Monday, January 7, 2999

Support Rolf Degen's work!

Please check Rolf Degen's twitter page and help him maintain his great service, excerpting papers about evolutionary psychology and related areas:

Check for yourself his summaries' quality. Please help him preserve his work!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Conservatives prefer political ideas that connect to the past; the preference is so strong, that they can be convinced of any idea, including liberal ones, if framed to connect to the past

Political conservatism as preference for the past.  Joris Lammers, Matt Baldwin. 51. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie, Frankfurt, Sep 2018,

Abstract: Differences in political ideology are traditionally seen as differences in preference what direction the country should head toward: more or less taxes, stricter or more lenient treatment of immigrants, etc. We test instead the effect of differences in temporal orientation. Specifically, we propose that political conservatives (those at the right) are more focused on the past, compared to liberals (those on the left).  Therefore, conservatives prefer political ideas that connect to the past. We propose that this preference is so strong, that conservatives can be convinced of any political idea – including liberal ideas – if these are framed to connect to the past. We find robust support for this idea in more than 20 experiments. In each study, conservatives disliked liberal political plans, but accepted those same liberal plans if they were framed to connect to the past. Using a past-focused frame leads political conservatives to misattribute their warm and nostalgic feelings for the past onto liberal ideas and therefore support them. For example, American conservatives opposed climate change policies (e.g. the Paris Agreement), but they support them if they were framed as attempts at restoring the pristine nature of the past. German conservatives opposed admitting more refugees from Syria, but embraced them if immigration was framed as part of a German tradition. All in all, temporal framing reduced conservatives’ disagreement with liberal ideas by between 30 percent and 100 percent. Furthermore, the effect replicates across various countries, including the USA, Britain, and Germany. We also show the process behind this effect, by focusing on the mediating role of nostalgia and moderating role of processing style. All in all, these studies suggest that a large portion of the political disagreement between conservatives and liberals is not (only) about the content, but also largely about the stylistics of how political ideas are presented. This suggests that political differences are much easier to solve than previously though.

In comparatively religious counties religious individuals (i.e., persons buried in graves with religious imagery) lived longer than non-religious individuals did; No such an effect in comparatively secular counties

What the dead tell us about the living: Regionally varying associations between religiosity and longevity based on gravestone inscriptions. Tobias Ebert, Jochen E Gebauer, Jildou Talman, P. Jason Rentrow. 51. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie, Frankfurt, Sep 2018,

Abstract: A large array of psychological research shows that religiosity can be a valuable source of health benefits and may even prolong the life. However, it is still unclear whether this relationship is universal or specific to contexts where religiosity is part of the normative lifestyle. We argue that, before reaching a conclusion, it is important to acknowledge two important limitations of existing research. Specifically, previous research a) solely relied on self-report survey information to measure an individual’s religiosity and b) mainly compared nations, while almost fully neglecting intranational variation. We suggest an innovative approach that employs an alternative, arguably more objective measure of religiosity and a very fine-grained resolution of the socio- cultural context. Specifically, we operationalize individuals’ religiosity and longevity by the inscriptions and imagery on their gravestone. To this end, we used an online database to draw a sample of 1,600 graves from 16 counties in the USA and coded the appearance of each gravestone. We find that in comparatively religious counties religious individuals (i.e., persons buried in graves with religious imagery) lived longer than non-religious individuals did. Speaking in favor of a culturally specific relationship, we do not find such an effect in comparatively secular counties. Finally, we also discuss the potentials and limitations of gravestone data as an unused source to inform psychological research in general.

An Evolutionary Perspective on Why Food Overconsumption Impairs Cognition

An Evolutionary Perspective on Why Food Overconsumption Impairs Cognition. Mark P. Mattson. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,


*  Neuronal networks in brain regions critical for spatial navigation and decision-making evolved to enable success in competition for limited food availability in hazardous environments.

*  A major ecological factor that drove the evolution of cognition, namely food scarcity, has been largely eliminated from the day-to-day experiences of modern-day humans and domesticated animals.

*  Continuous availability and consumption of energy-rich food in relatively sedentary modern-day humans negatively impacts the lifetime cognitive trajectories of parents and their children.

*  Epigenetic molecular DNA and chromatin protein modifications are impacted by energy intake and can propagate to future generations.

*  The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which intermittent food deprivation enhances cognition and overfeeding impairs cognition are being elucidated.

*  A better understanding of the food-centric evolutionary foundations of human brain neuroplasticity is leading to the development of novel bioenergetic challenge-based patterns of eating and exercise aimed at improving cognitive health and resilience.

Abstract: Brain structures and neuronal networks that mediate spatial navigation, decision-making, sociality, and creativity evolved, in part, to enable success in food acquisition. Here, I discuss evidence suggesting that the reason that overconsumption of energy-rich foods negatively impacts cognition is that signaling pathways that evolved to respond adaptively to food scarcity are relatively disengaged in the setting of continuous food availability. Obesity impairs cognition and increases the risk for some psychiatric disorders and dementias. Moreover, maternal and paternal obesity predispose offspring to poor cognitive outcomes by epigenetic molecular mechanisms. Neural signaling pathways that evolved to bolster cognition in settings of food insecurity can be stimulated by intermittent fasting and exercise to support the cognitive health of current and future generations.

The Psychology of Morality: A Review and Analysis of Empirical Studies Published From 1940 Through 2017

The Psychology of Morality: A Review and Analysis of Empirical Studies Published From 1940 Through 2017. Naomi Ellemers et al. Personality and Social Psychology Review,

Abstract: We review empirical research on (social) psychology of morality to identify which issues and relations are well documented by existing data and which areas of inquiry are in need of further empirical evidence. An electronic literature search yielded a total of 1,278 relevant research articles published from 1940 through 2017. These were subjected to expert content analysis and standardized bibliometric analysis to classify research questions and relate these to (trends in) empirical approaches that characterize research on morality. We categorize the research questions addressed in this literature into five different themes and consider how empirical approaches within each of these themes have addressed psychological antecedents and implications of moral behavior. We conclude that some key features of theoretical questions relating to human morality are not systematically captured in empirical research and are in need of further investigation.

Keywords: moral reasoning, moral behavior, moral judgment, moral self-views, moral emotions

Paradoxically too, those who care less about their moral identity may actually be more consistent in their behavior and more accurate in their self-reports as they are less bothered by appearing morally inadequate. As a result, all the research that reveals self-defensive responses when people are unable to live up to their own standards or those of others, or when they are reminded of their moral lapses, implies that there is limited value in relying on people’s self- stated moral principles or moral ideals to predict their real- life behaviors.

On an applied note, this paradox of morality also clarifies some of the difficulties of aiming for moral improvement by confronting people with their morally questionable behav- iors. Such criticism undermines people’s moral self-views and likely raises guilt and shame. This in turn elicits self- defensive responses (justifications, victim blaming, moral disengagement) in particular among those who think of themselves as endorsing universal moral guidelines prescrib- ing fairness and care. Furthermore, questioning people’s moral viewpoints easily raises moral outrage and aggression toward others who think differently. This is also visible in studies examining moral rebels and moral courage (those who stand up for their own principles) or moral entrepreneurship and moral exporting (those who actively seek to convince others of their own moral principles). While the behavior of such individuals would seem to deserve praise and admiration as exemplifying morality, it also involves going against other people’s convictions and challenging their values, which is not always welcomed by these others. All these responses stand in the way of behavioral improve- ment. Instead of focusing on people’s explicit moral choices to make them adapt their behavior, it may therefore be more effective to nudge them toward change by altering goal primes, situational features, or decision frames.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Patients who lost their ability to retrieve episodic facts (severe head injury, Alzheimer’s, stroke) were able to describe their traits despite inability to remember their lives' details

Robinson, M. D., & Sedikides, C. (in press). Personality and The Self. In P. Corr & G. Matthews (Eds.), Cambridge University Press handbook of personality (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Abstract:  People draw from the self-concept when they report on their personality traits. Accordingly, researchers should be able to understand personality traits in terms of self-related processes. This chapter addresses the interface between personality and the self, presenting an integration whereby trait-related knowledge is considered in terms of its abstract and generalized qualities.  These qualities contribute to personality stability over time, but they also allow for discrepancies between trait-related views of the self and momentary tendencies toward thought, feeling, or action. The chapter also explores ways in which individual differences in personality can be understood in terms of mechanisms postulated by self-enhancement theory and raison oblige theory. Altogether, the chapter illustrates the benefits of integrating the personality trait and self concept literatures.

Keywords: personality, traits, self, self-enhancement

Other consequences of mindfulness in the moral domain: Attenuated repair intentions after having read a scenario in which participants caused harm to a friend & attenuated intentions to change bad eating habits

Potential negative consequences of mindfulness in the moral domain. Simon Schindler, Stefan Pfattheicher, Marc-Andre Reinhard. To appear in the European Journal of Social Psychology, January 2019,

Abstract: Mindfulness is a state of paying conscious and nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experiences. Previous research relates this state to more effective emotion regulation and less emotion reactivity. We therefore hypothesized an attenuating effect of a mindfulness exercise on moral reactions that usually results from a bad conscience when having caused harm. Across five studies, we experimentally induced mindfulness via a short breathing exercise and then assessed harm-based moral reactions. As hypothesized, participants in the mindfulness (vs. control) exercise condition showed a) attenuated repair intentions after having read a scenario in which participants caused harm to a friend (Study 3) and b) attenuated intentions to change harm-causing eating habits (Study 4). Results of Studies 1, 2 and 5 did not provide evidence for our hypothesis. A following meta-analysis across all five studies yielded an overall significant effect of mindfulness in the harm-condition, providing preliminary evidence for a potential downside to mindfulness.

