Arquivo da tag: Psicologia

Why did humans evolve such large brains? Because smarter people have more friends (The Conversation)

June 19, 2017 10.01am EDT

Humans are the only ultrasocial creature on the planet. We have outcompeted, interbred or even killed off all other hominin species. We cohabit in cities of tens of millions of people and, despite what the media tell us, violence between individuals is extremely rare. This is because we have an extremely large, flexible and complex “social brain”.

To truly understand how the brain maintains our human intellect, we would need to know about the state of all 86 billion neurons and their 100 trillion interconnections, as well as the varying strengths with which they are connected, and the state of more than 1,000 proteins that exist at each connection point. Neurobiologist Steven Rose suggests that even this is not enough – we would still need know how these connections have evolved over a person’s lifetime and even the social context in which they had occurred. It may take centuries just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity.

Many people assume that our brain operates like a powerful computer. But Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology, says this is just shoddy thinking and is holding back our understanding of the human brain. Because, while humans start with senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms, we are not born with any of the information, rules, algorithms or other key design elements that allow computers to behave somewhat intelligently. For instance, computers store exact copies of data that persist for long periods of time, even when the power is switched off. Our brains, meanwhile, are capable of creating false data or false memories, and they only maintain our intellect as long as we remain alive.

We are organisms, not computers

Of course, we can see many advantages in having a large brain. In my recent book on human evolution I suggest it firstly allows humans to exist in a group size of about 150. This builds resilience to environmental changes by increasing and diversifying food production and sharing.

 

As our ancestors got smarter, they became capable of living in larger and larger groups. Mark Maslin, Author provided

A social brain also allows specialisation of skills so individuals can concentrate on supporting childbirth, tool-making, fire setting, hunting or resource allocation. Humans have no natural weapons, but working in large groups and having tools allowed us to become the apex predator, hunting animals as large as mammoths to extinction.

Our social groups are large and complex, but this creates high stress levels for individuals because the rewards in terms of food, safety and reproduction are so great. Hence, Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar argues our huge brain is primarily developed to keep track of rapidly changing relationships. It takes a huge amount of cognitive ability to exist in large social groups, and if you fall out of the group you lose access to food and mates and are unlikely to reproduce and pass on your genes.

 

Great. But what about your soap opera knowledge? ronstik / shutterstock

My undergraduates come to university thinking they are extremely smart as they can do differential equations and understand the use of split infinitives. But I point out to them that almost anyone walking down the street has the capacity to hold the moral and ethical dilemmas of at least five soap operas in their head at any one time. And that is what being smart really means. It is the detailed knowledge of society and the need to track and control the ever changing relationship between people around us that has created our huge complex brain.

It seems our brains could be even more flexible that we previously thought. Recent genetic evidence suggests the modern human brain is more malleable and is modelled more by the surrounding environment than that of chimpanzees. The anatomy of the chimpanzee brain is strongly controlled by their genes, whereas the modern human brain is extensively shaped by the environment, no matter what the genetics.

This means the human brain is pre-programmed to be extremely flexible; its cerebral organisation is adjusted by the environment and society in which it is raised. So each new generation’s brain structure can adapt to the new environmental and social challenges without the need to physically evolve.

 

Evolution at work. OtmarW / shutterstock

This may also explain why we all complain that we do not understand the next generation as their brains are wired differently, having grown up in a different physical and social environment. An example of this is the ease with which the latest generation interacts with technology almost if they had co-evolved with it.

So next time you turn on a computer just remember how big and complex your brain is – to keep a track of your friends and enemies.

Anúncios

Groups are often smarter without ‘opinion leaders’ (Futurity)

Equality may counteract the tendency toward groupthink, research suggests.

The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. So, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting, and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

“On average, opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

That is true—as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

But Damon Centola, an associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite.

When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter, report Centola, PhD candidate Joshua Becker, and recent PhD graduate Devon Brackbill in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Equal influence

“The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” says Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

“In egalitarian networks,” he says, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgments. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

“On average,” he says, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

Gut responses

The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who went into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

“Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola says, “only for being accurate.”

Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

“In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola says, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

“Thus,” Centola says, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

“The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

Engineers and doctors

These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making, and organizational design.

For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola says it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

“It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he says. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

Partial support for the work came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Sente com as entranhas? Seu corpo tem um segundo cérebro dentro da barriga (UOL Saúde)

30/05/201704h00

Tem um segundo cérebro dentro da sua barriga

Tem um segundo cérebro dentro da sua barriga. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sabe esse seu cérebro aí na cabeça? Ele não é tão único assim não como a gente imagina e conta com uma grande ajuda de um parceiro para controlar nossas emoções, nosso humor e nosso comportamento. Isso porque o corpo humano tem o que muitos chamam de um “segundo cérebro”. E em um lugar bem especial: na nossa barriga.

O “segundo cérebro”, como é chamado informalmente, está situado bem ao longo dos nove metros de seu intestino e reúne milhões de neurônios. Na verdade, faz parte de algo com uma nomenclatura um pouquinho mais complicada: o Sistema Nervoso Entérico.

Getty Images

Dentro do nosso intestino há entre 200 e 600 milhões de neurônios

Funções que até o cérebro duvida

Uma das razões principais para ele ser considerado um cérebro é a grande e complexa rede de neurônios existentes nesse sistema. Para se ter uma ideia, nós temos ali entre 200 milhões e 600 milhões de neurônios, de acordo com pesquisadores da Universidade de Melbourne, na Austrália, que trabalham em conjunto com o cérebro principal.

É como se tivéssemos o cérebro de um gato na nossa barriga. Ele tem 20 diferentes tipos de neurônios, a mesma diversidade encontrada no nosso cérebro grande, onde temos 100 bilhões de neurônios”

Heribert Watzke, cientista alimentar durante em uma palestra na TED Talks

As funções desse cérebro são várias e ocorrem de forma autônoma e integrada ao grande cérebro. Antes, imaginava-se que o cérebro maior enviava sinais para comandar esse outro cérebro, Mas, na verdade, é o contrário: o cérebro em nosso intestino envia sinais por meio de uma grande “rodovia” de neurônios para a cabeça, que pode aceitar ou não as indicações.

“O cérebro de cima pode interferir nesses sinais, modificando-os ou inibindo-os. Há sinais de fome, que nosso estômago vazio envia para o cérebro. Tem sinais que mandam a gente parar de comer quando estamos cheios. Se o sinal da fome é ignorado, pode gerar a doença anorexia, por exemplo. O mais comum é o de continuar comendo, mesmo depois que nossos sinais do estômago dizem ‘ok, pare, transferimos energia suficiente'”, complementa Watzke.

A quantidade de neurônios assusta, mas faz sentido se pensarmos nos perigos da alimentação. Assim como a pele, o intestino tem que parar imediatamente potenciais invasores perigosos em nosso organismo, como bactérias e vírus.

Esse segundo cérebro pode ativar uma diarreia ou alertar o seu “superior”, que pode decidir por acionar vômitos. É um trabalho em grupo e de vital importância.

iStock

Muito além da digestão

É claro que uma das funções principais tem a ver com a nossa digestão e excreção – como se o cérebro maior não quisesse “sujar as mãos”, né? Ele inclusive controla contrações musculares, liberação de substâncias químicas e afins. O segundo cérebro não é usado em funções como pensamentos, religião, filosofia ou poesia, mas está ligado ao nosso humor.

O sistema entérico nervoso nos ajuda a “sentir” nosso mundo interior e seu conteúdo. Segundo a revista Scientific American, é provável que boa parte das nossas emoções sejam influenciadas por causa dos neurônios em nosso intestino.

Já ouviu a expressão “borboletas no estômago”? A sensação é um exemplo disso, como uma resposta a um estresse psicológico.

É por conta disso que algumas pesquisas tentam até tratamento de depressão atuando nos neurônios do intestino. O sistema nervoso entérico tem 95% de nossa serotonina (substância conhecida como uma das responsáveis pela felicidade). Ele pode até ter um papel no autismo.

Há ainda relatos de outras doenças que possam ter a ver com esse segundo cérebro. Um estudo da Nature em 2010 apontou que modificações no funcionamento do sistema podem evitar a osteoporose.

Getty Images

Vida nas entranhas

O “segundo cérebro” tem como uma de suas principais funções a defesa do nosso corpo, já que é um dos grandes responsáveis por controlar nossos anticorpos. Um estudo de 2016 com apoio da Fapesp mostrou como os neurônios se comunicam com as células de defesa no intestino. Há até uma “conversa” com micróbios, já que o sistema nervoso ajuda a ditar quais deles podem habitar o intestino.

Pesquisas apontam que a importância do segundo cérebro é realmente enorme. Em uma delas, foi percebido que ratos recém-nascidos cujos estômagos foram expostos a um químico irritante são mais depressivos e ansiosos do que outros ratos, com os sintomas prosseguindo por um bom tempo depois do dano físico. O mesmo não ocorreu com outros danos, como uma irritação na pele.

Com tudo isso em vista, tenho certeza que você vai olhar para suas vísceras de uma maneira diferente agora, né? Pensa bem: na próxima vez que você estiver estressado ou triste e for comer aquela comida bem gorda para confortar, pode não ser culpa só da sua cabeça.

Nobody understands what consciousness is or how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics either. Could that be more than coincidence? (BBC)

What is going on in our brains? (Credit: Mehau Kulyk/Science Photo Library)

What is going on in our brains? (Credit: Mehau Kulyk/Science Photo Library)

Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have for describing the world at the nuts-and-bolts level of atoms and subatomic particles. Perhaps the most renowned of its mysteries is the fact that the outcome of a quantum experiment can change depending on whether or not we choose to measure some property of the particles involved.

When this “observer effect” was first noticed by the early pioneers of quantum theory, they were deeply troubled. It seemed to undermine the basic assumption behind all science: that there is an objective world out there, irrespective of us. If the way the world behaves depends on how – or if – we look at it, what can “reality” really mean?

The most famous intrusion of the mind into quantum mechanics comes in the “double-slit experiment”

Some of those researchers felt forced to conclude that objectivity was an illusion, and that consciousness has to be allowed an active role in quantum theory. To others, that did not make sense. Surely, Albert Einstein once complained, the Moon does not exist only when we look at it!

Today some physicists suspect that, whether or not consciousness influences quantum mechanics, it might in fact arise because of it. They think that quantum theory might be needed to fully understand how the brain works.

Might it be that, just as quantum objects can apparently be in two places at once, so a quantum brain can hold onto two mutually-exclusive ideas at the same time?

These ideas are speculative, and it may turn out that quantum physics has no fundamental role either for or in the workings of the mind. But if nothing else, these possibilities show just how strangely quantum theory forces us to think.

The famous double-slit experiment (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

The famous double-slit experiment (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

The most famous intrusion of the mind into quantum mechanics comes in the “double-slit experiment”. Imagine shining a beam of light at a screen that contains two closely-spaced parallel slits. Some of the light passes through the slits, whereupon it strikes another screen.

Light can be thought of as a kind of wave, and when waves emerge from two slits like this they can interfere with each other. If their peaks coincide, they reinforce each other, whereas if a peak and a trough coincide, they cancel out. This wave interference is called diffraction, and it produces a series of alternating bright and dark stripes on the back screen, where the light waves are either reinforced or cancelled out.

The implication seems to be that each particle passes simultaneously through both slits

This experiment was understood to be a characteristic of wave behaviour over 200 years ago, well before quantum theory existed.

The double slit experiment can also be performed with quantum particles like electrons; tiny charged particles that are components of atoms. In a counter-intuitive twist, these particles can behave like waves. That means they can undergo diffraction when a stream of them passes through the two slits, producing an interference pattern.

Now suppose that the quantum particles are sent through the slits one by one, and their arrival at the screen is likewise seen one by one. Now there is apparently nothing for each particle to interfere with along its route – yet nevertheless the pattern of particle impacts that builds up over time reveals interference bands.

The implication seems to be that each particle passes simultaneously through both slits and interferes with itself. This combination of “both paths at once” is known as a superposition state.

But here is the really odd thing.

The double-slit experiment (Credit: GIPhotoStock/Science Photo Library)

The double-slit experiment (Credit: GIPhotoStock/Science Photo Library)

If we place a detector inside or just behind one slit, we can find out whether any given particle goes through it or not. In that case, however, the interference vanishes. Simply by observing a particle’s path – even if that observation should not disturb the particle’s motion – we change the outcome.

The physicist Pascual Jordan, who worked with quantum guru Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in the 1920s, put it like this: “observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it… We compel [a quantum particle] to assume a definite position.” In other words, Jordan said, “we ourselves produce the results of measurements.”

If that is so, objective reality seems to go out of the window.

And it gets even stranger.

Particles can be in two states (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

Particles can be in two states (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

If nature seems to be changing its behaviour depending on whether we “look” or not, we could try to trick it into showing its hand. To do so, we could measure which path a particle took through the double slits, but only after it has passed through them. By then, it ought to have “decided” whether to take one path or both.

The sheer act of noticing, rather than any physical disturbance caused by measuring, can cause the collapse

An experiment for doing this was proposed in the 1970s by the American physicist John Wheeler, and this “delayed choice” experiment was performed in the following decade. It uses clever techniques to make measurements on the paths of quantum particles (generally, particles of light, called photons) after they should have chosen whether to take one path or a superposition of two.

It turns out that, just as Bohr confidently predicted, it makes no difference whether we delay the measurement or not. As long as we measure the photon’s path before its arrival at a detector is finally registered, we lose all interference.

It is as if nature “knows” not just if we are looking, but if we are planning to look.

(Credit: Emilio Segre Visual Archives/American Institute Physics/Science Photo Library)

Eugene Wigner (Credit: Emilio Segre Visual Archives/American Institute of Physics/Science Photo Library)

Whenever, in these experiments, we discover the path of a quantum particle, its cloud of possible routes “collapses” into a single well-defined state. What’s more, the delayed-choice experiment implies that the sheer act of noticing, rather than any physical disturbance caused by measuring, can cause the collapse. But does this mean that true collapse has only happened when the result of a measurement impinges on our consciousness?

