How do we help ‘poor countries’?

There is often a lot of discussion around foreign aid and charity programs to help countries where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. The behavior of people, who struggle to meet their basic needs, is also scrutinized. Those who do not live under such circumstances might say things such as: ‘why don’t the poor just stop spending so much money, if you didn’t buy that TV, you would be able to buy food!’. However, their situations are far more complex than we can imagine. Furthermore, we make different economic decisions under different circumstances.

Banerjee and Duflo wrote an intriguing book on this subject, Poor Economics. They rely on anecdotal stories, random controlled trial experiments, and historical events to explain what it is like living on less than $1 a day. The authors also discuss how these people can be helped to live a more prosperous life. While there are many (government) programs to aid poor people to at least attend elementary school, it doesn’t give them all the required information to successfully participate in society. For instance, the knowledge of immunizing their children, or which politician to vote for doesn’t reach these people. Second, they have to go the extra mile to achieve a healthy life. Many of us in the Western world have access to sanitary facilities, clean drinking water, and we’re familiar with and have access to preventative measures to stay healthy. We don’t have to think twice about these things. We don’t have to add chlorine to our water after visiting the water pump.

The authors list many more findings of how the decisions might not make sense at face value, but when you take a better look, the reasons for their decisions become clear. Banarjee and Duflo talk about the functional and dysfunctional social policies that have been implemented as well. I find this book encouraging as the authors ensure that there is a lot that can be done in order to help those in need.


Why nations fail?

In a previous post, I discussed the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. In this book, Diamond discusses how societies fall apart and cease to exist due to a number of different factors. Most of the factors relate to biological causes, for instance, deforestation and a rapid growth in population. However, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that there are different determinants that contribute to a society’s downfall.

In their book, Why Nations Fail, they discuss that the determinants have to do with the institutions that are present in a nation. There are two types of institutions, inclusive institutions, and extractive institutions. Inclusive means that citizens have political freedom and can partake in political decision-making in one way or another. Extractive would mean that citizens do not have such freedom and that their country is ruled by someone who has (close to) absolute power.

They further expand this theory as to say that inclusive institutions lead to prosperity, while extractive ones do not. In nations with inclusive institutions, there is an incentive and freedom to engage in being innovative. The authors show that many of the greatest inventors lived in societies with inclusive institutions. This will lead to overall prosperity in a society.

What makes their explanation of their thesis so interesting is the fact that they provide many historical examples to back up their claims. The authors also refute other previous claims made by other scientists before them. These include geography, culture, and ignorance. Acemoglu and Robinson clarify that nations aren’t historically determined to have one of the two types of institutions, but most if it relies on contingency.


Is America’s justice system fair?

After seeing Chris Hayes discuss his new book, A Colony In A Nation, on The Daily Show, I had to read it. The book opens with an interesting internal dialogue by the author. He recalls the last time he called the cops. A couple was arguing outside and was ‘disrupting the order in the neighborhood’ He reflects on his reasons for calling the authorities. Was it because he wanted to protect the woman in question? Or did he want the disorder to go away?

This introduction is an interesting prelude to Hayes’ thesis later in the book. He takes on a journey through history in terms of the formation of the justice system in America. Even now, a part of the population lives in the nation and the rest lives in the remnants of the colony. The system still hinders people of color. They have the right to fear the police since they don’t function to serve and protect them. We can listen to anecdotal stories of people who have been stopped by the police for trivial reasons, we know that their skin color and the neighborhood they’re from probably heavily influence their reasons for being stopped. However, if this isn’t enough evidence for you, Hayes makes use of statistics to back up his claims.

Hayes discusses all the issues related to the present justice system, police brutality, dysfunctional policies, using fines to get funding, neighborhood segregation, and much more. It’s an interesting read, as many claim: ‘before the law, we’re all equal’. But in reality, this is not the case, as old colonial workings are still at play.

social sciences

Smart shoppers: more than sales and coupons

There is a lot of different and interesting literature on marketing strategies and sales. For instance, researchers have looked at the consequences of consumers learning about having bought products that went on sale, after they bought it. Thus they weren’t able to profit from the discount. Or, another big part of marketing research is decision-making processes. Do people with certain types of personality traits use different strategies to find out which products to buy and how to compare them? These findings are especially important since we live in a consumer-driven world. Every day, more options exist to choose from, when for example, buying a new smartphone. Garretson and Burton wrote a fascinating article on different types of consumers and how they react to sales.

