Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize’

Thinking Fast and Slow

August 4, 2019

This is the fifth post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. “Thinking Fast and Slow” is a best selling book by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman makes an important distinction between two types of mental processing. Not surprisingly he names them System 1 and System 2. To illustrate the distinction between these two types of processing, he asks the following question:

Together a bat and a ball cost $1.10.
How much more does the bat cost than the ball?

The most common answer to this question, the one made by majority of students from prestigious colleges is $1.00

However, if this were the case then the bat and ball together would cost $1.15.
So 5 cents more is the correct answer for the ball. The bat costs $1.05.

System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for by a cost. Although the failure to think critically was trivial in the present example, it can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called accordingly default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain.

Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

Advertisements

2019 NFL Draft

April 29, 2019

This post is based on an article by Sally Jenkins titled, “Smart teams trade down, but most teams just aren’t smart,” in the 27 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. There have been previous posts on this topic. Behavioral economics which grew from Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize (unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed on and was ineligible for the prize when it was awarded) can be used to guide NFL Draft Picks. The basic strategy is to trade down rather than trade up. Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton school and Nobel Prize winner produced papers in 2005 and 2012 that showed that teams profoundly overvalue first-round picks and simply don’t have the ability they think they do to discern between a great player and a good one.

Jenkins writes, “How often is a team right in picking a high-first rounder” What will be the quantifiable difference between the top choice at a position in the 2019 draft and the next available player, or even the third or fourth, in terms of games started and potential Pro Bowl success? The difference would need to be large given the amount of their investments. But their expenditures prove right only 52% of the time, which is effectively a coin toss.

Massey who does consulting for NFL teams says, “History suggests you do better by trading down from the top, using multiple lesser picks than one high pick.” The Patriots have done this with obvious success. From the article, “As of 2018, Bill Belichick had traded down fully 21 times on draft day to acquire more picks. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have chosen 39 players in the second and third rounds, the highest number of any team in the AFC. And they won Super Bowls with them.”

Massey says, “If you recognize the uncertainty rather than throwing up your hands, you say, ‘We want as many draws as possible from the lottery. We can’t influence one ticket, but we can get as many tickets as possible.”

Andrew Brandt, a sports business analyst and former vice-president of the Green Bay Packers says, “It take a lot of willpower to trade out of that first-round pick, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of gravitas goes with that.”

Teams often do the dead opposite of what they should: give away fistfuls of picks to move up and grab a single star prospect. According to Massey overconfidence in their own judgment clouds their thinking. Brandt says, “Or sometimes it’s just a simple case of seeing a player ‘you lust after.’”

There is also extreme pressure coming from fans. There are many males who might not be about to tell you who their representatives to Congress or their senators are, who have definite strong picks for the NFL draft.

Massey says, “The quants are wrong to think you can quantify every single player. But you also can’t be right without the quantifications.”

The Disoriented Ape

December 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title by Emma Young in the Features section of the 15 Dec. 18 issue of the New Scientist. The second half of the title is “Why clever people can be terrible navigators.” Apart from technology, which does little, if anything, to develop an individual’s ability to navigate. It is likely that a heavy reliance on these devices could reduce or destroy any abilities we might have.

There are two main approaches we use to navigate. Route-based navigation involves remembering landmarks on a particular journey: turn left at the church and then right at the park, and so on. This works pretty well in familiar towns or on regular journey, but what do you do if you are forced to take another route?

Mental mapping involves creating, consciously or unconsciously, a mental map of the environment. This approach is sometimes considered superior because it is more flexible and allows one to take shortcuts when appropriate. But it is more cognitively demanding.

Mary Hegarty of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Spatial Thinking Lab says that most of us use both strategies, the trick being to get the balance right. “Good navigators probably select the best strategy for the job automatically.

Hegarty and colleagues put 140 UCSB students in a virtual reality maze. The maze contained 12 objects, including a chair and a duck, placed at various junctions. After being taught a route through the maze, the volunteers were started off at one object and asked to navigate to another. Sometimes the learned route was the shortest path and at other times it was quicker to take a novel route. Women were more likely to follow learned routes and to wander. Men showed a greater preference for trying to work out shortcuts, which call for mental mapping. On average, males were faster and covered less ground in reaching their target.

Hugo Spiers of University College London conducted a massive study that surveyed people’s navigational abilities using a mobile-phone-based game called Sea Hero Quest. In an analysis of more than 500,000 people from 57 countries, the best performers were living in nations with greater gender equality and greater economic wealth, which is associated with higher levels of education, which improves abstract problem solving. The presence of four Nordic countries in the top 10 has led Spiers to speculate that there may have been selection for good navigational abilities in their Viking and seafaring past. It might also help to have a culture of participating sports requiring navigation, such as orienteering,

Half of the Nobel Prize in 2014 went to John O’Keefe at University College London for discovering place cells in the hippocampus of rats. Each of these cells fired in a specific location at the animal moved around its enclosure. So by remembering patterns of place cell activity, a rat could effectively map its environment. The other half of the prize went to May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for their discover of grid cells. Located near the hippocampus, they fire in groups, each making a discrete hexagonal region of ground as an animal moves across it. It is though that, by essentially unfurling a grid map over a two-dimensional space as it goes, the rat gets precise information about the distance between objects within it, including itself.

