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Boston College: Red Bull’s red and gold logo can “give you wings” – for better or worse – even if consumers don’t know it, according to a new study by two BC professors, who found the brand’s edgy marketing efforts have sold a heavy dose of attitude to consumers.

Researchers put subjects at the controls of a car racing video game, supplying each with functionally identical racecars, but each car decorated with a different brand logo and color scheme. Players put in control of the Red Bull car displayed the characteristics often attributed to the brand – like speed, power, aggressiveness and risk-taking – and the results were both positive and negative. In some cases, the drivers sped around the game course. In others, their recklessness caused them to crash and lose valuable time.

“In a performance context, what we see is that people racing the Red Bull car race faster and more aggressively, sometimes recklessly, and they either do very, very well or they push themselves too far and crash,” said Brasel, an assistant professor of marketing. Full Story
Paper: Red Bull “Gives You Wings” for better or worse: A double-edged impact of brand exposure on consumer performance, Brasel & Gips, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011

Other interesting research:
Are Good-Looking People More Employable?, Ruffle & Shtudiner, 2010

Investors monitor the movement of stock prices at a brokerage firm in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province May 9, 2007.
Growing up in Hong Kong where stock bubbles had been relatively common since the 1970s, I saw it happen. Working in the investment industry in Canada (where the middle class presumably died a few decades ago), I saw it happen again. And again, and again:
China Daily -- Xiao Feng, a former investment consultant at a futures company in Nanjing, put his three apartments and two vehicles - worth 5 million yuan - up as collateral days ago to get a 10 million yuan loan to invest in the stock market.

But the cost of borrowing is high - with an annual interest rate of 25 percent, he'll have to pay the lender 2.5 million yuan in interest at the end of the year, reported the Nanjing Morning Post on Wednesday.

In addition, the lender will monitor his stock trading account. If the value of Xiao's portfolio drops below 8 million yuan, the lender will liquidate his stock holdings to prevent a further decrease in the principal, spelling a loss of two million for Xiao.

When the 2.5-million interest payment is also taken into account, Xiao Feng will lose what he has worked for in the past 10 years - all his collateral.

Then why take such a risk? "Maybe it is the lure of the stock market. If an investment in a stock triples, or quadruples in a short period, then why not try?" he replied.

What Xiao is doing mirrors an investment mania that is sweeping across China. The stock market has soared more than 50 percent so far this year on top of a 130 percent gain in 2006, drawing tens of thousands of investors in each day.
I remember telling clients at the top of the dot com mania that it really was different this time: the propensity to gamble would only increase going forward due to the perceived death of the middle class in North America.

Call it the Lou Dobbs, War on the Middle Class phenomenon: If a person comes to believe that the American Dream can no longer be attained through hard work and savings, then why not take big(ger) risks? Go big or go home.
Friedman and Savage (1948) offered a third solution, in the context of lotteries. "Men will and do take great risks to distinguish themselves, even when the know what the risks are," they wrote (p. 299). Perhaps people trade stocks and buy lottery tickets because these offer the only [hope] of rising from the working class to the middle or the upper class. -- "Lottery Traders", Meir Statman, 2001
Apparently my thinking is not original. :-)

Rarely do members of the same family grow up under the same roof. - Richard Bach, Illusions
This weekend, millions will begin the homeward-bound journey for the holidays on board planes, trains and automobiles. It's also the time of year where many contemplate what "home" and "family" really means to them.

There was an interesting story this morning on KUOW, my local NPR station. They interviewed a Greek-American family who left Greece after WWII and settled in Seattle, WA. A few years ago, the family, along with their American-born children and grandchildren, returned to live in the village they left, only to find much change had taken place: faces from new immigrant races.

They also found something they didn't expect: when they are in Greece, they think of Seattle and vice versa. In the story, the interviewer said that academics have coined a name for people who commute between countries: transnationals. This was a surprise, for in economics the word has a very different meaning.

This got me thinking. What makes a person a transnational? Do they have more than one home? What happens during the holidays? And how does one define family if the members are far-flung across the planet?

My parents fled China in 1949, settled in Taiwan, then Hong Kong and then immigrated to Canada in 1973. I grew up here, but never fit in with the locals, white or Chinese. At the time, there were few post-CN Rail Chinese immigrants, and practically no statuesque Northerners like me. It was like being in the Twilight Zone.