Check also Gebauer, Jochen, Nehrlich, A.D., Stahlberg, D., Sedikides, Constantine, Hackenschmidt, D, Schick, D, Stegmaie, C A, Windfelder, C. C, Bruk, A and Mander, J V (2018) Mind-body practices and the self: yoga and meditation do not quiet the ego, but instead boost self-enhancement. Psychological Science, 1-22. (In Press).

Political ideology shapes the amplification of the accomplishments of disadvantaged vs. advantaged group members

Political ideology shapes the amplification of the accomplishments of disadvantaged vs. advantaged group members. Nour S. Kteily, Matthew D. Rocklage, Kaylene McClanahan, Arnold K. Ho. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2019, 201818545; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1818545116

Significance: Inequality prospers when successes of advantaged group members (e.g., men, whites) get more attention than equivalent successes of disadvantaged group members (e.g., women, blacks). What determines whose successes individuals deem worth promoting vs. those they ignore? Using hundreds of thousands of tweets from the 2016 Olympics, we show that liberals are much more likely than conservatives to shine a spotlight on black and female (vs. white and male) US gold medalists. Two further experiments provide evidence that such differential amplification of successful targets is driven by a motivation—higher among liberals—to raise disadvantaged groups’ standing in service of equality. We find that liberals drive differential amplification more than conservatives and establish a behavioral mechanism through which liberals’ egalitarian motives manifest.

Abstract: Recent years have witnessed an increased public outcry in certain quarters about a perceived lack of attention given to successful members of disadvantaged groups relative to equally meritorious members of advantaged groups, exemplified by social media campaigns centered around hashtags, such as #OscarsSoWhite and #WomenAlsoKnowStuff. Focusing on political ideology, we investigate here whether individuals differentially amplify successful targets depending on whether these targets belong to disadvantaged or advantaged groups, behavior that could help alleviate or entrench group-based disparities. Study 1 examines over 500,000 tweets from over 160,000 Twitter users about 46 unambiguously successful targets varying in race (white, black) and gender (male, female): American gold medalists from the 2016 Olympics. Leveraging advances in computational social science, we identify tweeters’ political ideology, race, and gender. Tweets from political liberals were much more likely than those from conservatives to be about successful black (vs. white) and female (vs. male) gold medalists (and especially black females), controlling for tweeters’ own race and gender, and even when tweeters themselves were white or male (i.e., advantaged group members). Studies 2 and 3 provided experimental evidence that liberals are more likely than conservatives to differentially amplify successful members of disadvantaged (vs. advantaged) groups and suggested that this is driven by liberals’ heightened concern with social equality. Addressing theorizing about ideological asymmetries, we observed that political liberals are more responsible than conservatives for differential amplification. Our results highlight ideology’s polarizing power to shape even whose accomplishments we promote, and extend theorizing about behavioral manifestations of egalitarian motives.

Removing Hand Information Specifically Impairs Emotion Recognition for Fearful and Angry Body Stimuli

Ross, Paddy, and Tessa Flack. 2019. “Removing Hand Information Specifically Impairs Emotion Recognition for Fearful and Angry Body Stimuli.” PsyArXiv. January 18. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Emotion perception research has largely been dominated by work on facial expressions, but emotion is also strongly conveyed from the body.  Research exploring emotion recognition from the body tends to refer to ‘the body’ as a whole entity.  However, the body is made up of different components (hands, arms, trunk etc.), all of which could be differentially contributing to emotion recognition.  We know that the hands can convey action, and in particular are important for social communication through gestures, but we currently do not know to what extent the hands influence emotion recognition from ‘the body’.  Here, 93 adults viewed static emotional body stimuli with either the hands, arms, or both components removed and completed a forced-choice emotion recognition task.  Removing the hands significantly reduced recognition accuracy for fear and anger, but made no significant difference to the recognition of happiness and sadness. Removing the arms had no effect on emotion recognition accuracy compared to the full-body stimuli.  These results demonstrate the key role played by the hands in the recognition of threat-based emotions conveying action information.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Massive redundancy: The great majority of nerve cells in the intact brain are permanently silent, in inhibited state at high energetic costs, until stress and disease attack, developing psychiatric symptoms

The dark matter of the brain. Saak V. Ovsepian. Brain Structure and Function,

Abstract: The bulk of brain energy expenditure is allocated for maintenance of perpetual intrinsic activity of neurons and neural circuits. Long-term electrophysiological and neuroimaging studies in anesthetized and behaving animals show, however, that the great majority of nerve cells in the intact brain do not fire action potentials, i.e., are permanently silent. Herein, I review emerging data suggesting massive redundancy of nerve cells in mammalian nervous system, maintained in inhibited state at high energetic costs. Acquired in the course of evolution, these collections of dormant neurons and circuits evade routine functional undertakings, and hence, keep out of the reach of natural selection. Under penetrating stress and disease, however, they occasionally switch in active state and drive a variety of neuro-psychiatric symptoms and behavioral abnormalities. The increasing evidence for widespread occurrence of silent neurons warrants careful revision of functional models of the brain and entails unforeseen reserves for rehabilitation and plasticity.

Keywords: Silent neurons Brain evolution fMRI Synchronous activity Schizophrenia; disinhibition; neuronal plasticity

It is often claimed that 97 per cent of scientists conclude that humans are causing global warming. Is that really true? No. It is a zombie statistic.

Ian Plimer: 97% Of Scientists Agree On Nothing. The Australian, January 17 2019.

It is often claimed that 97 per cent of scientists conclude that humans are causing global warming. Is that really true? No. It is a zombie statistic.

In the scientific circles I mix in, there is an overwhelming scepticism about human-induced climate change. Many of my colleagues claim that the mantra of human-induced global warming is the biggest scientific fraud of all time and future generations will pay dearly.

If 97 per cent of scientists agree that there is human-induced climate change, you’d think they would be busting a gut to vanquish climate sceptics in public debates. Instead, many scientists and activists are expressing confected outrage at the possibility of public debates because the science is settled. After all, 97 per cent of scientists agree that human emissions drive global warming and there is no need for further discussion.

In my 50-year scientific career, I have never seen a hypothesis where 97 per cent of scientists agree. At any scientific conference there are collections of argumentative sods who don’t agree about anything, argue about data, how data was collected and the conclusions derived from data.

Scepticism underpins all science, science is underpinned by repeatable validated evidence and scientific conclusions are not based on a show of hands, consensus, politics or feelings. Scientists, just like lawyers, bankers, unionists, politicians and those in all other fields, can make no claim to being honest or honourable, and various warring cliques of scientists have their leaders, followers, outsiders and enemies. Scientists differ from many in the community because they are allegedly trained to be independent. Unless, of course, whacking big research grants for climate “science” are waved in front of them.

The 97 per cent figure derives from a survey sent to 10,257 people with a self-interest in human-induced global warming who published “science” supported by taxpayer-funded research grants. Replies from 3146 respondents were whittled down to 77 self-appointed climate “scientists” of whom 75 were judged to agree that human-induced warming was taking place. The 97 per cent figure derives from a tribe with only 75 members. What were the criteria for rejecting 3069 respondents? There was no mention that 75 out of 3146 is 2.38 per cent. We did not hear that 2.38 per cent of climate scientists with a self-interest agreed that humans have played a significant role in changing climate and that they are recipients of some of the billions spent annually on climate research.

Another recent paper on the scientific consensus of human-induced climate change was a howler. Such papers can be published only in the sociology or environmental literature.

The paper claimed that published scientific papers showed there was a 97.1 per cent consensus that man had caused at least half of the 0.7C global warming since 1950. How was this 97.1 per cent figure determined? By “inspection” of 11,944 published papers. Inspection is not rigorous scholarship. There was no critical reading and understanding derived from reading 11,944 papers. This was not possible as the study started in March 2012 and was published in mid-2013, hence only a cursory inspection was possible.

What was inspected? By whom?

The methodology section of the publication gives the game away. “This letter was conceived as a ‘citizen science’ project by volunteers contributing to the Skeptical Science website ( In March 2012, we searched the Institute for Scientific Information Web of Science for papers published from 1991-2011 using topic searches for ‘global warming’ or ‘global climate change’.”

This translates as: This study was a biased compilation of opinions from non-scientific, politically motivated volunteer activists who used a search engine for key words in 11,944 scientific papers, were unable to understand the scientific context of the use of “global warming” and “global climate change”, who rebadged themselves as “citizen scientists” to hide their activism and ignorance, who did not read the complete papers and were unable to evaluate critically the diversity of science published therein.

The conclusions were predictable because the methodology was not dispassionate and involved decisions by those who were not independent.

As part of a scathing critical analysis of this paper by real scientists, the original 11,944 papers were read and the readers came to a diametrically opposite conclusion. Of the 11,944 papers, only 41 explicitly stated that humans caused most of the warming since 1950 (0.3 per cent). Of the 11,944 climate “science” papers, 99.7 per cent did not say that carbon dioxide caused most of the global warming since 1950. It was less than 1 per cent and not one paper endorsed a man-made global warming catastrophe.

Political policy and environmental activism rely on this fraudulent 97 per cent consensus paid for by the taxpayer to rob the taxpayer further with subsidies for bird-and-bat-chomping wind turbines, polluting solar panels and handouts to those with sticky fingers in the international climate industry. It’s this alleged 97 per cent consensus that has changed our electricity from cheap and reliable to expensive and unreliable.

Activists with no skin in the game are setting the scene for economic suicide. Time for yellow shirts to shirt-front politicians about their uncritical acceptance of a fraud that has already cost the community hundreds of billions of dollars.

Emeritus professor Ian Plimer’s latest book, The Climate Change Delusion and the Great Electricity Ripoff, is published by Connor Court. He is a member of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council

Check also Consensus? What Consensus? Andrew Montford, GWPF, Sep 2013,

Early adoption of recusant identities & oppositional agencies leading to a polarized choice: Either seek self-verification elsewhere by avoiding institutions such as schools, labor markets, & marriage or intensely engage them

Jaynes, Gerald D., A Behavioral Interpretation of the Origins of African American Family Structure (November 30, 2018). Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 2156.

