An Introduction to Tropical Rain Forests (I)

This will just be a brief introductory post to the book, which I gave two stars on goodreads – I have internet and the computer seems to not give me too much trouble right now, so I thought I should post something while I have the chance. The book was hard to rate, in a way. Some parts were highly informative and really quite nice. In other parts the author was ‘out of line’, and he goes completely overboard towards the end – the last couple of chapters contain a lot of political stuff. I have included below a couple of examples of some passages the inclusion of which I had issues with:

“It is also fair comment that human-induced extinction today is as great as any of the five previous extinction spasms life on earth has experienced.”

I have read about the human impact on species diversity before, e.g. in Wilson or van der Geer et al.. I have also read about those other extinction events he talks about. I mention this because if you have not read about both, it may be natural to not feel perfectly confident judging on the matter – but I have, and I do. My conclusion is that saying that the human-induced extinction occuring today is “as great as” the Permian extinction event in my mind makes you look really stupid. Either the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he had stopped thinking when he wrote that, which is something that often happens when people get emotional and start going into tribal defence mode and making political points. Which is why I try to avoid political books. Here’s a funny combination of quotes:

i. “The failure of silviculture follows from working beyond the limits of the inherent dynamic capabilities of the forest ecosystem. This is commonly because rules drawn up by silviculturalists are not enforced, often because of political intervention. It may also be because economists, eager to enrich a nation, enforce their dismal pseudoscience to override basic logical principles and dictate the removal of a larger harvest than the forest can sustain without degradation.”

ii. “There have been attempts by campaigning groups in recent years to turn the clock back, sometimes claiming forests have a greater cash value for minor forest products than for timber.[324] A review of 24 studies found that the median annual value per hectare of sustainably produced, marketable non-timber forest products was $50 year−1.[325] As a natural rain forest grows commercial timber at 1-2 m3 year−1 ha−1 or more, and this is worth over $100 m−3, sustainable production of timber is of greater value by a factor of at least two to four.”

The word ‘hypocrite’ sprang to mind when I read the second quote. Who does he think conducts such review studies – soil scientists? If economics is pseudo-science, as he himself indicated that he thought earlier in the book, then why should we trust those estimates? On a related note, should evolutionary biologists stop using game theory as well – where does he think core concepts in evolutionary biology like ESS come from? Good luck analyzing equilibrium dynamics of any kind without using tools also used in economics and/or developed by economists.

It actually seems to me to be a general problem in some fields of biology that lots of researchers have a problem separating politics and science – the social sciences really aren’t the only parts of academia where this kind of stuff is a problem. I have a strong preference for not encountering emotional/political arguments in academic publications, and so I tend to notice them when they’re there, whether or not I agree with them. There’s a lot of good stuff in this book and I’ll talk about this later here on the blog, but there’s a lot of problematic stuff as well, and I punish that kind of stuff hard regardless of where I find it. The quotes above are not unique but to me seem to illustrate the mindset reasonably well.

The book covers stuff also covered in Herrera et al., Wilson, and van der Geer et al., and concepts I knew about from McMenamin & McMenamin also popped up along the way. Herrera et al. of course contains entire chapters about stuff only covered in a paragraph or two in this book. The book deals with aspects of ecological dynamics as well through the coverage of the forest growth cycle and gap-phase dynamics as well as related stuff like nutrient cycles, but the coverage in here is much less technical than is Gurney and Nisbet’s coverage – this book is easy to read compared to their text. I mention these things because although I think the book was quite readable I have seen a lot of coverage of related stuff already at this point, so I may not be the best person to ask. My overall impression is however that people reading along here should not have great difficulties reading and understanding this book.

September 18, 2014 Posted by | biology, books | Leave a comment

Computer trouble

My computer broke down a couple of days ago, and I have had completely unrelated problems with my internet connection as well during the last week. I’m currently relying on an old and highly unreliable laptop with intermittent internet access. I don’t know how long it will take to sort out these problems and/but until the problems have been solved you should expect blogging to be very light.

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Aging – Facts and Theories (Interdisciplinary Topics in gerontology, Vol. 39) (II)

(Smbc – click to view full size). The book goes into a bit more detail..

I should probably add a few general remarks related to the previous post before moving on to the coverage of the book. The ‘problem’ is this: I’m getting behind on the book blogging. Earlier this year I had an implicit goal of wanting to cover all non-fiction books I read here. Given that I’ll probably end up reading more than a textbook per week this year and I’ve already gotten significantly behind, I’m no longer sure this goal is achievable in the long run. Currently I’m probably at least something like 6-7 posts behind in terms of stuff I could potentially cover here given what I’ve already read, but I’m not sure how many of those posts I’ll actually ever get to write. You should not make strong assumptions about the quality of the books not covered here based on my decision of whether or not to cover them; sometimes the reason why I’m not blogging a book while reading it (in some sense the preferable approach, because it makes it less likely that I’ll get behind) is simply that it’s a great book which I’d rather be reading than blogging. If a book has a lot of math – like the Ecological Dynamics text, which I’ve still yet to talk about here in part because basically that’s just a math textbook – or is highly technical in other ways, e.g. by dealing with stuff which to a significant extent builds on top of other stuff I’ve read – this book or the endocrinology book are both good examples – then it is really a lot more work to blog the book. The same goes for books which I’ve procured and read offline. Sometimes the relevant decision to make is whether I’d prefer to blog a book or read another book; I spend probably something like 4-5 hours on an Agatha Christie novel, and I can easily end up spending 4 hours on a blog post dealing with a technical book as well.

I think as long as I’m posting something every second day or so on average (I’ve posted 125 posts in 257 days so far this year) I don’t really care too much if I don’t get to cover all the stuff I read, even if I’d prefer to cover it all.

Okay, back to the book. As mentioned in the first post, I gave it one star, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some interesting stuff in there. There are a lot of these things around: ‘[...]‘ in my coverage below, and they’re there for a reason. To be frank, if they weren’t there the quotes from the book would be as unreadable as the book is, and I don’t want that kind of stuff on my blog. The language in many chapters of this book is simply terrible, and I’ve tried to make it less terrible by quoting very selectively and very strategically. If you want to make sure I’m not misrepresenting the views of the authors through the ‘active quoting strategies’ I employ below you’re very welcome to read the book yourself and compare my quotes with the original coverage – I’d consider it likely that you’d prefer my coverage to theirs if you were to do that.

“The cross-linking theory [of aging assumes] that aging is due to the formation of intra- and/or intermolecular covalent cross-links altering the basic structure of the macromolecules to such an extent that even their functions become compromised. [...] age-dependent increase in [...] cross-linking is fully supported by [...] heat denaturation experiments [16–20] [...] The main conclusion [from these] was that many of the H-bonds are transformed into covalent cross-links in collagen during aging [and collagen is really important as: “the largest fraction of proteins in the body is the collagen[,] amounting to about 33% of the total protein content”].”

“[T]he free radical theory of aging (FRTA) [...] assumes that oxygen free radicals are harmful byproducts of the aerobic life, and as such, are responsible for aging and numerous diseases. Since most of the oxygen free radicals are strong electron acceptors, their main effect is the formation of cross-links, i.e. they may well be the causes of the age-dependent cross-linking of proteins. [...] free radical-induced cross-linking is strongly density dependent, i.e. the increased physical density of any biological structure will enhance the cross-linking efficiency of the radical-generating systems. [...] this phenomenon has a great significance in the age-dependent alterations of the most compact biological structures, like the cell membranes [25].”

“[A] new [...] interpretation of the possible biological role of oxygen free radicals in the living state, cell differentiation and aging [...] has been called the membrane hypothesis of aging (MHA) [...] The MHA attributes a leading role in differentiation and aging processes to the plasma membrane, undergoing inevitable, continuous alterations during [...] life [...]. The MHA considers as the main damaging factors of the plasma membrane of cells the following two processes. (a) The continuous production of OH free radicals [...] In this sense, MHA follows the concepts of the FRTA. This is justified on the one hand by the widely proven damaging effects of these free radicals on practically [every] class of the biological macromolecules. It is a fact, on the other hand, that the author of MHA has also demonstrated that the oxyradicals cannot be considered only as damaging factors, since their formation is an essential attribute of the living state [39, 40, 45]. Nevertheless, from the point of view of experimental gerontology, the damaging effect of these radicals remains anyway of essential importance. Analyses of the quantitative aspects of the free radical-induced molecular damage have revealed that the cell plasma membrane is the weakest point of the cellular structure [...] plasma membranes are really the most critically sensitive structures in [...] living cells. (b) In addition to the free radical-induced damage, the cell plasma membrane is exposed to another damaging factor called residual heat production [51], which is negligible or absent in other intracellular membranous components, like the mitochondrial or the endoplasmic reticulum membranes. [...] Because the polarity of the cell membranes is discharged very quickly (in about 1–2 ms during each action potential), and also rather frequently (in certain neurons up to 50–100 times per second), the cell membrane is exposed all the time to a considerable local heating. Due to the extremely short time of its development, about 10% of the initial heat cannot be dissipated by the environment, called residual heat remaining in the membrane [51]. As a consequence of this, in spite of the fully recovered membrane potential, one has to assume some persisting alterations of the membrane structure after each action potential. This fact is of great importance; however, most of the experimental gerontologists are not even aware of it. [...] This type of membrane alterations can be considered as true ‘wear and tear’ phenomena which certainly contribute to the velocity of the plasma membrane deterioration.”

“[A]ge-dependent water loss starts practically during the embryonic development of mammals, i.e. it is an intrinsic part of the developmental and maturation processes. The whole ontogenesis can be considered as a procedure during which the highly hydrated state of embryos (90–92% water at the beginning), in newborns and young individuals is gradually transformed into a more and more dehydrated one (40–50% water in old body). It is obviously necessary to reach a sufficient increase in the dry mass content in all tissues, organs, etc. in order to achieve a sufficient physical strength of the body to support the load, to perform the requested work, etc. Therefore, this process is useful and absolutely necessary. However, because of the ever ongoing character of this process, it becomes rate limiting first for further growth, and self-destroying during the later phases of life. These considerations imply that the driving ‘force’ of both maturation and aging is the same, i.e. there is no special aging process, just the dehydration of the body beyond the optimum maturation state [causing] a progressive, destructive, inherent and universal rate limitation for [...] physiological performance”

“The oncogenes were discovered first in tumor tissues during the early 1980s, and were thought to be of viral origin, but were found very soon in all eukaryotes from yeast to human cells. They have various viral (v-) and cellular (c-) families, the number of which is above 40. The c-oncogenes are also termed proto-oncogenes; they code for proteins being strictly involved in mitotic regulation. Nowadays, they are regarded as playing vital roles in the normal control of mitosis and cell differentiation depending upon cell types and the actual state of maturation. In addition to the oncogenes, so-called antioncogenes (or oncosuppressor genes) have also been identified. These are genes the products of which are important in suppression of cell division and causing differentiation, senescence or apoptosis of cells. [...] from the point of view of the MHA, it seems to be extremely important that many of the products of the so far explored oncogenes and antioncogenes are localized in the cell plasma membrane.”

“[The] strong conflict between AMA and A4M [the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine] prompted me as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics to write an Editorial [104] proposing a consensus, according to which aging should generally be considered as a natural AGHD  [Adult Growth Hormone Deficiency] syndrome treatable by hrGH [recombinant human GH].”

I included the quote in the paragraph above for one reason only: To remind people reading along that I don’t always trust the judgment of the authors I read, and that I’m sometimes quite skeptical about what they have to say. Here’s another view on that matter: “There’s little evidence to suggest human growth hormone can help otherwise healthy adults regain youth and vitality. In fact, experts recommend against using HGH to treat aging or age-related conditions.” (link). I don’t take people like ‘the mayo clinic staff’ to be undisputed authorities which I should never question either – people in similar positions have taken medical decisions which I consider to be questionable before, as a specific example I might refer to the comments I made while reading Kolonin et al. about the website of Johns Hopkins University and its coverage of reconstructive breast surgery (see this link). But the situation here is different, as the mayo guys obviously aren’t the ones who have a lot of explaining and justification to do here. I think the author of that chapter would find it very hard to obtain consensus even among the contributors to the publication in question, as more than one of them have in their coverage made clear that they think he’s wrong (not directly, but certainly indirectly).

“Aging is a complex process of progressive decline in overall physiological functions, resulting in a diminished capacity to withstand internal and external damage and an increased susceptibility to diseases and risk of death. The process of aging is controlled by many factors including genetic and environmental influences, and many theories have been proposed to explain the phenomenon of aging. Recent studies have implicated mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress in the aging process and in the pathogenesis of age-associated diseases. It is hypothesized that damage to mitochondria including mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) caused by the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) during cellular respiration is one of the drivers of aging. These theories (the free radical theory and the mitochondrial vicious cycle theory of aging) provide an important conceptual framework and have led to interventions aimed at decreasing the level of ROS for health benefits. However, there is an increasing body of evidence challenging these theories, which has led to the emergence of new hypotheses on how age-associated mitochondrial dysfunction may lead to aging”

“ROS are produced as by-products of aerobic metabolism in cells, and mitochondria are the major sites of ROS generation. In humans, more than 90% of oxygen is consumed by mitochondria, and 1–5% of the consumed oxygen is transformed into superoxide because of electron leakage of the electron transport chain (ETC). Superoxide generated in mitochondria is then converted to hydrogen peroxide [...] Depending on their types and cellular levels, ROS can act as either crucial biological or deleterious agents. [...] under pathophysiological conditions, overproduction of ROS can interact with DNA, RNA, lipids and proteins, leading to destruction or irreversible alteration of the functions of the targeted molecules. Consequently, ROS are identified as major contributors of cellular damage. ROS-induced DNA damage [...] can result in alterations in transcription and signal transduction, replication errors, and genomic instability [...] Accumulation of ROS and oxidative damage is one of the cellular hallmarks of aging. [...] In addition to being a main source of ROS, mitochondria are the prime targets of oxidative damage, which in turn reduces mitochondrial efficiency and leads to the generation of more ROS in a vicious self-destructive cycle. As an extension of the free radical theory, the mitochondrial vicious cycle theory of aging emphasizes and refines the central role of mitochondria in the aging process. [...] A wide spectrum of alterations in mtDNA including point mutations, deletions and duplications have been found to accumulate in a variety of tissues during aging [54]. The accumulation of oxidative stress-induced mtDNA mutations has been shown to correlate with a progressive decline in mitochondrial function and contribute to age-related physiological decline [38, 55]. In addition to its proximity to the source of oxidants, mtDNA lacks protection by histones and the DNA repair capacity in mitochondria is relatively low [38]. Moreover, the mitochondrial genome lacks noncoding introns, which increases the likelihood of damage to a coding region and consequently affects the integrity of encoded RNA and proteins. These characteristics make mtDNA more vulnerable to oxidative damage than nuclear DNA in mammalian cells [54]. More importantly, damage to mtDNA can be propagated as mitochondria and cells divide, leading to the amplification of the physiological consequences of the damage.”

“A large body of evidence suggests a link between aging and increased ROS production, accumulated oxidative damages and declined mitochondrial function. Whether and how these changes contribute to aging is an area of interest in aging research. [...] considerable progress has been made in our understanding of the role of oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in aging and age-associated diseases. However, a number of recent studies have challenged the free radical and mitochondrial theories of aging, which postulate a detrimental and toxic role of ROS and dysfunctional mitochondria in aging. Some disconnections exist between oxidative stress and longevity. Long-lived naked mole rats are found to have higher levels of oxidative damage than the short-lived mice [255]. Caloric/glucose restriction extends life span in yeast and Caenorhabditis elegans, but induces mitochondrial respiration and increases oxidative stress [256–259]. Overexpression of major antioxidant enzymes including Cu/ZnSOD, catalase, or combinations of either Cu/ZnSOD and catalase or Cu/ZnSOD and MnSOD does not extend life span in mice [260]. Furthermore, studies have found that mtDNA mutations are generated mainly by replication errors rather than by accumulated oxidative damage [55]. [...] 261] . Collectively, these findings suggest that ROS production and mitochondrial dysfunction are not the universal cause of aging in all species. ROS have recently emerged as signaling molecules which facilitate adaptation to stress and maintain cellular homeostasis [262]. The gradual ROS response theory of aging postulates that ROS are not the cause of aging, but rather represent a stress signal in response to age-dependent damage [263]. This theory suggests that ROS can be beneficial by serving as molecular signals to stimulate endogenous defense mechanisms and promote stress resistance and longevity, although high levels of ROS have a deleterious role in aging and late-onset diseases. There is increasing evidence indicating that mitochondrial ROS can induce beneficial responses to cellular stresses during aging.”

“We insisted in the previous sections of this chapter on the crucial role of cell-matrix interactions for correct tissue and organ function. These interactions are mediated by receptors, integrins, the elastin receptor and several others. Messages delivered to cells by these receptors, originating from the ECM [extracellular matrix] are then further transmitted and targeted to intracellular and intranuclear organelles where the message has to be interpreted [...] Cells can also send messages to constituents of the surrounding matrix to modify its intermolecular interactions and functions. [...] Besides [...] direct cell-matrix communication, a number of other messages can and do reach the cells to modulate their behavior. Such messages, as for instance hormones, cytokines, growth factors and many others, communicate with the cells by receptors on the cell membrane, intracellular and intranuclear. [...] several receptor-mediated functions decline with age because [of] either [...] the loss of receptors or their uncoupling from their specific signalling pathways. [...] one of the hallmarks of aging is the decline of a number of physiological functions in response to a variety of stimuli. Among these are the best known and most studied endocrine functions underlying menopause and andropause. Another group of vital physiological functions concern the regulation of cardiovascular functions, intensely studied over decades by a number of investigators [...] A third field of intense investigations concerns the nervous system [...] Most of these functions are regulated by receptor ligand interactions, followed by the transmission of the message conveyed by the ligand, a hormone for instance, to the interior of the cell where it has to elicit the reaction specified by the nature of the ligand. A complicating factor for such studies is the fact that most receptor-mediated processes proceed by a series of successive steps, all mediated by ‘second messengers’ or other comparable intermediary reactions before reaching the target of the message [...] This stepwise transmission of the specific message between the receptor and the corresponding cell machinery complicates the task for the elucidation of the precise mechanism of the age-dependent loss of function.”

September 14, 2014 Posted by | biology, books, medicine, meta | Leave a comment

Books 2014

It took me a lot of time to write the January-June 2014 book post, and for that reason I have for a while had a post draft with a list of books I’ve read since that post was published lying around on my blog which I’ve frequently updated in order to avoid having to do a lot of work towards the end of the year as well. The draft in question just came up during a conversation with a friend, and the thought occurred to me that since I’m updating it regularly anyway, I might as well post it here on the blog so that others have access to this information as well. So below I’ve posted an updated list of books I’ve read and book coverage I’ve provided here on the blog this year. I don’t know how often I’ll update the list, but I’ll try to do it regularly. I think I’ll add a similar list next year. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve added a link to this post to the ‘About me/this blog’-page in the sidebar.

I have added a few remarks below which were also included in the January-June post, in order to provide an explanation for how the list is structured – you can skip the comments below if you’ve already read the January-June post. Aside from links to relevant posts I’ve added to the list a bit of information about the books – the numbers in the parentheses are the goodreads ratings I have given the books (for information about how to interpret those ratings, see incidentally the comments here and here), whereas the various letters following those numbers indicate which ‘type’ of book it is – ‘f’ = fiction, ‘nf’ = non-fiction. I have included the names of the publishers of the non-fiction books to the list as it didn’t take any mental effort to add this variable and it seemed to me like it might be relevant information, and I have also added the names of the authors of the fiction books as this also seemed like relevant information which was easy to add. Given that people reading along here can’t be expected to necessarily know all the publishers included, I have provided a link to some information about each of the publishers featured on the list – the link to the publisher is added the first place on the list where the publisher in question is mentioned – in order to make it easier to assess relatively fast which type of book it might be. Aside from these things I’ve written very little about each book; I have added a few other remarks here and there where they seemed relevant, but I’ve tried to keep such comments brief and to the point. If you don’t do this a post like this can get very long very fast.

I have not rated all the books on the list, but I have added the goodreads ratings in the great majority of cases where I have – usually the posts about the book will in the cases where no ratings are provided give you both some idea why I did not rate them and some idea as to what I think about those books. In general it’s safe to say that books I have not rated have some (to me) problematic features which I’ve felt somewhat ambivalent about. On a related note it should be clear from the list that I have not blogged all the books I’ve read this year; this is partly because I decided a while back to limit fiction blogging to a minimum.

On the list below I have only included books which I have read in full and have actually finished, meaning that as usual some books are left out. I hope you’ll find the list helpful in terms of navigating the site and that it’ll make it easier for you to find stuff I’ve written here about things you consider interesting.

1. Pathophysiology of disease (5, nf. Lange medical text. Long, takes a lot of work compared to most of the other books on this list). I took a few quite long breaks from the book along the way, which is why the posts are somewhat spread out over time. I decided in the end to add all relevant posts about the book here, even the ones which were not written this year. Blog coverage here, here, here, here, here, and here.

2. The Complete Maus (4, f). Art Spiegelman. I was seriously considering not including this one on the list at all (is this even a book?), but on the other hand it took me significantly more time to read this thing than it took me to read Calvino so I figured I might as well add it to the list.

3. Why Women Have Sex (2, nf. Times Books. This is one of a few non-fiction books on this list which are not either academic publications or technical publications. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the book is written by two university professors; the level of coverage here is much lower than that of pretty much every other non-fiction book on this list. Blog coverage here and here.

4. The Fifth Elephant (5, f). Pratchett. Blog coverage here.

5. Chronic Pain and Addiction (3, nf. Karger medical text). Blog coverage here.

6. Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior (4, nf. Guilford Press psychology text. Long). Blog coverage here, here, and here. Note that I changed my mind about the goodreads rating after I’d written the last of my posts about the book.

7. Evolution of Island Mammals: Adaptation and Extinction of Placental Mammals on Islands (4, nf. Wiley-Blackwell biology text). Blog coverage here.

8. Invisible cities (4, f). Calvino. Blog coverage here.

9. Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press. Short and very easy to read). Blog coverage here.

10. The Oxford Handbook of Health Economics (5, nf. Oxford University Press economics textbook. Long). Blog coverage here, here and here.

