Saturday, November 9, 2019

Oct 2019: India is trying to build the world's biggest facial recognition system

India is trying to build the world's biggest facial recognition system. Julie Zaugg. CNN Business, October 18, 2019.


In July, Bhuwan Ribhu received some very good news.

The child labor activist, who works for Indian NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had launched a pilot program 15 months prior to match a police database containing photos of all of India's missing children with another one comprising shots of all the minors living in the country's child care institutions.

He had just found out the results. "We were able to match 10,561 missing children with those living in institutions," he told CNN. "They are currently in the process of being reunited with their families." Most of them were victims of trafficking, forced to work in the fields, in garment factories or in brothels, according to Ribhu.

This momentous undertaking was made possible by facial recognition technology provided by New Delhi's police. "There are over 300,000 missing children in India and over 100,000 living in institutions," he explained. "We couldn't possibly have matched them all manually."

Locating thousands of missing children is just one of the challenges faced by India's overstretched police force in a nation of 1.37 billion people.


[India's federal] government now has a much more ambitious plan. It wants to construct one of the world's largest facial recognition systems. The project envisions a future in which police from across the country's 29 states and seven union territories would have access to a single, centralized database.

The potential role of illness expectations in the progression of medical diseases

The potential role of illness expectations in the progression of medical diseases. Francesco Pagnini. BMC Psychology, volume 7, Article number: 70 (2019). Nov 8 2019.

To what extent can one’s mind promote direct changes to the body? Can one’s beliefs about the body become a physical reality, without mediating effects from behaviors? Specifically, can medical symptoms and the course of a disease be directly affected by a person’s mindset about the illness?
There is a vast literature about placebo and nocebo effects, that promote physical changes by creating the expectation of a change through a primer (for example, a fake pill). Placebos, however, often imply deception, or at least ambiguity, to be effective. The concept of Illness Expectation describes the expectations, both implicit and explicit, that a person who has received a diagnosis makes about the course of the disease. It can be characterized by different degrees of rigidity, and it is argued here that these expectations can ultimately lead to changes in the disease progression. These changes may happen through behavior modifications, or through a non-behavioral pathway, which may deserve exploration efforts from the scientific literature.

Effects of expectations on the body

One of the main operational mechanisms of placebos is represented by cognitive expectations, which in turn are expected to promote the occurrence of physiological changes in the body [11]. In general, placebo and nocebo effects have been studied with a primer, such as a sugar pill, that influences or conditions the person to anticipate an effect. The expectation of a medical effect promotes both subjective and objective (physiologic) changes, with clinical improvements or worsening [12]. However, expectations are not only prompted by drugs or interventions. In fact, every individual with a medical condition develops a certain mindset toward the illness [13], with expectations that spontaneously emerge. These expectations, which represent the result of the elaboration process of the information collected about the disease [14], can promote different physiological effects [15]. For example, blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes are influence by perceived time and expected values, rather than being a mere physiological process [16]. Furthermore, expectations can influence the ageing process: older adults who think about ageing as associated with negative characteristics tend to experience a greater loss of physical function and a reduced survival, compared to those who held positive expectations [17].

Illness perceptions and health beliefs

Expectations about the disease are a central component of illness perceptions and health beliefs, which are well-established concepts in health psychology [18]. Illness Perception is often explored within the theoretical framework of the Common Sense Model (CSM) of Illness Representation [19]. In the CSM theory, patient’s illness perceptions include beliefs about what precipitated the illness (causes), how long it will last (timeline), the impact on the patient’s life (consequences), which symptoms are attributed to the illness (identity), and how the condition can be controlled or cured by the patient’s behavior (personal control) or by the treatment (treatment control). In the CSM, expectations are considered as an underlying component of the different beliefs [20, 21]. Emotional components are another key aspect of the CSM, which may interfere with cognitive processing, and it could be a source of confusion during the assessment process. For example, one of the most utilized instruments for the assessment of illness perception, the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire [22] includes items like “How much does your illness affect you emotionally?”, which are somehow related to the expectations, but refer directly to the emotional domain. The same concern deals with questions about consequences in everyday life (e.g., “My illness has serious economic and financial consequences”, from the Illness Perception Questionnaire Revised [23]).