Place cells and grid cells have been found in human brains, as have a variety of other neurons specialized for navigation. Head direction cells encode the orientation of your head, providing a reference point for grid and place cells. Border cells fire when you get close to a boundary, such as a wall. Spatial view cells become active when you look at a place, even if you don’t actually go there.

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Anne Treisman Has Passed Away

February 16, 2018

She died Feb 10 and was 82. Many readers are probably wondering who is Ann Treisman. That is a shame as she is one of the leading researchers in human cognition. Early in her career she worked with the British psychologist Donald Broadbent exploring attention, its limitations, and how we cope with these limitations. They studied how the mind can tune out music, laughter, and distracting conversations to focus on a single conversation. This is called the “cocktail party problem.” Her research addressed how we can focus on individual objects in the world and still retain a general sense of our surroundings.

She developed feature integration theory with Gary Gelade, that holds that an object in the world is first perceived not as a unified whole but as a series of discrete features, including color, shape, size, and orientation. It is attention that unites all these features, as the mind focuses on one object and the another. Different portions of the brain respond to different features of an object. In a matter of milliseconds, each feature—the orientation of a tree branch, its green color, its motion in the wind is bound together in a single perception. Attention must be paid for this to occur.

Her research involved both hearing and sight and now informs everything from airport package inspection to the design of classrooms and traffic signals. A former colleague of Treisman’s, Lynn C. Robertson, said, “Dr. Treisman’s theory changed the way we understood our brains and our perception as well as what goes into memory and our whole cognition. We think we see with our eyes, but we actually see with our brains.”

Speaking on the implications of feature integration theory Dr. Treisman said, “The implication was that in some ways we create our experience than it’s being determined directly by a camera-like process. Perception is more like a controlled hallucination than like an automatic registration of stimuli.”

In 1976 she married Daniel Kahneman. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be familiar with Daniel Kahneman and his two process theory of cognition. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his development of Prospect Theory with Amos Tversky. Unfortunately, Tversky could not also be given the award as he had already passed away at the time the award was decided. Together Kahneman and Tversky founded the field of behavioral economics.

Dr. Treisman was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013 for “a 50-year career of penetrating originality and depth that has led to the understanding of fundamental attentional limits in the human mind and brain.” Together with Kahneman they held positions at the University of British Columbia and Berkeley, where they collaborated and shared a lab, before moving to Princeton.

HM was privileged to hear the invited addresses they gave at the University of Michigan.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017

November 15, 2017

Assiduous readers of the Healthymemory blog should recognize the name from previous healthy memory blog posts. Richard Thaler is a behavioral economist. Early in his career he met up with the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman formulated Prospect Theory. Most economic models are normative. That is they describe what a rational human should do if behaving optimally. Prospect Theory explained what people actually do. The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics. The model is descriptive: it describes what people actually do. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in 2002 primarily for Prospect Theory. Unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed away and was not eligible for the prize.

Prospect Theory was the beginning of behavioral economics. In addition to describing how people actually behave in the economic realm, it develops techniques to nudge people in making good decisions. For example, making what is regarded as the best decision in a list of alternatives the default decision greatly increases the number of people who choose that option. For example, if making deductions for a pension is the default decision, that is the option most likely to be chosen.

Although it is good to know what the theoretical optimal decisions are, if the interest is in public policy, it is important to know what people will actually do. The field of behavioral economics is still young and there is much to be done. But they are working on how best to understand what people will do to better understand how to influence them to make decisions that will benefit them, individually, and society as a whole.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ivan Pavlov and American Democracy

July 19, 2017

The question that should come to mind with this title is what does Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, have to do with American democracy? You should remember Pavlov from his drooling dogs. He would pair a sound, a buzzer for example, with food. After sufficient training the dogs would drool whenever they hear the buzzer. This was called the conditioned response (CR), that resulted from pairing a buzzer, the conditioned stimulus (CS), with the food. Pavlov earned a Nobel Prize for this finding. He is also regarded as a psychologist as conditioned stimuli became central to many theories in psychology.

When many conservatives hear about the success of the medical insurance provided to the citizens of other advanced countries their response is “socialism” or “socialized medicine,” and that’s the end to it. It is important to understand why they make these conditioned responses, as the conditioned response is the lowest form of behavior, being a highly simplified version of Kahneman’s System 1 processing. All their lives they have been conditioned to respond to government supplied medical insurance as socialism and to socialism as bad. Many have conflated socialism with communism, which makes it doubly bad.

So when you get this response, explain to them why they’re making this response. It is highly unlikely that they understand that this is a conditioned response rather than any sort of reasoned response that involves actual thinking. So before going further ask them to shove all their beliefs as far up their keisters as they can, and to provide a reasoned response as to their opposition to government provided medical care. Not surprisingly, it is likely that few will be willing to do this, so the interaction should end here. But if they can explain why these systems have been working well in Europe, be prepared to listen.