11. Death in the clouds (4, f). Agatha Christie.

12. Geomorphological Landscapes of the World (3, nf. Springer. Not easy to read.). Blog coverage here and here.

13. Metabolic Risk for Cardiovascular Disease (3, nf. Wiley-Blackwell medical text). Blog coverage here.

14. Screening for Depression and Other Psychological Problems in Diabetes: A Practical Guide (2, nf. Springer). Blog coverage here.

15. Psycho-Oncology (3, nf. Springer medical text). Blog coverage here and here.

16. The Daughter Of Time (4, f). Josephine Tey.

17. Cards on the Table (5, f). Agatha Christie.

18. A Practical Manual of Diabetic Retinopathy Management (2, nf. Wiley-Blackwell medical text). Blog coverage here.

19. The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe: Volume 1, 1700-1870 (3, nf. Cambridge University Press economics text). Blog coverage here and here.

20. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies (2, nf. Guilford Press psychology text). Blog coverage here and here.

21. Personality Judgment: A Realistic Approach to Person Perception (3, nf. An Academic Press psychology publication). Blog coverage here and here.

22. The Remains of the Day (5, f). Kazuo Ishiguro.

23. The Origin and Evolution of Cultures (5, nf. Oxford University Press. Takes a lot of work, but it’s an awesome book – “Highly recommended. Probably the best book I’ve read this year”). Blog coverage here, here, here, here and here.

24. What Did the Romans Know?: An Inquiry into Science and Worldmaking (2, nf. University of Chicago Press). Blog coverage here and here.

25. Bioterrorism and Infectious Agents: A New Dilemma for the 21st Century (3, nf. Springer medical text). Blog coverage here.

26. The Waste Books (2, f(?) – a collection of aphorims). Lichtenberg. Blog coverage here.

27. The Eyre Affair (5, f). Jasper Fforde. Blog coverage here.

28. The Biology of Happiness (nf. Springer (SpringerBriefs)). Easy to read, and also quite short. Blog coverage here.

29. Lost in a Good Book (5, f). Jasper Fforde.

30. The Well of Lost Plots (5, f). Jasper Fforde. Blog coverage here.

31. Body language (nf. Pocket. Like #3, this book is most decidedly not an academic publication, and you can tell). Blog coverage here.

32. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (3, f). Philip K. Dick.

33. Acute Muscle Injuries (3, nf. Springer medical text). Blog coverage here.

34. Military Geography: For Professionals and the Public (3, nf. Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press). Blog coverage here, here and here.

35. The Psychology of Personnel Selection (3, nf. Cambridge University Press). Blog coverage here and here.

36. To Kill a Mockingbird (2, f). Harper Lee. Overrated.

37. Impact of Sleep and Sleep Disturbances on Obesity and Cancer (5, nf. Springer medical text). Blog coverage here and here.

38. Lupus: The Essential Clinician’s Guide (4, nf. Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here.

39. Something Rotten (4, f). Jasper Fforde.

40. 100 Cases in Acute Medicine (3, nf. Published by CRC Press – review book for medical students/junior doctors). Blog coverage here.

41. Plant Animal Interactions: An Evolutionary Approach (5, nf. Blackwell Publishing biology text). A really great book, high average goodreads rating. Blog coverage here, here, and here.

42. 100 Cases in Clinical Medicine (3, nf. Published by CRC Press – see #40). Blog coverage here.

43. Peril at End House (4, f). Agatha Christie.

44. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (nf. University of Chicago Press). Blog coverage here.

45. 100 Cases in General Practise (2, nf. Published by CRC Press – see again #40). Blog coverage here.

46. The TET Offensive: A Concise History (3, nf. Columbia University Press military history book). Blog coverage here.

47. Nutrition at a Glance (nf. John Wiley & Sons). Blog coverage here.

48. Poirot Investigates (3, f). Agatha Christie. Unlike the other books by her on the list, this book is a collection of short stories, rather than a novel.

49. Natural Conflict Resolution (4, nf. University of California Press). Blog coverage here, here, and here.

50. First Among Sequels (5, f). Jasper Fforde. Goodreads review: “(Maybe I shouldn’t give all these [Jasper Fforde] books five stars, but as long as they keep being awesome I’ll keep giving them five stars.)“. Blog coverage here.

51. Managing Cardiovascular Complications in Diabetes (3, nf. Wiley-Blackwell medical text). Blog coverage here and here.

52. A Quick Guide to Cancer Epidemiology (nf. Springer – Springer Briefs in Cancer research). Blog coverage here.

53. Murder in Mesopotamia (4, f). Agatha Christie.

54. Discrete Time Stochastic Control and Dynamic Potential Games: The Euler Equation Approach (nf. Springer – Springer Briefs in Mathematics). Blog coverage here.

55. The Big Four (1, f). Agatha Christie. A terrible book.

56. Infectious Agents and Cancer (2, nf. Springer). Blog coverage here.

57. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (5, f). Jasper Fforde. Blog coverage here.

58. The Mystery of the Blue Train (3, f). Agatha Christie.

59. Utilitarianism (nf. Cambridge University Press). Blog coverage here.

60. Hypoglycemia in Diabetes – Pathophysiology, Prevalence, and Prevention (3, nf. Published by the American Diabetes Association). Blog coverage here.

61. Autism Spectrum Disorder (2, nf. Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here and here.

62. The Emergence of Animals: The Cambrian Breakthrough (4, nf. Columbia University Press). Blog covereage here and here.

63. The Woman Who Died A Lot (4, f). Jasper Fforde. Blog coverage here.

64. Evolution and the Levels of Selection (5, nf. Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here.

65. The Problems of Philosophy (nf. Included in Pojman’s Classics of Philosophy, published by Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here.

66. Skilled interpersonal communication (1, nf. Routledge). Blog coverage here, here, here, here, and here.

67. Death on the Nile (4, f). Agatha Christie.

68. Habituation: Theories, Characteristics and Biological Mechanisms (Neuroscience Research Progress) (2, nf. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.). Blog coverage here.

69. A murder is announced (2, f). Agatha Christie.

70. Metacognition: Cognitive and Social Dimensions (2, nf. Sage Publications). Blog coverage here, here, and here.

71. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (3, nf. Harper Perennial Modern Classics). Blog coverage here and here.

72. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (2, f). José Saramago.

73. Aging – Facts and Theories (Interdisciplinary Topics in Gerontology, Vol. 39) (1, nf. Karger). Blog coverage here and here.

74. Ecological Dynamics (4, nf. Oxford University Press). A good book to point to when talking to people who believe biologists don’t ever really use complicated mathematical tools. Good coverage of various basic model concepts.

75. The Endocrine System at a Glance (3, nf. Wiley-Blackwell). Very dense – there’s a lot of information in here despite the relatively low page count. Blog coverage here.

76. A Pocket Full Of Rye (4, f.) Agatha Christie.

77. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (5, f). Agatha Christie.

78. An Introduction to Tropical Rain Forests (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

79. The Body in the Library (3, f). Agatha Christie.

September 12, 2014 Posted by | books | Leave a comment

The Endocrine System at a Glance (I)

3152(Smbc – click to view full size).

Compare with the book:

Adrenal steroid synthesis

(There are other diagrams in the book which look quite a bit more like the SMBC one than does the table above, but none of them deal with 17α-hydroxylase, progesterone, androstenedione and their friends and acquaintances…).

No, I didn’t get all of the stuff covered in this book, but this would probably also be a bit much to expect. There were however more than a few principles presented here which I’d sort of come across elsewhere which I now have a much better understanding of than I used to do. Many of the things covered (but far from all of them) were things I’d read about before, e.g. in McPhee et al. and Sperling et al. But there was also some new stuff in there.

The book has ~118 pages, plus some pages with reading comprehension questions in the back, but the page count is a very deceptive metric if you want to estimate the amount of work required to get through the book; I may be wrong, but I think most people will find it very hard to read even close to 10 pages per hour, certainly ‘in the long run’ (after the first couple of hours) and certainly if they want to understand the stuff and do not have a medical background. You probably need to be willing to look stuff up every now and then to follow what’s going on. I basically read the book two to four pages at a time, with lots of short breaks. Actually I’m not sure this is a good book to read at all if you do not have some medical knowledge – as they state in the introduction: “The book is aimed at undergraduate medical students [...] it should also be a useful source of information for clinical medical students and junior doctors”.

The book belongs in the same series as the nutrition text by Barasi I read a while back (another book covering topics which were also looked at in the book, e.g. stuff like energy homeostasis), and it suffers from the same main problem I had with that publication; there’s not a single source provided in the publication. Actually that’s not entirely true as I think one of the graphs were described in the text and so you were told where the numbers came from in that case; but almost all numbers provided are provided without any indication of where they come from, and you have no way to figure out what kind of research they are based on. “Diabetics are three times more likely to have a stroke and 15 times more likely to undergo lower limb amputation than non-diabetic subjects”, they write in the text, yet the latter number is likely to be an underestimate as: “The relative risk of an individual with diabetes undergoing a lower extremity amputation was 20.3 in 2004 and 21.2 in 2008, compared with that of individuals without diabetes.” (link). Given that some of the other numbers included in the book clearly have not been updated since the previous editions – there’s a particularly hilarious forecast of obesity in the UK which provides a linear forecast (using OLS) of what’s likely to happen (?) to the obesity rate from the year 1998 and forward, based on the numbers observed during the previous two decades… (the third edition of the book which I read was published in 2011) – I find it highly unlikely that the mismatch between the relative risk numbers is the result of outcome improvements observed since 2008. The authors are incidentally British, which is why I refer to the specific ~20 RR estimate – I’m assuming they’re relying on UK/British numbers when providing their estimates, even though even that is actually unclear, so relying on such numbers seemed the most fair way to evaluate the accuracy of the estimate. The discrepancy in question is not one of a kind – for example elsewhere they write that: “Macrovascular complications are the major cause of death in people with Type 2 diabetes, accounting for 50% of deaths in this group” – which again seems to be a significant underestimate: “Subjects with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, with approximately three-quarters of patients with diabetes ultimately dying from vascular causes” and: Mortality from CVD accounts for more than 60% of deaths in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus”. (Quotes from Betteridge and Nicholls’ Managing Cardiovascular Complications in Diabetesblog link here. 50% is way too low).

I assume most of the numbers included in the book are reasonably in line with the evidence, and there aren’t many numbers to begin with as the book deals almost exclusively with key principles etc., but I do find it annoying and slightly troubling that the numbers seem to be a little bit off in areas where I actually know something about those things they talk about, and regardless of whether they’re wrong or not you should provide a damn source anyway. I don’t think it would be that hard to add a few sources without making drastic changes to the format of the book, as one could just add a number in the text and a source in the back. I should make clear that to the extent the estimates provided in the publication are ‘wrong’ I believe them to be wrong on account of being based on old data; I don’t think any inaccuracies in the book are due to the authors ‘not knowing what they’re talking about’.

As might be inferred from the screenshot above the book is very technical, and so it’s a bit difficult to blog. There are many  chapters where most of the coverage consists of complicated diagrams as well as verbal coverage of the same stuff dealt with in those diagrams, and little else. I have tried in my coverage below to mostly cover stuff from the book which I thought might at least be reasonably easy to understand for people reading along here.

“Endocrinology is the study of endocrine hormones and of the organs involved in endocrine hormone release. Classically, hormones have been described as chemical messengers, released and having their actions at distant sites. It is now clear, however, that there is a close relationship between hormones and other factors such as neurotransmitters and growth factors acting in a paracrine or autocrine fashion. Hormones are essential for the maintenance of normal physiological function and hormonal disorders occur at all stages of human life. Clinical endocrinologists thus look after patients of all ages and with a very wide range of disorders”

“Hormones are chemical messengers. They may be classified several ways [...]: 1 Autocrine: acting on the cells that synthesized them [...] 2 Paracrine: acting on neighbouring cells. An example is insulin, secreted by pancreatic β cells and affecting secretion of glucagon by pancreatic α cells. 3 Endocrine: acting on cells or organs to which they are carried in the bloodstream or through another aqueous ducting system, such as lymph. Examples include insulin, estradiol and cortisol. 4 Neuroendocrine: this is really paracrine or endocrine, except that the hormones are synthesized in a nerve cell (neurone) which releases the hormone adjacent to the target cell (paracrine), or releases it into the bloodstream, which carries it to the target cell [...] 5 Neural: this is neurotransmission, when a chemical is released by one neurone and acts on an adjacent neurone [...]. These chemicals are termed neurotransmitters. [...] 6 Pheromonal transmission is the release of volatile hormones, called pheromones, into the atmosphere, where they are transmitted to another individual and are recognized as an olfactory signal.”

“The movement of chemicals between cells and organs is usually tightly controlled. Diffusion is the movement of molecules in a fluid phase, in random thermal (Brownian) motion [...] Facilitated transport is the transport of chemicals across membranes by carrier proteins. The process does not require energy and cannot, therefore, transport chemicals against a concentration gradient. [...] Active transport uses energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) or other metabolic fuels. Therefore chemicals can be transported across the membrane against a concentration gradient [...] Ion channels mediate active transport, and consist of proteins containing charged amino acids that may form activation and inactivation ‘gates’. Ion channels may be activated by receptors, or by voltage changes through the cell membrane. Channels of the ion Ca2+ can be activated by these two methods. Osmosis is the passive movement of water through a semipermeable membrane, from a compartment of low solute concentration to one which has a greater concentration of the solute.”

“Hormones interact with target cells through a primary interaction with receptors which recognize the hormones selectively. There are several different receptor systems, which vary in mechanism and timing [...] Receptor antagonism is an important aspect of endocrinology and drug use generally [...] antagonists play a large part in the treatment of endocrine disease. The molecule which binds to the receptor and elicits the normal cellular response is termed the agonist. The ligand which binds, but elicits no response, is the antagonist. Antagonists act at the membrane in different ways. For example the β-receptor blocker propranolol competes with epinephrine at its binding site. The anticonvulsant phenytoin blocks ion channels.”

“Living systems possess their own internal environment, which has to survive within an external environment. [...] Internal control is achieved through integration of the different systems: neural, biochemical and physical. In all cases, the fundamental components of these systems are: (i) signals; (ii) transducers; (iii) sensors; and (iv) responders. [...] Integration of endocrine systems is achieved through a complex interplay of regulatory feedback mechanisms operated through both hormonal and neural communication networks. The most important mechanisms are those commonly called feedback, whereby systems limit each other’s activity around a preset oscillator. [...] In endocrinology, the brain–pituitary–target gland axes provide examples of feedback mechanisms in action [...]. For virtually every anterior pituitary hormone, a corresponding hypothalamic releasing hormone has been discovered, and in some cases a corresponding inhibitory hypothalamic hormone has been found [...]. Feedback systems may involve more than two hormones [...] Understanding basic feedback mechanisms is vital in clinical endocrinology where it forms the basis of diagnostic testing. [...] Characteristically, endocrine disorders disrupt normal feedback mechanisms and this feature is exploited in the interpretation of a number of endocrine function tests. Furthermore, certain hormones rise in response to stressful stimuli and this too can be utilized for diagnostic purposes. [...] Most hormones: • Are subject to diurnal or ultradian rhythms • Are secreted in a pulsatile fashion • Are controlled by feedback from target organs (usually negative) • Develop autonomous secretion in pathological states [...] As a general rule: • If the clinical suspicion is of hormone excess then suppression tests are used • If the clinical suspicion is of hormone deficiency then stimulation tests are used”

“Many endocrine conditions have an autoimmune aetiology and patients frequently exhibit antibodies to multiple endocrine organs and have evidence of associated autoimmune disease [...] Autoimmunity may be defined as an attack by the host’s immune system on the host’s own tissues. These attacks may be transient immune reactions to infection, for example, which resolve spontaneously. They may, however, become chronic, with pathological consequences. Endocrine autoimmunity often involves an immune attack on specific endocrine glands, for example Addison’s disease, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, where the gland is damaged or destroyed altogether [‘type 1 diabetes mellitus’ is much better than ‘insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus’ [IDDM] in this context – I dislike the unfortunate naming convention applied, given that many type 2 diabetics, as mentioned before here on this blog, will require insulin-injections over time. I’ve previously seen an estimate which I reported here on the blog which indicated that half of type 2 diabetics will need insulin within 6 years of diagnosis, but the original source for that quote has been taken down and I didn’t write down who the authors were so I can’t find the original estimate. I don’t really trust wikipedia on these things, but the article on insulin includes the (likewise unsourced) observation that: “Over 40% of those with Type 2 diabetes require insulin as part of their diabetes management plan”. As something like ~85% of all diabetics are type 2 diabetics, type 2’s make up a substantial majority of all IDDM cases if that estimate can be trusted. Regardless of precisely how many type 2 diabetics are treated with insulin it’s a very substantial number of patients, and the relevant distinction here, when thinking about autoimmunity-mediated organ damage, is between type 1 and type 2, though that distinction is admittedly also not perfect. This post has more about specific subtypes of diabetes, as does this commentas the remarks included in the latter link in particular illustrates, this stuff is complicated and none of the applied diagnostic conventions really distinguish 100 percent between auto-immune and not-autoimmune, though the type 1/2 distinction comes much closer than does the IDDM/NIDDM distinction, which is one of the reasons why the latter distinction is these years rarely used in lieu of the type 1/2 categorization convention]. These are examples of mainly organ-specific autoimmune diseases [...]. In systemic autoimmune disease, on the other hand, the immune system attacks several tissues that may be anatomically distant from each other. Examples of systemic autoimmune disease include rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). There may be both organ-specific and systemic components in most, if not all, autoimmune diseases.”

September 10, 2014 Posted by | books, diabetes, medicine | Leave a comment


i. “Not being known doesn’t stop the truth from being true.” (Richard Bach)

ii. “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” (-ll-)

iii. “The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” (-ll-)

iv. “Science kills credulity and superstition, but to the well-balanced mind it enhances the feeling of wonder, of veneration, and of kinship which we feel in the presence of the miraculous universe.” (John Burroughs)

v. “For certainly it is excellent discipline for an author to feel that he must say all he has to say in the fewest possible words, or his reader is sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words, or his reader will certainly misunderstand them.” (John Ruskin)

vi. “A little group of wise hearts is better than a wilderness full of fools.” (-ll-)

vii. “One man’s remorse is another man’s reminiscence.” (Ogden Nash)

viii. “I believe that people believe what they believe they believe.” (-ll-)

ix. “That man is not truly brave who is afraid either to seem or to be, when it suits him, a coward.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

x. “A few Cobras in your home will soon clear it of Rats and Mice. Of course, you will still have the Cobras.” (Will Cuppy)

xi. “The Age of Reptiles ended because it had gone on long enough and it was all a mistake in the first place. A better day was dawning at the close of the Mesozoic Era. There were some little warm-blooded animals around which had been stealing and eating the eggs of the Dinosaurs, and they were gradually learning to steal other things, too. Civilization was just around the corner.” (-ll-)

xii. “Aristotle maintains that the neck of the Lion is composed of a single bone. Aristotle knew nothing at all about Lions, a circumstance which did not prevent him from writing a good deal on the subject. [...] Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons. [...] Pliny the Elder described a Whale called “Balaena or Whirlpool, which is so long and broad as to take up more in length and breadth than two acres of ground.” This brings up again the old question: Are the classics doomed? Our ancestors believed that four years of this sort of information would inevitably produce a President, or at least a Cabinet Member. It didn’t seem to work out that way.” (-ll-)

xiii. “The Egyptians of the First Dynasty were already civilized in most respects. They had hieroglyphics, metal weapons for killing foreigners, numerous government officials, death, and taxes.” (-ll-)

xiv. “Egyptologists say they have no idea what Khufu was doing when he was not building pyramids, since he left no inscriptions describing his daily activities, and they would give a good deal to know. Then they say he had six wives and a harem full of concubines. They do not seem to make the connection, but you get it and I get it. We do not need any hieroglyphics to inform us that Khufu dropped around occasionally to see how things were getting along and to tell the ladies how many cubic yards of limestone he had laid that afternoon.” (-ll-)

xv. “They [the Pilgrim Fathers] believed in freedom of thought for themselves and for all other people who believed exactly as they did.” (-ll-)

xvi. “The best good that you can possibly achieve is not good enough if you have to strain yourself all the time to reach it. A thing is only worth doing, and doing again and again, if you can do it rather easily, and get some joy out of it.” (Don Marquis)

xvii. “The dearest ambition of a slave is not liberty but to have a slave of his own.” (Richard Francis Burton)

xviii. “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” (-ll-)

xix. “He who sees only what is before his eyes sees the worst part of every view.” (Leslie Stephen)

xx. “History is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” (Edward Gibbon)

September 7, 2014 Posted by | quotes | 2 Comments

Metacognition – Cognitive and Social Dimensions (III)

This will be my last post about the book.

Below I have added some observations from the last chapters of the book and a few comments.

“A critical dimension of social judgment is [...] that reality, desired beliefs, and rules of justification [e.g. norms] combine to shape people’s reactions. [...] One key feature affecting the normative level of adequacy, however, is that perceivers are notoriously ill-equipped when it comes to scrutinizing their own cognitive processes (for reviews, see Metcalfe & Shimamura, 1994; Nelson, 1992). In other words, although people are expected to call upon their metacognitive abilities to assess the quality of their knowledge about others, they are not very good at identifying the various ingredients comprising their judgment nor, for that matter, are they good at pinpointing the factors which led them to form a specific impression [...] all current perspectives on person perception underline the fact that perceivers are extremely quick at categorizing others on the basis of a minimal amount of information. Categories provide people with a host of information about a specific target. Perceivers are thus likely to know quite a bit about any given person simply because of his or her category membership. The critical question then becomes to determine how exactly people are to interpret the resulting impression. Are perceivers in a position to disentangle the individuating from the category-based pieces of information? The answer seems to be that they are not. [...] The message of [Nisbett & Wilson's] provocative review of the literature is that people have little or no direct access to the processes that lead to particular contents of the mind. As a result, naive theories play a major role in people’s accounts of why they think what they think or why they do what they do.”

