I just discovered this entry on the Nudge Blog (their tagline is “improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness”). It’s an illustrated/cartoonized version of Dan Pink’s talk on what motivates employees and what doesn’t and I’ve embedded it here (below). It highlights the point that money isn’t always or the only solution. I love to see intelligent research and findings explained in creative ways like this and so I just had to spotlight it here! (The Nudge Blog is also pretty awesome and I definitely recommend it!)
First, I have to apologize for my extended absence from both this site and my blog… I’ve not only been experiencing some career path type crises, but also studying for, taking, and hopefully passing comps.
Comps, or comprehensive exams or qualifying exams, are what students in Ph.D. track programs take at the completion of all the course work (usually) or around the end of the third year in the program. From what I know of them - so mostly in applied psychology fields - they literally encompass anything you might have learned in a course (or were expected to learn) or what might have been offered in courses you didn’t take, but could have. It’s the entire subject matter that you are getting a Ph.D. in… this includes history, current issues, definitions, measurement and procedural knowledge… literally everything you can think of.
While the process and timelines differ by program and discipline, the one thing they all share is the unbelievable amount of stress and pressure associated with them. You study for at least a semester, if not more, usually while continuing to take classes. There is no study guide (or guide really at all) and there’s virtually no way you can ever feel fully prepared for them - after all, you could not possibly have read every article, every book, every blog, every conference paper or presentation, attended all conferences and presentations… at some point, you have to just be confident that you know enough to take on most questions. Basically, it’s terrifying and in many ways, the opposite of what any Ph.D. student is used to feeling, at least in preparing for any school work or exams.
The other part of this whole process that’s in many ways unique for doctoral students is the collaboration. This doesn’t happen in every program throughout the country, but at least for me, I was studying and dividing up book and chapter summaries with the other members of my cohort who were taking this exam with me. We met weekly (at least) and literally had to rely on each other and each other’s work in order to cover all the most basic materials. It’s interesting to think about how, up until this point, we rarely work together in such a truly interdependent manner for such an extended period of time (and certainly not with such high stakes), yet once we we graduate (or maybe the closer we get to graduation), the more this is expected of us. Professors collaborate with their graduate students and each other and practitioners often work as part of a team - whether it’s a consulting firm or an organization or an interdisciplinary team.
I’m sure the evil genius who created comps was probably not thinking about them in such a meta-cognitive way and didn’t realize the ways in which the very process prepares doctoral students for their futures, but it’s odd to realize how much this happens anyways, even if we don’t want it to. In our future careers, our very livelihood will depend on others - at least for most of us in the social sciences - and it’s odd to think that this test, which many think has very little utility for future practitioners, actually teaches us about ourselves and how we work as well as the content of the material. Honestly, at most points in the process, I could barely grasp the minimum amount of material that we were supposed to be learning on, that we were consciously focused on.
Honestly, now that comps are over, despite the fact that I’m overwhelmed by catching up on everything else I didn’t do while I was studying, I’m finding that the entire process provided me with a lot of food for thought… even though much of it is far from what I imagine was intended to be provoking my thoughts… anyone else ever find themselves thinking this way?
oh psychology, how I misseth thee.
Very interesting article. One good bit:The typical Harvard undergraduate is someone who: (a) is very good at school; (b) has been very successful by conventional standards for his entire life; (c) has little or no experience of the “real world” outside of school or school-like settings; (d) feels either the ambition or the duty to have a positive impact on the world (not well defined); and (e) is driven more by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular. (Yes, I know this is a stereotype; that’s why I said “typical.”) Their (our) decisions are motivated by two main decision rules: (1) close down as few options as possible; and (2) only do things that increase the possibility of future overachievement.
And another one:You internalize the rationalizations for the work you are doing. It’s easier to think that underwriting new debt offerings really is saving the world than to think that you are underwriting new debt offerings, because of the money, instead of saving the world. And this goes for many walks of life. It’s easier for college professors to think that, by training the next generation of young minds (or, even more improbably, writing papers on esoteric subjects), they are changing the world than to think that they are teaching and researching instead of changing the world.
Six Psychological Reasons Consumer Culture is Unsatisfying
Buying stuff can be disappointing. After swallowing the hype, checking out the options and trolling for bargains, finally you’ve got it; your brand new whatever-it-is.
Before long, though, the excitement fades. Your whatever-it-is isn’t so great any more. They’ve brought out a newer model with more features and anyway you’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere. It’s happened to all of us.
Psychological research tells us that this disappointment is particularly pronounced when people buy things like mp3 players or watches, compared with experiences like vacations or concert tickets.
