Opinion

my relationship with science

zhanehunte

Part 1: pre-university

In my teens I was an avid reader of popular science books. Topics such as evolution, psychology, or philosophy were fascinating to me. I thought they were so great that I considered the books to preach absolute truth. I has no idea how research was actually conducted, and I was clueless about what the academic world looked like. I assumed that if a study was carried out, the results were automatically true. It reflected reality perfectly, it was an absolute accurate representation of the real world. I spent hours online reading about all my favorite scientific topics. I could not wait to go to university.

Part 2: university, bachelor’s

But university completely shattered the picture-perfect image I had of science. I was suddenly confronted with terms as validity and reliability. Research was subject to quality. Research was messy. Sometimes people lied and manipulated their data. Sometimes there were flaws in people’s research designs. And sometimes certain results were just not replicable. We were taught to scrutinize every detail of articles published in scholarly journals. We were also encouraged to think about where knowledge comes from and what science is. Epistemology and philosophy of science. My world was turned upside down. The way we practice science is so flawed. But! They preached statistics to us. Statistics saved science. Numbers are truth. I had faith in science again. As long as the p-values were low enough, we were going to be alright.

Part 3: university, master’s

But then I wandered into a different realm of science. One without numbers. Everything became relative. There was not one reality. No absolute truths. I was stuck in a postmodern mess. Suddenly I was paying attention to the world around me, everything was … constructed. Nothing was real anymore. Everyone lives in a different reality. Because there were no hard truths, I found myself arguing for both sides of each issue. Sometimes there were a million different sides to a story. I realized that everything was made up of structures. Structures that reproduce themselves and at times seem so arbitrary and messy. What does any of it mean? What is its significance? I was lost. Nothing made sense … but at the same time, everything did.

Part 4: philosophy

I needed answers, so I frantically started to go through the history of all philosophical ideas. I was baffled. I found that I could relate to old men who lived before Christ was born. They also struggled with the construction of reality and the fallacies of the mind. But back to practicing science. How can we say anything about the world, using science, when we cannot observe reality? I found solace in intersubjectivity. Science is a system, with rules. And if we abide these rules, we might be able to say something about the world around us.

I no longer worship science. But I am still eager to learn new things and to understand everything around me – to my best ability in this context and in this zeitgeist!

social sciences

Self-perception and body image

In a highly visual world where ‘the media’ represents specific body types it might be difficult for certain people to build self-esteem. Certain groups might be more susceptible to this, such as teenagers, as their need to belong and fit in might be stronger.

Mental health
Self-perception influences one’s mental health. This relationship has been studied by researchers before. They found a link between how one perceived their weight status and depressive symptoms (1). This effect was also found to be stronger for women.

Men
However, this does not mean that men do not deal with body image issues. In an article from 2004, researchers looked at body dissatisfaction among college men. They found that the men judged themselves to be fatter than they actually were. Though, these men also perceived themselves to be more muscular than they were. Though, they pointed out that they would like to be more muscular than they actually are. The researchers speculate that men are under more pressure to be more muscular due to contemporary media pressures. In this study, females were also asked to describe their preferred body type for males. The findings of the study highlights a discrepancy between what women want and what men think women want. Men assumed women want a man who is much leaner and muscular than the women in the study indicated (2).

‘Elastic’ body image
Researchers have created different models of body image. An article from 1992 describes a model that considers women’s body image, which is influenced by content on TV. This model contains different body images, including: society’s deal body, the internalized ideal body, current body image, and the objective body shape. To test their model, female participants were asked to watch specific imagery. The perception of one’s own body can change after being exposed to only half an hour of television (3).

References

  1. Ali, M. M., Fang, H., & Rizzo, J. A. (2010). Body weight, self-perception and mental health outcomes among adolescents. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 13(2), 53-63.
  2. Olivardia, R., Pope Jr, H. G., Borowiecki III, J. J., & Cohane, G. H. (2004). Biceps and body image: the relationship between muscularity and self-esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of men & masculinity, 5(2), 112.
  3. Myers, P. N., & Biocca, F. A. (1992). The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of communication, 42(3), 108-133.
social sciences

Which political candidate do people vote for?

