Sunday, March 29, 2020

At low levels of video gaming time, gaming protects against gun violence; at high levels, it imprints gun-related behaviors and naturalizes them, a small effect; moral panic of video gaming is largely unsubstantiated

Videogames and guns in adolescents: Preliminary tests of a bipartite association. Ofir Turel. Computers in Human Behavior, March 29 2020, 106355.

• We propose a U-shaped association between video-gaming and gun-related behaviors.
• At low levels of video gaming time, video gaming displaces gun-related behaviors.
• At high levels, it imprints gun-related behaviors and naturalizes them.
• This can explain inconsistent past findings based on an assumed linear association.
• Moral panic over light to moderate video gaming is largely unsubstantiated.

Abstract: The possible role of video gaming in imprinting aggressive and specifically gun-related behaviors has been elusive, and findings regarding these associations have been inconsistent. We address this gap by proposing and testing a bipartite theory that can explain inconsistent results regarding the previously assumed linear association between videogames and gun-related behaviors. Our theory suggests that this association follows a U-shape. It posits that at low levels of video gaming time, video gaming displaces gun-related behaviors and shelters adolescents by keeping them occupied and by reducing opportunities and motivation to acquire guns. However, at some level of gaming time (because most popular games adolescents play include violent aspects), the assumed imprinting of aggressive behaviors overpowers the positive displacement force, and this trivializes and naturalizes gun-carrying behaviors, and ultimately increases motivation to obtain and carry guns. We tested this theory with two national samples of American adolescents (n1 = 24,779 and n2 = 26,543, out of which 403 and 378, respectively, reported bringing a gun to school in the last month). Multiple analyses supported the proposed U-shaped association. These findings show that the moral panic over video games is largely unsubstantiated, especially among light to moderate gamers.

Keywords: Video gamesTechnology and societyGunsAdolescentsImprinting hypothesisDisplacement hypothesis

Patrician women loitering on dark streets, giving themselves to common passers-by; half-clad men molested by their mothers and sisters; effeminates soft as a rabbit and “languid as a limp penis”

True Greek orgy meant mystic loss of self. But in imperial Roman orgy, persona continued. The Roman decadent kept the observing Apollonian eye awake during Dionysian revel. More Alexandrian connoisseurship, here applied to the fashionable self. Eye plus orgy equals decadence. Salaciousness, lewdness, lasciviousness: such interesting hyperstates are produced by a superimposition of mind on erotic action. The west has pioneered in this charred crimson territory. Without strong personality of the western kind, serious decadence is impossible. Sin is a form of cinema, seen from a distance. The Romans, pragmatically adapting Greek ideas, made engineering out of eroticism too. The heir of Greek theater was not Roman theater but Roman sex. The Roman decadence has never been matched in scale because other places and times have lacked the great mass of classical forms to corrupt. Rome made daemonic music of gluttony and lust from the Dionysian body. The Maenadism absent from Roman cult became imperial ecstasy, mechanized greed.

Roman literature’s sexual personae are in hectic perpetual motion. Greek aristocratic athleticism split in two in Rome: vulgar gladiatorship by ruffians and slaves, and leisure-class sexual adventurism, a sporting life then as now. As the republic ends, Catullus records the jazzy promiscuity of Rome’s chic set. Patrician women loitering on dark streets, giving themselves to common passers-by. Half-clad men molested by their mothers and sisters. Effeminates soft as a rabbit and “languid as a limp penis.” A sodomite waking with battered buttocks and “red lips like snow,” mouth rimmed with last night’s pasty spoils. The strolling poet, finding a boy and girl copulating, falls upon the boy from behind, piercing and driving him to his task. Public sex, it is fair to say, is decadent. Oh, those happy pagan days, romping in green meadows: one still encounters this sentimental notion, half-baked Keats. It is quite wrong. Catullus, like Baudelaire, savors imagery of squalor and filth. His moral assumptions remain those of republican Rome, which he jovially pollutes with degeneration and disease. His poetry is a torch-lit descent into a gloomy underworld, where we survey the contamination and collapse of Roman personae. Men and women are suddenly free, but freedom is a flood of superfluous energy, a vicious circle of agitation, quest, satiation, exhaustion, ennui. Moral codes are always obstructive, relative, and man-made. Yet they have been of enormous profit to civilization. They are civilization. Without them, we are invaded by the chaotic barbarism of sex, nature’s tyranny, turning day into night and love into obsession and lust.

