The Science of ‘Inside Out’

“Those quibbles aside, however, the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.

“First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.

“But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation. For example, studies find that when we are angry we are acutely attuned to what is unfair, which helps animate actions that remedy injustice.”

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-inside-out.html?_r=0

The Fallen of World War II

A really interesting video giving visual representations of the deaths during World War II. Watching this raises many interesting questions.

How do these visual representations give us a different sense of the war than history books would or simply looking at numbers on a page?

How can we accurately communicate truth?

What does it mean that after a certain point, numbers get so large that that we lose any sense of reality with them?

What is also interesting is that our sense of World War II is painted by our involvement in the war but when you look at the number of people killed, the United States was far from the worst off nation. Because the Soviet Union became our enemy after the war was over, we never really learn about (or care about) how disastrous the war was for them or how much they lost during the war.

How does our historical perspective distort our sense of accuracy and historical truth? What role do our emotions play when it comes to topics like this?

Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame

“People spent more money playing the lottery last year than on books, video games, and tickets for movies and sporting events combined.

“In an age of rising income inequality, it’s pernicious that states rely on monetizing the desperate hope of its poorest residents. State lotteries take from the poor to spare the rich, all while marching under the banner of voluntary entertainment. Banning lotto games will not make our poorest communities suddenly rich. But these neighborhoods have lost enough lotteries in life even before they touch a penny to the scratch-off ticket.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/05/lotteries-americas-70-billion-shame/392870/?utm_source=SFTwitter

Mood And The Visual System – Optimists Literally See Better

“Seeing the world through ‘rose-colored glasses’  may be more biological reality than metaphor, according to a University of Toronto study that provides the first direct evidence that our mood literally changes the way our visual system filters our perceptual experience.”

http://www.science20.com/news_articles/mood_and_visual_system_optimists_literally_see_better

How language reflects the balance of good and bad in the world

“Rozin’s team began by analysing a corpus of 100 million words of spoken and written English and found that positive words are used far more often than negative words – just as you’d expect if positive events are more common (to take one example, ‘good’ is mentioned 795 times per million words compared with 153 mentions per million for ‘bad’).”

http://digest.bps.org.uk/2010/06/how-language-reflects-balance-of-good.html

How we feel affects what we see

“Thus, positive moods enhanced peripheral vision and increased the extent to which the brain encoded information in those parts of the visual field, to which the participants did not pay attention. Conversely, negative moods decreased the encoding of peripheral information. But does the enhanced peripheral vision that occurs because of positive mood induction come at the expense of central (or “foveal”) vision? Schmitz and his colleagues compared FFA activity in the positive and negative mood induction trials, but found no difference. The enhanced peripheral vision following positive mood induction does not, therefore, occur as a result of a trade-off with central vision.”

http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2009/06/08/how-we-feel-affects-what-we-see/

Freakonomics Podcast: The Maddest Men of All. Episode about Behavioral Economics

Another interesting discussion on the field of behavioral economics (see a previous post on the topic). Some really interesting discussions on this podcast about the contrast between classical economics and behavioral economics. You get some insight into the different approaches to knowledge and assumptions between two related fields in the human sciences.

You also get some interesting insights about how we make decisions. To what degree are our decisions motivated by reason? And to what degree are they motivated by emotion? Is it ethical for someone to use their knowledge of our emotional decision making to push us to make a decision they want us to make (i.e. buy something we otherwise wouldn’t)?

“Let’s take an example where you go to an airline website and it … quotes you a price for your seat to Sacramento, whatever it may be, and it says only four seats left at that price. Now, that works on me. I’ve spent eight years studying this stuff, I know it’s an attempt to exploit my scarcity bias, but it still makes me click. That’s just the way I’m wired. Now implicit in that line is that subsequent seats will be more expensive. But actually the person in their weasel wording hasn’t exactly made that promise, have they? They’ve merely said at this price. At this price is not quite clear. It could be that the subsequent four seats are being sold actually at a lower price.”

http://freakonomics.com/2015/02/26/the-maddest-men-of-all-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

How can we measure the effectiveness in charitable giving?

Much of our charitable giving is governed by emotions. We are far more often to give to a cause if the story or cause grabs our attention by moving us emotionally. Sometimes the charities are effective at branding themselves or their cause and sometimes we personally identify with the cause.

There are some people who want to change the way we think about charitable giving by identifying the “return on investment” of each dollar donated rather than letting our emotions decide for us. What happens when we decide to figure out the most effective use of our charitable dollars? How can we measure the impact? What criteria do we look at? Do we focus on saving lives or improving quality of life? Is it possible to even quantify these things?

Much of the approach these people use try to apply mathematical approaches to identify effectiveness. How can we use math to help us determine truth? What are the assumptions built into these mathematical models? Does quantifying this stuff to determine effectiveness dehumanize charitable work?

What if it was “mathematically proven” that the the most effective approach to charity were to give money away with no conditions or strings attached to the recipients? Would your emotional or intuitive revulsion to such an idea keep you from donating? How do you decide what is right when different ways of knowing conflict with one another?

Sometimes people prefer to donate to causes that build tangible structures like schools in foreign countries though it turns out that building schools may not actually that effective based on the cost.

Below are some links to evaluate this topic and these questions.

1. Is It Nuts to Give to the Poor Without Strings Attached?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/magazine/is-it-nuts-to-give-to-the-poor-without-strings-attached.html

2. Planet Money Podcast: The Charity That Just Gives People Money

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/08/16/212645252/episode-480-the-charity-that-just-gives-people-money

3.Measuring the Bang of Every Donated Buck

Scoring charitable work is evolving from an art into a science

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703787304575075340954767332

4. Give Well: Real Change for Your Dollar

Homepage for an organization that seeks to quantify the impact of various charities.

http://www.givewell.org/international/technical/criteria/cost-effectiveness

5. Smart Aid for the World’s Poor

How can rich countries best help poor ones? Matt Ridley identifies five priorities

http://www.wsj.com/articles/smart-aid-for-the-worlds-poor-1406326677

6. Freakonomics Podcast:Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition

http://freakonomics.com/2014/10/02/fixing-the-world-bang-for-the-buck-edition-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

7.Don’t Build Schools in Afghanistan

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/05/dont_build_schools_in_afghanistan.html

8.Poker Players Use Science To Effectively Give To Charities

http://www.npr.org/2014/12/24/372837159/poker-players-use-science-to-effectively-give-to-charities