How to Sustain Your Activism Against Police Brutality Beyond this Moment

Article by Bethany Gordon: “…Despite the haunting nature of these details and the different features of this moment, I am worried that empathetic voices lifting up this cause will quiet too soon for lasting change to occur. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Gaining a better understanding of the empathy we feel in these moments of awareness and advocacy can help us take a more behaviorally sustainable approach.

Empathy is a complex psychological phenomenon, describing eight distinct ways that we respond to one another’s experiences and emotions, but most commonly defined in the dictionary as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Using this broader definition, scholars and activists have debated how effective empathy is as a tool for behavior change—particularly when it comes to fighting racism. Paul Bloom argues that empathy allows our bias to drive our decision-making, bell hooks states that empathy is not a promising avenue to systemic racial change, and Alisha Gaines analyzes how an overemphasis on racial empathy in a 1944 landmark study, “An American Dilemma,” led to a blindness about the impact of systemic and institutional racial barriers. This more general understanding and application of empathy has not been an effective aid to fighting systemic oppression and has led to a lot of (well-meaning?) blackface.

A more nuanced understanding of empathy—and its related concepts—may help us use it more effectively in the fight against racism. There are two strains of empathy that are relevant to the George Floyd protests and can help us better understand (and possibly change) our response: empathic distress and empathic concern, also known as compassion.

Empathic distress is a type of empathy we feel when we are disturbed by witnessing another’s suffering. Empathic distress is an egocentric response—a reaction that places our own well-being at its center. When we’re motivated to act through empathic distress, our ultimate goal is to alleviate our own suffering. This may mean we take action to help another person, but it could also mean we distract ourselves from their suffering.

Compassion is a type of empathy that is other-oriented. Compassion operates when you feel for another person rather than being distressed by their suffering, thereby making your ultimate goal about fixing the actual problem….(More)’

Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

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Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

Article by Michael Muthukrishna et al: “In this article, we present a tool and a method for measuring the psychological and cultural distance between societies and creating a distance scale with any population as the point of comparison. Because psychological data are dominated by samples drawn from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) nations, and overwhelmingly, the United States, we focused on distance from the United States. We also present distance from China, the country with the largest population and second largest economy, which is a common cultural comparison. We applied the fixation index (FST), a meaningful statistic in evolutionary theory, to the World Values Survey of cultural beliefs and behaviors.

As the extreme WEIRDness of the literature begins to dissolve, our tool will become more useful for designing, planning, and justifying a wide range of comparative psychological projects. Our code and accompanying online application allow for comparisons between any two countries. Analyses of regional diversity reveal the relative homogeneity of the United States. Cultural distance predicts various psychological outcomes….(More)”.

Behavioural Insights Teams (BITs) and Policy Change: An Exploration of Impact, Location, and Temporality of Policy Advice

Paper by Ishani Mukherjee and Sarah Giest: “Behavioural Insights Teams (BITs) have gained prominence in government as policy advisors and are increasingly linked to the way policy instruments are designed. Despite the rise of BITs as unique knowledge brokers mediating the use of behavioral insights for policymaking, they remain underexplored in the growing literature on policy advice and advisory systems. The article emphasizes that the visible impact that BITs have on the content of policy instruments, the level of political support they garner and their structural diversity in different political departments, all set them apart from typical policy brokers in policy advisory systems connecting the science-policy divide…(More)”.

The Rise and Spread of Behavioral Public Policy: An Opportunity for Critical Research and Self-Reflection

Paper by Holger Straßheim: “Some argue that the global rise of behavioral approaches challenges the rationalist tradition in public policy. Others fear that it could undermine deliberation and public reasoning. This paper focuses on the worldwide rise and spread of behavioral expertise and behavioral public policy. It provides a general insight in terms of the role of expertise, the science-policy nexus and the distribution of epistemic competences in public policy. Based on an extensive literature review, the emergence and consequences of behavioral-expert networks are assessed. It will be suggested that it is necessary to break free from the microfocus proposed by behavioral public policy and to pay more attention to the institutional and cultural constellations of knowledge- and decision-making in democracies….(More)”.

