Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Heaven can wait. How religion modulates temporal discounting

This is a journal abstract I came across

Paglieri, Fabio, Anna M. Borghi, Lorenza S Colzato, Bernhard Hommel & Claudia Scorolli. 2013. Heaven can wait. How religion modulates temporal discounting. Psychological Research 77(6). 738–747.


Evidence suggests that religious systems have specific effects on attentional and action control processes. The present study investigated whether religions also modulate choices that involve higher-order knowledge and the delay of gratification in particular. Researchers tested Dutch Calvinists, Italian Catholics, and Atheists from both countries/cultures using an intertemporal choice task where participants could choose between a small immediate and a larger delayed monetary reward. Based on the Calvinist theory of predestination and the Catholic concept of a cycle of sin-confession-expiation, the authors predicted a reduced delay tolerance, i.e., higher discount rate, for Italian Catholics than for Dutch Calvinists, and intermediate rates for the two atheist groups. Analyses of discount rates support the hypotheses. The authors also found a magnitude effect on temporal discounting and faster responses for large than for small rewards across religions and countries/cultures. They conclude that temporal discounting is specifically modulated by religious upbringing rather than by generic cultural differences.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Francisco D’Souza, C.E.O. of the information technology company Cognizant, says "we institutionalized a set of things to create rituals, heroes and legends."

See Francisco D’Souza of Cognizant, on Finding Company Heroes By ADAM BRYANT, from the 9-1-13 NY Times. Excerpts:
"Q. What’s unusual about your culture?

A. We’ve organized the company in a way to make sure that we continuously delegate and empower people on the front lines. As we got bigger, we would take larger units and break them down into smaller units and give individuals a sense of ownership, creating very clear success metrics around those individuals.
But when you decentralize and empower, you have to make sure you don’t wind up with lots of microcultures, because every leader, every manager, puts his or her stamp on the culture. Culture gets passed along not by writing it down, but through the rituals you have in the organization, the legends you refer to, and the heroes of the organization. So we institutionalized a set of things to create rituals, heroes and legends.
For example, we have a tradition of naming the associate of the year — we use a process in each region to find the single associate who contributed well above and beyond and, through his or her actions, exhibited the traits of the culture that we thought were important. We similarly institutionalized a ritual that we called the project of the year. And we rent stadiums around the world and bring all the employees and their families for a celebration, with entertainment and awards.
Q. How do you hire?
A. I’m looking for passion. The person I’m hiring needs to have passion for what they’re doing, and they need to understand where that passion comes from. They need to be in touch with that. You need to know what drives you.
And you need somebody who’s got just raw smarts and talent and an innate ability to learn. Because the thing about functional expertise is that unless you’re in some very specific area, almost everything that we need to do our job becomes obsolete quickly, and the half-life of knowledge is becoming shorter and shorter. So do you have the personal agility to continuously renew those skills, to reinvent yourself?"
 A person "needs to have passion?" Sounds like you following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say.
"You need to know what drives you?" Maybe you need to know what myth you are living by, as Carl Jung migh say.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Entrepreneur's Most Important Tool: Self-Delusion

Click here to read this article by A.J. Jacobs. He is an Editor at Large at Esquire magazine. The article is at "Linked in" so you may have to be a member.

The idea that an entrepreneur would have to tell themselves a story (or myth) to get things done is interesting. I wonder how much of our economic activity results from or requires us to tell ourselves stories.

"As an author, I rely on self-delusion as much as I rely on my laptop, Wi-Fi access and excessive caffeine. For authors nowadays, each book is the equivalent of a startup company. You have to figure out your consumer, your unique approach, your budget, your marketing strategy.

And as with every startup founder, I spent some mornings during my last project battling pessimism and despair. Well, actually, most mornings. I was writing about my quest to be as healthy as possible. I’d wake up feeling the project was too big, too unwieldy. I had too many squats to do, too many diets to test. I’d never finish the manuscript.

My solution? Deception. I tricked my brain. I’d force myself to act in an optimistic way."

