Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Defaults may not directly get people to behave as intended, such as saving more, eating healthy food or donating to charity

Abstract: Defaults may not directly get people to behave as intended, such as saving more, eating healthy food or donating to charity. Rather, defaults often only put people on the ‘right’ path, such as joining a savings plan, buying healthy food or pledging money to charity. This an issue because getting more people to take those first steps does not necessarily motivate them to go on with further steps. Indeed, the default does little to help them understand the benefit of doing so. This can greatly reduce the impact of the default. We test this idea in a charitable giving experiment where people first can promise to give to charity (‘pledge’) and then can go on to donate. We find that participants pledge more often when that is the default, but those who pledge in that case are less likely to take further steps to donate than those who pledge when pledging is against the default. We interpret this in terms of motivation and transaction costs. Some people pledge only to avoid the psychological costs of going against the default. Those people are closest to indifference between donating or not and are therefore less motivated to go on to donate. We also show that the intrinsic motivation of pledgers is lower when pledging is the default and that making pledges the default does not change attitudes to charities.

Author proposes that depression, addictions, self-harm are evolutionary, adaptive solutions to avoid suicide

Adaptation to the Suicidal Niche. C. A. Soper. Evolutionary Psychological Science, July 9 2019.

Abstract: Primarily a precis of the book The Evolution of Suicide (Soper 2018), this article argues that behaviorally modern humans are specifically adapted to survive in what the author calls the “suicidal niche,” an ecological arena characterized by the endemic fitness threat of deliberate self-killing. A “pain-and-brain” model of suicide’s evolution is proposed, which explains suicide as a noxious by-product of two adaptations combined: the aversiveness of pain, which demands that the organism act to end or escape it, and the cognitive sophistication of the mature human brain, which offers self-killing as an effective means to satisfy that demand for escape. These “pain” and “brain” primary adaptations are posited to be both sufficient conditions for suicide and universal among mature humans, which suggests that the fitness threat of suicide would have posed a predictable and severe adaptive problem in the evolution of our species. Adaptive solutions, which emerged to address the problem, are hypothesized to be psychological and sometimes culturally informed mechanisms that either dull the “pain” motivation for suicide or deny the “brain” means to conceive and enact suicide—or, most likely, a combination of the two strategies. Evolved antisuicide defenses may account for many otherwise puzzling aspects of human behavior and psychology, including susceptibilities to depression, addictions, self-harm, and certain other common psychiatric symptoms, which the author posits to be protective, autonomic responses to suicidogenic pain. The precision of human adaptation to the suicidal niche makes it unlikely that deliberate self-killings can, even in principle, be predicted with useful accuracy at the individual level.

Keywords: Suicide Suicidology Evolution Evolutionary psychology Human evolution Suicidal niche Depression Addiction Mental disorder Positive psychology Fender Keeper Cognitive floor

Alcohol Consumption in Later Life and Mortality in the United States: Results from 9 Waves of the Health and Retirement Study

Alcohol Consumption in Later Life and Mortality in the United States: Results from 9 Waves of the Health and Retirement Study. Katherine M. Keyes et al. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, July 5 2019.

Background: Alcohol consumption in later life has increased in the past decade, and the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality is controversial. Recent studies suggest little, if any, health benefit to alcohol. Yet most rely on single–time point consumption assessments and minimal confounder adjustments.

Methods: We report on 16 years of follow‐up from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) cohorts born 1931 to 1941 (N = 7,904, baseline mean age = 61, SD = 3.18). Respondents were queried about drinking frequency/quantity. Mortality was established via exit interviews and confirmed with the national death index. Time‐varying confounders included but were not limited to household assets, smoking, body mass index, health/functioning, depression, chronic disease; time‐invariant confounders included baseline age, education, sex, and race.

Results: After adjustment, current abstainers had the highest risk of subsequent mortality, consistent with sick quitters, and moderate (men: HR = 0.74, 95% CI: 0.60 to 0.91; women: HR = 0.82, 95% CI: 0.63 to 1.07) drinking was associated with a lower mortality rate compared with occasional drinking, though smokers and men evidenced less of an inverse association. Quantitative bias analyses indicated that omitted confounders would need to be associated with ~4‐fold increases in mortality rates for men and ~9‐fold increases for women to change the results.

Conclusions: There are consistent associations between moderate/occasional drinking and lower mortality, though residual confounding remains a threat to validity. Continued efforts to conduct large‐scale observational studies of alcohol consumption and mortality are needed to characterize the changing patterns of consumption in older age.