A response that you might get from someone about why they work in Europe, but will not work here is exceptionalism. HM finds this very concept wreaking of hubris. These countries consist of the same species and are from representatives democracies, not kleptocracies like Putin’s.

That Trump felt honored to meet Putin is very disturbing. In an earlier life, HM worked on classified programs and reviewed people who were applying for security clearances. If any one of them had expressed admiration for Putin, HM would have recommended strongly against their being given access to classified information. Consequently, he is disturbed to have a President who admires Putin.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Trump and Behavioral Economics

June 2, 2016

On the June 6 & 13, 2016 “New Yorker” Financial Page there is an article by James Surowiecki.  He is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article is titled “Losers” and it is about how behavioral economics explains the attitude of Trump supporters.  The field of behavioral economics was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. There have been many, many healthy memory blog posts on this topic and about these authors.   Prospect Theory is key to behavioral economics and resulted in a Nobel Prize being awarded to Kahneman.  Unfortunately Tversky had already passed away when the award was made.

Surowiecki notes that Trump plays to one of the most powerful emotions in economic life, which is what behavioral economics call loss aversion.  The basic idea is that people feel the pain of loses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains.  Empirical studies estimate that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost.

Suroweicki notes that Trump’s emphasis on losing is unusual  even in bleak times.  But he believes that it has worked for him, because it resonates with what many Republican voters already feel.  A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that 79% of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically.  A RAND survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to prefer Trump.  Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too.  In the RAND survey, Trump did better  with the people who were the most dissatisfied with their economic situation, and exit polls from the Republican primaries show that almost 70% of those who voted for Trump were “very worried” about the state of the economy as compared to only forty-five % of all voters in Democratic primaries.

Surowiki notes some surprising things about all this.  The first is that, in objective terms, plenty of Trump supporters haven’t lost that much.  We’re familiar with Trump’s appeal among white working class voters, many of whom truly have seen wages stagnate and jobs dry up.  But Nate Silver has recently pointed out that the median Trump voter is actually better educated and richer than the average American.  But an important point of Kahneman and Tversky’s work is that people don’t look at their status objectively, they measure it relative to a reference point, and for many Republicans that reference point is a past time when they had more status and more economic security.  Kahneman argues that even people who simply aren’t doing as well as they expected to be doing feel a loss.  And people don’t adapt their expectations to new circumstances.  A study of loss aversion by Jack Levy concluded that, after losses, an individual will “continue” to use the status quo ex ante as her reference point.”  Suroweicki notes that Trump’s promise is precisely that he’s going to return America to the status quo ex ante.  He tells his supporters that he will will help recoup their losses and safeguard what they have.

Suroweicki goes on to say that the other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious:  offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a 50 % chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing.  However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically.  Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a 50% chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars.  People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover loses.  In the real world , this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet.  For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster.  Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

Suroweicki continues, noting that historical parallels are always tendentious, that loss aversion has been instrumental in the success of authoritarian movements around the world.   The political scientist Kurt Weyland has argued that it played a crucial role in the rise of such regimes in Latin American, where the fear of Communism drove putatively democratic societies toward the radical solution of strongman rule.  Suroweicki notes that Trump may not quite be an American Peron, but, to his his supporters, his unpredictability is a selling point rather than a flaw.

It is important to remember that the basis thesis of behavioral economics, a thesis that has ben consistently supported, is that humans do not behave or think rationally.  Rather they are driven by emotions.

Healthy memory feels compelled to note other facets of human cognition that contribute to flawed political decisions.  One is the success of the big lie and the continued persistence of these lies.  It is extremely difficult to correct these lies.

Another problem is  the fallibility of memory and how selective memory makes it difficult to correct erroneous beliefs.  Consider the Iraq war that the younger Bush took us into.  The weapons of mass destruction, on which the invasion was predicated, were never found.  France and Germany were urging Bush to delay an invasion until the inspection were completed and the existence of these weapons could have been ascertained.

It was also the case that the King of Jordan and Henry Kissinger warned Bush that an invasion would result in a broken country that would serve as a base for radical Islamist groups..  This is exactly what has happened.  So the costs of this war not just monetary, which added to the national debt, but more importantly human, produced a situation that is worse, not better, than what prevailed, before the beginning of the war.

People also seem to have forgotten the financial crisis left by the Bush administration that resulted in the very real possibility of a depression.  In spite of recalcitrant Republicans, Obama managed to prevent the depression and aid in an important economic recovery.  By most objective standards, the U.S. economy is in good shape, and the American economy is one of the best performing economies.

Healtymemory still wonders about Trump.  It is difficult for him to imagine Trump curling up with a copy of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  It is also difficult imagining Trump taking consul with an expert informing him how to exploit human information processing shortcomings for political gain.  Using the word “instinct” is inappropriate here, but Trump has a flair for exploiting human information processing shortcomings so that System 2 processing is avoided and System 1 prevails resulting in emotions rather than reasoning governing their voting.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.