With the recent developments in media, politicians are under scrutiny now more than ever. Media makes it possible to reach a wider audience and inform them on political candidates running for office. Because of this, one might argue that voting behaviors have changed. We have so much more information to consider when picking a candidate to vote for. The existence of television makes it possible for voters to consider the charisma and personality that candidates are now able to convey. Because of this, it has been pointed out that voters care more about politicians’ personalities. However, Hayes (2009) found that there is no difference in the importance of personality, compared to when there was no TV. Personality is certainly imperative, though it has not become more important with the emergence of new forms of media.

Gender
Unfortunately, most of the world leaders are still men. While it can definitely be stated that women still have less opportunities when it comes to participating in elections, gender bias in voting still facilitates men. When people have to evaluate candidates based on competence and dominance, men are more likely to be judged positively in this regard (Chiao, Bowman, & Gill, 2008). The same researchers also found that men were more likely to be voted for if they appeared approachable, whereas for female candidates, attractiveness played a major role.

Appearance
Previous research has found that people infer personality characteristics from faces. These cues are also used in judging political candidates. For instance, when it comes to competence, the following facial features are positively regarded: “Faces became less round, the distance between the eyebrows and the eyes decreased, the cheekbones were higher, and the jaws became more angular”. Perceived facial competence is correlated with with election outcomes (Olivola, & Todorov, 2010).

Voice pitch
Using an experimental design, researchers found that people favored men with a lower voice pitch in a political setting. These men were perceived to be more dominant and attractive, which are considered positive traits for a politician. Furthermore, the favoritism of lower pitched increased if a candidate were to be selected in times of war. In this scenario, dominance becomes even more crucial to voters (Tigue, Borak, O’Connor, Schandl, & Feinberg, 2012).

Stereotypes
In low-information settings, when the voter does not have substantive information, they might rely on other cues. For instance, they will consider stereotypes associated with outward appearance, such as skin color or gender. Women and African-Americans are more likely to be stereotyped than white (liberal) males. African-Americans were perceived to be more involved in minority issues, while women were considered to be concerned with honest government. (McDermott, 1998).

Candidate identification
Researchers found through a simulated mayoral election that voters preferred candidates they shared characteristics with. Women were more likely to vote for female candidates, African-Americans are more likely to African-American candidates, white males were more likely to vote for white, male candidates. They also found that ageism played a bigger role than sexism or racism (Sigelman, & Sigelman, 1982).

Personality
By looking at the personality traits of voters, researchers found that these have an indirect effect on voting behavior. Using the Big Five personality traits, they found that scoring high on certain traits meant they were more likely to vote for ideologies associated with these. Openness was linked with social liberalism, neuroticism was associated with political parties that protect against material and cultural challenges, and lastly, high agreeableness and low conscientiousness led to being more likely to vote for economic or social liberalism (Schoen, & Schumann, 2007).

Chiao, J. Y., Bowman, N. E., & Gill, H. (2008). The political gender gap: Gender bias in facial inferences that predict voting behavior. PLoS One3(10), e3666.

Hayes, D. (2009). Has television personalized voting behavior?. Political Behavior31(2), 231-260.

McDermott, M. L. (1998). Race and gender cues in low-information elections. Political Research Quarterly51(4), 895-918.

Olivola, C. Y., & Todorov, A. (2010). Elected in 100 milliseconds: Appearance-based trait inferences and voting. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior34(2), 83-110.

Schoen, H., & Schumann, S. (2007). Personality traits, partisan attitudes, and voting behavior. Evidence from Germany. Political psychology28(4), 471-498.

Sigelman, L., & Sigelman, C. K. (1982). Sexism, racism, and ageism in voting behavior: An experimental analysis. Social Psychology Quarterly, 263-269.

Tigue, C. C., Borak, D. J., O’Connor, J. J., Schandl, C., & Feinberg, D. R. (2012). Voice pitch influences voting behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior33(3), 210-216.

social sciences

Sticking to new year’s resolutions

It’s the last day of January, and many people have already given up on their new year’s resolutions. The whole idea of keeping track of time is a construct we created ourselves. Apart from the fact that the Earth orbited around the sun another time, there is not much that makes the end or beginning of a year special. However, as we are species that think ahead and plan things in the future, thanks to our prefrontal cortex, new beginnings are very important. We might feel as if we get a second chance and really get to make a change this time. Yet, it is incredibly difficult for people to stick to their resolutions or sometimes even goals in general.