The idea behind this naive theories view seems to be that we often don’t really know why we think the way we do, and in the absence of actual knowledge about the true factors involved when we’re making judgments about others we make up our own theories for why we think the things we do. One way they’ve researched such aspects of cognitive processing has been to expose people to information about a target which included a bogus judgment mediator (some participants were told that aside from what was obviously supposed to be relevant information about the target, they had also received subliminal information about the target which they would not be able to be consciously aware of…) and asking the judges to make judgments about the target; it turns out that people tend to correct for supposed biases in their thought processes even when these really do not exist. The study they talked about in that chapter found that people exposed to the ‘subliminal information’ were more cautious about making judgments about the target because they thought they might have been manipulated, meaning that they ended up discounting relevant knowledge in order to correct for what really were non-existing inputs to the social judgment. Other approaches have indicated by exposing people to different types of information that people tend to believe they’re more justified in making judgments about others when they have more individuating information about the target. A related finding is this:

“perceivers may [...] be very sensitive to the mode of acquisition of the information. Specifically, people may have more confidence in the evidence that they themselves gathered than in information they passively received. [...] [Some] findings lend credit to the idea that perceivers who control the acquisition of the information express more confident and polarized ratings. They remain silent, however, as far as the underlying process is concerned.”

Here’s some more stuff about the ‘naive theories’ and related stuff on bias correction mechanisms from a later chapter in the book:

“What metacognitive processes do people use to ensure that their assessments of and feelings toward targets are “accurate” or “legitimate?” In brief, we believe that corrections (i.e. attempts at removing bias from assessments of targets) are often the result of people consulting their naive theories (beliefs) of how potentially biasing factors have influenced (or might yet influence) their views of the target. [...] Identification of possible bias is guided, in part, by people’s beliefs or theories about how factors in the judgment setting (factors both internal and external to the perceiver) influence perceptions of targets. Some naive theories are likely to be stored in memory and are then accessed when salient features of the biasing factor are present in the judgment setting. At times, however, naive theories of bias are likely to be generated on-line as biasing factors are encountered in a given situation. Of course, stored theories of bias might also be amended or otherwise changed by experience of the specific biasing factor in the given judgment setting. These perceptions of bias are “naive theories” in that a given perceiver is not likely to have direct access to the effect of the factor(s) on his or her judgments, nor is he or she likely to possess the evidence that would be necessary to know the influence of the factor on the perceptions of others [...]. Thus, the person’s naive perception or theory of the effect of the factor is the person’s best estimate of the effect of the factor, regardless of whether that perception is in any way accurate or not (in fact, these theories will often be incorrect in either direction or magnitude).”

“If the perceiver believes that a bias is operating, and if the perceiver is both motivated and able to attempt corrections, then the perceiver engages in a correction guided by the theory of bias. Many different factors could influence motivation or ability to engage in corrections. For instance, some people are more motivated to engage in thoughtful activities in general (e.g. they are high in need for cognition, Cacioppo & Petty, 1982) or are more motivated to avoid “incorrect” judgments in particular (i.e. they are high in fear of invalidity; Thompson, Naccarato, & Parker, 1989). Of course, situational variations in motivation to put effort into a task or to avoid inaccuracy could also influence motivation to engage in corrections. It is also possible for people to identify a bias, but to be unmotivated to correct for it because the bias is viewed as legitimate or even necessary [...]. Similarly, either situational or personal factors could distract perceivers or otherwise induce a cognitive load that would decrease ability for theory-based corrections [...]. Interestingly, if people are highly motivated to correct and are attempting to do so, but are unable to accomplish this because of the imposition of a cognitive load, bias might even be exaggerated in some circumstances. That is, when people are actively attempting to suppress a thought under cognitive load, this thought can become more accessible than when the thought is not being suppressed [...], and this can lead to the thought having a greater contaminating effect on judgment [...]. In addition to cognitive load, qualities of the uncorrected perceptions of the target could also influence ability to correct”

“We assume that corrective processes ensue when people become aware of a potential bias (and are motivated and able to engage in corrections).[3] People can become aware of a potential bias before, during, or after judging (or even encountering) the target. Accordingly, corrections for bias need not occur only after reacting to the target, but people might also anticipate a bias and attempt to avoid it by changing how information about the target is gathered or scrutinized. We regard such attempts at avoidance of bias as “preemptive corrections” [...]. Especially before people have a great deal of experience with attempts to correct for a given biasing factor, such attempts would likely depend on some level of conscious awareness of the potential bias. However, with more experience of the factor and of the correction process, less conscious awareness of the bias might be sufficient for instigating the correction process (and the correction process itself might become less effortful, that is, to a certain extent, routinized [...]). In fact, even in those cases where rather conscious awareness of the biasing factor occurs, we would not generally expect the whole of the correction process to be consciously reportable (consistent with Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Rather, even if people are able to directly report the content of a given theory of bias, those same people might be unable to report which theory(ies) were used most in a correction, for example (i.e. even if content of a theory of bias is “explicit,” there can still be “implicit” effects of the theory [...] corrections are driven by the perceptions of the bias in that judgment setting. That is, corrections are aimed at removing perceived rather than actual bias. Although perceived and actual bias might coincide in certain circumstances, the two elements are conceptually distinct from one another. That is, a person might believe that a particular bias exists (and might attempt to remove that perceived bias) when no bias exists or even when a bias in the opposite direction is objectively present. [...] A variety of factors might determine the nature of theories of bias and the likelihood that those theories guide corrective attempts. [...] In many settings, the theory of bias that is used is probably some combination of a theory stored in memory along with adjustments to the theory based on the perceiver’s subjective experience of the context and target to be judged.”

“some theory-based corrections are likely to be more cognitively taxing and more thorough than others. In related areas (e.g. attitude change), assessments based on high levels of effortful, integrative elaboration of the qualities of targets lead those assessments of the target to persist over time, resist future attempts at change, and predict behavior better than less elaborated assessments [...]. We believe that the same principles apply to corrections as well. If a corrective attempt involves effortful consideration of the qualities of the target and corrections of those considerations, such a correction is more likely to persist over time, resist change, and predict future judgments and behavior than a correction that is not based on a thorough scrutiny of target qualities. A variety of factors might help to determine the extent to which corrections involve elaboration of target-relevant information (e.g. the extent of target-relevant knowledge the person possesses, the importance to the person of arriving at an unbiased assessment of the target, time pressures for judgment, etc.).”

“It is not uncommon to avoid stimuli that we think will elicit negative emotions [...] As noted by Wilson and Brekke (1994), people are often at risk of mental contamination, defined as “the process whereby a person has an unwanted judgment, emotion, or behavior because of mental processing that is unconscious or uncontrollable” [...]. Wilson and Brekke argued that people’s susceptibility to mental contamination is in part a function of the accuracy of lay theories about how the mind operates. The strategies people use to avoid contamination – such as covering their eyes or changing the [TV] channel – are largely a function of their theories about how their attitudes, emotions, and beliefs change.”

“If people truly want to avoid unwanted belief change, they are better off using earlier mental strategies such as exposure control and mental preparation [rather than later strategies such as resistance and remediation (roughly: belief adjustment/correction which takes place after exposure)]. [...] people might be better off if they recognized the limits of resistance, remediation, and behavior control and engaged in some judicious exposure control and mental preparation. [...] The belief that other people would be more influenced by mental contaminants than oneself has been found in a variety of other studies [...]. One reason for this difference, we suggest, is that people believe that they have a greater ability to resist or remediate the effects of a contaminant than other people do.”

“Obviously, people can make judgments and, obviously, people can provide rationales for their judgments, but what is the relation between the two? [...] Do people consciously consider various features of the judgment situation, weigh the positive and negative features of the context and target. develop a conscious understanding of the effects of these features, and then make judgments based upon that understanding? Or do people arrive at judgments for reasons of which they may not be entirely aware, and only later attempt to piece together why they might have made the judgments they did? Each of these positions has its proponents in current social judgment theorizing. [...] [We conclude from] our own research on judgmental correction processes [that] people’s conscious theories of social judgment are generally not causal, a priori, or accurate. Rather, these theories are descriptions of what people think they observed themselves doing while forming a judgment, and these theories influence judgments primarily when people are sensitized to (e.g. warned about) a particularly salient bias.”

September 7, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment

Aging – Facts and Theories (Interdisciplinary Topics in gerontology, Vol. 39) (I)

I said some not particularly nice things about this book in my goodreads review. While writing this post I was actually starting to seriously question my rating and asking myself whether I should make some adjustments to the review as well. Given the amount of blogging-worthy stuff included in the first part of the book, in combination with the fact that I’ve still yet to cover a couple of chapters I liked, I thought it might be unfair of me to give this publication one star, all things considered. But I’m not sure if I’ll change my rating. This part of my review stands: “if I don’t give this publication one star it’s really hard for me to imagine when I’d ever do that in the context of an academic publication.” The baseline requirements are set at a high level when you’re dealing with publications like these, and the rating should reflect that.

Below I have added some stuff from the first chapters of the book, and a few comments of my own.

“There is now strong evidence that telomere length is reduced during the serial subculture of human fibroblasts [11–13]. At some point before or during the formation of these cells, the enzyme telomerase, which maintains telomere length, is lost. It has therefore been suggested that commitment is in fact the loss of telomerase [14]. From this point, the cells can divide a given number of times, until the loss of DNA from the ends of chromosomes results in the cessation of cell division. The commitment theory proposes that this number of divisions, the parameter M, is constant, or close to constant.”

I believe some aspects of this line of work is well known also by people not working in the field, though I may be mistaken; I assume many people curious about these things have heard about stuff like the Hayflick limit. The book has quite a bit of stuff on research dealing with these things, and below are some critical remarks from the book on this topic:

[Works on human fibroplasts has] led to the concept that the hallmark of cellular aging is the postmitotic cell, the so called senescent cell, which would be one of the causes of the organism’s aging. However, there is no evidence showing that the human organism ages because somatic cells lose the potential to divide. In fact, the assumption goes against all the experiments that have tested the capacity of fibroblasts obtained from old donors to divide. It is obvious that in old age our cells are still capable of proliferating; what takes place is a deregulation in the proliferative response rather than the absence of the capacity to divide [14]. [...] Unfortunately, the term cell senescence [has been] generalized and now encompasses anytime a cell enters an irreversible growth arrest due to a variety of causes. Sometimes quite harsh treatments [have been] used to induce growth arrest [in research], which not surprisingly [have induced] DNA damage and arrest of cell division. Since some investigators believe that the terminal postmitotic stage of proliferating cell populations is originated by oxidative stress, hydrogen peroxide is one of those molecules used to induce the ‘senescent phenotype’ [...] [A problem is] that in the absence of detailed molecular data on what constitutes normal aging, it is difficult to decide whether the changes [which have been] reported reflect mechanisms underlying normal cellular aging/senescence or rather produce a mimic of cellular aging/senescence by quite different pathways. [...] Now that the term cell senescence is well established to designate a postmitotic state, it is difficult to change the usage; however, it should be used only operationally without any connection with aging of the organism.”

“One modification [of DNA methylation during replicative aging] has particularly drawn the attention of gerontologists; it concerned the shortening of chromosome ends, the telomeres. One can still see claims in the literature that this is one of the main causes of aging. [...] Since some immortal cell lines express the enzyme telomerase and develop the capacity to reconstitute telomeres after replication, the link between telomere integrity and replication potential seemed established; investigators were quick to equate telomere shortening with proliferation and aging. The reasoning was based on the syllogism: the number of potential divisions decreases with aging, telomeres are shortened during cell proliferation, hence aging is a function of telomere shortening. The syllogism is unjustified because the major and minor propositions have not been ascertained in comparative gerontology studies.
The erosion of telomeres through division is not universal. In humans, the division in vitro of normal keratinocytes [53, 54] , cardiomyocites [55] and astrocytes [56] is independent of telomere size. Results obtained with normal in vivo and in vitro lymphocytes vary with the laboratory and the methodology. [...] In humans, telomere lengths [in one study] did not show a clear correlation with tissue renewal times in vivo [...]; moreover, the rate of telomere loss slows throughout the human life span [63]. Fibroblasts from patients with Werner’s syndrome, which have a shorter life span than those of normal age-matched control donors, do not have shorter telomeres than control cells [64]. [...] There are other caveats concerning the relationship between telomere shortening and proliferation. Human fibroblasts maintained in the presence of 3% oxygen instead of the usual concentration of 20% have an increased proliferation potential but have shorter telomeres [23]. Radiation-induced senescence-like growth arrest is independent of telomere shortening [68]. [...] Telomere biology seems to vary with the species in a way unrelated with aging and with the respective cell proliferation life span in vitro. In non-human primates such as rhesus monkey, Japanese monkey, crab-eating monkey, chimpanzee, and orangutan, TRF [Terminal Restriction Fragment] length was more than double that of human somatic tissues [69]. [...] Hamster embryonic fibroblasts express telomerase throughout their replicative life span and the average telomere length does not decrease [73]. Long telomeres, fast cell replicative aging in vitro and short longevity are found in either wild or inbred laboratory mice. [...] In summary, it seems that the regulation of the length of telomeres has no implications for aging.”

Note that one needs to be careful about which conclusions to draw here. Hayflick’s finding seems to be correct:

“Most scientists who worked according to the guidelines published by Hayflick could reproduce his results. During the 2nd part of the last century, cell and tissue culture methods became standardized, and culture dishes and media became commercially available. This largely contributed to the interlaboratory standardization of culture methodology and settled to a large extent the controversies. Hayflick’s paradigm, stating that normal nontransformed cells cannot duplicate indefinitely in culture unless transformed into malignant cells, is now largely accepted.”

And I think the point is not that Hayflick’s finding was wrong, but rather that the relevance of this finding to how organisms actually age has been called into question. There’s probably a theoretical limit, but the limit is not particularly relevant to the way organisms age because organisms die before such considerations ever become relevant – this was my reading of what some of the authors thought about these things. Whether or not I’ve misunderstood the authors, at least this seems like a sensible solution to me to the problem of how to interpret the many different findings in this field.

Below I have added some coverage from a chapter on ideas about aging derived from evolutionary biology – again I assume some of these ideas may already be familiar to people reading along because such ideas are not exactly unknown, but that perhaps there’s even so perhaps some new stuff included in that part of the coverage as well:

“for any species, there is a compromise between longevity and the other life history traits. Some species, like elephants, need to live long to thrive or simply survive while for other ones, like mice, a high lifespan is superfluous. [...] any theory of aging needs to take into account that longevity, like the other life history traits, does not evolve freely, and any hypothesis positing that longevity of human beings could reach astronomic values simply ignores basic concepts in biology.”

“For most of species, life in the wild is rather short because of the threats encountered by animals, with the consequence that many of them die at a younger age than they would in a protected environment. The basic consequence is that all events occurring beyond some age are of no importance to the species and to most of animals [...] in animals, deleterious mutations expressed at young age are selected against, because they impair reproduction. [...] By contrast, if the mutations are expressed at old age only, they will not be selected against because their bearers have already transmitted their genes to the next generation [...] Mutations only expressed at old age will have no real effect on animals because most of them are already dead at this age [...]. If the whole process is repeated for many mutations and generations, one can easily understand that deleterious mutations will accumulate at old age, i.e. animals will be loaded with many health problems if they reach old age. This theory [is] called the theory of the accumulation of mutations at old age [...] Williams [added to this theory the idea that] some alleles could have favorable effects at young age and deleterious ones at old age [...] [the idea being that such] alleles could be selected due to their positive effects at young age, despite the negative effects at old age. [...] Williams’ theory is [...] called the antagonistic pleiotropy theory of aging. [...] for the time being, the evidence in favor of the hypothesis of the antagonistic pleiotropy theory of aging appears to be limited. In addition, because only a very few genes have been found to be associated with aging or longevity, it is difficult to show that mutations accumulate with age, as postulated by the theory of the accumulation of mutations at old age. However, it would be going too far to claim that genes with negative effects at old age (and possibly positive effects at young age) do not exist. For instance, a high growth hormone level is a risk for premature mortality in middle-aged men [50], while a too low level at young age impairs growth. This increased growth hormone level is probably not linked to a severe mutation in a single gene”

“The third classic evolutionary theory of aging, not contradictory with the two previous ones [mentioned in the paragraph above], is the disposable soma theory championed by Kirkwood [23] who argued that the germ line is immortal but soma is disposable, hence the name of the theory. This author emphasized that, because life is short in the wild, it is useless to invest more energy in body maintenance mechanisms (immunity, cellular repair processes, and so on) than needed to provide the expected lifespan in the wild, and thus soma is disposable. Investing more would be a waste and this energy would be better used in reproduction. [...] it would be very dogmatic to consider that the whole aging process could be explained by relying on these theories, and the mainstream idea is that some parts of the aging process can be explained by these theories, but that they cannot explain all features of aging.”

“According to the previously described theories, aging is the result of either the accumulation of mutations at old age [21] , negative effects at old age of alleles with positive effects at young age [22], or a compromise between maintenance processes and reproduction [23]. Thus, they have a common theoretical background: genes do not program aging as they program development. Aging occurs because there is an age beyond which the probability to survive in the wild is very low. Beyond this age, no maintenance process can be selected during the course of evolution, simply because most of animals living in the wild are already dead. As no maintenance process has been selected, it is inevitable that the organism will be more and more unable to resist the various threats (e.g. diseases, molecular damage) and to remain as efficient as it was at young age (cognition, physical ability, and so on), and this aging process will be observed if animals live in protected environments. Therefore, it is unneeded to make the hypothesis that genes actively promote aging, simply because aging, contrary to development, can occur without the existence of such genes. If we would nevertheless accept that such genes do exist, it would imply that, as for all the other genes, mutants would also exist: some animals could escape the ‘aging program’ and these ever young animals would be potentially immortal. These mutants would thus only die of external causes, such as accidents, and could reproduce when the other animals are already dead. Due to this selective advantage, these mutants would become very common in a few generations and most of animals would be potentially immortal: such mutants have never been observed [...] Aging is not due to genes actively programming aging but [...] to the deleterious effects at old age of some genes that have not been selected to display these effects [...] If aging is not programmed by genes, the basic consequence is that claims that studies of nematode mutants with extended longevity could allow ‘to think ageing as a disease that can be cured, or at least postponed’ [26] are not warranted. These mutants live longer because for this species increasing longevity is an appropriate strategy when food is scarce [...], but it is an illusion to think that a gene governing aging has been discovered [...], and there is no reason to be ‘so excited about the prospect of searching for – and finding – the causes of ageing and maybe even the fountain of youth itself’ [26].”

One more observation which although unrelated to the above coverage seemed to me relevant to include in this post as well:

“A remodeling at the cellular level resulting from a different equilibrium between cell compartments, the decline of one leading to overexpression of another, [...] contributes to the aging syndrome [...] In the skin [for example], the loss of elasticity and increased wrinkling are the result of the rearrangements in the relative proportion of the molecular and cellular constituents. [...] There is [also] a causal relationship between changes in vascular compliance and the evolution of the collagen/elastin ratio, and the proportion of endothelial and smooth muscle cells. [...] During aging, elastin is degraded and the collagen/elastin ratio increases. As a result, the elastic recoil of the vessel wall decreases [...] The results from the investigation of aging of mitotic cells suggest that the evolution of several cell compartments through division constitutes a developmental process where cells are modified with [...] consequent repercussions on cell function and cell interactions; this remodeling creates a drift that contributes to aging and senescence of the organism.”

September 6, 2014 Posted by | biology, books, medicine | Leave a comment

The True Believer (II)

Here’s my first post about the book, which has a few general remarks and comments – the most important of which is probably that: “It is my opinion that most people would be likely to benefit from reading this book, and it’s a very easy read compared to the books I usually cover on this site.” I’m well aware most people can’t be bothered to start out on books with scary headings like: ‘Mechanisms of hormone action: I Membrane receptors’ (from Greenstein et al.) or ‘Balance equations for spatially explicit models’ (Gurney & Nisbet), and although regular readers of this blog are presumably not ‘most people’ I have no good way of really knowing how different most of you are as you provide very little information about yourselves in the comments. I’ve been asked before here ‘which book(s) I’d recommend’, and such questions are usually difficult for me to answer in part because it’s hard for me to assess how comprehensible many of the books I’m reading really are to people who don’t know what I know. This book is much easier than usual to assess because it doesn’t take any prior knowledge (people do not already have) for granted and can basically be read by anyone who’s not a dyslexic in a few hours – and there are a lot of ideas in there. I’m not in the five-star territory, but if I had been the number of people who might benefit from reading the book would probably have been significantly lower than it is. You can interpret these remarks as a qualified recommendation of the book.

I have added some observations from the second half of the book below, but I think if this stuff seems interesting to you, you should go pick up the book and read all of it.

“A pleasant existence blinds us to the possibilities of drastic change. We cling to what we call our common sense, our practical point of view. Actually, these are but names for an all-absorbing familiarity with things as they are. The tangibility of a pleasant and secure existence is such that it makes other realities, however imminent, seem vague and visionary. Thus it happens that when the times become unhinged, it is the practical people who are caught unaware and are made to look like visionaries who cling to things that do not exist.”

“Those who fail in everyday affairs show a tendency to reach out for the impossible. It is a device to camouflage their shortcomings. For when we fail in attempting the possible, the blame is solely ours; but when we fail in attempting the impossible, we are justified in attributing it to the magnitude of the task. There is less risk in being discredited when trying the impossible than when trying the possible.”

“One of the rules that emerges from a consideration of the factors that promote self-sacrifice is that we are less ready to die for what we have or are than for what we wish to have and to be. It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men already have “something worth fighting for,” they do not feel like fighting. People who live full, worthwhile lives are not usually ready to die for their own interests nor for their country nor for a holy cause.[9] Craving, not having, is the mother of a reckless giving of oneself. [...] Dreams, visions and wild hopes are mighty weapons and realistic tools. The practical-mindedness of a true leader consists in recognizing the practical value of these tools.”

“All active mass movements strive [...] to interpose a factproof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. [...] It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs. [...] It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.[13] [...] Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: it must be “contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.”[14]“

“The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak.[15] Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth. It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has rather to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. [...] The devout are always urged to seek the absolute truth with their hearts and not their minds. [...] If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine. When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it.”

“It goes without saying that the fanatic is convinced that the cause he holds on to is monolithic and eternal — a rock of ages. Still, his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached. Though they seem to be at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end. It is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet.”

“Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”

“The act of self-denial seems to confer on us the right to be harsh and merciless toward others. The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth [...] There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom — freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement.”

“There is hardly an example of a mass movement achieving vast proportions and a durable organization solely by persuasion. [...] It was the temporal sword that made Christianity a world religion. Conquest and conversion went hand in hand, the latter often serving as a justification and a tool for the former. [...] It also seems that, where a mass movement can either persuade or coerce, it usually chooses the latter. Persuasion is clumsy and its results uncertain. [...] Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. The creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse.”

