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Jun. 13 2010 — 3:31 pm | 151 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Goodbye from Neuroworld

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  An issue of The Wall Str...

Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

I suspect it will surprise precisely no one to learn that Neuroworld has ceased — and now will permanently cease — publication. The reason is rather simple: I’ve joined the staff of the Wall Street Journal, and my new job for a number of reasons (time being not the least of these) doesn’t allow for the maintenance of a blog. I’ll still be writing on neuro/behavioral/psychological related topics for SmartMoney.com, where my Money & Your Mind column appears.

So, for now, I’d just like to thank all of you who came along for the ride since my opening post laid out an agenda of looking at the intersection between our increasing understanding of our own irrationality and the choices we make, both as individuals and as a society. True/Slant has created a remarkably engaged community of readers, and it’s been a pleasure writing for you and reading your feedback.

And, speaking of True/Slant, I also want to thank the management here for having given me the opportunity to expand my journalistic horizons — one can only spend so much time thinking about politics before one stops thinking at all.

So, so long, and I can now be reached at firstname.lastname-at-wsj.com.



Apr. 8 2010 — 7:00 am | 133 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Neuro News Nanos

Pirate For President

Image by srqpix via Flickr

Here are this morning’s:

* Keys to creativity — exposing participants to an illuminating lightbulb primed concepts associated with achieving an insight, and enhanced insight problem-solving in three different domains — “So for those taking notes at home: if your work involves moments of insight, it’s probably best to work in a bright blue room, surrounded by pictures of lightbulbs and little kids.”

* The neuro film festival — to help raise awareness through video about brain disorders and the need to support research into preventions, treatments and cures — 65 entries so far

* Does dolphin intelligence raise ethical questions? — dolphin brains exhibit features correlated with complex intelligence, including a large expanse of neocortical volume that is more convoluted than our own — mmmm… dolphin brains

* Overconfidence as social signaling — personality traits strongly affect relative ability judgments — not about self image

* How to thrive among pirates — don’t spend much on your movies — “Nigerian films are a unique blend of a soap-opera and a Bollywood musical; there’s a bunch of talking then a bunch of dancing. To call some of the Nigerian films low-budget would be to insult low-budget films.”

Follow Neuroworld on Twitter: @ryansager



Apr. 7 2010 — 2:18 pm | 437 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Don’t Leave Home Without It?

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26:  Jefferson Best loosens...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Credit cards have a relatively well-documented effect of making us looser with our money. When “spending” “money” is just swiping a piece of plastic, insulating us from the psychic pain of parting with crisp dollar bills, it’s easier for us to go hog wild and swipe until the strip wears off. So, a writer for Mint.com decided to go cash-only for a month.

What’s she found so far? Well, she’s actually spending more:

I’m one week into my cash-only month and so far I’m spending like crazy. Let’s see. $490 in one week? Not good. (I usually spend $300. What happened to those studies showing that people spend less when they shun credit cards?)

The problem is, I have not been able to shake the emotional security of credit cards – you always have enough money with credit – and that has lead me to carry around a ton of cash. Which. I. Spend. Immediately. I’m paranoid about running out of cash, which, ironically, is leading me to spend more and…run out of cash. Doh!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

* I’m much more generous with a wad of bills in my pocket. I’ve bought friends beer, paid cover charges for others, indulged in fancy coffee drinks and bought myself homemade beef jerky. Cash turns me into a big spender.

* I have no idea where half my money is going. I’m not in the habit of asking for receipts – my credit card tracks every purchase for me – and cashiers rarely offer a receipt on little purchases.

* Getting past my paranoia of running out of cash is probably my biggest impediment to spending less. I need to carry less cash, so I spend less.

Of course, any one person’s experience — especially one hyper-aware of the result she should be getting — is hardly representative of the general principle. But this does show the pitfalls of trying to use one piece of behavioral economics in isolation to improve your habits. It’s astute, I think, that she’s identified what seems like the (a?) major impediment to making her cash-only plan work.

I’d say I’ve found a similar effect in my own spending — I try to do as close to zero transactions as possible in actual cash. I like everything on my credit cards, earning frequent flier miles and tracked to the penny by, yes, Mint.com. I have an iPhone app in my pocket that tells me every cent I’ve spent this month and exactly where I am on various sub-budgets I have for everything from restaurants to my mobile wireless plan to movies and DVDs. Instant-feedback budgeting has cut my spending tremendously; reducing invisible and untrackable cash spending was the first big step in that process.

So, does this mean the “cash makes you spend less” idea is bogus? No, I don’t think so. Look at taxi cab tips, look at this study of NBA tickets (PDF), look at millions of Americans spending themselves into oblivion with plastic. The effect is very real… there are just other effects.

I don’t practice what I preach on using cash (and, well, I don’t really preach it either, see: this post). But if I didn’t pay my credit cards off in full every month, eliminating them from my life would be my first order of business. Every person’s financial situation and mind works differently. For some people, doing many more of their transactions in cash (or check — you have to have some way to pay bills) would be a huge improvement. If you shop a lot recreationally, for instance, this could slow you down. For some people, just using a debit card could be the answer. For me and other people who like a lot of control and data and feedback — and I swear this whole post isn’t a viral add for Mint.com — a solution like credit cards plus something like… Mint.com is a good answer.

The key, as in so many things, is a high degree of self knowledge, a willingness to experiment and track results, and the information to understand what biases might be driving your behavior.

I look forward to seeing if carrying less cash solves our writer’s problem… or if it just opens up new ones.

How do you restrict your spending? Any tricks?



Apr. 7 2010 — 12:16 pm | 87 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Politics: Not About Ideas

Politics isn’t about what you think it’s about. Matt Yglesias:

To borrow an idea from Robin Hanson, I think it’s useful to think about political conflict in terms of valorized figures. On the right, you see a lot of valorization of businessmen. On the left, you see a lot of valorization of pushy activists who want to do something businessmen don’t like. Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se. Consequently, on the left people sometimes fall into the trap of being patsies for rent-seeking mom & pop operators when poor people would benefit more from competition from a corporate bohemoth.

(I’m not correcting the typos, because that would be inauthentic.)

We like to think our politics are rational and that they spring from deeply held beliefs. More often, we’re routing for one team or another, and often that’s just based on aesthetic factors — do we like underdogs or do we like the Yankees?



Apr. 7 2010 — 11:16 am | 587 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Neurovid: 10 Mind & Brain Mysteries

What psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience doesn’t understand about the brain and mind. What is intelligence? What is consciousness? Why do we sleep and dream? What are emotions? How is memory stored and recalled?”

HT: onlineschools


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    About Me

    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

    These days, I'm interested in humanity's ever-expanding understanding of its own irrationality. Hence, this blog.

    Comments, questions, news tips, creative verbal abuse, etc. can be sent to: editor-at-ryansager.com.

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    Contributor Since: January 2009
    Location:Brooklyn, NY

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