Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

Following tradition is fundamentally a statement of identity

January 7, 2018

There is no generally accepted “theory of tradition”. In fact, there are few theories – psychological, social or anthropological – which explain why we follow tradition. Edward Shils presented his book Tradition (1981) as the first extensive study of the subject. James Alexander in his article writes:

Shils observes, as everyone does, that the word tradition comes from traditiowhich is derived from the verb tradere, a combination of trans and daremeaning to surrender, deliver or hand over. Tradition is not as simple as trade, that is, simple exchange: it is a word which for about two thousand years has been particularly associated with the handing over of something in time, by some sort of deliberate act of preservation or repetition or recollection, so that the something is not lost to the past. Traditions enable us to inherit things from our ancestors, bestow them on our successors. Shils understands tradition in terms of tradita (the plural of traditum): things which are handed over. These, he argues, can be objects, or beliefs, or simply the ways things are done. He defines tradition simply as “anything which is transmitted or handed down from past to present”

Shils definition of tradition is all encompassing

It includes buildings, monuments, landscapes, sculptures, paintings, books, tools, machines. It includes all that a society of a given time possesses and which already existed when its present possessions came upon it and which is not solely the product of physical processes in the external world or exclusively the result of ecological and physiological necessity.

This is too wide a definition of what tradition is and is not convincing. It is however clear that actions or behaviour or things that are solely the product of physical processes in the external world or exclusively the result of ecological and physiological necessity” cannot be tradition. We breathe because we must and breathing is not “tradition”. But the manner in which we name ourselves is not dictated by necessity but by choice. Our names are established by, and are the continuation of, tradition.

But I observe that if what is/was necessity cannot be a tradition, then it must also mean that to become a tradition, some choice must have been made. An alternative to that tradition is, or must have been, available. The “handing down” across generations has not been eliminated from the definition of what tradition is but “repetition” even within the same generation has greater emphasis for any custom or behaviour to be considered tradition. 

This leads me to the hypothesis that only such actions or behaviours or production of artefacts which can later become traditions are those which involved a choice. Thereafter, repetition by others is necessary. Repetition by sufficient “others” and over a sufficient length of time converts those actions or behaviours first to customs and thence to traditions. Traditions eventually die and so, my hypothesis continues, every tradition has a life cycle. It is born, it grows up, it continues and it dies.

Why then do some actions, customs, behaviours become traditions and others do not? I suspect it is an existential thing and has to do with the preservation of our identity. Where our identity, as an individual or as a group, is reinforced or enhanced by the repetition of some custom or action or behaviour, then that survives under the label of being a tradition. Every example I can think of as “the following of a tradition”, is, at source, a statement of identity. Traditions underscore differences. Different traditions define different groups. They may be family, or social group or caste or class or ethnic or national traditions. Traditions may involve choice of dress or food or music or literature or behaviour or a method of proceeding, but they all exhibit choice. They each have something to say about the identity of the practitioner and the group he associates with or belongs to. A Sunday roast is an identifying family tradition. A school uniform or military dress is identifying. The Pyramids are identifying of the Pharaonic culture. A suit in japan identifies the salary-man.

Whenever we follow a tradition we identify ourselves and the group we belong to. Every tradition is a primal statement of identity. We follow tradition to reinforce identity.


John Cleese – “Political correctness creating 1984”

February 2, 2016

That “political correctness” is oppressive is self-evident. It is the tool that the liberal left have been using – with some success – to shut down opposing views by stifling them. Political correctness is nothing more than trying to control other people’s behaviour (and sometimes even their thoughts). More often than not, for the mob applying pc to shut others up, it is a sign of their abdication of thought. It is a shame that so many young people on college campuses just follow the herd rather than thinking for themselves. But nearly always, the instigator of a pc campaign will be a left leaning activist who would deny others the freedom of thinking.

Now even John Cleese has been moved to attack the political correctness that so dominates university campuses.