My brothers and sisters live in the U.S. and in France. Even though one of my sisters is "coming home" next week with her husband and toddlers, wouldn't they be better off to stay in California? After all, the headcount of family members on his side outnumber hers by 25:1.

There are lots of questions. Can a village, city or even a country be considered home? What if all your stuff is in storage and you're on the road, living out of a suitcase? Does that make you homeless? Is having the resources to secure safe shelter the only difference between a transnational and a displaced person or a refugee? Can a dwelling be considered home? Is family the people found inside a dwelling? Or do they actually have to choose each other?

I guess there will be a lot of time to ponder as I sit on an airplane on Boxing Day, headed off to countries where I don't speak a word of the local language ... yet. Could I be a transnational in the making, or is this a euphemism for not really belonging anywhere? Maybe home is ... where one is always welcome. Perhaps family is ... a collection of people who accept us as we are. And maybe the word transnational should be left to its original meaning, because hopefully, we are all citizens of the world.

American Psychological Society: Some of us can hold our tongues better than others but even the best of us will blurt out the truth when we're tired, stressed or distracted, according to a new research report (pdf).

"The dinner party guest who puts his foot in his mouth could lack a crucial mental ability that stops the rest of us from blurting out our true feelings," according to a report in the July issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

But while most people can usually avoid telling painful truths by inhibiting themselves, the results of experiments conducted by University of New South Wales psychological researcher Bill von Hippel suggest that we should be extra wary of making social blunders when we are under strain or fatigued. Click here to read the story.

jastrowduckfliegendeKihlstrom: Leafing through some past issues of Trends in the Cognitive Sciences (TICS), I noticed a depiction of the famous "duck-rabbit" figure, described as an "illusion" and attributed to Wittgenstein (Malach, Levy, & Hasson, 2002).

Technically, the duck-rabbit figure is an ambiguous (or reversible, or bistable) figure, not an illusion (Peterson, Kihlstrom, Rose, & Glisky, 1992). The two classes of perceptual phenomena have quite different theoretical implications. From a constructivist point of view, many illusions illustrate the role of unconscious inferences in perception, while the ambiguous figures illustrate the role of expectations, world-knowledge, and the direction of attention (Long & Toppino, 2004). For example, children tested on Easter Sunday are more likely to see the figure as a rabbit; if tested on a Sunday in October, they tend to see it as a duck or similar bird (Brugger & Brugger, 1993).

But the more important point of this letter concerns attribution: the duck-rabbit was "originally noted" not by Wittgenstein, but rather by the American psychologist Joseph Jastrow in 1899 (Jastrow, 1899, 1900; see also Brugger, 1999), when the famous philosopher (b. 1889) was probably still in short pants. Along with such figures as the Necker cube and the Schroeder staircase, Jastrow used the duck-rabbit to make the point that perception is not just a product of the stimulus, but also of mental activity – that we see with the mind as well as the eye. [continue reading]

The Edge hosted a debate (see here) between Harvard psychologists Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke on "The Science of Gender and Science." Specifically, on the Summers related debacle, the assertion that gender disparities in the sciences may be related to innate difference between the sexes.

On the whole I consider this whole affair the epitome of a PC witch hunt. The unreasonable (ie, patently false) stance on a subject of large relevance, and the cowardly reaction to criticism from the otherwise self-assured Summers suggests that the zeitgeist will not tolerate nonconformity on this issue. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard gave Summers a vote of no confidence after his impolitic remarks (see here ), and the faculty made very clear their motivation by also passing a second motion expressing regret for Summers’ Jan. 14 remarks on women in science.

There are some truths in every generation, in every society, that one does not mention. I guess biological differences in statistical groups is our unmentioned elephant in the room. Here are some snippets of Spelke's presentation:
Spelke: There are no differences in overall intrinsic aptitude for science and mathematics between women and men. Notice that I am not saying the genders are indistinguishable, that men and women are alike in every way, or even that men and women have identical cognitive profiles. I'm saying that when you add up all the things that men are good at, and all the things that women are good at, there is no overall advantage for men that would put them at the top of the fields of math and science.
This suggests a very empirical assertion, one that demands careful empirical study to determine if, when you add everything up, all the biological credits and debits related to the objective “excelling at math or science”, it comes out equal. In other words, competitiveness and nurturing, attributes that even Spelke concedes differ between men and women, are equally successful methods of scientific inquiry and exposition. If this is so, and if we are making scientific assertions, it demands an empirical assessment. But of course this same Harvard academic voted to recommend censuring Harvard President Larry Summers for merely suggesting the possibility that genetics explains some of the disparity in male/female scientist ratios. If it’s all an empirical issue, how can investigation be censured? What does it say when a highly plausible assertion receives the rare “official stamp” of faculty opprobrium at one of the world’s more prestigious universities?

