Thursday, August 22, 2019

The former residents of the German Democratic Republic exhibit a significantly less pronounced present bias when compared with former residents of the Federal Republic of Germany

Time preferences and political regimes: evidence from reunified Germany. Tim Friehe, Markus Pannenberg. Journal of Population Economics, February 11 2019.

Abstract: We use the separation and later reunification of Germany after World War II to show that a political regime shapes time preferences of its residents. Using two identification strategies, we find that former residents of the German Democratic Republic exhibit a significantly less pronounced present bias when compared with former residents of the Federal Republic of Germany, whereas measures of patience are statistically indistinguishable. Interpreting the years spent under the regime as a proxy for treatment intensity yields consistent results. Moreover, we present evidence showing that present bias predicts choices in the domains of health, finance, and education, thereby illustrating lasting repercussions of a regime’s influence on time preferences.

Keywords: Time preferences Political regime Germany Natural experiment SOEP

Increased cognitive behavior therapy change methods are positively associated with reliable improvement in symptoms; the quantity of nontherapy-related content shows a negative association

Quantifying the Association Between Psychotherapy Content and Clinical Outcomes Using Deep Learning. Michael P. Ewbank et al. JAMA Psychiatry, August 22, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2664

Key Points
Question  What aspects of psychotherapy content are significantly associated with clinical outcomes?
Findings  In this quality improvement study, a deep learning model was trained to automatically categorize therapist utterances from approximately 90 000 hours of internet-enabled cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Increased quantities of CBT change methods were positively associated with reliable improvement in patient symptoms, and the quantity of nontherapy-related content showed a negative association.
Meaning  The findings support the key principles underlying CBT as a treatment and demonstrate that applying deep learning to large clinical data sets can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

Importance  Compared with the treatment of physical conditions, the quality of care of mental health disorders remains poor and the rate of improvement in treatment is slow, a primary reason being the lack of objective and systematic methods for measuring the delivery of psychotherapy.
Objective  To use a deep learning model applied to a large-scale clinical data set of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) session transcripts to generate a quantifiable measure of treatment delivered and to determine the association between the quantity of each aspect of therapy delivered and clinical outcomes.
Design, Setting, and Participants  All data were obtained from patients receiving internet-enabled CBT for the treatment of a mental health disorder between June 2012 and March 2018 in England. Cognitive behavioral therapy was delivered in a secure online therapy room via instant synchronous messaging. The initial sample comprised a total of 17 572 patients (90 934 therapy session transcripts). Patients self-referred or were referred by a primary health care worker directly to the service.
Exposures  All patients received National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence–approved disorder-specific CBT treatment protocols delivered by a qualified CBT therapist.
Main Outcomes and Measures  Clinical outcomes were measured in terms of reliable improvement in patient symptoms and treatment engagement. Reliable improvement was calculated based on 2 severity measures: Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9)21 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale (GAD-7),22 corresponding to depressive and anxiety symptoms respectively, completed by the patient at initial assessment and before every therapy session (see eMethods in the Supplement for details).
Results  Treatment sessions from a total of 14 899 patients (10 882 women) aged between 18 and 94 years (median age, 34.8 years) were included in the final analysis. We trained a deep learning model to automatically categorize therapist utterances into 1 or more of 24 feature categories. The trained model was applied to our data set to obtain quantifiable measures of each feature of treatment delivered. A logistic regression revealed that increased quantities of a number of session features, including change methods (cognitive and behavioral techniques used in CBT), were associated with greater odds of reliable improvement in patient symptoms (odds ratio, 1.11; 95% CI, 1.06-1.17) and patient engagement (odds ratio, 1.20, 95% CI = 1.12-1.27). The quantity of nontherapy-related content was associated with reduced odds of symptom improvement (odds ratio, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.85-0.92) and patient engagement (odds ratio, 0.88, 95% CI, 0.84-0.92).
Conclusions and Relevance  This work demonstrates an association between clinical outcomes in psychotherapy and the content of therapist utterances. These findings support the principle that CBT change methods help produce improvements in patients’ presenting symptoms. The application of deep learning to large clinical data sets can provide valuable insights into psychotherapy, informing the development of new treatments and helping standardize clinical practice.

