intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Archive for March 2007

red-light district?

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poppy.jpgRed may be any of a number of similar colors at the lowest frequencies of light discernible by the human eye. Red is one of the three primary colors of visible light, the others being green and blue. Red light has a wavelength range of roughly 625–760 nm. Frequencies lower than this are called infrared, or below red and cannot be seen by human eyes, although some infrared frequencies can be felt as heat. Red is associated with anger, death, blood, passion and love.

It is thus associated with the danger of failure in achievement contexts. It evokes avoidance motivation and might also make us perform worse in tests, exams and in daily challenges.

Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York, found that people who were shown a flash of the colour red before an IQ test or a major exam thought more about failure, were more prone to mistakes and generally performed worse.

“Colour clearly has aesthetic value, but it can also carry specific meaning and convey specific information,” said Andrew Elliot, the study leader. The researchers also added, “Care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts”. The colour can cause people to shy away from certain questions if they are given a choice between colour-coded questions. lower_antelope_rocks.jpg

Exp Psychol Gen. 2007 Feb;136(1):154-68.Click here to read Links

Color and psychological functioning: the effect of red on performance attainment.

* Elliot AJ, Maier MA, Moller AC, Friedman R, Meinhardt J.

Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA.

This research focuses on the relation between color and psychological functioning, specifically, that between red and performance attainment. Red is hypothesized to impair performance on achievement tasks, because red is associated with the danger of failure in achievement contexts and evokes avoidance motivation. Four experiments demonstrate that the brief perception of red prior to an important test (e.g., an IQ test) impairs performance, and this effect appears to take place outside of participants’ conscious awareness. Two further experiments establish the link between red and avoidance motivation as indicated by behavioral (i.e., task choice) and psychophysiological (i.e., cortical activation) measures. The findings suggest that care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts and illustrate how color can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behavior. ((c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved).

PMID: 17324089 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Written by huehueteotl

March 31, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Arts, Psychology, Science

No Love in The Stars

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zodiac.jpgDr David Voas from The University of Manchester carried out the vastest test of zodiac ‘love signs’ and his results show no impact on our chances of marrying — and staying married.

The Senior Research Fellow at the University’s Centre for Census and Survey Research analysed the birthdays of all 20 million husbands and wives in England and Wales.

The investigation — using 2001 census data — failed to reveal any evidence of attraction between star signs.

He said: “When you have a population of ten million couples, then even if only one pair in a thousand is influenced by the stars, you’d have ten thousand more couples than expected with certain combinations of signs.

“There’s no such evidence, though: the numbers are just what we’d predict on the basis of chance.”

He added. “Astrologers are likely to argue that full birth charts are needed to predict personality accurately.

“But what ordinary people talk about is sun signs; if those are useless when it comes to sizing up a mate, then that knocks a big hole in everyday belief.

“In any case, the basic sun signs are important even in professional charts. If they had any influence at all, however small, the giant magnifying glass of this huge sample would detect it. There’s nothing there.”

But Dr. Voas, from Manchester’s School of Social Sciences, believes the popularity of astrologers such as Mystic Meg, Russell Grant and Jonathan Cainer will continue — whatever the evidence.

He said: “I’m under no illusion that these findings will undermine astrology’s popularity.”

“The enthusiasm for zodiac-based personality profiling seems undiminished by hundreds of previous studies debunking astrology.”

“An internet search on Google for ‘love’ and ‘astrology’ produces three and a half million hits.”

“And the books on relationships by the astrologer Linda Goodman — including Sun Signs and Love Signs — have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide in the past 40 years.”

“The public appetite for horoscopes makes media astrologers wealthy.”

“These results won’t put them out of business. When it comes to love, people will try anything.”

Written by huehueteotl

March 31, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Would you buy the “short end of the stick”?

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Firms have long practiced target marketing, offering special deals to specific groups of customers or tailoring their offers to appeal to specific sets of consumers. Charging different prices or providing differential benefit across different customer groups allows firms to increase the attractiveness of their offering to specific groups without undercutting their profits serving other groups. However, whenever targeted customers are favored, the non-targeted customers “get the short end of the stick.”

