acquaintance want to know about the affair? Some children crave a deep understanding of their late parents; some cling to an idealized version. If your acquaintance is among the former, give him the letter. If not, or if you are simply unsure, consign it to the flames. Or frame it on your bedroom wall as a reminder of the labyrinthine recesses of the human heart.

Kafka’s Last Trial

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.”

A New Kind of Cineaste

Over the past quarter century or so, Assayas has emerged as a mainstay of what might be called the middle generation of post-New Wave French auteurs — filmmakers who still labor in the shadow of a heroic band of ancient young rebels, many of whom have shown remarkable, even maddening longevity. Erich Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, part of the groups that burst out of Cahiers in the late 1950s and early ’60s, died this year, at 89 and 80. Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais are all still around, in their 80s, as is Jean-Luc Godard, perpetual imp and inscrutable sage of le cinéma français, who may or may not show up to collect an honorary Oscar in November.

They Did What?

“All the self- examination in the world isn’t going to help anyone bent on self-deception,” she writes, “which is no doubt true of any of us at least some of the time.”

When Life Gets in the Way of Art

But beyond issues of personal betrayal, the news raised much more difficult and fundamental questions — ones central to photography and documentary work but to the history of art and popular culture as well — about artistic intent, about the assumptions and expectations of the viewing public and about the relationship between artists and their work.

The Temporary Vegetarian: Roasted Mushrooms With Goat Cheese and Grits

A Teenager Flying Over a Cuckoo’s Nest

WHEN thinking of the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, light comedy may not be the first thing to come to mind. The team’s first movie, “Half Nelson,” examined the life of a drug-addicted schoolteacher, while the follow-up, “Sugar,” tracked the trials of a Dominican baseball player who joins a minor-league team in Iowa. But the filmmakers have a message for audiences: They do have a sense of humor. And they love John Hughes.

Enter the Void (2009)

More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!

Sunday Book Review: Fairer Deal

Reich insists instead that American consumers, and particularly the middle class, have been buying too little. For years, the United States has consumed more than it has produced; the excess demand has sucked in products from abroad, which is why the nation has run a trade deficit. The idea that the economy has suffered from a lack of demand is, shall we say, eccentric. But Reich declares repeatedly that the stagnation of middle-class buying power has been a drag on growth. “If earnings are inadequate,” he asserts, “an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.” If that sentence described the American condition in the 1990s and the period leading up to the crash, Reich’s predicted excess output would have gone abroad and the United States would have run a trade surplus.

Festivals Grow Up, Even as Screens Grow Small

It may be that the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the biggest, most influential festivals in the world specifically because it learned how to bridge that art-cinema world and those conglomerate-owned movie studios we nostalgically refer to as Hollywood. (Other factors doubtless have played a role, including support from the Canadian government and the festival’s location: it’s an easy flight for New York journalists.) To judge from the Lightbox, this balancing act has paid off nicely. It remains to be seen whether the Lightbox, like the new film complex at Lincoln Center, can fill its theaters year-round with viewers who are as eager to dig into cinema’s past as they are to take part in its uncertain future.

The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.

The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.

You have just committed the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

The fallacy gets its name from imagining a cowboy shooting at a barn. Over time, the side of the barn becomes riddled with holes. In some places there are lots of them, in others there are few. If the cowboy later paints a bullseye over a spot where his bullet holes clustered together it looks like he is pretty good with a gun.

By painting a bullseye over a bullet hole the cowboy places artificial order over natural random chance.

If you have a human brain, you do this all of the time. Picking out clusters of coincidence is a predictable malfunction of normal human logic.

(more after the jump)

The Misconception: All buttons placed around you do your bidding.

The Truth: Many public buttons are only there to comfort you.

(via)

One of the best arguments to me that emerging adulthood, like adolescence, is its own phase (which means it’s not just a Millennial thing or just a recession thing) is what’s happening in the brain. Just like adolescents might go through their “identity exploration” by turning to promiscuity and excessive drug use, or by locking themselves in the basement playing video games and never so much as touching a beer or a boob, “emerging adults,” too, can take a number of forms. But one thing that bonds adolescents across the board is what happens with their hormones. And scientists are seeing similar physical manifestations of “emerging adulthood,” with the new realization that the brain does not fully mature until age 25 or so. There’s definitely a cultural element to these phases (and, as you mentioned Jess, an economic one), but it looks like there’s a physical one, too.

The other interesting question to me is why all this matters, beyond the level of “Well now I can send this article to my parents and get them off my back.” (Unless your parent wrote the article, in which case she already sort of gets it.) On a policy level, we offer protections to children and to adolescents: They have a separate criminal justice system; they can be declared as dependents on taxes and covered by their parents’ health insurance; they are guaranteed a free education. If we do come to accept this new period between adolescence and adulthood as its own stage, what policy implications should that have? This is, of course, an age group that often enters the workplace laden with student debt. If a 22-year-old doesn’t even have a fully mature brain yet, should we really expect him to be on top of paying off his loans, managing his health care plan, and all the other hassles that come with full-on adulthood?

Samantha Henig (the daughter of the woman who wrote the highly popular and talked about New York Times article)

The best articles from the New York Times.

In Praise of Progress

David Brooks: Unemployment is high, and there’s suffering, but global poverty is at its lowest point in human history. Afghanistan is depressing, but there are fewer wars these days than ever before, mostly because a sharp drop in civil wars. In short, everything is better, or nearly everything, and I say that as someone typing with his thumbs while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in the back yard.Gail

Collins: Wow, the lack of power has really cheered you up. I remember just a few months ago, you were practically suicidal over the toxic politics in Washington.

Building Smarter Machines

Synthetic speech, autonomous robots, computers beating the best humans at chess and checkers. As computers grow ever smarter, a look at developments in the field of artificial intelligence.