Abstract: 1960 to 1980 doubling (21% to 41%) of black children in one-parent families emerged from 1940-to-1970 urbanization converging population toward urbanized blacks’ historically stable high rate, not post-1960 welfare liberalization or deindustrialization. Urban and rural child socializations structured different Jim Crow Era black family formations. Agrarian economic enclaves socialized conformity to Jim Crow and two-parent families; urban enclaves rebellion, male joblessness, and destabilized families. Proxying urban/rural residence at age 16 for socialization location, logistic regressions on sixties census data confirm the hypothesis. Racialized urban socialization negatively affected two-parent family formation and poverty status of blacks but not whites.

Keywords: Behavioral Economics, Logistic Regression

The hypothesis underlying my reinterpretation of the origins of contemporary black family structure is, through the late 20th Century, throughout American history, structural differences in the race relations and economic discrimination confronting blacks in rural versus urban locations produced distinct childhood socialization experiences. These distinct socialization experiences exposed urbanized black children (north and south) to large numbers of recusant adults -- men and women socially alienated by urban job ceilings and truculently refusing to acquiesce to race relations based in white supremacy. Observation of and interaction with recusant adults and discriminatory economic institutions put urbanized black children at great risk of early projection of a failure to achieve self-verification of an acceptable social identity. The developmental outcome was early adoption of recusant identities and oppositional agencies leading to a polarized choice: either seek self-verification elsewhere by avoiding institutions such as schools, labor markets, and marriage (causing high rates of single parent families), or (attempting to alter one’s receptionn such institutions) intensely engage them leading to civil rights activism and a rising black middle class. In contrast, rural black children were more likely exposed to adults seeking self-verification by striving to climb the agricultural tenure ladder a life goal requiring conforming to behavioral norms based in the era’s white supremacist race relations. Failure to self-verify a positive self-image by achieving land ownership or rental tenancy occurred later in life when the adoption of oppositional agencies was greatly mitigated.

Cerebellar modulation of the reward circuitry and social behavior: Deep cerebellar nuclei implicated in addictive behavior and autism spectrum disorder, cognitive affective syndrome, and schizophrenia

Cerebellar modulation of the reward circuitry and social behavior. Ilaria Carta et al. Science Jan 18 2019:Vol. 363, Issue 6424, eaav0581. DOI: 10.1126/science.aav0581

The cerebellum and reward-driven behavior
Damage to the cerebellum manifests itself in various forms of cognitive impairment and abnormal social behavior. However, the exact role the cerebellum plays in these conditions is far from clear. Working in mice, Carta et al. found direct projections from the deep cerebellar nuclei to the brain's reward center, a region called the ventral tegmental area (see the Perspective by D'Angelo). These direct projections allowed the cerebellum to play a role in showing a social preference. Intriguingly, this pathway was not prosocial on its own. Cerebellar inputs into the ventral tegmental area were more active during social exploration. Depolarization of ventral tegmental area neurons thus represents a similar reward stimulus as social interaction for mice.

INTRODUCTION: Although the cerebellum has long been considered to be a purely motor structure, recent studies have revealed that it also has critical nonmotor functions. Cerebellar dysfunction is implicated in addictive behavior and in mental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cognitive affective syndrome, and schizophrenia. The cerebellum is well poised to contribute to behavior because it receives a wide array of cortical and sensory information and is subject to control by a number of neuromodulators. To perform its function, the cerebellum is believed to integrate these diverse inputs to provide the rest of the brain with predictions required for optimal behavior. Although there are many pathways for this to occur in the motor domain, fewer exist for the nonmotor domain.

RATIONALE: There are no direct pathways emanating from the cerebellum that have been shown to serve nonmotor functions. We hypothesized that the cerebellum may contribute to motivated behavior by a direct projection to the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a structure that is critical for the perception of reward and control of social behaviors. Such a projection would explain why functional imaging experiments indicate that the cerebellum plays a role in addiction and would provide one potential mechanism by which cerebellar dysfunction might contribute to the symptoms of mental disorders.

RESULTS: In mice, we found that monosynaptic excitatory projections from the cerebellar nuclei to the VTA powerfully activate the reward circuitry and contribute to social behavior. Using anatomical tracing, we showed that axonal projections from the cerebellar nuclei form synapses with both dopaminergic and nondopaminergic neurons in the VTA. The cerebello-VTA (Cb-VTA) projections were powerful and their optogenetic stimulation robustly increased the activity of VTA neurons both in vivo and in vitro. Behavioral tests to examine reward processing showed that stimulation of the Cb-VTA projections was sufficient to cause short-term and long-term place preference, thereby demonstrating that the pathway was rewarding. Although optogenetic inhibition of Cb-VTA projections was not aversive, it completely abolished social preference in the three-chamber test for sociability, which suggests that the cerebellar input to the VTA is required for normal social behavior. A role for the cerebellum in social behavior was also indicated by correlation between calcium activity in these axons and performance in the three-chamber test. However, optogenetic activation of the Cb-VTA inputs was not prosocial, hence the pathway was not sufficient for social behavior.

CONCLUSION: The Cb-VTA pathway described here is a monosynaptic projection from the cerebellum to a structure known primarily for its nonmotor functions. Our data support a role for the cerebellum in reward processing and in control of social behavior. We propose that this Cb-VTA pathway may explain, at least in part, the association between the cerebellum and addictive behaviors, and provides a basis for a role for the cerebellum in other motivated and social behaviors. In addition to contributing to reward processing, the VTA also targets a number of other brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, that in turn sustain a large repertoire of motor and nonmotor behaviors. Direct cerebellar innervation of the VTA provides a pathway by which the cerebellum may modulate these diverse behaviors. The Cb-VTA pathway delineated here provides a mechanism by which cerebellar dysfunction, by adversely affecting the VTA and its targets, might contribute to mental disorders such as ASD and schizophrenia.

Elders were less likely to recollect their original judgment than young adults, & had to reconstruct it more frequently; & outcome knowledge distorted more the reconstruction of original judgment in elders

Groß, J., & Pachur, T. (2019). Age differences in hindsight bias: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging,

Abstract: After people have learned a fact or the outcome of an event, they often overestimate their ability to have known the correct answer beforehand. This hindsight bias has two sources: an impairment in direct recall of the original (i.e., uninformed) judgment after presentation of the correct answer (recollection bias) and a reconstruction of the original judgment that is biased toward the correct answer (reconstruction bias). Research on how cognitive aging affects these two sources of hindsight bias has produced mixed results. To synthesize the available findings, we conducted a meta-analysis of nine studies (N = 366 young, N = 368 older adults). We isolated the probabilities of recollection, recollection bias, and reconstruction bias with a Bayesian, three-level hierarchical implementation of the multinomial processing tree model of hindsight bias (Erdfelder & Buchner, 1998). Additionally, we quantified the magnitude of bias in the reconstructed judgment. Overall, older adults were less likely to recollect their original judgment than young adults, and thus had to reconstruct it more frequently. Importantly, whereas outcome knowledge impaired recollection of the original judgment (i.e., recollection bias) to a similar extent in both age groups, outcome knowledge was more likely to distort reconstruction of the original judgment (i.e., reconstruction bias) in older adults. In addition, the magnitude of bias in the reconstructed judgments was slightly larger in older than in young adults. Our results provide the basis for a targeted investigation of the mechanisms driving these age differences.

Aggression in mice is differentially predicted by the volumes of anterior and midcingulate cortex

Aggression in BALB/cJ mice is differentially predicted by the volumes of anterior and midcingulate cortex. Sabrina van Heukelum et al. Brain Structure and Function,

Abstract: Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and midcingulate cortex (MCC) have been implicated in the regulation of aggressive behaviour. For instance, patients with conduct disorder (CD) show increased levels of aggression accompanied by changes in ACC and MCC volume. However, accounts of ACC/MCC changes in CD patients have been conflicting, likely due to the heterogeneity of the studied populations. Here, we address these discrepancies by studying volumetric changes of ACC/MCC in the BALB/cJ mouse, a model of aggression, compared to an age- and gender-matched control group of BALB/cByJ mice. We quantified aggression in BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ mice using the resident–intruder test, and related this to volumetric measures of ACC/MCC based on Nissl-stained coronal brain slices of the same animals. We demonstrate that BALB/cJ behave consistently more aggressively (shorter attack latencies, more frequent attacks, anti-social biting) than the control group, while at the same time showing an increased volume of ACC and a decreased volume of MCC. Differences in ACC and MCC volume jointly predicted a high amount of variance in aggressive behaviour, while regression with only one predictor had a poor fit. This suggests that, beyond their individual contributions, the relationship between ACC and MCC plays an important role in regulating aggressive behaviour. Finally, we show the importance of switching from the classical rodent anatomical definition of ACC as cingulate area 2 and 1 to a definition that includes the MCC and is directly homologous to higher mammalian species: clear behaviour-related differences in ACC/MCC anatomy were only observed using the homologous definition.

Keywords: Prefrontal cortex Rodent Brain volume Aggression Mouse model

Is Language Required to Represent Others’ Mental States? Language does not form an essential part of the process of reasoning online (“in the moment”) about false beliefs

Is Language Required to Represent Others’ Mental States? Evidence From Beliefs and Other Representations. Steven Samuel et al. Cognitive Science,

Abstract: An important part of our Theory of Mind—the ability to reason about other people's unobservable mental states—is the ability to attribute false beliefs to others. We investigated whether processing these false beliefs, as well as similar but nonmental representations, is reliant on language. Participants watched videos in which a protagonist hides a gift and either takes a photo of it or writes a text about its location before a second person inadvertently moves the present to a different location, thereby rendering the belief and either the photo or text false. At the same time, participants performed either a concurrent verbal interference task (rehearsing strings of digits) or a visual interference task (remembering a visual pattern). Results showed that performance on false belief trials did not decline under verbal interference relative to visual interference. We interpret these findings as further support for the view that language does not form an essential part of the process of reasoning online (“in the moment”) about false beliefs.