First, they looked at different variables related to being sales and coupon prone. Price consciousness entails that buyers are actively on the lookout to pay the lowest price. But value consciousness is also imperative, as looking for the lowest price doesn’t mean that buyers are content with inferior quality. These types of consciousness mean spending more time looking for such deals, which coupon and sales prone individuals feel like is time well spent. These types of consumers should be more aware of ongoing sales and are less skeptic of retailers’ intentions behind sales.

In order to measure these variables and ideas, the researchers looked at data collected through questionnaires. They looked at the differences between two types of consumers, people who are sales and coupon prone and those that aren’t. The researchers found that consumers who are more sales and coupon prone tended to be price conscious and value conscious. However, they didn’t find any differences between the two groups of consumers in terms of price-quality associations. Overall, the participants didn’t think that higher prices meant higher quality products.

When looking at shopping enjoyment and market skepticism, those who are sales and coupon prone tended to enjoy shopping more and were less skeptic. They didn’t feel as if the bargain was a ‘scheme’ set up by the retailer to lure them in. These consumers don’t only feel good about paying a lower price, but they enjoy shopping and regard themselves as smart shoppers.

Thus the sale isn’t the only benefit for those actively looking to find the best deal, it also includes the act of shopping and being a smart shopping. The authors of the research article point out that the ego-related dimension is of importance to those who are sales and coupon prone.

Garretson, J. A., & Burton, S. (2003). Highly coupon and sale prone consumer: benefits beyond price savings. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(2), 162-172.

social sciences

Emotional intelligence

Intelligence is deemed to be a very important for many different reasons, it should make life easier and goals more achievable. Intelligence is regarded as a valuable trait to have. However, the way we define intelligence is often very one-dimensional and simplified. Especially in Western schools, STEM subjects (math, natural sciences, engineering) are seen as a measure of intellectual capacity. Other subjects such as arts or history are considered to be too subjective and sometimes even easy. But at least, today, these topics are now part of many schools’ curricula. There is another important measure of intelligence that is often overlooked, emotional intelligence. While proficient numerical reasoning and spatial aptitude can help you get high grades in STEM-related subjects, it is not the sole predictor of success in later life. Many other factors play a huge role in your capacity to achieve much sought after ambitions, one of those being emotional intelligence.

Is emotional intelligence a real thing?
The first question that arises with this (new) form of intelligence is legitimate and scientifically backed. To study whether emotional intelligence can be regarded as a separate intelligence in itself, researchers looked at a questionnaire that supposedly measures this trait. This questionnaire is called the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS). Skills that fall under this trait are reflectively regulating emotions, understanding emotions, assimilation emotion in thought and perceiving and expressing emotions. In order to measure such skills, participants were asked to, for instance, judge pictures of people expressing emotions. So participants had to correctly indicate the emotion being portrayed by the faces. Other tasks included correctly describing emotions or indicating what to do in several social situations. After a statistical analysis, the researchers found that the questionnaire worked well.¹

Example question

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? And is it linked to other behaviors or traits?
According to Howard Gardner, who is known for developing theories on multiple intelligences:

“Basically, your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them”.

The ’emotional version’ of the IQ, the EQ, encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.² A research team created a new questionnaire to measure this type of intelligence. This questionnaire contained 33 statements on which respondents had to disagree or agree. Examples of statements: I arrange events others enjoy, other people find it easy to confide in me, I have control over my emotions. But what is really interesting is that they linked the scores on this questionnaire to other behaviors or life events. Their study showed that their measure of EQ predicted first-year college grades. That females score higher on emotional intelligence and that it is unrelated to cognitive intelligence. It is also linked to openness to experience, one of the traits of the Big Five personality test.³

Self-report: a cautionary tail
However, I would like to note that there might be an issue of self-report measures. Any other type of questionnaire that contains items about the self will have the same possible problem. In order to correctly respond to the statements, people need to be able to self-reflect. The question is whether every participant has adequate self-knowledge. For instance, the statement ‘other people find it easy to confide in me’ can be difficult to answer. People often try to maintain positive self-perception and respond negatively to such a statement might go against that. Social desirability plays a role in filling in questionnaires, even thoug people are anonymous, they still might not want to fill out socially unacceptable ideas.

1. Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence. Intelligence, 27(4), 267-298.
2. Akers, M. D., & Porter, G. L. (2003). Your EQ skills: Got what it takes?. Journal of Accountancy, 195(3), 65.
3. Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and individual differences, 25(2), 167-177.

social sciences

Psychology is all around you

Not only in the literal sense, when you engage with people or don’t engage with people. It’s more than that. As it isn’t just internal stimuli that determine your actions, it’s also external stimuli. It’s mostly an interaction between the two. Our internal stimuli, such as the process of picking out an outfit for the day, are heavily influenced by external stimuli. What we buy at a supermarket might depend on how the products are positioned, or the environment you’re in. Psychology is all around you. Here I will list some examples how you are influenced by your environment and therefore demonstrate the importance of psychology.

The weather
You might or might not be aware of the effect of weather on your mood. To find out if different dimensions of the weather can have an affect on us, researchers collected 2 year’s worth of Tweets. Looking at the Tweeted content and the weather on that particular day, the found that, for instance, rain can put us in a negative mood.¹
What’s even more interesting is that people attribute their negative feelings to bad weather. In a study, people were asked to rate their moods. Those who were in a good mood left it at that and didn’t attribute it to anything in particular. However, those in a bad mood attributed it to the weather. Thus, actively trying to seek external causes for their feelings.²

Supermarkets. There are patterns in human behavior when it comes to supermarkets. For instance, researchers found that a crowd attracts more people. When there are other shoppers present at a certain aisle, it attracts new shoppers. But these new shoppers are less likely to buy something from that store zone. The researchers speculate that people change their behaviors in the presence of other shoppers. They are less likely to make unnecessary purchases and engage in fewer exploratory behaviors.³
Tricks. Retailers try to influence your buying behavior, preferably to increase their sales. They can do so by creating attractive labels for their products or interesting advertisements telling you their product is a necessity.  Another way is to elicit certain feelings among their customers. That is demand accelerates demand. This means that when we know that something is highly wanted by other consumers, we want it too. Researchers looked at shelves in a supermarket and found that people are more likely to opt for the ‘scarce’ product. When faced with two similar products, you’re gonna choose the one with the partially emptied shelf.4
Learn more about how we make choices and what happens if we’re faced with too many choices.

Other people
The presence of other people has a huge effect on our behaviors. One of those effects is called the bystander effect. According to this effect, the mere presence of others changes how we behave. This effect is often studied in situations were strangers need help. Why when someone falls down do people sometimes fail to help this person? Or even worse, there have been multiple cases of fatal cases and no one interfering. This is most likely due to the diffusion of responsibility. People might think: ‘why should I be the one to help? there are others, they can help too’. Or they might look at other people’s faces to determine the severity of the case. They see that everyone seems indifferent and decide that it’s not that bad. But unbeknownst to them, everyone is looking at each other for cues if it’s severe enough that they should step in.5
An interesting experiment on how others influence our behaviors is the groundbreaking research by Asch.People were put into groups and had to publically answer easy questions. For instance, the saw three lines and had to indicate which line was similar to a fourth line displayed on the side. This is an incredibly easy task and almost impossible to get wrong. However, each participant was put into a group of confederates. So they were surrounded by a group of actors. The group would purposively and collectively pick the wrong answer. The participants were very likely to go along with the answer the group gave. Even though they knew it was wrong. But people are afraid to stand out most of the time.
Learn more about helping behaviors.

As you can see, many of the patterns in human behavior are constantly studied by psychologists. These theories can help explain human behavior. People often think they’re unique in the choices they make or their actions. But it turns out, we’re not so different after all. And the proof is all around us.

1. Li, J., Wang, X., & Hovy, E. (2014, November). What a nasty day: Exploring mood-weather relationship from twitter. In Proceedings of the 23rd ACM International Conference on Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (pp. 1309-1318). ACM.
2. Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1983). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well-being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. Journal of personality and social psychology, 45(3), 513.
3. Hui, S. K., Bradlow, E. T., & Fader, P. S. (2009). Testing behavioral hypotheses using an integrated model of grocery store shopping path and purchase behavior. Journal of consumer research, 36(3), 478-493.
4. Van Herpen, E., Pieters, R., & Zeelenberg, M. (2009). When demand accelerates demand: Trailing the bandwagon. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(3), 302-312.
5. Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of personality and social psychology, 10(3), 215.
6. Asch, S.E. (1951). Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men(pp. 177–190). Pittsburgh, PA:Carnegie Press

social sciences

Romantic love: being in love

Romantic love has been the basis for many of the things happening around us. It has made its way into a myriad of aspects of our lives, including entertainment, consumption, and societal expectations. In a society where monogamy is favored, the idea of having to meet someone and settle down is often perpetuated by family members, friends, and coworkers. While many people want to know who others fancy and like, it’s still a bit of an embarrassing topic to talk about. Or when someone is head over heals, they might not be able to shut up about the person in question.
But what causes this strange mix of emotions and feelings that can push us to do weird things. It has even been suggested that love affects our brains like a drug.

