MeThink: Redistribution of Reward…

Oh gee, somehow this is my third post for today already. Why am I suddenly so productive in writing? May be I will be away for 1 week? 😛

Anyway, there is something for me to ponder about about today’s happening. I just came back from a meeting with Japanese students at local university. Sort of like getting-to-know-each-other program, organized by my Nihongo-class sensei. During the meeting, we played a game called Bingo. As you might know, bingo is just purely a luck game, requires no skill or whatsoever. It is just a nice and simple game for ice-breaking purpose. For those who have completed the bingo pattern, he/she is rewarded by a bag of potato chip. And the reward is limited to first 12 winners (only 12 bags of potato chips there).

Well, the game went very well, pretty much everyone was excited to hope that they completed the bingo and have the chips! But at the end of the game, it turned out that regardless which group (we were divided into 4 main groups) earned more or less than 3 bags of potato chip, each group will be getting 3 bags anyway. In that sense, the rewards were being restributed!

Now I am thinking to myself, if we know that each group will be getting 3 bags of potato chips anyway, would the game be still as excited as we were experienced? We were excited because we were entertained by the though of we completed the bingo by luck (hence we are lucky today), or we were really hoping to win the potato chip? What if the game involved was not based on pure luck but required your effort/knowledge/hardwork into it? What would these people feel about sense of fairness/sharing vs I work it/I earn it mentality?

Haha, I know I think too much, afterall, it is just an ice-breaking game. Anyway, it was kinda having fun time to meet these very young and funny Japanese students, and that matters more than anything else, for that particular moment 🙂

Psychology: Ten Politically Incorrect Truths about Human Nature

Listed in an article in Psychology Today, explained by evolutionary psychology:

#1: Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)

#2: Humans are naturally polygamous

#3: Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy

#4: Most suicide bombers are Muslim

#5: Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce

#6: Beautiful people have more daughters

#7: What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals

#8: The midlife crisis is a myth—sort of

#9: It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)

#10: Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

MeThink: Altruism, what it takes to make yourself to feel good?

Altruism, (of what I understand from my limited reading) is quite a popular topic in evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and now it is extending to economics.

In this article, a group of neuroscientist and economist are working together to find out how people feel on charity act. The experiment’s details:

The researchers recruited 19 female students and placed them in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to monitor the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens, ancient regions of the brain, which produce feelings of pleasure and fulfillment. Each student participated in an economic game centered on charitable giving. They first received $100 in cold hard cash and were told any money left at the end of the study was theirs to keep. They then learned about a local food bank that would benefit from any donations from their account.

The volunteers then watched a screen as a computer program decided what to do with their money. Sometimes students could choose whether to give to the food bank. Other times, the computer “taxed” their account, donating money automatically to the food bank. And, once in a while, money would magically appear, either in their account or in the food bank’s coffers.

Among their findings:

  1. Most subjects experienced the “warm glow” effect after voluntarily giving money.
  2. The pleasure zones of some volunteers’ brains lit up when the food bank received money, even if the volunteers were being taxed. This group of people is called “pure altruism”, whereby they may have positive emotions wash over them just from witnessing good deeds.
  3. When these subjects saw the computer randomly place money into the account of the food bank, they had a stronger positive reaction than when their own funds suddenly increased.

Finding#1 is not a big surprise for it has been quite a textbook like explanation by social psychologist on the reasoning why people behave altruisically.

Finding#2 is quite a surprise in the sense that as long as the goal/end is good, the means/methods do not matter to the some of volunteers/subjects themselves, even though it was done involuntarily. May be I am not hardwired as the pure altruism, but I can’t quite get the idea because I am more inclined to “I will donate happily by my own will, but I am definitely distasting it if I have to donate involutanrily”. One of my wild thought is that: what will happen if that “pure altruism” group of people petition to government to make it a rule to make everyone to donate? But of course for this hypothetical question to take place, it would be nice to find out do the people feel such way? May be something like the experiment designed in such a way to see is there any significant difference on the impact of brain glowing (?) between:

a) Volunteer A sees the money taxed and gave involuntarily to charity.

b) Volunteer A sees the money taxed on a group of people (e.g. volunteer B, C and D) and gave it to charity.

Finding#3 is even more bizzare, but at least harmless compared to finding#2 group, IMHO.