If you are on the outside of some deal that benefits another group more than you, would this make you more or less interested in the product? Traditional view in marketing, psychology, and economics conclude that, holding constant the offer a seller makes to a buyer, the buyer will be repelled by learning that some other group of buyers is getting a better price for the same benefits or receiving more benefits for the same price.

Past research did attribute this repulsion to perceptions that the offer is inequitable, fits others better than oneself, or that the offer suggests that the core product is of low value.

According to research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the excluded consumers would be turned off by this relative mistreatment and would be less likely to make a purchase.

But what, when a seller provides a better deal to a set of buyers who are perceived to be experts in determining quality? Is it, that a disadvantaged buyer might use this fact to infer higher quality of the core brand? For example, the superpremium Belvedere vodka was launched by having free vodka tasting events exclusively for bartenders.

Researchers in the quoted article below asked study participants to choose between drills and other products with different promotions.

In these conditions, the consumer ends up wanting the product more, sais Alison K. C. Lo, a recent doctoral graduate at the Fuqua School of Business. “As consumers, we sometimes buy things when we feel clueless in telling good-quality products from bad but we think more savvy consumers can tell the good stuff simply by inspecting the merchandise,” Lo said. “In such cases, naive consumers are attracted to a product with a freebie that is not available to them but is offered to a more savvy group of buyers, like bartenders … These savvy buyers presumably would turn up their noses at low-quality merchandise, so the naive consumers reason that products promoted to experts must be good.” Obviously, quality inferences that attract non-targeted consumers operate in parallel to thoughts that repel those consumers.

Four conditions must be met before positive quality inferences will dominate idiosyncratic fit and fairness in affecting novice consumers’ choices:
– 1 The disadvantaged customers must believe that the advantaged customers are better
able than they are to judge quality prior to purchase.
– 2 It must be costly for the seller to provide a promotion to lure the advantaged group to inspect the core product.
– 3 The uncertainty of disadvantaged consumers must be associated primarily with
concerns about “more is better” attributes.
– 4 Quality uncertainty must be salient and an inference rule to infer quality must be accessible and diagnostic.

“On the other hand, if we are excluded from a deal and the group benefiting is not more savvy or we are more certain of the product’s quality, we are put off,” she explained. “We buy less — like the woman who sees that Victoria’s Secret is offering a better deal to men than to women.”

In one experiment reported by Lo and her colleagues, student volunteers in Duke’s master of business administration program were asked to choose which of two cordless drills they would prefer to receive as a gift.


(Credit: Image courtesy of Duke University)

The researchers tested the effects of varied promotions by pairing the drills with either a $15 Nordstrom gift card or the book “Graphic Guide to Frame Construction: Details for Builders and Designers.”

The study participants overwhelmingly preferred the gift card, but they thought the book would be more appealing to people with expertise in construction and carpentry.

Participants then were asked to guess the prices of the drills, and they gave a higher price to whichever drill was paired with the book compared with the one paired with the gift card.

“This is important because even though the book was not as valuable as the gift card to our participants, they realized the book would be valuable to someone who might know a good drill when he or she sees one,” Lynch said. “They reasoned that only a manufacturer of a high-quality drill could lure such an expert to buy.”

The research team found similar results in experiments focusing on other products, including camcorders and headphones.

The researchers say the findings challenge some long-held notions regarding consumer reaction to targeted promotions. “Our findings apply to a specific set of circumstances where the customer is not able to judge the quality of a product, but believes that other consumers are expert in judging that product,” Staelin said. “But a lot of marketers sell in exactly those kinds of categories, so our findings can be used to sell products from wine to jewelry to home electronics to financial services.”

In Conclusion: your and my consumer beliefs vary systematically with the purchase context and are endogenous. This contrasts with economic signaling models that typically treat consumer beliefs as exogenous and independent of the purchase context. For instance, in case of investments we find financial offerings hard to evaluate. Often enough we are lured in by promotions that would only appeal to very knowledgeable investors in order to signal the quality of the financial product. The effect is similar to the Argumentum ad verecundiam (argument from authority – see logical fallacies). Similarly, sellers of hard-to-evaluate electronics do offer lucrative trade-ins to current owners, who new customers look upon as informed users. In all these cases, customers must decide between a promotion that has mass appeal or a promotion that attracts a niche segment, and the real product quality and it’s price.