EntertainmentBritish actor John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, says the enforcement of political correctness has come at the expense of comedy. 

In a video for Big Think, Cleese speaks specifically about college campuses, where he says he’s been warned not to perform because “any kind of criticism or any individual or group could be labeled cruel.”

Cleese also recalled something said to him about the issue by London psychiatrist Robin Skynner, with whom he’s worked on two books about psychology and psychiatry.

“[Skynner] said, ‘If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.’ And when you’re around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what’s going to upset them next,” says Cleese.

He adds, “The whole point about humor, the whole point about comedy, and believe you me I”ve thought about this, is that all comedy is critical … All humor is critical. If you start to say, ‘We mustn’t; we mustn’t criticize or offend them,” then humor is gone. With humor goes a sense of proportion. And then as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984.”

Jerry Seinfeld made the same point last year:

…. “I hear that all the time,” Seinfeld said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. “I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.’”

Seinfeld says teens and college-aged kids don’t understand what it means to throw around certain politically-correct terms. “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice,’” he said. “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”


“For our children’s children …” is not to be trusted

November 27, 2015

I never met either of my grandfathers or my paternal grandmother, who all died before I was born. However I did “know” my maternal grandmother and even my maternal great-grandmother. It is a bit of a stretch to actually claim to have “known” them. I met them as a child when they were already past their primes. But I was too young and our interactions too infrequent, that I ever built up any kind of an opinion of them or of their values or their politics or their characters.

Did they, I wonder, ever do anything “for their children’s children”? They may have taken some life-decisions which they rationalised as being “for their children’s children”. But there is nothing in my life now that I either thank them for or criticise them for. Whatever they did or did not do are no longer of any relevance as an excuse or a reason for the state of my life or the state of the world I live in.

“For our children’s children” is invariably used to excuse or justify actions which have no immediate benefit. Doing things, now, “for our children’s children” is meaningless and, I would claim, an invalid reason for actions which are not of any apparent benefit. It is also invalid to claim that, unknown to us, decisions made, “for their children’s children”, by our grandparents or earlier ancestors have actually achieved their visionary aims. My parents (both deceased) could not have foreseen the world I live in today, but their decisions have surely made me whatever I am. They made their decisions about my education and upbringing to fit the world they knew of, not of the world as it was going to be. My grandparents surely did the same for my parents but they too, could not have imagined the world my parents lived in at the end of their lives. We have made decisions for the upbringing and education of our children, and no doubt we have influenced their opportunities and their lives, but I don’t think we have ever taken any actions, against our interests or the interests of our children, “for the sake of our children’s children”.

The one purpose of life that most can probably agree on is “to make a difference”. No doubt, in our own little ways, and no matter how small, we all do. No doubt also that the human race is where it is because of what our ancestors did or did not do. The Germans of today are where they are because of what Hitler did but not because of what Hitler did “for his children’s children”. Henry VIII’s actions certainly impacted his daughter but not because his decisions were ever against his own interests first. Genghis Khan may have done some things for the “sake of his descendants”, but they had lost their intended effects already with his grandson and certainly after Kublai Khan. The Khans surely made a difference. But neither Genghis Khan or Kublai Khan ever took any decisions “for their children’s children” which did not have tangible, realisable benefits or was against their own interests.

It would be unthinkable, and quite unacceptable, to blame our grandparents for the state of the world today or for the people in it. In some societies, but only in some general way, we do thank our ancestors for what we have today. But this gratitude is only felt by those who are in a position of some privilege. Whoever heard of ancestor worship for the purpose of blaming them for current misfortune. You can use your parents as an excuse for a deprived or depraved childhood and even as a defence in a court of law, but you would get short shrift if you blamed your grandparents for your condition or your sins. The Nazis could not, and cannot, pass off their acts as being due to the faults of their ancestors.

