Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Disbelief About Free Will Encourages Cheating

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? (PDF) Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read excerpts that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased immoral behavior on a passive cheating task that involved allowing a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that participants should have been solving themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, exposure to deterministic statements led participants to overpay themselves on a cognitive test relative to participants who were exposed to statements endorsing free will as well as participants in numerous control conditions. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.
This maps onto the evidence about the effects of believing that ability can be developed through hard work, or is simply inborn.
Through more than three decades of systematic research, [Dweck] has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Defining Creativity?

Below I cite an article drawn from a relatively old book giving ten key criteria of creative people. I don't know much about this area. I thought it might be interesting to talk about. Some of the statements in the article seem insightful, others make me cringe (e.g., the reference to the completely discredited "g" IQ), and I'm not sure exactly what counts as the "population" for this analysis (and the reference to "g" makes me worried about how this population might have been defined).

This links to another research study that I do find convincing--that it is useful to place most creative people into one of two categories. Galenson argues
that creative people fall into two camps: the conceptual artists who come up with new visions for their fields and blossom early, and the experimental artists who spend long careers polishing approaches to their work and often achieve their most important success later in life.
Of course:
Galenson recognizes the limits of dogmatic duality. In his later papers, as well as in the book he published this year, he has refined his theory to make it less binary. He now talks of a continuum – with extreme conceptual innovators at one end, extreme experimental innovators at the other, and moderates in the middle. He allows that people can change camps over the course of a career, but he thinks it’s difficult. And he acknowledges that he’s charting tendencies, not fixed laws.
[Interestingly, Galenson is an economist, believe it or not, and a version of his newest book is available on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.]

Clearly Dewey was in the second category. I'd like to think I'm in the second category--although I'm not the one to say how creative I am.

Another interesting set of categories is between those who have a single idea and keep spinning it out, and those who keep moving along into new arenas as they learn more. There is a lot of evidence that people in the first category (e.g., Bandura and self-efficacy theory) are the ones who end up being famous. Those in the second category generally don't become famous because they are talking to too many different audiences and can't be easily pigeonholed. E.g., I'll never be famous. But isn't it boring at some point to keep pounding the "same" post into the "same" hole, no matter how subtle the specifications might get. (There was a fascinating chapter about this, among other issues, in an old AERA anthology whose name I now forget).

The ten characteristics of creativity listed, minus the additional explanatory paragraphs, from Psychology Today, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, are:
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. This suggests a superior physical endowment, a genetic advantage. Yet it is surprising how often individuals who in their seventies and eighties exude energy and health remember childhoods plagued by illness. It seems that their energy is internally generated, due more to their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. How smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably true that what psychologists call the "g factor," meaning a core of general intelligence, is high among people who make important creative contributions.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn't go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present. The rest of society often views these new ideas. as fantasies without relevance to current reality. And they are right. But the whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality At the same time, this "escape" is not into a never-never land. What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognize that, strange as it is, it is true.

5. Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time. It is remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be arrogant or supercilious, only to encounter self-deprecation and shyness instead. Yet there are good reasons why this should be so. These individuals are well aware that they stand, in Newton's words, "on the shoulders of giants." Their respect for the area in which they work makes them aware of the long line of previous contributions to it, putting their own in perspective. They're also aware of the role that luck played in their own achievements. And they're usually so focused on future projects and current challenges that past accomplishments, no matter how outstanding, are no longer very interesting to them. At the same time, they know that in comparison with others, they have accomplished a great deal. And this knowledge provides a sense of security, even pride.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it's difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic. Being only traditional leaves an area unchanged; constantly taking chances without regard to what has been valued in the past rarely leads to novelty that is accepted as an improvement. The artist Eva Zeisel, who says that the folk tradition in which she works is "her home," nevertheless produces ceramics that were recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of contemporary design.

9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility.

10. Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Most would agree with Rabinow's words: "Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them." A badly designed machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Right Wing Desire to Eliminate College

See this article in the Wall Street Journal by an American Enterprise Institute Scholar arguing that we should substitute exams for college.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree

Of course, this is part of a long-term right-wing effort to eliminate "liberal" college educations.

At the same time, this equates college with "skills," ignoring any broader educational component.

In fact, however, there is good evidence that the real impact of college is the reverse. Except in specific fields, it's not skills but culture that is the key effect of college. College is where people intensify or gain middle-class culture. And it's this "middle-classness" that allows individuals to work effectively in middle class settings.

The growing lower tier of colleges for the working class are likely much less able to initiate people into middle-class culture. They focus on "skills," which are, of course, important, but aren't the key characteristic that will give people entree to the higher level of middle-class jobs.

I'd be interested in research on the difference in the return for investment for schools like the "University of Phoenix" or "Lower Iowa University" or "Lakeland College" vs. more established traditional college experiences. A useful study would eliminate the "non-traditional" programs in such colleges/universities, and would differentiate between students from working-class vs. middle-class backgrounds. My bet is that the return on investment for those at the bottom of the economic/cultural ladder in these "skill-based" schools is significantly smaller than for those closer to the other end.

In other words, just like the promise "if you stay in high school and graduate you'll do better" the "if you go to college you'll be much more successful" promise is much less true for those who most need the benefits of these.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Interesting study on who is and is not PC in the academic world. In education he apparently looked only at elementary education folks.

Elementary Education Professors:
Kinda PC--40%
Couldn't give a crap--6.7%

Of course, the higher up you go, the more PC people get.

Other interesting stuff.