Written by huehueteotl

March 30, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Psychology

That’s groce!

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The interplay between various factors such as childhood experiences, personality differences and developmental history determines which life events will trigger which psychological reaktion in a particular individual. Affective reactions, as in opposition to emotions, are obviously much lessdisgust.gif steered by cognitions. As such they are prone to cognitive influence at best under circumstances of conditioned learning. Being more primordial than the more delicate and discriminate emotions, they have been always a fascinating subject for psychology and anthropology.

At the same time, they resist interpretation under a historical perspective. Reasoning about conditions and adaptive purpose of mainly physiological reactions is hampered by the limited knowledge we do have about our ancestor’s environment and their specific life situations. Extrapolating from recent knowledge to past sitiuations will be hence highly speculative if it does not want to risk ending in an argumentum a fortiori or any other non sequitur. Else such hypothesizing sounds pretty much like the argument that Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the wolf because she did not watch Discovery Channel.

Yet, there is a growing body of research suggesting that the emotional response protecting our ancestors, allowed them to survive long enough to produce offspring, who in turn passed the same sensitivities on to us. Nonetheless, emotional response that helped our ancestors may not serve us as well today and may actually promote xenophobia, sexual prejudices and a range of other irrational reactions.

Across a series of subtle and ingenious studies, Dan Fessler has managed to illuminate the ways in which, e.g., disgust may have served to protect our ancestors during such biologically precarious situations as pregnancy and to maximize the likelihood of our forbears’ reproduction when they were at their most fertile.

“We often respond to today’s world with yesterday’s adaptations. That’s why, for instance, we’re more afraid of snakes than cars, even though we’re much more likely to die today as a result of an encounter with a car than a reptile”, Fessler interprets.

Fessler will present his findings at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 30, as part of a three-day conference at UCLA on new research concerning emotions. The event, “Seven Dimensions of Emotion: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives on Fear, Disgust, Love, Grief, Anger, Empathy and Hope,” which runs Friday through Sunday, March 30–April 1, will include 40 scholars from around the world. The conference will be held in Korn Hall at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and is sponsored by UCLA and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research.

Fessler’s research helps shed light on why some body parts are more aversive than others. In one study, Fessler asked 400 participants to imagine 20 different transplant operations and to rate them according to the level of disgust they elicited.

Half of the transplant organs were appendages — like tongues and genitalia — that routinely come into direct contact with the outside world and are therefore more susceptible to infection and damage. The other half were located inside the body — like the spleen and heart — and much less under an individual’s control, especially with regard to protecting from infection and damage.

“If disgust protected our ancestors from pathogens, the emotion would have had the most utility in protecting parts of the body that interact most with the environment such as appendages,” Fessler said. “Our ancestors would not have enjoyed the same advantage from disgust reactions with regard to protecting internal organs. So they benefited from focusing disgust reactions on the parts of the body that are on the outside and interface with the world around us.”

True to Fessler’s theory, participants considered the idea of transplanting appendages more disgusting than the idea of transplanting internal organs. Tongues, genitalia and anuses ranked the most disgusting, while hips, kidneys and arteries turned the fewest stomachs.

“The disgust we feel when we consider individual body parts reflects an adaptive goal of avoiding the transfer of pathogens,” Fessler said.

The same logic appears to be behind some of the queasiness experienced by women during the first trimester of pregnancy, when an infusion of hormones lowers the immune system to keep it from fighting the “foreign” genetic material taking shape in the womb. Because the consequences of infection are also greatest for the fetus during this period, Fessler reasoned that natural selection may have armed pregnant women with an emotional response that helped compensate for their suppressed immune system.

To test the theory, Fessler gathered 496 healthy pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 50 and had them consider 32 potentially stomach-turning scenarios, including “a 30-year-old man who seeks sexual relationships with 80-year-old women,” “walking barefoot on concrete and step(ping) on an earthworm,” “someone accidentally stick(ing) a fish hook through his finger” and “maggots on a piece of meat in an outdoor garbage pail.”