Catullus, an admirer of Sappho, turns her emotional ambivalence into sadomasochism. Her chills and fever become his “odi et amo,” “I hate and I love.” Her beloved maidens, fresh as orange flowers, become his cynical Lesbia, adulteress and dominatrix, vampiristically “draining the strength of all.” The urban femme fatale dons the primitive mask of mother nature. Lesbia, the wellborn Clodia, introduces to Rome a depraved sexual persona that had been current, according to aggrieved comment of the Old Testament, for a thousand years in Babylon. Female receptivity becomes a sinkhole of vice, the vagina a collector of pestilence to poison Roman nobility and bring it to an end.

Catullus is a cartographer of sexual personae. His lament for the dying god Attis (Carmen 63) is an extraordinary improvisation on gender. Castrating himself for Cybele, Attis enters a sexual twilight zone. Grammatically, the poem refers to him as feminine. “I a woman, I a man, I a youth, I a boy”: in this litany of haunting memory, Attis floats through a shamanistically expanded present tense of gender, all things and nothing. Like imperial Rome, he has been pitched into an ecstatic free fall of personae. Suspension of sexual conventions brings melancholy, not joy. He is artistically detached from ordinary life but feels “sterile.” Attis is the poet himself, mutating through gender in a strange, new, manic world.

Ovid, bom forty years later, is the first psychoanalyst of sex. His masterpiece is aptly called Metamorphoses: as Rome changes, Ovid plunders Greek and Roman legend for magic transformations—man and god to animal and plant, male to female and back. Identity is liquid. Nature is under Dionysian spell; Apollo’s contours do not hold. The world becomes a projected psyche, played upon by amoral vagaries of sexual desire. Ovid’s encyclopedic attentiveness to erotic perversity will not recur until Spenser’s Faerie Queene , directly influenced by him. His successors are Sade, Balzac, Proust, Krafft-Ebing, and Freud.

The Metamorphoses is a handbook of sexual problematics. There is Iphis, a girl raised as a boy who falls in love with another girl and is relieved of her suffering by being changed into a man. Or Caeneus, once the girl Caenis, who rejects marriage and is raped by Neptune. As compensation, she is changed into a man invulnerable to wounds, martial and sexual. According to the Homeric scholiast, Caeneus set up his spear as a phallic totem in the marketplace, prayed and sacrificed to it, and commanded people hail it as a god, angering Zeus. In Vergil’s underworld, Aeneas sees Caeneus as a woman, the morphological ghost of her femaleness reasserting itself. Ovid’s complications of violation and fetishism are theory, not titillation. The theme is our “double nature,” his term for the centaurs who smother impenetrable Caeneus after a horrifying orgy of Maenadic pulverizations. Like Freud, Ovid constructs hypothetical models of narcissism and the will-to-power. His point of view comes from his position between eras. Sexual personae, in flux, allow him to bring cool Apollonian study to bear upon roiling Dionysian process.

In his lesser works, Ovid lightens Catullus’ bitter sex war into parlor politics. In The Art of Love, he says the seducer must be shrewd and changeable as Proteus. This is the Roman Dionysus, metamorphic Greek nature reduced to erotic opportunism. Sex-change is a foxy game: the wise adulteress, counsels Ovid, transsexualizes her letters, turning “he” to “she.” The empire diverted Roman conceptual energy into sex. So specialized is Martial’s sexual vocabulary that it influenced modem medical terminology. Latin, an exact but narrow language, became startlingly precise about sexual activity. The Latinist Fred Nichols tells me that a verb in Martial, used in poetry for the first time by Catullus, describes the fluttering movement of the buttocks of the passive partner in sodomy. There were, in fact, two forms of this verb: one for males and another for females.