Both numerical magnitude & order processing were uniquely related to arithmetic achievement, beyond domain‐general factors (intellectual ability, working memory, inhibitory control, & non‐numerical ordering)

Disentangling the Mechanisms of Symbolic Number Processing in Adults’ Mathematics and Arithmetic Achievement. Josetxu Orrantia et al. Cognitive Science,

Abstract: A growing body of research has shown that symbolic number processing relates to individual differences in mathematics. However, it remains unclear which mechanisms of symbolic number processing are crucial—accessing underlying magnitude representation of symbols (i.e., symbol‐magnitude associations), processing relative order of symbols (i.e., symbol‐symbol associations), or processing of symbols per se. To address this question, in this study adult participants performed a dots‐number word matching task—thought to be a measure of symbol‐magnitude associations (numerical magnitude processing)—a numeral‐ordering task that focuses on symbol‐symbol associations (numerical order processing), and a digit‐number word matching task targeting symbolic processing per se. Results showed that both numerical magnitude and order processing were uniquely related to arithmetic achievement, beyond the effects of domain‐general factors (intellectual ability, working memory, inhibitory control, and non‐numerical ordering). Importantly, results were different when a general measure of mathematics achievement was considered. Those mechanisms of symbolic number processing did not contribute to math achievement. Furthermore, a path analysis revealed that numerical magnitude and order processing might draw on a common mechanism. Each process explained a portion of the relation of the other with arithmetic (but not with a general measure of math achievement). These findings are consistent with the notion that adults’ arithmetic skills build upon symbol‐magnitude associations, and they highlight the effects that different math measures have in the study of numerical cognition.

When the Muses Strike: Creative Ideas of Physicists and Writers Routinely Occur During Mind Wandering

When the Muses Strike: Creative Ideas of Physicists and Writers Routinely Occur During Mind Wandering. Shelly L. Gable, Elizabeth A. Hopper, Jonathan W. Schooler. Psychological Science,

Abstract: How often are creative ideas generated during episodes of mind wandering, and do they differ from those generated while on task? In two studies (N = 98, N = 87), professional writers and physicists reported on their most creative idea of the day, what they were thinking about and doing when it occurred, whether the idea felt like an “aha” moment, and the quality of the idea. Participants reported that one fifth of their most significant ideas of the day were formed during spontaneous task-independent mind wandering—operationalized here as (a) engaging in an activity other than working and (b) thinking about something unrelated to the generated idea. There were no differences between ratings of the creativity or importance of ideas that occurred during mind wandering and those that occurred on task. However, ideas that occurred during mind wandering were more likely to be associated with overcoming an impasse on a problem and to be experienced as “aha” moments, compared with ideas generated while on task.

Keywords: creativity, mind wandering, insight, open data, open materials

Disgust, sushi consumption, benefits, religion, and other predictors of acceptance of insects as food by Americans and Indians

Disgust, sushi consumption, and other predictors of acceptance of insects as food by Americans and Indians. Matthew B. Ruby, Paul Rozin. Food Quality and Preference,

•    Americans (82%) were more willing to try eating insects than were Indians (48%).
•    Benefits: Agreement was highest that rearing insects has low space requirements.
•    Risks: Agreement was highest that eating insects may cause allergic reactions.
•    USA: Willingness to eat insects was best predicted by Disgust and Benefit beliefs.
•    Consumption of sushi is a good predictor of insect acceptance.


Insects are an important human food source, especially in developing countries, because of their efficiency at converting plant foods into animal protein, and their relatively low environment impact. The present study builds on some prior research on eating insects by surveying Indian and American adults. A composite measure of insect acceptance is developed. The results confirm prior findings that Americans are more accepting of insects as a potential food than Indians, and that men are more accepting than women. Substantially more Indians than Americans consider insect ingestion a violation of a protected/sacred value, suggesting a moral objection. Attitudes to and beliefs about insects and insect consumption are decomposed through factor analysis into the same five factors in both countries: Benefits, Risks, Disgust, Religion, and Suffering. Multiple regression indicates that for Americans, Disgust is the major predictor, followed by Benefits. For Indians, the best predictor is Benefits, followed by Disgust and Religion. In both countries, frequency of sushi consumption (a food commonly met with disgust when it was first introduced) is also a significant and substantial predictor of insect acceptance.

Investigating gender differences in school burnout from a self-worth perspective: Girls take school too seriously

Do girls take school too seriously? Investigating gender differences in school burnout from a self-worth perspective. Julia Herrmann, Karoline Koeppen, Ursula Kessels. Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 69, January 2019, Pages 150-161.

•    Lower school achievement is associated with higher levels of school burnout.
•    Independent of grades, girls report higher levels of exhaustion.
•    Girls report higher academic contingent self-esteem and lower global self-esteem.
•    Academic contingent SE and motivation explain gender differences in exhaustion.

Abstract: Recent investigations have suggested that a considerable percentage of teenagers, especially those in academic track schools, report school-related burnout symptoms (exhaustion, cynicism and inadequacy). Low school achievement and female gender are discussed as risk factors for the syndrome. We investigated school burnout from an individual differences perspective, focusing on aspects of self-esteem (global self-esteem; academic contingent self-esteem) and their associations with specific types of motivational regulation (intrinsic; extrinsic) in a sample of N = 649 9th graders (59% female; 40% males) from six academic track schools in Germany. We hypothesized that gender would be associated with school burnout symptoms and that global self-esteem, academic contingent self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation would mediate the relations. We tested these associations in a structural equation model that was adjusted for grades. Girls' higher scores on exhaustion could be explained through pathways via self-esteem aspects and motivation. Results may inform prevention practices.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Minds of God(s) and Humans: Differences in Mind Perception in Fiji and North America; mind perception is shaped by culturally defined social expectations

The Minds of God(s) and Humans: Differences in Mind Perception in Fiji and North America. Aiyana K. Willard, Rita A. McNamara. Cognitive Science,

Abstract: Previous research suggests that how people conceive of minds depends on the culture in which they live, both in determining how they interact with other human minds and how they infer the unseen minds of gods. We use exploratory factor analysis to compare how people from different societies with distinct models of human minds and different religious traditions perceive the minds of humans and gods. In two North American samples (American adults, N = 186; Canadian students, N = 202), we replicated a previously found two‐factor agency/experience structure for both human and divine minds, but in Fijian samples (Indigenous iTaukei Fijians, N = 77; Fijians of Indian descent, N = 214; total N = 679) we found a three‐factor structure, with the additional containing items related to social relationships. Further, Fijians’ responses revealed a different three‐factor structure for human minds and gods’ minds. We used these factors as dimensions in the conception of minds to predict (a) expectations about human and divine tendencies towards punishment and reward; and (b) conception of gods as more embodied (an extension of experience) or more able to know people's thoughts (an extension of agency). We found variation in how these factors predict conceptions of agents across groups, indicating further theory is needed to explain how culturally generated concepts of mind lead to other sorts of social inferences. We conclude that mind perception is shaped by culturally defined social expectations and recommend further work in different cultural contexts to examine the interplay between culture and social cognition.

Additional siblings reduce wealth by about 38%; effect is more negatively associated with filial wealth with wealthier parents; contribution to population-level inequalities aside other socio-economic characteristics

Fewer Siblings, More Wealth? Sibship Size and Wealth Attainment. Philipp M. Lersch. European Journal of Population,

Abstract: This study examines the association between sibship size and wealth in adulthood. The study draws on resource dilution theory and additionally discusses potentially wealth-enhancing consequences of having siblings. Data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP, N = 3502 individuals) are used to estimate multilevel regression models adjusted for concurrent parental wealth and other important confounders neglected in extant work. The main results of the current study show that additional siblings reduce wealth by about 38%. Parental wealth moderates the association so that sibship size is more negatively associated with filial wealth when parents are wealthier. Birth order position does not moderate the association between sibship size and wealth. The findings suggest that fertility in the family of origin has a systematic impact on wealth attainment and may contribute to population-level wealth inequalities independently from other socio-economic characteristics in families of origin such as parental wealth.

Some reaction time studies report faster responses when responses to temporal information are arranged in a spatially congruent manner; due to cultural localization of temporal information in a mental timeline

The Space–Time Congruency Effect: A Meta‐Analysis. Linda von Sobbe, Edith Scheifele, Claudia Maienborn, Rolf Ulrich. Cognitive Science,

Abstract: Several reaction time (RT) studies report faster responses when responses to temporal information are arranged in a spatially congruent manner than when this arrangement is incongruent. The resulting space–time congruency effect is commonly attributed to a culturally salient localization of temporal information along a mental timeline (e.g., a mental timeline that runs from left to right). The present study aims to provide a compilation of the published RT studies on this time–space association in order to estimate the size of its effect and the extent of potential publication bias in this field of research. In this meta‐analysis, three types of task are distinguished due to hitherto existing empirical findings. These findings suggest that the extent to which time is made relevant to the experimental task has a systematic impact on whether or not the mental timeline is activated. The results of this meta‐analysis corroborate these considerations: First, experiments that make time a task‐relevant dimension have a mean effect size of d = 0.46. Second, in experiments in which time is task irrelevant, the effect size does not significantly deviate from zero. Third, temporal priming studies have a surprisingly high mean effect size of d = 0.47, which, however, should be adjusted to d = 0.36 due to publication bias.