"This is not pseudo-scientific blather spouted bunkum-filled books like The Secret. The idea that your actions alter your thoughts is one of the foundations of cognitive-behavioral psychology and has been studied since the 19th century (both William James and Charles Darwin wrote about it).

Force your face into a smile, you will be happier. Sounds creepy, but it works.

A raft of studies have backed this up, including a recent one in the Journal of Psychological Science that showed fake smiles (or even holding a chopstick in your mouth to mimic the shape of a smile) lowered your heart rate in stressful situations. The book The As If Principle by psychologist Richard Wiseman cites plenty of other research, including how your posture affects confidence and risk-taking (a powerful, chest-out stance boosts esteem)."

"For instance, during the year, I had a friend in the hospital, and I really didn’t want to visit him. I hate hospitals. But I said, what would a good person do? And then I acted AS IF I were a good person. And when I was at the hospital, some part of my mind said, ‘I’m at the hospital. I must be compassionate.” And I became a little more compassionate. I tricked my own mind."

So if you tell yourself a myth (that you are a good person), then it affects your behavior.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Can Following Your Bliss Have A Positive Effect On Your Genes?

See Positive Psychology Influences Gene Expression in Humans, Scientists Say from Science News. Having "a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life" sounds like following your bliss.
Looking to Genes for the Secret to Happiness By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, in the NY Times magazine.
"According to a team of scientists from the University of North Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles, different types of happiness have surprisingly different effects on the human genome.

People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (celebrities) — actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.

In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists asked how the human genome might respond to positive psychology. They examined the biological implications of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being through the lens of the human genome, a system of some 21,000 genes that has evolved fundamentally to help humans survive and be well."

"The scientists drew blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, as well as potentially confounding negative psychological and behavioral factors. They used the CTRA gene-expression profile to map the potentially distinct biological effects of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.

“And while those with eudaimonic well-being showed favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn’t feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being,” Prof Cole said."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is There Economic And Political Meaning In "The Wizard of Oz?"

To get a handle on this, you can read Money and Politics in the Land of Oz By Quentin P. Taylor. Also, for my students, there is an article in chapter 15 of the micro book by Tucker and in chapter 18 in the macro book.Below is an excerpt:

"Dorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, “the girl next door.” Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house, even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry-is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers’ expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to Oz symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the “Kansas Cyclone,” and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name “Gale”-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.

The name of Dorothy’s canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on teetotaler. Prohibitionists were among the Populists’ most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a “dry.” As Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots “soberly” behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.

When Dorothy’s twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to “enslave” the “little people,” just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?"

But not everyone agrees with this. Economist Bradley Hansen wrote an article titled The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics in the Journal of Economic Education in 2002. Here is his conclusion:

"Rockoff noted that the empirical evidence that Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an allegory was slim, but he compared an allegorical interpretation to a model and suggested that “economists should not have any difficulty accepting, at least provisionally, an elegant but controversial model” (Rockoff 1990, 757). He was right—we did not have any difficulty accepting it. Despite Rockoff’s warning, we appear to have accepted the story wholeheartedly rather than provisionally, simply because of its elegance. It is as difficult to prove that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was not a monetary allegory as it is to prove that it was. In the end, we will never know for certain what Baum was thinking when he wrote the book. I suggest that the vast majority of the evidence weighs heavily against the allegorical interpretation. It should be remembered that no record exists that Baum ever acknowledged any political meanings in the story and that no one even suggested such an interpretation until the 1960s. There certainly does not seem to be sufficient evidence to overwhelm Baum’s explicit statement in the introduction of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that his sole purpose was to entertain children and not to impress upon them some moral. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great story. Telling students that the Populist movement was like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does seem to catch their attention. It may be a useful pedagogical tool to illuminate the debate on bimetallism, but we should stop telling our students that it was written for that purpose."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Interesting New Book: Paleopoetics: The Evolution of the Preliterate Imagination

Click here to go the Amazon listing. It is by Christopher Collins, professor emeritus of English at New York University. Here is the description:
"Christopher Collins introduces an exciting new field of research traversing evolutionary biology, anthropology, archaeology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and literary study. Paleopoetics maps the selective processes that originally shaped the human genus millions of years ago and prepared the human brain to play, imagine, empathize, and engage in fictive thought as mediated by language. A manifestation of the "cognitive turn" in the humanities, Paleopoetics calls for a broader, more integrated interpretation of the reading experience, one that restores our connection to the ancient methods of thought production still resonating within us.