  • First of all, while new beginnings have a big psychological impact on us, there is no reason to wait until the beginning of a new year to make a change. Especially if the goal is important to you, don’t wait around to start making progress toward that goal.
  • Thoroughly conceptualize your goal. What are you planning to achieve? Why? How much time will you be able to spend on it? How would others be able to help you out? Visualize your goal. How are you gonna change your daily life so you can properly work on your resolutions?
  • Make sure you can put in the effort and time to realize your goal. Consider whether the goal you set is actually realistic. For instance, learning to speak Chinese fluently in a year or losing 10 lbs in a month are probably not achievable goals. You will only demotivate yourself. Instead, convince yourself that baby steps are perfectly fine. Losing 1-2 lbs a month or aiming for basic conversational skills in a year, might be a better idea.
  • Be ready for setbacks. Your progress is not going to be a steady upward process. There’s gonna be days where the scale doesn’t display the number you were hoping for. Or you will fail to pick up your textbooks and not invest enough time in learning Chinese characters.
  • Learn from your setbacks. We have off-days and that can stall our progress. However, the day after it’s time to pick up the slack again and continue. By doing so, you will realize that can keep going for a long time, no matter the setbacks. These moments are important for our self-efficacy and self-confidence, which will help us in the long run.
  • Consider a multi-year plan. Don’t just focus on the current year. If you have big plans, you might need more than one year to get where you want to be. If you’re planning to go to the gym once a week or kick the habit of smoking, extend your plans and strategies over the course of time. Don’t limit yourself.

Changing or breaking habits can be very difficult. But with enough willpower and self-efficacy, it will be easier to stick to new year’s resolutions. And these you will get by trying and trying some more, even if you need to fail a couple of times. You can always readjust your plans and take smaller steps when needed. And remember, you can come up with resolutions during any time of the year.

social sciences

Personality: genetic factors?

Using methods such as twin studies, we can infer that personality is, at least partially, genetically determined. There is, however, also an environmental component, which is also imperative to personality formation. In these studies, the Big Five personality test is often used to look at how it develops over time.

Big Five personality traits
Using twin studies, researchers have found that there seems to be a genetic component to personality traits (Jang, Livesley, & Vemon, 1996). Twin studies are often used to study the effects of genes, identical twins and fraternal are then compared on these traits. One of the most used personality factor models is the Big Five, the five traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Instability and extraversion
Another group of researchers also looked at twin studies to find out what the genetic component is of psychosocial instability and psychosocial extraversion. They found that half of the variation in these traits could be explained by genetics (Floderus-Myrhed,  Pedersen,  & Rasmuson, 1980). Simply put,  the other half might be explained by environmental factors. So personality is partially shaped by the situations we go through in life.

Personality disorders
However, apart from regular personality traits, one can also study personality disorders. These are detrimental as they affect behavior or thinking processes in a negative manner. Which means it can influence daily functioning for an individual. These types of disorders have also found to be heritable, though most of the variance can be attributed to environmental factors (Jang,  Livesley, Vernon,  & Jackson, 1996).

Anxiety/social phobia
It has been found that fear of negative evaluation, which is one of the characteristics of anxiety or social phobia have genetic influences as well (Stein, Jang, & Livesley, 2002).

Job satisfaction
Another team of researchers looked at the genetic components that influence job satisfaction. They used the aforementioned five factor model of personality and the positive affectivity–negative affectivity personality test. The positive affectivity–negative affectivity assess what type of emotions (negative or positive) respondents tend to experience. Using these two tests, they found that both of these constructs determined job satisfaction.  The positive affectivity–negative affectivity construct explained most of the variance in job satisfaction (Ilies, & Judge, 2003).

Floderus-Myrhed, B., Pedersen, N., & Rasmuson, I. (1980). Assessment of heritability for personality, based on a short-form of the Eysenck Personality Inventory: A study of 12,898 twin pairs. Behavior genetics10(2), 153-162.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study. Journal of personality, 64(3), 577-592.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., Vernon, P. A., & Jackson, D. N. (1996). Heritability of personality disorder traits: a twin study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica94(6), 438-444.

Ilies, R., & Judge, T. A. (2003). On the heritability of job satisfaction: The mediating role of personality. Journal of Applied psychology88(4), 750.

