According to this study in PLOS One, Facebook use predicts negative shifts in subjective well-being in the short term and the long run (thanks to Josh Shepherd for the pointer). According to the researchers, "On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it." This isn't totally surprising, given earlier research on the topic, but it's interesting nonetheless. It should be noted that another study suggests it might be a good idea to post more often if you're feeling lonely...
Recently, Stephen Stitch argued that it may be difficult to come up with a good account of moral judgment--an account of moral judgment that captures the ordinary concept--because there is no coherent concept of morality (indeed, we have no reason to believe that there is, and one might argue, given the persistence of disagreement, reason to believe there isn't). Recent research seems to show that there isn't a single psychological system which generates our moral judgments: there are a hodgepodge of different systems, designed by evolution to address different problems, pushing us in different directions. Josh Greene for instance, has suggested that the psychological systems which generate our deontic moral judgments are distinct from the psychological systems that generate utilitarian moral judgments. Often, these two distinct cognitive processes, designed for different purposes, issue inconsistent moral judgments.
I think this work provides a realistic framework in which to understand our welfare judgments. In an earlier post, I suggested that the social intuitionist model of moral judgment might also apply to our welfare judgments, but it wouldn't be entirely surprising if we discovered that there isn't a single psychological process that generates our welfare judgments. Instead, it seems we have reason to believe that welfare judgments are the by-product of a cornucopia of kludges. Some of these kludges might be designed to protect our progeny (which would explain why we think that what happens to our children after we die can affect our well-being even though we are dead) and other kludges might be activated in situations in which deception is afoot (as is the case in the experience machine thought experiment). This approach to understanding the intricacies of our moral judgments might also help us understand our strange and contradictory welfare judgments. Once we understand how we think about well-being from a psychological/evolutionary perspective our traditional beliefs about well-being might be altered profoundly (as our traditional beliefs about morality might be)...
Lately, I've been wondering how similar our welfare judgments are to moral judgments according to the social intuitionist model of morality advocated by Jonathan Haidt. According to the social intuitionist model, our moral judgments are driven by our intuitions and emotions and our ethical principles are merely post hoc rationalizations of these intuitions and emotions.
The social intuitionist model has interesting experimental consequences. If the social intuitionist model is correct, bizarre factors, such as whether you think somebody just farted, might play a role in the formation of your moral judgments. This is exactly what the research seems to show: it seems disgusted people tend to form harsher moral judgments than their non-disgusted counterparts.
I wonder to what extent welfare principles are merely post hoc rationalizations of our intuitions and emotions. It's often taken for granted that our judgments about well-being reveal the nature of welfare principles, but these judgments might just reveal how we feel about certain lifestyles.
If our welfare intuitions are the result of the affective factors that moral judgments seem to be, there are ways to show it. For instance, if the odor of the desk which you are using in order to answer a questionnaire about how well off Wally is influences your welfare judgments of Wally, we might take this as some evidence that your feelings of disgust are informing your welfare judgments. This is just one potential experiment. We need a body of coverging evidence to show that the social intuitionist model is right. The important point is that it's possible to figure out whether your welfare judgments depend on how you feel empirically.
Still, I imagine you might take it that disgust is a relevant consideration in which case your welfare judgments ought to be mediated by what you think is disgusting. This could present a serious problem: if there isn't a fact of the matter about what's disgusting, as most of us seem to believe, there isn't a fact of the matter about who's well off. Then again, that might just be the way well-being (and morality) rolls!
Mr. Thinley will continue to implement the government policy of GNH. Happiness is not hedonistic, "it is not the kind of fleeting pleasures that we seek." It has to do with "being able to balance material needs of the body and the spiritual needs of the mind."
He says the conditions for the pursuit of happiness have four pillars: Equitable and sustainable socioeconomic growth; conservation of the fragile Himalayan economy and environment; cultural preservation and promotion -- and good governance.
Interesting read, but I wonder if the four pillars make people happy, or if Mr. Thinley has decided the four pillars are good and should make Bhutan happy. I suspect, for instance, that sustainable growth has a negligible effect on the current happiness of the Bhutanese because of the availability heuristic: almost nobody is drastically, directly or immediately effected by the consequences of unsustainable development. I also suspect that conservation has a negligible effect on the subjective well-being of the Bhutanese because of adaptation effects: people tend to adapt to bad conditions (such as smog) if they increase gradually, over a long period of time. I doubt the four pillars are the result of rigorous empirical testing, but I imagine you could link them all to subjective well-being in a roundabout way.
Old research suggest that depressed people have a more realisticperception of their importance, reputation, locus of control, and abilities. Recent researchsuggests that unskilled performers are inaccurate judges of how their abilities compare to others, but skilled performers are as inaccurate as their unskilled counterparts when confronted with moderately difficult tasks. Unskilled performers are more accurate than their skilled counterparts when confronted with extremely difficult tasks!
This paper in progress suggests that people who are unaware of the price of the wine they are drinking, don't derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. Apparently, the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, there is a positive relationship between price and enjoyment. The researchers conclude: "the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers."
This research reminds me of the shortcomings of surrogation. When we surrogate in order to predict our emotional futures--forecast affect-- it isn't a bad idea to consult surrogates who are similar to us. In alot of cases, consulting a surrogate will work better than just using your imagination, but in some cases, in the wine case, just any old surrogate won't do. In other words, bring on the Carlo Rossi, baby!
On one hand, recently, it has been demonstrated that success at mental arithmetic isn't just a question of mathematical skill and knowledge. Self-efficacy, your belief that you have the ability to attain certain goals, plays an important role as well. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu claim that their research is the "first study that we know of to demonstrate the effect of self-efficacy on problem-solving efficiency when controlling for background knowledge."
Study: Hoffman and Spatariu tested the basic multiplication abilities of 81 subjects, as well as their confidence in performing mental multiplication. They gave the subjects twenty easy and twenty difficult multiplication problems to perform in their heads. Half the subjects were given so-called "metacognitive prompts" during the testing (for example, the computer screen on which they were being tested would flash up prompts like "What steps are you using to solve these problems?").
Conclusion: Self-efficacy and general ability made unique contributions to success at the easy and difficult multiplication tasks, in terms of overall accuracy and efficiency. Subjects with higher ability and greater self-belief performed more quickly and more accurately. For the harder multiplication task metacognitive prompting actually boosted accuracy and efficiency!
Hoffman argues that this data provides us with reason to believe that "In learning situations there is a natural tendency to build basic skills, but that is only part of the formula. Instructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes."
Burton points out that the reward system responsible for addiction also provides the positive feedback necessary for us to learn: "the brain has provided us with a wide variety of subjective feelings of reward ranging from hunches, gut feelings, intuitions, suspicions that we are on the right track to a profound sense of certainty and utter conviction. And yes, these feelings are qualitatively as powerful as those involved in sex and gambling. One need only look at the self-satisfied smugness of a 'know it all' to suspect that the feeling of certainty can approach the power of addiction."
Burton gives a great example to illustrate his point: "Perhaps one of my favorite examples of how certainty is often misleading is the great mathematician Srinivasava Ramanujan. At his death, his notebook was filled with theorems that he was certain were correct. Some were subsequently proven correct; others turned out to be dead wrong. Ramanujan’s lines of reasoning lead to correct and incorrect answers, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Only the resultant theorems were testable."
How can interrogators sleep at night? In general, we believe that the world is just, a priori, so we conclude that a detainee who has been tortured must have deserved it. People are amazing, aren't they?