It is hard to avoid the implication that consciousness and quantum mechanics are somehow linked

That possibility was admitted in the 1930s by the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner. “It follows that the quantum description of objects is influenced by impressions entering my consciousness,” he wrote. “Solipsism may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.”

Wheeler even entertained the thought that the presence of living beings, which are capable of “noticing”, has transformed what was previously a multitude of possible quantum pasts into one concrete history. In this sense, Wheeler said, we become participants in the evolution of the Universe since its very beginning. In his words, we live in a “participatory universe.”

To this day, physicists do not agree on the best way to interpret these quantum experiments, and to some extent what you make of them is (at the moment) up to you. But one way or another, it is hard to avoid the implication that consciousness and quantum mechanics are somehow linked.

Beginning in the 1980s, the British physicist Roger Penrosesuggested that the link might work in the other direction. Whether or not consciousness can affect quantum mechanics, he said, perhaps quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness.

Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose (Credit: Max Alexander/Science Photo Library)

Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose (Credit: Max Alexander/Science Photo Library)

What if, Penrose asked, there are molecular structures in our brains that are able to alter their state in response to a single quantum event. Could not these structures then adopt a superposition state, just like the particles in the double slit experiment? And might those quantum superpositions then show up in the ways neurons are triggered to communicate via electrical signals?

Maybe, says Penrose, our ability to sustain seemingly incompatible mental states is no quirk of perception, but a real quantum effect.

Perhaps quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness

After all, the human brain seems able to handle cognitive processes that still far exceed the capabilities of digital computers. Perhaps we can even carry out computational tasks that are impossible on ordinary computers, which use classical digital logic.

Penrose first proposed that quantum effects feature in human cognition in his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind. The idea is called Orch-OR, which is short for “orchestrated objective reduction”. The phrase “objective reduction” means that, as Penrose believes, the collapse of quantum interference and superposition is a real, physical process, like the bursting of a bubble.

Orch-OR draws on Penrose’s suggestion that gravity is responsible for the fact that everyday objects, such as chairs and planets, do not display quantum effects. Penrose believes that quantum superpositions become impossible for objects much larger than atoms, because their gravitational effects would then force two incompatible versions of space-time to coexist.

Penrose developed this idea further with American physician Stuart Hameroff. In his 1994 book Shadows of the Mind, he suggested that the structures involved in this quantum cognition might be protein strands called microtubules. These are found in most of our cells, including the neurons in our brains. Penrose and Hameroff argue that vibrations of microtubules can adopt a quantum superposition.

But there is no evidence that such a thing is remotely feasible.

Microtubules inside a cell (Credit: Dennis Kunkel Microscopy/Science Photo Library)

Microtubules inside a cell (Credit: Dennis Kunkel Microscopy/Science Photo Library)

It has been suggested that the idea of quantum superpositions in microtubules is supported by experiments described in 2013, but in fact those studies made no mention of quantum effects.

Besides, most researchers think that the Orch-OR idea was ruled out by a study published in 2000. Physicist Max Tegmark calculated that quantum superpositions of the molecules involved in neural signaling could not survive for even a fraction of the time needed for such a signal to get anywhere.

Other researchers have found evidence for quantum effects in living beings

Quantum effects such as superposition are easily destroyed, because of a process called decoherence. This is caused by the interactions of a quantum object with its surrounding environment, through which the “quantumness” leaks away.

Decoherence is expected to be extremely rapid in warm and wet environments like living cells.

Nerve signals are electrical pulses, caused by the passage of electrically-charged atoms across the walls of nerve cells. If one of these atoms was in a superposition and then collided with a neuron, Tegmark showed that the superposition should decay in less than one billion billionth of a second. It takes at least ten thousand trillion times as long for a neuron to discharge a signal.

As a result, ideas about quantum effects in the brain are viewed with great skepticism.

However, Penrose is unmoved by those arguments and stands by the Orch-OR hypothesis. And despite Tegmark’s prediction of ultra-fast decoherence in cells, other researchers have found evidence for quantum effects in living beings. Some argue that quantum mechanics is harnessed by migratory birds that use magnetic navigation, and by green plants when they use sunlight to make sugars in photosynthesis.

Besides, the idea that the brain might employ quantum tricks shows no sign of going away. For there is now another, quite different argument for it.

Could phosphorus sustain a quantum state? (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

Could phosphorus sustain a quantum state? (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

In a study published in 2015, physicist Matthew Fisher of the University of California at Santa Barbara argued that the brain might contain molecules capable of sustaining more robust quantum superpositions. Specifically, he thinks that the nuclei of phosphorus atoms may have this ability.

Phosphorus atoms are everywhere in living cells. They often take the form of phosphate ions, in which one phosphorus atom joins up with four oxygen atoms.

Such ions are the basic unit of energy within cells. Much of the cell’s energy is stored in molecules called ATP, which contain a string of three phosphate groups joined to an organic molecule. When one of the phosphates is cut free, energy is released for the cell to use.

Cells have molecular machinery for assembling phosphate ions into groups and cleaving them off again. Fisher suggested a scheme in which two phosphate ions might be placed in a special kind of superposition called an “entangled state”.

Phosphorus spins could resist decoherence for a day or so, even in living cells

The phosphorus nuclei have a quantum property called spin, which makes them rather like little magnets with poles pointing in particular directions. In an entangled state, the spin of one phosphorus nucleus depends on that of the other.

Put another way, entangled states are really superposition states involving more than one quantum particle.

Fisher says that the quantum-mechanical behaviour of these nuclear spins could plausibly resist decoherence on human timescales. He agrees with Tegmark that quantum vibrations, like those postulated by Penrose and Hameroff, will be strongly affected by their surroundings “and will decohere almost immediately”. But nuclear spins do not interact very strongly with their surroundings.

All the same, quantum behaviour in the phosphorus nuclear spins would have to be “protected” from decoherence.

Quantum particles can have different spins (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

Quantum particles can have different spins (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

This might happen, Fisher says, if the phosphorus atoms are incorporated into larger objects called “Posner molecules”. These are clusters of six phosphate ions, combined with nine calcium ions. There is some evidence that they can exist in living cells, though this is currently far from conclusive.

I decided… to explore how on earth the lithium ion could have such a dramatic effect in treating mental conditions

In Posner molecules, Fisher argues, phosphorus spins could resist decoherence for a day or so, even in living cells. That means they could influence how the brain works.

The idea is that Posner molecules can be swallowed up by neurons. Once inside, the Posner molecules could trigger the firing of a signal to another neuron, by falling apart and releasing their calcium ions.

Because of entanglement in Posner molecules, two such signals might thus in turn become entangled: a kind of quantum superposition of a “thought”, you might say. “If quantum processing with nuclear spins is in fact present in the brain, it would be an extremely common occurrence, happening pretty much all the time,” Fisher says.

He first got this idea when he started thinking about mental illness.

A capsule of lithium carbonate (Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo/Science Photo Library)

A capsule of lithium carbonate (Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo/Science Photo Library)

“My entry into the biochemistry of the brain started when I decided three or four years ago to explore how on earth the lithium ion could have such a dramatic effect in treating mental conditions,” Fisher says.

At this point, Fisher’s proposal is no more than an intriguing idea

Lithium drugs are widely used for treating bipolar disorder. They work, but nobody really knows how.

“I wasn’t looking for a quantum explanation,” Fisher says. But then he came across a paper reporting that lithium drugs had different effects on the behaviour of rats, depending on what form – or “isotope” – of lithium was used.

On the face of it, that was extremely puzzling. In chemical terms, different isotopes behave almost identically, so if the lithium worked like a conventional drug the isotopes should all have had the same effect.

Nerve cells are linked at synapses (Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library)

Nerve cells are linked at synapses (Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library)

But Fisher realised that the nuclei of the atoms of different lithium isotopes can have different spins. This quantum property might affect the way lithium drugs act. For example, if lithium substitutes for calcium in Posner molecules, the lithium spins might “feel” and influence those of phosphorus atoms, and so interfere with their entanglement.

We do not even know what consciousness is

If this is true, it would help to explain why lithium can treat bipolar disorder.

At this point, Fisher’s proposal is no more than an intriguing idea. But there are several ways in which its plausibility can be tested, starting with the idea that phosphorus spins in Posner molecules can keep their quantum coherence for long periods. That is what Fisher aims to do next.

All the same, he is wary of being associated with the earlier ideas about “quantum consciousness”, which he sees as highly speculative at best.

Consciousness is a profound mystery (Credit: Sciepro/Science Photo Library)

Consciousness is a profound mystery (Credit: Sciepro/Science Photo Library)

Physicists are not terribly comfortable with finding themselves inside their theories. Most hope that consciousness and the brain can be kept out of quantum theory, and perhaps vice versa. After all, we do not even know what consciousness is, let alone have a theory to describe it.

We all know what red is like, but we have no way to communicate the sensation

It does not help that there is now a New Age cottage industrydevoted to notions of “quantum consciousness“, claiming that quantum mechanics offers plausible rationales for such things as telepathy and telekinesis.

As a result, physicists are often embarrassed to even mention the words “quantum” and “consciousness” in the same sentence.

But setting that aside, the idea has a long history. Ever since the “observer effect” and the mind first insinuated themselves into quantum theory in the early days, it has been devilishly hard to kick them out. A few researchers think we might never manage to do so.

In 2016, Adrian Kent of the University of Cambridge in the UK, one of the most respected “quantum philosophers”, speculated that consciousness might alter the behaviour of quantum systems in subtle but detectable ways.

We do not understand how thoughts work (Credit: Andrzej Wojcicki/Science Photo Library)

We do not understand how thoughts work (Credit: Andrzej Wojcicki/Science Photo Library)

Kent is very cautious about this idea. “There is no compelling reason of principle to believe that quantum theory is the right theory in which to try to formulate a theory of consciousness, or that the problems of quantum theory must have anything to do with the problem of consciousness,” he admits.

Every line of thought on the relationship of consciousness to physics runs into deep trouble

But he says that it is hard to see how a description of consciousness based purely on pre-quantum physics can account for all the features it seems to have.

One particularly puzzling question is how our conscious minds can experience unique sensations, such as the colour red or the smell of frying bacon. With the exception of people with visual impairments, we all know what red is like, but we have no way to communicate the sensation and there is nothing in physics that tells us what it should be like.

Sensations like this are called “qualia”. We perceive them as unified properties of the outside world, but in fact they are products of our consciousness – and that is hard to explain. Indeed, in 1995 philosopher David Chalmers dubbed it “the hard problem” of consciousness.

How does our consciousness work? (Credit: Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library)

How does our consciousness work? (Credit: Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library)

“Every line of thought on the relationship of consciousness to physics runs into deep trouble,” says Kent.

This has prompted him to suggest that “we could make some progress on understanding the problem of the evolution of consciousness if we supposed that consciousnesses alters (albeit perhaps very slightly and subtly) quantum probabilities.”

“Quantum consciousness” is widely derided as mystical woo, but it just will not go away

In other words, the mind could genuinely affect the outcomes of measurements.

It does not, in this view, exactly determine “what is real”. But it might affect the chance that each of the possible actualities permitted by quantum mechanics is the one we do in fact observe, in a way that quantum theory itself cannot predict. Kent says that we might look for such effects experimentally.

He even bravely estimates the chances of finding them. “I would give credence of perhaps 15% that something specifically to do with consciousness causes deviations from quantum theory, with perhaps 3% credence that this will be experimentally detectable within the next 50 years,” he says.

If that happens, it would transform our ideas about both physics and the mind. That seems a chance worth exploring.

Impedir barulho e vaias da torcida é imperialismo cultural, diz sociólogo americano (BBC Brasil)

18.08.2016

Mulher grita durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo americano diz que vê legitimidade no comportamento da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Assim como muitos observadores internacionais acompanhando os Jogos Olímpicos do Rio, o sociólogo americano Peter Kaufman ficou espantado com o episódio das vaias ao atleta francês do salto com vara Renaud Lavillenie. No caso do acadêmico, porém, o que pareceu incomodá-lo mais foi a reação contrária ao comportamento da torcida.

Para o professor da Universidade Estadual de Nova York, que escreve sobre sociologia do esporte e estudou as reações do público ao comportamento de atletas, houve exagero na condenação das manifestações, sobretudo depois do “pito” público dado nos brasileiros pelo presidente do Comitê Olímpico Internacional (COI), o alemão Thomas Bach.

Após as vaias a Lavillenie no pódio, Bach usou a conta do COI no Twitter para dizer que o comportamento do público foi “chocante” e “inaceitável nas Olimpíadas”.

“O COI certamente tem questões bem mais importantes para lidar do que vaias de torcedores”, disse Kaufman, em conversa com a BBC Brasil, por telefone.

Veja abaixo, trechos da entrevista:

BBC Brasil – O senhor acompanhou a polêmica das vaias no Brasil?

Peter Kaufman – Sim, porque houve um repercussão considerável de alguns incidentes envolvendo o público na Olimpíada do Rio. O comportamento de torcedores é algo interessante, porque estão em jogo fatores culturais.

Cada cultura tem seus próprios valores: em algumas, é apropriado beijar em vez de apertar a mão quando se é apresentado a alguém, por exemplo. Em outras, é muito aceitável vaiar, assim como em certos países aplausos efusivos podem ser vistos como algo rude.

Torcida durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo aponta que vaias podem ter diferentes motivos, inclusive descontentamento com os gastos nos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

BBC Brasil – Por que as pessoas vaiam?

Kaufman – É uma questão de expressão, uma forma de interação social e participação. E isso varia de lugar para lugar. Se um alienígena chegasse aqui hoje e fosse assistir a uma competição esportiva, possivelmente teria outra maneira de se comportar de acordo com sua realidade. E, óbvio, sabemos que não é apenas esporte. As Olimpíadas têm um significado muito maior. O público brasileiro pode estar vaiando em desafio às autoridades, ao governo brasileiro e até mesmo ao dinheiro gasto na Olimpíada.