Elizabeth Spelke ends her speech with this observation:
Spelke: Could biological differences in motives — motivational patterns that evolved in the Pleistocene but that apply to us today — propel more men than women towards careers in mathematics and science?
My feeling is that where we stand now, we cannot evaluate this claim. It may be true, but as long as the forces of discrimination and biased perceptions affect people so pervasively, we'll never know.
This little aside suggests she wants to have it both ways: “we’ll never know”, while earlier stating “there is not a shred of evidence” for a biological explanation.
Spelke: I think the only way we can find out is to do one more experiment. We should allow all of the evidence that men and women have equal cognitive capacity, to permeate through society...Then we can see, as those boys and girls grow up, whether different inner voices pull them in different directions
Note the careful wording here. Enlightened liberal that she is, she would never censor, but she would “allow all the evidence” for one side of the debate to “permeate through society”. The other side’s evidence is not mentioned, but implicitly it is being censored, it is not given equal weight on its merits, but rather is consigned to inferior status based solely on the nonpreferred claim it supports. That's not science, that's wishful thinking.

Scientific American (print edition): Ignoring the adage "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is all too easy. Gal Zauberman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and John G. Lynch, Jr., of Duke University may have found out why: people idealize the future, expecting they will be less busy then. In surveys of 900 volunteers, they found that respondents could not gauge their future supply and demand of time as well as they could of money. If they lack knowledge of upcoming specific tasks, people act as if new demands will not inevitably arise that are as pressing as those that currently exist. When tomorrow changes into today, people discover they are too busy to do everything they promised.

942834The Guardian: Faith has long been a puzzle for science, and it's no surprise why. By definition, faith demands belief without a need for supporting evidence, a concept that could not be more opposed to the principles of scientific inquiry. In the eyes of the scientist, an absence of evidence reduces belief to a hunch. It places the assumptions at the heart of many religions on the rockiest of ground. So why do so many people believe? Click here to read the story.

Must read:
What use is religion?, Mahalanobis
Secularization: Europe—yes, United States—no: why has secularization occurred in Western Europe but not in the United States?, The Skeptical Inquirer

griefWhile I can empathize with pictures of mothers wailing, or people of any age wailing, over the death of a young person, even in those cases I think Westerners are much more restrained in their grief compared to Arabic peoples (not that this is a good thing). This picture of grief for the recently assassinated ex-prime minister of Lebabon, Rafik Hariri, however, really highlights an interesting cultural difference.

Note the crying and wailing of grown men at a public funeral. Reuters states:
Men wept uncontrollably as the procession wound through Beirut streets plastered with posters of the Sunni Muslim billionaire slain in a suspected suicide car bombing on Monday.
I just can not imagine this happening in the West for any man of that stature: he was old, had grown children, and out of official power (unlike President Kennedy, who was young, had little kids, and was killed in office--further, I think only for President Kennedy can you say many adults wept). I'm truly bemused. I wonder if it is merely more acceptable, or encouraged, for grown men to emote in Arabic countries. In addition, or alternatively, perhaps there is some sort of fealty signal going on, where men weep in order to signal to others their deep allegiance to this man's organization.

Note: I am, in general, against premature death, especially anthropogenic death, and have no opinion or understanding of Mr Hariri and his party, who or what they support.

oldmanInvention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of old age (Jonathan Swift), so it all balances out. I know I don't have the ability to focus on issues like I once did, but then neither did I have my own family or any money. While I think my wife, kids and money are worth some distraction by themselves, I also think the cognitive cost of sorting though my now larger hard drive makes for more useful, though less clever, thoughts.

This article
summarizes some research documenting this conventional wisdom. Older people see the bigger picture better, younger people see the details better. Complementary functionality.