Hints of Earth Splash a Saturnian Moon Landscape

However, if prolonged spells of 90-degree temperatures have you yearning for a refreshing icy dip, there are still plenty of bathing opportunities on Titan.

Of course the lakes there are made of liquid methane — and the 90 degrees of temperature are on the Kelvin scale, near enough to absolute zero to challenge even the most cosmically adept polar bear. The atmosphere is nitrogen and methane.

Four Ways to Kill a Climate Bill

But efforts to genetically engineer algae, which usually means to splice in genes from other organisms, worry some experts because algae play a vital role in the environment. The single-celled photosynthetic organisms produce much of the oxygen on earth and are the base of the marine food chain.

“We are not saying don’t do this,” said Gerald H. Groenewold, director of the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, who is trying to organize a study of the risks. “We say do this with the knowledge of the implications and how to safeguard what you are doing.”

The Limits of the Coded World

In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

On the Origin of Species (Annotated Text)

Darwin packed this paragraph with all of the elements of the process of natural selection. The phrasing reflects his incomparable knowledge of natural history and his revolutionary new view of nature:

“…variations useful in some way…” – the words of a lifelong collector who appreciated that individual members of a species exhibited variability.

“…the great and complex battle of life…” – unlike his predecessors who viewed nature as a peaceful, harmoniously designed landscape painting, Darwin had observed that nature was a battlefield in which there was tremendous waste and death.

“…thousands of generations?” – Darwin’s grasp of time was critical, his knowledge of geology made him confident that the planet and life were much older than people had once thought, such that there was plenty of time for the process of natural selection to play out.

—Sean B. Carroll, molecular biologist and geneticist; and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

The Errors of Our Ways (Book Review)

Schulz begins with a question that should puzzle us more than it does: Why do we love being right? After all, she writes, “unlike many of life’s other delights — chocolate, surfing, kissing — it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts.” Indeed, as she notes, “we can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything,” including that which we’d rather be wrong about, like “the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship or the fact that at our spouse’s insistence, we just spent 15 minutes schlepping our suitcase in exactly the opposite direction from our hotel.”

Take Ivy (Slideshow)

Time has done little to dim the allure of “Take Ivy,” with its guileless snapshots of handsome, fit and presumably bright young lugs disporting themselves in dining halls, on the College Green at Dartmouth, along Nassau Street in Princeton and in Harvard Yard. Credit: Teruyoshi H Girl

Pop’s Lady Gaga Makeover

Furthermore, the thing that most separates Lady Gaga from the bubblegum sirens of a decade ago is that her capacity for seduction has been neutered, recontextualized. Near the end of her recent Madison Square Garden show she emerged onstage with sparklerlike contraptions on her chest and crotch, spitting out tiny, angry, smoldering bits. “You tell them I burned the place!” she shouted. It was a straightforward repudiation of hypersexualized imagery. There was nowhere to touch without getting hurt.

Plus-Size Wars

Perhaps nowhere is the cultural confusion surrounding the larger woman more pronounced than in the clothing industry’s efforts to dress her. According to a 2008 survey conducted by Mintel, a market-research firm, the most frequently worn size in America is a 14. Government statistics show that 64 percent of American women are overweight (the average woman weighs 164.7 pounds). More than one-third are obese. Yet plus-size clothing (typically size 14 and above) represents only 18 percent of total revenue in the women’s clothing industry. The correlation between obesity and low income goes some way toward explaining the discrepancy — the recession was particularly hard on this segment of the market, with sales declining 10 percent between 2008 and 2009, a drop twice that of the women’s apparel industry over all — but it doesn’t explain it entirely. That figure has been fairly constant for the past 20 years.

Everybody’s a Critic of the Critics’ Rabid Critics

But then a second round of notices tarnished that luster. David Edelstein of New York magazine, Stephanie Zacharek of Movieline.com and Armond White, the reliably oppositional critic at The New York Press, published pans that ranged from frustrated to weary to vitriolic, decrying the rush to inscribe “Inception” in the pantheon of cinematic greatness. For their efforts these and other similarly unimpressed writers were treated like advocates for national health care at a Tea Party rally, their motives, their professionalism, their morals and their sanity questioned, and not always politely. What seemed to provoke the most ire was that these critics had shown the temerity to mention what other critics had written, and to respond to the aggressive marketing and the early effusions.

Facebook Is to Power Company as …

“I worry that we’ll end up with solutions that are familiar but not correct if we start from the wrong metaphor,” she said. “And I’m not sure there is a good metaphor for Facebook.”

Married, but Sleeping Alone

Technology is an even greater intrusion. Forget the tired debate about TV in the bedroom; how about your ex’s Twitter feed? Anyone who’s around teenage girls or techy men knows someone who checks e-mail, text messages or Facebook pages after turning out the light at night and before going to the bathroom in the morning.With all this commotion, it’s no wonder the bed has become such an unappealing place to sleep. Between whining kids, buzzing BlackBerrys, stacks of unpaid bills and overturned bottles of Evian and Ambien, the bedroom has become more crowded than the kitchen. If my house is any indication (“You get up early with the kids on Monday, I’ll move the car on Tuesday”), my bed needs its own Outlook calendar.

“What’s more, winning on “Jeopardy!” requires finding an answer in a few seconds. The top question-answering machines often spent longer, even entire minutes, doing the same thing.”

(nyt)

In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Bertrand Russell (The Dunning-Kruger effect) (kottke)

If you’re reading this blog post on a computer, mobile phone or e-reader, please stop what you’re doing immediately. You could be making yourself stupid. And whatever you do, don’t click on the links in this post. They could distract you from the flow of my beautiful prose and narrative.

Nick Bilton (nyt)