Thus far, most published research referencing the Illness Perception construct focuses on the role of disease representations in explaining both coping and outcomes in patients with a wide range of health conditions [24, 25]. Specifically, health psychologists have explored how disease representations can lead to lifestyle modifications, eventually leading to changes in the medical outcomes [26]. For example, adherence to the medical treatment, or lifestyle choices like eating, exercising, or smoking, can be influenced by illness representations. A person who perceives that nothing can change the course of the disease, for example, may be more prone to avoid exercising or taking prescribed medicine [27]. In other words, the effects of Illness Perceptions on the body (namely, on the course of the disease or its symptoms) have been mainly explored as mediated by behavior changes [28]. The main difference between the construct of Illness Perception and Illness Expectation is their specificity: while the former is a multifaceted concept that includes several aspects of the illness experience, the latter is a specific element, the anticipation of the future illness-related scenarios, which is merely cognitive.

Emotions and somatic changes

[...] Briefly, we know that negative emotions (e.g., depression, stress) have, among other effects, a strong impact on human physiology [29], often reflecting on poorer medical outcomes, in the case of chronic diseases. For example, depressive states and stress have been associated with reduced survival rate in patients with cancer [30]. The mechanisms underlying these associations are still under investigation.

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The study found auto-written news stories were rated as more objective, credible (both message and medium credibility), and less biased

Is Automated Journalistic Writing Less Biased? An Experimental Test of Auto-Written and Human-Written News Stories. Yanfang Wu. Journalism Practice, Oct 29 2019.

ABSTRACT: By administering an online experiment, this study examined how source and journalistic domains affect the perceived objectivity, message credibility, medium credibility, bias, and overall journalistic quality of news stories among an adult sample (N = 370) recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) service. Within the framework of the cognitive authority theory, the study found auto-written news stories were rated as more objective, credible (both message and medium credibility), and less biased. However, significant difference was found between a combined assessment condition (news stories with source and author information) and a message only assessment condition (news stories without source and author information) in the ratings of objectivity and credibility, but not bias. Moreover, significant differences were found in the objectivity and credibility ratings of auto-written and human-written news stories in the journalistic domains of politics, finance and sports news stories. In auto-written news stories, sports news stories were rated more objective and credible, while financial news stories were rated as more biased. In human-written stories, financial news stories were rated as more objective and credible. However, political news stories were rated as more biased among human-written news stories, and in cases where auto-written and human-written stories were combined.

KEYWORDS: Cognitive authority, auto-written, human-written, automated journalistic writing, experimental test, objectivity, credibility, bias