So what’s the point of all this? It is individuals who act. Any individual in any generation acts, and must act, for the interests and benefits of that generation. “For our children’s children” is not just an empty phrase. it is a part of a deception. It is just a last-resort excuse for actions which have no demonstrable benefits, cannot otherwise be justified and probably should not be taken. It is a phrase not to be trusted. Actions against your interest, “for the sake of your children’s children”, are a mirage.

So when a politician, or an environmentalist, or a social “scientist” or a priest makes a proposal for the sake of your children’s children, be very suspicious. Don’t listen.

Over half of psychology papers are just “psychobabble”

August 28, 2015

A new research report has been published in Science and only confirms the perception that much of what passes for the science of psychology is still mainly the views and prejudices of the publishing psychologists. Their studies cannot be reproduced in over half of the 100 papers investigated. Even among those found to be reproducible, the significance of the results were exaggerated.

……. he researchers found that some of the attempted replications even produced the opposite effect to the one originally reported.

This discipline is surely a valid field of study but is still a long way from being a science.

Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science, Science 28 August 2015, Vol. 349 no. 6251 , DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4716

AbstractReproducibility is a defining feature of science, but the extent to which it characterizes current research is unknown. We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available. Replication effects were half the magnitude of original effects, representing a substantial decline. Ninety-seven percent of original studies had statistically significant results. Thirty-six percent of replications had statistically significant results; 47% of original effect sizes were in the 95% confidence interval of the replication effect size; 39% of effects were subjectively rated to have replicated the original result; and if no bias in original results is assumed, combining original and replication results left 68% with statistically significant effects. Correlational tests suggest that replication success was better predicted by the strength of original evidence than by characteristics of the original and replication teams.

The Independent comments:

More than half of the findings from 100 different studies published in leading, peer-reviewed psychology journals cannot be reproduced by other researchers who followed the same methodological protocol.

A study by more than 270 researchers from around the world has found that just 39 per cent of the claims made in psychology papers published in three prominent journals could be reproduced unambiguously – and even then they were found to be less significant statistically than the original findings. ……. 

……… Professor Nosek said that there is often a contradiction between the incentives and motives of researchers – whether in psychology or other fields of science – and the need to ensure that their research findings can be reproduced by other scientists.

“Scientists aim to contribute reliable knowledge, but also need to produce results that help them keep their job as a researcher. To thrive in science, researchers need to earn publications, and some kind of results are easier to publish than others, particularly ones that are novel and show unexpected or exciting new directions,” he said.

However, the researchers found that some of the attempted replications even produced the opposite effect to the one originally reported. Many psychological associations and journals are not trying to improve reproducibility and openness, the researchers said.

“This very well done study shows that psychology has nothing to be proud of when it comes to replication,” Charles Gallistel, president of the Association for Psychological Science, told Science.

We have professional psychologists who get paid for their theories and we have professional, amateur psychologists (Agony Aunts in the newspapers, TV and Radio psychologists, talk show pundits and the like) who also get paid for providing entertainment. And then we have all the rest of us who each believe we have insights into the human mind and human behaviour, but don’t get paid for it.

We haven’t come so far from witch-doctors and Shamans.


Lack of ethics institutionalised at American Psychological Association

July 11, 2015

That members of the American Psychological Association actively participated in and helped to design the torture programme during the Bush era has been known for some time. But for over 10 years the APA has shielded its members and covered up their involvement. In fact they have had an Ethics Officer whose primary job has been to conceal the lack of ethics. The New York Times has details about a new investigation report which focuses on the failings of the members of the American Psychological Association.

NYT Editorial:

The first detailed accounts of the brutal interrogation program the Central Intelligence Agency established after the Sept. 11 attacks noted that psychologists and other medical professionals played key roles in abetting the torture of terrorism suspects. However, much about their role and their degree of responsibility in one of the most macabre and shameful chapters of American history has remained shrouded in secrecy.

A new report by a former federal prosecutor, first disclosed by James Risen in The Times, contains astonishing, disturbing details. It found that top members of the American Psychological Association, the largest professional organization of psychologists, colluded with officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. to keep the group’s ethics policies in line with tactics that interrogators working for the agency and the military were employing. …….. 