These findings underscore the contributions of heritable influences to the associations between parenting & virtuous character that have previously been assumed to be only environmentally influenced

Did I Inherit My Moral Compass? Examining Socialization and Evocative Mechanisms for Virtuous Character Development. Amanda M. Ramos, Amanda M. Griffin, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, David Reiss. Behavior Genetics,

Abstract: Virtuous character development in children is correlated with parenting behavior, but the role of genetic influences in this association has not been examined. Using a longitudinal twin/sibling study (N = 720; Time 1 (T1) Mage = 12–14 years, Time 3 (T3) Mage = 25–27 years), the current report examines associations among parental negativity/positivity and offspring responsibility during adolescence, and subsequent young adult conscientiousness. Findings indicate that associations among parental negativity and offspring virtuous character during adolescence and young adulthood are due primarily to heritable influences. In contrast, the association between concurrent parental positivity and adolescent responsibility was due primarily to heritable and shared environmental influences. These findings underscore the contributions of heritable influences to the associations between parenting and virtuous character that have previously been assumed to be only environmentally influenced, emphasizing the complexity of mechanisms involved in the development of virtuous character.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

From 1992: A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder

A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder. R P Bentall. J Med Ethics. 1992 Jun; 18(2): 94–98.

Abstract: It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains--that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.

Health and Wealth in the Roman Empire: Romans paid a health price for their material wealth, their bones are smaller in the period of more power

Health and Wealth in the Roman Empire. Willem M. Jongman, Jan P.A.M.Jacobs Geertje, M. KleinGoldewijk. Economics & Human Biology,

•    We present the largest dataset of skeletal data for Roman history.
•    We do not attempt to reconstruct stature, but opt for trends in factor scores.
•    We find a downward trend until the first century AD, and improvement thereafter.
•    Our measure correlates negatively with population, but also with wages or diets.
•    Romans paid a health price for their material wealth.

Abstract: Ancient Rome was the largest and most populous empire of its time, and the largest pre-industrial state in European history. Recent though not universally accepted research suggests that at least for the most populous central periods of its history standard of living was also rather higher than before or after. To trace whether this is also reflected in Roman biological standard of living, we present the first large and more or less comprehensive dataset, based on skeletal data for some 10,000 individuals, covering all periods of Roman history, and all regions (even if inevitably unequally). We discuss both the methodologies that we developed and the historical results. Instead of reconstructing heights from the long bones assuming fixed body proportions or from one individual long bone, we apply exploratory factor analysis and calculate factor scores for 50-year periods. Our measure of the biological standard of living declined during the last two centuries B.C. and started to improve again, slowly at first, from the second century A.D. It correlated negatively with population, but also with other aspects of standard of living such as wages or diets.

More likely to stick with initial decisions, no matter which reasons are considered; this resistance to belief change is likely due to a motivated, biased evaluation of the reasons to support their initial beliefs (prior-belief bias)

Resistance to Position Change, Motivated Reasoning, and Polarization. Matthew L. Stanley, Paul Henne, Brenda W. Yang, Felipe De Brigard. Political Behavior,

Abstract: People seem more divided than ever before over social and political issues, entrenched in their existing beliefs and unwilling to change them. Empirical research on mechanisms driving this resistance to belief change has focused on a limited set of well-known, charged, contentious issues and has not accounted for deliberation over reasons and arguments in belief formation prior to experimental sessions. With a large, heterogeneous sample (N = 3001), we attempt to overcome these existing problems, and we investigate the causes and consequences of resistance to belief change for five diverse and less contentious socio-political issues. After participants chose initially to support or oppose a given socio-political position, they were provided with reasons favoring their chosen position (affirming reasons), reasons favoring the other, unchosen position (conflicting reasons), or all reasons for both positions (reasons for both sides). Our results indicate that participants are more likely to stick with their initial decisions than to change them no matter which reasons are considered, and that this resistance to belief change is likely due to a motivated, biased evaluation of the reasons to support their initial beliefs (prior-belief bias). More specifically, they rated affirming reasons more favorably than conflicting reasons—even after accounting for reported prior knowledge about the issue, the novelty of the reasons presented, and the reported strategy used to make the initial decision. In many cases, participants who did not change their positions tended to become more confident in the superiority of their positions after considering many reasons for both sides.

Sexual murderers in everyday life

Sexual murderers in everyday life. Jonathan James, Eric Beauregard, Jean Proulx. Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 60, January–February 2019, Pages 64-73.

•    Sexual murderers are not different from the criminals described by classic criminology.
•    Sexual murderers are marginalized individuals who are dissatisfied with their lives.
•    Nonserial murderers were described as dysfunctional and having alcohol problems.
•    Serial murderers avoid arousing the suspicion of neighbors and police.
•    Homicidal fantasy may partially explain why some murderers become serial murderers.

Abstract: The objective of this study was to develop a psychosocial profile of sexual murderers and characterize their life context at the moment they decided to commit homicide—in some cases, on repeated occasions. To this end, serial sexual murderers (SSMs, n = 33) and nonserial sexual murderers (NSMs, n = 87) were compared in terms of sociodemographic characteristics, general and sexual lifestyles, criminal behaviors, cognitions, stressful events, and motivation to commit sexual homicide. The results of this study indicate that sexual murderers are marginalized individuals who are dissatisfied with their lives and whose crimes are triggered by stressful events. However, unlike NSMs, SSMs have a psychosocial profile and the criminal skills that allow them to avoid arousing the suspicion of neighbors and police. Moreover, the sexual tension they experience daily motivates them to commit carefully planned crimes. Taken together, these characteristics partially explain why these individuals are more likely than NSMs to commit a series of sexual homicides. While sexual homicide is an extreme phenomenon, it is nevertheless primarily committed by individuals whose characteristics resemble those of individuals who commit less spectacular crimes. It is thus not surprising that psychological theories of sexual assault and criminological theories are suitable for the study of this phenomenon.

Many are willing to incur a relatively high individual cost in order to adhere to an well-known superstition; but for for many, adherence is contingent on the the behavior of others

Invernizzi, Giovanna, Joshua B. Miller, Tommaso Coen, Martin Dufwenberg, and Luiz E. R. Oliveira. 2019. “Tra I Leoni: Revealing the Preferences Behind a Superstition.” OSF Preprints. January 16. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: We investigate a superstition for which adherence is nearly universal. Using a combination of field interventions and a lab-style value elicitation, we measure the strength of peoples' underlying preferences, and to what extent their behavior is driven by social conformity rather than the superstition itself. Our findings indicate that both mechanisms influence behavior. While a substantial number of people are willing to incur a relatively high individual cost in order to adhere to the superstition, for many, adherence is contingent on the the behavior of others. Our findings suggest that it is the conforming nature of the majority that sustains the false beliefs of the minority.

Many gums or confectionaries incorporate chemical cooling agents to create the sensation of coldness; odorized & blue samples were rated as cooler than the non-odorized & other colored samples

Pellegrino, Robert, and Curtis Luckett. 2019. “The Effect of Odor and Color on Chemical Cooling.” PsyArXiv. January 15. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Chemesthesis, along with taste and olfaction, is a primary component of flavor that engages the trigeminal system through specific chemical binding. For instance, many gums or confectionaries incorporate chemical cooling agents, such as Wilkinson Sword (WS) compounds, to create the sensation of coldness. The current study was designed to evaluate crossmodal associations of color and aroma with the chemesthetic perception of cooling. A “minty” and non-odorized set of confectionary stimuli, colored green, blue or white, with moderate cooling properties (with WS-3) were used in this study.  In the first session, participants were randomly presented a stimuli and asked to rate several attributes including its cooling intensity on a generalized Labeled Magnitude Scale (gLMS). In the second session, the same participants were asked to relate cooling levels to different colors and which color relates to the “minty” odor. Additionally, open-ended reasons were given for association choices. Appearance and odor influenced the intensity of cooling sensation. In particular, the odorized and blue samples were rated as cooler than the non-odorized and other colored samples, respectively. The follow-up session confirms blue as a color associated with cooling properties, especially cool objects/abstract concepts. Meanwhile, odor’s enhancement on cooling sensation may be more perceptual in nature through affective matching from enhanced flavor.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Santiago Genoves, Acali Raft, and Mutiny on the Sex Raft: How a 70s science project descended into violent chaos

Mutiny on the Sex Raft: how a 70s science project descended into violent chaos. Stuart Jeffries. The Guardian, Mon Jan 14 2019,

When Santiago Genovés set sail across the Atlantic with 10 attractive people, he didn’t foresee hurricanes, epiphanies and murderous scheming. Marcus Lindeen’s new film retells a remarkable saga


In 1973, Mexican anthropologist Santiago Genovés set out to test a hypothesis. He had been researching the connection between violence and sexuality in monkeys. “Most conflicts,” he noted, “are about sexual access to ovulating females.”

[Genovés’s advert for volunteers. Photograph: The Times]

But would this apply to humans, too? To find out, Genovés asked a British boat builder to make a 12x7 metre raft called the Acali on which he planned to sail with 10 sexually attractive young people across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Mexico. It was like a prototype for the glut of reality TV shows since, a Floating Love Island or Big Brother at Sea, but with a twist – the participants were so isolated from the rest of the world that it would have been futile to cry: “Get me out of here!” The only ways out were drowning or getting eaten by sharks.

Genovés was a veteran of extreme rafting. A few years earlier he had been one of the seven-strong multinational crew on Thor Heyerdahl’s two Ra expeditions to sail reed rafts, like those used in ancient Egypt, across the Atlantic. The Norwegian adventurer wanted to show how people of different races could cooperate effectively.