The study found that auto-written news stories were rated as significantly more objective than human-written news stories. This finding is in line with previous researchers’ assumptions about the inherent objectivity of algorithms, the limits of humans’ subjective “gut feeling” in the evaluation of newsworthiness and news inclusion, and the advantages of algorithms in overcoming inherent human biases and limitations (Carlson 2018; Toraman and Can 2015). Also, the results corroborated Cleary and coauthor’s(2011) conclusion that Natural Language Generation software could augment accuracy, Clerwall’s (2014) result that text generated by algorithms is perceived as more informative, accurate, and objective, and Melin and coauthor’s(2018) finding that auto-written content tend to be rated more accurate, trustworthy and objective. Additionally, these findings echoed Thurman and coauthors’ (2017) conclusion on automaton and the increase of objectivity in news stories. The reason why automatic journalistic writing was rated as more objective could be that readers favor stories distinguishing facts and opinions clearly, which NGL, the generation method used for the texts chosen in this study, was recognized as being able to generate stories of this nature in Melin and coauthor’s(2018) conclusion. Further, Graefe and coauthor’s(2018) recent studies concluded that algorithms, such as NLG, are more accurate on factual information. Moreover, choosing the right vocabulary that represents the information in numbers is major task for journalists. Word choice is always influenced by the journalist’s personal interpretation, which may reduce a news story’s objectivity. For example, Carlson (2018, 1764) believed journalists have inherent human subjectivity because they apply learned knowledge to professionally valid interpretations. In contrast, algorithms have the unthinking objectivity of computer programs, and are the apotheosis of journalistic knowledge production – objectivity. Furthermore, specialized algorithms have a narrow domain focus reducing the options for word choice, thereby increasing objectivity (McDonald 2010). Gillespie (2014) used the term “algorithmic objectivity” to describe the power of algorithms in strengthening objectivity. Additionally, the integration of automation and datafication in news reporting may increase objectivity. For example, web analytics are found to be useful tools in increasing the precision of journalists’ news judgement (Wu, Tandoc, and Salmon2018). Data driven journalism not only empowers journalists to report stories in new and creative ways (Anderson 2018), it is also believed to increase objectivity (Parasie and Dagiral 2013). Another interesting finding is that auto-written stories were even perceived as more credible (both message and medium credibility) than human-written news stories. This finding aligns with Haim and Graefe’s(2017), Van der Kaa and Krahmer’s (2014), Clerwall’s (2014), and Melin’s(2018) conclusions that readers tend to perceive auto-written news as more credible than human-written stories. The finding also aligns with Wolker and Powell’s (2018) claim that there are equal perceptions of credibility between auto-written and auto and-human-combined-written content. Although auto-written algorithms lack the skills in using nuances of languages, human reporters may produce less credible news stories due to failing to express views, or distinguish facts from opinions clearly (Meyer, Marchionni, and Thorson 2010). However, an algorithm is viewed as a “credible knowledge logic” (Gillespie 2014, 191) because it is considered a force that could eliminate human biases or errors (Linden 2017a). Algorithms also create many more possibilities for detecting falsehood (such as bias, inaccuracy) automatically and verifying truth more effectively (Kaczmarek 2008). Stories developed by programmers from multi-sourced data can fulfill functions of professional journalism and may even align with more traditional journalistic standards (Parasie and Dagiral 2013; Dörr 2016). Furthermore, algorithms may perform better than human reporters in data verification, as algorithms restrict themselves to a specialized area with a very stipulated content (Perloff 1993; Hassan and Azmi 2018).

This experimental design distinguished the effect of source and journalists’ authorship from text on readers’ ratings of quality of journalism, which is one of the major contributions of this study. This study further verified that readers consider automatic journalistic writing more objective when source and journalists’ affiliation information were not disclosed. Moreover, the message and medium credibility of automated journalistic writing were rated significantly higher without source and authorship. These findings align with Graefe et al.’s(2018) results on the confounding effect of source on readers’ ratings of credibility – the declaration of an article written by a journalist substantially increase the ratings of readability. The findings also showed a decline of trust in traditional media and human writers in producing good journalism, which was reflected in a recent survey by Knight Foundation and Gallup poll – a majority of surveyed Americans reported they had lost trust in American media due to inaccuracy, bias, fake news, alternative facts, a general lack of credibility, and reporters are “based on opinions or emotions” (Ingram 2018). Automated journalistic writing, however, showed strength in objectivity and credibility.

The confounding effect of source and authorship was also identified in the ratings of bias. In particular, whether journalists’ political belief affects the presentation of the subject is one of the important indexes of message credibility in this study. Human written stories were rated more biased than auto-written news stories. However, when source and authorship information were included, human-written stories were rated less biased. Although impartiality is recognized as one of the important journalistic ideologies, human journalists were tagged as partisan actors whose political beliefs affected their news decisions, although they define themselves as news professionals committed to a form of journalism marked by objectivity and neutrality (Patterson and Donsbagh 1996; DellaVigna and Kaplan 2007; Oosterhoff, Shook, and Ford 2018; Linden 2017a). Gaziano and McGrath (1986) identified that political bias was important factor affecting credibility in news reporting, particularly accuracy, fairness, responsibility, and role in criticism of government. With the proliferation of data, human-written news stories may contextualize the automated-generated content by using it as a multi-source from different perspectives (Carlson 2015; Thurman, Dörr, and Kunert 2017). This was described by Carlson (2018) as “a visible incursion of algorithmic judgment in the space of human editorial judgment” and Wolker and Powell (2018) as the well-rounded future of journalism. These applications are feasible to reduce human bias in journalism.