“In order to be assimilated into a collective medium a person has to be stripped of his individual distinctness. He has to be deprived of free choice and independent judgment. Many of his natural bents and impulses have to be suppressed or blunted. [...] Faith organizes and equips man’s soul for action. To be in possession of the one and only truth and never doubt one’s righteousness; to feel that one is backed by a mysterious power whether it be God, destiny or the law of history; to be convinced that one’s opponents are the incarnation of evil and must be crushed; to exult in self-denial and devotion to duty — these are admirable qualifications for resolute and ruthless action in any field.”

“Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.”

“The fact that mass movements as they arise often manifest less individual freedom[18] than the order they supplant, is usually ascribed to the trickery of a power-hungry clique that kidnaps the movement at a critical stage and cheats the masses of the freedom about to dawn. Actually, the only people cheated in the process are the intellectual precursors. They rise against the established order, deride its irrationality and incompetence, denounce its illegitimacy and oppressiveness, and call for freedom of self-expression and self-realization. They take it for granted that the masses who respond to their call and range themselves behind them crave the same things. However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. [...] They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith — blind, authoritarian faith. [...] The immediate result of a mass movement usually corresponds to what the people want. They are not cheated in the process.”

“Said Oliver Cromwell: “A man never goes so far as when he does not know whither he is going.”[8] When a mass movement is set in motion to free a nation from tyranny, either domestic or foreign, or to resist an aggressor, or to renovate a backward society, there is a natural point of termination once the struggle with the enemy is over or the process of reorganization is nearing completion. On the other hand, when the objective is an ideal society of perfect unity and selflessness – whether it be the City of God, a Communist heaven on earth, or Hitler’s warrior state – the active phase is without an automatic end. [...] Where a mass movement preserves for generations the pattern shaped by its active phase (as in the case of the militant church through the Middle Ages), or where by a successive accession of fanatical proselytes its orthodoxy is continually strengthened (as in the case of Islam[1]), the result is an era of stagnation — a dark age.”

“In the eyes of the true believer, people who have no holy cause are without backbone and character — a pushover for men of faith. On the other hand, the true believers of various hues, though they view each other with mortal hatred and are ready to fly at each other’s throats, recognize and respect each other’s strength.”

September 4, 2014 Posted by | books, philosophy, Psychology, religion | Leave a comment

Metacognition – Cognitive and Social Dimensions (II)

Here’s a link to my first post about the book. I decided that it would be too much work to cover the rest of the book in one post (especially as it’s really bothersome to blog this in the first place, because I as mentioned was unable to highlight while I was reading it), so you can expect a third post about the book at some point in the future.

I know there’s been a lot of psychology-related stuff on the blog lately, but I’m currently finishing a math textbook and I’ll most likely finish a book on biological aspects of aging tomorrow, so you can probably expect me to cover some other topics as well in the near future.

Below I have added some quotes and some comments/observations of my own.

“In accordance with the general notion of Festinger’s social comparison theory (1954), we assume that individuals are particularly susceptible to social influence if they are not confident in their own judgments of the situation. In order to reduce their uncertainty, individuals will rely on information that is, intentionally or unintentionally, subtly or obviously, provided by others. Shifting these considerations from attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to memory, the belief that an event has occurred can be treated like an attitude that a person may hold. Social influence on memory should then be most likely to occur when individuals lack confidence in their memorial beliefs [...] memory is susceptible to social influence if individuals are not confident that the absence of a recollection experience implies the non-occurrence of an event, and if individuals are not confident where the presence of a recollection experience comes from. Thus, it is essential to identify variables that increase or decrease individuals’ confidence in their memory experiences, and to test whether social influence on memory is a function of these variables. [...] Whether or not the lack of a recollective experience is sufficient to infer the non-occurrence of an event may often depend on whether the event is perceptually or categorically distinct. [...] Specifically, if the item is held to be highly memorable, individuals should be very confident that the absence of a recollective experience implies non-occurrence. In this case, individuals are unlikely to rely on information provided by others, and should therefore be minimally susceptible to social influence. Individuals face a different situation, however, if they cannot remember an event and have no reason to believe that the event in question is particularly memorable. In this case, they remain uncertain whether the absence of a recollective experience is due to the non-occurrence of the event or due to a failure of remembering the event. [...] we may speculate on general conditions that increase individuals’ confidence in their own attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, or recollective experiences, and consequently decrease the susceptibility to social influence. In our view, individuals’ self-esteem could constitute a prime candidate for such a general impact. Particularly, we speculate that individuals with chronically or temporarily low self-esteem should be less likely to rely on their own subjective experiences and instead rely on subtle cues in the environment. In contrast, individuals with chronically or temporarily high self-esteem should be more confident in their own subjective experiences. As a consequence, individuals with low self-esteem are expected to be more susceptible to social influence.”

This last part in particular is somewhat speculative and they don’t have any studies to point to, but that’s because research into those topics had not (yet?) been done at the time the book was written which is hardly the fault of the authors. I’m actually somewhat curious if people have looked into this kind of stuff since then. It’s quite plausible that variables such as these play a role in memory formation.

“we all have a powerful intuition that we know our relationship partners. In fact, when it comes to lovers, this feeling of mutual understanding and “knowing” is so powerful that we have invented phrases like “soul mate” and “other half” to describe relationships characterized by it. Despite the pervasive feeling that we come to know one another better as relationships progress from casual to intimate, there is little evidence to suggest that this feeling is based on true gains in accuracy. For example, longitudinal studies have shown that if accuracy increases over time at all, after the initial phases of the relationship such gains are minimal (for a review, see Kenny, 1994). [...] The lack of clear evidence that people’s perceptions grow increasingly accurate as relationships progress is so surprising because such gains in accuracy seem self-evident to most of us.”

“We suggest that as people integrate information about their relationship partners into coherent impressions, their representations of those persons become “richer.” One way to increase representational richness is by adding novel information. The longer we are acquainted with people, for example, the more information we gather about them and the richer our representations of them become. Representational richness will also increase as our impressions become better integrated and more coherent. As we become more deeply involved with someone, we may carefully organize and integrate what we know about them even though individual elements may be incongruous with one another [...]. Whatever the source of increments in representational richness may be, richness will foster accessibility [...] and accessibility will, in turn, promote confidence [...]. Although representational richness should make people more confident of their perceptions, it will not necessarily contribute to the accuracy of their perceptions. The reason is that any information may increase representational richness but only information that is truly diagnostic will foster accuracy (Funder, 1995). Moreover, there is ample evidence that people use non-diagnostic information as a basis for forming impressions of others. For example, people are inclined to infer dispositions from behaviors that are, in reality, constrained by situational factors [...], attribute characteristics based on dubious “implicit theories” of personality [...], and fail to revise their initial opinions of others even when the evidence suggests they should [...]. This tendency to make inferences from non-diagnostic information (e.g. category membership, situationally produced behavior, implicit theories of personality), in conjunction with a tendency to use such information as a basis for increasing confidence, could result in people being highly confident of beliefs that are inaccurate and misleading. To test this conceptualization of confidence and accuracy, we have conducted a series of field and laboratory studies.”

“The first study was an investigation of 57 heterosexual couples aged from 17 to 41 (Swann & Gill, 1997). Participants had been dating from three weeks to just over six years, with an average of one and one-half years. [...] The task of targets was to rate themselves on a series of four questionnaires, including the Sexual History Questionnaire (SHQ; which includes 10 open-ended questions concerning the respondents’ past sexual behavior), the Self-Liking/Competence Scale (SLC; a measure of global self-esteem), the Self-Attributes Questionnaire (SAQ; a measure of self-perceived intelligence, social competence, artistic/musical ability, athleticism, and physical attractiveness), and the Activity Preferences Questionnaire (APQ; a measure of enjoyment of 37 leisure activities). While targets rated themselves, perceivers guessed how targets would rate themselves and indicated their confidence that their guesses were correct. [...] We tapped representational richness in two ways. First, we measured time in the relationship as a proxy for amount of information [this seems like a plausible strategy, but obviously not without problems - US]. Second, we measured involvement in the relationship as a proxy for motivation to integrate information. [...] Our major prediction was that representational richness would increase confidence but not necessarily accuracy. Regression analyses confirmed that relationship length and involvement were both associated with confidence but had virtually no relation to the accuracy of perceivers’ knowledge of their partners’ self-ratings. [...] confidence ran high while accuracy remained rather modest.”

They did another similar study on 40 university students from Texas. That one dealt with roommates, not romantic partners:

“During the first week of the semester, participants rated themselves and attempted to predict the self-ratings of their roommates. [...] [One difference was that] we replaced the SHQ with the SAQ-R, a measure that focused on 10 personality characteristics (sense of humor, extroversion, assertiveness, etc.) [...] We collected these ratings during the first week of the semester and again six weeks later. During the second session participants also answered four questions about their level of involvement in the relationship with their roommate (how much time they spent doing things with their roommate, how many conversations they had, how often these conversations dealt with relatively private issues, and how much they liked their roommate). [...] For the most part, time was unrelated to accuracy, although there was a slight tendency for accuracy on the SAQ to improve over time. Similarly, there was virtually no relation between involvement and accuracy on the SAQ-R or the SLC and a slight negative relation between involvement and accuracy on the SAQ and the APQ. On the latter two measures, then, involvement was associated with increased confidence but decreased accuracy. [...] people [seem to be]
sensitive to the accuracy of their knowledge of their partners’ self-esteem but little else. [...] Taken together, the results of our studies of dating couples and roommates provide converging evidence that relationship length and involvement foster confidence. Furthermore, the link between time and confidence does not seem to reflect artifactual processes such as a tendency for people who are unconfident to end their relationships. Finally, the fact that relationship length and involvement were associated with increases in confidence but had little impact on accuracy supports our suggestion that confidence grows out of processes that are unrelated to accuracy.”

I’m not sure how convinced I am at this point that the above findings are ‘true’ (‘how to interpret the findings’), but they are certainly thought-provoking. I’ve long thought of ‘convergence’ as the default consequence of long-term social exposure/bonding, but I can’t really remember where I picked up that idea (maybe Pamela Regan’s book?), and on the other hand it’s also obvious that you need stuff besides convergence to explain things like divorce-statistics and so the process is far from independent of other relevant relationship variables. Funder talked about Kenny’s results as well so this stuff is not completely new to me, but I still find it slightly weird to think about. They note in the text that although there was naturally some variation in the performance, there were no people in their studies who were consistently ‘right'; if people were right on one dimension, they tended to be wrong on another dimension. A thought I remember having while reading the book was that important variation might be overlooked due to the way the variables were applied in their analysis; in particular, I thought it might have been useful to get a measure of how salient the individual variables included in the various constructs were considered to be by the targets (the people who were judged). It seems to me that one should expect there to be important individual-level differences in terms of which variables are considered to be most ‘important’ by the people who get evaluated; not all variables contribute the same to the personality assessment of an individual, as some people will be more or less defined by their high level of extroversion, others by their conscientiousness, etc., and implicitly assuming that all variables included in a composite metric contributes the same to the understanding of how an individual ‘works’, which seems to be what the researchers did here, may be problematic. A weighting procedure of some sort might have been very useful. The confidence estimates relate only to the level of certainty, not the importance/salience of the variable. Obtaining ‘validated’ weightings provided by the target him-/herself, perhaps constructed using target responses from personality inventories, might have been a good idea. There would be some problems associated with interpreting such a variable, as mentioned below, but I think it would have added relevant information.

One might argue that if people were really great at figuring out what other people are like (‘the long-term partners got all the ‘salient variables’ right, whereas the short-term partners didn’t’), the analysis should not make them out to be systematically overconfident. There are however a few important details to have in mind when thinking about this overconfidence. One thing that’s important to note in this context is the way the criterion problem is handled; in the specific setup these studies apply it’s actually far from trivial to go from ‘disagreement between judge and target about a variable’ to ‘the judge was wrong (and (/thus) overconfident)’. Another interpretation might be that the target was overestimating (or, if you want to put on a more cynical hat, lying about…) e.g. how confident or assertive he/she really is, and that the judge’s evaluation was actually closer to ‘the truth’ than that of the target (for much more on such factors and the role they play in personality judgment, I refer again to Funder), and that the increased confidence on part of the long-term partner was really justified because she really isn’t that assertive, even if she claims to be. You might mix this stuff with some observations related to e.g. how social feedback processes vary over time in relationships (e.g., ‘a new romantic partner will be much less confident because getting an important answer/estimate wrong may end the relationship, whereas the partner in an established relationship risks less and so may be more confident about his/her partner-relevant judgments’); I’m not quite sure where you’ll end up, but there’s a lot of stuff that could potentially be going on here. If such dynamics are driving the results to some extent, the relevant conclusion may perhaps not be that ‘people are bad at figuring out stuff about others’ and that ‘people get overconfident when forming impressions about how good they are at figuring out what another individual is like when they’ve known that individual for a long time’, but rather that ‘people are bad at figuring out stuff about themselves, and hold views about themselves which are inaccurate’. This they surely do, we know that people’s self-perceptions are often at variance with the truth to some extent and that part of that variance is systematic and can be formalized – I’ve talked about such stuff many times before here on the blog, so I don’t see any reason to repeat myself – but the extent to which such aspects may impact the specific results and their interpretation is not perfectly clear to me at this point.

One may well argue that the overconfidence element is not so easy to get rid of, in the sense that regardless of whether the judgments of the judges were ‘actually true’ (‘X isn’t actually that assertive, even though he claims to be’), it’s clear that the judges did not ‘get better over time’ (given the applied identification procedure is valid) at figuring out how the targets would present themselves and answer the questions they were asked, and that couples who’d been together longer were more confident yet did not get enough answers right to justify that increased level of confidence. I’d also not disagree with the notion that it may well be questionable how much a model explaining the increased divergence between confidence and accuracy as a result of accurate beliefs on part of the judge combined with ‘faulty’ self-concepts on part of the target really adds, because self-concepts are a very important part of the identity of an individual; ‘if you really know her that well, you should know that she prefers to think of herself as being assertive’. Regardless of how you want to interpret the combination of an increased confidence ‘over time’ and a stagnant hit rate, something important is clearly going on here – but the underlying dynamics do not to me seem at all well-elucidated. One approach they do not, as far as I can remember, talk about but which sort of seems logical to apply given the context of the book, is perhaps also to think in terms of explanations invoking societal norms and implicit theories to explain the confidence/accuracy gap; one could argue that the people who had known each other longer in the study didn’t actually think they knew the answers to the questions posed much better than the people who had only known each other for a short amount of time, but they did know that other people believe they ought to know the answers (‘when people have known each other for a long time, they’re supposed to know that sort of stuff’) – this would be one approach which to me seems consistent with the ‘confidence and accuracy are independent variables’-view which takes into account potential relationship-length-related shifts in response strategies.

All those things said, it should be noted that the findings don’t just stand on their own as isolated yet interesting observations, and that the observed overconfidence may be ‘real’ and not the result of unaccounted-for methodological problems – as they argue in their conclusion to the chapter:

“Our evidence of dissociations between confidence and accuracy fits nicely into a growing body of literature suggesting that subjective indicators of knowing are often unreliable indicators of objective knowledge or comprehension (see Jacoby, Bjork, & Kelley, 1994, for a review). For example, people misjudge their comprehension of texts [...], the correctness of their answers to general knowledge questions [...], the correctness of recalled letter strings [...], and the correctness of their eyewitness identifications [...]. Reder and Ritter (1992) have even shown that familiarity with a question predicts people’s confidence that they know the answer better than does familiarity with the answer. Taken as a whole, this literature suggests that what people think they know is not always what they really know.”

September 1, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment

The True Believer (I)

“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

“However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.”

“[This] book passes no judgments, and expresses no preferences. It merely tries to explain; and the explanations — all of them theories — are in the nature of suggestions and arguments even when they are stated in what seems a categorical tone. I can do no better than quote Montaigne: “All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.” [...] The reader is expected to quarrel with much that is said in this [...] book. He is likely to feel that much has been exaggerated and much ignored. But this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new questions.”

I’d rather have read an authoritative textbook on these topics, which both the rating I gave the book and the review I wrote on goodreads reflect. That said, this is not a bad book, and it’s very ‘quotable’ – the attentive reader will recall that I’ve quoted Hoffer multiple times before in my quotes posts. In my quotes posts I usually search the blog for all the quotes I intend to add to the new posts before I add them, in order to avoid repeating any quotes I’ve already posted here; it would however be a lot of work to try to avoid repeating anything posted in quotes posts in this post and to limit coverage to stuff I haven’t already blogged. This would also be somewhat counterproductive, as some key points made in the book would likely have to be left out of this post coverage simply on account of having been covered elsewhere on the blog before.

As I pointed out in the goodreads review, “Paraphrasing what I said about Kuhn’s book, ‘it’s a model.’ I don’t think it’s a bad model as such, but there’s a lot of stuff he’s left out of the picture. This, and the speculative nature of the coverage and the over-reliance on anecdotes, makes it difficult for me to give the book a higher rating, despite the fact that I quite liked this book. ” In a way this is a slightly inaccurate way to put it, in the sense that there’s arguably more than one model presented here (there’s a receptiveness model, a model of the evolutionary path of mass movements, a behavioural model, etc.) – this is relevant because some model aspects are more ‘correct’ in hindsight than are others, and this is of course again relevant because it makes it even harder to evaluate the book as a whole. It is my opinion that most people would be likely to benefit from reading this book, and it’s a very easy read compared to the books I usually cover on this site.

I have added some ideas and quotes from the book below.

“This book deals with some peculiarities common to all mass movements, be they religious movements, social revolutions or nationalist movements. It does not maintain that all movements are identical, but that they share certain essential characteristics which give them a family likeness. All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance. [...] This book concerns itself chiefly with the active, revivalist phase of mass movements. This phase is dominated by the true believer — the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause — and an attempt is made to trace his genesis and outline his nature.”

“The powerful can be as timid as the weak. What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future. Where power is not joined with faith in the future, it is used mainly to ward off the new and preserve the status quo. On the other hand, extravagant hope, even when not backed by actual power, is likely to generate a most reckless daring. For the hopeful can draw strength from the most ridiculous sources of power—a slogan, a word, a button. No faith is potent unless it is also faith in the future [...] Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope. It matters not whether it be hope of a heavenly kingdom, of heaven on earth, of plunder and untold riches, of fabulous achievement or world dominion. [...] When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them.”

“There is a hope that acts as an explosive, and a hope that disciplines and infuses patience. The difference is between the immediate hope and the distant hope. A rising mass movement preaches the immediate hope. It is intent on stirring its followers to action, and it is the around-the-corner brand of hope that prompts people to act. [...] Later, as the movement comes into possession of power, the emphasis is shifted to the distant hope — the dream and the vision. For an “arrived” mass movement is preoccupied with the preservation of the present, and it prizes obedience and patience above spontaneous action [...] Every established mass movement has its distant hope, its brand of dope to dull the impatience of the masses and reconcile them with their lot in life. Stalinism is as much an opium of the people as are the established religions.”

“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

“When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis. [...] This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become the ardent convert of a specific movement. Where mass movements are in violent competition with each other, there are not infrequent instances of converts — even the most zealous — shifting their allegiance from one to the other.”

“One mass movement readily transforms itself into another. A religious movement may develop into a social revolution or a nationalist movement; a social revolution, into militant nationalism or a religious movement; a nationalist movement into a social revolution or a religious movement. [...] It is rare for a mass movement to be wholly of one character. Usually it displays some facets of other types of movement, and sometimes it is two or three movements in one. [...] The religious character of the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions is generally recognized. The hammer and sickle and the swastika are in a class with the cross. The ceremonial of their parades is as the ceremonial of a religious procession. They have articles of faith, saints, martyrs and holy sepulchers. The Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions are also full-blown nationalist movements. The Nazi revolution had been so from the beginning, while the nationalism of the Bolsheviks was a late development.”

“The problem of stopping a mass movement is often a matter of substituting one movement for another. A social revolution can be stopped by promoting a religious or nationalist movement. Thus in countries where Catholicism has recaptured its mass movement spirit, it counteracts the spread of communism. [...] In general, any arrangement which either discourages atomistic individualism or facilitates self-forgetting or offers chances for action and new beginnings tends to counteract the rise and spread of mass movements.”

“It is sometimes difficult to tell where a mass migration ends and a mass movement begins—and which came first. [...] Every mass movement is in a sense a migration—a movement toward a promised land; and, when feasible and expedient, an actual migration takes place. [...] whether in the form of foreign conquest, crusade, pilgrimage or settlement of new land it is practiced by most active mass movements.”

“Misery does not automatically generate discontent, nor is the intensity of discontent directly proportionate to the degree of misery. Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach. A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed. [...] It is not actual suffering but the taste of better things which excites people to revolt. [...] The intensity of discontent seems to be in inverse proportion to the distance from the object fervently desired. [...] Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.”

“Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure and frustration. Freedom alleviates frustration by making available the palliatives of action, movement, change and protest. Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility [...] They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. [...] If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity.”

“we can never have enough of that which we really do not want, and [...] we run fastest and farthest when we run from ourselves.”

“the technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure.”

“The vigor of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice. When we ascribe the success of a movement to its faith, doctrine, propaganda, leadership, ruthlessness and so on, we are but referring to instruments of unification and to means used to inculcate a readiness for self-sacrifice. It is perhaps impossible to understand the nature of mass movements unless it is recognized that their chief preoccupation is to foster, perfect and perpetuate a facility for united action and self-sacrifice. [...] With few exceptions,1 any group or organization which tries, for one reason or another, to create and maintain compact unity and a constant readiness for self-sacrifice usually manifests the peculiarities — both noble and base — of a mass movement. On the other hand, a mass movement is bound to lose much which distinguishes it from other types of organization when it relaxes its collective compactness [...] The technique of fostering a readiness to fight and to die consists in separating the individual from his flesh-and-blood self—in not allowing him to be his real self. This can be achieved by the thorough assimilation of the individual into a compact collective body [...]; by endowing him with an imaginary self (make-believe) [...]; by implanting in him a deprecating attitude toward the present and riveting his interest on things that are not yet [...]; by interposing a fact-proof screen between him and reality (doctrine) [...]; [and] by preventing, through the injection of passions, the establishment of a stable equilibrium between the individual and his self (fanaticism)”.

“To ripen a person for self-sacrifice he must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness. [...] The fully assimilated individual does not see himself and others as human beings. When asked who he is, his automatic response is that he is a German, a Russian, a Japanese, a Christian, a Moslem, a member of a certain tribe or family. He has no purpose, worth and destiny apart from his collective body; and as long as that body lives he cannot really die.”

