A lot of interesting research coming out of behavioral studies today from Slate, about moral sainthood and its costs:
But new research by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto levels an even graver charge: that virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. In their study, subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.
In an experiment, participants were randomly assigned to select items they wanted to buy in one of two online stores. One store sold predominantly green products, the other mostly conventional items. Then, in a supposedly unrelated game, all of the participants were allocated $6, to share as they saw fit with an anonymous (and unbeknownst to them, imaginary) recipient. Subjects who had chosen items from the green store coughed up less money, on average, than their counterparts. In a second experiment, participants were again assigned to shop in either a green or conventional store. Then they performed a computer task that involved earning small sums of cash. The setup offered the opportunity to cheat and steal with impunity. The eco-shoppers were more likely to do both.
It would be foolish to draw conclusions about the real world from just one paper and from such an artificial scenario. But the findings add to a growing body of research into a phenomenon known among social psychologists as “moral credentials” or “moral licensing.” Historically, psychologists viewed moral development as a steady progression toward more sophisticated decision-making. But an emerging school of thought stresses the capriciousness of moral responses. Several studies propose that the state of our self-image can directly influence our choices from moment to moment. When people have the chance to demonstrate their goodness, even in the most token of ways, they then feel free to relax their ethical standards.
In 2001, Benoit Monin and Dale Miller of Princeton published a pioneering study of this licensing tendency. The study investigated whether showing a lack of bias in one situation would free subjects to express prejudice later on. They found that people who had designated a woman as the best candidate for a gender-neutral job were then more likely to recommend a man for a stereotypically masculine job. Another experiment yielded similar results with regard to race.
Newer work has focused on morality more broadly. Earlier this year, researchers at Northwestern reported that subjects who wrote self-flattering stories later pledged to give less money to charity than those who wrote stories that were self-critical or about someone else. In another recent study, participants who recalled their own righteous deeds were less inclined to donate blood, volunteer, or engage in other “prosocial” acts. They were also more likely to cheat on a math assignment.
Why might this happen? According to Monin, now a professor at Stanford, there are two theories. One is that when we’ve established our rectitude, we interpret ensuing behavior in a different light: I just proved I’m a good person, so what I’m doing now must be okay. This reasoning, of course, works best in ambiguous situations, not with egregious sins. For example, in Monin’s experiments, it seems plausible that after participants have displayed a lack of prejudice, they see their next judgment call as based on sound analysis.
Another, potentially overlapping theory holds that we have a kind of subconscious moral accounting system. We like to think of ourselves as good guys, but sainthood has costs. So when we have done our mitzvah for the day, we cut ourselves some slack. In this model, “moral credits” are a kind of currency we accrue and spend.
I asked several experts on moral licensing how to avoid that fate. The most obvious advice was that being conscious of this potential reaction allows me to be on guard against it. They also pointed out that the licensing effect has a flip side. Some of the studies revealed an impulse for “moral cleansing”: When our moral self-image is threatened, we want to restore it—to add moral credits to the account. Research indicates that writing about our negative traits, or recalling our own sketchy behavior, prompts a surge of virtue. Reminding people of ethical ideals or of other people’s probity seems to have a similar effect. So in the wake of a noble act, we can try to curb self-satisfaction by thinking back on past transgressions or, more pleasantly, contemplating Gandhi or a personal role model.
Another strategy is to make worthy actions habitual. When volunteering at the soup kitchen—or turning off unused lights—becomes routine, you’ll stop basking in that halo every time. Cultural norms are also key. If everyone is driving a Prius and taking the stairs, I won’t feel so smug about doing the same. Now, for instance, I don’t feel heroic when I sort the paper and plastics and take the blue bin out to the curb. That’s just what people in my neighborhood do on Monday nights.
The interesting point that I walked away with is that the worst type of help is from the self-righteous, from people who consider themselves saints. I have found in my life that the meanest and cruelest actions come from people that think the most highly of their aid. The worst boyfriends are the ones who consider it a gift that they’re dating a girl and feel that they’re justified in taking the gift away, sometimes in brutal fashion. The pickiest friends always invoke their saintly friendship at any slight, as though others owe them something for that.