Genovés had even grander motives in planning his voyage: he sought to diagnose and cure world violence. To that end, he placed ads in international newspapers and made his selection from respondents, choosing a crew of strangers from different races and religions so that he could create a microcosm of the world. Among the five women and five men were a Japanese photographer, an Angolan priest, a French scuba diver, a Swedish ship’s captain, an Israeli doctor and an Alaskan

[The mixed-gender, multi-ethnicity, 11-strong crew, captained by Maria Björnstam (centre)]

To spur conflict onboard, Genovés minimised opportunities for privacy. His human guinea pigs were allowed no reading material. When they wanted to use the loo, they had to sit on a hole perched above the waves in full view of the other 10 and hope that the sea would wash their bottoms. Sex was logistically tricky. Either you would have to do it in full view of the others, or wait until the opportunity offered by night-time. Even then, two people were on duty, one keeping lookout and the other steering. If you were quick about it, crew members related, you could have it off – so long as one of you kept a hand on the helm throughout.

The boat would have no engines and would sail towards the Caribbean, just in time for hurricane season. Genovés knew that the Acali was sailing into danger but thought science justified the risk. “I believe that in a dangerous situation people will act on their instincts and I will be able to study them.”

He put women in charge, in part to reflect what he thought was growing gender equality. The raft was captained by Maria Björnstam and Edna Reves was ship doctor; men were given menial tasks. “I wonder if having women in power will lead to less violence or more,” mused Genovés. “Maybe men will become more frustrated when women are in charge, and try to take over power.”

Armed with questionnaires and spreadsheets that matched up rises in aggression and sexual activity with phases of the moon and wave height, he yearned to discover what humanity must do to live in peace. It didn’t quite work out that way.

What happened in the next 101 days is now chronicled in Marcus Lindeen’s documentary The Raft. Using 16mm film from the journey spliced with new footage in which surviving crew members recall their experiences 43 years after the Acali’s voyage, Lindeen recreates one of the weirdest social experiments of all time. “I suspect that if Santiago were alive today, he would be working in reality TV,” says the Swedish artist, theatre director, playwright and documentary maker.

Over Skype from Stockholm, Lindeen tells me he was looking for material to make a film akin to his debut documentary The Regretters. That 2010 film was about two Swedish men, both of whom had gone through sexual reassignment surgery to become women, regretted it, and transitioned back. “I was looking for another project that would involve a group coming back together and reflecting what had happened to them. I thought about a queer commune.” Then he read a book called Mad Science: 100 Amazing Experiments from the History of Science, which contained an account of Santiago Genovés’s Peace Project.

“I felt, ‘Oh my God. This is it!’” It was Homer’s Odyssey, an adult Lord of the Flies, with a hint of Fitzcarraldo and, fingers crossed, a rerun of 120 Days of Sodom. So he started to track down the crew, only to find many had died in the interim, including Genovés. “Maria, the captain, was Swedish so I got in touch with her quite quickly. But she was shy, and ashamed about her role on what had become called the Sex Raft, and initially didn’t want to take part.”

Then, having seen Lindeen’s earlier work, she changed her mind.

“She produced a box from her attic in Gothenburg that she had never opened before and we started looking thorough it.” Inside were photographs and blueprints for the construction of the raft, but most importantly a contacts book that set Lindeen off on the trail of the other crew members.

Once he had tracked down five women and one man and secured their agreement to take part, he commissioned a full-size replica raft to put on the soundstage where he would film them reminiscing. They had not met since the Peace Project docked in Mexico 43 years earlier, so the reunion was poignant.

In one of The Raft’s most powerful moments, Fé Seymour, an African American engineer, tells her white compatriot Mary Gidley of the strange dreamy sense she had of making the same journey across the Atlantic as her African ancestors on slave ships. “I would sit on the starboard side and look into the water. I would start to hear voices coming from down there … I would hear my ancestors call me. They could feel my flying over their bodies and their tragedies. It was one of the best things that happened to me.”


Not that Genovés’ raft was an antidote to the patriarchy. With a Caribbean hurricane brewing, Maria, the experienced ship’s captain, recommended they pull into a port to sit out the storm. Genovés, fearing the ruin of his experiment if they did so, mutinied and took control of the raft. “He wants to be very progressive and radical giving power to the women,” says Lindeen, “but when it comes to the crisis of the captaincy he’s very macho.”

But Genovés was symbolically castrated later, on the Atlantic crossing. A huge container ship bore down on the little raft and he panicked. Only Maria kept a cool head and organised flares to ward off the looming ship. After that, the guinea pigs turned on the scientist: Maria became captain again. Others on the raft even contemplated killing Genovés. Fé recalled imagining that everybody would put their hands on a knife and “plunge it into him so everybody was guilty. We would wrap him in a sheet, carry him over the railing and drop him.”

Overthrown, Genovés retreated below deck and collapsed into depression, made worse by news on the radio that his university wanted to be dissociated from the scandalous Sex Raft headlines. While lying there he started to cry for the first time since childhood and had an existential epiphany, writing: “Only one has shown any kind of aggression and that is me, a man trying to control everyone else, including himself.” The detached scientist had gone on a Conradian journey, ultimately realising that the heart of darkness was inside him.


From 2007 to 2016, implicit responses changed toward neutrality for sexual orientation, race, & skin-tone, are stable over time for age & disability attitudes & change away from neutrality for overweightness

Patterns of Implicit and Explicit Attitudes: I. Long-Term Change and Stability From 2007 to 2016. Tessa E. S. Charlesworth, Mahzarin R. Banaji. Psychological Science,

Abstract: Using 4.4 million tests of implicit and explicit attitudes measured continuously from an Internet population of U.S. respondents over 13 years, we conducted the first comparative analysis using time-series models to examine patterns of long-term change in six social-group attitudes: sexual orientation, race, skin tone, age, disability, and body weight. Even within just a decade, all explicit responses showed change toward attitude neutrality. Parallel implicit responses also showed change toward neutrality for sexual orientation, race, and skin-tone attitudes but revealed stability over time for age and disability attitudes and change away from neutrality for body-weight attitudes. These data provide previously unavailable evidence for long-term implicit attitude change and stability across multiple social groups; the data can be used to generate and test theoretical predictions as well as construct forecasts of future attitudes.

Keywords: implicit attitude change, implicit association test, long-term change, time-series analysis, open data, open materials

While in a romantic relationship, crushes were fairly common & seemed to have had few negative implications for the established relationship; of interest to therapists addressing couples’ attraction to others

Belu, C., & O'Sullivan, L. (2019). Roving Eyes: Predictors of Crushes in Ongoing Romantic Relationships and Implications for Relationship Quality. Journal of Relationships Research, 10, E2. doi:10.1017/jrr.2018.21

Abstract: Potential alternative partners can threaten the stability of established relationships, yet a romantic or sexual attraction to someone with whom you are not currently involved (i.e., a ‘crush’) appears common for those in relationships (Mullinax, Barnhart, Mark, & Herbenick, 2016). This study assessed prevalence of such crushes, individual and relationship predictors, and links to infidelity. Adults (N = 247, aged 25–45, 43.3% women) in romantic relationships completed surveys assessing individual characteristics (attention to alternatives, sociosexual orientation, attachment avoidance), relationship quality (satisfaction, commitment, intimacy), and infidelity. The degree of attention to alternatives predicted whether one had a crush on another while in a romantic relationship. Crushes were fairly common and seemed to have had few negative implications for those in established relationships. These findings will be of use to therapists addressing couples’ attraction to others.

Gendertrolling is correlated with both hostile sexism & social dominance orientation but neither variable is a unique predictor; significantly related to physical sadism, is motivated less by sexism than believed

Gendertrolls just want to have fun, too. AmandaPaananen, Arleigh J. Reichl. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 141, 15 April 2019, Pages 152-156.

Abstract: Previous research suggests online trolls choose their victims at random, and are motivated by sadistic tendencies. Gendertrolling, however, is directed specifically toward women (and those perceived as feminists or social justice warriors) and is often part of an organized effort to silence their voices. Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine if gendertrolling is predicted by hostile sexism and social dominance orientation, rather than the sadism underlying random trolling. Male participants (N = 347) were recruited online from highly trollable websites, including Youtube, Reddit, 4chan, and Amazon Mechanical Turk, and were asked to complete a series of personality and attitude inventories. As predicted, gendertrolling was correlated with both hostile sexism and social dominance orientation; however, a regression analysis showed neither variable was a unique predictor. Instead, gendertrolling was significantly related to random trolling, and both types of trolling were related to sadism, particularly physical sadism. Therefore, gendertrolling is evidently motivated less by sexism than is commonly believed.

Monday, January 14, 2019

We propose that a conservative orientation might promote physical health behaviors by promoting personal responsibility—overall health, greater physical activity engagement, and smoking cessation

Political orientation and physical health: The role of personal responsibility. Eugene Y. Chan. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 141, 15 April 2019, Pages 117-122.

Abstract: Are conservatives healthier than liberals? Aggregate and macro-level evidence have provided support for this possibility, yet individual-level analyses are missing and underlying processes unclear. We study how a person's political orientation might influence her physical health. We propose that a conservative orientation might promote physical health behaviors by promoting personal responsibility—and being personally-responsible means taking care of one's health. Across three studies, we find evidence for this hypothesis, with mediation evidence supporting our proposed personal responsibility account. We test our propositions on overall health (Study 1), greater physical activity engagement (Study 2), and smoking cessation (Study 3). Thus, we provide the first empirical illustration why conservatives may be healthier, offering implications for medical doctors and public health officials in encouraging healthy lifestyles.

Identify a large positive effect for subtitled original version broadcasts, as opposed to dubbed television, on English proficiency scores; governments could promote subtitling

TV or not TV? The impact of subtitling on English skills. Augusto Rupérez Micola, Ainoa Aparicio Fenoll, Albert Banal-Estañol, Arturo Bris. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization,

•    We provide a fundamental and novel explanation of the quality of English spoken worldwide–the translation mode of foreign movies and shows in television.
•    We identify a large positive effect for subtitled original version broadcasts, as opposed to dubbed television, on English proficiency scores.
•    We analyze the historical circumstances under which countries opted for one of the translation modes and use it to account for the possible endogeneity of the subtitling indicator.
•    We disaggregate the results by type of skills - listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing - and find that television is an especially beneficial tool for listening comprehension.
•    Our paper suggests that governments could promote subtitling as a means to improve foreign language proficiency which, in turn, enhances economic performance.