On Friday, Physicians for Human Rights justifiably called on the Department of Justice to begin a criminal investigation into the psychologists association’s role in the Bush administration’s torture program.

The Obama administration has so far refused to prosecute the torturers. As more evidence about this program comes to light, that position becomes increasingly indefensible.

There are no “good guys” if the behaviour of the “good guys” is no different to that of the “bad guys”. And the degree of “badness” is worse, I think, when the bad behaviour is institutionalised and not just that of rogue individuals.

Misleading headlines do work

November 2, 2014

A new paper reports experimental evidence which shows that misleading headlines do exactly what they set out to do. They direct the reader to take away a conclusion that is not – or not entirely – supported by the content of an article. They are not false but they do succeed in leaving the reader with a “desired” conclusion.

Ecker, Ullrich K. H., Lewandowsky, Stephan, Chang, Ee Pin and Pillai Rekha, The Effects of Subtle Misinformation in News Headlines, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Oct 27 , 2014, No Pagination Specified.
Abstract:Information presented in news articles can be misleading without being blatantly false. Experiment 1 examined the effects of misleading headlines that emphasize secondary content rather than the article’s primary gist. We investigated how headlines affect readers’ processing of factual news articles and opinion pieces, using both direct memory measures and more indirect reasoning measures. Experiment 2 examined an even more subtle type of misdirection. We presented articles featuring a facial image of one of the protagonists, and examined whether the headline and opening paragraph of an article affected the impressions formed of that face even when the person referred to in the headline was not the person portrayed. We demonstrate that misleading headlines affect readers’ memory, their inferential reasoning and behavioral intentions, as well as the impressions people form of faces. On a theoretical level, we argue that these effects arise not only because headlines constrain further information processing, biasing readers toward a specific interpretation, but also because readers struggle to update their memory in order to correct initial misconceptions. Practical implications for news consumers and media literacy are discussed.
Of course that’s why the headline writer has the last word. And it applies not only to articles but also to lectures and presentations and speeches. Unless the reader (or listener or viewer) returns to the subject and goes through his own thought process, the conclusions presented by the headline, or summary or “take-aways” on a Power Point slide are what remain in the subject’s memory. Provided, of course, that the take-away is not blatantly false. Subtly misleading is – in my experience – far more effective than anything blatantly misleading or just plain wrong.
In this information-rich age, we rely increasingly on surfing headlines and have not the time – or the inclination or the knowledge – to rethink every conclusion we are led to. It becomes easy to have an opinion about anything – even things we know very little about. I would suggest that in the world of instant polls and election advertising the impact of misdirection and the misleading headline is magnified. We tend to believe the misleading headline and “act” – especially where the action is as simple and as painless as to click a “like” button or even to cast a vote. I am quite convinced that when an instant poll follows a web article the response will be in favour of the headline.
The conclusions from this study are not unexpected or counter-intuitive in any way but it is nice to see experimental evidence in support.
FastCompany reports:
The researchers ran two experiments with multiple components, but let’s focus on the part of their study most relevant to the Ebola headline problem. In one test, Ecker and colleagues asked participants to read several short articles. Some of these articles had slightly misleading headlines. Others had headlines that were broadly accurate in the context of the entire article. Take one test article about the safety of consuming genetically modified food. The article quotes a scientific consortium backed by a national science academy as saying that the safety of such food “has been confirmed by many peer-reviewed studies world-wide.” In an attempt to seem balanced, the article also quotes an organic-food advocate (and presumed opponent of GM foods) saying that the long-term health impacts of genetically modified food “remain undetermined.”Some test participants read this article below a fairly accurate (if terribly bland) headline: “GM foods are safe.” Others read it below a headline that wasn’t blatantly wrong but remained slightly misleading or imbalanced: “GM foods may pose long-term health risks.” After reading the articles, test participants answered questions meant to gauge the influence the story might have left on their thoughts or potential behaviors. 