What’s really fascinating is that a person can turn a specific action into general morality. That if a person buys a Prius, they feel justified driving like an asshole or even worse, think they’re so much better than everyone else that they deserve a greater share of the road.
I also found the solutions to be intriguing. Maybe I should be confessing to more of my sins on the blog or in my private journal. Even though I don’t think of myself as much of a good person; at this point, if there’s a Heaven, I’m banking on repentance at the last possible moment. Mind you, I’m pretty sure I’m not a BAD person. At least, if I were a baddie, I’d probably just be a faceless thug that Aragorn unceremoniously kicks in the face while stealing his horse. Or in the movie Taken, I’m baddie #4 that Liam Neeson throws into the river – two days later, I find out he shot my employer and go back to the employment agency to see if any other bad guys need more anonymous henchmen.
On a random tangent, I’d like to write a short story about the life of a thug who goes through like eight employers in Lord of the Rings, and all of his duties are ended by Legolas. He starts off working in the Mines of Moria, dragging a reluctant giant blue cave troll around. They attack the fellowship of the ring and Legolas kills the cave troll by shooting about eight arrows in it, including three in its mouth. He gets a new job cooking for the Uruk-hai, but doesn’t like that they goddamn run everywhere. He’s just minding his own business when Legolas comes out of nowhere and kicks him in the face on his way to killing about twelve of his comrades. From there, he gets conscripted into the army to attack Helms Deep, where Legolas skateboards a shield into his testicles. Trying to escape, our thug then decides to move to Mordor, where he is again conscripted into the army since he has experience with large beasts. He leads an elephant team but is thrown off by Legolas again, who kills the elephant by shooting arrows into each of the poor creature’s eyes and six arrows into its mouth. He’s walking back home only to find the human army led by Aragorn is at the border gate, leading a fresh charge. He tries to anonymously flee through the gate when Legolas flying side kicks him in the back of the neck, then stands on him while shooting another twenty-eight dudes, counting aloud and joking to Gimli the whole time.
When Legolas gets off him, he looks down and says “Haven’t I seen you somewhere?”, then stomps on his face and runs away to kill more orcs.
Here are my pros and cons of living in a wealthy conservative suburb vs a poor liberal city.
Pros of Palos Verdes
+no fear of violent crime. You don’t have to hide valuables in your car. Or walk frightened of the angry guy who might mug you.
+girls dress sluttier. Because they aren’t afraid of being raped, women walk around in much nicer and more revealing clothes. I saw a pretty girl going down the escalator in a short loose dress when a gust of wind revealed that she was wearing bright blue panties. Easily the best thing I’ve seen in months.
+all stores have public restrooms and offer free coffee/food. With no bums, stores can actually offer decent service and attendants are nice. They don’t have their days ruined trying to throw out a foul-smelling hobo who thinks he should be allowed to sleep because he bought something for 73 cents.
+nice cars. Shopping today, I saw a pretty good number of cars that have been reviewed on Top Gear in the last couple years. Parking lots aren’t a profile of the cars that should be traded in the Cash for Clunkers program, and the Toyota Prius.
+clean city. People take pride in the town because they own it. There is a good diversity of plant life and trees. I have yet to see a person spit on the ground or litter, a common sight in Berkeley.
Cons of Palos Verdes
-meritocracy. Along with pride comes its ugly twin sister, contempt. While people are proud of living in a rich city, they feel that they earned their station in life while people in poorer neighborhoods deserve what they get. There’s a lot of looking down on people and not so much examining their skills or qualities.
-conformity. Part of being snobby means you’re afraid to try new things, because you might be exposing yourself to the very shame you perpetuate. As such, the malls here are all cookie cutter stores. The quality is decent but there isn’t anything transcendent or unique. There’s little character to the town.
-banks. I just saw a woman withdraw $10,000. In coins. She had a box filled with rolls of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, and the whole thing looked like it weighed a good 50+ lbs. It will be quite a trip to the Vegas slots, as my mom quipped.
-enthusiasm. People have passion for their jobs and they’re good at it, which is why they’re rich. But at the same time, there’s not a lot of care for things that don’t immediately affect the town.