But before asking the expecting women to rank how disgusting they found these scenarios, he asked a series of questions designed to determine whether they were experiencing morning sickness.

In keeping with Fessler’s theory, women in their first trimester scored much higher across the board in disgust sensitivity than their counterparts in the second and third trimesters. But when Fessler controlled the study for morning sickness, the response only held for disgusting scenarios involving food, such as the maggot example.

“A lot of the diseases that are most dangerous are food-borne, but our ancestors could not afford to be picky all the time about what they ate,” Fessler said. “Natural selection may have helped compensate for the greater susceptibility to disease during this risky point in pregnancy by increasing the urge to be picky about food, however much additional foraging that required. That the sensitivity seems to lift as the risk of disease and infection diminish is consistent with the view of disgust as protection against pathogens.”

Fessler’s research also suggests that at least some xenophobia may have its roots in the same vulnerable trimester. Together with colleagues, he asked 206 healthy American pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 42 to read two essays — one obviously written by a foreigner critical of the United States and another by a patriotic American citizen. He then asked the pregnant women to rate how interested they were in meeting and working with the authors. Pregnant women in their first trimester were much less likely to express an interest in meeting the foreigner than those in their second and third trimesters.

“Since the need for assistance from any other human being increases with pregnancy, the response doesn’t make sense unless you consider outsiders as carriers of disease and infection,” he said. “We suspect that, around the world, cultures have discovered that an easy way to elicit prejudice toward outsiders is to associate them with illness. Because emotional reactions that protect against disease are elevated during the first trimester, xenophobia comes along for the ride and is similarly increased early in pregnancy.”

Women also appear to feel increased disgust toward certain forms of sexual behavior during the time in their menstrual cycle when they are most likely to become pregnant. Fessler administered the same standardized disgust scale that he used with pregnant women to 307 women between the ages of 18 and 45. In addition to the scenario about sex between couples separated by great spans of age, the disgust scale included scenarios involving incest and bestiality. Around the time of ovulation, women consistently rated these sexual activities as more disgusting than did women at other points in their menstrual cycle.

“Since women have been shown to be the most interested in sex and new experiences when they are the most fertile, their disgust reactions toward unusual forms of sexual behavior during ovulation don’t make sense except when considered in the context of reproductive fitness,” Fessler said. “These are sexual activities that either would not result in conception or — in the case of incest and sex with older people — were less likely to result in conception of healthy children, so women who were more disgusted by them during ovulation would be more likely to reproduce and to have healthy children.”

With all the due restrictions to speculations about what might have helped anthropoids during picking on the menue or carrying their babies, the astonishing homogeousness of aversive reactions suggests that they are, at least in part, determined by inheritance.

Written by huehueteotl

March 29, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Arts, Psychology, Science

global warming, rising seas and “the three Ms”

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Climate change: study maps those at greatest risk from cyclones and rising seas

The first global study to identify populations at greatest risk from rising sea levels and more intense cyclones linked to climate change will be published next month in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Urbanization.

The research shows that 634 million people — one tenth of the global population — live in coastal areas that lie within just ten metres above sea level.

It calls for action to limit the effects of climate change, to help people migrate away from risk and to modify urban settlements to reduce their vulnerability. But it warns that this will require enforceable regulations and economic incentives, both of which depend on political will, funding and human capital.

Key findings of the study by Gordon McGranahan of the International Institute for Environment and Development (UK) and his colleagues, Deborah Balk and Bridget Anderson, at the City University of New York and Columbia University, are that:

§ Nearly two-thirds of urban settlements with more than 5 million inhabitants are at least partially in the 0-10 metre zone.

§ On average, 14 percent of people in the least developed countries live in the zone (compared to 10 percent in OECD countries).

§ 21 percent of the urban populations of least developed nations are in the zone (11 percent in OECD countries).

§ About 75% of people in the zone are in Asia. 21 nations have more than half of their population in the zone (16 are small island states).

§ Poor countries — and poor communities within them — are most at risk.

§ The ten countries with the largest number of people living within ten metres of the average sea level are:

China (143,888,000);

India (63,188,000);

Bangladesh (62,524,000);

Vietnam (43,051,000);

Indonesia (41,610,000); Japan (30,477,000);

Egypt (25,655,000);

United States (22,859,000);

Thailand (16,468,000); and the

Philippines (13,329,000).

