Saturday, April 2, 2022

Their studies revealed a robust belief that “life gets better” over time (i.e., recollected past < current < anticipated future life satisfaction) in nations around the world, in relation to both objective & subjective indicators of societal-level functioning

Busseri, M. A. (2022). The global belief that “life gets better and better”: National differences in recollected past, present, and anticipated future life satisfaction around the world, across time, and in relation to societal functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Apr 2022.

Abstract: National-level differences in individuals’ ratings of their recollected past, current, and anticipated future life satisfaction (LS) were examined using results from two pioneering projects comprising national-level results for 14 countries (Cantril, 1965) and 15 regions of the world (Gallup International Research Institutes & Charles F. Kettering Foundation, 1976; Study 1), as well as sequential results from the Gallup World Poll based on 137 countries representing a broad range of nations from around the world surveyed from 2005 to 2018 (Study 2). Results from both studies revealed a robust belief that “life gets better” over time (i.e., recollected past < current < anticipated future LS) in nations around the world. Such beliefs were examined in relation to objective and subjective indicators of societal-level functioning. Results replicated across studies in showing that nations with less positive societal functioning and prosperity were characterized by less recollected past improvements in LS, and yet greater anticipated future improvements in LS. Results from Study 2 also revealed that such expectations were positively biased compared to changes over time in national levels of LS; further, greater bias was related to less positive societal-level functioning. In conclusion, examining national-level differences in LS from a subjective temporal perspective provides valuable new insights concerning human development and prosperity across countries, over time, and around the world.

Factors proposed to explain impersonal cooperation across societies (institutions (rule of law), religion (belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (trust) & values (collectivism), and ecology (relational mobility)) are not so important

Spadaro, G., Graf, C., Jin, S., Arai, S., Inoue, Y., Lieberman, E., Rinderu, M. I., Yuan, M., Van Lissa, C. J., & Balliet, D. (2022). Cross-cultural variation in cooperation: A meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Apr 2022.

Abstract: Impersonal cooperation among strangers enables societies to create valuable public goods, such as infrastructure, public services, and democracy. Several factors have been proposed to explain variation in impersonal cooperation across societies, referring to institutions (e.g., rule of law), religion (e.g., belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (e.g., trust) and values (e.g., collectivism), and ecology (e.g., relational mobility). We tested 17 preregistered hypotheses in a meta-analysis of 1,506 studies of impersonal cooperation in social dilemmas (e.g., the Public Goods Game) conducted across 70 societies (k = 2,271), where people make costly decisions to cooperate among strangers. After controlling for 10 study characteristics that can affect the outcome of studies, we found very little cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation. Categorizing societies into cultural groups explained no variance in cooperation. Similarly, cultural, ancestral, and linguistic distance between societies explained little variance in cooperation. None of the cross-societal factors hypothesized to relate to impersonal cooperation explained variance in cooperation across societies. We replicated these conclusions when meta-analyzing 514 studies across 41 states and nine regions in the United States (k = 783). Thus, we observed that impersonal cooperation occurred in all societies—and to a similar degree across societies—suggesting that prior research may have overemphasized the magnitude of differences between modern societies in impersonal cooperation. We discuss the discrepancy between theory, past empirical research and the meta-analysis, address a limitation of experimental research on cooperation to study culture, and raise possible directions for future research. 

We ask: "What is cultural evolution anyway?" Our answer: a phenomenon, not a theory/ approach. Understanding this helps clarify other issues, e.g. the role of human behavioural ecology

What is cultural evolution anyway? Alberto J C Micheletti, Eva Brandl, Ruth Mace. Behavioral Ecology, arac011. Apr 1 2022.

Abstract: The term cultural evolution has become popular in the evolutionary human sciences, but it is often unclear what is meant by it. This is generating confusion and misconceptions that are hindering progress in the field. These include the claim that behavioral ecology disregards culture. We argue that these misunderstandings are caused by the unhelpful use of term cultural evolution to identify both a phenomenon—culture changing through time—and a theory to explain it—the potential role of cultural transmission biases in driving this change. We illustrate this point by considering recently published influential studies and opinion pieces. If we are to avoid confusion, the term cultural evolution is best reserved to identify the phenomenon of cultural change. This helps clarify that human behavioral ecologists do not disregard culture, but instead have studied its evolution from the very beginning. Different approaches to the study of human behavior can coexist and complement each other in the framework offered by Tinbergen’s four evolutionary questions. Clarifying key terms is crucial to achieve this synthesis.