-douchebags. All the beach-blond white guys around here drive Mustangs and wear Hollister, the douchebag badges of honor. I also burn with a quiet hatred for girls driving Mercedes who could not tell me a single fact about their cars, World War II, or anything other than clothing companies and makeup.
Pros of Berkeley
+creature comforts. Say what you will about liberals, they’re very particular about how they live and quality. You will never find the quality and range of foods in a conservative town as you can in Berkeley. Same applies to things like beds, hobbies, coffee, etc.
+innovation. Part of being extremely tolerant is that you encourage risk-taking and new ideas. Even though most of the ideas in Berkeley are bad, you do have a few diamonds in the rough.
+competition. While I hate it for people who apply it when walking or driving, Berkeley has a much wider collection of excellence. All PV has are the douchebags wearing their USC gear.
+public transport. If you don’t have a car in PV, you aren’t going anywhere. Berkeley is much less ashamed to ride bikes, buses, or the subway. It’s a lot easier to get around.
Cons of Berkeley
-dirty. I’ll put it frankly, Berkeley is dirty and it largely lives in the past. They need to tear down 80% of the buildings and start over. Rent control, what idiot ever thought that was a good idea? Even northside, which is a million times cleaner, is not “clean”.
-pretentious. Berkeley carries a defiant attitude about its faults and tries to defend them as positives. No, widespread homelessness is not a good thing. It’s not a sign of tolerance or equality, it’s a sign of poor planning and bad government. Same goes with ugly buildings from the 1960s, no parking, and rising crime.
-bad drivers. Part of being a diverse city means you have citizens from all over the world, none of whom have experience driving in the United States. Which means they all suck at driving, but they’re still competitive and hate being passed so they’ll cut you off anyways. And there’s nothing worse than being cut off by someone who thinks they’re better than you but they’re sitting in a car that was a piece of crap in 1982.
-cops and taxes. Living in a poor city means that cops aren’t there as defenders of the law and protectors of the innocent, they’re there as tax collectors. On top of already exorbitant taxes levied by the government. Ask a cop for help in Berkeley and he’ll look at you like you asked him for a bar of gold.
So basically it comes down to this: who do you hate more, douchebags or hobos and parking tickets?
Another exciting week, time to review those lessons. In honor of my own graduation, I’ll make it a stat-centric post.
1) Statistics is the core of modern science
Statistics tells you whether something is true, false, or merely anecdotal; it draws the line between a habit and random luck. It is the instrument that defines risk and its probabilistic consequences. Like all tools, however, its usefulness is measured by the skill of the practitioner. We unfortunately live in an age where it is very easy to fool people with statistics, because very few people understand the subject. You either have the mathematicians who leave it to a politician to translate the results into plain language or you have an analyst who can’t do the math so they just punch in numbers until they get a result that looks good.
2) The primary question of risk is consequence
It seems obvious on an intuitive level, but people often make mistakes applying this to the real world (i.e. modern finance). When you take risks, the only thought should be of the consequences. In finance, this is called leverage. In some situations, a single error can blow up in your face if you are improperly leveraged. An example is putting all of your money in one stock. In others, you can be totally wrong and face no consequences at all. An example is paying too much for parking.
3) Beware regression. Especially multiple regression
Science has fallen in love with correlation. It’s easy to do, easy to understand, and draws a single convenient line through a very messy cloud of data. The problem is that even very close relationships that you can find in research rarely if ever replicates itself in real life. This is especially true if you’re dealing with the behavior of human beings, such as in psychology, economics, or politics. The other problem is that correlation is a single number that tells you only that you have two relationships that seem to move together. Going from that single number to a policy recommendation that costs millions of dollars and affects many people’s lives (through treatment, policy, etc.) is a leap over a very large abyss. Your correlation number tells you nothing about causation, randomness, or hidden risk.
Just remember, you can find correlations between anything if you put enough variables in. That doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.
4) Know what you don’t know
The biggest problem with students and the ignorant is that they roll their eyes when you tell them about the unknown. They think that if you’re not giving them information, then they are learning nothing. People who know what they’re doing value this immensely. Every other episode of House highlights this.