Compared with treatment of physical conditions, the quality of care of mental health disorders remains poor, and the rate of improvement in treatment is slow.1 Outcomes for many mental disorders have stagnated or even declined since the original treatments were developed.2,3 A primary reason for the gap in quality of care is the lack of systematic methods for measuring the delivery of psychotherapy.1 As with any evidence-based intervention, to be effective, treatment needs to be delivered as intended (also known as treatment integrity),4,5 which requires accurate measurement of treatment delivered.6 However, while it is relatively simple to monitor the delivery of most medical treatments (eg, the dosage of a prescribed drug), psychotherapeutic treatments are a series of private discussions between the patient and clinician. As such, monitoring the delivery of this type of treatment to the same extent as physical medicine would require infrastructure and resources beyond the scope of most health care systems.
The National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence and the American Psychological Association recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a treatment for most common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy refers to a class of psychotherapeutic interventions informed by the principle that mental disorders are maintained by cognitive and behavioral phenomena and that modifying these maintaining factors helps produce enduring improvements in patients’ presenting symptoms.7,8 Despite its widespread use, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program in England includes no objective measure of treatment integrity for CBT, and it has been proposed that only 3.5% of psychotherapy randomized clinical trials use adequate treatment integrity procedures.9
Understanding how CBT works is of particular interest given that the relative effects of different psychotherapeutic interventions appear similar.10 Thus, whether treatments work through specific factors (eg, CBT change methods) or factors common to most psychotherapies (eg, therapeutic alliance) remains a core issue in the field.11,12 Studies commonly use observational coding methods (eg, ratings/transcription of recorded therapeutic conversations) to investigate the association between treatment delivered and outcomes.5 Owing to the resource-intensive nature of this method, studies typically focus on a small number of therapeutic components in a relatively small sample of patients. As with many randomized clinical trials, the results of such interventions are difficult to transfer to real-world psychotherapy13 and require sample sizes larger than typically used.14 To determine the most effective components of CBT and whether CBT works via the mechanisms proposed by the approach,15 quantifiable measures of treatment delivered need to be obtained in a natural clinical context and be gathered from a sufficiently large enough sample to draw meaningful conclusions.
Here, we used a large-scale data set containing session transcripts from more than 14 000 patients receiving internet-enabled CBT (IECBT) (approximately 90 000 hours of therapy). In IECBT, a patient communicates with a qualified CBT therapist using a real-time text-based message system. Internet-enabled CBT has been shown to be clinically effective for the treatment of depression16 and is currently deployed within IAPT. Using a deep learning approach, we developed a model to automatically categorize therapist utterances according to the role that they play in therapy, generating a quantifiable measure of treatment delivered. We then investigated the association between the quantity of each aspect of therapy delivered and clinical outcomes.

We were surprised by the null correlation between income & math anxiety; we had hypothesized a negative correlation, as status is an important positive predictor of math performance in students

The Nature of Math Anxiety in Adults: Prevalence and Correlates. Sara Ann Hart, Colleen Marie Ganley. Journal of Numerical Cognition, Vol 5, No 2 (2019).

Abstract: It is important to understand the nature of math anxiety in the general adult population, as the importance of math skills does not end when one leaves school. To this end, we present a well-powered, preregistered study of English-speaking U.S. adults describing the nature of math anxiety in this population. 1000 participants were recruited online. Math anxiety was approximately normally distributed, with the mean between “some” and “moderate”. Math anxiety was significantly negatively correlated with probability knowledge and math fluency, and significantly positively correlated with general anxiety and test anxiety. Women reported higher math anxiety than did men. Participants who had completed graduate school or had a STEM career had significantly lower levels of math anxiety than did those with less education, or non-STEM careers. Thus, we see evidence for math anxiety in U.S. adults and that it correlates with factors also reported in previous studies using younger and student populations.

Keywords: individual differences; math anxiety; affect; adult development; mathematical ability

Evolutionary dynamics underlying the existence of suffering & enjoyment: For organisms with more intense conscious experiences, the balance of enjoyment & suffering may lean more toward suffering

Does suffering dominate enjoyment in the animal kingdom? An update to welfare biology. Zach Groff, Yew-Kwang Ng. Biology & Philosophy, August 2019, 34:40.