How ‘Social Distancing’ Can Get Lost in Translation

Ruth Michaelson at the Smithsonian Magazine: “…Even as tongue-in-cheek phrases like “avoiding the Rona” abound on American social media, to say nothing of the rapper Cardi B’s enunciation of “coronavirus,” other terms like “social distancing,” or “lockdown,” have quickly entered our daily vocabulary.

But what these terms mean in different countries (or regions or cities within regions, in Wuhan’s case) is a question of translation as well as interpretation. Communities around the world remain under government-enforced lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but few have understood “stay at home,” or liu-zai-jia-li in Mandarin, to mean precisely the same thing. The concept of social distancing, normally indicating a need to avoid contact with others, can mean anything from avoiding public transport to the World Health Organization’s recommendation to “maintain at least one metre distance,” from those who are coughing or sneezing. In one Florida county, officials explained the guideline by suggesting to residents they stay “one alligator” away from each other.

The way that terms like “social distancing,” are adopted across languages provides a way to understand how countries across the globe are coping with the COVID-19 threat. For instance, the Mandarin Chinese translation of “social distancing”, or ju-li-yuan-dian, is interpreted differently in Wuhan dialect, explains Jin. “Instead of ‘keep a distance,’ Wuhan dialect literally translates this as ‘send far away.’”

Through these small shifts in language, says Jin, “people in Wuhan expose their feelings about their own suffering.”

In Sweden, meanwhile, has currently registered more than 16,000 cases of COVID-19, the highest incidence rate in Scandinavia. The government has taken an unusually lax approach to enforcing its pandemic mitigation policies, placing the emphasis on citizens to self-police, perhaps to ill effect. While Swedes do use terms like social distancing, or rather the noun socialt avstånd, these are accompanied by other ideas that are more popular in Sweden. “Herd immunity or flockimmunitet is a very big word around here,” says Jan Pedersen, director of the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies at Stockholm University.

“Sweden is famous for being a very consensus driven society, and this applies here as well,” he says. “There’s a great deal of talk about trust.” In this case, he explained, citizens have trust – tillit – in the authorities to make good choices and so choose to take personligt ansvar, or personal responsibility.

Pedersen has also noticed some new language developing as a result. “The word recommendation, rekommendationer, in Sweden has taken on much stronger force,” he said. “Recommendation used to be a recommendation, what you could do or not. Now it’s slightly stronger … We would use words like obey with laws, but now here you obey a recommendation, lyda rekommendationer.”…(More)”.

Rethinking Nudge: An Information-Costs Theory of Default Rules

Paper by Oren Bar-Gill and Omri Ben-Shahar: “Policymakers and scholars – both lawyers and economists – have long been pondering the optimal design of default rules. From the classic works on “mimicking” defaults for contracts and corporations to the modern rush to set “sticky” default rules to promote policies as diverse as organ donations, retirement savings, consumer protection, and data privacy, the optimal design of default rules has featured as a central regulatory challenge. The key element driving the design is opt-out costs—how to minimize them, or alternatively how to raise them to make the default sticky. Much of the literature has focused on “mechanical” opt-out costs—the effort people incur to select a non-default alternative. This focus is too narrow. A more important factor affecting opt-out is information—the knowledge people must acquire to make informed opt-out decisions. But, unlike high mechanical costs, high information costs need not make defaults stickier; they may instead make the defaults “slippery.”

This counterintuitive claim is due to the phenomenon of uninformed opt-out, which we identify and characterize. Indeed, the importance of uninformed opt-out requires a reassessment of the conventional wisdom about Nudge and asymmetric or libertarian paternalism. We also show that different defaults provide different incentives to acquire the information necessary for informed optout. With the ballooning use of default rules as a policy tool, our information-costs theory provides valuable guidance to policymakers….(More)”.

Personalized nudging

Stuart Mills at Behavioural Public Policy: “A criticism of behavioural nudges is that they lack precision, sometimes nudging people who – had their personal circumstances been known – would have benefitted from being nudged differently. This problem may be solved through a programme of personalized nudging. This paper proposes a two-component framework for personalization that suggests choice architects can personalize both the choices being nudged towards (choice personalization) and the method of nudging itself (delivery personalization). To do so, choice architects will require access to heterogeneous data.