Participants in the message only assessment condition rated auto-written news stories as both more objective and more credible (both message credibility and medium credibility) than human-written news stories compared to participants in the combined assessment condition. According to the hypothesized news assessment model based on the cognitive authority theory, readers rely on textual authority (intrinsic plausibility) – whether the content is “accurate, authentic and believable” (Appelman and Sundar 2016, 73) – to execute evaluation when the affiliation of the news organization and the journalist’s name were removed from the stories. However, when institutional authority and personal authority were combined with textual authority, readers combine textual authority with whether the source of message is “authoritative, reliable, reputable and trustworthy” (Appelman and Sundar 2016, 74) to make judgment. The results showed that this combined assessment process reduced news stories’ perceived objectivity and credibility. In the internet age, readers may assess news stories with greater emphasis on textual authority due to the insufficient bandwidth for storing information (Sundar 2008). The findings from this study corroborates Wilson’s (1983) cognitive authority theory. When source – personal authority and institutional authority – are not revealed, readers have to use textual type authority (document type), and intrinsic plausibility authority (content of text) to evaluate the credibility of a news story. This may change how news quality is assessed in digital journalism. The findings further verified the result that auto-written news content is perceived as more objective and credible than human-written news stories.

Although automated journalistic writing received higher credibility ratings, it is also more likely to distribute fake news due to its dependence on data for source, processing and output. Ethical issues may arise when data is used without proper verification, transparency about the source and content in generation algorithms (Graefe 2016). In addition, whether the programmer, reporter, or editor will be responsible for the collection, analysis and presentation of data, and who should be held accountable for automated journalistic writing in which human reporters contributed to contextualize generated content, and algorithms acted as an intelligence augmenter, remain controversial topics in the field of automated journalistic writing.

Journalistic domains were found to affect readers’ evaluations of objectivity, message credibility, and medium credibility, but not bias. Sports news stories were rated more objective and credible (both message and medium credibility) than finance and political newsstories in auto-written news tories. Financial news stories were rated more objective and credible than sports and political newsstories among human-written stories. Financial news stories were rated more biased than sports and political news stories among autowritten news stories. However, political news stories were rated as more biased than financial and sports news stories in human-written news stories. Political news stories were rated as more biased than sports and finance news stories when auto-written and human-written stories were combined. Multiple business motivations may result in journalistic domains havinganeffect on readers’ assessment of news stories. First, thepublishers’ or new organizations’ political stance was found to greatly affect that of its reporters’. or example, news stories of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox were believed to exhibit political leanings. Subsequently, political bias may be more salient in story constructions or patterns of bias in news stories (Groeling 2008). Similarly, participants’ political ideology may affect their views towards The Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Secondly, social identity – the sense of whether one belongs to a perceived ingroup or out-group – may affect bias in sports news. Previous studies found that American sportscasters tended to report favorably on athletes from the United States and highlight them more frequently. In-group favoritism is more pronounced when their participants’ team won (Bryant and Oliver 2009; Wann 2006). However, financial news stories, which are mostly free from political standing and social identity, were the least biased when compared to politics and sports stories in the human-written group. On the contrary, when neither political stance nor social identity plays a role, financial news stories were rated the most biased in the auto-written group.

After controlling for some of the main confounding factors identified in the literature, we find that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are more financially literate

The Role of Cognitive Abilities on Financial Literacy: New Experimental Evidence. Melisa Muñoz-Murillo et al. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, November 8 2019, 101482.

• Financial literacy research focuses on why, how, and when people acquire financial knowledge, shape their financial attitudes, and adapt their financial behaviors.
• The literature demonstrates that some demographic characteristics highly correlate with financial literacy.
• Demographic factors mask the ultimate determinants of financial literacy acquisition.
• We offer experimental evidence supporting the key role of cognitive ability in financial literacy acquisition.
• After controlling for some of the main confounding factors identified in the literature, we find that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are more financially literate