Abstract: Ng (Biol Philos 10(3):255–285, 1995, models the evolutionary dynamics underlying the existence of suffering and enjoyment and concludes that there is likely to be more suffering than enjoyment in nature. In this paper, we find an error in Ng’s model that, when fixed, negates the original conclusion. Instead, the model offers only ambiguity as to whether suffering or enjoyment predominates in nature. We illustrate the dynamics around suffering and enjoyment with the most plausible parameters. In our illustration, we find surprising results: the rate of failure to reproduce can improve or worsen average welfare depending on other characteristics of a species. Our illustration suggests that for organisms with more intense conscious experiences, the balance of enjoyment and suffering may lean more toward suffering. We offer some suggestions for empirical study of wild animal welfare. We conclude by noting that recent writings on wild animal welfare should be revised based on this correction to have a somewhat less pessimistic view of nature.

Keywords: Animal welfare Animal suffering Welfare biology Effective altruism Evolutionary biology


In 1995, following the idea that scientists and economists should treat animal welfare as important in its own right, Ng proposed the study of welfare biology, with three basic questions: Which animals are capable of welfare? Is their welfare  positive or negative? How can we increase their welfare? In particular, Ng argued that science should examine not only the welfare of animals currently used by humans but also, and perhaps more importantly, the wellbeing of animals living in the wild. Ng’s argument relates to the predation problem in moral philosophy, or the issue of whether animal rights requires humans to save prey from predators. Origi‑ nally proposed as a reduction ad absurdum of animal rights, the predation problem has prompted a number of responses from moral philosophers ranging from prin‑ ciples of non‑intervention to denials of feasibility to acceptance of an obligation to help only in dire cases (Clark 1979). Still others do not find available responses to the predation problem convincing, which motivates Ebert and Machan (2012) to promote a “libertarian‑ish theory of animal rights.” On any view that is not strictly non‑interventionist, an understanding of wild‑animal wellbeing is useful. Further‑ more, such an understanding is interesting in itself and may yield insights relevant to other problems, so Ng (1995) investigates the balance of suffering and enjoyment in nature.
The question of natural suffering extends beyond the predation problem to dis‑ ease, starvation, and daily stress. In recent years, a number of prominent thinkers in and beyond economics have weighed in on the possibility of stewarding nature to promote animal wellbeing. Economist, political theorist, and popular blogger Tyler Cowen argues for “modest steps to limit or check the predatory activity of carni‑ vores relative to their victims,” including not protecting or reintroducing predators in natural areas (2003). Oxford philosopher Jeff McMahan argues—in The New York Times, no less—that people of good will should hope for the gradual extinction of predatory species (2010). Even Matthews of the popular news site Vox asks philoso‑ pher Peter Singer in a 2015 interview whether humans should intervene in nature and what questions those researching wild animal welfare should be asking (Mat‑ thews 2015).
Several organizations now work on and research wild‑animal welfare, including the Wild Animal Welfare Committee, Wild Animal Initiative, and Animal Ethics. The first of these groups aims to apply the ideal of “guardianship” developed by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to conservation and environmental manage‑ ment programs that, to date, have largely focused on species’ continuation rather than individual animals’ welfare (Wild Animal Welfare Committee 2019). The latter two groups are associated with what is known as the “effective altruism” movement, a group of philanthropists, advocates, and researchers who in their words aim to do good as effectively as possible. Many in the effective altruism movement believe that animals’ interests should matter equally to those of humans and see little differ‑ ence between actively hurting someone and failing to help someone in need, all else equal. For these reasons, it is a natural concern for the effective altruism movement that there may be a large number of wild animals suffering in ways that may be able to be at least partially alleviated. All three organizations are fairly young, suggesting that interest in the topic is growing among nonprofits.
Outside of philanthropy, academic biologists and environmental policymakers also deal regularly with questions explicitly or implicitly tied to wild‑animal welfare on a routine basis. Though environmental policies are more commonly designed to preserve species rather than to protect animals, compassion for animals often does motivate policies, and so policies’ effects on individual animals are well worth considering.
Research into what Ng (1995) terms “welfare biology” is therefore a high‑priority, highly neglected field. To date, virtually all research into human impacts on nature focuses narrowly on the conservation of species and ecosystem dynamics. Most theories in environmental ethics assign instrumental or even intrinsic value to natural processes, but few locate value within individual wild animals. Ng’s paper proposed a new angle to study animals in nature and humans’ effects on them. Ng (1995) discusses a number of critical topics in welfare biology. Ng addresses questions of which animals experience emotional states, which states they experi‑ ence, and how humans can improve wild animal wellbeing. Ng notes that suffering and enjoyment likely serve evolutionary purposes.
In this paper, we make a correction to Ng’s (1995) proposition that total suffer‑ ing in nature outweighs total enjoyment. In fact, as we show, total enjoyment may exceed total suffering or vice versa, depending on a specific evolutionary detail for which we have little information. We propose a revised version of the Buddhist Premise that suffering predominates in nature. Under the revised proposition, there is little reason to conclude one way or another whether suffering or enjoyment is more common. After presenting the revised Buddhist premise, we note an interest‑ ing tradeoff between the number of animals who suffer and the degree of those animals’ suffering. We illustrate these dynamics based on plausible assumptions from psychology. Finally, we offer some guidance for how other researchers in this area can make progress and how recent research should be updated based on this revision of the Buddhist premise.
The revised Buddhist premise
An important question regarding animal welfare is whether, on average, animals enjoy positive net welfare. This is the second of three basic questions Ng (1995) raises; the other two questions are the ‘which’ question (which organisms are capable of welfare) and the ‘how’ question (how to increase their welfare).
This first question is crucial. For example, if the answer is that animals on the whole enjoy negative (net) welfare, many people may find it more imperative for us humans to try to increase their welfare to a non‑negative level. In some extreme cases, some authors regard animal suffering (negative net welfare) as justifying the destruction of animal habitats (Tomasik 2016). Ng hopes for future improvement of animals’ welfare after significant scientific, economic, and ethical advances on the part of humans (Ng 1995, 2016b).
Ng (1995) argues that animals suffer from negative net welfare on the whole. Ng uses both a general argument and an ‘economics of evolution’. The general argu‑ ment is based on the observation that most animal species have large clutch sizes and a presumption (related to the economics of evolution) that individual animals not able to survive until mating probably suffer from negative net welfare.
The economics of evolution led Ng to propose the following:
Proposition (Buddhist Premise) Under the assumptions of concave and symmetrical functions relating costs to enjoyment and suffering, evolutionary economizing results in the excess of total suffering over total enjoyment.
This premise, it turns out, does not hold. Ng’s conditions have to be strengthened to make the proposition valid. The revised Buddhist premise we wish to propose is remarkable and has the same remarkable implications should the updated conditions hold, but whether the new conditions hold is a matter of further research and does not evoke any obvious intuition. Instead, we propose the following, corrected version of the Buddhist Premise: Revised Proposition (Buddhist Premise) Under the assumption of symmetrical functions relating costs to enjoyment and suffering, evolutionary economizing results in the excess of total suffering over total enjoyment if the square of each function is concave.