Classical Athens, exalting masculine athleticism, had no conspicuous sexual sadomasochists and street transvestites. The Roman empire, on the other hand, if we believe the satirists, was overrun by epicene creatures. Ovid warns women to beware of elegant men with coiffures “sleek with liquid nard”—they may be out to steal your dress! “What can a woman do when her lover is smoother than she, and may have more boyfriends?” 28 Ausonius tells a sodomist with depilated anus and buttocks, “You are a woman behind, a man in front.” Girlish boys and long-haired male prostitutes appear in Horace, Petronius, and Martial. Gaius Julius Phaedrus blames homosexuals of both sexes on drunken Prometheus, who attached the wrong genitalia to human figures he was molding. Lesbianism, infrequent in Greek literature, makes a splash in Rome. Martial and Horace record real-life tribads, Baiba, Philaenis, and Folia of Arminum, with her “masculine libidinousness.” There are lesbian innuendos about the all-woman rites of the Bona Dea, crashed by Publius Clodius in drag. Lucian’s debater condemns lesbian acts as “androgynous passions” and calls dildos “infamous instruments of lust, an unholy imitation of a fruitless union .” 29 Rome’s sexual disorientation was great theater, but it led to the collapse of paganism.

Pursuit of pleasure belongs on the party circuit, not in the centers of power. Today too, one might like playfulness and spontaneity in a friend, lover, or star, but one wants a different character in people with professional or political authority. The more regular, unimaginative, and boring the daily lives of presidents, surgeons, and airline pilots, the better for us, thank you very much. Hierarchic ministry should be ascetic and focused. It does not profit from identity crises, the province of art. Rome had a genius for organization. Its administrative structure was absorbed by the Catholic Church, which turned an esoteric Palestinian sect into a world religion. Roman imperial bureaucracy, an ex* tension of republican legalism, was a superb machine, rolling over other nations with brutal force. Two thousand years later, we are still feeling the consequences of its destruction of Judaea and dispersion of the fractious Jews, who refused to become Roman. We know from Hollywood movies what that machine sounded like, its thunderous, relentless marching drums pushing Roman destiny across the world and through history. But when the masters of the machine turned to idleness and frivolity, Roman moral force vanished.

The Roman annalists give us the riveting gossip. Sodomy was reported of the emperors Tiberius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Commodus, Trajan, and Elagabalus. Even Julius Caesar was rumored to be bisexual. Hadrian fell in love with the beautiful Antinous, deified him after his death, and spread his image everywhere. Caligula had a taste for extravagant robes and women’s clothes. He dressed his wife Caesonia in armour and paraded her before the troops. He loved impersonations, appearing in wig and costume as singer, dancer, charioteer, gladiator, virgin huntress, wife. He posed as all the male and female gods. As Jupiter, he seduced many women, including his sisters. Cassius Dio tartly remarks, “He was eager to appear to be anything rather than a human being and an emperor .” 30 Nero chose the roles of bard, athlete, and charioteer. He dressed as a tragedian to watch Rome bum. Onstage he played heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses. He pretended to be a runaway slave, a blind man, a madman, a pregnant woman, a woman in labor. He wore the mask of his wife Poppaea Sabina, who had died, it was said, after he kicked her in her pregnant belly. Nero was a clever architect of sexual spectacle. He built riverbank brothels and installed patrician women to solicit him from doorways. Tying young male and female victims to stakes, he draped himself in animal skins and leapt out from a den to attack their genitals. Nero devised two homosexual parodies of marriage. He castrated the boy Sporus, who resembled dead Poppaea, dressed him in women’s clothes, and married him before the court, treating him afterward as wife and empress. In the second male marriage, with a youth whom Tacitus calls Pythagoras and Suetonius Doryphorus, sex roles were reversed: the emperor was bride. “On the wedding night,” reports Suetonius, “he imitated the screams and moans of a girl being deflowered .” 31