Abstract: Financial literacy research focuses on why, how, and when people acquire financial knowledge, shape their financial attitudes, and adapt their financial behaviors. The literature demonstrates that some demographic characteristics highly correlate with financial literacy. However, demographic factors often mask the ultimate determinants of financial literacy acquisition such as risk aversion, time preferences, cognitive and behavioral biases, personality traits, cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, among others. Theory suggests that cognitive ability is one of the fundamental factors in explaining financial literacy. We offer experimental evidence supporting the key role of cognitive ability in financial literacy acquisition. Our experimental setting allows us to (a) overcome particular limitations of the traditional multiple-choice questions survey designs, (b) provide compatible incentives to make participants exert an appropriate level of effort to solve the assigned tasks, and (c) use a well-known measure of cognitive abilities. We find that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are more financially literate. Our main result holds even after controlling for some of the main confounding factors identified in the literature. In contrast to previous studies, we find no role for gender in explaining financial literacy once we control for cognitive abilities.

Keywords: Cognitive abilityfinancial literacyexperiment

6 Discussions
We are cautious in interpreting our results. We acknowledge that the omission of a third variable that affects cognitive ability as well as financial literacy in the same direction might generate the positive correlation we find between the two variables. In our case, the omission of relevant variables yield inconsistent estimators (Cameron & Trivedi, 2005), i.e., the estimated coefficient for CRT scores might not converge to the population value of the parameter. According to Kautz, Heckman, Diris, Ter Weel, and Borghans (2014), other non-cognitive abilities–that we do not consider in this study–as the Big Five of Personality (Openness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Agreeability, and Neuroticism–OCEAN) also matter for the acquisition of new abilities and knowledge. That said, it is worth noting that the theoretical literature supports a causal effect of cognitive abilities on financial literacy (see Delavande et al. (2008)) and that we control for some of the main confounding factors (i.e., educational achievement, non-cognitive abilities, and parental characteristics).9 On
 the other hand, potential multicollinearity problems may arise with the inclusion of many independent variables. In our case, multicollinearity may embed the acceptance of the no significance null hypothesis. In this regard, we compute correlations and run variable inflation factor (VIF) tests to investigate the extent to which the presence of multicollinearity was a problem in our study. Appendix B shows the results according to which none of the included variables have high correlations with other independent variables or high VIF test values reducing concerns about multicollinearity affecting our results. The main limitations of our work are related with the main limitations of laboratory experiments in general: (a) selection bias and, therefore, external validity, and (b) budgetary constraints. 10 First, since students decided whether to register in our database for economic experiments, we do not have a random sample of our target population. In other words, our sample lacks external validity and our inferences are valid only to the sample we examine. In this regard, the external validity of the empirical findings in this research will be subject to the same criticisms of previous works. However, the literature in experimental economics increasingly recognizes that participants in economic experiments are mostly comprised by university students who voluntarily choose to participate. In this regard, student and selection bias have been discussed in Exadaktylos, Esp´ın, and Branas-Garza (2013). In a rigorous study about social preferences, these authors find that a sample of self-selected university students provide reliable results. In addition, due to time and budgeting constraints, we do not include competing measures of cognitive ability. However, we acknowledge it would be convenient to test the validity of our measure and, even more important, to build a more comprehensive measure of cognitive ability.
Despite these limitations, and given the difficulty of replicating the real conditions in which individuals make economic decisions, the results of the present study are expected to provide valuable information regarding the role played by cognitive abilities in determining financial literacy levels. If through laboratory experiments it is possible to establish that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are more financially literate, such information would be useful and difficult to ignore to support public policy decisions. Moreover, our results should be interpreted with care since we do not deal with the identification of empirical causality. However, as we claim before, the relation between cognitive ability and financial literacy has strong theoretical and empirical support. In our view, causality can go in either direction: from cognitive ability to financial literacy and vice versa. At least during childhood, cognitive ability is affected by environmental factors related to financial literacy like socioeconomic conditions, parental influences, poor sanitary conditions, low birth weight, domestic stimulation, and school attendance (Ayaz et al., 2012; Santos et al., 2008). In addition, as we claim, cognitive ability can lower the cost of financial literacy acquisition (e.g., financial knowledge and behaviors). However, establishing causality in a our laboratory setting would have implied to introduce changes to cognitive ability while controlling all other potential variables affecting financial literacy. In our view, such a task is difficult to achieve in the lab. Our results, nonetheless, point out to the need of establishing causality in other empirical settings which can measure changes in individuals’ cognitive abilities and disentangle how these variation affect financial literacy.