Later-born children fare worse; a possible reason is being an unwanted/unplanned child, which is associated with negative life cycle outcomes as it implies a disruption in parental plans for optimal human capital investment

Birth order and unwanted fertility. Wanchuan Lin, Juan Pantano, Shuqiao Sun. Journal of Population Economics, August 22 2019.

Abstract: An extensive literature documents the effects of birth order on various individual outcomes, with later-born children faring worse than their siblings. However, the potential mechanisms behind these effects remain poorly understood. This paper leverages US data on pregnancy intention to study the role of unwanted fertility in the observed birth order patterns. We document that children higher in the birth order are much more likely to be unwanted, in the sense that they were conceived at a time when the family was not planning to have additional children. Being an unwanted child is associated with negative life cycle outcomes as it implies a disruption in parental plans for optimal human capital investment. We show that the increasing prevalence of unwantedness across birth order explains a substantial part of the documented birth order effects in education and employment. Consistent with this mechanism, we document no birth order effects in families who have more control over their own fertility.

Keywords: Birth order Unwanted births Fertility intentions

Retirement has a positive effect on physical health, reduced likelihood of hospitalizations, especially for low socioeconomic status; effects are driven by reduced pain & reduced health limitations in conducting daily activities

Health effects of retirement: evidence from survey and register data. Maja Weemes Grøtting, Otto Sevaldson Lillebø. Journal of Population Economics, July 26 2019.

