Research Lead: A Traffic Intervention Backfires, How Love in Literature Tracks Economic Development, and More
“Can behavioral interventions be too salient? Proof of road safety messages »
‘1669 DEAD THIS YEAR ON TEXAS ROADS,’ reads a digital road sign along the freeway. If you had to guess, what impact do you think it would have on your driving? Twenty-eight states use a similar program, where road signs display the number of statewide road fatalities so far this year, reaching more than 100 million drivers annually.
Recently, a research team led by Jonathan Hall and Joshua Madsen identified the opportunity for a natural experiment to assess the impact of these signs on traffic crashes. In Texas, these messages are posted only during the week prior to the monthly meeting of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors. The authors looked at the effect of the signs and report that not only are these signs ineffective in preventing collisions, but that there are in fact After accidents while these messages were posted, an estimated increase of 4.5% in the first six miles (10 kilometers) downstream of one of these signs. They present back-of-the-envelope calculations that suggest Texas signage results in 2,600 additional crashes and 16 deaths each year at a cost of $377 million.
Why do the signs turn around? Hall and Madsen suggest that these signs temporarily distract drivers, increasing cognitive load and inducing anxiety, making it harder to react safely to changing traffic conditions. These results imply that the other 27 states would do well to assess the impact of the signs on their drivers. Moreover, the study serves as a cautionary tale for anyone working to incorporate behavioral insights into public policy – the authors remind us that “measuring the effect of an intervention is important, even for simple interventions, because good intentions do not necessarily imply good results. ” [Science]
“The Cultural Evolution of Love in Literary History”
If Tina Turner was both an economist and a singer, perhaps she would have sung, “What’s love got to do with… economic development?” And she would have been onto something. In his 1994 book, Love and marriage in the Middle Ages, medieval historian Georges Duby postulated that economic development may help explain the increased importance of romantic love in the Western world. Interestingly, literary historians have observed that romantic love became more culturally significant beyond the West around the same time, notably in India, Persia, China, Japan, and the Arab World.
Through a series of four studies published in Nature, Nicolas Baumard and a team of researchers examined this cross-cultural convergence to determine whether economic development could help explain the rise of romantic love. The authors first built a database of 3,800 years of ancient literary fiction and their narrative elements, such as love at first sight, tragic separations and vows of eternal fidelity. Next, they analyzed the relationship between these love mentions and measures of economic development in a given region. The authors report a positive relationship between love mentions and economic factors like GDP per capita, population density, and size of largest city. [Nature]
What is missing in our understanding of the concept of consent
There is a psychological component missing from our understanding of consent, argues Vanessa Bohns in Perspectives on the Psychological Sciences. Not surprisingly, the most elaborate definition of consent comes from the legal realm and contains three principles: to consent, for example, to a medical procedure or sexual intercourse, an individual must have 1) the capacity to consent, 2) the information appropriate to consent, and 3) must be able to consent voluntarily. Bohns points out that in the legal realm, consent is often viewed from the perspective of an outsider – a judge or jury tasked with using these principles to determine legal responsibility. She argues that psychology has something to add by letting us enter the subjective perspective of the consenting person. Psychologists, she writes, have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of consent by asking questions such as: “What makes an actor believe that they have the capacity to consent, believe they are sufficiently informed of what they are getting into, and To feel as if they could refuse or walk away from the situation? » [Perspectives on Psychological Science, open access]
Need a new logic for the Anthropocene
In Behavioral Science and Policy, Andrew Hoffman and his colleagues argue that humanity must change the logic of our institutions if we are to successfully navigate the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch defined by significant human-caused changes to the planet’s climate. The authors write that three types of institutions—regulatory (governments), normative (e.g., curricula), and cognitive (beliefs and implicit agreements)—are all currently dominated by the logic of free-market capitalism and technological optimism that sees nature as a resource to be exploited. The logic that guides our institutions is neither natural nor static – think of before the scientific revolution when religion and mysticism provided the logic for how the natural world worked – which means changing the logic could help change our approach to life in the Anthropocene. They argue for a stewardship-based logic and outline five research-based policies that can drive change at different scales, from incremental to transformational. [Behavioral Science & Policy]
“Psychology as if the Whole Earth Matters: Nuclear Threat, Environmental Crisis, and the Emergence of Planetary Psychology.”