7 Conclusions
The literature demonstrates that some demographic characteristics explain people financial literacy levels. Demographic factors often mask the ultimate factors causing any given phenomena. Since most of the empirical evidence on the determinants of financial literacy focuses on demographic factors, we provide new experimental evidence to understand the fundamental or ultimate factors that influence financial literacy. In particular, we examine the empirical link between cognitive ability and financial literacy. Our results show that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are more financially literate. Other ultimate factors explaining people’s financial literacy acquisition could be such things as risk aversion, time preferences, cognitive and behavioral biases, personality traits, cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, etc. In this paper, we offer experimental evidence supporting the key role of cognitive ability in financial literacy acquisition. Our experimental setting allows us to overcome particular limitations of the traditional multiple-choice questions survey designs, provide compatible incentives to make participants exert an appropriate level of effort to solve the assigned tasks, and use a well-known measure of cognitive abilities. Our results indicate that individuals with higher cognitive ability are more financially literate. These results hold even after controlling for some of the main confounding factors identified in the literature. In contrast to previous studies, once we control for cognitive abilities we find no evidence of a gender gap on financial literacy levels. This result suggests that the gender gap documented in the empirical literature may be driven by differences in cognitive abilities not accounting for in previous studies. Further research is needed to understand better the fundamental factors underlying the relationship between gender and financial literacy.

Our society celebrates failure as a teachable moment. Yet in five studies (total N = 1,674), failure did the opposite: It undermined learning

Not Learning From Failure—the Greatest Failure of All. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, Ayelet Fishbach. Psychological Science, November 8, 2019.

Abstract: Our society celebrates failure as a teachable moment. Yet in five studies (total N = 1,674), failure did the opposite: It undermined learning. Across studies, participants answered binary-choice questions, following which they were told they answered correctly (success feedback) or incorrectly (failure feedback). Both types of feedback conveyed the correct answer, because there were only two answer choices. However, on a follow-up test, participants learned less from failure feedback than from success feedback. This effect was replicated across professional, linguistic, and social domains—even when learning from failure was less cognitively taxing than learning from success and even when learning was incentivized. Participants who received failure feedback also remembered fewer of their answer choices. Why does failure undermine learning? Failure is ego threatening, which causes people to tune out. Participants learned less from personal failure than from personal success, yet they learned just as much from other people’s failure as from others’ success. Thus, when ego concerns are muted, people tune in and learn from failure.

Keywords: learning, feedback, failure, ego threat, motivation, open data, open materials, preregistered

The true self is not easily expressed face-to-face: On the Internet, people can express what they intrinsically think and believe with fewer concerns about others’ disapproval & judgments

The expression of the true self in the online world: a literature review. Chuan Hu, Sameer Kumar, Jiao Huang & Kurunathan Ratnavelu. Behaviour & Information Technology, Nov 4 2019. ttps://

ABSTRACT: The true self is one of the essential parts of people’s self-concept and identity, but it is not easily expressed in face-to-face communications. On the Internet, people can express what they intrinsically think and believe with fewer concerns about others’ disapproval and judgments. Increasingly more researchers have started to investigate people’s expression of the true self in the online context. However, the existing research is quite diverse and fragmented. A rigorous and comprehensive review of the emerging literature is called for. The present study conducted a systematic literature review to examine what is already known about the expression of the true self online. This paper analysed the selected studies on the basis of research contexts, research methods, and research themes. Our review offers readers an easy access to the current status of research in this field; it also provides some insightful suggestions for future studies.

KEYWORDS: Literature review, the true self, self-expression, online world

Cross-cultural consistency & relativity in the enjoyment of thinking vs doing: Participants much preferred solitary everyday activities, such as reading or watching TV, to thinking for pleasure

Cross-cultural consistency and relativity in the enjoyment of thinking versus doing. Buttrick, Nicholas et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov 2019.