Cultural evolution is becoming a blanket term for any kind of human behavioral evolution. However, we believe that this is leading to confusion because the term “cultural evolution” is being used to indicate both a phenomenon—culture changing through time—and an approach to study it—the focus on cultural inheritance and the potential role of transmission biases in shaping culture. This confusing use of the term is widespread in the literature and in informal discussion (we may even have been guilty of this ourselves). For example, Schulz et al. (2019: 1) state that “cultural evolution often favoured some form of cousin marriage.” Are they referring to cultural evolution as opposed to genetic evolution? Cousin marriage is surely a culturally transmitted behavior, so this comparison appears irrelevant here. Or, by cultural evolution, do they mean the action of transmission biases? Or are they referring to the whole phenomenon of cultural change? If so, how can culture changing per se “favour” a particular outcome? Innovation, migration, or cultural drift may lead to this outcome, but only some form of selection, genetic, cultural or perhaps both, may “favour” a given outcome.

A second example reveals how this ambiguity can lead to confusion that is hindering progress in the field. A study by Barsbai et al. (2021) shows that human behaviors tightly fit local environmental conditions, following very similar patterns to those shown by mammals and birds living in the same area. In a commentary to the study (Hill and Boyd 2021), the wording appears to present cultural evolution and adaptation to local ecology as alternative explanations for the diversity and distribution of these traits. They state: “Hence, the study appears to validate the basic premise of the evolutionary perspective called ‘human behavioural ecology’. However, it is a mistake to conclude from this that culture is unimportant” (Hill and Boyd 2021: 236). This seems to suggest that human behavioral ecology ignores culture. Yet, Barsbai et al. (2021) do not deny that the foraging, reproductive, and social behaviors they examine are culturally transmitted, at least in humans. Neither do they assume that cultural history plays little to no role in shaping the observed patterns, as seems to be implied by Hill and Boyd (2021: 236) when they state: “ecological factors explain much variation in human behaviour, but so too does cultural history.” Cultural phylogeny may indeed play a role and, for this reason, the authors control for it in their analyses (Barsbai et al. 2021).

Barsbai et al. (2021) simply show that a variety of human behaviors—almost certainly culturally transmitted—fit local ecology in the same way as behaviors that are probably mostly genetically controlled in birds and mammals. Therefore, their analysis suggests that these cultural traits have been shaped by inclusive fitness interests. In line with a behavioral ecological approach, they are agnostic as to the mechanism leading to this fit. It is possible that it came about through one or more specific biases in cultural transmission or, more generally, because humans are flexible learners that make conscious, strategic choices about what to adopt, sensitive to pay-offs (Burton-Chellew and West 2021). Although it is tempting to contrast adaptation to local ecology and “culture” or “cultural evolution” as two competing forces shaping the change of behavior through time, such a contrast is impossible. As Boyd has acknowledged elsewhere (Boyd 2018), adaptation to local ecology is an outcome of the process of cultural evolution, whereby cultural selection has favored a set of cultural variants because they are adaptive in a specific environment. Therefore, the tools of behavioral ecology are always going to be needed to understand cultural evolution.

Evolutionary biologists, too, have sometimes used language suggesting this unhelpful dichotomy between adaptation and culture. For example, Burton-Chellew and West (2013: 1043) ask “Will culture be more important for certain classes of traits such as those less linked to fitness?” We suspect that these authors were meaning to suggest that fitness-insensitive cultural transmission mechanisms can sometimes result in non-adaptive outcomes (especially when a trait is less fitness relevant). However, the way they presented their argument can be potentially misleading. Behaviours can be culturally transmitted, and many human behaviors are, and yet they can still be shaped, at least to some extent, by the inclusive fitness interests of their bearer.


Consumers particular vulnerable to financial bullshit are more likely to be young, male, have a higher income, and be overconfident with regards to their own financial knowledge

Individual differences in susceptibility to financial bullshit. Mario Kienzler, Daniel Västfjäll, Gustav Tinghög. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance, March 31 2022, 100655.

Abstract: What is the effect of seemingly impressive verbal financial assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually meaningless; that is, financial pseudo-profound bullshit? We develop and validate a novel measurement scale to assess consumers’ ability to detect and distinguish financial bullshit. We show that this financial bullshit scale captures a unique construct that is only moderately correlated with related constructs such as financial knowledge and cognitive abilities. Consumers particular vulnerable to financial bullshit are more likely to be young, male, have a higher income, and be overconfident with regards to their own financial knowledge. The ability to detect and distinguish financial bullshit also predicts financial well-being while being less predictive of consumers’ self-reported financial behavior, suggesting that susceptibility to financial bullshit is linked to affective rather than behavioral reactions. Our findings have implications for the understanding of how financial communication impacts consumer decision making and financial well-being. 