“Not only does a mass movement depict the present as mean and miserable—it deliberately makes it so. It fashions a pattern of individual existence that is dour, hard, repressive and dull. It decries pleasures and comforts and extols the rigorous life. It views ordinary enjoyment as trivial or even discreditable, and represents the pursuit of personal happiness as immoral. To enjoy oneself is to have truck with the enemy — the present. [...] The very impracticability of many of the goals which a mass movement sets itself is part of the campaign against the present. All that is practicable, feasible and possible is part of the present. To offer something practicable would be to increase the promise of the present and reconcile us with it. [...] All mass movements deprecate the present by depicting it as a mean preliminary to a glorious future; a mere doormat on the threshold of the millennium. To a religious movement the present is a place of exile, a vale of tears leading to the heavenly kingdom; to a social revolution it is a mean way station on the road to Utopia; to a nationalist movement it is an ignoble episode preceding the final triumph.”

“A glorification of the past can serve as a means to belittle the present. But unless joined with sanguine expectations of the future, an exaggerated view of the past results in an attitude of caution and not in the reckless strivings of a mass movement. On the other hand, there is no more potent dwarfing of the present than by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future. Thus, though a mass movement at first turns its back on the past, it eventually develops a vivid awareness, often specious, of a distant glorious past. Religious movements go back to the day of creation; social revolutions tell of a golden age when men were free, equal and independent; nationalist movements revive or invent memories of past greatness.”

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. Where new creeds vie with each other for the allegiance of the populace, the one which comes with the most perfected collective framework wins.”

September 1, 2014 Posted by | books, philosophy, Psychology, quotes, religion | Leave a comment

Metacognition – Cognitive and Social Dimensions (I)

“Metacognition is a fundamental characteristic of human cognition. Not only do we have cognitive activities but it would seem that they can apply to themselves: we have cognitions about cognition. [...] How we answer simple, factual questions involves more complexities than one would expect. We should wonder, for instance, why we keep searching for an answer we do not find immediately, how we know we do not know something [...], why we start searching at all [...] or what makes us confident in some response we have been able to come up with [...]. All the above points are somehow related to metacognition, that is, to the more or less explicit knowledge we have of the way our memory and our mind work. [...] The social world requires that we make a staggering number of decisions about the extent and nature of our own knowledge and beliefs as well as decisions about the extent and nature of other people’s knowledge and beliefs. [...] Judgments about the trustworthiness of knowledge are just one among many different types of metacognitive judgments. There is virtually no end to the number of cognitive assessments that could be made about the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the self and others. What does she think, why does she think it, when did she start thinking it, what would get her to stop thinking it? Do I know the answer to your question, when and from whom did I hear the answer, would I have remembered it if I had heard it, what will help me to remember it, and can I be confident that my memory will be accurate? Human action and interaction depend in crucial respects upon our general success in these rough metacognitive waters. [...] Because social behavior and metacognition rely on general cognitive processes, metacognition must also rely on approximations, limited capacity processes, arguable heuristics, intrusion of naive theories, and so forth. The interesting question is whether this explains why our judgments about others and ourselves cannot be better and how they go wrong. The various chapters in this book analyze simple cognitive tasks and a number of problematic social situations. The cognitive analysis seems to converge on a small number of principles that may not be completely understood yet but that seem to agree with what has been observed in social cognition.”

This book, from which the above quotes are taken, is not nearly as good as I thought it might be – I was disappointed with the book, which is part of why it got only two stars on goodreads.

I got a Kindle e-reader as a birthday present recently, and I read this book (as well as the habituation book and the Christie novels already mentioned) using that device. It is very hard, bordering on impossible, to highlight stuff when using the Kindle, which means that I’m actually really not a big fan of it. Highlighting and note-taking are very important aspects of reading for me, and when I can’t do those things (or if those things are potentially possible yet prohibitively difficult and time-consuming, as is the case here) reading becomes a very different, and much less enjoyable, experience. Basically I’ve already decided that I’ll only use the device when I have very few relevant alternatives; in general terms I’d say for example that I’d much rather be carrying around a book, two highlighters (yellow and green) and a pen (…stuff I usually carry around with me on occasions where I leave my place and I know that I might have an opportunity to read while I’m away, e.g. in a bus) than this device and nothing else.

I read the book last week, but before writing this post I felt like all I had to show for it were some bookmarks which I added while reading it on the Kindle (bookmarks are much easier to add than are highlights or notes, at least on my device); this was part of why I postponed blogging it and why I didn’t blog it soon after I got back online – I knew I’d have to basically read large parts of the book again in order to blog it, because the key sections to add to a post like this were not separated from the rest of the text the way they usually are when I’m about to blog a book, and given that the book actually isn’t really all that great in the first place it seemed like a lot of work. But here we are.

The book has 12 chapters of varying quality – here’s what the chapters deal with: 1) From Social Cognition to Metacognition, 2) Illusions of Knowing: The Link between Knowledge and Metaknowledge, 3) Rapid Feeling-of-Knowing: A Strategy Selection Mechanism, 4) The Feeling-of-Knowing as a Judgment, 5) Knowing Thyself and Others: Progress in Metacognitive Social Psychology, 6) Social Influence on Memory, 7) Beliefs, Confidence and the Widows Ademoski: On Knowing What We Know about Others, 8) Social Judgeability Concerns in Impression Formation, 9) The Consciousness of Social Beliefs: A Program of Research on Stereotyping and Prejudice, 10) Protecting Our Minds: The Role of Lay Beliefs, 11) The Metacognition of Bias Correction: Naive Theories of Bias and the Flexible Correction Model, and 12) Correction and Metacognition: Are People Naive Dogmatists or Naive Empiricists during Social Judgments?

The book is an interdisciplinary work in the sense that it includes research from both social psychology and cognitive psychology. It’s to some extent already a slightly ‘old book'; it was published in 1998. A lot of stuff has happened since then in related fields, and presumably in this field as well, but it looked like an interesting book so I decided to give it a shot anyway.

I think that I in general liked the second half better than the first half. Below I have covered stuff from the first five chapters of the book.

“Research has shown that human subjects can express a number of more or less valid judgments about various aspects of experimental cognitive tasks [...] Research also suggests that these judgments are more or less directly related to the optimization of cognitive processes, determining how long one will search for an answer, keep rehearsing when learning, etc. [...] Most cognitive processes are normally accompanied by metacognitive operations that supervise and control various aspects of these processes. Thus, when we make an appointment, we often have to take precautions not to miss it, and these precautions depend on our assessment of their effectiveness as well as on our assessment of the chances of missing the appointment if these precautions are not taken. [...] In attempting to retrieve a piece of information from memory, we can often tell whether it is indeed in store and worth searching for, and when we finally do succeed in retrieving the solicited information, we can generally assess the likelihood that it is the correct information. What is important about the subjective feelings that ensue from monitoring operations is that they generally have measurable effects on our behavior [...] For example, the stronger my feeling of knowing [FOK] about an elusive name, the more time I am likely to spend searching for it before giving up [...] One can conclude from this line of research that the accuracy of feeling-of-knowing judgments is well above chance yet “far from perfect” [...] In addition to prediction of accuracy, feeling-of-knowing has been shown to be correlated with search duration [...] when subjects [experience] stronger feelings of knowing, they [search] longer. [...] Several researchers exploring the feeling-of-knowing phenomenon have speculated about the underlying mechanisms that are involved in this process. One viewpoint that has received some attention is the trace access hypothesis. This presumes that subjects have partial access to, and are able to monitor some aspects of, the target item during feeling-of-knowing judgments [...] An alternative viewpoint to the trace access hypothesis is the cue familiarity hypothesis. This position argues that feeling-of-knowing judgments rely on the familiarity of the cues in the questions themselves”

So which one is right? Here are some relevant comments from chapter two:

“Although subjects are generally successful in monitoring the availability of inaccessible information, this is not because they have privileged access to the underlying memory trace. Rather, the FOK monitors the accessibility of partial information regardless of its correctness, and its accuracy derives from the fact that most of the information that comes to mind is correct. In this sense the accuracy of metamemory can be said to constitute a by-product of the accuracy of memory itself. [...] results suggest that the ease with which information comes to mind can serve as a valid cue for the accuracy of that information, and that FOK judgments do in fact monitor ease of access. The reliance on ease of access, then, can also contribute to FOK validity in predicting memory performance. In this manner FOK judgments can function in two capacities, as predictors of the future recognition of the full target (prospective monitoring), and as postdictors of the accuracy of the partial information that has already been accessed (retrospective monitoring). [...] The accessibility account of the FOK is [...] consistent with findings in social psychology indicating that subjective experiences and social judgments are affected by the fluency with which stimuli are processed, and by the ease with which information comes to mind. These findings too suggest that under some conditions judgments are based on a nonanalytic, inferential process rather than on direct access to the judged attribute, and that people are not always capable of monitoring the validity or relevance of the associations that come to mind”

The authors of chapter 3:

“There is empirical evidence supporting both views [the cue-familiarity hypothesis and the trace access hypothesis]. Thus, one can say that both hypotheses are correct (or wrong). However, we believe that this must be qualified by stating that the accuracy of the hypothesis depends on the methodology one uses to investigate feeling-of-knowing. If the researcher is investigating a feeling-of-knowing process that occurs after a memory retrieval failure, then it is likely that the feeling-of-knowing that is assessed is a by-product of the retrieval attempt. When the methodology is concerned with strategy selection, feeling-of-knowing turns out to be based solely on the cues of the question. [...] It seems to us that there is a more central function to feeling-of-knowing than just rating questions after the fact, specifically, to regulate strategy selection. It is important to emphasize that rapid feeling-of-knowing, assessed before retrieval failure, serves this function [...] when presented with a general knowledge question, a person can decide, based on this initial, rapid feeling-of-knowing, whether to try to retrieve the answer from memory or to use another strategy, such as reasoning or looking up the answer in a textbook. Similarly, after presentation of a novel math problem (e.g. 26 x 43), it would be this initial rapid feeling-of-knowing which would help a person decide either to retrieve or to calculate the answer. If the initial feeling-of-knowing for the problem is high, the person tries to retrieve the answer; if the feeling-of-knowing is low, the person computes the answer. Note that it is possible for the person to choose to compute even if the answer is stored in memory, and conversely, it is possible to choose to retrieve when the answer is not known. [...] the rapid, preliminary feeling-of-knowing stage necessarily occurs before the retrieval attempt, because it is a product of parsing the question. Consequently, feeling-of-knowing is a natural precursor to the retrieval process. [...] trace access theories can explain a positive feeling-of-knowing when access is blocked or delayed, but they do not easily explain illusions of knowing: cases in which a high feeling-of-knowing rating is – wrongly – assigned to a question while the correct response is totally unknown. If the feeling-of-knowing is to be generated by a partially accessed trace, it is difficult to imagine how a feeling-of-knowing can be generated when the subject does not know the answer.”

“The feeling-of-knowing may be affected by numerous variables. Cue familiarity, domain familiarity, contextual or normative information, recency of use have all been found to influence the feeling-of-knowing rating [...]. It can also be affected by episodic elements like remembering the context in which the response might have been acquired, and even by more social or normative elements like estimates of the probability that the response will be known by people the subject usually interacts with [...]. Most of these elements are correlated, so it is not easy to determine which has the most important weight.”

“The problems involved in assigning a rating to a dimension like accessibility also appear theoretically similar to the problems involved in Clore’s (1992) description of how mood can be used as information. [...] In both cases a single continuum is involved and a single intensity value is returned. Just as various events have an influence on our mood, various inferential cues condition accessibility. In both cases this “confounding” of influence sources is usually acceptable from the subjects’ point of view because there is a general correlation between the sources, but both cases involve a potential attribution problem that is directly related to this “confounding.” In the case of the feeling-of-knowing, high accessibility may be due to a number of factors, some of them related to the existence of an appropriate response, some related to extraneous considerations (inferential aspects), some related, even, to elements of information that do not constitute a proper answer.”

“empirical social psychology provides ample evidence that people make use of metacognitive assessments, whether they are aware of those assessments or not. For instance, it has been found that people search the facial expressions and non-verbal behaviors of others in order to figure out how others perceive a given situation, and this helps them to determine how they themselves feel about that situation [...] In research on social influence, it is found that people almost always revise their own judgments to make them more similar to the judgments of others [...], especially when people have (even the slightest) reason to question the credibility of their own knowledge [...]. Some social psychologists have argued that we do not know what we think until we know what other people think [...]. Even when our own thoughts and feelings are relatively clear to us, we still estimate and adjust for the thoughts and feelings of others in order to best follow our own interaction goals [...]. All of these cases involve metacognitive judgments, that is, cognitive assessments that are about the cognitions of the self.”

“That situationally given “data” are interpreted in terms of participants’ extant theories or conceptions is especially clear in recent research by Strack and his colleagues on the subject of reconstructive memory [...] people hold intuitive theories about what sorts of things they are likely to remember and what sorts of things they are likely to forget, and these notions play an important role in confidence judgments about whether or not a stimulus has appeared previously. For instance, students may be more certain about the fact that their professor was not wearing a sombrero during the last class period than about the fact that their professor was not wearing a pair of glasses [...]. This is because people make important metacognitive judgments about whether they would have remembered a particular occurrence, even when they do not remember the actual occurrence [...]. Strack and Bless (1994) have demonstrated further that people possess very subtle assumptions that numerically distinctive categories will be remembered better than numerically non-distinctive categories. As a result, people are more confident in their decision that a given event did not occur when that type of event would have been infrequent than when it would have been a frequent occurrence. Other work indicates that people are also more confident in their memories when the previously exposed set of items was small rather than large [...] in attempting to remember one’s past attitudes, feelings, or abilities, one often begins with present attitudes or mental states and makes adjustments to those on the basis of implicit theories about personal stability and change. Because people generally believe that factors such as intelligence and political party affiliation are stable entities, they tend to overestimate the extent to which their present capacities and affiliations are the same as those they possessed in years gone by (Ross, 1989).”

“In sum, it appears that the assessment of self-knowledge is derived from whatever specific information is perceived as relevant to the task at hand or to the general processes by which knowledge is achieved. Such information may consist of subjective feelings and experiences as well as cultural theories and category-based information about people in certain social groups. Subjective feelings are interpreted in terms of prior cognitive notions that may be momentarily activated in the individual’s memory. Such notions may include long-standing beliefs as to how knowledge states are represented in momentary sensations (e.g. that a sense of fluency or familiarity indicates the validity of a hypothesis one was entertaining) or naive theories about the workings of memory (e.g. that one may have better memory for unusual or infrequent events). Metacognitive theories engender expectations about cognitive performance, and these expectations are capable of impacting actual judgments, memories, and intellectual performances through social psychological processes of “expectancy confirmation” or the “self-fulfilling prophecy” (Jones. 1990). [...] Social metacognitive phenomena of the type we have been reviewing have an obvious bearing on the accuracy of people’s self-perceptions and judgments. To the extent that people’s attributions about their momentary states, such as causal explanations pertaining to their mood, are false, any inferences based upon those attributions, such as judgments of global life-satisfaction, are likely to be inaccurate. If, however, correct attributions are made, then the inferences derived from those attributions have a greater likelihood of being accurate. [...] people often accept their own perceptual experiences as unquestionably true. [...] “feelings,” “sensations,” and “experiences” are [however] heavily influenced by interpretive and inferential processes based upon potentially malleable lay theories, and so the metacognitive inferences drawn on the basis of those feelings may often lack veridicality, despite the directness of the subjective experience [...] subjective experiences or unconscious memories may often give rise to faulty judgments”

“The metacognitive processes whereby momentary feelings or sensations are identified and inferences are drawn from these identifications are highly dynamic. Social psychological research indicates that the extent, directionality, and duration of metacognitive inferences should be affected by the individual’s motivation and cognitive capacity. When cognitive capacity or processing motivation are low, metacognitive processes are likely to be limited and early interpretations are likely to be anchored or “fixated” upon. However, when information processing capacity and motivation are high, a number of metacognitive interpretations may be entertained. This multiplicity of conceptions may occasionally produce confusion and undermine the individual’s sense of secure knowledge. Thus, recent research suggests that conditions such as time pressure or environmental noise tend to limit a person’s cognitive capacity and motivation and consequently reduce the number of interpretative hypotheses that he or she considers, increasing at the same time his or her subjective sense of judgmental confidence. By contrast, conditions that increase a person’s capacity or processing motivation not only increase the number of hypotheses generated, but they concomitantly reduce his or her confidence”

“Divining other people’s knowledge is essential to functional social interaction. [...] But how does one go about assessing another persons’ knowledge? Research has identified several informational sources that people may use for that purpose. First, people may use their own knowledge or opinions as a basis for making projections about the knowledge of others. Second, people may use “actuarial” knowledge or statistical information about what people in general think or what a specific group of people think about a given topic. Third, people may attend to a given person’s individualized reactions to a stimulus. All three of these informational sources have figured in social psychological research on metacognitive assessments of other people’s minds. [...] people are more likely to impute a piece of knowledge to others if they possess this knowledge themselves than if they do not, and people are likely to overestimate the commonality of their own knowledge. [...] In a wide variety of domains, it appears that people exaggerate the commonality of their own attitudes, feelings, and behaviors [...] Subjective “feelings,” “sensations,” and so-called “inner experiences” are relevant and accessible only with regard to one’s own assessment of knowledge. Because subjective events of this type can be subject to misidentification (or misattribution), however, they do not necessarily confer an accuracy advantage to the assessment of self-knowledge as compared with the assessment of others’ knowledge.”

“Rather than using self-knowledge as a standard from which other people’s beliefs are inferred, perceivers sometimes make use of statistical or “base rate” information [...] Several kinds of research suggest that people generally underutilize category-based, actuarial information in the face of even the slightest amount of individuating information [...]. Nevertheless, it has been found that base rate information is taken into account by lay perceivers when it is perceived as specifically relevant to the judgment being rendered [...], when the diagnosticity of the individuating information is diminished in some way [...], or when the categorical information is congruent with the perceiver’s information-processing goal or task orientation [...]. Furthermore, research on social stereotypes demonstrates that category-based information is utilized when it is readily accessible in memory [...], when the perceiver is highly motivated to achieve cognitive closure [...], or when the perceiver possesses an especially low degree of accuracy motivation [...]. Under these diverse sets of circumstances, it should be expected that people will rely on actuarial information to draw inferences about the mental states of others.”


August 30, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment

Habituation: Theories, Characteristics and Biological Mechanisms

As already mentioned, this book was one of the books I read last week. I gave it two stars on goodreads.

The book did not have a goodreads profile, so I had to add one. When books don’t have goodreads profiles and/or I’m unable to find an amazon rating, I usually end up (cautiously) assuming that the book probably has not been read by, well, let’s use the words ‘a lot of people’. As you may be able to tell from the goodreads book description which I included in the profile at the link above, it’s a book which deals with some slightly obscure stuff: “Topics include the important roles for matrix metalloproteinases and cell adhesion molecules in long-term potentiation (LTP)” and “a mathematical description of habituation and recovery of the head-shake response in rats“. The description at the link is a quote from the book – it’s the first paragraph of the preface. Some of the stuff in here is fairly technical and really quite difficult to blog also on account of being somewhat difficult to summarize – for these reasons there was some stuff in the book which I decided against covering here despite it being interesting, including most of the first chapter. The stuff I decided to exclude includes the stuff about ‘important roles for matrix metalloproteinases and cell adhesion molecules’ but I also decided to exclude the coverage of the drug addiction stuff in that chapter, however for a different reason; I’ve dealt with this kind of stuff before, and Clark et al.’s coverage go into much more detail than does this book.

Below I have added some observations from the book and a few remarks of my own.

“Nonassociative learning is considered to be the simplest form of learning and includes the phenomena of habituation, dishabituation, and sensitization. Of these phenomena, habituation is the most frequently studied and refers to a decrease in responding, as related to frequency, magnitude, or intensity to a stimulus repeatedly presented, or presented for a prolonged period of time [...] Habituation has been documented across many species and response systems ranging from the gill-withdrawal reflex in Aplysia [sea slugs] [...] and tap withdrawal or chemotaxic response in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans [a ~1 mm long roundworm] [...], to acoustic startle response in rats and mice [...], schedules of reinforcement in operant conditioning [...] and feeding in humans (Myers and Epstein, 2002).”

“From the viewpoint of neuroscience, tinnitus has been defined as (i) the perception of a sound in the ear in the absence of external stimulation [...]; (ii) an ongoing conscious perception of a sound in the absence of any external sound source [...]; (iii) the conscious perception of a sound that is not generated by any source outside the body [...]; (iv) a phantom auditory perception or the perception of abnormal activity not induced by any combination of external sounds [...]. As documented almost thirty years ago by Coles (1984), approximately 14-18 per cent of the population included in an epidemiological study in Great Britain reported tinnitus. Findings from a community survey conducted in Gothenburg, Sweden showed that 14.2 per cent suffer “always” or “often”, and it has been estimated that 1-2 per cent perceive tinnitus as a plague all day or as a threat towards quality of life [...]. More recent epidemiological surveys from China (Xu et al. 2011) and Egypt (Khedr et al. 2010) demonstrate that tinnitus can be a significant problem for the inhabitants in the eastern part of the world as well. Overall prevalence of tinnitus in a population of 6333 inhabitants in a province (Jiangsu) in China was 12.4 per cent and standardized rates for China was calculated to be 11.4 per cent. [...] In a survey in Assiut, Egypt including 4848 inhabitants prevalence rate of tinnitus was 5.17 per cent. [...] Along with these results, earlier epidemiological studies also disclosed that a large proportion of individuals do not seek help for having tinnitus, so a clinically relevant question to rise was, and still is, why some patients are plagued by tinnitus, while others seem to be able to cope. In one of the first larger tinnitus populations studies Meikle et al. (1983) investigated the relationship between tinnitus loudness obtained by a loudness balance procedure and tinnitus severity ratings in 1800 patients attending a tinnitus clinic. No significant correlation was found between tinnitus loudness and severity. Neither was the severity ratings associated to type, quality and the pitch of tinnitus.”