Abstract: We study the influence of television translation techniques on the worldwide distribution of English-speaking skills. We identify a large positive effect for subtitled original version broadcasts, as opposed to dubbed television, on English proficiency scores. We analyze the historical circumstances under which countries opted for one of the translation modes and use it to account for the possible endogeneity of the subtitling indicator. We disaggregate the results by type of skills and find that television works especially well for listening comprehension. Our paper suggests that governments could promote subtitling as a means to improve foreign language proficiency.

Memory capabilities: Found a gradual age-dependent, navigational experience–independent assembly of preconfigured trajectory-like sequences from persistent, location-depicting ensembles during postnatal week

Emergence of preconfigured and plastic time-compressed sequences in early postnatal development. U. Farooq, G. Dragoi. Science Jan 11  2019:Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 168-173. DOI: 10.1126/science.aav0502

Memory capabilities develop with age
During memory formation, time-compressed neuronal sequences underlie consolidation as well as encoding of novel information. Such memory traces are largely contributed by a selection of preconfigured neuronal patterns. However, when and how these preconfigured patterns first emerge in the hippocampus is unknown. Farooq and Dragoi identified an age-dependent development of network preconfiguration into trajectory-like sequences. This preconfiguration was expressed spontaneously during sleep and emerged from the assembly of persistent, location-depicting ensembles, largely controlled by intrinsic developmental programs. Thus, the compressed binding of adjacent locations into spatial trajectories during navigation and their experience-dependent replay emerge in coordination from spontaneous preconfigured sequences.

Abstract: When and how hippocampal neuronal ensembles first organize to support encoding and consolidation of memory episodes, a critical cognitive function of the brain, are unknown. We recorded electrophysiological activity from large ensembles of hippocampal neurons starting on the first day after eye opening as naïve rats navigated linear environments and slept. We found a gradual age-dependent, navigational experience–independent assembly of preconfigured trajectory-like sequences from persistent, location-depicting ensembles during postnatal week 3. Adult-like compressed binding of adjacent locations into trajectories during navigation and their navigational experience–dependent replay during sleep emerged in concert from spontaneous preconfigured sequences only during early postnatal week 4. Our findings reveal ethologically relevant distinct phases in the development of hippocampal preconfigured and experience-dependent sequential patterns thought to be important for episodic memory formation.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Liberals & conservatives evaluate the logical structure of entire arguments based on the believability of conclusions, leading to predictable patterns of logical errors; detect better the others' failures than their own

Gampa, Anup, Sean Wojcik, Matt Motyl, Brian A. Nosek, and Peter Ditto. 2019. “(Ideo)logical Reasoning: Ideology Impairs Sound Reasoning.” PsyArXiv. January 13. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Beliefs shape how people interpret information and may impair how people engage in logical reasoning. In 3 studies, we show how ideological beliefs impair people's ability to: (1) recognize logical validity in arguments that oppose their political beliefs, and, (2) recognize the lack of logical validity in arguments that support their political beliefs. We observed belief bias effects among liberals and conservatives who evaluated the logical soundness of classically structured logical syllogisms supporting liberal or conservative beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives frequently evaluated the logical structure of entire arguments based on the believability of arguments’ conclusions, leading to predictable patterns of logical errors. As a result, liberals were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting conservative beliefs and conservatives were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting liberal beliefs. These findings illuminate one key mechanism for how political beliefs distort people’s abilities to reason about political topics soundly.

Lessons from the economics of populism. South African Reserve Bank's Governor Lesetja Kganyago's Speech Oct 2019

Lessons from the economics of populism. Governor Lesetja Kganyago’s address at the ABSIP National Conference Johannesburg. Friday October 19 2019.

At the end of the road one cannot avoid wondering whether the mistakes of past populist regimes can be internalized by policymakers, politicians, and the population at large and, thus, be avoided in the future. Quite clearly, [history] suggest[s] that, in general, there is very little capacity (or willingness) of learning from other countries’ experiences. Indeed, one of the most striking regularities of these episodes is the insistence with which the engineers of the populist programs argue that their circ umstances are unique and thus immune from historical lessons from other nations.
        -Rudiger Dornbusch & Sebastian Edwards

My speech today is about populism, about its appeal and its weaknesses. Populism wins supporters in part because it speaks to ordinary people about real problems – problems other leaders can be too embarrassed or nervous to confront. For instance, when Hugo Chávez attacked corruption and inequality in Venezuela, he wasn’t just making troub le. He was confronting some longstanding problems of Venezuelan society. But populism also has a bad side: it pretends there are easy solutions, even where the re are none – where the problems are in fact very difficult.

Often the easy solutions have unintended effects, impacts that populists ignore or are unaware of. It is these unintended effects that usually end up hurting the people those easy solutions were meant to help. Populist governments tend to be especially weak on economics, which is a common reason why their projects fail. In my speech today, I will explore what it is about economics that populism get wrong, and what we can learn from that.

The knowledge I will detail is mostly drawn from Latin America, a place where populism has flourished o ver the past century. This experience is relevant for us because these economies closely resemble ours. In particular, they are middle income countries with high levels of inequality. Of course, every country is different. But the populist experience has b een so similar, across so many countries and time periods, that we can pull together a few clear lessons relevant to our times and circumstances.

Economic populism starts with deep dissatisfaction. 1 Too much unemployment, too much inequality, too much pove rty. The populist solution is to start spending – push as much demand as possible into the economy, without consideration of constraints. The argument is that more spending will make people better off. More demand encourages more supply, meaning more jobs and more investment. It’s supposed to be a virtuous circle. So the government starts spending money – as much as possible. It borrows from people’s pension funds. It borrows from the central bank and demands it buys its debt – which means printing money. I t spends the foreign exchange reserves. And at first sight, it works. As scholars of populism have noted, the immediate consequence of these policies tends to be a n economic boom. People who warn that populism is a disaster will look foolish.

There is mor e growth and big wage increases and more jobs. But it doesn’t last. Time and time again, the boom turns to bust. Inflation shoots up and growth collapses. Some populists realise their strategy has failed and change course. Others put their countries throug h even greater pain. During the 1950s, the Argentine president Juan Perón effectively aborted his populist programme when inflation neared 50%. 2 In Peru, Alan García abandoned his stimulus programme in 1988, with inflation well over 1000%. 3 In Venezuela, inflation is expected to reach one million percent this year, 4 and people are fleeing the country to find food, but the policy direction still hasn’t changed. What is it about the populist recipe that goes wrong? The literature focuses on t wo kinds of constraints: inflation and the balance of payments. Now these are things populists probably don’t see coming. They don’t understand the causes of inflation very well. And they may not even know what the balance of payments is. But these are pow erful forces, and ignoring them doesn’t mean they will leave you alone.

The inflation problem is fairly simple. If a government wants to stimulate demand, it will want low interest rates, and it will demand that the central bank print money to buy its bonds. This extra money does a couple of things. It raises demand, and with the economy running hot, firms and workers put up their prices. It causes the exchange rate to depreciate. And because people see the government is printing money, they start to put a lot of time and effort into figuring out where inflation is going, and raising their prices to keep ahead of it. This process then gets worse over time. In the first year, you get a fair amount of growth and a bit more inflation. In the second year, you get even more inflation and less growth. A few years in, inflation is running at very high levels – there are cases of inflation exceeding several thousand per cent a year, including Peru and Brazil, and as Zimbabwe showed us, there are many more zeroes th at can be added after that. This is poison to an economy – it destroys people’s savings and shuts down longer-term credit markets. It also interferes with the everyday business of buying and selling goods and services. So what starts with a nice growth bum p ends in a deep depression, and a large increase in poverty.

The other constraint is the balance of payments. When a populist government starts to push up spending, it increases domestic demand. That doesn’t change foreign demand so you don’t get more ex ports. In fact, local producers will probably be so worried about policy consistency and rising inflation that exports will stagnate. But the import bill still rises as demand booms, and that import bill needs to be paid somehow. Populists may hope that ne w demand will all go into domestic production, but they are invariably proved wrong. There are no modern economies that produce everything they need locally, from oil to machinery to food to smartphones. And foreigners like to be paid in hard currency, not an inflation and depreciation-prone currency. The shortage of forex therefore becomes a constraint – a bottleneck. No matter how much demand you push into the economy, you don’t get more supply because you can’t finance enough imports.

In economic terms, the import - intensity of demand means an economy can overheat even when other factors of production are lying idle, with high unemployment or factories operating below capacity. The symptoms of this foreign exchange constraint will be a widening current ac count deficit and strong depreciation pressure on the currency. So long as there are foreign exchange reserves left, or there are people willing to lend you dollars, the boom can go on. But as financing dries up, the government ends up going to the only le nder who will still take its calls, the IMF. Of course, the IMF isn’t interested in funding an unsustainable spending programme.

S o this means accepting the kind of spending cuts populists started out rejecting. There is also a third kind of constraint o n populism, which moves a bit slower but may be the most dangerous of all. I’ll call it the “ know - how ” constraint, and it is fundamentally about the sources of wealth.

In the populist narrative, that story is simple. They say, our country is rich. If the p eople are poor, that must be because someone else has hoarded these riches – like foreigners, or elites. The solution, then, is to redistribute the wealth to the people. In practice, however, although populists reliably point to sources of great wealth that they plan to redistribute – oil, land, gold, or something else – they invariably run into macroeconomic trouble. The wealth doesn’t cover the extra spending they want t o do. And they don’t appreciate that their anti-market rhetoric and policies disrupt production and kill off investment. As a result, they can deliver t emporary consumption booms, but not lasting improvements in welfare.