The study results betray the subtle power of misleading headlines. Test participants who read articles with accurate (or “congruent”) headlines tended to rely more on the content of the article itself when answering questions than those who saw misleading (or “incongruent”) headlines. In the case of the genetically modified food, participants who read misleading headlines appeared more concerned with its safety than those who saw a congruent headline–showing a greater willingness to pay extra for non-GM foods, for one thing. This gap in perception occurred despite the fact that both groups read the same exact article in full. The headline had left its mental mark.

Ecker and colleagues believe the big problem with misleading headlines is that they’re just that–misleading, as opposed to downright wrong. Correcting misinformation requires a lot of mental work. People are perfectly capable of doing that work once they recognize the need, but in the case of misleading headlines, that need isn’t always clear. After all, the misleading headline about genetically modified food is true in a very strict sense: the foods may possess long-term health risks, in the same way the world may end tomorrow. As the researchers put it, misleading headlines may have served to nudge behavior “without readers noticing their slant.”

Diederik Stapel markets himself (anonymously) on Retraction Watch

October 13, 2014

Diedrick Stapel

In June last year it disturbed me that the New York Times was complicit in helping Diedrik Stapel market his “diary” about his transgressions. There is something very unsatisfactory and distasteful when we allow wrong-doers to cash in on their wrong-doing or their notoriety. I had a similar sense of distaste when I read that the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries offered him a job to teach social psychology – almost as a reward for being a failed, but notorius, social psychologist.

Retraction Watch carried a post about the new job. And Diedrik Stapel was shameless enough to show up in the comments (first anonymously) but finally under his own name when he was exposed by Retraction Watch. The comments were all gratuitously self-serving. Perhaps he was carrying out a social experiment?

But this was noticed also by Professor Janet Stemwedel writing in the Scientific American:

You’re not rehabilitated if you keep deceiving

…… But I think a non-negotiable prerequisite for rehabilitation is demonstrating that you really understand how what you did was wrong. This understanding needs to be more than simply recognizing that what you did was technically against the rules. Rather, you need to grasp the harms that your actions did, the harms that may continue as a result of those actions, the harms that may not be quickly or easily repaired. You need to acknowledge those harms, not minimize them or make excuses for your actions that caused the harms. ….

….. Now, there’s no prima facie reason Diederik Stapel might not be able to make a productive contribution to a discussion about Diederik Stapel. However, Diederik Stapel was posting his comments not as Diederik Stapel but as “Paul”.

I hope it is obvious why posting comments that are supportive of yourself while making it appear that this support is coming from someone else is deceptive. Moreover, the comments seem to suggest that Stapel is not really fully responsible for the frauds he committed.

“Paul” writes:

Help! Let’s not change anything. Science is a flawless institution. Yes. And only the past two days I read about medical scientists who tampered with data to please the firm that sponsored their work and about the start of a new investigation into the work of a psychologist who produced data “too good to be true.” Mistakes abound. On a daily basis. Sure, there is nothing to reform here. Science works just fine. I think it is time for the “Men in Black” to move in to start an outside-invesigation of science and academia. The Stapel case and other, similar cases teach us that scientists themselves are able to clean-up their act.

Later, he writes (sic throughout):

Stapel was punished, he did his community service (as he writes in his latest book), he is not on welfare, he is trying to make money with being a writer, a cab driver, a motivational speaker, but not very successfully, and .. it is totally unclear whether he gets paid for his teaching (no research) an extra-curricular hobby course (2 hours a week, not more, not less) and if he gets paid, how much.