Commodus gave his mother’s name to a concubine, making his sex life an Oedipal drama. He appeared as Mercury and transvestite Hercules. He was called Amazonius, because he dressed his concubine Marcia as an Amazon and wanted to appear as an Amazon himself in the arena. Elagabalus, Caracalla’s cousin, brought the sexually freakish customs of Asia Minor to imperial Rome. He scandalized the army with his silks, jewelry, and dancing. His short reign was giddy with plays, pageants, and parlor games. Lampridius says, “He got himself up as a confectioner, a perfumer, a cook, a shopkeeper, or a procurer, and he even practiced all these occupations in his own house continually .” 32 Elagabalus’ lordly ease of access to plebeian roles was social mobility in reverse. Like Nero, he practiced “class transvestism,” David Reisman’s phrase for the modem bluejeans fad . 33

Elagabalus’ life passion was his longing for womanhood. Wearing a wig, he prostituted himself in real Roman brothels. Cassius Dio reports:
He set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part. . . . He would collect money from his patrons and give himself airs over his gains; he would also dispute with his associates in this shameful occupation, claiming that he had more lovers than they and took in more money.
Miming an adulteress caught in the act and beaten by her husband, the emperor cherished black eyes as a souvenir. He summoned to court a man notorious for enormous genitals and greeted him with “a ravishing feminine pose,” saying, “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.” He impersonated the Great Mother in a lion-drawn chariot and publicly posed as the Venus Pudica , dropping to his knees with buttocks thrust before a male partner. Finally, Elagabalus’ transvestite fantasies led to a desire to change sex. He had to be dissuaded from castrating himself, reluctantly accepting circumcision as a compromise. Dio says, “He asked the physicians to contrive a woman’s vagina in his body by means of an incision, promising them large sums for doing so .” 34 Science, which only recently perfected this operation, is clearly laggard upon the sexual imagination.

Absolute power is a door into dreaming. The Roman emperors made living theater of their turbulent world. There was no gap between wish and realization; fantasy leapt into instant visibility. Roman imperial masque: charades, inquisition, horseplay. The emperors made sexual personae an artistic medium, plastic as clay. Nero, setting live Christians afire for a night banquet, played with reality. Roman copies of Greek statues are a bit dull and coarse. So too with Rome’s sexual literalization of Greek drama. The emperors, acting to provoke, torture, or arouse, removed the poetry and philosophy from theater. The vomitoria of Roman villas are troughs for vomiting the last six courses before starting on the next. Vomitoria is also the name for the exits of Roman amphitheaters, through which the mob poured. Imperial Rome, heir to sprawling Hellenistic culture, suffered from too-muchness, the hallmark of decadence. Too much mind, too much body; too many people, too many facts. The mind of the king is a perverse mirror of the time. Having no cinema, Nero made his own. In Athens, the beautiful boy was an idealized objet de culte. In Rome, persons were stage machinery, mannequins, decor. The lives of the wastrel emperors demonstrate the inadequacy of our modem myth of personal freedom. Here were men who were free and who were sickened by that freedom. Sexual liberation, our deceitful mirage, ends in lassitude and inertness. An emperor’s day was androgyny-in-action. But was he happier than his republican ancestors, with their rigid sex roles? Repression makes meaning and purpose.

Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu

Correia, Sergio and Luck, Stephan and Verner, Emil, Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu. SSRN, March 26, 2020.

Abstract: What are the economic consequences of an influenza pandemic? And given the pandemic, what are the economic costs and benefits of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI)? Using geographic variation in mortality during the 1918 Flu Pandemic in the U.S., we find that more exposed areas experience a sharp and persistent decline in economic activity. The estimates imply that the pandemic reduced manufacturing output by 18%. The downturn is driven by both supply and demand-side channels. Further, building on findings from the epidemiology literature establishing that NPIs decrease influenza mortality, we use variation in the timing and intensity of NPIs across U.S. cities to study their economic effects. We find that cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively do not perform worse and, if anything, grow faster after the pandemic is over. Our findings thus indicate that NPIs not only lower mortality; they also mitigate the adverse economic consequences of a pandemic.

Keywords: 1918 Flu Pandemic, non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI), real economy
JEL Classification: E32, I10, I18, H1

Mirror-writing intersects with fundamental questions about the neural representations for reading and writing, and for object recognition and purposeful action more generally

Reflecting on mirror-writing. Interviewing Robert McIntosh and Sergio della Sala. The Psychologist, April 2020 Vol.33 (pp.32-35), Mar 2020.