Redistributing an existing stock of wealth does not mean that that stock of wealth can be built again. Perhaps the most profound meditation on why this happens comes from Ricardo Hausmann, a Venezuelan economist and former finance minister currently teaching at Harvard. Professor Hausmann has, of course, had personal experience of a country that seems rich but whose people are nonetheless persistently poor. Accordingly, his analysis emphasises the value of know - how, of expertise. 5 Lasting wealth, by this account, isn’t in a country’s soil but in its citizen’s heads. Countries get rich because people develop specialised skills, and because they find ways to cooperate so they can do things much too complex for any individual to do a lone. To handle all this complexity and specialisation, people gather in firms, and firms interact in markets. The state can help with this whole process, for instance through investing in education, guaranteeing security and providing other public goods.

But if the state declares war on market mechanisms and condemns rich people, it starts to break the machine that generates wealth. It kills off investment. It scares skilled people away. In this world, natural resources don’t get used effectively, no matte r how abundant they are, and the economy doesn’t develop other kinds of industries either. This theory helps explain why resource wealth does not always generate national prosperity.

Certainly, there are countries with natural resources that are either v ery rich, like Norway, or that are reasonably prosperous, like Botswana. But there are also countries with the exact same resources that are poor, like Angola with oil or Sierra Leone with diamonds. And while there are countries that lack extraordinary nat ural resource endowments and are poor, like Malawi, 6 there are also countries that are resource - poor but highly developed, like South Korea or Germany. Clearly, there is more to wealth than winning the commodity lottery. This message doesn’t appeal to populists. For instance, p opulists do not want to hear about how a resource like oil is difficult to extract, that it requires highly qualified people and carefully maintained infrastructure and well - organised firms to manage the whole process.

More broadly, populists aren’t really interested in the hard work of development, the patient progress whereby you grow incomes by a few per cent a year, until after a generation you’ve become a developed country. For them, the country is already rich, and because the c ountry is rich, the problem must be that someone is stealing the wealth. Unfortunately, people fall for ‘get rich quick’ schemes all the time, and countries can fall for them too. There is abundant evidence that the economic strategy of populism leaves pe ople worse off than they were before. Yet somehow, the same ideas show up time and again, as if no - one ever learned from past mistakes.

The disaster playing out in Venezuela at the moment is no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Latin American history. We have seen the same basic story in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and elsewhere. But all these economic disasters on Venezuela’s doorstep couldn’t spare that country from doing the same terrible things to itself. Yet it is perhaps too strong to conclude humans never learn. Venezuela aside, other countries have learned from populist mistakes, and constructed defences against repeating those errors. The fundamental mistake of economic populism is failing to understand constraints. Accordingly, the fundamental solution countries have adopted is building constraints into their policy framework. Instead of madly insisting there are no limits, no constraints, that everything is possible, policymakers look for what freedom of manoeuvre they enjoy within economic reality. In a sense, they design their macroeconomies to have brakes and airbags, not just accelerators.

Of course, accelerators are still useful. Modern policymakers almost universally acknowledge that there are ti mes and places where policy stimulus is appropriate. But those tools are for smoothing output over the cycle. They can’t deliver long - run development, and they won’t work in the presence of bottlenecks. If a government is facing rising inflation and a bind ing balance of payments constraint, stimulus is precisely the wrong strategy – as Turkey’s financial crisis is once again reminding us. Denying this reality just makes reality more painful. So what are the policy frameworks countries use to accommodate re ality? Latin American economists like to talk about a policy tripod, comprising inflation targeting, a floating exchange rate, and measures to protect fiscal sustainability.

The first part of the tripod, inflation targeting, directly tackles the problem of the inflation constraint, without sacrificing flexibility. If an economy is struggling and inflation is low, it’s an easy call to cut rates. If inflation expectations are well - anchored in line with the target, it’s easy to look through temporary supply sh ocks, such as oil or food price spikes. And if inflation is rising and inflation expectations are getting out of control, the policy framework will tell you it’s time to tighten, and an independent central bank will have the means to do so. If twenty years ago Venezuela had embraced inflation targeting and central bank independence, today they would have low and stable inflation, not hyperinflation. And they would be richer for it, even though they would at some point had to raise rates and made themselves unpopular. It is better to have unpopular central bankers from time to time than hyperinflation and expanding poverty.

The second leg of the policy tripod is a floating, market - determined exchange rate. Again, this sends everyone the right signals. If the currency is depreciating, it tells importers to cut back, and it tells exporters to raise production. By contrast, a fixed exchange rate helps everyone hide from economic realities too long – leading an economy to rely too much on imports, and to borrow too much in foreign currency. Fixed exchange rates create the appearance of stability, but they are so brittle that when they fail, they fall apart completely, doing tremendous damage.

By contrast, f loating exchange rate regimes are volatile, but resilient – they give you bad news immediately and help you deal with it, instead of storing it up for later. The final leg of the tripod is some kind of fiscal rule, to protect government’s solvency even when short-term pressures to spend more and borrow more are very high.

Chile, for example, has built systems to save copper income in good times, so when bad times come they don’t have to slash spending at the worst possible moment. Brazil has a fiscal responsibility law, which is meant to guarantee a primary budge t surplus except in emergencies, so debt levels stabilise over the economic cycle. Unfortunately, fiscal rules have proven eas y to break. The result is that countries can slip back into unsustainable fiscal policies, as has happened in Brazil, even as the other parts of the tripod stay standing.

In South Africa, we have implemented a policy of fiscal tr ansparency, so everyone can see what fiscal policy is doing and what we expect it to do. This has prompted a clear message from analysts, investors, the ratings agencies, international organisations and others that South Africa needs to maintain budget responsibility and get State-Owned Enterprise risks under control. This is a priority government has reiterated in successive Budget documents.

This macroeconomic tripod is not perfect. Unfortunately, there is no constitutional autopilot that can be written into law and will then produce national prosperity. That said, a sound macroeconomic framework can prevent a lot of pain. This is important, because the temp tation to do the wrong thing is clearly strong. This is evident from all the economic mistakes countries have made in history, and continue to make today. But I also know it is true because I often hear people in South Africa contemplating these temptations.

People ask, wouldn’t it be worth taking big risks, having more inflation, borrowing as much as we can get away with, if only we could get some growth and some jobs? They even say, in a highly unequal country like South Africa, wouldn’t it be politically safer to take macroeconomic risks to try and get poverty and unemployment lower? But this is wrong, for two reasons.

First, this only seems attractive until you’ve actually tried it. Macroeconomic stability is like oxygen. You don’t miss it until you have n’t got it, and then it’s all you can think about. People who want to engineer a short term boom and ignore the long term costs won’t like it when the long-term shows up, which history suggest normally starts after about two years. If you don’t think inflation matters, go try some. Or ask all the Zimbabweans or Venezuelans who had to leave their countries when their economies collapsed. Unorthodox policies have totally orthodox consequences, as those people can confirm.

Second, countries with difficult social foundations need to be more careful about macroeconomic stability, not more reckless. That’s because a macroeconomic crisis is an incredibly wrenching social experience, and you need a very strong society to get through one peacefully. When a country blows up its own macroeconomy, its policy options narrow, to the point where all the choices are bad ones. If you can get anyone to lend to you, it will be the IMF.

One way or another, you will end up doing real and brutal austerity. What we have had in South Africa over the past few years isn’t anything like this. We have interest rates close to all-time lows – the repo rate is at 6.5% currently – and government spending has been increasing every year, faster than inflation.

Real austerity is having interes t rates at 6 5%, as in Argentina at present, and cutting pensions and grants and firing government employees. We should avoid reckless economic policies unless we want to risk putting our society through that pain and stress

 This brings me to end of my speech. In conclusion, I would like to leave you with four principles for confronting populist economic policies, drawn from the ideas I have discussed today. First, rich countries don’t make rich people. If your development strategy is to return the wealth of the country to the people, you don’t have a development strategy. Real, lasting wealth is about know-how, not natural resources.

Second, if you hear someone urging stimulus and going for growth, ask how they plan on dealing with the macroeconomic constraints. What’s the plan for inflation? How are they going to meet the import bill to avoid a balance of payments crisis? If they don’ t have a serious answer, they aren’t serious. If they do have a serious answer, expect it to include policies like inflation targeting, a floating exchange rate and measures for keeping the fiscus solvent. These things cannot be ignored.

South Africa’s sti mulus and recovery package do es take these into account. Third, acute challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment are not reasons to gamble on macroeconomic stability. South Africa’s social challenges mean we need to be extra careful about managin g the system carefully so it doesn’t blow up – not that we need to run the system as hot as we can get it and hope for the best. Finally, don’t ignore populists completely. They are very good at tapping into social frustrations – in a way, they are uncann ily good instruments for detecting where society is hurting most. They aren’t very good at economics, so their ideas routinely end in disaster, but that doesn’t mean they are altogether foolish. Rather, they are a reminder to better informed, more responsi ble people that things have to change. We cannot just say the populist path will end in disaster. It will. But we still have to point out another path. You cannot just be against populism – you need to be for something too. We need to talk about how we ar e going to get back to real and sustainable growth in South Africa.

Thank you.

1 This discussion of populist macroeconomics draws on the seminal essay by Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards (1990) “The Macroeconomics of Populism” in The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America, University of Chicago Press
2 Paul H. Lewis (1990). The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism, University of North Carolina Press
3 John Crabtree (1992) Peru Under García: An Opportunity Lost, University of Pittsburgh Press
4 Alejandro Werner (2018, July 23) “Outlook for the Americas: A tougher recovery” Available at:
5 Hausmann, R., (2016). Economic Development and the Accumulation of Know - how. Welsh Economic Review. 24, pp.13 – 16. Available at: See also Hausmann (2017, March) “Das Knowhow Kapital” available at:
6 For a discussion of the Malawian example, see Paul Collier (2007) The Bottom Billion, Oxford University Press