I find that this experiment is very interesting. Interesting in the sense that I can think of a lot of “what if” scenarios for it. The authors were already suggesting to study other groups like male, the poor or other country. My 2 cents worth suggestion include:

1) as suggested above, seeing how the subjects feel if other’s money has been involuntarily given to charity/good cause (this I am very interested to know 😉 ).

2) the effectiveness or nature of the charity group (environmental vs education vs disease etc).

3) the amount of money involved, real or imagined.

Experiment: Emoticon Result (I)

After 24 hours posting and with the help from friends as far as Finland, Malaysia and some of flickr members, the initial result of my pet experiment on emoticon seemed not bad 🙂

N=17 (3 Females, 14 Males)
Countries= Malaysia (8), Finland (4), and 1 for Japan, UK, Belgium, Germany and US each.

Well, since this subject is quite closely to cultural theme, I hope there are more participants from western countries (particularly from US :P), getting some helps on Japanese friends, and hopefully more Malaysians. Stay tune if you are interested to know what are the big secrets behind those emoticons 😛

Experiment: What does this emoticon mean?

First, my husband showed it to me the day before yesterday from his Finnish Science magazine. Today, I read it via the other blog, and found the article. With this coincidence, I am getting interested to know what the others think about this experiment.

So if you are interested in this experiment just like me, may be you can participate by listing down from the emoticons below, with the scale 1-9, whereby 1 is SAD, 9 is HAPPY and 5 being NEUTRAL, plus with your country, gender.

Emoticon A: (score between 1-9)
Emoticon B: (score between 1-9)
Emoticon C: (score between 1-9)
Emoticon D: (score between 1-9)
Emoticon E: (score between 1-9)
Emoticon F: (score between 1-9)

Asia: Happiness and Life Satisfaction Score

When people in selected countries in Asia (Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philipines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Vietnam) asked about the feeling of happiness, with the given categorical answers: very happy, quite happy, not very happy and not at all happy, the result as below obtained:

48.6% of Vietnamese interviewed said that they were very happy, in contrast with only 9.6% of Korean said so. High percentage of people in Saudi Arabia and Philipines said they were vey happy too, 44.3% and 38.3% respectively. If the number of “very happy” and “quite happy” combined together, overall all the selected Asia countries are seeing over 70% of the people said that they are happy.

Next, as for life satsifaction, a score run from 1 to 10, for 1 being extremely dissatisfied and 10 being extremely satisfied, the mean score of the selected countries is shown as graph below:

In Saudi Arabia, people are quite satisfied with their lives. On average, they gave 7.28 score out of 10. This is followed by Singaporean (7.13) and Indonesian (6.96). So, may be affluence or wealth do not really have its role in life satisfaction? Another example shown here is that people in wealthy countries like Japan and Korea actually gave lower life satisfaction score compared to Vietnam or China.  

Source: World Values Survey

Gene: Intelligence and Schizophrenia

Source: That which makes us clever, make us mad , 09-02-2007

One of the most devastating types of mental illness could be a by-product of the evolution of human beings’ uniquely sophisticated intelligence, a new genetic study has suggested.

Scientists have discovered that a common version of a particular gene appears both to enhance a key thinking circuit in the brain, and to be linked to a raised risk of schizophrenia.

The findings, from a study by the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), provide fresh evidence for the theory that schizophrenia is the price that some people pay for our species’s peculiarly advanced intellectual abilities.

In the study, the NIMH team examined a common variant of a gene called DARPP-32. Three quarters of the subjects studied had inherited at least one copy of the variant.

Daniel Weinberger, of NIMH, said it was possible that while a more efficient link between the prefrontal cortex and striatum normally improves cognitive ability, it may have a negative effect when other genetic and environmental factors interfere. The result could be a predisposition to schizophrenia, which is known to be caused by a combination of genes and a person’s environment.

Details of the study are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Gene: Eyes and Personality

Source: An instant guide to someone’s personality? The eyes have it,  18-02-2007

THE eyes are the window to the soul, it is said. Now scientists have found that the patterns in someone’s iris may give important clues about their personality, ranging from how warm and trusting they are to whether they are impulsive or neurotic.

“Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines,” said Mats Larsson, a behavioural scientist who led the study at Orebro University in Sweden.

For the new study, which is awaiting publication in the journal Biological Psychology, scientists at Orebro and at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm analysed the eyes of 428 people and tested their personalities.

The researchers argue that as much as 90% of the differences in people’s irises are due to genetic variation and they are particularly interested in one gene called Pax6, which helps to set the formation of the iris in embryos. Other research has shown that a mutation in this gene is linked to impulsiveness and poor social skills.