Speaking with authority on the scientific aspects of cognitive poetics, Collins proposes reading literature using cognitive skills that predate language and writing. These include the brain's capacity to perceive the visible world, store its images, and retrieve them later to form simulated mental events. Long before humans could share stories through speech, they perceived, remembered, and imagined their own inner narratives. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, Collins builds an evolutionary bridge between humans' development of sensorimotor skills and their achievement of linguistic cognition, bringing current scientific perspective to such issues as the structure of narrative, the distinction between metaphor and metonymy, the relation of rhetoric to poetics, the relevance of performance theory to reading, the difference between orality and writing, and the nature of play and imagination."
Click here to read a longer description by Collins himself

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nike, Inc. And Myth-Making

See The Big Business of Fairy Tales: Nike Takes Fire Again Over One of Its Athletes by MATTHEW FUTTERMAN of the WSJ. This article is a reaction to the tragic shooting of the girl friend of Oscar Pistorius, the runner from South Africa.

It discusses the scandals of some athletes who have endorsed Nike products. According to Wikipedia, "In Greek mythology, Nike was a goddess who personified victory, also known as the Winged Goddess of Victory."So maybe it is not surprising that the company emphasizes the stories of victors. Excerpts:
"One by one, as major stars are unmasked, there is a growing sense that the practice of mythmaking may have to stop. There's a feeling that at some point, shame will set in. Embarrassment will do its job and customers will go elsewhere. "In a sense, this is the biggest lesson to learn: that there really aren't heroes," said Jason Richardson, a hurdler who won a silver medal in London. "We're too quick to elevate people into these hero roles and they're not allowed to be human."

There's a perception that Nike has somehow changed the rules of athletic success in a crass or craven way. Some accuse the company of commoditizing fame. The size of one's Nike contract is often seen as another form of scorekeeping for the modern athlete, alongside things like the size of their contracts or the number of Twitter followers they have.

The thing about Nike that rarely gets acknowledged is that it doesn't sell shoes, or even athletes, as much as it buys and sells stories, narratives, fairy tales. They aren't a shoe company as much as a giant abstraction—a condition of the aspirational mind.

In Nike's pantheon, success isn't merely about winning. It isn't about the traditional forms of scorekeeping in sports—things like trophies collected, points scored, bouts won, consecutive games played, or years served. What Nike said, when it signed Michael Jordan, is that the ultimate measure of any competitor is something else entirely: How irresistible his story is. Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever, claims to have been cut from a high-school team.

Nike doesn't make racing bikes. It signed Armstrong because he had survived cancer and come back to win the most grueling race in the world. It didn't sell golf clubs when it signed Tiger Woods. Nike brought him aboard because he was a potentially transformative star who had the ability to break down racial barriers in the world's most staid sport.

If stories are the currency of Nike's business, Pistorius is the equivalent of a blank check. He's the kid who lost his lower legs before he could walk and was told he would never be able to play sports. He battled for the right to race with the fastest men in the world on a pair of carbon-fiber prostheses. He's the rare athlete who doesn't just challenge our notions of fitness, he forces us to reconsider the definition of disability.

Pistorius fits perfectly into Nike's view of the world: That the most powerful thing one can sell isn't comfortable, stylish performance sportswear, it's the concept of possibility."

Friday, January 18, 2013

John Mackey's New Book And Heroic Entrepreneurs

It was reviewed in the WSJ. See Chicken Soup for a Davos Soul: Successful companies serve a purpose beyond making money.

 The full title is Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Click here to go to the Amazon link

Excerpts from the review:
"What is refreshing about the Mackey-Sisodia take is that they aren't advocating some bolt-on solution to the capitalist model. Rather they argue that the mathematical framework of free-market economics—developed by neoclassical economists in the 20th century—fundamentally mischaracterizes the true nature of capitalism.