BBC Brasil – É injusto com os atletas?

Kaufman – Alvos de vaias podem se sentir ofendidos, tristes e até ameaçados por uma torcida mais ruidosas. Não os culpo por pensarem apenas na qualidade de seu desempenho em vez de analisar aspectos culturais ou políticos. É perfeitamente compreensível que o atleta francês tenha ficado bastante chateado com as vaias que recebeu até no pódio. Mas ele estava competindo contra um atleta brasileiro e em casa. Pelo que tenho lido sobre a torcida brasileira, era inevitável que ele fosse alvo dessas manifestações.

BBC Brasil – Renaud Lavillenie não foi a primeira “vítima” e não deverá ser a última, mas o comportamento da torcida no Estádio Olímpico, em especial durante provas em que normalmente o silêncio do público é uma questão de etiqueta, como o tênis e a esgrima, irritou até o presidente do COI, Thomas Bach. Como achar um meio termo?

Brasileiros na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira ficou conhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante os jogos da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Kaufman – Olha, é irônico que sentimentos de nacionalismo e tribalismo surjam na Olimpíada, uma competição concebida em sua forma moderna para promover a paz e a união ente os povos. Mas o esporte é passional e excitante. As pessoas querem vaiar seu adversário para tentar afetar o resultado de uma partida. E, como costuma ser o caso por causa das rivalidades locais, os brasileiros “pegaram no pé dos argentinos”. Também vimos o público vaiando atletas russos por causa da controvérsia envolvendo o doping. As vaias, por sinal, são o menor dos problemas que o COI tem para resolver.

BBC Brasil – Mas Lavillenie não teria razão ao reclamar do barulho durante o momento de seus saltos? Não seria preciso criar uma cultura de torcida mais apropriada para o esporte olímpico?

Kaufman – Isso seria uma atitude de imperialismo cultural. Por que a maneira do brasileiro torcer é errada? A realidade que conhecemos é criada pelo ambiente em que crescemos. Você mencionou o tênis anteriormente: será que não vale a pena discutirmos a razão para o silêncio durante o saque no tênis enquanto no futebol a torcida pode urrar nos ouvidos de um atacante que vai bater um pênalti? A diferença é que o tênis é um esporte muito mais elitizado.

BBC Brasil: O senhor defende o comportamento da torcida, então?

Kaufman: De certa maneira, sim, apesar de que os esportes têm regras para lidar com isso. Acho fascinante o fato de que as normas de comportamento podem ser diferentes. Fica a impressão de que o COI foi pego de surpresa pela passionalidade do torcedor brasileiro. Mas lembremos da Copa do Mundo de 2010, em que as vuvuzelas do torcedor sul-africano criaram um problema até para quem viu os jogos pela TV. Mas ter proibido seu uso teria amputado um componente cultural.

Vaiar é uma expressão de crenças e valores. É tão “errado” quanto torcer.


Quais são os seis tipos de vaias da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira já é reconhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante as competições na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Da esgrima à natação, do basquete ao tênis, atletas foram intensamente vaiados no Rio de Janeiro. E enquanto as vaias são comuns na maioria das Olimpíadas – apesar da ideia de que seja um momento em que o espírito esportivo deve reinar -, já está claro que a Rio 2016 é mais barulhenta que os Jogos mais recentes.

A BBC News fez uma lista com os seis tipos de vaias mais comuns durante a Olimpíada no Brasil, na tentativa de explicar ao público internacional esse fenômeno que vem sendo um dos mais discutidos pela imprensa esportiva:

1. Vaiar por diversão

O público brasileiro tem uma tendência a escolher ” um lado” – torcer por um time, ou um atleta, e vaiar os rivais. Mas eles podem trocar essa lealdade num piscar de olhos.

“Os torcedores brasileiros parecem ser bem igualitários. Eles são capazes de vaiar atletas de muitos países. É muito difícil de identificar o porquê da vaia a um outro atleta”, disse o diretor de comunicação do Comitê Olímpico Internacional, Mark Adams.

A mesma reação foi identificada pelo especialista em Jogos Olímpicos da Universidade de Salford, Andy Miah.

“Eu fiquei surpreso com o quanto eles são verbais e achei uma falta de espírito esportivo toda essa gritaria e vaia. Até eu perceber que era a forma que eles encontraram de se envolver com o drama do evento”, diz.

“Não é malicioso. Eu estava na esgrima ontem e eles estavam vaiando os jogadores e depois torcendo muito e apoiando muito quando eles ganharam. É tudo parte do teatro que é o que eles curtem”.

Ele ainda opina que há diferenças com Londres 2012: “era muito mais quieto, quase nunca tinha gritaria, só aplausos”.

2. Vaiar os favoritos

O público na Rio 2016 demonstrou uma clara preferência pelos azarões. Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, os torcedores apoiaram a Croácia enquanto vaiavam os favoritos – a seleção espanhola. A Espanha então começou a perder e foi derrotada por 72-70.

Esse não é um fenômeno novo.

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, torcedores brasileiros apoiaram a Croácia torcendo pelo time enquanto vaiavam os favoritos, da seleção espanhola. GETTY IMAGES

Durante a Olimpíada de Atenas, em 2004, por exemplo, os torcedores apoiaram a equipe de futebol masculino do Iraque – durante uma semifinal contra o Paraguai – e vaiavam cada vez que os paraguaios ficavam com a bola.

De acordo com o professor de história da mídia da Universidade de Sussex, na Inglaterra, David Hendy, a vaia é “uma tradição nobre” e um lembrete de que o espetáculo é sobretudo para o público, mais do que para os competidores.

“E o público sempre vê tudo em termos dramáticos – um conflito entre heróis e vilões”, explica.

3. Vaiar os russos

Por causa a revelação de um esquema estatal de doping e da decisão do Comitê Olimípico de não suspender todos os atletas, os russos encontraram uma reação particularmente hostil do público no Rio de Janeiro.

As vaias começaram logo na entrada da delegação russa no Maracanã durante a cerimônia de abertura.

“Os russos sempre iriam ser vaiados porque muitos pensam que o COI não deveria ter comprometido os Jogos”, diz Andy Miah.

A nadadora russa Yulia Efimova, que foi banida por 16 meses em 2013 e conquistou o direito de competir novamente no Rio de Janeiro depois de apelar ao Tribunal Arbitral do Esporte, foi vaiada durante toda a competição dos 100 metros peito nas eliminatórias e na final, na qual levou a medalha de prata.

Ela caiu no choro depois que o ouro foi para a americana Lily King, que comentou: “isso só prova que você pode competir limpa e ainda chegar ao topo do pódio”.

Torcida do Brasil em jogo da Alemanha

Torcida brasileira costuma vaiar atletas russos desde o início dos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

O boxeador russo Evgeny Tishchenko demonstrou frustração com a reação negativa do público aos atletas russos.

“É uma pena que o público se comporte dessa forma, apoiando quem quer que esteja contra a Rússia”, disse ele ao jornal Chicago Tribune.

“Estou bastante irritado com isso. É a primeira vez que eu enfrento esse tipo de tratamento. Para falar a verdade, estou um pouco decepcionado”.

4. Vaias políticas

Ao declarar os Jogos Olímpicos abertos na cerimônia de abertura, o presidente interino Michel Temer foi vaiado.

Temer assumiu em maio depois da suspensão de Dilma Rousseff e foi vaiado apesar dito apenas uma frase. Mas as vaias quase se dissiparam em meio aos fogos de artíficio e à música, até porque o nome de Temer não chegou a ser anunciado.

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer, é vaiado na cerimônia de abertura da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Mas essa não é a primeira vez que uma Olimpíada é um catalisador para a insatisfação com a elite política de um país. O ex-chanceler George Osborne e a então ministra do Interior – e atual premiê – Theresa May foram vaiados na entrega de medalhas durante a Paralimpíada de Londres 2012.

“Foi uma resposta visceral e instantânea de um público indignado com as políticas para os deficientes físicos e que se sentiam sem voz”, diz Hendy.

5. Vaias patrióticas

Os fãs brasileiros foram rápidos em demonstrar apoio aos atletas nativos ao vaiarem vigorosamente seus oponentes.

O tenista alemão Dustin Brown foi vaiado até depois de cair e torcer o tornozelo durante uma partida com Thomaz Bellucci, apesar de ter recebido aplausos e apoio quando se levantou para ser levado ao hospital.

O francês Renaud Lavillenie queixou-se publicamente da vaias que ouviu no Engenhão na noite em que perdeu de Thiago Braz no salto com varas. “Dei tudo de mim e não tenho nenhum arrependimento. Uma prova inacreditável! Só estou decepcionado com a total falta de respeito do público. Isso não é digno de um estádio olímpico”, afirmou.

“As Olimpíadas sempre foram sinônimo de respeito internacional. Então as vaias podem distrair e até evitar que os atletas tenham o melhor desempenho”, diz Rhonda Cohen, psicóloga do esporte da Universidade de Middlesex, na Inglaterra.

O boxeador camaronês Hassan N’Dam N’Jijam certamente não ficou feliz ao perder a luta contra o brasileiro Michel Borges depois de muitas vaias pantomímicas. Segundo ele, o barulho pode ter influenciado os juízes.

Os atletas argentinos também foram vaiados durante a cerimônia de abertura só porque são… argentinos – nossos vizinhos e rivais, especialmente no futebol.

E há o caso da goleira da seleção feminina de futebol dos Estados Unidos, Hope Solo, que postou fotos nas redes sociais falando sobre o vírus da Zika e foi vaiada ao coro de “Zika!”durante a partida contra a Nova Zelândia.

Mas os torcedores não reservaram as vaias apenas aos estrangeiros. A performance ruim dos jogadores brasileiros da seleção de futebol também provocou vaias depois das partidas contra a África do Sul e o Iraque.

6. Vaia aos juízes

Até os juízes olímpicos caíram nas vaias do público brasileiro.

Como anfitriões, os brasileiros conquistaram uma vaga na final do salto sincronizado de 10 metros masculino, apesar de os atletas não terem chances na competição. Inevitavelmente, os juízes consistentemente deram notas baixas, gerando vaias nervosas do público.

Mas vale lembrar que nada se compara à final de ginástica masculina em Atenas 2004. O russo Alexei Nemov animou o público com uma rotina de barras arriscada, e, quando os juízes o avaliaram com notas baixas, ouviu vaias por sete minutos ininterruptos.

Paranormal beliefs can increase number of dé jà vu experiences (Science Daily)

Date:
April 27, 2016
Source:
British Psychological Society (BPS)
Summary:
A belief in the paranormal can mean an individual experiences more déjà vu moments in their life.

A belief in the paranormal can mean an individual experiences more déjà vu moments in their life.

This is one of the findings of a study by 3rd year undergraduate student Chloe Pickles and Dr Mark Moss, of Northumbria University, who will present their poster today, Thursday 28 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Nottingham. Over 100 participants completed surveys relating to perceived stress, belief in paranormal experiences and beliefs about déjà vu. Analysis of the results showed a strong link between belief in paranormal experiences and the frequency, pleasantness and intensity of déjà vu experiences. Stress was linked significantly to intensity and duration only.

Chloe Pickles said: “Our study calls in to question whether stress increases the number of déjà vu moments for an individual. Previous research had not considered the impact of belief when experiencing the feeling that this moment has happened before. Déjà vu might be a normal experience for those more open to it as well as (or instead of) a consequence of a negative life events.”

Excessive empathy can impair understanding of others (Science Daily)

Date:
April 28, 2016
Source:
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, JMU
Summary:
People who empathize easily with others do not necessarily understand them well. To the contrary: Excessive empathy can even impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists has established.

Excessive empathy can impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Leipzig has established. Credit: © ibreakstock / Fotolia

People who empathize easily with others do not necessarily understand them well. To the contrary: Excessive empathy can even impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Leipzig has established.

Imagine your best friend tells you that his girlfriend has just proposed “staying friends.” Now you have to accomplish two things: Firstly, you have to grasp that this nice sounding proposition actually means that she wants to break up with him and secondly, you should feel with your friend and comfort him.

Whether empathy and understanding other people’s mental states (mentalising) — i.e. the ability to understand what others know, plan and want — are interrelated has recently been examined by the psychologists Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske, Mathis Trautwein, Franca Parianen-Lesemann and Tania Singer.

Anne Böckler has been a junior professor at the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Psychology since October 2015. Previously, the post-doc had worked in the Department of Social Neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig where she conducted the study together with her co-workers. In the scientific journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the scientists present the results of their work.

“Successful social interaction is based on our ability to feel with others and to understand their thoughts and intentions,” Anne Böckler explains. She says that it had been unclear previously whether and to what extend these two skills were interrelated — that is whether people who empathise easily with others are also capable of grasping their thoughts and intentions. According to the junior professor, the scientists also looked into the question of whether the neuronal networks responsible for these abilities interact.

Answers can be gleaned from the study conducted by Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske and their colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig within the scope of a large-scale study led by Tania Singer which included some 200 participants. The study enabled the scientists to prove that people who tend to be empathic do not necessarily understand other people well at a cognitive level. Hence, social skills seem to be based on multiple abilities that are rather independent of one another.

The study also delivered new insight as to how the different networks in the brain are orchestrated, revealing that networks crucial for empathy and cognitive perspective-taking interact with one another. In highly emotional moments — for example when somebody talks about the death of a close person — activation of the insula, which forms part of the empathy-relevant network, can have an inhibiting effect in some people on brain areas important for taking someone else’s perspective. And this in turn can cause excessive empathy to impair social understanding.

The participants to the study watched a number of video sequences in which the narrator was more or less emotional. Afterwards, they had to rate how they felt and how much compassion they felt for the person in the film. Then they had to answer questions about the video — for example what the persons could have thought, known or intended. Having thus identified persons with a high level of empathy, the psychologists looked at their portion among the test participants who had had good or poor results in the test about cognitive perspective-taking — and vice versa.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists observed which areas of the brain where active at what time.