Moreover and more importantly, we do not know WHAT he teaches exactly, we have not seen his syllabus. How can people write things like “this will only inspire kids to not get caught”, without knowing what the guy is teaching his students? Will he reach his students how to become fraudsters? Really? When you have read the two books he wrote after his demise, you cannot be conclude that this is very unlikely? Will he teach his students about all the other fakes and frauds and terrible things that happen in science? Perhaps. Is that bad? Perhaps. I think it is better to postpone our judgment about the CONTENT of all this as long as we do not know WHAT he is actually teaching. That would be a Popper-like, open-minded, rationalistic, democratic, scientific attitude. Suppose a terrible criminal comes up with a great insight, an interesting analysis, a new perspective, an amazing discovery, suppose (think Genet, think Gramsci, think Feyerabend).

Is it smart to look away from potentially interesting information, because the messenger of that information stinks?

Perhaps, God forbid, Stapel is able to teach his students valuable lessons and insights no one else is willing to teach them for a 2-hour-a-week temporary, adjunct position that probably doesn’t pay much and perhaps doesn’t pay at all. The man is a failure, yes, but he is one of the few people out there who admitted to his fraud, who helped the investigation into his fraud (no computer crashes…., no questionnaires that suddenly disappeared, no data files that were “lost while moving office”, see Sanna, Smeesters, and …. Foerster). Nowhere it is written that failures cannot be great teachers. Perhaps he points his students to other frauds, failures, and ridiculous mistakes in psychological science we do not know of yet. That would be cool (and not unlikely).

Is it possible? Is it possible that Stapel has something interesting to say, to teach, to comment on?

To my eye, these comments read as saying that Stapel has paid his debt to society and thus ought not to be subject to heightened scrutiny. They seem to assert that Stapel is reformable. …. …… behind the scenes, the Retraction Watch editors accumulated clues that “Paul” was not an uninvolved party but rather Diederik Stapel portraying himself as an uninvolved party. After they contacted him to let him know that such behavior did not comport with their comment policy, Diederik Stapel posted under his real name:

Hello, my name is Diederik Stapel. I thought that in an internet environment where many people are writing about me (a real person) using nicknames it is okay to also write about me (a real person) using a nickname. ! have learned that apparently that was —in this particular case— a misjudgment. I think did not dare to use my real name (and I still wonder why). I feel that when it concerns person-to-person communication, the “in vivo” format is to be preferred over and above a blog where some people use their real name and some do not. In the future, I will use my real name. I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can. Sincerely, Diederik Stapel.

He portrays this as a misunderstanding about how online communication works — other people are posting without using their real names, so I thought it was OK for me to do the same. However, to my eye it conveys that he also misunderstands how rebuilding trust works. Posting to support the person at the center of the discussion without first acknowledging that you are that person is deceptive. Arguing that that person ought to be granted more trust while dishonestly portraying yourself as someone other than that person is a really bad strategy. When you’re caught doing it, those arguments for more trust are undermined by the fact that they are themselves further instances of the deceptive behavior that broke trust in the first place.

Stapel will surely become a case study for future social psychologists. If he truly wishes rehabilitation he needs to move into a different field. Self-serving, anonymous comments in his own favour will not provide the new trust with his peers and his surroundings that he needs to build up. Just as his diary is “tainted goods”, anything he now does in the field of social psychology starts by being tainted with the onus of proof on him to show that it is not.

Between debilitation and satiation: The behavioural space

July 28, 2014

This is the second part of series of posts describing what I call the Engagement Theory of Motivation and which I have found useful during my working career.

The first part was posted on 23rd July 2014: Manipulation, motivation and behaviour


2: Between debilitation and satiation: The behavioural space

The space within which rational behavior can be expected and elicited is constrained by the debilitations of intolerable deficiencies on the one hand and needs which are satiated and incapable of providing further satisfaction on the other.

Eliciting desired behaviour lies at the core of all human social interaction. I take “manipulation” and therefore motivation merely to be tools for eliciting behaviour from our fellows. As tools they are neutral and neither good nor bad.