At the end of the Cold War in the 1980s, a small, short-lived organization, the Center for Psychology and Social Change, helped promote a shift in thinking about how the science of psychology might help us understand a rapidly changing environment. Originally founded to combat the threat of nuclear war, the group has grown from a collection of fringe psychologists studying the anxiety of living with doomsday technology to a multidisciplinary movement exploring the relationship of a person with the dangerous and changing conditions of their planet. Historian James Dunk traces this story in a new article. He writes: “In completing this pivot from nuclear threat to environmental crisis, to the end of the Cold War…these researchers have shown the form and function of what might be called a planetary psychology – a theory and a psychological practices that address the issue. planetary context of the individual psyche. [History of Psychology, open access]
“Outside the ‘cultural binary’: understanding why Latin American collectivist societies promote independence”
Psychologists have differentiated between individualistic and collectivist cultures for years. They also looked at the implications of these cultural differences for individuals who live in these cultures – the general assumption is that individualistic cultures, such as the United States and Western Europe, promote independence, while collectivist cultures , like East Asia and Latin America, favor being interdependent (that is, individuality defined in relation to one’s network). However, a recent meta-analysis found that, on average, Latin American samples tended to emphasize their independence, within more collectivist cultures. The research raises two questions. The first is: How did this form of self-interpretation appear in Latin American societies? Here, the authors highlight the prevalence of herding (a mode of food production that allows for greater geographic mobility), the history of frontier colonization, and the established cultural propensity for free and frequent emotional expression.
The other question raised by the research is why the finding may seem surprising, but perhaps shouldn’t be. The authors explain that when findings from areas of the world that are not typically the subject of psychological research deviate from what is expected, “these troubling findings may be dismissed as ‘anomalies’, forcing the kaleidoscopic diversity of world cultures in a simplified “binary”. model of cultural differences. In this way, cultures from less powerful or less wealthy regions of the world can be distorted or even entirely omitted from scientific discourse. [Perspectives on Psychological Science]
An anti-poverty policy that worked until its end
During the pandemic, Congress passed an expanded temporary child tax credit. Parents received $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under six. Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy (CPSP) estimated that the program reduced the percentage of poor children from 15.8% to 11.9%. But that credit expired in December 2021. In January 2022, an estimated 3.7 million more people were in poverty than the previous month. A working paper estimated the program would recoup its cost 10 times as much, and a group of behavioral scientists wrote an open letter urging Congress to extend the credit. Without the credit, the CPSP reported that the child poverty rate in the United States was about 17%. [Center on Poverty & Social Policy report, open letter, National Bureau of Economic Research working paper]
REDISCOVERY — “What do the bosses do? »
In 1974, economist Stephen Marglin posed a controversial question: “What do the bosses do?” In a two-part article, Marglin traced the economic history of job hierarchy and job specialization in the workplace as it operated during the development of capitalism. Echoing the refrains of today’s conversations around work, Marglin asks in his first line: “Is it possible that work contributes positively to individual development in a complex industrial society, or does work alienating is the price to pay for material prosperity?
Marglin explores economic history to answer the question, touching on Adam Smith’s pin factory, coal mining in England, and agriculture in Russia. Hierarchical authority and specialization of workers, he argues, did not develop as a function of increasingly complex work requiring coordination. Instead, hierarchical authority and extreme specialization of labor (e.g. working on only part of the pin) emerged before production was so complex. “The separation of duties assigned to each worker”, writes Marglin, “was the only means by which the capitalist could, in the days before expensive machines, ensure that he would remain essential to the production process”.
Marglin’s words are probably controversial today. But many may find themselves asking questions similar to those he raised nearly half a century ago and wondering: How did we get here? (See also our interview with Barry Schwartz on Why we work.) [The Review of Radical Political Economics, open access, 1974]