The authors believe that the results of this study are important both for neuroscience and clinical applications. For example, they suggest that training aimed at improving social skills, the willingness to empathise and the ability to understand others at the cognitive level and take their perspective should be promoted selectively and separately of one another. The group in the Department of Social Neurosciences in Leipzig is currently working on exactly this topic within the scope of the ReSource project, namely how to specifically train different social skills.


Journal Reference:

  1. Artyom Zinchenko, Philipp Kanske, Christian Obermeier, Erich Schröger, Sonja A. Kotz. Emotion and goal-directed behavior: ERP evidence on cognitive and emotional conflictSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2015; 10 (11): 1577 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv050

Social media technology, rather than anonymity, is the problem (Science Daily)

Date: January 20, 2016

Source: University of Kent

Summary: Problems of anti-social behavior, privacy, and free speech on social media are not caused by anonymity but instead result from the way technology changes our presence. That’s the startling conclusion of a new book by an expert on the information society and developing media.


Problems of anti-social behaviour, privacy, and free speech on social media are not caused by anonymity but instead result from the way technology changes our presence.

That’s the startling conclusion of a new book by Dr Vincent Miller, a sociologist at the University of Kent and an expert on the information society and developing media.

In contending that the cause of issues such as online anti-social behaviour is the design/software of social media itself, Dr Miller suggests that social media architecture needs to be managed and planned in the same way as physical architecture. In the book, entitled The Crisis of Presence in Contemporary Culture: Ethics, Privacy and Speech in Mediated Social Life, Dr Miller examines the relationship between the freedom provided by the contemporary online world and the control, surveillance and censorship that operate in this environment.

The book questions the origins and sincerity of moral panics about use — and abuse — in the contemporary online environment and offers an analysis of ethics, privacy and free speech in this setting.

Investigating the ethical challenges that confront our increasingly digital culture, Dr Miller suggests a number of revisions to our ethical, legal and technological regimes to meet these challenges.

These including changing what he describes as ‘dehumanizing’ social media software, expanding the notion of our ‘selves’ or ‘bodies’ to include our digital traces, and the re-introduction of ‘time’ into social media through the creation of ‘expiry dates’ on social media communications.

Dr Miller is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Cultural Studies within the University’s School of Social Research, Sociology and Social Policy. The Crisis of Presence in Contemporary Culture: Ethics, Privacy and Speech in Mediated Social Life, is published by Sage.

More information can be found at: https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/the-crisis-of-presence-in-contemporary-culture/book244328

Extreme weather: Is it all in your mind? (USA Today)

Thomas M. Kostigen, Special for USA TODAY9:53 a.m. EDT October 17, 2015

Weather is not as objective an occurrence as it might seem. People’s perceptions of what makes weather extreme are influenced by where they live, their income, as well as their political views, a new study finds.

There is a difference in both seeing and believing in extreme weather events, according to the study in the journal Environmental Sociology.

“Odds were higher among younger, female, more educated, and Democratic respondents to perceive effects from extreme weather than older, male, less educated, and Republican respondents,” said the study’s author, Matthew Cutler of the University of New Hampshire.

There were other correlations, too. For example, people with lower incomes had higher perceptions of extreme weather than people who earned more. Those who live in more vulnerable areas, as might be expected, interpret the effects of weather differently when the costs to their homes and communities are highest.

Causes of extreme weather and the frequency of extreme weather events is an under-explored area from a sociological perspective. Better understanding is important to building more resilient and adaptive communities. After all, why prepare or take safety precautions if you believe the weather isn’t going to be all that bad or occur all that often?

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index, compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows a significant rise in extreme weather events since the 1970s, the most back-to-back years of extremes over the past decade since 1910, and all-time record-high levels clocked in 1998 and 2012.

“Some recent research has demonstrated linkages between objectively measured weather, or climate anomalies, and public concern or beliefs about climate change,” Cutler notes. “But the factors influencing perceptions of extreme or unusual weather events have received less attention.”

Indeed, there is a faction of the public that debates how much the climate is changing and which factors are responsible for such consequences as global warming.

Weather, on the other hand, is a different order of things: it is typically defined in the here and now or in the immediate future. It also is largely confined, because of its variability, to local or regional areas. Moreover, weather is something we usually experience directly.

Climate is a more abstract concept, typically defined as atmospheric conditions over a 30-year period.

When weather isn’t experiential, reports are relied upon to gauge extremes. This is when beliefs become more muddied.

“The patterns found in this research provide evidence that individuals experience extreme weather in the context of their social circumstances and thus perceive the impacts of extreme weather through the lens of cultural and social influences. In other words, it is not simply a matter of seeing to believe, but rather an emergent process of both seeing and believing — individuals experiencing extreme weather and interpreting the impacts against the backdrop of social and economic circumstances central to and surrounding their lives,” Cutler concludes.

Sophocles said, “what people believe prevails over the truth.” The consequences of disbelief come at a price in the context of extreme weather, however, as damage, injury, and death are often results.

Too many times do we hear about people being unprepared for storms, ignoring officials’ warnings, failing to evacuate, or engaging in reckless behavior during weather extremes.

There is a need to draw a more complete picture of “weather prejudice,” as I’ll call it, in order to render more practical advice about preparing, surviving, and recovering from what is indisputable: extreme weather disasters to come.

Thomas M. Kostigen is the founder of TheClimateSurvivalist.com and a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He is the National Geographic author of “The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover” and the NG Kids book, “Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Hailstorms, Thundersnow, Hurricanes and More!” Follow him @weathersurvival, or email kostigen@theclimatesurvivalist.com.

What Concepts and Emotions Are (and Aren’t) (Knowledge Ecology)

August 1, 2015

Adam Robbert

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an interesting piece up in yesterday’s New York Times that I think is worth some attention here. Barrett is the director of the The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, where she studies the nature of emotional experience. Here is the key part of the article, describing her latest findings:

The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory (which I direct) collectively analyzed brain-imaging studies published from 1990 to 2011 that examined fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness. We divided the human brain virtually into tiny cubes, like 3-D pixels, and computed the probability that studies of each emotion found an increase in activation in each cube.

Overall, we found that no brain region was dedicated to any single emotion. We also found that every alleged “emotion” region of the brain increased its activity during nonemotional thoughts and perceptions as well . . .

Emotion words like “anger,” “happiness” and “fear” each name a population of diverse biological states that vary depending on the context. When you’re angry with your co-worker, sometimes your heart rate will increase, other times it will decrease and still other times it will stay the same. You might scowl, or you might smile as you plot your revenge. You might shout or be silent. Variation is the norm.

This highly distributed, variable, and contextual description of emotions matches up quite well with what scientists have found to be true of conceptualization—namely, that it is a situated process drawn from a plurality of bodily forces. For instance, compare Barrett’s findings above to what I wrote about concepts in my paper on concepts and capacities from June (footnote references are in the paper):

In short, concepts are flexible and distributed modes of bodily organization grounded in modality-specific regions of the brain;[1] they comprise semantic knowledge embodied in perception and action;[2] and they underwrite the organization of sensory experience and guide action within an environment.[3] Concepts are tools for constructing in the mind new pathways of relationship and discrimination, for shaping the body, and for attuning it to contrast. Such pathways are recruited in an ecologically specific way as part of the dynamic bringing-to-apprehension of phenomena.

I think the parallel is clear enough, and we would do well to adopt this more ecological view of emotions and concepts into our thinking. The empirical data is giving us a strong argument for talking about the ecological basis of emotion and conceptuality, a basis that continues to grow stronger by the day.

Playing Along: Fieldwork, Emotional Labor and Self-Care (The Geek Anthropologist)

July 24, 2015

By Emma Louise Backe

For any practicing or aspiring anthropologist, fieldwork is the defining, almost qualifying practice of the discipline. As an undergraduate studying sociocultural anthropology, we read the seminal journals of Bronislaw Malinowski, followed by foundational ethnographic research from around the world. Even though the field has ostensibly moved beyond the “exotic”—no longer wholly consumed with discovering new indigenous communities or uncovering a culture untouched by capitalism and globalization—students are still encouraged to conduct their fieldwork in remote, isolated, and, yes, tacitly exotic locations. As my professor lectured during my Anthropology Senior Seminar at Vassar College, you have to conduct your first fieldwork abroad if you want to be taken seriously as an anthropologist. The implication was that if you don’t go somewhere distant and strange, you won’t experience the same level of cultural difference, linguistic estrangement, physical hardship, and existential negotiation that molds the student into a consummate ethnographer. Fieldwork, rather than being a praxis for cultural research, has rather become the test for one’s anthropological training and credentials. Yet, throughout my undergraduate degree, we never discussed the emotional or physical challenges of fieldwork—it was always framed as this transformative, clarifying experience during which the theory we worked so assiduously to grasp could finally be applied. It was understood that everyanthropologist inherently falls in love with their site, integrates into their chosen community, and concludes their fieldwork with a sense of kinship and satisfaction at the rich ethnographic data and knowledge they have been able to accumulate. This silence surrounding the very real personal challenges of fieldwork can, however, be detrimental to a student’s first foray into fieldwork.

After graduating from college, I almost immediately joined the Peace Corps as a community health volunteer in Fiji. I felt certain that my anthropological training had adequately prepared me for my service in the South Pacific, where I was expected to learn the language, integrate into the community, and develop programs based off of local needs-assessments and desire. After spending my Pre-Service Training at a home stay in a remote, mountainous fishing village, I moved to my site in an equally remote town on the Eastern Coast of Viti Levu, one of the bigger islands the country consists of. Throughout my service, in an attempt to adapt to the culture and be accepted into my community, I found myself emptying out my identity to make space for a new “Fijian” version of myself. I struggled with how to translate my personality into my adopted social space, while simultaneously struggling with health issues from the moment of my arrival. Because of my anthropological training, and the ideologies that undergird Peace Corps, I took responsibility for any programmatic failures or difficulties I had connecting with my local partners. If I wasn’t able to befriend a neighbor, I felt that it was my fault—I wasn’t being sensitive or reflexive or open enough, there must be a flaw in my personality. I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to members of the Peace Corps staff, for fear that my struggles would reflect poorly on me as a volunteer. Similarly, I was anxious to contact my anthropological mentors, afraid that my seeming challenges to connect with my Fijian counterparts meant that despite all my education and devotion to the discipline, I was not personally adept at cultural integration. This concern was perhaps the most devastating and depressing aspect of my service.

Conducting a health screening at a local secondary school

These anxieties, frustrations and feelings of guilt are ones that anthropologists share. As Amy Pollard has written for Anthropology Matters, many of the anthropology students she interviewed about field work experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation, stress, stress, regret, feelings of powerlessness or captivity to your site, disappointment, fear, frustration, guilt, depression coupled with self-hate for feeling depressed during fieldwork, and embarrassment at perceptions of poor success or lack of productivity. Despite these struggles, “Some students reported feeling they should not talk about how difficult they had found fieldwork because other people would perceive them as weak” (Pollard 2009). This feeling of weakness stems from the misapprehension that anthropological training inures you to feelings of culture shock or the other mental health crises others might experience during prolonged periods of time in new cultural habitats. Indeed, as Rachel Irwin writes,

For multiple reasons, researchers admitting to fear or depression during fieldwork may be ridiculed or dismissed as ‘cowardly anthropologists’. I was once strongly encouraged to conduct fieldwork in a remote village rather than a larger town, so that I could be a ‘courageous anthropologist’. Chiefly, I would argue that this is closely linked to a sense of academic bravado and competitive virility. I was given the idea that there is something inherent about studying anthropology that protects one against ‘culture shock,’ and that anthropologists are naturally better at negotiating unfamiliar situations than other sojourners. As such, anthropologists can feel a certain ‘culture shock’ within their own academic community, because their experiences of culture shock ‘in the field remain unacknowledged, and they are feeling something that they believe they ought not feel. (2007)

When anthropologists actively avoid discussing the feelings of anxiety, depression and desperation associated with their fieldwork, they do a disservice to the next generation of aspiring anthropologists. Even though ethnography relies upon qualitative research methods, anthropologists inevitably enter their field site with certain expectations about the questions they want answered, the traditions they intend to explore, the in-depth interviews they hope to conduct. If, for any number of mitigating and complicating reasons and factors, you aren’t able to accomplish these goals, it precipitates yet another watershed of shame and regret that you simply weren’t good enough. Because anthropologists are participant observers, their bodies and identities are essentially the very tools of their practice. Therefore, personality clashes or the development of stress or fear under certain situations place the onus of culpability on the researcher. As an anthropologist, a “failure of fieldwork” is essentially conflated with a failure of yourself. In so doing, “A large number of students felt profound shame over their sense of failure in the field […] For some, going home early was a source of great shame” (Pollard 2009). When I left my Peace Corps service early, after months of illness and the impending signs of depression, it felt like I was abandoning the aspirations I had to become an anthropologist, despite the fact that the majority of my fellow volunteers were struggling with similar programmatic and personal issues. After spending so many years planning my trajectory toward becoming an anthropologist, this belief that my emotional struggles somehow disqualified me as an anthropologist only further tangled the crisis of identity I had undergone during my service. And I didn’t know how to talk about it because I felt completely alone.

Upon returning to the United States, I was covered in scars from persistent skin infections and stress hives, my hair had fallen out, and my mood was ragged. I experienced many of the symptoms of depression, including sleeplessness and moodiness; sometimes interactions or objects would trigger uncontrollable feelings of sadness or anger. I had difficulty being around people and I walked everywhere draped in a cloak of self-loathing. For my friends and family members who haven’t traveled widely or spent long periods abroad, they couldn’t understand why I believed that my difficulties in Fiji were solely my fault. When I sought out therapists to talk through my lingering misgivings, they praised me for my strength and courage, when what I wanted was not to be coddled, but to understand why I hadn’t “worked” in my community, when it felt like I had spent all my energy trying to integrate. Many friends and acquaintances also did not want to hear that I hadn’t had a positive experience—in their minds, Fiji was nothing more than a tropical paradise and it seemed feckless to explain my humanitarian, existential misgivings about it. This was not reverse culture shock per se, yet I was at a loss about how to recuperate and heal, mentally as well as physically, let alone negotiate my anthropological path moving forward. I was simply afraid that I wasn’t cut out to do fieldwork.