So, would it be normal for children to mirror-write?
Mirror-writing, though striking to see, is an absolutely normal occurrence when learning to write. It would surprise us if there are any children who never make at least some mirror reversals. Rather than being regarded as a mistake, mirror-writing can be viewed as an impressive act of generalisation from a child, who is able to produce mirrored forms that they have never been taught. Parents with a young child who mirror reverses letters or words should enjoy the variety, and should not worry. Such reversals would only be of concern if they persisted well beyond the age by which most children have securely learned letter direction (7-8 years), in which case they would be part of a broader profile of slow literacy development.

Is there any update on mirror-writing from your own research or other sources?
Mirror-writing is still a ’niche’ research topic, but a few recent papers have been published on developmental mirror-writing. Jean Paul-Fischer’s group in Lorraine (France) had previously shown that children learning a dextrad (left-to-right) language like French (or English) are much more likely to reverse characters that face to the left (like j, z, or 3) than those that face to the right (like k, s, or 6). They inferred that the child may implicitly learn that most letters they see face to the right, and then over-apply this rule, so that they are more likely to flip a left-facing character to the right than vice-versa. We recently confirmed that this bias really is driven by character orientation, and not by differences in frequency, or how hard it is to remember certain shapes. We taught primary school children to write four novel pseudo-letters, two of which were left-facing and two of which were right-facing. We used identical but mirror reflected character sets for different groups of children, to control for any incidental differences between the shapes. Children were three times more likely to mirror-write a novel character they had learned in a left-facing format than to mirror-write one they had learned in a right-facing format.

Interestingly, it turns out that the bias may not be so much about whether the character faces left or right, but whether it faces in the direction of writing. Fischer and his colleagues used a simple technique to bias children to start writing in a right-to-left (i.e. reversed) direction, and they found that the pattern of reversals was also reversed, so that right-facing letters were now more likely to be flipped than left-facing characters. So, it seems that children may generally learn to face characters in the direction of writing before they know which way each of the individual letters should face.

And there is one point in our previous article that we would now revise. We suggested that mirror-writing in children was driven mainly by uncertainty about the direction of writing actions, and not by perceptual uncertainty about how the letters should look on the page. We have now tested this idea more directly, and found that there is in fact a close relationship between a child’s likelihood of mirror-writing and the errors they make when perceptually judging whether normal and reversed characters look correct or not. This relationship was significant even when controlling for age; and the letters that were most often mirror-written were also more prone to recognition errors. These new data indicate that perceptual uncertainty does accompany mirror-writing in children, and that visual and motor representations of letters develop in parallel.

What questions on mirror-writing are still unanswered?
One major shortcoming is that most of what we know about mirror-writing relates to dextrad (left-to-right) languages based on the Latin alphabet, which is only one class of directional writing system, so cross-cultural studies seem essential. How do these phenomena compare in other language systems, especially sinistrad (right-to-left) written languages such as Arabic or Hebrew? Bilingual children, being schooled both in dextrad and sinistrad languages, might be particularly interesting to study. We have unpublished data suggesting that children learning to read and write both English and Arabic make more orientation errors for left-facing characters in English and for right-facing characters in Arabic, consistent with a general bias to prefer letters that face in the script direction. It might also be interesting to examine the relation of reading and writing to other culturally-specified directional behaviours (such as turning taps or screws).

In adults, we would be interested to investigate a possible association of mirror-writing ability with atypical language dominance. We have functional magnetic resonance imaging data showing an unusual pattern of bilateral language representation in a skilled mirror writer. This result is intriguing, but it is not yet known whether it is typical of people who have a facility for mirror-writing. The extensive email correspondence that our Psychologist article has elicited has convinced us that there would be plenty of candidates for a larger-scale study. However, in pursuing this question it would be essential to define more precisely what should qualify a person as being a ‘natural’ mirror-writer; because mirror-writing is also a skill, like any other, that can be developed and made automatic through practice.