Since Maslov (1954) first came up with his hierarchy of needs there have been many theories and hypotheses of motivation proposed. I find his hierarchy is fundamentally sound. His approach is still the simplest, most practically applicable approach. It remains I think the most useful – if qualitative – way of addressing motivation and behaviour in the work place.

Hierarchy a la Maslow

Hierarchy a la Maslow

Fig 1. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs

I take Maslow’s lower-order needs (physiological and safety needs) to be mainly – but not exclusively – physical and his higher-order needs (social, esteem and self-actualisation desires) to be mainly – but not exclusively – cognitive.

The space for eliciting rational human behaviour lies in the planes of his satisfactions and dissatisfactions. I postulate that all conscious, rational human behaviour is aimed at decreasing  internally perceived deficiencies giving dissatisfactions or increasing internally perceived desires (needs) giving satisfactions. I take these planes to be that on which the “state of human condition”, at any given time, can be plotted as a representation of the individual’s satisfactions and dissatisfactions at a particular time. The axis of time is not explicit but it is implied since only one “state of human condition” exists at any given time. For an individual to go from state 1 to state 2 on the behavioural therefore implies – and requires – the passage of time.


A theory of motivation (as a subset of manipulation): Part 1

July 23, 2014

This is the first part of series of posts describing what I call The Engagement Theory of Motivation and which I have found useful during my working career.

1: Manipulation, motivation and behaviour

In common usage, “manipulation” has a negative connotation but “motivation” is generally regarded as being something positive. A “manipulated” person is considered a dummy, or someone being exploited. A ” manipulator” is considered “bad” even if not always “evil”. A “motivated” person  is usually seen as being diligent and performing to the best of his ability. To be “motivated” is usually considered a “good” thing – but not always. A “motivated” witness or a “motivated” observer is biased and therefore “bad”! To “manipulate” someone has a connotation of being unethical whereas to “motivate” someone is usually seen  as something to be admired.

This usage reflects the mixing up of what elicits human behaviour on the one hand, with value judgements about the objectives or purpose of causing such behaviour on the other. I try to keep these separate. The means of eliciting behaviour is merely a tool.

Manipulating the behaviour of others is central to being human. Most social interaction involves the influencing of the behaviour of others. Requesting, debating, arguing, persuading, coercing, threatening, ordering, begging, praying, rewarding, punishing are all methods we employ to elicit desired behaviour from others. I take all such influencing of behaviour to be “manipulation”. When I “request” a cup of coffee at a cafe in return for a “reward”, I successfully “manipulate” the behaviour of the server. An order in the army is to “manipulate” the actions of others. Politicians “manipulate” their voters – or try to. The cry of a baby “manipulates” the behaviour of its mother. We manipulate our children, our friends, our colleagues and our enemies. All man made laws manipulate. Manipulation is the very essence of social interaction.

Manipulation, as I use it here, is the eliciting of human behaviour. It is a tool of social interaction and is neither good nor bad.  It is only the objectives and purposes of manipulation which can be subject to value judgements about goodness or badness.

I take “motivation” – and particularly “motivation in the work place” – then to be just a particular subset of manipulation to elicit desired human behaviour. By empirical observation, I note that when a person is “motivated” he is not

  • more competent, or
  • more knowledgeable, or
  • more intelligent, or
  • more skillful, or
  • stronger or taller or smarter,

but he is

  • More effective
  • More focused
  • More cooperative
  • More “driven”
  • More dynamic
  • More result-oriented
  • More diligent …….

Thus I take the level of motivation to be a measure of the level of engagement of an individual in the actions he is performing (his behaviour). The more motivated he is the more “effective” his performance is, within the constraints set by his abilities. An unmotivated or demotivated person performs the actions in hand well below the limit of his capabilities. Motivation does not affect capability but it does affect performance.

Human behaviour and what causes it is part of the seemingly infinite universe of psychology in all its myriad forms (social psychology, cognitive psychology………). I can only approach behaviour and its causes in an empirical and pragmatic way.