§ The ten countries with the largest share of their population living within ten metres of the average sea level are:

Bahamas (88%);

Suriname (76%);

Netherlands (74%);

Vietnam (55%);

Guyana (55%);

Bangladesh (46%);

Djibouti (41%);

Belize (40%);

Egypt (38%); and the

Gambia (38%).

The new study highlights the importance of “the three Ms”: mitigation, migration and modification.

“It is too late to rely solely on a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, although this is clearly an imperative,” says McGranahan. “Migration away from the zone at risk will be necessary but costly and hard to implement, so coastal settlements will also need to be modified to protect residents.”

[The study will be published on 14 April along with papers that focus on specific cities, including Cotonou (Benin), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Mumbai (India) and Shanghai (China).]

relative_sea_level.jpgThe chart shows sea levels at three locations in Europe over the past 300 years. During this period sea level has risen100 millimeters or more.

sea_level_rise_fall.jpgMore than 100 million people live on land within one meter (three feet) of sea level. Some island countries such as the Seychelles off the East Coast of Africa are mostly less than one meter above sea level. It is estimated that a rise of 1 meter would put half of the land of Bangladesh underwater. Although there are local variations in sea level the key question is what is happening to the volume of ocean water worldwide. The major determining factor is the amount of water in glaciers on land, especially in Greenland and Antarctica.

Written by huehueteotl

March 29, 2007 at 10:42 am

GWB and the palace of power

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“The palace of power is a labyrinth of interconnecting rooms… It’s windowless, and there is no visible door. Your first task is to find out how to get in. When you’ve solved that riddle, when you come as a supplicant into fhe first anteroom of power, you will find in it a man with the head of a jackal, who will try to chase you out again. If you stay, he will try to gobble you up. If you can trick your way past him, you will enter a second room guarded this time by a man with the head of a rabid dog, and in the room after that you’ll face a man with the head of a hungry bear, and so on. In the last room but one there’s a man with the head of a fox. This man will not try to keep you away from the last room, in which the man of true power sits. Rather, he will try to convince you that you are already in that room, and that he himself is that man.

If you succeed in seeing through the fox-man’s tricks, and if you get past him, you will find yourself in the room of power.


The room of power is unimpressive and in it the man of power faces you across an emtpy desk. He looks small, insignificant, fearful; for now that you have penetrated his defences he must give you your heart’ s desire. That’s the rule. But on the way out the fox-man, the bear-man, the dog-man and the jackal-man are no longer there. Instead, the rooms are full of half-human flying monsters, winged men with the heads of birds, eagle-men, and vulture-men, man-gannets and hawk-men. They swoop down and rip at your treasure. Each of them claws back a little piece of it. How much of it will you manage to bring out of the house of power? You beat at them, you shield the treasure with your body. They rake at your back with gleaming blue-white claws. And when you’ve made it and are outside again, squinting painfully in the bright light and clutching your poor, torn remnant, you must persuade the sceptical crowd – the envious, impotent crowd! – that you have returned with everything you wanted. If you don’t, you’ll be marked as a failure forever.”

Sure GWB does not have the time to read old books like García Márquez’s “Autumn of the Patriarch”. And sure he does not have time to read Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown”. He else might have foreseen what his administration faces now after years of relentless deception, evasion and spin in the war on terrorism, together with shoddy leadership and clear violations of rules, as well as bending of laws. Alas, there is some comfort for him and his clan. What the bedside story for a sleepy child in Rushdie’s novel omits are the modern entanglements of politics and economy, and there is not one word about nepotism or bank accounts. The Bush administration might not bring home much from it’s quest for power. It’s main exponents might even be marked as eternal failures. But none of them will have to pay the bills for it, and none of them will get any poorer.

Written by huehueteotl

March 28, 2007 at 6:32 pm

there are but two ways to grow old

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…and one to avoid it: one either starts laughing , or one is shedding tears about it. and who does not want to grow old, should hang himself young.


Written by huehueteotl

March 28, 2007 at 6:12 pm