Relationship with parents affects romantic love
Your childhood can affect the way you experience romantic love later in life. To study this, researchers looked at three attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent. These are ways in which children are attached to their parents. The secure attachment style is seen as a positive predictor of future relationships. This means establishing physical contact with the infant and responding to their cries. Children who are attached in an anxious/ambivalent sense tend to protest. And the avoidant attachment style is characterized by detachment.
In terms of romantic love, this means that securely attached people experience trust and other positive emotions than the other two attachment styles.
Those who fall in the avoidant category tend to doubt the existence of romantic love and wonder if happily ever after with a partner exists.
While anxious/ambivalent types do fall in love frequently, they do have trouble finding true love. They do report experiencing more loneliness than the other types.¹

Romantic love can be healthy
Having close ties with a person can have a positive effect on your health. It can help life satisfaction and it might decrease the risk of depression. However, it should also be noted that those who never married are better off than those who are divorced. Being divorced or broken up increases your risk of depression.²

Underlying mechanisms of romantic love
Most of the research seems to point out that there is no specific area in the brain responsible for all the emotions and feelings we experience when we’re in love. It is rather a set of systems involved in romantic love. Supposedly, neurohormones affect whether we might be monogamous or not. An experiment carried out on rodents showed that Vasopressin stimulated monogamy in males, whereas oxytocin had this effect on females.
From an evolutionary perspective, the dopamine (makes us feel happy/satisfied) and oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) rushes we get in the early stages of romantic love helps us imprint positive characteristics of a partner.
CRH (hormone) plays a role in feeling down when we separate from our love. This helps us stick to our partner.
Pheromones affect our mate choice. Possibly to find mates with a dissimilar immune system, as two different immune systems would create an advantage for the offspring. Two non-identical systems will be able to provide genes that can ward off more types of diseases, compared to two similar systems.²

Love can make us go crazy?
Researchers have found similarities between those who suffer from Obssessive Complusive Disorder (OCD) and those in the early stages of romantic love. OCD is a mental disorder which causes people to repeatedly engage in obsessive disorders. Such as constantly checking whether they locked their front door, or constantly having to switch on the lights in everyone room they enter. Since those in love tend to obsess over a person, researchers decided to look for a link between the two, and they found on on an underlying biological level. They found the same low density in serotonin (5-HT) transporters in both those in love and those suffering from OCD.³

1. Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of personality and social psychology52(3), 511.
2. Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of neurophysiology, 94(1), 327-337.
3. Marazziti, D., Akiskal, H. S., Rossi, A., & Cassano, G. B. (1999). Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love. Psychological medicine, 29(03), 741-745.

social sciences

Psychological tricks of the mind #1: recalling information

Unfortunately, we can’t objectively experience our environment. You’ll quickly notice this when talking to several people who went through the same thing, everyone filters the world around them differently. We also remember things differently. But we’re all susceptible to the same fallacies. Some of these fallacies shape the way we think about thinks. This can make us see and believe supernatural things or make us fall for superstitions. This is because we tend to recall things according to the availability heuristic.

We’re constantly filtering all the information we receive: sounds, words, visuals, images, etc. For instance, when we look at a skyline for awhile, most of us can’t perfectly recreate the image by drawing. You’ll probably end up with the most ‘important’ features, such as the outlines of the buildings. Each clouds’ positions or the small windows you won’t be able to remember. This is because the brain wants to be efficient in its information storing. It’s imperative, from an evolutionary standpoint, that we remember all the important stimuli. Often these are negative things. Negative things, such as losing money or getting insulted hurt us more than the joy we experience from getting the opposite. This is because we want to avoid negative outcomes as much as possible.

We tend to remember information that we think is important to us. But this doesn’t always give us an accurate representation what is happening in our lives. The selective way we recall and remember things are explained by the availability bias or heuristic. This is easily demonstrated by an example of visiting a medium. A medium can say a hundred things and half of them might be wrong. But the other half that is sort of applicable to use we remember. We quickly disregard everything that isn’t applicable. We might leave the medium feeling like they knew exactly what they were talking about, even if their hit rate was only 50%.