During this period of uncertainty, I turned to video games. In the past, I’ve also used video games as a coping mechanism. After suffering from a traumatic brain injury my freshman year, I suffered from sometimes crippling dissociation and self-doubt about my cognitive abilities. My neurologist was unhelpful, and the only option I was offered to heal was to sit and wait for my brain to stop bleeding. Brain injuries are unique in that they often invoke crises of identity. With so much forthcoming research on the connection between the frontal lobe and personality, I experienced an acute crisis of self after my brain contusion. Offered with no other recourse or resilience methods, video games helped coax me back to a space of equilibrium. In both cases, playing video games provided a viable alternative to being social. If I felt disconnected from the world around me, or anxious about having to explain why I had come home early, I could retreat to RPG’s. Video games can put you in touch with a wide online community, thereby facilitating social contact for those who might otherwise feel stress or anxiety at the prospect of socializing with strangers. For me, I felt powerless to help myself—video games were an active way to use my time and process my emotions. Rather than passively consuming other forms of media, such as movies or television shows, video games provide you with tangible goals, objectives that, when achieved, provide players with a sense of success and achievement. As Romeo Vitelli wrote for Psychology Today, “By setting specific tasks and allowing young people to work through obstacles to achieve those tasks, video games can help boost self-esteem and help children learn the value of persistence. By providing immediate feedback as video game players solve problems and achieve greater expertise, players can learn to see themselves as having skills and intelligence they might not otherwise realize they possess” (2014). During a period of such acute self-doubt, it was extremely satisfying to be posed with challenges and obstacles that at first seemed insurmountable, but that could be accomplished through patience, creativity and skill-building.

Video games became a refuge for my cultural concerns as well. Games like BioShock: Infinite (2013) and Dishonored (2012) were dystopian alternatives to human history, new life worlds I could explore and inhabit through a sense of play and constant discovery. I was particularly drawn to games with robust storytelling mechanics, where the developers and programmers had clearly invested a lot of time and attention to the minutia of the world, encouraging players to interact with minor characters, read books and notes scattered around the stages, and learn about the internal mythologies, politics and social dynamics that informed the action of the game. I no longer felt powerless, but had a degree of agency to determine the kind of player I wanted to be. In Dishonored, like other games such as Infamous (2009), your actions as a player determine the internal stability of the virtual play space. Even though I had spent months working on community health empowerment, with few visible signs that my efforts were making any difference, I could immediately see how acts of benevolence positively impacted the city of Dunwall. In recent games, many of the avatars that players inhabit are also saddled with their own traumatic experiences which are explored throughout the game. Booker DeWitt of Bioshock: Infinite has a dark past, and other characters, like Bruce Wayne’s Batman throughout Arkham Asylum, City and Origins, are constantly battling their own demons, whether invented or embodied as supervillains. To a certain extent, I was able to project my internal monsters onto the villains in the games, channeling my anger and frustration in a way that felt both productive and cathartic. I could go to bed at night feeling as though I had accomplished something, and had something in the morning I could look forward to. In the absence of other motivations, and paralyzed by fear about the future, this sense of purpose saved me.

There's always a lighthouse, BioShock: Infinite,http://cdn3.whatculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/BioShock-Infinite-Explained-Quantum-Theory1.jpg

New literature has begun to indicate the salutary psychological effects of video games. Studiessuggest that video games may have beneficial effects on cognition, motivation, emotion and sociality; some psychologists have even begun to recommend video games as a form of therapyfor patients with mental health issues, including depression. Contemporaneously, programmers and developers are working on video games as tools to cope with mental health issues. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (made famous due to its involvement in the #Gamergate controversy) was created to explore what life was like living with depression; other forms of e-literature build interactive stories around the expression of grief and mourning. Whereas several years ago, critics and concerned parents worried that video games like Grand Theft Auto were producing violent, unempathetic adolescents, practitioners are beginning to understand that the process of play may actually serve a positive psychological function. On a related note, The Mary Sue recently published “Coping With Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015), a poignant piece outlining the ways in which Guardians of the Galaxy’s character development and musical composition helped the writer overcome anxiety attacks and obtain a sense of emotional stability. Marie-Pierre wrote about rewatching episodes of Star Trek to maintain her equilibrium during fieldwork and Peter Olthoff remarked on the therapeutic efficacy of geek culture. Whether it’s a space opera, a society ravaged by an infection of zombies, or a fantastical universe populated by dragons, elves and other mythological beings, video games help transport you to another world, not necessarily as a form of escapism, but rather as a creative space to process your own lived reality.

As it turned out, the rediscovery of video games upon my return led me back to anthropology. I read about ground-breaking games like The Last of Us (2013) and its place within the larger resurgence in zombie-lore. Through my research, I discovered the work of Louise Krasniewicz, a UPenn Anthropology professor who built a class around The Walking Dead. I was lucky enough to sit down for coffee with Dr. Krasniewicz to discuss her approach to geek anthropology, but after running through our recent favorite shows and theories about monstrosity, we inevitably turned to the topic of fieldwork. Emboldened by our conversation, I opened up to her about my experience in Fiji, my doubts as an anthropologist, and my misgivings about the negative consequences of prolonged sojourns in new cultural territory. Expecting reproach or judgement, my story was instead met by a laugh from her. “Welcome to your first time doing fieldwork! It’s horrible for everyone!” she replied. She then went on to recount her own experience conducting fieldwork in upstate New York—hardly the “exotic” destination one would expect for an Ivy League professor—and how difficult the process was emotionally. Even within her native country, where she spoke the language and shared similar cultural assumptions, she struggled to find a community and sense of connection with her interlocutors. Yet, despite her ethnographic challenges, she went on to become a successful anthropology professor. She did not interpret the issues with immersion as her failure as a practitioner, as I had during my experience in Fiji. While many anthropologists have written about the role of emotion during ethnography, such as James Davies and Dimitrina Spencer’s book Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience (2010), and phenomenological anthropologists encourage attention to the ways we physically and emotionally react to our surroundings, I don’t believe that there has been enough discussion about the emotional labor of fieldwork, both to prepare students and acknowledge that the anthropologist is not wholly culpable for “failure” in the field.

In professional fields that deal with emotionally draining issues, such as gender-based violence, there is a heavy emphasis on self-care for activists. An advocate may experience vicarious trauma if they work with survivors of sexual violence day after day, sometimes leading to emotional fatigue and burn-out. For humanitarian researchers conducting interviews with refugees, internally displaced populations, or war-torn communities still reeling from horrific acts of violence, program managers ensure that the interviewers have sufficient support and counselling mechanisms to decompress and work through the emotional labor of their work. The same practices can and should be applied to anthropology. Indeed, as Amy Pollard points out, “Students reported finding it difficult to let go of the traumas of fieldwork, because the writing-up process meant they were continually having to relive them” (2009); their recuperation process may be only further stymied by the culture of silence that pervades discussions about what occurs in the field. Students of anthropology recognize and perhaps relish in the hardships they will encounter during ethnographic research, but if they are given no inkling of the possibility that they won’t always jive with their chosen community or culture, they will have no coping mechanisms or strategies for resilience. Larissa Begley writes of her experience in Rwanda, “As anthropologists, we are part of the narrative we create. Our fieldwork does not exist detached from our own emotions and our lives. We impact on those we study and they impact on us. It is because of this dialectical relationship we have with the ‘field’ that we must recognize the impact that fieldwork can have emotionally, psychologically and physically on us” (2009). Just because we are academically prepared to live in a different culture, doesn’t mean we have the emotional methodologies to succeed.

How do you translate your personality into a new cultural space while also being sensitive and flexible? Rachel Irwin writes that, “Depression, in the form of culture shock, occurs when the firm grounding in one’s own symbolic world is lost” (2007)—this symbolic world and one’s own identity is thrown into flux when you enter and attempt to become a part of a new cultural space. There are bound to be growing pains and types of people you don’t always get along with. I realize now that I didn’t have to suppress my identity in the process of incorporating into Fijian culture. I wish I had read Jessika Tremblay’s post on “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork” before my service, especially her recommendations on not taking things so personally and “harnessing the power of your introversion” (2014). I know that there were nights in Fiji I retreated to my house to decompress and write, but felt guilty if I was skipping one of the nightly kava sessions held on my compound. If anthropology is to continue to grow as a discipline, we need to ensure that students are prepared for fieldwork, equipped to be both emotionally vulnerable while mentally sustainable. A vital part of self-care is an institutional support system, one that the anthropological community can strive to cultivate. If we are concerned with cross-cultural psychiatry, we should be equally in tune with the mental health of our comrades. You can never predict how fieldwork will change you, and it’s important to maintain a disposition of self-reflexivity, yet the process of discovery should not necessarily come at the cost of self. We need to turn, yet again, within our own community to analyze our professional and personal predispositions, and clarify how we can support one another through the process.

Audre Lorde,http://hellogiggles.com/12-quotes-famous-women-inner-strength/3#read

Works Cited

Backe, Emma Louise (2014). “Geeking Out With Louise Krasniewicz.” The Geek Anthropologist.http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2014/11/07/geeking-out-with-louise-krasniewicz/

Begley, Larissa R. (2009). “The other side of fieldwork: experiences and challenges of conducting research in the border area of Rwanda/eastern Congo.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/17/23

BioShock Infinite (2013). Irrational Games.

“Coping with Anxiety and Depression Through Fiction” (2015). The Mary Sue.http://www.themarysue.com/anxiety-and-depression-through-fiction/

Davies, James & Dimitrina Spencer (2010). Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience . Stanford University Press.

Dishonored (2012). Arkane Studios.

Granic, Isabela et al. (2014). “The Benefits of Playing Video Games.’ American Psychologist, Vo. 69, No. 1, pp. 66-78. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-a0034857.pdf

Infamous (2009). Sucker Punch Productions.

Irwin, Rachel (2007). “Culture Shock: Negotiating Feelings in the Field.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 9, No. 1. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/64/123

Olthoff, Peter (2015). “The Many Roles of Popular Culture in Therapy.” The Geek Anthropologist. http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2015/07/17/the-many-roles-of-popular-culture-in-therapy/

Petronzio, Matt (2014). “Your Next Psychologist May Prescribe ‘Legend of Zelda’.” Mashable.http://mashable.com/2014/10/23/video-games-for-therapy/

Pollard, Amy (2009). “Field of Screams: Difficulty and Ethnographic Fieldwork.” Anthropology Matters, Vol. 11, No. 2. http://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters/article/view/10/10

Renaud, Marie-Pierre (2015). “Note From the Field: Go Home To A Starship.” The Geek Anthropologist.http://thegeekanthropologist.com/2015/02/26/notes-from-the-field-go-home-to-a-starship-2/

The Last of Us (2013). Naughty Dog.

Tremblay, Jessika (2014). “10 Tips For Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork.” Netnographic Encounters.http://netnographicencounters.com/2014/04/07/10-tips-for-surviving-anthropological-fieldwork/

Quinn, Zoe (2014). Depression Quest. http://www.depressionquest.com/

Vitelli, Romeo (2014). “Are There Benefits to Playing Video Games?” Psychology Todayhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201402/are-there-benefits-in-playing-video-games

Climate change: world’s wealthiest understand, but only half see it as threat (The Guardian)

In every South American country, along with Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco, concern over climate change is above 90%

Waves break into anti-tsunami barriers

A typhoon breaks near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan is one of the few rich states whose population is as concerned about climate change as poorer countries. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS

People living in the world’s wealthiest nations generally understand what climate change is but in many countries just half perceive it to be a threat, new research has found.

The analysis of perceptions in 119 countries found living standards and relative wealth are “poor predictors” of whether someone considers climate change to be a severe risk.

While more than 75% of people in Australia, the US, UK and most of the rest of Europe were aware of climate change, far fewer considered it to be detrimental to themselves or their families.

In Australia – recently cited as being a world leader in climate science denialism – as well as the US, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, climate change was perceived to be a threat by just over half of those polled.

In Russia, despite widespread understanding of climate change, less than 50% of people thought it was a risk to them.

The risks of climate change are more widely believed by people in France and Spain, but the greatest concern about its impacts are held elsewhere.

In every South American country, concern over climate change is above the 90% mark, with this level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco. Japan is one of the few highly advanced economies in the world to have a population as concerned about the risks of climate change.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, found different factors drove awareness and risk perceptions of climate change. Education levels and understanding the human influence upon the climate was the greatest factor in Europe, while perception of changing temperatures is the key influence in many African and Asian countries.

Authors of the paper, who come from a selection of US universities, say the results show “the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations. The results suggest that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

The paper analysed the results of Gallup polls taken in 119 countries, where respondents were asked how much they know about climate change and whether they consider it a threat to them.

Dr Debbie Hopkins, an expert at the social understandings of climate change at the University of Otago, said many people still see climate change as a remote issue.

“People can be aware of it but they see it as a distant risk and don’t engage with it much,” she said. “This disjunction can negate the feeling that we need to act on climate change.

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.

“We also talk about global averages and that’s a difficult term for many people because two degrees doesn’t seem like a lot. That risk seems diminished whereas if you’re living somewhere with extreme variability and extreme weather events, two degrees can seem like a lot.”

Hopkins said accurate media reporting of climate change and more engaged conversations with people on the issue at a local level would help illustrate the threat posed by changes such as rising sea levels and increased heat waves.

Climate change is already having its biggest impact upon the world’s most vulnerable, according to the UN, which voiced concern last year that rising temperatures will fuel conflict, war and migration.