In a new series of studies, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Carter and Gilovich (2010) explore six reasons that material purchases are less satisfying than experiential purchases, and what we can do about it.
1. Objects are easy to compare unfavourably
The reason is that experiential purchases are difficult to compare. The band you went to see on that wet Tuesday after work on the spur of the moment is likely to be literally incomparable. On the other hand mp3 players are much easier to compare: one has more memory while another looks prettier.
2. A ‘maximising’ strategy leaves us less satisfied
When people choose material purchases they tend to use a strategy psychologists call ‘maximising’. This means comparing all possible options. But because we live in a world of endless choices, maximising takes a long time and is hard work; so people often end up irritated and unsatisfied even when they chose the best possible option.
3. Material purchases more likely to be re-evaluated
We automatically re-evaluate material purchases after we’ve made them. In comparison decisions about experiential purchases, once made, are not revisited and so we have less opportunity for disappointment.
4. The new option effect
It’s always the way: right after you buy it they bring out a new, improved model, or introduce better options.
5. The reduced price effect and 6. A cheaper rival
Carter and Gilovich found that people were more troubled about the reduced price of laptops and watches than they were about cheaper holidays or meals out.
This experiment suggests that thinking of material purchases in experiential terms helps banish dissatisfaction. Try thinking of jeans in terms of where you wore them or how they feel, the mp3 player in terms of how the music changes your mood or outlook, even your laptop in terms of all the happy hours spent reading your favourite blog. (via PsyBlog)
”(…) Error Management Theory suggests that, in your inference, you can make a “Type I” error of false positive or “Type II” error of false negative, and these two types of error carry vastly different consequences and costs. The cost of a false-positive error is that you become paranoid. You are always looking around and behind your back for predators and enemies that don’t exist. The cost of a false-negative error is that you are dead, being killed by a predator or an enemy when you least expect them. Obviously, it’s better to be paranoid than dead, so evolution should have designed a mind that overinfers personal, animate, and intentional forces even when none exist.
Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the agency-detector mechanism.” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may have come from such an innate cognitive bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors, and thus overinfer personal, intentional, and animate forces behind otherwise perfectly natural phenomena. (…)
In this view, religiosity (the human capacity for belief in supernatural beings) is not an evolved tendency per se; after all, religion in itself is not adaptive. It is instead a byproduct of animistic bias or the agency-detector mechanism, the tendency to be paranoid, which is adaptive because it can save your life. Humans did not evolve to be religious; they evolved to be paranoid. And humans are religious because they are paranoid. (…)”
— Satoshi Kanazawa, Why do we believe in God?, Psychology Today, March 28, 2008. (More). See also: Martie G. Haselton and David M. Buss, Error Management Theory: A New Perspective on Biases in Cross-Sex Mind Reading, University of Texas at Austin (pdf)
Hardly anybody would disagree that the music you listen to reveals a lot about your personality. However, there hasn’t been any scientific proof. That is, until now. Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, conducted a large study of more than 36,000 people from…
(Visit the link and find more infographics!)
The invited talks at ICWSM were especially good this year. I want to highlight a few points from Duncan Watt’s talk and Jon Kleinberg’s talks.
- Social influence makes the selection for success less predictable. In other words, judged against independent measures of quality, if an audience is influenced by knowledge of community behaviour, it will select or promote with less correlation to quality than you would think. You may think ‘so much for the wisdom of the crowds’ but, of course, WOC is all about aggregating over independent judgments, not socially influenced ones – see Experimental Studies of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.
- We know less about our friends than we think we do. In the Friend Sense experiment, it was demonstrated that we project our opinions onto friends about whom we make assumptions regarding political beliefs. Watt’s concerns about the misrepresentation of polarization might be contrasted with the experiments reported in Nick Carr’s book The Big Switch in which a) small preferences lead to deep segregation and b) homophilly leads to extremism.
- Diffusion of information may ‘long circuit’ the small worlds of social networks. In Kleinberg’s presentation regarding the study of the largest internet chain mail (a petition) he described the role of the threshold model of diffusion in which we require multiple receipts of a stimulus (e.g. a chain mail letter) to pass it on, we are more sensitive to our immediate community – our strong links – than to small-world building weak links. This seems to have some relationship with Watt’s work on Challenging the Influentials Hypothesis and both his criticism of the disease analogy and his focus on the importance of the network structure, not some magical power of the ‘influential’.
This is what prompted Malcolm Gladwell’s response/article on concussions and the NFL.
For a certain type of intellectual mediocrity characterized by enlightened rationalism, a scientific theory that simplifies matters is a very good means of defence because of the tremendous faith modern man has in anything which bears the label “scientific.”
— C.G. Jung, “Psychology and Religion”