This paper argues that such data need not take the form of big data, but agrees with previous authors that the opportunities to personalize nudges increase as data become more accessible. Finally, this paper considers two challenges that a personalized nudging programme must consider, namely the risk personalization poses to the universality of laws, regulation and social experiences, and the data access challenges policy-makers may encounter….(More)”.

Epistemic Humility—Knowing Your Limits in a Pandemic

Essay by Erik Angner: “Ignorance,” wrote Charles Darwin in 1871, “more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Darwin’s insight is worth keeping in mind when dealing with the current coronavirus crisis. That includes those of us who are behavioral scientists. Overconfidence—and a lack of epistemic humility more broadly—can cause real harm.

In the middle of a pandemic, knowledge is in short supply. We don’t know how many people are infected, or how many people will be. We have much to learn about how to treat the people who are sick—and how to help prevent infection in those who aren’t. There’s reasonable disagreement on the best policies to pursue, whether about health care, economics, or supply distribution. Although scientists worldwide are working hard and in concert to address these questions, final answers are some ways away.

Another thing that’s in short supply is the realization of how little we know. Even a quick glance at social or traditional media will reveal many people who express themselves with way more confidence than they should…

Frequent expressions of supreme confidence might seem odd in light of our obvious and inevitable ignorance about a new threat. The thing about overconfidence, though, is that it afflicts most of us much of the time. That’s according to cognitive psychologists, who’ve studied the phenomenon systematically for half a century. Overconfidence has been called “the mother of all psychological biases.” The research has led to findings that are at the same time hilarious and depressing. In one classic study, for example, 93 percent of U.S. drivers claimed to be more skillful than the median—which is not possible.

“But surely,” you might object, “overconfidence is only for amateurs—experts would not behave like this.” Sadly, being an expert in some domain does not protect against overconfidence. Some research suggests that the more knowledgeable are more prone to overconfidence. In a famous study of clinical psychologists and psychology students, researchers asked a series of questions about a real person described in psychological literature. As the participants received more and more information about the case, their confidence in their judgment grew—but the quality of their judgment did not. And psychologists with a Ph.D. did no better than the students….(More)”.

The Meaning of Masks

Paper by Cass Sunstein: “Many incentives are monetary, and when private or public institutions seek to change behavior, it is natural to change monetary incentives. But many other incentives are a product of social meanings, about which people may not much deliberate, but which can operate as subsidies or as taxes. In some times and places, for example the social meaning of smoking has been positive, increasing the incentive to smoke; in other times and places, it has been negative, and thus served to reduce smoking.

With respect to safety and health, social meanings change radically over time, and they can be dramatically different in one place from what they are in another. Often people live in accordance with meanings that they deplore, or at least wish were otherwise. But it is exceptionally difficult for individuals to alter meanings on their own. Alteration of meanings can come from law, which may, through a mandate, transform the meaning of action into a bland, “I comply with law,” or into a less bland, “I am a good citizen.” Alteration of social meanings can also come from large-scale private action, engineered or promoted by “meaning entrepreneurs,” who can turn the meaning of action from, “I am an oddball,” to, “I do my civic duty,” or, “I protect others from harm.” Sometimes subgroups rebel against new or altered meanings, produced by law or meaning entrepreneurs, but often those meanings stick and produce significant change….(More)”.

Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: A Practical Guide to A/B Testing

Book by Ron Kohavi, Diane Tang, and Ya Xu: “Getting numbers is easy; getting numbers you can trust is hard. This practical guide by experimentation leaders at Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft will teach you how to accelerate innovation using trustworthy online controlled experiments, or A/B tests. Based on practical experiences at companies that each run more than 20,000 controlled experiments a year, the authors share examples, pitfalls, and advice for students and industry professionals getting started with experiments, plus deeper dives into advanced topics for practitioners who want to improve the way they make data-driven decisions.

Learn how to use the scientific method to evaluate hypotheses using controlled experiments Define key metrics and ideally an Overall Evaluation Criterion Test for trustworthiness of the results and alert experimenters to violated assumptions. Build a scalable platform that lowers the marginal cost of experiments close to zero. Avoid pitfalls like carryover effects and Twyman’s law. Understand how statistical issues play out in practice….(More)”.