Monday, May 18, 2009

Cruel to be kind?

Are humans cruel to be kind? - life - 16 May 2009 - New Scientist

Simply, it seems that niceness needs nastiness. Our sense of fairness and our willingness to inflict damage on one another combine to encourage contributions to the common good and deter people from cheating. Researchers call this altruistic punishment. "But at the end of the day, it's still spite," says economist Benedikt Herrmann of the University of Nottingham, UK. The benefits of this constructive spite might not be immediate, but they are real - in the long run, we all benefit more if we can ensure others in society toe the line.
Our brains are certainly wired to respond positively to this constructive form of spite. Although we might lose out financially, scans show that a region called the striatum, which responds to rewarding experiences, lights up during altruistic punishment (Science, vol 305, p 1254). So, problem solved. Spite is in our own best interests and our brains reward us for it, so we should welcome it, right?

Not quite. The problem is that it's not only doing bad things to bad people that makes us feel good. Recent studies have shown how the striatum responds in the same way to schadenfreude, when we take a morally dubious pleasure in others' misfortunes (Science, vol 323, p 937). Adolescent boys with aggressive conduct disorder show similar brain activity when they watch a video of someone hurting another person (Biological Psychology, vol 80, p 203).

Last year Karla Hoff, an economist at the World Bank who is currently working at Princeton University, and her colleagues reported the results of experiments conducted in villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (American Economic Review, vol 98, p 494). In these tests, two players started out with 50 rupees each. The first could choose to give his to the second, in which case the experimenters added a further 100 rupees, giving the second player 200 rupees in total. The second player could decide to keep the money for himself, or share it equally with the first player. A third player then entered the game, who could punish the second player - for each 2 rupees he was willing to spend, the second player was docked 10 rupees.

The results were startling. Even when the second player shared the money fairly, two-thirds of the time the newcomer decided to punish him anyway - a spiteful act with seemingly no altruistic payoff. "We asked one guy why," says Hoff. "He said he thought it was fun."

Hoff found that high-caste players were more likely to punish their fellow gamers spitefully than low-caste players, leading her to suggest that context is everything. It is not that people in Uttar Pradesh are nastier than elsewhere, but rather that the structure of their society makes them acutely conscious of status. The sensitivity of higher castes to their position makes them tend not to support any changes that threaten to level the social hierarchy, such as development projects. But higher castes can also put others down, safe in the knowledge that "untouchables" are unlikely to strike back. "If you're low caste it's dangerous to rise in status," says Hoff. "You'll get beaten up or worse."

Another interesting New Scientist article, I've quoted a decent chunk of the most interesting points as I'm not sure if the article is a public one or pay to view one. Any way it's an interesting look at the mechanisms which by which a certain degree of cooperation is or needs to be inforced to keep every one playing fairly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interesting - Nocebo

The ultimate cause of the nocebo effect, however, is not neurochemistry but belief. According to Hahn, surgeons are often wary of operating on people who think they will die - because such patients often do. And the mere belief that one is susceptible to a heart attack is itself a risk factor. One study found that women who believed they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions than other women with the same risk factors.

Interesting if some what scary, the link between the Brain and Body and how believe and thoughts affect the body is a rather interesting one. I think I'll have to keep an eye out for more information on this.

Any one else know of or have links to interesting research or posts related to this?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Return of A Lost Smelt

Yikes it's been a while since I last posted here, so time for an update!

Well what have I been doing? Good question it doesn't seem like much.

If you follow my twitter feed some of this you will be aware of, if you don't you should!
Click here and create an account it's not that hard! See click on this: Eonsim@twitter
If your not currently on twitter you may be surprised by the number of people you don't otherwise hear much from floating about there.

Any way onto the update!

On the work front I've signed my third contract or at least the third amendment to my contract which after 10 months as Lab Technician has changed me to a Laboratory Operational Systems Technologist, Subject Matter Expert, Lab Technician. As you may guess from the rather long title the position is effectively a custom one that was created just for me :-). Any way it came with a decent pay rise so I can live with the overly long title (hmm googling it seems to indicate that it's unique to me, how fun). Any way the actual result of this change in title is that I've moved away from doing the bog standard lab work that putting me to sleep and taken up a mix of IT work, specifically working to integrate the scientific and operational side of the laboratory into the the IT systems and making sure both sides understand each other. All fun and games, or at least that's what I tell my self when ever I start looking at my work load and realise that it's kinda doubled, still it least it keeps me busy and keeps me thinking, hated standing around in the lab doing work that effectively left my brain switched off all the time.

In other stuff, have been seeing a fair bit of J&J with them having moved up to the delights of the Tron also see a lot of A&R B as one would expect. Also got to see M&K R for a bit when they stopped over for a weekend on there way up to Auckland.
As an interesting aside the church my self, A&R go to started to run a piece of junk called the truth project, which tries to construct a conservative Christian world view covering aspects such as science, Ethics, philosophy and other interesting matters. Unfortunately it generally consists of the chap going with the standard conservative party line and creating lots of big logic circles with big words, while ignoring and misrepresenting a tonne of stuff. Fortunately after each there is some discussion (thankfully or I'd have done mad by now) needless to say that as a result with A&R, Jim and my self the locals are rapidly getting exposed to a wide range of different scientific and logic/philosophy principles plus plenty of Heresy derived theology, conveniently the senior pastor agrees more often than disagrees, if not always with our conclusions. Which makes for some interesting discussions and probably some rather sore heads for the rest of the group.

Apart from that I've been reading a lot, buying cheap computer games (Go, playing some of them, slowly increasing my music collection (Thrice, Faunts and Project 86 currently), and picking up more books and the odd anime series or movie ("Howl's Moving Castle" Completely AWESOME!, heck even people who dislike anime would probably like it), and increasing my Storage (currently 2.3TB). I've also started to head along to a board games afternoon/night once a month that a friend from work (M&K W who also happen to be friends of M&K R) goes to so that's a fair bit of fun (spent 4hours playing "Munchkin Quest", the munchkin board game, lots of fun!).

I've also made some intial steps in seeing a few more relatives heading down to New Plymouth over Easter. As well as catching up with a couple last weekend when a group of us (A&R B and my self) headed up to Auckland to catch up with CE who was up visiting and AR. A fun way to spend a weekend and a good time had by all as we wandered around the Auckland CBD and stayed the night in a penthouse suite 15mins walk from the water front. It's still abit of a surprise to realise that Auckland and Tauranga are both within a 1.5 hour drive of Hamilton. Unfortunately at least in the case of Auckland is having to navigate around the place, thankfully with AR and RB along at various times someone at least knew where they were going!

Any way that's probably enough for now, if I get bored I may get around to processing a few more photos in which case you may see some stuff from Auckland, and New Plymouth!

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