5) Watch out for charlatans and survival bias
Survival bias is one of the most pervasive and dangerous consequences of statistics. This is how you get trite life tips like “all you have to do is work hard” or “volunteering looks good on your applications”. Most people with “how to” tips are charlatans and owe just as much of their success to luck as they do to skill or knowledge. Thousands of people try every year to follow the advice of someone on how to make their first million by the age of 24 and almost all of them fail (and the ones who succeed usually didn’t follow their advice at all). This is survival bias, that we follow the advice of survivors and assume that their way must be right because they made it. What you don’t see in bookstores is business books with titles like “How I failed in business and in life”. Similarly, academics publish results as though the experiment should run like silk. You never get a “this is how I wasted the last ten years of my life and got nothing” paper, even though it would be vastly more informational and truthful.
Goals from the week:
1) Place was cleaned enough for Yoko and Patrick
2) Ran 5 miles this week, far short of the 15 mile goal
3) Graduated and it was sweet
4) Sent out 22 resumes
Verdict: Getting lazy on the exercise. Fix it.
What did I learn this week?
1) Being idle is not the same as resting
I spent most of the week doing nothing and you know what? I don’t feel any more rested, if anything I feel tired and lazy now. It’s kind of dumb that I have to remind myself, but relaxation means doing a reduced load and just trying to have fun. Doing nothing really does nothing.
2) Job searching sucks
3) Good discipline is a matter of structure, ambition, and drive
I need all three in good supply. I’ve been living with two at any given time for a while. This will definitely change.
4) Attention to detail – it separates perfect from merely good
I’ve been doing well. I need to do better.
Goals from the week:
1) Place is cleaned up but not complete
2) Got programs designed, will implement next week
3) Prepped for finals, procrastinating on papers
4) Started job-searching, it is soul crushing
Verdict: Pretty good, but a few incompletes
I’m going on a rant because a bunch of goddamn dicks on motorcycles just roared up the street and woke me up. What I’ve noticed lately is that motorcycle riders are assholes. They seem to have this urge to be noticed and let you know what cocks they can be. It’s really becoming an F you to society.
With that, here are the correlations I’ve noticed between motorcycles and the likelihood that the rider is a cock:
-the less safety equipment they have on, the bigger a dick they are. The guy wearing full leathers and the tortoise shell backpack so that they won’t die if they fall off the bike is the kind of guy I like seeing on the road. Dude wearing a leather vest, jean shorts, and a t-shirt has me hoping that a semi truck wipes him out.
-the louder the bike, the bigger the douchebag. Look, we all know what a motorcycle sounds like, it’s already loud. The guy who takes the baffle off his hog so that it rattles your windows or shakes the water in your glass like Jurassic Park is a jackass. This rule applies to car radios too, btw.
-the blacker the helmet, the stupider the rider. Motorcycle helmets are brightly colored so that drunken truckers don’t mistake the rider’s head for some animal and accelerate over them. These idiots on their Harleys think that flat black is a cool color and those stupid Prussian helmets look good.
-the more they drive on roads, the less they actually like motorcycles. Real motorcycle fans do what’s the most fun and the most safe – they put on all their safety gear and go carve up canyon roads. Guys who just troll around neighborhood streets are just looking for attention, which I guess is obvious from their incessant revving.
-the longer their feet stay down, the bigger the jabroni. And yes, I notice that your feet are dangling off the sides of your motorcycle all the way through the intersection, you monkey. It’s the equivalent to running “like a girl”. We all know you can’t run for shit if your arms are flailing.
-the more they wave, the better a person the rider is. I’ve grown accustomed to shifting my car a little to the left or right in a traffic jam when I see a bike trying to split the road, to give them an extra three feet of clearance. I know the rider is skilled and probably a good person if they give me a little wave, just a hand off the handlebar for a second. If you only drive cars, you should get in the habit – three feet doesn’t mean anything to you, but it makes a difference to the guy who isn’t sitting in a big metal box.