The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was around three times higher than in the 1980s, the UN said.

Climate change: Embed the social sciences in climate policy (Nature)

David Victor

01 April 2015

David G. Victor calls for the IPCC process to be extended to include insights into controversial social and behavioural issues.

Illustration by David Parkins

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.

With the ink barely dry on the IPCC’s latest reports, scientists and governments are planning reforms for the next big assessment12. Streamlining the review and writing processes could, indeed, make the IPCC more nimble and relevant. But decisions made at February’s IPCC meeting in Nairobi showed that governments have little appetite for change.

The basic report-making process and timing will remain intact. Minor adjustments such as greater coverage of cross-cutting topics and more administration may make the IPCC slower. Similar soul searching, disagreement, indecision and trivial procedural tweaks have followed each of the five IPCC assessments over the past 25 years3.

This time needs to be different. The IPCC must overhaul how it engages with the social sciences in particular (see go.nature.com/vp7zgm). Fields such as sociology, political science and anthropology are central to understanding how people and societies comprehend and respond to environmental changes, and are pivotal in making effective policies to cut emissions and collaborate across the globe.

The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me. Among the few bright spots in that report compared with earlier ones is greater coverage of behavioural economics and risk analysis. In Working Group II, which assesses impacts and adaptation, less than one-third of the 64 coordinating lead authors were social scientists, and about half of those were economists.

Bringing the broader social sciences into the IPCC will be difficult, but it is achievable with a strategy that reflects how the fields are organized and which policy-relevant questions these disciplines know well. It will require big reforms in the IPCC, and the panel will have to relinquish part of the assessment process to other organizations that are less prone to paralysis in the face of controversy.

Tunnel vision

The IPCC walks a wavering line between science, which requires independence, and diplomacy, which demands responsiveness to government preference. Although scientists supply and hone the material for reports, governments have a say in all stages of assessment: they adopt the outline for each chapter, review drafts and approve the final reports.

“Insights such as which policies work (or fail) in practice are skirted.”

Such tight oversight creates incentives for scientists to stick to the agreed scope and strip out controversial topics. These pressures are especially acute in the social sciences because governments want to control statements about social behaviour, which implicate policy. This domain covers questions such as which countries will bear the costs of climate change; schemes for allocating the burden of cutting emissions; the design of international agreements; how voters respond to information about climate policy; and whether countries will go to war over climate-related stress. The social sciences can help to provide answers to these questions, key for effective climate policy. In practice, few of these insights are explored much by the IPCC.

The narrowness of what governments will allow the IPCC to publish is particularly evident in the summary for policy-makers produced at the end of each assessment. Governments approve this document line-by-line with consensus. Disagreements range from those over how to phrase concepts such as a ‘global commons’ that requires collective action to those about whole graphs, which might present data in ways that some governments find inconvenient.

For example, during the approval of the summary from Working Group III last April, a small group of nations vetoed graphs that showed countries’ emissions grouped according to economic growth. Although this format is good science — economic growth is the main driver of emissions — it is politically toxic because it could imply that some countries that are developing rapidly need to do more to control emissions4.

Context dependent

The big problem with the IPCC’s output is not the widely levelled charge that it has become too policy prescriptive or is captivated by special interests5. Its main affliction is pabulum — a surfeit of bland statements that have no practical value for policy. Abstract, global numbers from stylized, replicable models get approved because they do not implicate any country or action. Insights such as which policies work (or fail) in practice are skirted. Caveats are buried or mangled.

Readers of the Working Group III summary for policy-makers might learn, for instance, that annual economic growth might decrease by just 0.06 percentage points by 2050 if governments were to adopt policies that cut emissions in line with the widely discussed goal of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels6. They would have to wade through dense tables to realize that only a fraction of the models say that the goal is achievable, and through the main report to learn that the small cost arises only under simplified assumptions that are far from messy reality.

Source: Ref. 6

That said, the social sciences are equally culpable. Because societies are complex and are in many ways harder to study than cells in a petri dish, the intellectual paradigms across most of the social sciences are weak. Beyond a few exceptions — such as mainstream economics — the major debates in social science are between paradigms rather than within them.

Consider the role of international law. Some social scientists treat law like a contract; others believe that it works mainly through social pressures. The first set would advise policy-makers to word climate deals precisely — to include targets and timetables for emissions cuts — and to apply mechanisms to ensure that countries honour their agreements. The second group would favour bold legal norms with clear focal points — striving for zero net emissions, for example7. Each approach could be useful in the right context.

Multiple competing paradigms make it hard to organize social-science knowledge or to determine which questions and methods are legitimate. Moreover, the incentives within the social sciences discourage focusing on particular substantive topics such as climate change — especially when they require interdisciplinary collaboration. In political science, for example, research on political mobilization, administrative control and international cooperation among other specialities are relevant. Yet no leading political-science department has a tenured professor who works mainly on climate change8.

The paradigm problem need not be paralysing. Social scientists should articulate why different intellectual perspectives and contexts lead to different conclusions. Leading researchers in each area can map out disagreement points and their relevance.

Climate scientists and policy-makers should talk more about how disputes are rooted in different values and assumptions — such as about whether government institutions are capable of directing mitigation. Such disputes help to explain why there are so many disagreements in climate policy, even in areas in which the facts seem clear9.

Unfortunately, the current IPCC report structure discourages that kind of candour about assumptions, values and paradigms. It focuses on known knowns and known unknowns rather than on deeper and wider uncertainties. The bias is revealed in how the organization uses official language to describe findings — half of the statements in the Working Group III summary were given a ‘high confidence’ rating (see ‘Confidence bias’).

Wider vista

Building the social sciences into the IPCC and the climate-change debate more generally is feasible over the next assessment cycle, which starts in October and runs to 2022, with efforts on the following three fronts.

First, the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer. If the panel looks to the social-sciences literature on climate change, it will find little. But if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.

Dieter Telemans/Panos

The solar-powered Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, trains rural villagers in how to install, build and repair solar technologies.

As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer. Multidisciplinary scientific organizations in diverse countries — such as the Royal Society in London and the Third World Academy of Sciences — would round out the picture, because social-sciences societies tend to be national and heavily US-based.

These questions should guide how the IPCC scopes its next reports. The agency should also ask such societies to organize what they know about climate by discipline — how sociology examines issues related to the topic, for example — and feed that into the assessment.

Second, the IPCC must become a more attractive place for social-science and humanities scholars who are not usually involved in the climate field and might find IPCC involvement daunting. The IPCC process is dominated by insiders who move from assessment to assessment and are tolerant of the crushing rounds of review and layers of oversight that consume hundreds of hours and require travel to the corners of the globe. Practically nothing else in science service has such a high ratio of input to output. The IPCC must use volunteers’ time more efficiently.

Third, all parties must recognize that a consensus process cannot handle controversial topics such as how best to design international agreements or how to govern the use of geoengineering technologies. For these, a parallel process will be needed to address the most controversial policy-relevant questions.

This supporting process should begin with a small list of the most important questions that the IPCC cannot handle on its own. A network of science academies or foundations sympathetic to the UN’s mission could organize short reports — drawing from IPCC assessments and other literature — and manage a review process that is truly independent of government meddling. Oversight from prominent social scientists, including those drawn from the IPCC process, could give the effort credibility as well as the right links to the IPCC itself.

The list of topics to cover in this parallel mechanism includes how to group countries in international agreements — beyond the crude kettling adopted in 1992 that split the world into industrialized nations and the rest. The list also includes which kinds of policies have had the biggest impact on emissions, and how different concepts of justice and ethics could guide new international agreements that balance the burdens of mitigation and adaptation. There will also need to be a sober re-assessment of policy goals when it becomes clear that stopping warming at 2 °C is no longer feasible10.

The IPCC has proved to be important — it is the most legitimate body that assesses the climate-related sciences. But it is too narrow and must not monopolize climate assessment. Helping the organization to reform itself while moving contentious work into other forums is long overdue.

Nature 520, 27–29 (02 April 2015), doi:10.1038/520027a

References

  1. IPCC. Future Work of the IPCC: Chairman’s Vision Paper on the Future of the IPCC (IPCC, 2015).
  2. IPCC. Future Work of the IPCC: Consideration of the Recommendations by the Task Group on Future Work of the IPCC (IPCC, 2015).
  3. Committee to Review the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeClimate Change Assessments: Review of the Processes and Procedures of the IPCC (InterAcademy Council, 2010).
  4. Victor, D. G.Gerlagh, R. & Baiocchi, G. Science 3453436 (2014).
  5. Hulme, M. et alNature 463730732 (2010).
  6. IPCCSummary for Policymakers in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
  7. Hafner-Burton, E. M.Victor, D. G. & Lupu, Y. Am. J. Intl Law 1064797 (2012).
  8. Keohane, R. O. PS: Political Sci. & Politics 481926 (2015).
  9. Hulme, M. Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).
  10. Victor, D. G. & Kennel C. F. Nature 5143031 (2014).

Why Communicating About Climate Change Is so Difficult: It’s ‘The Elephant We’re All Inside of’ (Huffington Post)

Jim Pierobon

Posted: 02/05/2015 8:48 pm EST Updated: 02/05/2015 8:59 pm EST

How stakeholders communicate about climate change has long been framed by who’s doing the framing as much, or more so, than the information being communicated. So I am forever curious how various stakeholders — believers, skeptics and deniers alike — are talking about it and who, if anybody, is “moving the needle” in either direction.

One of the most salient and recent inputs to the climate communications conundrum is Don’t Even Think About It — Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall in Oxford, England.

Marshall’s work deserves to be spotlighted for how it illuminates why skeptics and deniers alike will not be moved to engage in thoughtful exchanges unless those communicating respect certain tenets of what academic and nonprofit research are finding.

Marshall draws on the efforts of the climate information network (COIN) he co-founded along with research by two leading university-based centers: the Project on Climate Change Communications at Yale University in Princeton, NJ and the Center for Climate Change Communications at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

George Marshall is the co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, a nonprofit organization that specializes in public communication around climate change.

Marshall also taps into the works of authorities who’ve written and/or spoken extensively about climate change, such as Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert, GOP pollster Frank Luntz, Princeton Psychology and Public Affairs Professor Daniel Kahneman, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Oregon Kari Norgaard and ABC-TV network correspondent Bill Blakemore.

Perhaps it would behoove those preparing for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, aka COP21, in Paris November 30 – December 11, 2015 to heed much of what Marshall and other top-tier researchers are finding and sharing if they are serious about forging a legally binding and universal agreement on climate.

Here is my synthesis of the most illuminating take-a-ways from Marshall’s book. I offer it as a checklist with which to gauge climate communications efforts, regardless of which — if any — side of the issue you’re on. Be sure to share your thoughts.

  • Perceptions are shaped by individual psychological coping mechanisms and the collective narratives that they shape with the people around them.
  • A compelling emotional story that speaks to peoples’ core values has more impact than rational scientific data such as hotter global temperatures and rising sea levels.
  • People’s social identity has an extraordinary hold over their behaviors and views.
  • Drawing too much attention to an undesirable norm (e.g. catastrophic weather) can seriously backfire.
  • In high-carbon societies, EVERYone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi. What might work better are narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests and a common humanity.
  • The real story is about our fear, denial and struggle to accept our own responsibility. “Climate change isn’t the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant we’re all inside of,” said ABC’s Bill Blakemore.
  • Our brains are UNsuited to deal with climate change unless the threats are personal, abrupt, immoral and immediate. A distant, abstract and disputed threat does not have the necessary characteristics for seriously mobilizing public opinion.
  • Without a clear deadline for action, we create our own timeline. We do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act. We make it just current enough to accept that something needs to be done but put it just too far into the future to require immediate action.

We’d all benefit the most from: what models for communicating about climate change are working, and which ones are not?

  • The messenger is more important than the message. The messenger can be the most important — but also the weakest link — between scientific information and personal conviction. Building on that, to break the partisan “deadlock” and public disinterest starts, Marshall asserts educational efforts need to create the means for new messengers to be heard.
  • There may be lessons learned from the campaign by oil giant BP in the early 2000s offering person-on-the-street testimonials about the need to deal with climate change. Full disclosure: While a Senior Vice President of Public Affairs with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide from 2001-2006, I helped develop and execute elements of BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” campaign.
  • Until the economy is back on a strong growth track, climate change advocates will struggle to earn attention in their home countries as long as bread-and-butter ‘pocketbook’ issues are more important to an overwhelming majority of citizens.

See George Marshall in action from this recent interview on TalkingStickTV via YouTube.

While we’re on the subject, I recommend reading the excellent work by the MacArthur Foundation’s “Connecting on Climate” guide completed in 2014. It includes 10 principles for effective climate change communication based on research from various social science fields.

Com chuva, Alckmin adia decisão sobre rodízio de água na Grande SP (Folha de S.Paulo)

FABRÍCIO LOBEL e GUSTAVO URIBE

DE SÃO PAULO

11/02/2015  02h00

O volume de chuvas no início de fevereiro, que já se aproxima da média para o mês, levou o governo Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) a adiar a decisão sobre a implantação de um rodízio de água na Grande SP.

Nas palavras de um assessor do governo, “a Sabesp não jogou a toalha” e, diante de um cenário com chuvas até o final de março e o avanço simultâneo de algumas obras, será até mesmo possível atravessar o período de seca, de maio a setembro, sem rodízio.

Folha teve acesso a esse “plano antirrodízio”, o mais atualizado da Sabesp, a estatal da água. Ele envolve três pontos-chaves, todos interdependentes, sendo que o primeiro nada mais é do que uma ‘torcida meteorológica’:

1) O ritmo de chuvas de fevereiro, que já superou a metade do esperado para o mês e fez aumentar a entrada de água no sistema Cantareira, tem de ao menos permanecer como está até o fim de março;

2) A ligação da represa Billings com o sistema Alto Tietê precisa ser concluída; a obra prevê 11 km de dutos entre os dois mananciais e, segundo o governo de SP, deverá ficar pronta até maio;

3) A capacidade de interligação entre sistemas terá de ser ampliada. Dessa forma, águas do Guarapiranga e do Alto Tietê, por exemplo, poderão atender moradores hoje abastecidos pelo Cantareira em áreas de Guarulhos, na Vila Maria (zona norte), Mooca (zona leste) e Brás (centro).