Abstract: Which is more enjoyable: trying to think enjoyable thoughts or doing everyday solitary activities? Wilson et al. (2014) found that American participants much preferred solitary everyday activities, such as reading or watching TV, to thinking for pleasure. To see whether this preference generalized outside of the United States, we replicated the study with 2,557 participants from 12 sites in 11 countries. The results were consistent in every country: Participants randomly assigned to do something reported significantly greater enjoyment than did participants randomly assigned to think for pleasure. Although we found systematic differences by country in how much participants enjoyed thinking for pleasure, we used a series of nested structural equation models to show that these differences were fully accounted for by country-level variation in 5 individual differences, 4 of which were positively correlated with thinking for pleasure (need for cognition, openness to experience, meditation experience, and initial positive affect) and 1 of which was negatively correlated (reported phone usage).

As we predicted, Wilson et al.’s (2014) finding that participants enjoyed doing an external activity more than they enjoyed thinking for pleasure proved to be quite robust, replicating in all 11 of the countries studied. The average effect size was quite large, though smaller than in the original study (d ! .98 vs. 1.83). The uniformity of this finding among the participants and countries sampled here suggests that, across a wide variety of cultures, turning one’s attention inward to focus on enjoyable topics in the absence of any external cues is far less enjoyable than engaging in everyday activities such as reading or watching a video.

One reason for this is that thinking for pleasure is difficult. As noted by Westgate et al. (2017), to think for pleasure, one must choose topics to think about, maintain attention to those topics,and keep competing thoughts outside of awareness, all of which may tax mental resources (Wegner, 1994). Consistent with this view, participants in the thinking condition of the present study reported that it was somewhat difficult to concentrate on their thoughts (M ! 5.18 on a 9-point scale), and the more difficulty they reported, the less they enjoyed thinking, r(1271) = -.36, p < .001. Notably, this correlation did not differ between countries, Q(10) = 3.20, p = .98. One implication of these findings is that people might enjoy thinking for pleasure more if it were made easier, and indeed, as noted earlier, Westgate et al. found that giving people a simple thinking aid—are minder of topics they had said they would enjoy thinking about—significantly increased their enjoyment of thinking.

An additional purpose of the present study was to explore cultural differences in the extent to which people enjoy thinking for pleasure, and some country-level differences emerged. These differences, however, were fully explained by international variations in five individual differences, and once country-level differences in those variables were taken into account, the country-level differences themselves were no longer significant. Participants were more likely to enjoy their thoughts to the extent that they practiced meditation, were high in the need for cognition, high in openness to experience, reported a low level of phone usage, and were in a positive mood. What might explain these relationships?

The correlation of the enjoyment of thinking with meditation is consistent with the idea that cultural practices and norms influence the amount of experience people have spending time alone with their thoughts, and that those with greater experience enjoy thinking more (e.g., H. Smith, 1991; Tsai et al., 2006; Tsai, Knutson, et al., 2007; Tsai, Miao, et al., 2007; Yoshioka et al., 2002). The correlation of the enjoyment of thinking with need for cognition is consistent with the idea that thinking for pleasure is effortful and thus is more enjoyable for those who typically find thinking to be an attractive activity (e.g., Westgate et al., 2017; Wilson et al., 2018a). The correlation of the enjoyment of thinking with openness to experience suggests that those who value creativity and new experiences are more motivated to think for pleasure (or more skilled at it). Alahmadi et al. (2017) found that motivating people to think for pleasure increases their enjoyment considerably, and it is possible that such motivation is associated with openness to experience. The fact that people who were in positive moods enjoyed thinking more is consistent with research that those in a positive mood are likely to find it easier to recruit and think about positive topics (Matt, Vázquez, & Campbell, 1992).

We also found that the five key individual-difference variables varied by culture, which fully explained why residents of some countries enjoyed thinking more than others. For example, Japanese participants enjoyed thinking the least, perhaps because they were the lowest in openness to experience and need for cognition, among the lowest in initial positive affect and in experience with meditation (surprisingly), and among the highest in reported phone use. In contrast, American participants were in the middle of the pack in the enjoyment of thinking, probably because they were also in the middle of the pack on most of the important predictor variables (e.g., openness to experience, experience with meditation, initial positive affect). These findings suggest that to understand cultural variations in the enjoyment of thinking for pleasure, it is best to examine cultural differences in the individual practices and personality variables that are associated with it.