I thought prevalence was significantly lower than that, but I must admit that i did not have good reasons for assuming this. Tinnitus seems to be yet another one of those sneaky health problems which are both reasonably hard to observe when other people suffer from them (you can’t tell if someone has tinnitus or not unless the individual in question tells you that he or she does) and actually quite common. The chapter has a lot of stuff, much of which are critical remarks towards current therapeutic approaches and the interpretive frameworks (there are two relevant models, a ‘psychological model’ and a ‘neurophysiological model’) on which they are based. The reason why this condition is included in the book is that a habituation process often occurs in people who are affected by this condition – most people with tinnitus adjust to some extent to the condition. However: “To date, habituation to tinnitus remains an unexplained process [and] it is not legitimate to state that tolerance to tinnitus is a natural process”. Habituation is the common outcome, but sometimes it fails and they don’t really seem to have a good explanatory model of what goes wrong when it does. It should be noted that a few of the people who do not habituate to tinnitus end up killing themselves – so figuring out more about this stuff is most certainly not unimportant to some of the people who are affected. Some of the details which are clear at this point is that the habituation process relates to a lot of stuff besides what’s going on in the ear, and that some treatment-relevant patient heterogeneities do not seem to be taken into account in the current treatment modalities on offer (or for that matter in the theoretical models on which the treatment modalities are based). Incidentally it may be a mistake to think of the neurological research into these things as only being relevant to the organism’s ‘response to tinnitus’, as such processes may well also be implicated in the pathophysiology more broadly defined – at least this is how I interpret some of the findings. For example they point out in chapter 5 of the book that: “recent auditory neuroscience research has suggested that an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neural interactions within the auditory cortex could lead to the perception of tinnitus”.

“The model of orientation and habituation that will be discussed is derived from the work of Sokolov (1975). Sokolov postulated that production of an orienting response is dependent on incongruity between incoming stimulus and existing neural templates that are created by previously stored memory traces of environmental stimuli. The neural template or model encodes all aspects of the stimulus including duration, interstimulus interval and the relationship between several stimuli across time. If there is a mismatch between the new stimuli and the neuronal template, sensitization to the stimulus occurs and a response will be generated. If the new stimulus matches the neural template, habituation occurs (i.e., decrease in responding to repeated presentations of the same stimuli). [...] If a stimulus differs in any way from the original stimulus presented (i.e. higher or lower pitch), the orienting response will reappear to a previously habituated stimulus because of the change. Sokolov termed the reappearance of the orienting response dishabituation. [...] It is argued that Sokolov’s model captures the organism’s ability to modulate internal memory traces and compare these traces to external stimuli to determine the importance or irrelevance of stimuli in the environment. However, it does not directly address the activation or suppression of the motor system in orienting to novelty or inhibiting responding to irrelevant stimuli. Orienting must involve two interactive channels of information processing: automatic and conscious. These two channels must be integrated by feedforward and feedback interconnections that involve many functional brain systems. The widespread involvement of different brain regions is further implicated by the research finding of cingulotomy patients. [...] damage to the cingulate can produce attentional impairments.”

“It is proposed that orientation and habituation occur through the modulation of both internal and external states. The modulation of information occurs in three separate levels as follows: (1) memory comparator level, (2) value-appraisal level, and (3) behavioral-response/decision-making level [...]. All of these levels are processing the information simultaneously through synchronized connections of neural circuits between the functional areas involved. The memory comparator level is composed of the hippocampus.
The value-appraisal system is composed of the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is important in controlling the organism’s arousal system. One division expends energy (sympathetic) and the other division conserves energy (parasympathetic). The behavioral-response/decision-making level is composed of the cerebellum, basal ganglia, premotor, motor cortex and anterior cingulate. It is proposed that the cerebellum is the key structure involved in linking the temporal properties of signals especially with regard to the basal ganglia and the anterior cingulate.
It is also proposed that the anterior cingulate plays an important role in coordinating internal and external influences on stimuli processing and response monitoring. The anterior cingulate receives initial information as well as feedback; it determines priorities in selecting which stimuli to attend and respond to. There is considerable agreement in the literature indicating that the role of the anterior cingulate cortex is to assist in bringing together the influences of internal and external stimuli with behavioral goals and plans for activation [...] Evidence from animal, clinical and neuroimaging studies indicates that the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in directing attention and action by modulating cognitive and affective states [...] The anterior cingulate cortex may be involved in processing competing inputs and inhibiting competing actions (Pardo, Pardo, Janer and Raichle, 1990) or directing attentional responses when there are multiple or competing inputs and action (Pardo, Fox, and Raichle, 1991). In this sense the anterior cingulate has several roles but its most important role may be in optimizing behavioral stability. [...] The proposed three levels of modulation are highly dependent on the diffuse and broadly distributed neuronal circuits in the brain.”

“The NE [neurotransmitter norepinephrine] system serves a very specific function; it maintains the basic level of excitability, arousal, and attentiveness.
The NE system plays an important modulatory role in learning, memory, and retrieval. Norepinephrine also appears to be more inhibitory than excitatory. Over activity can lead to hypervigilance and anxiety and under activity can lead to depression. Norepinephrine is known to be involved in behavioral arousal due to the affects of certain drugs. Amphetamine and cocaine act on NE and are both potent brain stimulants. Several studies have provided evidence that effects of stimulus significance and stimulus repetition are a function of noradrenergic control originating in the pontine nucleus LC.” [Yes, I noticed the spelling errors and they were part of the reason why I included this paragraph in the coverage - to illustrate this aspect of the coverage. Sloppiness like this is part of why I gave the book two stars. The chapter from which this quote is taken is not that terrible, but chapter five - written by a couple of Italian researchers - is quite bad.]

“Neurons do not operate in isolation; each neuron affects the activation of another neuron. The connections between neurons can be excitatory (the firing of one neuron makes the other more likely to send its own signal), or inhibitory (the firing of one neuron makes the other less likely to send its own signal). The excitatory or inhibitory effects neurons have on each other are an important construct in the present model. Connections between neurons (or neural circuits) are determined by the strength between them, or in other words, the degree to which the activation of one affects the activation of another. Too little strength between the neurons or an imbalance in neural synchronization can cause a disruption in processing. The efficient processing of neural circuits can also become weakened when other circuits interfere with their functioning. Of additional importance is the fact that neural connections can be made stronger or weaker through learning. [...] In the proposed model sensory information from the environment is received in the amplifying system (thalamus, reticular activating system), which is responsible for arousal, amplification and relay of signals. Information is then forwarded to the memory comparator system (hippocampus), the value-appraisal system (amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex), and behavioral-response/decision-making system (cerebellum, basal ganglia, anterior cingulate, and motor areas). In processing information for decisional action, the organism will habituate if there is a memory trace in the hippocampus (event memory with affect) and cerebellum (motor response memories) from prior experience. If the organism habituates to irrelevant information, the RAS [reticular activating system] is tonically inhibited by the hippocampus and cerebellum. If there are no memory traces, the organism is aroused to process the sensory signal for its affective/motivational salience by the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. The cerebellum initiates a motor response (“what is it”) at which time the basal ganglia and anterior cingulate become activated for further processing. After the initial stimulus is processed in these regions, information is sent back to sensory areas thus creating a feedback loop. As information in the environment is being refined and updated, sensory areas continue to receive new input and the feedback from the monitored response as well. In this sense, a dynamic and complex process that is cyclical in nature is proposed. Stimulus perception, selection, and response initiation is being fed forward and fed back at each stage in processing and the influences of these processes are sorted for priority by the anterior cingulate cortex. Thus orientation and habituation is a continuous process that enables the organism the flexibility to adapt to changes in the internal and external environment.”

“Habituation is not only a gating mechanism that is extremely critical in attentional processes but it also dampens arousal (e.g., reticular activating system) and motor behavior [...]. Thus habituation is a process that also involves inhibitory control. Stated differently, the same mechanisms of habituation would be recruited to sustain willed attention to an activity (e.g., habituating to environmental distractors in order to read a book) and to automatically capture attention if the demands of the environment change (e.g., sound of a fire alarm that pulls our attention from reading). Overall, research findings indicate that habituation processes are impaired in ADHD [...], ASD [autism spectrum disorder] [...] and TBI [traumatic brain injury] [...]. Moreover, the deficits in habituation facilitate the explanation of the characteristic symptoms of these disorders [...] At the present time however, the underlying neural correlates of habituation can only be speculated”.

There isn’t a lot of research supporting the ‘research findings’ part above (the ASD part is only supported by one “unpublished manuscript”…), but this seems to be the kind of stuff some people are looking into these days.

“Habituation is a reduction in responsiveness to repeated or prolonged stimulation; that allows nervous system filters to identify biologically less relevant input in the flow of sensory information, and in turn devote more attention and processing energy toward more relevant or dynamic stimuli. This form of non-associative learning enables an animal to perceptually deemphasize persistent o[r] static stimuli in favour of novel of changing stimuli. Habituation has been described experimentally in multiple sensory modalities within various invertebrate and vertebrate species including sea slugs, fruit flies, nematodes, birds and mammals [1]. The observed decrements in responding in reflexive behavior are not mediated by motor fatigue or adaptation at the level of sensory receptors. The distinction between fatigue and habituation is commonly made by demonstrating that the response decrement is specific to the repeated stimulus [2], [3]. Change in stimulation, such as introduction of an intense stimulus, allows a return of responsiveness (dishabituation) or heightened responsiveness (sensitization). [...] Habituation reflects an intact central nervous system (CNS) with normal functioning [10]; habituation can be detected before birth [11–13] and can be used to evaluate the maturation of the fetal CNS [14].”

“Habituation in olfaction allows the olfactory system to maintain equilibrium with the odorant concentrations in the ambient environment, yet respond appropriately to the appearance of novel odors or changes in odorant concentration. Olfactory habituation can be induced by multiple paradigms that differ in timescale and are thought to be mediated by distinct mechanisms within different regions of the olfactory system [...] Some studies have revealed that the odors are processed differently in relation to their valence: chemosensory evoked potentials towards pleasant and unpleasant odors change with repeated presentation [47], in particular unpleasant odor produced earlier response, as for fulfil their warning function about potential threats [48].”

“The traditional definition of motion sickness has been the onset of vomiting or nausea experienced by the land, air, sea, or space traveler that results in impaired function. Motion sickness can be induced [...] by either physical motion or stimuli that result in perceived motion [...] Manifestations of motion sickness may include visual and postural instability, pallor, diaphoresis, excess salivation, sweating, dizziness, malaise, headaches , anxiety, hyperventilation, nausea and vomiting. All of them are attributable to activation of the autonomic system in response to vestibular stimuli [50], as if motion sickness itself could have evolved from a system designed to protect from potential ingestion of neurotoxins, by inducing vomiting when unexpected central nervous system inputs are detected (the “toxin detector” hypothesis)[51]. Less popular alternatives to the toxin detector hypothesis propose that motion sickness could be the result of aberrant activation of vestibular-cardiovascular reflexes [52], or that motion sickness is a unfortunate consequence of the physical proximity of the motion detector (vestibular) and vomiting circuitry in the brainstem [53]. [...] a conflict between visual and vestibular information regarding spatial orientation has been identified as the primary causal factor for motion sickness [56]. [...] The principles of habituation have been applied with varying success to reduce or prevent motion sickness in pilots and astronauts [57–59]. Habituation programs pioneered by military are effective but time consuming. [...] Research on habituation training has focused on the use of visual or vestibular stimuli, and results support the concept that habituation is stimuli-specific [62]: tolerance to car travel may have no effect on susceptibility to seasickness.”

August 27, 2014 Posted by | biology, books, medicine, Neurology, Psychology | Leave a comment

Meta/Open Thread

I dislike brief updates like these, but I figured it was better in this case to post it than to not post it. As I mentioned earlier, last week I did not have internet access – I am now back online. However I am also very exhausted and I have some things that need to get done (these ‘things’ include ‘sleep’) before I can justify spending the amount of time a regular blogpost takes me to write. I expected before going offline that I would be able to post something yesterday, but things did not go as planned.

I didn’t read much during the week I was offline, but I did manage to read Buskirk et al. and Yzerbyt et al., as well as a couple of Christie novels I have no intention of covering here on the blog – see my goodreads profile for details if you’re curious about those. I’ll not resume regular blogging until tomorrow afternoon/evening at the earliest, but things should after that return to normal quite soon.

As I don’t have a lot of stuff to contribute to the conversation at the moment, I thought it would be apposite to let this be an Open Thread as well. Questions, recommendations, random remarks, etc., are all welcome.

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Open Thread | Leave a comment

Persuasion and negotiation

This will be my last post about Hargie’s book. I covered many aspects of ‘the skill of persuasion’ in a previous post, but that chapter had a lot of stuff, so I’ve included a little more from that chapter below, as well as some stuff from the chapter on negotiation (on the other hand I decided not to talk about the second-to-last ‘skills in groups’ chapter at all, because that chapter was so terrible it made me want to beat up the author). A lot of the non-theoretical stuff in the negotiation chapter is incidentally based on a single study (the Rackham study), so some caution is probably warranted when you’re interpreting findings in this area.

“the phenomenon of reactance [...] refers to the reaction we have to the imposition of restrictions on our freedom. Such reaction involves a combination of anger and negative cognitions, such as counter-arguing and source derogation [...] Reactance can be reduced by various strategies. What is known as the but you are free to accept or to refuse technique has been shown to increase the success of a request [...]. Here, the agent makes a request but adds the caveat that the person has the freedom to refuse. Having been given this ‘increased’ freedom, people feel more in control and less under duress, with the result that they become more acquiescent. Likewise, acknowledging resistance increases compliance. By simply saying ‘I know you might not want to, but . . .’ before making the request the agent can increase the number of people who comply. [...] When we are threatened by something being denied to us, we react to this threat by experiencing an increased desire for the restricted item. Indeed, the more restricted an item, the greater tends to be its appeal. [...] A key implication of this is that we can persuade others to do something by convincing them that there is scarcity value attached to it. [...] There are three important factors attached to scarcity value: [...] Resources attain an even greater value when they are seen to be newly scarce. [...] If we have to compete for the scarce resource it attains even greater attraction in our eyes. [...] Losses are more influential than gains. [...] Thus, the prospect of something becoming scarce as a result of losing it motivates us more than the thought of gaining something of equal value.”

“A powerful human drive is the desire to be regarded as consistent. We have a need to show others that we mean what we say and will do what we promise. This means that once we have made a public declaration of commitment to a course of action we are more likely to rate it highly and continue with it. A ubiquitous strategy in many organisations and institutions is to get people to make such a declaration. [...] once people perform a certain behaviour or publicly state a point of view they are then more likely to infer in retrospect that they really believe in what they said or did [...]. In reviewing this area Cialdini (2001: 96) concluded: ‘Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated (uncoerced).’ [...] If the behaviour has been freely chosen, the individual is more committed to it. There is now a huge volume of research to show that freedom of choice is a central factor in the influence equation.”

“One way of ensuring that people stay committed to the message they have recently been persuaded to adopt is to get them to proselytise about it. This tactic is used by many religions and cults. [...] Having to ‘sell’ the message means that it becomes cognitively embedded and resistant to change. It is more difficult later to reject that which you have publicly and vehemently espoused. [...] People also rate the strength and depth of their belief or attitude based upon the extent of effort they have shown to it in the past. [...] We are heavily influenced by commitments that are irrevocable. If there is a possibility that we can change our minds, the alternatives may linger and eventually influence our behaviour. However, if the deed is final, we are more likely to become convinced of its worth.”

“The main decisions to be made during a negotiation encounter can be interpreted in terms of a ‘negotiation decision tree’ [...]. The first decision is whether or not to enter into negotiation at all. [...] If a decision is taken not to negotiate, then the [...] Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) should already have been formulated. [...] Two aspects of the BATNA are important. First, the opposing side may attempt to moderate your perceptions of your BATNA in a negative fashion. [...] Second, you should attempt to ascertain what the other side’s BATNA is, and be aware that they may not tell the truth about this.”

“Rackham (2007) found that skilled negotiators were significantly more likely to plan in terms of a settlement range (e.g. ‘I’d like 30 per item but would settle for 26 minimum.’), whereas average negotiators planned around a fixed point (e.g. ‘I want to get 28 per item.’). It has also been shown that negotiators obtain better results if they focus their efforts upon achieving their target point rather than concentrating upon not going below their resistance point ["This is the bottom line beyond which you decide that a deal will not be done"] [...]. Some research has found that males tend to set higher target points than females, and so achieve higher gains. [...] females who make higher demands tend to be evaluated more negatively than males who negotiate at the same level [...] It is important to remember that the other party has target and resistance points. Deals will be struck somewhere between the two sets of resistance points, and so this is known as the settlement range. [...] One of the first things an experienced negotiator attempts to do is to ascertain the target and resistance points of the other side, so a deal can be made that is closer to the opponent’s resistance point.”

“A significant finding is that negotiators often reciprocate each other’s use of strategies and tactics [...]. This process, where the approach adopted by one side causes the other to reciprocate, is known as entrainment [...]. if one party seems frosty and adopts a rather belligerent opening stance, it is likely that the other will follow suit; threats will provoke counter-threats, demands counter-demands and so on. On the other hand, a more integrative, cooperative and amenable approach is also likely to be responded to in kind (Weingart et al., 1999).”

“breakdowns in the negotiation process can often be traced back to a lack of time devoted to initial exploration and clarification of demands, needs and wants.”

“there is evidence from distributive negotiation that if the seller makes the initial offer, the settlement price is higher than if the buyer makes the initial offer”

“Concessions lead to position loss, which can be interpreted as a willingness to compromise and be cooperative. However, if too many are conceded too quickly this can result in image loss where the person is viewed as someone weak and easily manipulated. Interestingly, Morris et al. (1999) discovered that negotiators often attribute the bargaining behaviour of the other party to personality and personal predispositions (e.g. disagreeableness, truculence) rather than to the circumstances of the negotiation with which they are confronted. Such misperception can evoke a more hostile response, if a lack of willingness to compromise is attributed to the other party being seen as an obstinate or greedy individual, as opposed to being interpreted as due to the fact that the organisation to which the person belongs has given strict guidelines about what can and cannot be negotiated. A core dimension of negotiation is the ability to persuade the opposition to make concessions.”

“Bargainers should: • not concede too readily • make concessions as small as possible • monitor the number and rate of concession making • link concessions to an image of firmness.
Bargainers should not: • concede too soon in the negotiations • make the first main concession • make unilateral concessions
• make large initial concessions – this is likely to give an impression of weakness • concede without due consideration of the positive and negative consequences for both parties • always engage in reciprocal concessions. A concession by the other side may be justified in its own right [...] The most effective negotiators are those who, as well as being able to think logically, can also understand and control their emotions [...] High levels of anger have been shown to be destructive to the negotiation process”

“Rackham (2007) found that skilled negotiators asked over twice as many questions as average negotiators. Questions serve several important functions in negotiations. A primary purpose is to gather detailed information about the other side and their aspirations and concerns. They also allow the questioner to control the focus and flow of the interaction [...] When one side has put forward an argument it is likely that a blunt statement of disagreement will increase their antagonism and aggression and make them less likely to give in. [...] The calm presentation of counter-arguments, without a public statement of negation, encourages logical debate such that the eventual acceptance of alternative proposals then involves much less loss of face. It is therefore a useful general rule to always give reasons before (or as an alternative to) expressing disagreement.”

“A mistake made by inexperienced negotiators is to respond to a proposal with an immediate counterproposal [...] Rackham (2007) found that skilled negotiators used about 50 per cent fewer counterproposals than average negotiators. Counterproposals are not recommended in negotiation [...] Less skilled negotiators tend to give more reasons to justify their bids. This is not good practice since the more reasons that are proffered, the better chance the opposition has of finding and highlighting a weakness in at least one of them. [...] Rackham (2007) argued that this is because weaker arguments tend to dilute stronger ones. [...] Skilled negotiators tended to put forward one reason at a time and would only introduce another reason if they were in danger of losing ground.”


August 23, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment


i. “One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day was; one cannot judge life until death.” (Charles de Gaulle)

ii. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” (Winston Churchill)

iii. “The intensity of people’s views on a topic is inversely proportional to the amount of evidence available on the topic.” (Jeffrey Hammer)

iv. “Silence is the best resolve for him who distrusts himself.” (Rochefoucauld)

v. “Old men delight in giving good advice as a consolation for the fact that they can no longer set bad examples.” (-ll-)

vi. “No man is clever enough to know all the evil he does.” (-ll-)

vii. “However we distrust the sincerity of those whom we talk with, we always believe them more sincere with us than with others.” (-ll-)

viii. “No people are more often wrong than those who will not allow themselves to be wrong.” (-ll-)

ix. “We have few faults which are not far more excusable than the means we adopt to hide them.” (-ll-)

x. “We should earnestly desire but few things if we clearly knew what we desired.” (-ll-)

xi. “Those who quit their proper character to assume what does not belong to them, are for the greater part ignorant both of the character they leave and of the character they assume.” (Edmund Burke)

xii. “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.” (-ll-)

xiii. “Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary)

xiv. “Preference, n. A sentiment, or frame of mind, induced by the erroneous belief that one thing is better than another.” (-ll-)

xv. “Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” (-ll-)

xvi. “Ultimatum, n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.” (-ll-)

xvii. “Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling.” (-ll-)

xviii. “I share no man’s opinions; I have my own.” (Ivan Turgenev)

xix. “You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.” (Eric Hoffer)

xx. “Virtue never has been as respectable as money.” (Mark Twain)


August 21, 2014 Posted by | quotes | Leave a comment

Social skills (ctd.)

In this post I’ll cover a bit more of Hargie’s stuff. I once again refer to this post for general comments and observations.

“There is now a considerable volume of research into the accuracy of first impressions (AFI). Those who score highly in terms of AFI tend to be more socially skilled, popular with peers, experience lower levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety, have higher quality of personal relationships, and achieve more senior positions and higher salaries at work. In their review of this area, Hall and Andrzejewski (2008: 98) concluded: ‘A large amount of research shows that it is good to be able to draw accurate inferences about people based on first impressions.’ [...] we make evaluations of others at a very early stage and based upon minimal evidence [...] Thus, Willis and Todorov (2006) demonstrated that after as little as one-tenth of a second we have made inferences based upon the facial appearance of the other person, and we then tend to become anchored on this initial judgement. Our early perceptions influence our expectations, and this in turn shapes our behaviour. Initial perceptions also impact upon subsequent processing, since we tend to adapt any conflicting information to make it fit more easily with our existing cognitive frame (Adler et al., 2006).” [See also Funder]

“People organise their physical spaces to make statements about their identity [...] we form impressions of individuals based on how they organise their spaces. [...] Thus, the nature of the environment affects initial impressions. [...] The age, sex, dress and general appearance of the other person all affect the initial perceptual set that is induced [...] In their review of this area, Whetzel and McDaniel (1999: 222) concluded: ‘Interviewers’ reactions to job candidates are strongly influenced by style of dress and grooming. Persons judged to be attractive or appropriately groomed or attired, received higher ratings than those judged to be inappropriately dressed or unattractive.’ [...] in their review of the field Roehling et al. (2008: 392) concluded: ‘Research indicates that overweight job applicants and employees are stereotypically viewed as being less conscientiousness, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and less extraverted than their “normal-weight” counterparts.’”