-And unfortunately: the more American the bike, the bigger an asshole the rider. In all probability, the guys riding rice rockets are probably the most likely to be good riders and good citizens on the road. The closer you get to a Harley and a typical American bike, the more of an asshole the rider becomes. When you get to the guys riding bikes where they have to reach above their heads to grab the handlebars and they removed the front brake, you’re at the rectum of human decency.
Survey question: What’s the bigger F you to society, face tattoo or super loud Harley? I’d say face tat, unless the Harley rider has a flame, either as a tattoo on their arm or as a sticker on their ride, or both.
My real analysis professor had an interesting comment about the difference between undergrad and grad school, when she mentioned that the take home midterm was supposed to test our grasp of the material by turning our minds inside out.
Undergrad and all the standardized tests around there is like testing whether the milk is good, whether the student has the mental horsepower and ability to learn basic material.
Graduate school, by contrast, just assumes the milk is good and demands that the student churn their mind and make ice cream. You’re thinking something new from the knowledge that we already have, essentially making something out of nothing.
The thing that makes undergrad important is just a minimum. Just like when you look at a carton of milk, it doesn’t make a huge difference if it’s a day old or ten days old, it’s how the churning is done that determines if the ice cream is good or bad. Of course, if the milk is bad, don’t even bother because it’s never going to work.
So this provides something to think about for both undergrads and grads. For you undergrads out there, think about whether or not your mental milk is good. If someone picked up the carton, is the brain still fresh or has it passed the expiration date? For you grads out there, how hard are you churning? How is the ice cream developing?
A couple weeks ago, my friend Jackie told me something very interesting that I wanted to share. It was in the context of training but I think it really applies to most of life.
His thought was that people should train frequently in front of a mirror, or find some other way to reflect on their behavior. You see, coordination is the difference between what your mind thinks it is doing and the action that actually comes out. A well-coordinated person has very little or no difference at all when their mind becomes action, and a person with poor coordination has something completely different. Unfortunately, the people with the poorest coordination are often the least aware that their actions are totally different from their thoughts, but everybody can benefit from reflecting on themselves.
Training in front of the mirror is especially important in sparring. When you feint, what does it look like? Would you fall for it if someone else did it to you? Most importantly, does it look like what your mind wants to do?
I find that this applies equally to situations outside of sparring though. For instance, love. I’ve always disliked the idea of “mixed signals”, because either the person giving them has no idea what they’re doing or the person receiving them isn’t getting the message. Either way, someone is incompetent and it’s probably on both sides. Or one of my common pet peeves, which is people being surprised that someone has problems with them. You have to speak clearly if you have a problem, because it’s inherently unfair for the target to be surprised that you’re upset.
So every now and then, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you would think if the person looking back at you was someone else. Or ask people you trust, like friends or family, what they think of your actions. If they think you’re doing something that is different from what you’re trying to do, then you need to change.
Here is a brief list of things that I will never be too mature to do:
- hoarding pizza
Whenever someone orders pizza, especially with friends or family, I’m always freaked out that other people will get to the pizza first and steal all of the pieces. This means that when I get to the pizza, I hang two pieces out of my mouth and put another three slices on my plate. I eat like a speed demon and keep powering through to get what I believe is my fair share.
- hating clowns
I’m not sure where this started, but for whatever reason, clowns really frighten me. If I were walking down the street and I saw a clown a few hundred yards away, I would actually turn 180 degrees and walk in the opposite direction. The same applies to porcelain dolls and portraits of Jesus. I will always try to make them face another direction and stop looking at me.
If some company promises that I can collect a set, believe me that I will try. Like all young men, I have faced many times the decision to euthanize my collections, and those were some of the saddest days of my life. Nowadays, I’m not quite as gung ho about “Gotta catch em all”, but I will always keep the rarest or most notable specimens out there.
- petty competition
If I go to Baskin Robbins or some other buffet where you can make your own dessert, I will attempt to make the most perfect ice cream sundae. My goal isn’t to make the best tasting dessert but one that will earn the most looks of jealousy as I look down in disdain at the crooked whipped cream swirls of other people. The same applies to small sand castles at the beach, snowmen, and taekwondo.