JEL: G41G51G53

Keywords: BullshitFinancial bullshitFinancial behaviorFinancial well-beingScale

4. Discussion and conclusion

The ability to detect and distinguish profound statements (and information) from plain gibberish is crucial for individual’s to effectively navigate any social system and make well informed decisions. Finance is often portrayed as a complex and difficult area of decision making, where interactions commonly are characterized by jargon, acronyms, and slogans. This provides a hotbed for bullshitting to thrive and obscure the view of consumers. We developed and validated a novel measurement scale that allows us to measure individual differences in susceptibility to financial bullshit – the financial bullshit scale. We show that this scale captures a unique construct that is only moderately correlated with related constructs such as financial literacy and numeric ability. Moreover, we show that the ability to detect financial bullshit is distinctively separate from the ability to detect general bullshit and predict financial behavior beyond the original general bullshit scale.

Our results also provide insights into ‘who is more susceptible for financial bullshit?’. Consumers particular vulnerable to financial bullshit were more likely to be young, male, have a higher income, and be overconfident with regards to their own financial knowledge. This finding is in line with prior research that found age to be positively related to people’s ability to distinguish profound and pseudo-profound communication in general (Erlandsson et al., 2018). The finding that women showed a greater ability to detect and distinguish bullshit from genuine financial statements is a little surprising given that prior research has documented a persistent gender gap in financial literacy which partly can be attributed to stereotype threat, which posits that inbuilt prejudices about gender and finance undermine performance among women in tasks involving finance (Tinghög et al., 2021). The finding that higher income was positively related to being susceptible to financial bullshit might also be surprising. However, it seems reasonable to believe that as income rise consumers become less vigilant when it comes to financial matters and therefore less alert when it comes to detecting to be affected by impressive financial language. Much in the same way that scarcity requires trade-off thinking and makes people more efficient (Mullainathan and Shafir, 2013).

We also investigated the consequences susceptibility to financial bullshit has for financial wellbeing and financial behavior. Our results show that the financial bullshit scale predicted subjective financial well-being. In particular, consumers with an increasing ability to detect bullshit felt more insecure about their finances. Put differently, consumers worse at distinguishing between bullshit and genuine communication exhibited an ignorance-is-bliss effect when it came to subjective financial wellbeing. This ignorance-is-bliss effect did however not extend to self-reported financial behavior in our study. Considering these results, being able to detect and distinguish bullshit from genuine financial statements is neither unequivocally a good nor a bad thing. On the good side, people who were less susceptible to financial bullshit displayed a greater ability on a number of financially relevant competencies (e.g., greater objective financial knowledge). On the bad side, susceptible to bullshit was also related to a decrease in perceived financial security about their own future financial situation.

Even if the financial bullshit scale was related to financial well-being, we did not find a systematic relationship to self-reported financial behaviors. The financial management behavior scale taps into everyday household finance behaviors and management strategies (e.g., keep a budget, pay bills on time). Prior research demonstrated that this scale is related to both self-control and financial well-being (Strömbäck et al., 2017Strömbäck et al., 2020). In hindsight these general behaviors are likely less strongly related to individual differences in susceptibility to financial bullshit, than behaviors containing financial bullshit (e.g., purchase of questionable financial products or evaluating misleading claims about the financial performance of products). Our results, showing that susceptibility to financial bullshit was related to financial buzzword comprehension but not general financial behavior supports this notion. We also note that, the present research relates to research on overclaiming in the financial domain. For instance, previous research on overclaiming (e.g., Atir et al. 2015) used people’s self-assessed financial knowledge and compared it to their knowledge claims of fictional finance terms. We, on the other hand, used people’s self-assessed financial knowledge and compared it with their actual knowledge. We also showed that people’s financial sophistication can be related to their financial bullshit score.

Ideally the financial bullshit scale can be used in future research to advance understanding on how to make individuals better equipped to distill financial communication and navigate the financial landscape. As done here, the scale can be used to identify customers that are vulnerable to fall prey for seemingly impressive statements that could be misleading in negotiations and other financial situations involving human interactions (for more research on financial vulnerability, see O’Connor et al., 2019). By extending research on the psychology of bullshit into the domain of financial decision making we hope to spur future research on what we think is an overlooked topic in consumer research; the impact (bad) financial communication has on consumer financial decision making.

Finally, the present study has practical implications for financial institutions and policy makers. First, our results show that consumers vary in their susceptibility to financial bullshit and certain groups of consumers are more vulnerable to it than others. This information can be an important steppingstone for designing tailored interventions. For example, interventions aimed at helping consumers to make better decisions and feeling less anxious about their personal finances. Second, financial institutions need to consider that consumers with an increasing ability to detect bullshit felt more insecure about their finances. This suggests that financial institutions need to apply nuanced strategies to serve their customer base. For instance, help customers who can distinguish genuine and bullshit financial communication to feel more secure in their money matters rather than to merely provide them with sound financial advice. This should lead to positive consequences for actual and perceived financial well-being.