We additionally found evidence that three country-level variables—population density, GDP, and “masculinity”(aka cultural levels of interpersonal competitiveness)—weakly predicted individuals’ enjoyment of thinking. One possible (speculative) explanation for these findings is that people who grew up in a more rural area or in a poorer country may have had less opportunity to distractthemselves with external entertainments and more practice thinking for pleasure. Alternately, the experience of living in densely populated cities may lead to residents feeling that their lives are less meaningful and more overloaded (Buttrick, Heintzelman, Weser, & Oishi, 2018; Milgram, 1970), potentially demotivating them from making the effort to turn inward. In addition, cultures that stress masculinity and competitiveness may be more likely to view thinking for pleasure as a waste of time. It should be noted, though, that even in the countries with the lowest populationdensities (e.g., Brazil and the United States) an dthe lowest GDPs (e.g., Serbia, Costa Rica), participants enjoyed thinking less than doing.

The present study naturally has some limitations. First, as in Wilson et al. (2014) Study 8, all participants were college students, thus limiting the generalizability of the results. However, whereas college students may be an unusual population in some regards (e.g., Henrich et al., 2010), studies show that nonstudents also have difficulty thinking for pleasure (Westgate et al., 2017; Wilson et al., 2014, Study 9). Second, althoughoursample of countries represents a wide variety of cultures, we did not sampletheentirety of the world’s population, and it is possible that enjoyment of thinking for pleasure differs in some of the cultures that we did not sample.

Third, for practical reasons, we used shortened versions of most of the individual-difference measures, which resulted in reduced reliability. For example, we used Gosling et al.’s (2003) 10-item measure of the Big Five personality traits, which had low alphas, particularly for agreeableness. In this regard, it is interesting to compare the cultural differences in Big Five traits that we obtained with those obtained by Schmitt et al. (2007), who used Benet Martinez and John’s (1998) 44-item measure. The correlations between mean levels of openness to experience, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and agreeableness, in the nine countries included in both our study and theirs, were, respectively, r(8) = .92, .90, .62, .49, and .30. This increases our confidence in the reliability of our results for some traits (particularly openness to experience and conscientiousness) but decreases it for others (e.g., agreeableness).

In sum, the preference for doing external activities such as reading, watching TV, or surfing the Internet rather than “just thinking” appears to be strong throughout the world. The magnitude of this preference is systematically related to several individual differences that characterize the residents of some countries more than others. These findings raise the question of whether there are conditions under which people throughout the world might enjoy thinking more and whether there would be value in doing so. Progress is being made on these fronts; as mentioned, Westgateetal.(2017) found that people enjoy thinking more when cognitive load is reduced by giving them a simple thinking aid, and studies have found other benefits to thinking for pleasure, namely a sense of personal meaningfulness (Alahmadi et al., 2017; Raza et al., 2018).

The fact that thinking for pleasure can be made easier is interesting in light of the present finding that reported cell phone usage was negatively associated enjoying one’s thoughts. Although much has been written about the increasing reliance on electronic devices and the possible negative consequences of “device obsession” (e.g., Carr, 2011; Kushlev & Dunn, 2015; Powers, 2010), our studyisthe firstto link device usage to a decrease in the ability to sit alone and enjoy one’s thoughts. The present findings are correlational, of course, so we do not knowwhetherusingcellphones makes it more difficult for people to enjoy thinking or whether people who do not enjoy thinking are especially likely to use cell phones, or whether some third variable causes both. It is a provocative possibility, though, that the allure of electronic devices is preventing people from making an effort to find pleasure in their thoughts.

If so, efforts to encourage people to put away their phones and “just think” may be of some benefit. For example, in a field study by Wilson, Westgate, Buttrick, and Gilbert (2018b), participants who were randomly assigned to spend spare moments during their day thinking for pleasure (with thinking aids) found this experience to be morepersonally meaningful, and as enjoyable, as did participantswho were randomly assigned to spend their spare moments as they normally did (which often involved using electronic devices). Much more work needs to be done to determine who values thinking for pleasure and when, but this initial evidence suggests that people may find it to be worth the effort if they gave it a try.