"With few exceptions," the authors write, "entrepreneurs who start successful businesses don't do so to maximize profits. Of course they want to make money, but that is not what drives most of them. They are inspired to do something that they believe needs doing. The heroic story of free-enterprise capitalism is one of entrepreneurs using their dreams and passion as fuel to create extraordinary value for customers, team members, suppliers, society, and investors."

Unlike commentators who defend capitalism while expressing some doubt or disapproval—think of Irving Kristol's 1978 neoconservative manifesto, "Two Cheers for Capitalism"—Messrs. Mackey and Sisodia are unapologetic enthusiasts. "This is what we know to be true," they declare in the first chapter. "Business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity." The challenge, they say, is to make capitalism more "conscious" of its heroic nature.

What does that mean? Well, first, the authors say, it means having a clear purpose, beyond just making money"
Now here is the description from Amazon:
"“We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free-enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to something even greater.” —From the Conscious Capitalism Credo

In this book, Whole Foods Market cofounder John Mackey and professor and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. cofounder Raj Sisodia argue for the inherent good of both business and capitalism. Featuring some of today’s best-known companies, they illustrate how these two forces can—and do—work most powerfully to create value for all stakeholders: including customers, employees, suppliers, investors, society, and the environment.

These “Conscious Capitalism” companies include Whole Foods Market, Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, Patagonia, The Container Store, UPS, and dozens of others. We know them; we buy their products or use their services. Now it’s time to better understand how these organizations use four specific tenets—higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership, and conscious culture and management—to build strong businesses and help advance capitalism further toward realizing its highest potential.

As leaders of the Conscious Capitalism movement, Mackey and Sisodia argue that aspiring leaders and business builders need to continue on this path of transformation—for the good of both business and society as a whole.

At once a bold defense and reimagining of capitalism and a blueprint for a new system for doing business grounded in a more evolved ethical consciousness, this book provides a new lens for individuals and companies looking to build a more cooperative, humane, and positive future."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Economics resembles storytelling more than mathematics

That is according to a NY Times magazine article. See God Save the British Economy by ADAM DAVIDSON. Here are the relevant passages:
"Economics often appears to be an exercise in number-crunching, but it actually resembles storytelling more than mathematics. Before the members of the Monetary Policy Committee gather for their monthly meeting, they sit through a presentation from the Bank of England’s economic staff. The staff members take the most recent economic data — G.D.P. growth, the unemployment rate and more subtle details gathered from interviews with businesspeople throughout the country — and try to fashion it into a narrative. Does a sudden spike in new factory orders represent a fundamental shift, or is it just a preholiday blip? Do anecdotal reports of rising food prices herald a period of inflation, or is it the result of a cold snap? Which story feels truer?
A few days later, each of the nine members of the M.P.C. puts forth his or her own interpretation. Over two days, the members debate these competing narratives and discuss what the Bank of England should do. Then the committee votes, and the winning policies are implemented."
A related post is Economists Love Fables And Parables (Or, What Is The Essence Of Economic Analysis?)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Does The Type Of Economy Affect The Kind Of God People Worship?

Here is a paper title and abstract:

Peoples, Hervey C & Frank W Marlowe. 2012. Subsistence and the evolution of religion. Human Nature 23(3). 253?269.


 The authors present a cross-cultural analysis showing that the presence of an active or moral High God in societies varies generally along a continuum from lesser to greater technological complexity and subsistence productivity. Foragers are least likely to have High Gods. Horticulturalists and agriculturalists are more likely. Pastoralists are most likely, though they are less easily positioned along the productivity continuum. The authors suggest that belief in moral High Gods was fostered by emerging leaders in societies dependent on resources that were difficult to manage and defend without group cooperation. These leaders used the concept of a supernatural moral enforcer to manipulate others into cooperating, which resulted in greater productivity. Reproductive success would accrue most to such leaders, but the average reproductive success of all individuals in the society would also increase with greater productivity. Supernatural enforcement of moral codes maintained social cohesion and allowed for further population growth, giving one society an advantage in competition with others.