Archive for January, 2009

Just links today

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

How to fake an economic downturn: (,2933,482986,00.html)

The cost and motivation of the economic stimulus bill: (,2933,480710,00.html)

Young Democrats behaving badly: (

Cultural Para-stimuli

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

The phenomenon named in the title of this post does not exist.  As I pointed out in my last post, it is a theme in Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons.

A similar phenomenon does exist, but it’s name isn’t so sexy.  It’s called Observational Learning and it’s one of the main ways we humans pass our culture from one generation to the next.  I said before that I thought B. F. Skinner had discovered the effect.  I was wrong.  At this point I’m not entirely sure who first demonstrated observational learning in pigeons, but I do know who proved it exists in cats.  That distinction goes to E. Roy John, Phyllis Chesler, Frank Bartlett, Ira Victor who, in 1968, demonstrated that observer cats who watched a student cat learn to hop over a barrier when cued by a buzzer developed the same behavior more quickly when placed in the experimental apparatus than cats who didn’t watch other cats learning the behavior.  In fact, some of the observer cats demonstrated their mastery of the barrier hop from the first time they were cued to perform it.  [“Observation Learning in Cats,” Science, New Series, Vol. 159, No. 3822 (Mar. 29, 1968), pp. 1489-1491]

Similarly, I think we who watch media aggrandizement of arguably maladaptive behaviors learn to adopt the abnormal behavior precisely because our society heaps praise upon disruptive individuals.  For more on that subject, see Ann Coulter’s Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America.  I know humans pick up behaviors this way because of another experiment in which participants’ consumption choices (of either animal crackers or goldfish crackers) were influenced by watching other participants’ cracker choices on a CCTV monitor [Robin J. Tanner, Rosellina Ferraro, Tanya L. Chartrand, James R. Bettman, Rick Van Baaren, “Of Chameleons and Consumption: The Impact of Mimicry on Choice and Preferences,” Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34, No. 6  (April 2008), pp.754-766].  The abstract of this paper follows:

This article investigates the effect of mimicry on consumer product consumption and appraisal. We propose and test two paths via which mimicry may influence product preferences. In the mimicking consumer path, we suggest that individuals automatically mimic the consumption behaviors of other people and that such mimicry then affects preferences toward the product(s) consumed. In the mimicked consumer path, we argue that being mimicked leads to increased prosociality, which affects preferences for products presented in dyadic interactions. Three studies confirm the two paths and suggest that mimicry can indeed influence product preferences.

To summarize the results, people who watch other people naively performing  behaviors – such as eating animal crackers instead of goldfish – that demonstrate a preference for one option over another tend to choos the same option as the person they’re watching.  This effect is present even when the person watching has previously expressed a preference for the other choice.

I veer, here, into opinion land.

I think Obama’s campaign ended in his election because he ran it for so long that the passive social demonstrations of preference for him (among other factors, of course) pushed observer voters to learn that liking Obama was a beneficial behavior.  After all, knowing you and a few dozen of your new closest friends can get a huge dopamine rush whenever you chant, “Yes We Can,” is a huge draw.  The Chameleon paper pertains to increasing the number of brand-based decisions consumers make by getting consumers to repeatedly associate their choices with an unconscious sense of social belonging.  I’d say the authors got scooped by about a year.

Whatever.  I serve my country.

Why I like Ann Coulter

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Because she’s funny.  If you like any comedian who bitches about conservative beliefs, say Bill Maher or that Daily Show guy, you have an inkling already of what I see in Coulter.  Here’s an article in Intellectual Conservative that expresses my sentiment in 5,000 words.  When she makes me laugh so hard that I wonder if her story can possibly be true, she’s thoughtfully provided a citation at which I can laugh in outrage all over again.

Except today.

To my conservative friends:  I’ve said for a long, long time that if we hear the same memes often enough we’ll being to believe them in spite of our better judgement.  Supposedly that’s a known phenomenon called cultural para-stimuli discovered by Victor Ransome Starling, a Nobel Laureate by virtue of discovering the syndrom in cats.  Read all about it in the forward to Tom Wolfe’s novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Wait, what?  This seems wrong doesn’t it?  I checked the Nobel Prize Nomination Database for the names Starling, Victor Starling, Ransome Starling, Ransome.  The guy doesn’t exist, or at least he was never nominated for a Nobel Prize.  You can verify that he wasn’t awarded a Nobel Prize even more easily at  In fact, the only authoritative-ish place I found informaiton about him was in a book review in the Washington Post.  Why have I even heard of this guy?  Because Rush Limbaugh made a big deal about him a couple of days ago and now the meme has spread around the blogosphere.  The idea rings true to people because we do observe the effects of a similar process.  The spread of theVictor Starling meme is a limited example.  The spread of the Bush Air National Guard meme is a similarly trivial example perpetrated with considerably more pomp and bluster.

I discovered the meme via a link on  The link is to an article on the BigHollywood blog.  While I agree with the grist of the article, the reliance upon this fictional scientific result discomforts me.  The spread of memes is a better model on which to base the author’s conclusions.  To be sure, I can’t cite scientific studies of the meme phenomenon, but I’ll assert that no citation is better than citing bogus science.  My dear, conservative brethren: please stop spreading the cultural para-stimuli meme.

Shelly smells like griddle-browned sausage and flapjacks smothered in maple syrup.  Ciaran smells like deep woods soil just before the first frost.

Johari Window

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

If you click it, it will be clicked.

Random loss of data

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Fortunately, I back up the database for this website often.  Fortunately because all but the first sentences were recently deleted from my recent posts.  While weird, it was not an unrecoverable error.  I actually used my LJ cross-posts to repair most of the damage.  Only seemed to affect posts made during 2008.  Anywho, fixed.