“In many interpersonal transactions, one encounter is influenced by decisions made and commitments undertaken in the previous meeting. [...] ‘When people meet and interact with new acquaintances, they often use expectations about what these other people will be like to guide their interactions.’ In this way, people approach social encounters with certain explicit or implicit expectations, which they expect to have fulfilled (Hamilton, 2005). If expectations are unrealistic or misplaced, it is important to discover this and make it clear at a very early stage.”

“Those with a high need for closure [see this post for details on this variable] are more heavily influenced by first impressions as they search for aspects to seize upon in terms of decision making. They desire clearly structured interactions with transparent goals, and readily accept the need to bring an encounter to an end in a neat and tidy manner. On the other hand, individuals with a low need for closure are less likely to make judgements based upon initial information. They prefer interactions that are loosely structured with less clear-cut goals, and they can be difficult to persuade that it is time to terminate an interaction. As a result, with this type of person, closure can be more prolonged and messier.”

“a crucial determinant of assertion is motivation to act rather than lack of understanding of how to be assertive.”

“submissive people laugh much more at the humour of dominant individuals than vice versa”

“In reviewing research in this field, Rakos (1991) illustrated how nonassertive individuals emit roughly equal numbers of positive and negative self-statements in conflict situations whereas assertive people generate about twice as many positive as negative self-statements. [...] Nonassertive individuals have a higher frequency of negative self-statements and a greater belief that their behaviour will lead to negative consequences.”

“Nonassertive responses involve expressing oneself in such a self-effacing, apologetic manner that one’s thoughts, feelings and rights can easily be ignored. [...] The objective here is to appease others and avoid conflict at any cost. [...] Nonassertive individuals: • tend to avoid public attention • use minimal self-disclosure or remain silent so as not to receive criticism for what they say • are modest and self-deprecating • use self-handicapping strategies whereby they underestimate potential future achievements so as to avoid negative evaluation if they fail • if they have to engage with others, prefer to play a passive, friendly and very agreeable role. [...] Assertive responses involve standing up for oneself, yet taking the other person into consideration. The assertive style involves: • answering spontaneously • speaking with a conversational yet firm tone and volume • looking at the other person • addressing the main issue • openly and confidently expressing personal feelings and opinions • valuing oneself equal to others • being prepared to listen to the other’s point of view [...] Verbal aggression has been defined as ‘behavior that attacks an individual’s self-concept in order to deliver psychological pain’ [...] Such behaviours include attacks on one’s ability, character or appearance, name calling, profanity, the use of demands, blunt directives and threats – all of which violate the rights of the other person. Using this style, the aggressor: • interrupts and answers before the other is finished speaking • talks loudly and abrasively • glares at the other person • speaks ‘past’ the issue (accusing, blaming, demeaning) • vehemently and arrogantly states feelings and opinions in a dogmatic fashion • values self above others • hurts others to avoid personal hurt. [...] Assertiveness forms the mid-point of this continuum and is usually the most appropriate response. Aggressive individuals tend to be viewed as intransigent, coercive, overbearing and lacking in self-control. They may initially get their own way by browbeating and creating fear in others, but they are usually disliked and avoided. Alternatively, this style may provoke a similar response from others, with the danger that the verbal aggression may escalate [...] Nonassertive individuals, on the other hand, are often viewed as weak, ‘mealymouthed’ creatures who can be easily manipulated, and as a result they frequently express dissatisfaction with their lives, owing to a failure to attain personal goals. They may be less likely to inspire confidence in others or may even be seen as incompetent. [...] One common pitfall is that individuals move from prolonged nonassertion straight into aggression, feeling they can no longer put up with being used, taken for granted or having their rights ignored. But such a sudden and unexpected explosion of anger is not the best approach, and indeed can destroy relationships.”

“There is consistent research evidence to show that standard direct assertion is viewed as being as effective as and more socially desirable than aggressive behaviour, and more socially competent but distinctly less likeable than nonassertion [...]. It seems that assertiveness is evaluated positively in theory, but when faced with the practical reality is rated less favourably than nonassertion [...] while people tend to respect assertive individuals, they often do not like to have to deal with assertive responses. [...] We like and probably have more empathy for nonassertive people. Thus, assertion needs to be used sensitively. Assertiveness can provoke a number of adverse reactions. This may especially be the case when a change in style from submissiveness to assertiveness is made.”

“Humans, like all animals, are territorial and our sense of place is very important to how we respond [...] it is easier to be assertive when we are on our own ground. [...] Few individuals are assertive across all contexts. Most find it easier to assert themselves in some situations than in others. Attention needs to be devoted to situations in which the individual finds it difficult to be assertive, and strategies devised to overcome the particular problems.”

“The main nonverbal assertive behaviours are: medium levels of eye contact; avoidance of inappropriate facial expressions; smooth use of gestures while speaking, yet inconspicuous while listening; upright posture; direct body orientation; medium interpersonal distance; and appropriate paralinguistics (short response latency, medium response length, good fluency, medium volume and inflection, increased firmness).”

“In terms of definition, while the terms influence and persuasion are often viewed as synonyms and used interchangeably, in fact there are [some] differences between the two processes [...] Knowles and Riner (2007) argued that persuasion is used to attempt to overcome some level of resistance to the message [...] persuasion always involves influence [which does not require resistance to be present, US], but influence does not always involve persuasion. [...] resistance can take many forms. Yukl (2010) identified six main variants: overt refusal to carry out the request; explanations or excuses as to why the request cannot be complied with; attempts to persuade the agent to alter or withdraw the request; appeals to a higher authority to have the request removed; delays in responding so that the requested action is not carried out; and pretending to comply while secretly attempting to sabotage the assignment. [...] Targets can [...] be encouraged to become more resistant to persuasion messages. There are two main methods whereby this can be achieved: forewarning and inoculation. [...] [Forewarning] relates to the process wherein the target audience is told something about the person or message they are about to encounter. [...] [Innoculation] is a stronger form of forewarning as it actively prepares targets to refute the messages that will be received”

“One issue that is linked to forewarning is whether or not there is any delay between warning and message delivery. In a meta-analysis of research in this field, the main conclusion reached by Benoit (1998: 146) was that: ‘Forewarning an audience to expect a persuasive message tends to make that message less persuasive . . . regardless of type of warning . . . (or) presence of delay.’ However, Benoit found that to be effective the warning must come before the persuasion attempt. A message does not lose its persuasiveness if the warning is given after it has been delivered. [...] It appears that when targets are forewarned they adopt a less receptive frame of mind and become more resistant to the perceived ‘interference’. Overall, it is best not to have a forewarned target when making a persuasion attempt. [...] The success of inoculation is affected by two main processes – delay and decay. Delay refers to the time it takes the target to generate counter-arguments with which to resist the message, while decay relates to the extent to which these arguments lose their force over time [...]. Techniques that reduce delay and protect against decay are therefore important in maximising the effectiveness of inoculation. Thus, it has been shown that the more effort that targets devote to the development of counter-arguments to possible future challenges by engaging in what has been termed cognitive work, the greater is their resistance to later counter-persuasion attempts [...]. Another useful antidote to delay and decay is the technique of rote learning. Many religions and cults get members to rote learn sets of beliefs, prayers and key statements (e.g. biblical passages) so that they become embedded in their psyche, and as such very resistant to change. As part of this process, it is possible to get individuals to rote learn refutational arguments against future counter-messages. A related tactic here is that of anchoring, which involves connecting the forthcoming new message to an already established belief or set of values. It then becomes difficult to change one without the other. [...] Another form of pre-emption has been termed stealing thunder, which involves disclosing incriminating evidence about oneself or one’s client, rather than have this revealed by someone else. [...] [Williams and Dolnik's] review of [the] research concluded that: ‘Stealing thunder has been shown to be an effective method of minimizing the impact of damaging information in a variety of different contexts’”

“Those who are able to administer punishments also have considerable power. [...] There is a symbiotic relationship between reward and coercive power. Usually someone who can reward us can ipso facto also punish us (e.g. by withholding the rewards). [...] we tend to like those who reward us and dislike those who threaten or punish us.”

“Our behaviour is shaped to a considerable extent by our wish to belong to and be accepted by certain groups of people [...] we are likely to adopt the response patterns of those we identify with, like, and to whose group we aspire. [...] Referent power is most potent under two conditions. First, if we are uncertain about how to behave in a situation we follow the ‘herd instinct’ by looking to members of our reference group for guidance, and copying what they do. [...] Second, we are more likely to be influenced by similar others. [...] We are much more likely to be influenced by those with whom we have developed a close relationship. [...] As we get to know people our liking for them tends to increase, providing this takes place within a conducive context. Even a few minutes of initial relational communication with a stranger prior to making a persuasion attempt can significantly increase the success rate”

“people who are perceived to be experts, in that they have specialised knowledge or technical skill, have high persuasive power. Here the basis of the power is the extent to which the agent is seen as an authority. [...] in terms of expert power we give less credence to those whom we regard as honest if they are incompetent, and tend to have lower trust in those with a vested interest regardless of their level of expertise. One highly influential event is when people argue against their own interest.”

“In terms of delivery of arguments, these are more persuasive when there is a powerful speech style, wherein the person speaks in a firm, authoritative tone and uses intensifiers [...] By contrast, a powerless style is characterised by five main features:
1. hesitations (‘Um . . . ah . . .’)
2. hedges or qualifiers (‘I sort of think . . .’, ‘It might possibly be . . .’)
3. disclaimers (‘I don’t have any real knowledge of this area, however . . .’, ‘I might be wrong, but . . .’)
4. tag questions (‘. . . don’t you think?’, ‘. . . isn’t it?’), and statements made with a questioning intonation
5. lower voice volume.

In a review of the area, Durik et al. (2008) concluded ‘that messages with hedges led to less persuasion, more negative perceptions of the source, and weaker evaluations of the argument’. In their meta-analytic review of research in this area, Burrell and Koper (1998) found that a powerful speech pattern was perceived to be more credible and persuasive. Likewise, in their analysis of this field, Holtgraves and Lasky (1999: 196) concluded: ‘A speaker who uses powerless language will be perceived as less assertive, competent, credible, authoritative, and in general evaluated less favorably than a speaker who uses powerful language.’ If uncertainty has to be expressed, a powerful style should employ authoritative doubt, which underlines that the dubiety is from a vantage point of expertise”

“Repetition of arguments has been shown to be effective in increasing their persuasive power [...] Statements heard more than once tend to be rated as more valid than those heard for the first time – an effect known as the illusion of truth. [...] Song and Schwarz (2010: 111) in their review of research [concluded]: ‘The mere repetition of a statement facilitates its perception as true.’ [...] [One] question is whether a speaker should have a clear and explicit conclusion at the end of an argument or leave this implicit and allow the audience to draw it out for themselves [...]. The evidence here is clear: ‘Messages with explicit conclusions are more persuasive than those with implicit conclusions’ (O’Keefe, 2006: 334). [...] An important decision is whether to use one-sided or two-sided arguments. In other words, should the disadvantages of what is being recommended also be recognised? Research findings show that one-sided messages are best with those who already support the view being expressed. [...] When preaching to the converted it is necessary to target the message in a single direction. One-sided messages are also better with those of a lower IQ, who may become confused if presented with seemingly contradictory arguments [...] Two-sided arguments are more appropriate with those with a higher IQ.”

“As a core emotion, threatening messages that heighten our sense of fear can be very effective in changing attitudes and behaviour [...] In a meta-analysis of research into fear arousal and persuasion, Mongeau (1998: 65) concluded: ‘Overall, increasing the amount of fear-arousing content in a persuasive message is likely to generate greater attitude and behavior change.’ However, he also found that the use of this tactic was not always successful. Fear is more effective with older subjects (i.e. with adults as opposed to schoolchildren) and with low anxiety individuals. With highly anxious people it may backfire, so that the heightened anxiety induced by an intense fear scenario can inhibit attention and increase distraction. This in turn reduces comprehension, or results in the message either being ignored completely or rejected. Thus, if people already have very high levels of fear about a subject, attempting to increase this even further has been shown to be counterproductive”

“Most people are susceptible to appeals to conscience, in the form of reminders that we have a duty to ‘do the right thing’, and that if we do not fulfil our moral obligations we will feel bad about ourselves. [...] In his review of the area, O’Keefe (2006) [however] noted that guilt may backfire in that it may cause the target not to change their behaviour in line with previous attitudes and beliefs, but instead to change those attitudes and beliefs to be consistent with the new behaviour. O’Keefe also illustrated that while more explicit guilt appeals do induce greater guilt, less explicit guilt appeals are actually more effective in changing behaviour. The reason for this seems to be that more explicit guilt appeals induce greater resentment or anger in the target, and this tempers the success of the appeal. [...] Since we do not like to be made to feel guilty, we tend to dislike the person who has caused this to occur, and we are then more likely to avoid them in future.”




August 19, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment


This is just a brief administrative note: I’ll have very limited, if any, access to the internet and this blog during the next week.

I have written a few posts which I have scheduled to be published during my absence, so the blog will still be updated in the week to come – at least if I’ve set it up correctly; I don’t have a lot of experience with scheduling posts.

I shall however be unable to read and approve comments during the next week: If a comment happens to get caught by the spamfilter I’ll not know about it, and if you decide to ask me a question I’ll not be able to answer it until I get back. You’re very welcome to comment and ask questions anyway.

August 17, 2014 Posted by | meta | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

i. Dodo (featured article).

“The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Its closest genetic relative was the also extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. [...] Subfossil remains show the dodo was about 1 metre (3.3 feet) tall and may have weighed 10–18 kg (22–40 lb) in the wild. The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings and written accounts from the 17th century. Because these vary considerably, and because only some illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved. Similarly, little is known with certainty about its habitat and behaviour.”

“The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors, their domesticated animals, and invasive species introduced during that time. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Its extinction was not immediately noticed, and some considered it to be a mythical creature. In the 19th century, research was conducted on a small quantity of remains of four specimens that had been brought to Europe in the early 17th century. Among these is a dried head, the only soft tissue of the dodo that remains today. Since then, a large amount of subfossil material has been collected from Mauritius [...] The dodo was anatomically similar to pigeons in many features. [...] The dodo differed from other pigeons mainly in the small size of the wings and the large size of the beak in proportion to the rest of the cranium. [...] Many of the skeletal features that distinguish the dodo and the Rodrigues solitaire, its closest relative, from pigeons have been attributed to their flightlessness. [...] The lack of mammalian herbivores competing for resources on these islands allowed the solitaire and the dodo to attain very large sizes.[19]” [If the last sentence sparked your interest and/or might be something about which you'd like to know more, I have previously covered a great book on related topics here on the blog]

“The etymology of the word dodo is unclear. Some ascribe it to the Dutch word dodoor for “sluggard”, but it is more probably related to Dodaars, which means either “fat-arse” or “knot-arse”, referring to the knot of feathers on the hind end. [...] The traditional image of the dodo is of a very fat and clumsy bird, but this view may be exaggerated. The general opinion of scientists today is that many old European depictions were based on overfed captive birds or crudely stuffed specimens.[44]

“Like many animals that evolved in isolation from significant predators, the dodo was entirely fearless of humans. This fearlessness and its inability to fly made the dodo easy prey for sailors.[79] Although some scattered reports describe mass killings of dodos for ships’ provisions, archaeological investigations have found scant evidence of human predation. [...] The human population on Mauritius (an area of 1,860 km2 or 720 sq mi) never exceeded 50 people in the 17th century, but they introduced other animals, including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and crab-eating macaques, which plundered dodo nests and competed for the limited food resources.[37] At the same time, humans destroyed the dodo’s forest habitat. The impact of these introduced animals, especially the pigs and macaques, on the dodo population is currently considered more severe than that of hunting. [...] Even though the rareness of the dodo was reported already in the 17th century, its extinction was not recognised until the 19th century. This was partly because, for religious reasons, extinction was not believed possible until later proved so by Georges Cuvier, and partly because many scientists doubted that the dodo had ever existed. It seemed altogether too strange a creature, and many believed it a myth.”

Some of the contemporary accounts and illustrations included in the article, from which behavioural patterns etc. have been inferred, I found quite depressing. Two illustrative quotes and a contemporary engraving are included below:

“Blue parrots are very numerous there, as well as other birds; among which are a kind, conspicuous for their size, larger than our swans, with huge heads only half covered with skin as if clothed with a hood. [...] These we used to call ‘Walghvogel’, for the reason that the longer and oftener they were cooked, the less soft and more insipid eating they became. Nevertheless their belly and breast were of a pleasant flavour and easily masticated.[40]

“I have seen in Mauritius birds bigger than a Swan, without feathers on the body, which is covered with a black down; the hinder part is round, the rump adorned with curled feathers as many in number as the bird is years old. [...] We call them Oiseaux de Nazaret. The fat is excellent to give ease to the muscles and nerves.[7]


ii. Armero tragedy (featured).

“The Armero tragedy [...] was one of the major consequences of the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz stratovolcano in Tolima, Colombia, on November 13, 1985. After 69 years of dormancy, the volcano’s eruption caught nearby towns unaware, even though the government had received warnings from multiple volcanological organizations to evacuate the area when volcanic activity had been detected in September 1985.[1]

As pyroclastic flows erupted from the volcano’s crater, they melted the mountain’s glaciers, sending four enormous lahars (volcanically induced mudslides, landslides, and debris flows) down its slopes at 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour). The lahars picked up speed in gullies and coursed into the six major rivers at the base of the volcano; they engulfed the town of Armero, killing more than 20,000 of its almost 29,000 inhabitants.[2] Casualties in other towns, particularly Chinchiná, brought the overall death toll to 23,000. [...] The relief efforts were hindered by the composition of the mud, which made it nearly impossible to move through without becoming stuck. By the time relief workers reached Armero twelve hours after the eruption, many of the victims with serious injuries were dead. The relief workers were horrified by the landscape of fallen trees, disfigured human bodies, and piles of debris from entire houses. [...] The event was a foreseeable catastrophe exacerbated by the populace’s unawareness of the volcano’s destructive history; geologists and other experts had warned authorities and media outlets about the danger over the weeks and days leading up to the eruption.”

“The day of the eruption, black ash columns erupted from the volcano at approximately 3:00 pm local time. The local Civil Defense director was promptly alerted to the situation. He contacted INGEOMINAS, which ruled that the area should be evacuated; he was then told to contact the Civil Defense directors in Bogotá and Tolima. Between 5:00 and 7:00 pm, the ash stopped falling, and local officials instructed people to “stay calm” and go inside. Around 5:00 pm an emergency committee meeting was called, and when it ended at 7:00 pm, several members contacted the regional Red Cross over the intended evacuation efforts at Armero, Mariquita, and Honda. The Ibagué Red Cross contacted Armero’s officials and ordered an evacuation, which was not carried out because of electrical problems caused by a storm. The storm’s heavy rain and constant thunder may have overpowered the noise of the volcano, and with no systematic warning efforts, the residents of Armero were completely unaware of the continuing activity at Ruiz. At 9:45 pm, after the volcano had erupted, Civil Defense officials from Ibagué and Murillo tried to warn Armero’s officials, but could not make contact. Later they overheard conversations between individual officials of Armero and others; famously, a few heard the Mayor of Armero speaking on a ham radio, saying “that he did not think there was much danger”, when he was overtaken by the lahar.[20]

“The lahars, formed of water, ice, pumice, and other rocks,[25] incorporated clay from eroding soil as they traveled down the volcano’s flanks.[26] They ran down the volcano’s sides at an average speed of 60 kilometers (40 mi) per hour, dislodging rock and destroying vegetation. After descending thousands of meters down the side of the volcano, the lahars followed the six river valleys leading from the volcano, where they grew to almost four times their original volume. In the Gualí River, a lahar reached a maximum width of 50 meters (160 ft).[25]

Survivors in Armero described the night as “quiet”. Volcanic ash had been falling throughout the day, but residents were informed it was nothing to worry about. Later in the afternoon, ash began falling again after a long period of quiet. Local radio stations reported that residents should remain calm and ignore the material. One survivor reported going to the fire department to be informed that the ash was “nothing”.[27] [...] At 11:30 pm, the first lahar hit, followed shortly by the others.[28] One of the lahars virtually erased Armero; three-quarters of its 28,700 inhabitants were killed.[25] Proceeding in three major waves, this lahar was 30 meters (100 ft) deep, moved at 12 meters per second (39 ft/s), and lasted ten to twenty minutes. Traveling at about 6 meters (20 ft) per second, the second lahar lasted thirty minutes and was followed by smaller pulses. A third major pulse brought the lahar’s duration to roughly two hours; by that point, 85 percent of Armero was enveloped in mud. Survivors described people holding on to debris from their homes in attempts to stay above the mud. Buildings collapsed, crushing people and raining down debris. The front of the lahar contained boulders and cobbles which would have crushed anyone in their path, while the slower parts were dotted by fine, sharp stones which caused lacerations. Mud moved into open wounds and other open body parts – the eyes, ears, and mouth – and placed pressure capable of inducing traumatic asphyxia in one or two minutes upon people buried in it.”

“The volcano continues to pose a serious threat to nearby towns and villages. Of the threats, the one with the most potential for danger is that of small-volume eruptions, which can destabilize glaciers and trigger lahars.[51] Although much of the volcano’s glacier mass has retreated, a significant volume of ice still sits atop Nevado del Ruiz and other volcanoes in the Ruiz–Tolima massif. Melting just 10 percent of the ice would produce lahars with a volume of up to 200 million cubic meters – similar to the lahar that destroyed Armero in 1985. In just hours, these lahars can travel up to 100 km along river valleys.[33] Estimates show that up to 500,000 people living in the Combeima, Chinchina, Coello-Toche, and Guali valleys are at risk, with 100,000 individuals being considered to be at high risk.”

iii. Asteroid belt (featured).