Sold. I would also put the progression to sex here, from that moment of tension to the first bold kiss to making out to wandering hands to shedding clothes to oral sex to that first exciting moment of intercourse to trying new positions to considering a dirty Sanchez…..oh dear, I have gone a bridge too far.
- children’s TV shows
I love children’s television shows. I love feeling smart as I identify what’s wrong with the picture or learning cheap life lessons that have long since outlived their usefulness to my life.
- avoiding cracks on the sidewalk
When I was nine, my brother told me that stepping on a crack was bad luck and offered up the fact that he once stepped on a crack and got spanked that very night as proof. Since then, I still take small leaping steps over cracks to avoid stepping on them.
I love building stuff and the supreme sense of accomplishment when I build something out of nothing. Even if the sets aren’t particularly interesting, I love the feeling of clicking the pieces together and seeing a design take shape.
- the roar of engines
Whether it’s cars or airplanes, I love the loud roar of an engine and the scream of a fast-moving vehicle past my eyes. There’s nothing better to help you appreciate the brilliance of engineering and the importance of precision. It is also the ultimate in man overcoming nature.
Here is a roundup of my recent vacation in Phoenix. It was a pretty impressive city, although I couldn’t tell why. Honestly, there wasn’t a central financial or business district, nor did I see any significant industries. There were a bunch of strip malls and ghost towns, and apparently the inhabitants can make that work.
Still, Phoenix was a great outdoor city. The landscape looks incredible with its giant canyons and arid red rock. It’s also a very relaxing place and I would recommend it for a long weekend.
Here are my pros and cons from my trip there:
+ Mexican food. If you like enchiladas and burritos, you will love the food in Arizona. The benefit is that your food budget for a Phoenix trip can be quite low and you can still eat like a king.
+ Sun. The climate is warm and dry, every building in Arizona is air conditioned, and there are tons of pools and water sports. All of this adds up to a fun outdoorsy vacation, which can either be active on jet skis or relaxing in the pool.
+ Cacti. I loved the cacti and their arms sticking out. It adds a lot of character to the state.
+ Landscape. Arizona is a beautiful state and there’s a good boundary between the city and the surrounding area. There’s nothing better than hitting the road with huge rock formations in the distance.
- Radio DJs. Phoenix has some of the most incompetent DJs ever. I listened to one interviewing an eight year old boy about his first day at school and it was every bit as bad as you would expect. All of the music seems stuck in the early 1990s.
- Diversity. In the four days that I was in Phoenix, I could count on one hand the number of non-white people that I saw. While there’s nothing wrong with white people, you would expect to see a lot of Latinos in Arizona and it just isn’t so. It felt a little uncomfortable when compared to the mass diversity of San Francisco. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the US.
- Fast food. On the flip side of all the Mexican food, there isn’t much to eat in Phoenix if you want to eat something that takes more than two minutes to prepare. In conjunction with the lack of diversity, all but one of the Asian restaurants that I saw in Phoenix was called “Super Buffet”.
+- Slow pace. People in Phoenix don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to get wherever they’re going. Traffic consistently flowed 5 mph below the speed limit, a contrast to my style of speeding 20 mph faster. While it was refreshing to not share the road with pushy idiots and super aggressive drivers, I was pretty outraged most of the time that traffic was so slow.
I really liked the Gym Douchebag test that I had in my last post, so today I will tell you how to identify a Facebook ‘bag. I’ve become very angry about the pollution on my news feed page.
If you have to tell people what you’re doing on Facebook, chances are nobody cares about you enough in real life to ask you. I was just too nice to ignore your friend request for the fourth time, but now I wish I could unfriend you.
With that, here are your quick steps to identifying a douche:
-status is updated more than three times per week
-changes their status to a complaint or non-problem
-bonus points for being tired, sore, busy, or hurt
-a guy comments on every girl’s hot pictures (I freaking hate this guy because he has ruined drunken slutty pictures for us all)
-has more than five favorites – twenty interests just means you have zero interests
-tries to make themselves seem cool with douche events like trips to Europe, extreme sports, or proclamations that they have fun (rule of thumb: if nobody wants to hear about it in real life, nobody wants to read about it on Facebook)
-Americans who write crap in a foreign language, especially a romanized version of it