Abstract: Using a local randomized experiment that arises from the statutory retirement age in Norway, we study the effect of retirement on health across gender and socioeconomic status. We apply data from administrative registers covering the entire population and from survey data of a random sample to investigate the effects of retirement on acute hospital admissions, mortality, and a composite physical health score. Our results show that retirement has a positive effect on physical health, especially for individuals with low socioeconomic status. We find no effects of retirement on acute hospitalizations or mortality in general. However, our results suggest that retirement leads to reduced likelihood of hospitalizations for individuals with low socioeconomic status. Finally, we show that the positive health effects are driven by reduced pain and reduced health limitations in conducting daily activities. Our findings highlight heterogeneity in the health effects across socioeconomic status and across subjective and objective measures of health.

Keywords: Retirement Health Socioeconomic status Gender Regression discontinuity design

Beauty and employment in China: Having better educational credentials reduces appearance discrimination among men but not among women; the beauty premium is larger for vacancies with higher remuneration

Beauty and job accessibility: new evidence from a field experiment. Weiguang Deng, Dayang Li, Dong Zhou. Journal of Population Economics, August 7 2019.

Abstract: This study uses a field experiment to resolve the difficulties of quantifying personal appearance and identify a direct causal relationship between appearance and employment in China. The experiment reveals that taste-based pure appearance discrimination exists at the pre-interview stage. There are significant gender-specific heterogeneous effects of education on appearance discrimination: having better educational credentials reduces appearance discrimination among men but not among women. Moreover, attributes of the labor market, companies, and vacancies matter. Beauty premiums are larger in big cities with higher concentrations of women and in male-focused research positions. Similarly, the beauty premium is larger for vacancies with higher remuneration.

Keywords: Appearance discrimination Beauty premium Pre-interview stage Field experiment

Check also Natural Tendency towards Beauty in Humans: Evidence from Binocular Rivalry. Ce Mo et al. PLOS March 1, 2016.
Abstract: Although human preference for beauty is common and compelling in daily life, it remains unknown whether such preference is essentially subserved by social cognitive demands or natural tendency towards beauty encoded in the human mind intrinsically. Here we demonstrate experimentally that humans automatically exhibit preference for visual and moral beauty without explicit cognitive efforts. Using a binocular rivalry paradigm, we identified enhanced gender-independent perceptual dominance for physically attractive persons, and the results suggested universal preference for visual beauty based on perceivable forms. Moreover, we also identified perceptual dominance enhancement for characters associated with virtuous descriptions after controlling for facial attractiveness and vigilance-related attention effects, which suggested a similar implicit preference for moral beauty conveyed in prosocial behaviours. Our findings show that behavioural preference for beauty is driven by an inherent natural tendency towards beauty in humans rather than explicit social cognitive processes.

Aggressiveness decreases whereas creativity, life satisfaction, and individualism increase as one moves closer to either the North or South Pole

Latitudinal Psychology: An Ecological Perspective on Creativity, Aggression, Happiness, and Beyond. Evert Van de Vliert, Paul A. M. Van Lange. Perspectives on Psychological Science, August 21, 2019.

Abstract: Are there systematic trends around the world in levels of creativity, aggressiveness, life satisfaction, individualism, trust, and suicidality? This article suggests a new field, latitudinal psychology, that delineates differences in such culturally shared features along northern and southern rather than eastern and western locations. In addition to geographical, ecological, and other explanations, we offer three metric foundations of latitudinal variations: replicability (latitudinal gradient repeatability across hemispheres), reversibility (north-south gradient reversal near the equator), and gradient strength (degree of replicability and reversibility). We show that aggressiveness decreases whereas creativity, life satisfaction, and individualism increase as one moves closer to either the North or South Pole. We also discuss the replicability, reversibility, and gradient strength of (a) temperatures and rainfall as remote predictors and (b) pathogen prevalence, national wealth, population density, and income inequality as more proximate predictors of latitudinal gradients in human functioning. Preliminary analyses suggest that cultural and psychological diversity often need to be partially understood in terms of latitudinal variations in integrated exposure to climate-induced demands and wealth-based resources. We conclude with broader implications, emphasizing the importance of north-south replications in samples that are not from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) societies.

Keywords: latitudinal psychology, northern location, southern location, CLASH, climatoeconomic theory, pathogen prevalence, WEIRD psychology