Editoria de arte/Folhapress

Com tudo isso, aliado principalmente à política de racionamento por meio da redução da pressão na rede de abastecimento, a Sabesp acredita que poderá manter uma vazão de no mínimo 10 mil litros de água por segundo no Cantareira ao longo de 2015, o suficiente, segundo a estatal, para evitar o início do rodízio –a vazão atual é de 14 mil l/seg.

Qualquer falha em um desses três pontos, porém, provocará a reavaliação desse planejamento. O final de fevereiro, por ora, é o prazo tratado internamente como limite para definir o rodízio.

Questionado ontem (10/02) sobre o tema, Alckmin afirmou que não existe nada definido. “É uma decisão técnica, da Sabesp, que faz o monitoramento diário”.

NOVO ÂNIMO

Até o final de janeiro, quando o volume de chuvas seguia bem abaixo da média histórica e o Cantareira caminhava para um colapso completo, o governo paulista tratava o rodízio apenas como uma questão de tempo.

Foi nesse contexto, por exemplo, que um dirigente da Sabesp falou na possibilidade de um rodízio “pesado”, com cinco dias sem água e apenas dois com na semana.

As chuvas de fevereiro não tiraram o Cantareira de uma situação crítica, mas deram uma leve trégua ao governo.

O sistema operou nesta terça (10) com 6,1% de sua capacidade, após mais uma alta. Esse percentual já inclui duas cotas do volume morto, que são as reservas de água abaixo do nível original de captação.

Para evitar um rodízio em 2015, o governo espera que o sistema chegue ao final de março entre 10% e 12% –com o solo úmido após as recentes chuvas, foram reduzidos os danos do chamado “efeito esponja”, que impede o armazenamento da água da chuva.

Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight (Live Science)

by Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   January 22, 2015 01:25pm ET

Of gods and men: Societies living in harsh environments are more likely to believe in moralizing gods (Science Daily)

Date: November 10, 2014

Source: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)

Summary: New research finds that cultures living in harsher ecosystems with limited resources are more prone to a belief in moralizing, high gods. The results indicate that other cross-disciplinary factors, including as political complexity, also influence this belief.


Just as physical adaptations help populations prosper in inhospitable habitats, belief in moralizing, high gods might be similarly advantageous for human cultures in poorer environments. A new study from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) suggests that societies with less access to food and water are more likely to believe in these types of deities.

“When life is tough or when it’s uncertain, people believe in big gods,” says Russell Gray, a professor at the University of Auckland and a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for History and the Sciences in Jena, Germany. “Prosocial behavior maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments.”

Gray and his coauthors found a strong correlation between belief in high gods who enforce a moral code and other societal characteristics. Political complexity–namely a social hierarchy beyond the local community– and the practice of animal husbandry were both strongly associated with a belief in moralizing gods.

The emergence of religion has long been explained as a result of either culture or environmental factors but not both. The new findings imply that complex practices and characteristics thought to be exclusive to humans arise from a medley of ecological, historical, and cultural variables.

“When researchers discuss the forces that shaped human history, there is considerable disagreement as to whether our behavior is primarily determined by culture or by the environment,” says primary author Carlos Botero, a researcher at the Initiative for Biological Complexity at North Carolina State University. “We wanted to throw away all preconceived notions regarding these processes and look at all the potential drivers together to see how different aspects of the human experience may have contributed to the behavioral patterns we see today.”

The paper, which is now available online, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. To study variables associated with the environment, history, and culture, the research team included experts in biology, ecology, linguistics, anthropology, and even religious studies. The senior author, Gray, studies the intersection of psychology and linguistics, while Botero, an evolutionary ecologist, has examined coordinated behaviors in birds.

This study began with a NESCent working group that explored the evolution of human cultures. On a whim, Botero plotted ethnographic data of societies that believe in moralizing, high gods and found that their global distribution is quite similar to a map of cooperative breeding in birds. The parallels between the two suggested that ecological factors must play a part. Furthermore, recent research has supported a connection between a belief in moralizing gods and group cooperation. However, prior to this study, evidence supporting a relationship between such beliefs and the environment was elusive.

“A lot of evolutionists have been busy trying to bang religion on the head. I think the challenge is to explain it,” Gray says.

“Although some aspects of religion appear maladaptive, the near universal prevalence of religion suggests that there’s got to be some adaptive value and by looking at how these things vary ecologically, we get some insight.”

Botero, Gray, and their coauthors used historical, social, and ecological data for 583 societies to illustrate the multifaceted relationship between belief in moralizing, high gods and external variables. Whereas previous research relied on rough estimates of ecological conditions, this study used high-resolution global datasets for variables like plant growth, precipitation, and temperature. The team also mined the Ethnographic Atlas– an electronic database of more than a thousand societies from the 20th century– for geographic coordinates and sociological data including the presence of religious beliefs, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

“The goal became not just to look at the ecological variables, but to look at the whole thing. Once we accounted for as many other factors as we could, we wanted to see if we could still detect an environmental effect,” Botero says. “The overall picture is that these beliefs are ultimately shaped by a combination of historical, ecological, and social factors.”

Botero believes that this study is just the tip of the iceberg in examining human behavior from a cross-disciplinary standpoint. The team plans to further this study by exploring the processes that have influenced the evolution of other human behaviors including taboos, circumcision, and the modification of natural habitats.

“We are at an unprecedented time in history,” Botero says. “Now we’re able to harness both data and a combination of multidisciplinary expertise to explore these kinds of questions in an empirical way.”


Journal Reference:

  1. C. A. Botero, B. Gardner, K. R. Kirby, J. Bulbulia, M. C. Gavin, R. D. Gray. The ecology of religious beliefsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408701111

Mudança climática (Folha de S.Paulo)

7/11/2014

Eduardo Giannetti

Em “Reasons and Persons”, uma das mais inovadoras obras de filosofia analítica dos últimos 30 anos, o filósofo Derek Parfit propõe um intrigante “experimento mental”. A situação descrita é hipotética, mas ajuda a explicitar um ponto nevrálgico do maior desafio humano: limitar o aquecimento global a 2°C acima do nível pré-industrial até o final do século 21.

Imagine uma pessoa afivelada a uma cama com eletrodos colados em suas têmporas. Ao se girar um botão situado em outro local a corrente nos eletrodos aumenta em grau infinitesimal, de modo que o paciente não chegue a sentir. Um Big Mac gratuito é então ofertado a quem girar o botão. Ocorre, contudo, que quando milhares de pessoas fazem isso –sem que cada uma saiba dos outros– a descarga de energia produzida é suficiente para eletrocutar a vítima.

Quem é responsável pelo que? Algo tenebroso foi perpetrado, mas a quem atribuir a culpa? O efeito isolado de cada giro do botão é por definição imperceptível –são todos “torturadores inofensivos”. Mas o resultado conjunto dessa miríade de ações é ofensivo ao extremo. Até que ponto a somatória de ínfimas partículas de culpa se acumula numa gigantesca dívida moral coletiva?

A mudança climática em curso equivale a uma espécie de eletrocussão da biosfera. Quem a deseja? Até onde sei, ninguém. Trata-se da alquimia perversa de inumeráveis atos humanos, cada um deles isoladamente ínfimo, mas que não resulta de nenhuma intenção humana. E quem assume –ou deveria assumir– a culpa por ela? A maioria e ninguém, ainda que alguns sejam mais culpados que outros.

Os 7 bilhões de habitantes do planeta pertencem a três grupos: cerca de 1 bilhão respondem por 50% das emissões totais de gases-estufa, ao passo que os 3 bilhões seguintes por 45%. Os 3 bilhões na base da pirâmide de energia (metade sem acesso a eletricidade) respondem por apenas 5%. Por seu modo de vida e vulnerabilidade, este grupo –o único inocente– será o mais tragicamente afetado pelo “giro de botão” dos demais.

Descarbonizar é preciso. Segundo o recém-publicado relatório do painel do clima da ONU, limitar o aquecimento a 2°C exigirá cortar as emissões antropogênicas de 40% a 70% em relação a 2010 até 2050 e zerá-las até o final do século. Como chegar lá?

A complexidade do desafio é esmagadora. Contar com a gradual conscientização dos “torturadores inocentes” parece irrealista. Pagar para ver e apostar na tecnologia como tábua de salvação seria temerário ao extremo. O protagonista da ação, creio eu, deveria ser a estrutura de incentivos: precificar o carbono e colocar a força do sistema de preços para trabalhar no âmbito da descarbonização.

Denying problems when we don’t like the political solutions (Duke University)

6-Nov-2014

Steve Hartsoe

Duke study sheds light on why conservatives, liberals disagree so vehemently

DURHAM, N.C. — There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

The study, “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief,” appears in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (viewable athttp://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/107/5/809/).

The researchers conducted three experiments (with samples ranging from 120 to 188 participants) on three different issues — climate change, air pollution that harms lungs, and crime.

“The goal was to test, in a scientifically controlled manner, the question: Does the desirability of a solution affect beliefs in the existence of the associated problem? In other words, does what we call ‘solution aversion’ exist?” Campbell said.

“We found the answer is yes. And we found it occurs in response to some of the most common solutions for popularly discussed problems.”

For climate change, the researchers conducted an experiment to examine why more Republicans than Democrats seem to deny its existence, despite strong scientific evidence that supports it.

One explanation, they found, may have more to do with conservatives’ general opposition to the most popular solution — increasing government regulation — than with any difference in fear of the climate change problem itself, as some have proposed.

Participants in the experiment, including both self-identified Republicans and Democrats, read a statement asserting that global temperatures will rise 3.2 degrees in the 21st century. They were then asked to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming.

When the policy solution emphasized a tax on carbon emissions or some other form of government regulation, which is generally opposed by Republican ideology, only 22 percent of Republicans said they believed the temperatures would rise at least as much as indicated by the scientific statement they read.

But when the proposed policy solution emphasized the free market, such as with innovative green technology, 55 percent of Republicans agreed with the scientific statement.

For Democrats, the same experiment recorded no difference in their belief, regardless of the proposed solution to climate change.

“Recognizing this effect is helpful because it allows researchers to predict not just what problems people will deny, but who will likely deny each problem,” said co-author Aaron Kay, an associate professor at Fuqua. “The more threatening a solution is to a person, the more likely that person is to deny the problem.”

The researchers found liberal-leaning individuals exhibited a similar aversion to solutions they viewed as politically undesirable in an experiment involving violent home break-ins. When the proposed solution called for looser versus tighter gun-control laws, those with more liberal gun-control ideologies were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins.

“We should not just view some people or group as anti-science, anti-fact or hyper-scared of any problems,” Kay said. “Instead, we should understand that certain problems have particular solutions that threaten some people and groups more than others. When we realize this, we understand those who deny the problem more and we improve our ability to better communicate with them.”

Campbell added that solution aversion can help explain why political divides become so divisive and intractable.

“We argue that the political divide over many issues is just that, it’s political,” Campbell said. “These divides are not explained by just one party being more anti-science, but the fact that in general people deny facts that threaten their ideologies, left, right or center.”

The researchers noted there are additional factors that can influence how people see the policy implications of science. Additional research using larger samples and more specific methods would provide an even clearer picture, they said.

###

The study was funded by The Fuqua School of Business.

CITATION: Troy Campbell, Aaron Kay, Duke University (2014). “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(5), 809-824.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037963

Change your walking style, change your mood (Science Daily)

Date: October 15, 2014

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Summary: Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Man walking (stock image). Subjects in this study who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style. Credit: © connel_design / Fotolia

Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, according to the study published in theJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje (Queen’s University), a co-author on the paper, has shown in past research that depressed people move very differently than happy people.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we want to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” Troje says.

He and his colleagues showed subjects a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while they measured their gait and posture. A screen showed the subjects a gauge that moved left or right depending on whether their walking style was more depressed or happier. But the subjects didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. Researchers told some subjects to try and move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

“They would learn very quickly to walk the way we wanted them to walk,” Troje says.

Afterward, the subjects had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.

The study builds on our understanding of how mood can affect memory. Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events, particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events, Troje says. And remembering the bad makes them feel even worse.

“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”

The study also contributes to the questions asked in CIFAR’s Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception program, which aims to unlock the mystery of how our brains convert sensory stimuli into information and to recreate human-style learning in computers.

“As social animals we spend so much time watching other people, and we are experts at retrieving information about other people from all sorts of different sources,” Troje says. Those sources include facial expression, posture and body movement. Developing a better understanding of the biological algorithms in our brains that process stimuli — including information from our own movements — can help researchers develop better artificial intelligence, while learning more about ourselves in the process.


Journal Reference:

  1. Johannes Michalak, Katharina Rohde, Nikolaus F. Troje. How we walk affects what we remember: Gait modifications through biofeedback change negative affective memory bias. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2015; 46: 121 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.09.004

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola (Slate)

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesSuspected Ebola patient Finda “Zanabo” prays over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014, near Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has spiraled out of control, affecting thousands of Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans, and threatening thousands more, the world’s reaction has been glacially, lethally slow. Only in the past few weeks have heads of state begun to take serious notice. To date, the virus has killed more than 2,600 people. This is a comparatively small number when measured against much more established diseases such as malaria,HIV/AIDS, influenza, and so on, but several factors about this outbreak have some of the world’s top health professionals gravely concerned:

  • Its kill rate: In this particular outbreak, a running tabulation suggests that 54 percent of the infected die, though adjusted numbers suggest that the rate is much higher.
  • Its exponential growth: At this point, the number of people infected is doubling approximately every three weeks, leading some epidemiologists to projectbetween 77,000 and 277,000 cases by the end of 2014.
  • The gruesomeness with which it kills: by hijacking cells and migrating throughout the body to affect all organs, causing victims to bleed profusely.
  • The ease with which it is transmitted: through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat, tears, saliva, blood, urine, semen, etc., including objects that have come in contact with bodily fluids (such as bed sheets, clothing, and needles) and corpses.
  • The threat of mutation: Prominent figures have expressed serious concerns that this disease will go airborne, and there are many other mechanisms through which mutation might make it much more transmissible.