Abstract here:

Variable and person-oriented analyses were used to explore the associations between personality and three previously untested general iris characteristics: crypts, pigment dots and contraction furrows. Personality data, as measured by the NEO PI-R and ratings of iris characteristics from 428 undergraduate students were collected. Crypts were significantly associated with five approach-related behaviors, i.e., feelings, tendermindedness, warmth, trust and positive emotions, whereas furrows were associated with impulsiveness. These findings suggest that because Pax6 induces tissue deficiencies in both the iris and the left anterior cingulate cortex, Pax6 may influence the extent people engage in approach-related behaviors. The results from using a person-oriented analysis suggested that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different personality trajectories. Future longitudinal studies, twin-studies and genetic association studies, may benefit from collecting iris data and testing candidate genes for crypts and furrows.

Keywords: Personality; Iris characteristics/crypts/pigment dots/contraction furrows; Candidate genes/Pax6/Six3/Lmx1b; Anterior cingulate; Hemispheric asymmetries

Some blog discussed about it, like here and here.

Experiment: Natural Born … Robin Hood?

Well, this is what some economic game theorist suggests:

Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor. A recent study by a team of researchers headed up by University of California-San Diego political scientist James Fowler suggests that we may all have Robin Hood tendencies. Experimental economists and psychologists from around the world have been watching how people play various economic games as a way to probe the bases of human cooperation. One of the more interesting discoveries is that in economic games some people – altruistic punishers – will take fairly big hits to their winnings in order to reduce the ill-gotten gains of cheaters. Games with altruistic punishers elicit more cooperative behavior among players. In addition, other researchers have found that players will happily spend some of their own winnings in gambling games in order to reduce the “undeserved” winnings of other players.

In re-analyzing some earlier studies, Fowler and his colleagues suggested “that egalitarian motives are more important than motives for punishing non-cooperative behaviour.” In other words, people are really more interested in enforcing income equality than they are in punishing cheaters. To tease out motives, Fowler and his colleagues devised a game in which there was no possibility of reciprocity or cooperation. Their hypothesis was that people would spend some of their incomes to equalize the incomes of other players.

Read more on the experiment details, outcome and discussion here.

Gene: Suicidal Tendency

Source: Suicidal Tendency, 24-02-2007

Meanwhile, American researchers say they are on the trail of a gene that may predispose people to commit suicide. Scientists at John Hopkins University say they are examining an area of the genome on chromasome 2 that family studies reveal to be implicated in suicide.

They say that ultimately it may enable them to create a life-saving drug that blocks some suicidal predispositions.

More details from John Hopkins University Gazette:

“We’re hoping our findings will eventually lead to tests that can identify those at high risk for attempting suicide,” said lead author Virginia Willour, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine. An estimated 4.6 percent of Americans ages 15 to 54 have tried to take their lives, according to Willour.

In the multi-institutional study, results of which appear in the March issue of Biological Psychiatry, the researchers examined data from 162 families with bipolar disorder. They looked at attempted suicide in this sample because it is an important clinical problem that tends to occur more often in some of these families than in others, suggesting a distinctive genetic basis, according to senior author James B. Potash, of the Department of Psychiatry. This technique of looking at sub-types of illness is used by genetic researchers as a way to reduce genetic complexity.

From the 162 families, the researchers selected 417 subjects who were diagnosed with schizoaffective/bipolar disorder, bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder.

Data for all 417 subjects was entered into a computer program that looks for genetic similarities between subjects with similar psychological profiles. Results indicated that family members with a history of attempted suicide and bipolar disorder showed a high degree of genetic similarity at a specific area — DNA marker D2S1777 — on a section of chromosome 2 referred to as 2p12. This is the same marker implicated in a 2004 study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine that looked at attempted suicide and major depression. And it is close to another marker, D2S1790, located in the 2p11 region of chromosome 2, that was identified in a 2004 study from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine that looked at alcoholism and attempted suicide.

Willour says that although the Johns Hopkins-led study does not pinpoint a specific gene responsible for attempted suicide, it does suggest a “neighborhood” in which the gene might be found. She adds that the next step is to further narrow the search and find the “address.”

Experiment: Appreciation on Great Music?