“The asteroid belt is the region of the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets. The asteroid belt is also termed the main asteroid belt or main belt to distinguish its members from other asteroids in the Solar System such as near-Earth asteroids and trojan asteroids. About half the mass of the belt is contained in the four largest asteroids, Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea have mean diameters of more than 400 km, whereas Ceres, the asteroid belt’s only dwarf planet, is about 950 km in diameter.[1][2][3][4] The remaining bodies range down to the size of a dust particle.”

“The asteroid belt formed from the primordial solar nebula as a group of planetesimals, the smaller precursors of the planets, which in turn formed protoplanets. Between Mars and Jupiter, however, gravitational perturbations from Jupiter imbued the protoplanets with too much orbital energy for them to accrete into a planet. Collisions became too violent, and instead of fusing together, the planetesimals and most of the protoplanets shattered. As a result, 99.9% of the asteroid belt’s original mass was lost in the first 100 million years of the Solar System’s history.[5]

“In an anonymous footnote to his 1766 translation of Charles Bonnet‘s Contemplation de la Nature,[8] the astronomer Johann Daniel Titius of Wittenberg[9][10] noted an apparent pattern in the layout of the planets. If one began a numerical sequence at 0, then included 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, etc., doubling each time, and added four to each number and divided by 10, this produced a remarkably close approximation to the radii of the orbits of the known planets as measured in astronomical units. This pattern, now known as the Titius–Bode law, predicted the semi-major axes of the six planets of the time (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) provided one allowed for a “gap” between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. [...] On January 1, 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi, Chair of Astronomy at the University of Palermo, Sicily, found a tiny moving object in an orbit with exactly the radius predicted by the Titius–Bode law. He dubbed it Ceres, after the Roman goddess of the harvest and patron of Sicily. Piazzi initially believed it a comet, but its lack of a coma suggested it was a planet.[12] Fifteen months later, Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers discovered a second object in the same region, Pallas. Unlike the other known planets, the objects remained points of light even under the highest telescope magnifications instead of resolving into discs. Apart from their rapid movement, they appeared indistinguishable from stars. Accordingly, in 1802 William Herschel suggested they be placed into a separate category, named asteroids, after the Greek asteroeides, meaning “star-like”. [...] The discovery of Neptune in 1846 led to the discrediting of the Titius–Bode law in the eyes of scientists, because its orbit was nowhere near the predicted position. [...] One hundred asteroids had been located by mid-1868, and in 1891 the introduction of astrophotography by Max Wolf accelerated the rate of discovery still further.[22] A total of 1,000 asteroids had been found by 1921,[23] 10,000 by 1981,[24] and 100,000 by 2000.[25] Modern asteroid survey systems now use automated means to locate new minor planets in ever-increasing quantities.”

“In 1802, shortly after discovering Pallas, Heinrich Olbers suggested to William Herschel that Ceres and Pallas were fragments of a much larger planet that once occupied the Mars–Jupiter region, this planet having suffered an internal explosion or a cometary impact many million years before.[26] Over time, however, this hypothesis has fallen from favor. [...] Today, most scientists accept that, rather than fragmenting from a progenitor planet, the asteroids never formed a planet at all. [...] The asteroids are not samples of the primordial Solar System. They have undergone considerable evolution since their formation, including internal heating (in the first few tens of millions of years), surface melting from impacts, space weathering from radiation, and bombardment by micrometeorites.[34] [...] collisions between asteroids occur frequently (on astronomical time scales). Collisions between main-belt bodies with a mean radius of 10 km are expected to occur about once every 10 million years.[63] A collision may fragment an asteroid into numerous smaller pieces (leading to the formation of a new asteroid family). Conversely, collisions that occur at low relative speeds may also join two asteroids. After more than 4 billion years of such processes, the members of the asteroid belt now bear little resemblance to the original population. [...] The current asteroid belt is believed to contain only a small fraction of the mass of the primordial belt. Computer simulations suggest that the original asteroid belt may have contained mass equivalent to the Earth.[37] Primarily because of gravitational perturbations, most of the material was ejected from the belt within about a million years of formation, leaving behind less than 0.1% of the original mass.[29] Since their formation, the size distribution of the asteroid belt has remained relatively stable: there has been no significant increase or decrease in the typical dimensions of the main-belt asteroids.[38]

“Contrary to popular imagery, the asteroid belt is mostly empty. The asteroids are spread over such a large volume that it would be improbable to reach an asteroid without aiming carefully. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of asteroids are currently known, and the total number ranges in the millions or more, depending on the lower size cutoff. Over 200 asteroids are known to be larger than 100 km,[44] and a survey in the infrared wavelengths has shown that the asteroid belt has 0.7–1.7 million asteroids with a diameter of 1 km or more. [...] The total mass of the asteroid belt is estimated to be 2.8×1021 to 3.2×1021 kilograms, which is just 4% of the mass of the Moon.[2] [...] Several otherwise unremarkable bodies in the outer belt show cometary activity. Because their orbits cannot be explained through capture of classical comets, it is thought that many of the outer asteroids may be icy, with the ice occasionally exposed to sublimation through small impacts. Main-belt comets may have been a major source of the Earth’s oceans, because the deuterium–hydrogen ratio is too low for classical comets to have been the principal source.[56] [...] Of the 50,000 meteorites found on Earth to date, 99.8 percent are believed to have originated in the asteroid belt.[67]

iv. Series (mathematics). This article has a lot of stuff, including lots of links to other stuff.

v. Occupation of Japan. Interesting article, I haven’t really read very much about this before. Some quotes:

“At the head of the Occupation administration was General MacArthur who was technically supposed to defer to an advisory council set up by the Allied powers, but in practice did everything himself. As a result, this period was one of significant American influence [...] MacArthur’s first priority was to set up a food distribution network; following the collapse of the ruling government and the wholesale destruction of most major cities, virtually everyone was starving. Even with these measures, millions of people were still on the brink of starvation for several years after the surrender.”

“By the end of 1945, more than 350,000 U.S. personnel were stationed throughout Japan. By the beginning of 1946, replacement troops began to arrive in the country in large numbers and were assigned to MacArthur’s Eighth Army, headquartered in Tokyo’s Dai-Ichi building. Of the main Japanese islands, Kyūshū was occupied by the 24th Infantry Division, with some responsibility for Shikoku. Honshū was occupied by the First Cavalry Division. Hokkaido was occupied by the 11th Airborne Division.

By June 1950, all these army units had suffered extensive troop reductions and their combat effectiveness was seriously weakened. When North Korea invaded South Korea (see Korean War), elements of the 24th Division were flown into South Korea to try to stem the massive invasion force there, but the green occupation troops, while acquitting themselves well when suddenly thrown into combat almost overnight, suffered heavy casualties and were forced into retreat until other Japan occupation troops could be sent to assist.”

“During the Occupation, GHQ/SCAP mostly abolished many of the financial coalitions known as the Zaibatsu, which had previously monopolized industry.[20] [...] A major land reform was also conducted [...] Between 1947 and 1949, approximately 5,800,000 acres (23,000 km2) of land (approximately 38% of Japan’s cultivated land) were purchased from the landlords under the government’s reform program and resold at extremely low prices (after inflation) to the farmers who worked them. By 1950, three million peasants had acquired land, dismantling a power structure that the landlords had long dominated.[22]

“There are allegations that during the three months in 1945 when Okinawa was gradually occupied there were rapes committed by U.S. troops. According to some accounts, US troops committed thousands of rapes during the campaign.[36][37]

Many Japanese civilians in the Japanese mainland feared that the Allied occupation troops were likely to rape Japanese women. The Japanese authorities set up a large system of prostitution facilities (RAA) in order to protect the population. [...] However, there was a resulting large rise in venereal disease among the soldiers, which led MacArthur to close down the prostitution in early 1946.[39] The incidence of rape increased after the closure of the brothels, possibly eight-fold; [...] “According to one calculation the number of rapes and assaults on Japanese women amounted to around 40 daily while the RAA was in operation, and then rose to an average of 330 a day after it was terminated in early 1946.”[40] Michael S. Molasky states that while rape and other violent crime was widespread in naval ports like Yokosuka and Yokohama during the first few weeks of occupation, according to Japanese police reports and journalistic studies, the number of incidents declined shortly after and were not common on mainland Japan throughout the rest of occupation.[41] Two weeks into the occupation, the Occupation administration began censoring all media. This included any mention of rape or other sensitive social issues.”

“Post-war Japan was chaotic. The air raids on Japan’s urban centers left millions displaced and food shortages, created by bad harvests and the demands of the war, worsened when the seizure of food from Korea, Taiwan, and China ceased.[58] Repatriation of Japanese living in other parts of Asia only aggravated the problems in Japan as these displaced people put more strain on already scarce resources. Over 5.1 million Japanese returned to Japan in the fifteen months following October 1, 1945.[59] Alcohol and drug abuse became major problems. Deep exhaustion, declining morale and despair were so widespread that it was termed the “kyodatsu condition” (虚脱状態 kyodatsujoutai?, lit. “state of lethargy”).[60] Inflation was rampant and many people turned to the black market for even the most basic goods. These black markets in turn were often places of turf wars between rival gangs, like the Shibuya incident in 1946.”

August 16, 2014 Posted by | astronomy, biology, Geology, history, mathematics, wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

Social skills… (listening, explaining, self-disclosure)

I have finished Hargie’s book. I don’t have a lot of stuff to say about the book which I haven’t already said, aside perhaps from the fact that the book actually, partly on account of its high page count, does have a lot of stuff which I feel tempted to cover here. I should note that I feel tempted to cover it here not only because it’s interesting, but also to a significant extent because I know this is one of those books I’ll never open/touch/whatever again, so the stuff I decide not to blog is stuff which I’m sure will be forgot. The first two posts dealt with roughly the first 200 pages, so there’s still a lot of stuff left to talk about. You can expect me to post at least one or two more posts about the stuff covered in the book in the days to come.

In this post I’ve covered material from the chapters on the skill of listening, the skill of explaining (very little, this was a bad chapter), and the skill of self-disclosure.

“One recurring problem is that we often listen with the goal of responding, rather than listening with the goal of understanding [...] our main concern is with our own point of view rather than with gaining a deeper insight into the other person’s perspective.”

“In interpersonal interaction a constant stream of feedback impinges upon us, both from the stimuli received from other people and from the physical environment. Not all of this feedback is consciously perceived, since there is simply too much information for the person to cope with adequately. As a result, a selective perception filter [...] is operative, and its main function is to filter only a limited amount of information into the conscious, while some of the remainder may be stored at a subconscious level. [...] Unfortunately, in interpersonal interaction, vital information can be filtered out, in that we may be insensitive to the social signals emitted by others. Where this occurs, effective listening skills are not displayed. [...] As we talk, at the same time we also scan for feedback to see how our messages are being received. When we listen, we evaluate what is being said, plan our response, rehearse this and then execute it. While the processes of evaluation, planning and rehearsal usually occur subconsciously, they are important because they can interfere with the pure listening activity. Thus, we may have decided what we are going to say before the other person has stopped speaking, and as a result may not be listening effectively. It is therefore important to ensure that those activities that mediate between listening and speaking do not interfere with the listening process itself.”

“We evaluate others based on their appearance, initial statements or what they said during previous encounters. These influence the way the speaker is heard, in that statements may be screened so that only those aspects that fit with specific expectations are perceived.”

“Those with a wider vocabulary are better listeners, since they can more readily understand and assimilate a greater range of concepts. [...] A listener who is highly motivated will remember more of the information presented. [...] Listening ability deteriorates as fatigue increases. Thus, someone who is extremely tired is less capable of displaying prolonged listening. [...] Introverts are usually better listeners than extraverts, since they are content to sit back and let the other person be the centre of attention. Furthermore, highly anxious individuals do not usually make good listeners since they tend to be too worried about factors apart from the speaker to listen carefully to what is being said.”

“The differential between speech and thought rate gives the listener an opportunity to assimilate, organise, retain and covertly respond to the speaker. However, this differential may also encourage the listener to fill up the spare time with other unrelated mental processes (such as daydreaming). Listening can be improved by using this spare thought time positively by, for example, asking covert questions such as:
• ‘What are the main points being made?’
• ‘What reasons are being given?’
• ‘In what frame of reference should this be viewed?’
• ‘What further information is necessary?’
Where a speaker exceeds 300 words per minute, listening can be problematic. It is difficult to listen effectively for an extended period to a very rapid speaker, since we cannot handle the volume of information being received. [...] The clarity, fluency and audibility of the speaker all have an influence on listener comprehension.”

“If the speaker displays high levels of emotion, the listener may be distracted by this and cease to listen accurately to the content of the verbal message. In situations where individuals are in extreme emotional states, their communication is inevitably highly charged. [...] When faced with a person experiencing extreme emotions [...] it is often not advisable either to reinforce positively or to rebuke the individual for this behaviour, since such reactions may well be counterproductive. [...] A more reasoned response is to react in a calm fashion, demonstrating an interest in, without overtly reinforcing, the emotional person, but also showing a willingness to listen and attempt to understand what exactly has caused this to occur. Only when strong emotional feelings begin to decrease can a more rational discussion take place.”

“If the speaker is regarded as an important person, or a recognised authority on a topic, listening comprehension is increased as more credence will be attached to what is being said. Also, more attention tends to be paid if the speaker is in a position of superiority. Attention is therefore greater if the listener has admiration and respect for a speaker of high credibility. [...] when the message conveys similar values, attitudes or viewpoints to our own, listening is facilitated [...] Effective listening is facilitated by paying attention to only one person at a time, and by manipulating the environment in order to ensure that extraneous distractions are minimised [...] If someone is expected to listen for a prolonged period, [...] comfortable seating has been shown to be an important factor for listening effectiveness [...] In group contexts, a compact seating arrangement is more effective than a scattered one. People pay more attention and recall more when they are brought close together physically, as opposed to when they are spread out around the room.”

“Someone who is self-conscious, and concerned with the personal impression being conveyed, is unlikely to be listening closely to others. In terms of research into memory, two identified problems relate to the process of inhibition [...]. Proactive inhibition occurs when something that has already been learned interferes with attempts to learn new material. A parallel problem is retroactive inhibition, which is where material that has already been learned is impaired as a result of the impact of, and interference from, recent material. In interpersonal encounters inhibition also occurs. Retroactive listening inhibition is where the individual is still pondering over the ramifications of something that happened in the recent past, at the expense of listening to the speaker in the present interaction. Proactive listening inhibition takes place when someone has an important engagement looming, and a preoccupation with this militates against listening in the present. The main mental focus then tends to be more about how to handle the future encounter than about what the speaker is currently saying.”

“Research has shown that speakers want listeners to respond appropriately to what they are saying rather than to ‘just listen’ [...]. In other words, they desire active listening in the form of both verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Active listening requires concerted effort and attention [...], as it involves showing that we have both heard and understood what the other person has communicated [...] When the listener shows warmth and enthusiasm for what we are saying, this attitude influences us and so we are likely to become more expressive and expansive. By contrast, when the listener is cold and formal, we are more likely to provide basic, factual responses. Although verbal responses are the main indicators of successful listening, if accompanying nonverbal behaviours are not displayed it is usually assumed that an individual is not paying attention, and ipso facto not listening. Thus, while these nonverbal signs may not be crucial to the assimilation of verbal messages, they are expected by others.”

“[One] aspect of reinforcement that is a potent indicator of effective listening is reference to past statements. This can range from simply remembering someone’s name to remembering other details about facts, feelings or ideas they may have expressed in the past. This shows a willingness to pay attention to what was previously discussed and in turn is likely to encourage the person to participate more fully in the present interaction.”

“[Some] nonverbal cues have been identified as signs of inattentiveness or lack of listening [...] The most common of these are: • inappropriate facial expressions • lack of eye contact • poor use of paralanguage (e.g. flat tone of voice, no emphasis) • slouched or shifting posture • absence of head nods • the use of distracting behaviours (e.g. rubbing the eyes, yawning, writing or reading while the speaker is talking). [...] These nonverbal signals can of course be deceiving, in that someone who is assimilating the verbal message may not appear to be listening. [...] Conversely, people may engage in pretend listening, or pseudo-listening, where they show all of the overt signs of attending but are not actually listening at all [...] both the verbal and nonverbal determinants of active listening play a key role in social interaction. In fact, these signs are integrated in such a fashion that, in most cases, if either channel signals lack of attention this is taken as an overall indication of poor listening. [...] It is important to realise that listening is not something that just happens, but rather is an active process in which the listener decides to pay careful attention to the speaker.”

“An explanation may be triggered by a direct request from someone who needs or wants to know something. Alternatively it may be the explainer who initiates the exchange. In the latter case, an important first step may be to create a ‘felt need’ on the part of recipients. They should have a sense that listening to what is about to be said will be worthwhile [...] An explanation that carries more detail than is necessary is just as defective as one that does not carry enough – a key feature of effective explanations is that they are succinct [...] One of the causes of punctuating speech with sounds such as ‘eh’ or ‘mm’ is trying to put too many ideas or facts across in one sentence. It is better to use reasonably short crisp sentences, with pauses in between, than long rambling ones full of subordinate clauses. This will generally tend to eliminate speech hesitancies. Another cause of dysfluency is lack of adequate planning and forethought. [...] Pausing briefly to collect and organise thought processes before embarking on an explanation can [...] facilitate fluent speech patterns. Added to that, planned pausing can help to increase understanding of the explanation.”

“When two people meet for the first time, it is more likely that they will focus upon factual disclosures (name, occupation, place of residence) while keeping any feeling disclosures at a fairly superficial level (‘I hate crowded parties’, ‘I like rock music’). This is largely because the expression of personal feelings involves greater risk and places the discloser in a more vulnerable position. [...] A gradual progression from low to high levels of self-disclosure leads to better relationship development. [...] Factual and feeling disclosures at a deeper level can be regarded as a sign of commitment to a relationship.”

“A self-disclosure can be about one’s own personal experience, or it can be about one’s personal reaction to the experiences being related by another [...] If the objective is to give concerted attention to an individual and encourage full disclosure, then concentrating upon one’s reactions to the feelings or thoughts of the other person would be most appropriate. If, however, the intention is to demonstrate that the person’s feelings are not unusual, then the use of a parallel self-disclosure relating one’s own experience would be more apposite.”

“[Valence] is the degree to which the disclosure is positive or negative for both discloser and listener. In the early stages of relationship development, disclosures are mainly positive, and negative self-disclosures usually only emerge once a relationship has been established. [...] Negative self-disclosures have been shown to be marked by paralinguistic cues such as stuttering, stammering, repetition, mumbling and low ‘feeble’ voice quality, whereas positive disclosures tend to be characterised by rapid, flowing, melodious speech [...] we expect others to make positive self-disclosures and so we become more alert upon receiving a negative disclosure. [...] negative information is attributed as possessing greater relevance than positive information (Yoo, 2009). Thus, the comparative rarity of negative disclosures, and their greater inferential power, mean that we need to use them with caution. [...] the use of negative disclosures tends to lead to more negative evaluations of the discloser. [...] While the continuous and indiscriminant use of negative self-disclosure is dysfunctional, the judicious application of such disclosures can actually facilitate relational development. [...] negative emotions should be expressed to those with whom one has a relationship, the depth of disclosed emotional state should be concomitant with the level of friendship, and the intensity of the disclosure should reflect the degree of emotional need. Given these parameters, Graham et al. showed that the disclosure of appropriate negative emotions increased ratings of likability, elicited offers of help and increased the level of relational intimacy.”

“Where there is a high degree of asymmetry in status, disclosure tends to be in one direction [...] workers may disclose personal problems to their supervisors, but the reverse does not usually happen. This is because for a supervisor to disclose personal information to a subordinate would cause a loss of face, which would affect the status relationship. Research findings tend to suggest that self-disclosures are most often employed between people of equal status [...] There would seem to be a relationship between psychological adjustment and self-disclosure in that individuals who are extremely high or low disclosers are regarded as less socially skilled.”

“Often, before we make a deep disclosure, there is a strategic process of testing [...] or advance pre-testing [...], whereby we ‘trail’ the topic with potential confidants and observe their reactions. If these are favourable, then we continue with the revelations; if not, we move on to a new topic. However, the initial dangers of self-disclosure are such that we expect an equal commitment to this process from people with whom we may wish to develop a relationship [...]. For this reason, reciprocation is expected in the early stages of everyday interaction. [...] a person’s disclosure increases the likelihood that the other party will also disclose. In everyday interaction, reciprocation of self-disclosures is the norm. [...] It is interesting to note that when people are not able to utilise interpersonal channels for disclosure, they often use substitutes such as keeping a personal diary, talking to a pet or conversing with God. Indeed, this need can be observed at an early stage in young children who often disclose to a teddy bear or doll.”

“People who do not have access to a good listener may not only be denied the opportunity to heighten their self-awareness, but they are also denied valuable feedback as to the validity and acceptability of their inner thoughts and feelings. By discussing these with others, we receive feedback as to whether these are experiences which others have as well, or whether they are less common. Furthermore, by gauging the reactions to our self-disclosures we learn what types are acceptable or unacceptable with particular people and in specific situations. [...] The appropriate use of self-disclosure is crucial to the development and maintenance of long-term relationships [...]. Those who disclose either too much or too little tend to have problems in establishing and sustaining relationships.”

“In their metaanalysis of research studies into gender differences in adults’ language use, Leaper and Ayres (2007) found that women used more self-disclosures than men. Dindia (2000b), in an earlier meta-analytical study, also found that females disclosed more than males, but this was moderated by the gender of the recipient, so that:
• females do not disclose to males any more than males do to males
• females disclose more to females than males do to males
• females disclose more to females than males do to females
• females disclose more to males than males do to females.”

“Personality variables have been shown to relate to disclosure level [...]. Shy, introverted types, those with low self-esteem and individuals with a high need for social approval disclose less, and social desirability is negatively related to depth of disclosure. Also those with an external locus of control [...] disclose less than those with an internal locus of control [...]. Lonely individuals have also been found to disclose less [...] Accepting/empathic people receive more disclosures. [...] ‘We like people who self-disclose to us, we disclose more to people we like, and we like others as a result of having disclosed to them’ [...] more self-disclosures tend to be made to individuals who are perceived as being similar (in attitudes, values, beliefs, etc.)”

“Solano and Dunnam (1985) showed that self-disclosure was greater in dyads than in triads, which in turn was greater than in a four-person group. They further found that this reduction applied regardless of the gender of the interactors and concluded that there may well be a linear decrease in self-disclosure as group size increases.”

August 14, 2014 Posted by | books, Psychology | Leave a comment


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