Terrifying as these factors are, it is not clear to me that any of them capture what is truly, horribly tragic about this disease.

The most striking thing about the virus is the way in which it propagates. True, through bodily fluids, but to suggest as much is to ignore the conditions under which bodily contact occurs. Instead, the mechanism Ebola exploits is far more insidious. This virus preys on care and love, piggybacking on the deepest, most distinctively human virtues. Affected parties are almost all medical professionals and family members, snared by Ebola while in the business of caring for their fellow humans. More strikingly, 75 percent of Ebola victims are women, people who do much of the care work throughout Africa and the rest of the world. In short, Ebola parasitizes our humanity.

More than most other pandemic diseases (malaria, cholera, plague, etc.) and more than airborne diseases (influenza, swine flu, H5N1, etc.) that are transmitted indiscriminately through the air, this disease is passed through very minute amounts of bodily fluid. Just a slip of contact with the infected party and the caregiver herself can be stricken.

The images coming from Africa are chilling. Little boys, left alone in the street without parents, shivering and sick, untouchable by the throngs of people around them. Grown men, writhing at the door to a hospital, hoping for care as their parents stand helplessly, wondering how to help. Mothers and fathers, fighting weakness and exhaustion to move to the edge of a tent in order to catch a distant, final glimpse of a get-well video that their children have made for them.

If Ebola is not stopped, this disease can destroy whole families within a month, relatives of those families shortly thereafter, friends of those relatives after that, and on and on. As it takes hold (and it is taking hold fast), it cuts out the heart of family and civilization. More than the profuse bleeding and high kill rate, this is why the disease is terrifying. Ebola sunders the bonds that make us human.

Aid providers are now working fastidiously to sever these ties themselves, fighting hopelessly against the natural inclinations that people have to love and care for the ill. They have launched aggressive public information campaigns, distributedupdates widely, called for more equipment and gear, summoned the military, tried to rein in the hysteria, and so on. Yet no sheet of plastic or latex can disrupt these human inclinations.

Such heroic efforts are the appropriate medical response to a virulent public health catastrophe. The public health community is doing an incredible job, facing unbelievable risks, relying on extremely limited resources. Yet these efforts can only do half of the work. Infected parties—not all, to be sure, but some (enough)—cannot abide by the rules of disease isolation. Some will act without donning protective clothing. Some will assist without taking proper measures. And still others will refuse to enter isolation units because doing so means leaving their families and their loved ones behind, abandoning their humanity, and subjecting themselves to the terror of dying a sterile, lonely death.

It is tempting, at these times, to focus on the absurd and senseless actions of a few. One of the primary vectors in Sierra Leone is believed to have been a traditional healer who had been telling people that she could cure Ebola. In Monrovia a few weeks back, angry citizens stormed a clinic and removed patients from their care. “There is no Ebola!” they are reported to have been shouting. More recently, the largest newspaper in Liberia published an article suggesting that Ebola is a conspiracy of the United States, aimed to undermine Africa. And, perhaps even more sadly, a team of health workers and journalists was just brutally murdered in Guinea. It is easy, in other words, to blame the spread on stupidity, or illiteracy, or ritualism, or conspiracy theories, or any number of other irrational factors.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA man checks on a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on Aug. 19, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

But imagine: You are a parent whose child has suddenly come ill with a fever. Do you cast your child away and refuse to touch him? Do you cover your face and your arms? Stay back! Unclean! Or do you comfort your child when he asks for you, arms outstretched, to make the pain go away?

Imagine: You live in a home with five other family members. Your sister falls ill, ostensibly from Ebola, but possibly from malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, or the flu. You are aware of the danger to yourself and your other family members, but you have no simple means to move her, and she is too weak to move herself. What do you do?

Imagine: You are a child of 5 years old. Your mother is sick. She implores you to back away. But you are scared. What you need, more than anything, is a hug and a cry.

Who can blame a person for this? It is a terrible, awful predicament. A moral predicament. To stay, comfort, and give love and care to those who are in desperate need, or to shuttle them off into an isolation ward, perhaps never to see them again? What an inhumane decision this is.

What makes the Ebola virus so terrifying is not its kill rate, its exponential growth, the gruesome way in which it kills, the ease of transmission, or the threat of mutation, but rather that people who care can do almost nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch.

* * *

Many have asked whether Ebola could come here, come West. (The implication, in its way, is crass—as if to suggest that we need not be concerned about a tragedy unless it poses a threat to us.) We have been reassured that it will never spread widely here, because our public health networks are too strong, our hospitals too well-stocked. The naysayers may be right about this. But they are not right that it does not pose a threat to us.

For starters, despite the pretense, the West is not immune from absurd, unscientific thinking. We have our fair share of scientific illiteracy, skepticism, ritualism, and foolishness. But beyond this, it is our similarities, not our differences, that make us vulnerable to this plague. We are human. Every mechanism we have for caring—touching, holding, feeding, playing, warming, comforting, caressing—every mechanism that we use to bind us to our families and our neighbors, is preyed upon by Ebola. We cannot seal each other into hyperbaric chambers and expect that once we emerge, the carnage will be over. We are humans, and we will care about our children and our families even if it means that we may die in doing so.

The lesson here is a vital one: People do not give up on humanity so very easily. Even if we persuade all of the population to forgo rituals like washing the dead, we will not easily persuade parents to keep from holding their sick children, children from clinging to their ailing parents, or children from playing and wrestling and slobbering all over one another. We tried to alter such behaviors with HIV/AIDS. A seemingly simple edict—“just lay off the sex with infected parties”—would seem all that is required to halt that disease. But we have learned over the decades that people do not give up sex so readily.

If you think curtailing sex is hard, love and compassion will be that much harder. Humans will never give this up—we cannot give this up, for it is fundamental to who we are. The more that medical personnel require this of people without also giving them methods to manifest care, the more care and compassion will manifest in pockets outside of quarantine. And the more humanity that manifests unchecked, the more space this virus has to grow. Unchecked humanity will seep through the cracks and barriers that we build to keep our families safe, and if left to find its own way, will carry a lethal payload.

The problem is double-edged. Ebola threatens humanity by preying on humanity. The seemingly simple solution is to destroy humanity ourselves—to seal everything off and let the disease burn out on its own. But doing so means destroying ourselves in order to save ourselves, which is no solution at all.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA medical worker in a protective suit works near Ebola patients in a Doctors Without Borders hospital on Sept. 7, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

We must find a method of caring without touching, of contacting without making contact. The physiological barriers are, for the time being, necessary. But we cannot stop people from caring about one another, so we must create, for the time being, mechanisms for caring. Since we will never be able to beat back humanity, we must coordinate humanity, at the family level, the local level, and the global level.

The only one way to battle a disease that affixes itself parasitically to our humanity is to overwhelm it with greater, stronger humanity. To immunize Africa and the rest of the world with a blast of humanity so powerful that the disease can no longer take root. What it will take to beat this virus is to turn its most powerful vehicle, our most powerful weapon, against it.

Here are some things we can do:

Donate to the great organizations that are working tirelessly to bring this disease under control. They need volunteers, medical supplies, facilities, transportation, food, etc. Share information about Ebola, so people will learn about it, know about it, and know how to address it when it comes. And inform and help others. It is natural at a time of crisis to call for sealing the borders, to build fences and walls that separate us further from outside threats. But a disease that infects humanity cannot easily be walled off in this way. Walling off just creates unprotected pockets of humanity, divisions between us and them: my family, your family; that village, this village; inside, outside.

* * *

One final thing.

When Prince Prospero, ill-fated protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” locked himself in his castle to avoid a contagion that was sweeping his country—a disease that caused “profuse bleeding at the pores”—he assumed mistakenly that the only reasonable solution to his problem was to remove himself from the scene. For months he lived lavishly, surrounded by courtiers, improvisatori, buffoons, musicians, and wine, removed from danger while the pestilence wrought havoc outside.

As with much of Poe’s writing, Prospero’s tale does not end well. For six months, all was calm. He and his courtiers enjoyed their lives, secure and isolated from the plague laying waste to the countryside. Then, one night during a masquerade ball, the Red Death snuck into the castle, hidden behind a mask and a cloak, to afflict Prospero and his revelers, dropping them one by one in the “blood-bedewed halls.” Prospero’s security was a façade, leaving darkness and decay to hold “illimitable dominion over all.” The eventual intrusion that would be his undoing foretells of a danger in believing that we can keep the world’s ills at bay by keeping our distance.

If we seek safety by shutting out the rest of the world, we are in for a brutally ugly awakening. Nature is a cruel mistress, but Ebola is her cruelest, most devious trick yet.

Benjamin Hale is associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder. He is vice president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics and co-editor of the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment.

Dogs can be pessimists, too (Science Daily)

Date: September 18, 2014

Source: University of Sydney

Summary: Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, new research shows.

English bulldog puppies. Some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows. Credit: © B.Stefanov / Fotolia

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.

In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows.

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes,” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science. Her PhD research findings are published in PLOS One today.

“Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare.”

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs have learnt the discrimination task, they are presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.

If dogs respond after ambiguous tones, it shows that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called optimistic. They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.

“Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population,” said Dr Starling.

However it does mean that both individuals and institutions (kennels, dog minders) can have a much more accurate insight into the emotional make-up of their dogs.

According to the research a dog with an optimistic personality expects more good things to happen, and less bad things. She will take risks and gain access to rewards. She is a dog that picks herself up when things don’t go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don’t bother her.

If your dog has a pessimistic personality, he expects less good things to happen and more bad things. This may make him cautious and risk averse. He may readily give up when things don’t go his way, because minor setbacks distress him. He may not be unhappy per se, but he is likely to be most content with the status quo and need some encouragement to try new things.

“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia, a charity organisation that provides service and companion dogs to people with disabilities, to investigate whether an optimism measure could aid in selecting suitable candidates for training.

The research not only suggests how personality may affect the way dogs see the world and how they behave but how positive or negative their current mood is.

“This research has the potential to completely remodel how animal welfare is assessed. If we know how optimistic or pessimistic an animal usually is, it’s possible to track changes in that optimism that will indicate when it is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual,” said Dr Starling.

“The remarkable power of this is the opportunity to essentially ask a dog ‘How are you feeling?’ and get an answer. It could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Melissa J. Starling, Nicholas Branson, Denis Cody, Timothy R. Starling, Paul D. McGreevy. Canine Sense and Sensibility: Tipping Points and Response Latency Variability as an Optimism Index in a Canine Judgement Bias Assessment. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e107794 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0107794

Number-crunching could lead to unethical choices, says new study (Science Daily)

Date: September 15, 2014

Source: University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Summary: Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences.


Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences, including social and moral transgressions, says new study co-authored by a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Based on several experiments, researchers concluded that people in a “calculative mindset” as a result of number-crunching are more likely to analyze non-numerical problems mathematically and not take into account social, moral or interpersonal factors.

“Performing calculations, whether related to money or not, seemed to encourage people to engage in unethical behaviors to better themselves,” says Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Rotman School, who co-authored the study with Long Wang of City University of Hong Kong and J. Keith Murnighan from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Participants in a set of experiments displayed significantly more selfish behavior in games where they could opt to promote their self-interest over a stranger’s after exposure to a lesson on a calculative economics concept. Participants who were instead given a history lesson on the industrial revolution were less likely to behave selfishly in the subsequent games. A similar but lesser effect was found when participants were first asked to solve math problems instead of verbal problems before playing the games. Furthermore, the effect could potentially be reduced by making non-numerical values more prominent. The study showed less self-interested behavior when participants were shown pictures of families after calculations.

The results may provide further insight into why economics students have shown more self-interested behavior in previous studies examining whether business or economics education contributes to unethical corporate activity, the researchers wrote.

The study was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Long Wang, Chen-Bo Zhong, J. Keith Murnighan. The social and ethical consequences of a calculative mindset. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2014; 125 (1): 39 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.05.004

Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products? (Science Daily)

Date: September 16, 2014

Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.

Summary: What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.


What motivates consumers to make ethical choices such as buying clothing not made in a sweat shop, spending more money on fair-trade coffee, and bringing their own bags when they go shopping? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, ethical consumption is motivated by a need for consumers to turn their emotions about unethical practices into action.

“Advocates of ethical consumerism suggest that consumers should consider the environmental and human costs of the products they choose, but unfortunately only a small number of people in North America consume ethically on a regular basis while most consumers just look for good deals and ignore the social impact of the products they buy. Why are some consumers willing to spend time, money, and energy on making more responsible choices?” writes author Ahir Gopaldas (Fordham University).

After analyzing dozens of websites of advocacy groups and companies driven by ethical mission statements, and conducting at-home interviews with people who identify as ethical consumers, the author identified three common emotions driving ethical behavior — contempt, concern, and celebration.

Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations.Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.

Advocates of ethical consumerism should consider the role of emotions in motivating consumers to make more responsible decisions. For example, anger can motivate consumers to reject unethical products and concern can encourage consumers to increase charitable donations, while joy and hope can lead consumers to cultivate ethical habits such as participating in recycling programs.

“This research has critical implications for advocacy groups, ethical brand managers, and anyone else trying to encourage mainstream consumers to make more ethical choices. It is simply not enough to change people’s minds. To change society, one must also change people’s hearts. Sentiments ignite passion, fuel commitment, and literally move people to action,” the author concludes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ahir Gopaldas. Marketplace Sentiments. Journal of Consumer Research, 2014; 000 DOI: 10.1086/678034