Interesting story about the experiment conducted by Washington Post, with the help of great violinist Joshua Bell.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

Wonder what would I do if I were there…

And some excerpts that caught my attention:


It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'”

Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

Kant said the same thing. He took beauty seriously: In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant argued that one’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgments. But there was a caveat. Paul Guyer of the University of Pennsylvania, one of America’s most prominent Kantian scholars, says the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.

“Optimal,” Guyer said, “doesn’t mean heading to work, focusing on your report to the boss, maybe your shoes don’t fit right.”

Yeah, there is a truth in it. If I paid USD1000 for Joshua Bell’s concert, you bet I will appreciate the music from the beginning till to the end. But on the other hand, if I have diarrhea on the concert night, how would I appreciate the same great music with my stomachache and constant thinking on going to toilet? 😛

Gene: Depression

Source: The Anxiety of Depression, 17-07-2003

In a 26-year study of the genetic profiles and hardships of 847 New Zealanders, researchers found that people with one version of a specific gene were protected from falling into depression, while those with another variation became depressed twice as often.

Individuals with the “long” version of the gene, which regulates serotonin, could cope with challenges such as the death of family a member, a major breakup or getting fired. People with the “short” version of the gene were much more likely to fall into depression following a major life crisis.

“Tests showed that life events led to new onset of depression among people who had the stress-sensitive gene, but who did not have depression before their life events happened,” said Terrie Moffitt, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and lead researcher on the international research team.

One possible complication is that the gene that was the subject of the study, called 5-HTT, are likely working together with other gene variations. However, considerable evidence points to the short and long versions of 5-HTT as determinants of how we’ll handle seriously bad life events.

More here.

On the other hand, another group of scientist found the genes related to depression, according to this article.

Some people appear to be genetically predisposed to developing severe depression, but researchers have yet to pin down the genes responsible. Now, a specific region rife with promise has been located on one chromosome by a consortium of researchers working under Douglas Levinson, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Levinson’s group, comprising researchers from six universities, achieved this breakthrough by studying 650 families in which at least two members suffered from repeated bouts of severe depression that began in childhood or early adult life. The first of the studies was a genome-wide scan that looked for evidence of genetic “linkage” within families between depression and DNA markers on the various chromosomes. The linkage study identified regions worthy of more intensive examination.

The second study was a more detailed look at the most suspicious of these regions, located on chromosome 15. Levinson said the team studied six DNA markers in this region in the first study, and an additional 88 in the second. “We found highly significant evidence for linkage to depression in this particular part of chromosome 15,” he said. “This is one of the strongest genetic linkage findings for depression so far.”

However, there is more gene invloved for women who are prone to feel depression than men, according to this report:

About half the risk of depression is thought to be genetic. The single gene, 5-HTT, that has been definitively linked to depression is no more common in women than in men. But preliminary research suggests that there are other depression-related genes that mainly affect women.

For example, after scanning the genomes of people with major depression in 81 families, Dr. George Zubenko, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, identified 19 regions of chromosomes that were especially common and, therefore, likely to contain genes that promote depression. Four of these regions showed up only in the women and one only in the men, Dr. Zubenko and his colleagues reported last July in The American Journal of Medical Genetics, an online publication.

Such findings suggest that more genes may help to set off depression in women than in men, Dr. Zubenko said, explaining in part why more women become depressed. One may be CREB1, a gene that Dr. Zubenko’s group has identified as a strong candidate. Especially intriguing, Dr. Zubenko said, is that CREB1 interacts with estrogen receptors.

Gene: Fighting, Bullying and Violent

Source: Want a fight? Scientists say it’s all in your genes, 04-02-2007

SCIENTISTS have found an answer to one of the most intractable squabbles in family life – argumentative and disruptive children are born, not made.

A study by American scientists has found that antisocial traits such as being argumentative, bullying and lying, are often inherited. The new research challenges the scientific consensus that difficult children are the product of disruptive homes and are copying parents’ behaviour.

The implication of the research, conducted by the University of Virginia, is that children with “antisocial” genes would behave badly even if they had been adopted and brought up in a happy family.

The effect appears to pass down the generations. It means that couples who fight a lot may be driven by their genes and pass them on to their children, who tend to behave in the same way.

More from other source:

In a study of adult twins and their children, researchers found that genes, rather than parents’ own argumentative behavior, seemed key in the children’s odds of serious conduct problems — like bullying, skipping school and shoplifting.

The findings, published in the Journal Child Development, touch on the classic nature-versus-nurture question.