My basic assumption in developing my “Engagement” theory of motivation invokes an analogy from the physical world. It is entirely qualitative and only very small parts are subject to quantification.

I assume that all human actions (which we call behaviour) are analagous to motion in physics. Further, I take a change to be only in response to a “force of behaviour”. The challenge lies in describing and defining this force. Building on Maslow (Motivation and Personality – 1954) I assume that any human, at any given time, exhibits a “state of human condition” which is a composite of

  1. the levels to which his various needs are satisfied, and
  2. the levels of his various dissatisfactions from deficiencies that are not met

I take “satisfaction of needs” and “dissatisfactions due to deficiencies” as two separate scales, neither of which can be negative and which are not diametrically opposed. Of course there are many needs and many deficiencies and there is a level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with each of them,

state of human condition

state of human condition

It should be noted that there is a scale for each need and for each deficiency and that the scale itself is a composite of “health, wealth and happiness factors”. Nevertheless it should be possible by suitable weighting to combine all the levels of satisfaction of all the various needs into a single “level of satisfaction of needs”, and to combine all the various dissatisfactions due to deficiencies into a single “level of dissatisfaction due to deficiencies”. This then allows the positioning, at any given time, of an individual’s “state of human condition”.

state of human condition -2

state of human condition -2

For every deficiency – again following Maslow – there is a tolerable level of dissatisfaction. If this level is exceeded then rational behaviour is no longer possible and an individual can and will only act to reduce the dissatisfaction to the exclusion of everything else. It is the tolerable level of dissatisfactions which defines the behavioural space where manipulation and motivation can be brought into play to influence behaviour.

Next – 2: The Behavioural Space

Marc Hauser actively manipulated data

May 30, 2014

Marc Hauser – and his supporters – have generally maintained that his misconduct was – at worst – negligence and certainly inadvertent. But the Boston Globe today reports on an internal Harvard report (obtained under FoI) which details wrongdoings rather more deliberate and sinister than Hauser and his friends have ever acknowledged or admitted.

The report is fairly damning.

Boston Globe:

But a copy of an internal Harvard report released to the Globe under the Freedom of Information Act now paints a vivid picture of what actually happened in the Hauser lab and suggests it was not mere negligence that led to the problems. 

The 85-page report details instances in which Hauser changed data so that it would show a desired effect. It shows that he more than once rebuffed or downplayed questions and concerns from people in his laboratory about how a result was obtained. The report also describes “a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation of results and shading of truth” and a “reckless disregard for basic scientific standards.”

A three-member Harvard committee reviewed 40 internal and external hard drives, interviewed 10 people, and examined original video and paper files that led them to conclude that Hauser had manipulated and falsified data.

Their report was sent to the federal Office of Research Integrity in 2010, but it was not released to the Globe by the agency until this week. ……… Much has been redacted from the report, including the identities of those who did the painstaking investigation and those who brought the problems to light.

Hauser, reached by phone Thursday, said he is focused on his work with at-risk youth on Cape Cod and declined to comment on the report.

The manipulation reported dates back at least to 2002 where he reported (presumably manufactured) data on a videotape of monkey responses which did not exist. In 2005 he altered data to make what was statistically insignificant become significant. Also in 2005, he discarded data after it had been found by a subordinate to have been inconsistent (presumably manipulated). Later, he tried to claim his mail ordering the discarding of the data as evidence of his innocence:

“These may not be the words of someone trying to alter data, but they could certainly be the words of someone who had previously altered data: having been confronted with a red highlighted spreadsheet showing previous alterations, it made more sense to proclaim disappointment about ‘errors’ and suggest recoding everything than, for example, sitting down to compare data sets to see how the ‘errors’ occurred,”

In 2007,

 a member of the laboratory wanted to recode an experiment involving rhesus monkey behavior, due to “inconsistencies” in the coding. “I am getting a bit pissed here. There were no inconsistencies!” Hauser responded, explaining how an analysis was done. 

Later that day, the person resigned from the lab. 

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