Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are story spoilers as bad as we think?

Or do we make yet another error in forecasting how we think we'll feel about something? A new article by psychologists Jonathan D. Leavitt and Nicholas J. S. Christenfeld at UC-San Diego, entitled "Story Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories" (also see pdf version) suggests that we enjoy a story regardless of whether the ending has been spoiled for us. It's a short article, so the authors didn't investigate whether the same path to enjoyment occurs in both spoiled and non-spoiled cases, but they do speculate:
It is possible that spoilers enhance enjoyment by actually increasing tension. Knowing the ending of Oedipus Rex may heighten the pleasurable tension caused by the disparity in knowledge between the omniscient reader and the character marching to his doom. This notion is consistent with the assertion that stories can be reread with no diminution of suspense (Carroll, 1996).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Daniel Kahneman, Leda Cosmides, Steven Pinker, Michael Gazzaniga, and Elaine Pagals Walk into a Wine Bar

Yes, they walk into a wine bar.* In Napa. And give a series of masterclasses on the science of human nature.

The talks that already online are:
Daniel Kahneman, "The Marvels and the flaws of intuitive thinking"
Martin Nowak, "The Evolution of Cooperation"

The rest--which include Pinker talking about the history of violence--will probably be online in the next month. By the way, there's a full text version of the Kahneman talk, but if you've never heard Kahneman speak before, I'd recommend the video.

*Technically, these talks were at a vineyard, but I assume they did not speak amidst the vines.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cracking the Brain Code

Although I anticipated this would happen sometime, I didn't expect it this year: Scientists at UC-Berkeley were able to use a algorithm to decode fMRI images into accurate visual patterns. The images were admittedly blurry, and not surprisingly images of people were clearer than images of objects. Nevertheless, the fact that there was some accuracy is astounding.

For a second, I thought this was voodoo correlations all over again, but according to the news article, the algorithm was prepared in advance, presumably from prior research.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Time on the Brain

Scientific American reviews some of the most recent research on how people perceive (and misperceive) time. Here's a sample:
A fish’s reach does not exceed its grasp. For land animals, though, things are quite different: their sensory volume is much bigger than their motor volume, since light travels much farther in air than in seawater. So when our ancestors crawled out of the sea, they gained the opportunity to plan their behavior in advance. No longer restricted to reacting to immediate stimuli, they had time to take in the scene and deliberate before moving.... MacIver speculated that this set the stage for the evolution of consciousness. After all, what is consciousness, but the ability to make plans and gain some advantage over our environment?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can being surveyed change your behavior?

I don't often veer into the developmental economics literature, but when I do, it's to read papers like this: Being surveyed can change later behavior and related parameter estimates [pdf] (2011) by Zwane et al.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Why do people have different development trajectories?

I'm reading this fascinating new-ish article by Frankenhuis and Panchanathan--anthropologists publishing in a psychology journal--and the authors argue that we usually sample cues from the external world in much the same way that psychologists sample populations: randomly. With psychology research, you hope that you mostly get typical people in the "middle" of the population range with a few in each tail. But you keep in mind there's a chance that purely by coincidence, you've selected a sample that doesn't have that nice bell-shaped contour. (This is why larger samples are better; over a larger samples, the odds of this mishap decrease--but they never reduce to zero.) Similarly, when we, as biological beings, sample cues from the external world, the majority of us get a truly random sample of experiences, which consists of mostly typical stuff with a tiny tail of unusual stuff at each end. But a few of us get an awkward mix that doesn't make sense. Instead we get a heterogenous set, and so we have to keep sampling. Thus, the people who get the nice bell-shaped sample develop faster, while the others take more time.

The authors make three predictions about what data we should find if this hypothesis is true. But they don't have data, so this is conjecture, albeit very informed conjecture.