In the case of child behavior, research has linked parents’ marital conflicts to long-term, serious conduct problems in their children. However, it has been unclear whether that means that marital woes themselves cause the behavioral problems.

The new findings suggest it’s more a matter of genes. That is, parents who are naturally argumentative pass on these traits to their kids.

“Marital conflict doesn’t appear, in this study, to cause stable patterns of conduct disorder,” explained lead study author K. Paige Harden of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

“Rather, marital conflict is influenced by parents’ own characteristics — including their genes — and these genes are passed on to children,” she told Reuters Health.

Harden and her colleagues arrived at their conclusions by studying 1,045 adult twins and their children. Some of the twin pairs were identical, which means they shared all of their genes; the rest were fraternal, meaning they shared only some of their genes.

On similar note,

In 2002, Avshalom Caspi, Ph.D., of the Institute of Psychiatry in London and colleagues reported in the journal Science that a particular version of a gene plays a role in anti-social behavior. The gene in question was the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAO-A gene), located on the X chromosome. This gene helps people digest food containing amine groups such as serotonin and inactivates neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

Specifically, Caspi and his coworkers found that maltreated boys who had a particular variant of the MAO-A gene that produces low MAO-A activity were more likely to develop antisocial problems than were maltreated boys who had a version of the MAO-A gene that produces high MAO-A activity. In other words, it looked as though possessing the MAO-A gene version that leads to low MAO-A activity might interact with an adverse childhood to produce antisocial behavior.

The above finding has now been replicated by a group of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University. The lead investigator was Debra Foley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University. Results appeared in the July Archives of General Psychiatry.

The MAO-A gene, in fact, appears to be the first gene strongly linked with either conduct disorder or antisocial behavior, Foley indicated to Psychiatric News. Or at least, she said, there are “none with major effects that has been independently replicated that I know of.”

The study included 514 white male twins from the community-based, longitudinal Virginia Twin Study for Adolescent Behavioral Development. The twins were 8 to 17 years old. Twins and their parents were interviewed at home by trained field workers at several different time points to learn whether the twins were exhibiting signs of conduct disorder and/or were being brought up in an adverse environment—that is, one of inconsistent discipline, parental neglect, or interparental violence. DNA samples were also taken from the twins at two different time points for analysis to see whether the twins contained a version of the MAO-A gene that produces low MAO-A activity in the body.

The researchers found that among the twins participating in the study, the prevalence of conduct disorder was 11 percent, the prevalence of a low-activity MAO-A gene was 29 percent, the prevalence of exposure to inconsistent parental discipline was 17 percent, the prevalence of exposure to parental neglect was 13 percent, and the prevalence of exposure to interparental violence was 3 percent.

The investigators found that inconsistent parental discipline, parental neglect, and exposure to interparental violence were independent risk factors for conduct disorder, but a low-activity MAO-A gene was not. However, a low-activity MAO-A gene was determined to be a risk factor for conduct disorder when combined with an adverse childhood environment.

The findings suggest “a relatively robust effect of MAO-A in combination with exposure to environmental adversity on risk for conduct disorder,” Foley and her team concluded in their study report. The results, they pointed out, “are also consistent with reports from adoption studies describing an increased risk for antisocial behavior in boys in association with an interaction between aggregate genetic effects and exposure to adversities within the adoptive family.”

Experiments on Human Behaviour

Read 2 interesting experiments on human behaviour. First one:

Researchers led by the psychologist Dacher Keltner took groups of three ordinary volunteers and randomly put one of them in charge. Each trio had a half-hour to work through a boring social survey. Then a researcher came in and left a plateful of precisely five cookies. Care to guess which volunteer typically grabbed an extra cookie? The volunteer who had randomly been assigned the power role was also more likely to eat it with his mouth open, spew crumbs on partners and get cookie detritus on his face and on the table. – “Cookies Monster Experiment”, on how power changes a person’s behaviour. Source: New York Times

And this:

We asked people to put on blindfolds and then to pick up a red jellybean from one of two plates that held a mixture of red and white jellybeans. We offered $1 to anyone who could pick up a red bean. Here’s the catch: While one plate held 20 jellybeans and the other 100, the plate with 20 beans had a higher percentage of red ones. We put up signs that told people this clearly: “10 percent red” of the small plate and just “7 percent red” of the big plate. Surprisingly, even with the percentage signs in front of them, a third of the people picked the plate with 100 beans. – How people think about probability, influence by visual cue? Source: here.