Stein, M. B., Jang, K. L., & Livesley, W. J. (2002). Heritability of social anxiety-related concerns and personality characteristics: a twin study. The Journal of nervous and mental disease190(4), 219-224.

social sciences

How psychics know: cold reading phenomenon

A myriad of channels exists that broadcast psychics being able to read people’s minds and possibly talk to deceased relatives. In this day and age, where the emphasis has shifted towards critical thinking and falsification, there are still fervent believers of astrology and psychic mediums. In the current scientific paradigm, it is difficult to attain empirical evidence for the existence of the ability to talk to the deceased. Yet, individuals are present in media that have a platform to showcase these supposed abilities. For instance, there is Theresa Caputo who has her own show on mainstream TV, she claims to “connect with loved ones who have passed away”. There is also Derek Ogilvie who insists that he has these abilities as well.

There have been many skeptics disproving this ability to talk to deceased loved ones. These ‘mediums’ are said to engage in a technique called cold reading. Through this technique, mediums are able to create the illusion that, for instance, they are able to tell an individual what happened in their past. However, this technique relies on using characteristics of people to ask them about generalizations based on these. These characteristics include gender, age, appearance (e.g. clothes, makeup, hairstyle).

In order to guess something about the person in front of you, you can use statistics. For instance, according to this source, 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Therefore, when talking to a woman of a certain age, you can guess that she must have experienced a miscarriage at some point in her life. In many countries, the divorce rate is higher than 50%. So, again, when talking to someone of a certain age, you have a 50% chance of being right when guessing whether they are divorced. Another statistic found that roughly 70% of the elderly report to experience loneliness. Therefore, this is another notion psychics can talk about when ‘reading’ their clients.

Apart from using general statistics, one can also rely on Barnum statements. These are statements that can be applicable to anyone. Example: you have a great need for people to like or admire you. Most people have this need, you can trace this back to how we are shaped and wired. Humans are social species and living in groups greatly increases our survival chances. Furthermore, we experience a nice hormone cocktail whenever we receive positive reinforcements from others. Thus, most people have the psychological need to be liked. And of course, there are more statements like these that are applicable to the majority of people that psychics can successfully use.

Lastly, what makes a psychic ‘successful’ is the susceptibility of the client. The trick is the remain vague so that the client fills in much of the information, without them realizing that they’re doing so. This is where the availability heuristic is of importance. Heuristics are rules of thumbs we use when recalling or considering information. For instance, the psychic could tell you: ‘you’re always giving to people, you have to start looking after yourself more’. In that moment, it will be easy to imagine all the situations in which this happened to be the case. Every situation in which this wasn’t the case, you will not think of. Therefore, it suddenly seems as if the psychic is speaking the truth. Moreover, people like to hold positive views regarding themselves. The previous statement highlights selflessness, which is considered to be an attractive trait. Thus, we like to believe that the statement is true and it is, therefore, easier to think of cases where we considered ourselves to be selfless as opposed to situations when we were not.

All-in-all, using these techniques and with a lot of practice, anyone can be a psychic.

Image source.

social media

Internet use and access in North Korea

North Korea has both an intranet network (Kwangmyong) and an active internet connection, the latter is routed through China and Russia. There are a little over a thousand IP  addresses as of 2014. While there are around 28 websites on the North Korean internet, there over 5000 sites on the internet. The country also has their own Linux-based operating system, called Red Star. The interface looks quite similar to earlier versions of macOS.

Of course, to guarantee information control, only a few have access to the internet. The average person is not even aware of the existence of the internet, as can be read in a book written by Suki Kim. In her book, she recounts her experiences with the elite youth.

Interestingly, embassies have access to WiFi, and sometimes their networks don’t have passwords and the signal is strong enough to be picked up by people outside the building as well. Unfortunately, browsing programs are removed from smartphones before they are given to average citizens. The regime has a 3G mobile network (Koyrolink) which foreigners can use through a local SIM card.

Most social media platforms are blocked in the country (such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). Adult websites are also inaccessible as pornography is illegal in the country. The content on their own websites ranges from North Korean news to their national airline company.

As aforementioned, the North Korean internet is routed through China and Russia. Previously, it was only routed through China, however now 60% is routed through Russia as well. This was first observed a month ago, October 2017. This makes sense given the latest political developments.

This article will provide more details on the latest developments on internet connection in North Korea.