This bias shapes our lives in a lot of other different ways. It influences what we’re afraid of. The media can show us a lot of shocking imagery of events that are quite rare. But because we think it’s shocking and such events are so extensively covered we assume it’s very common. Thus the available information stored in our memories is filled with scary imagery of all the dangers that can happen to us. Think about a number of people that die in a fire every year. Almost every day we’re confronted with news of buildings catching fire and people dying as a result. But it turns out 0.55 out of 100,000 people died in a fire according to the mortality rates of 2002. People are more likely to die because of diseases like measles. Slowly, people are also starting to realize that you’re more likely to die as a result of being in a car crash as opposed to dying in a plane crash. But the imagery of planes crashing are more shocking and therefore are much easier to remember,

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), 207-232.

social sciences

Scarcity principle: why we want the limited edition

What we want to have is not only influenced by how much we like the product but also how much others like it. Economics and the market are often explained in terms of demand and supply, which in theory can determine the price of the product. But studying demand and supply is also imperative to psychologists, as there are many underlying cognitive factors in buying products. In this post, I will discuss one of those factors, the scarcity principle.

Running low on supply
Apparently, we use others’ preferences as signals to find out whether a product is good or not. When we walk through the supermarket aisle, we use quick mental heuristics (a rule of thumb). One of those heuristics is the scarcity principle. Seeing that there are only a few products left tells us that the demand is high, therefore the product must be good, right? This is what several experiment settings have found. Not only telling consumers that ‘there are a few left!’ but seeing the visual display of a few more wine bottles left can trigger people to opt for that particular wine type/brand.¹
Unfortunately, I don’t know whether retailers actively put this into practice by intentionally filling aisles with small amounts of products. As supermarkets, for instance, can use this to up the sales by continuously stocking a few items at a time.

But what about limited edition?
Every now and then manufacturers decide to only produce a few product and market it as ‘limited edition’. Big brands will create unique shoes, perfumes, phone designs, or watches which often sell for high prices. However, this is different from the aforementioned wine bottle situation in a supermarket. Consumers that want these types of products probably don’t want it because ‘there’s only a few left, everyone wants them’. But there are more underlying factors at play. Limited editions are often used for conspicuous products.  These are products to show off one’s status. Thus buying limited editions is to display uniqueness, because you’re one of the few who owns a specific product.² But as for the other side of the scarcity principle, people want a product because everyone else wants it, so it must be good.

1. Van Herpen, E., Pieters, R., & Zeelenberg, M. (2014). When less sells more or less: The scarcity principle in wine choice. Food Quality and Preference36, 153-160.
2. Gierl, H., & Huettl, V. (2010). Are scarce products always more attractive? The interaction of different types of scarcity signals with products’ suitability for conspicuous consumption. International Journal of Research in Marketing27(3), 225-235.


Let’s Hypothesize: empathy, self-knowlegde

In this segment of ‘Let’s Hypothesize’ I want to argue that scoring high on empathy will also you will have more self-knowledge, which ultimately makes things easier for you to understand. With empathy, we’re able to understand what others around us are feeling. This means that we can validate feelings of those around us (we understand what they’re feeling anyway) and we can actively help them in times of need. We feel happy for those who are doing great things or we feel for those going through rough patches. We let a lady line jump us at the grocery store because she’s in a hurry to visit her sister in the hospital. Or we let our friend have half of our sandwich because they’re really hungry.

Here I want to give you my take on how self-knowledge can shape your empathetic senses. Often we hear people unable to understand why others are feeling a certain way. In turn, these people might react badly to their situation and feelings. They might tell the person to ‘just man up’ or to ‘stop exaggerating’. Or, even worse, they will come up with a story to prove that they were once in a situation much worse than them.

On top of my head, I think empathy has been linked to recognizing our own internal states. This means being able to tell when we’re feeling hungry or need sleep. This might seem like things we should all be able to do but it’s not that self-evident. For instance, some people might start to feel moody when hungry and are unable to make the connection between their moodiness and hunger. The question is why some people are able to clearly make this distinction and accurately interpret their feelings while others aren’t. Is this because people have learned to understand these feelings or is it an inherited trait? Do you need some kind of emotional intelligence in order to do so?

To be able to understand and interpret others’ feelings, naturally, you should be able to understand your own first. But not only understand the feelings in itself but also how situations can affect people. For instance, this means recognizing that people might get annoyed if you were to repeatedly kick their seat at the movies. Thus, you must understand how feelings emerge and ultimately, you must care what it does to others. Of course, there are people who can perfectly understand how someone is feeling, but it doesn’t mean they care. Because they might reason that it isn’t happening to themselves, so it doesn’t matter. All in all, the ability to empathize is affected by an array of factors.