When Good Deeds Are Punished

In our podcast about spite, called "What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?,” we talked to Benedikt Herrmann about his research on anti-social behavior. Sociologists Kyle Irwin and Christine Horne are also investigating why spiteful behavior occurs. In a recent experiment, they found that social norms drove players to punish too-cooperative members of the lab game. From Ars Technica

Irwin and Horne found that strong social norms encouraged punishment of the cooperative player: the more similar the first four pre-programmed donations were, the higher the punishments tended to be for the overly generous deviant. When there is a clear “right way” to behave, the researchers suggest, people respond more strongly to behaviors that don’t fit the norm.

However, the strength of social norms didn’t affect the punishments of the stingy deviant. Players tended to punish this individual equally under both conditions. The researchers suggest that no matter how high or low conformity is among group members, people always see stinginess as a punishable offense.

Messing With Memory: Mouse Edition

We've blogged in the past about how easy it is to create false memories for people. Now scientists at MIT say they've succeeded in creating false memories in mice. From The New York Times:

In the research reported Thursday, Dr. Tonegawa’s team first put mice in one environment and let them get used to it and remember it. They identified and chemically labeled the cells in the animals’ brains where that memory was being formed. The mice were not shocked in that environment.

A day later, in a completely different environment, the researchers delivered an electric shock to the mice at the same time that they stimulated the previously identified brain cells to trigger the earlier memory.

How Does Stop-and-Frisk Change Attitudes?

New York City's "stop-and-frisk" policy has been the subject of major debates and several lawsuits in recent months.  A new paper (gated) by Stephanie A. Wiley and Finn-Aage Esbensen analyzes the relationship between "police contact" and future attitudes and actual criminal acts among children and teens:

Current police policies are based on assumptions that proactive policing strategies will not only deter crime but will also improve police–community relations. Deterrence theorists argue that general and specific deterrence can be achieved through such policing strategies. Labeling proponents, however, maintain that juveniles stopped and/or arrested by the police, rather than be deterred, will actually engage in more delinquency as a result of this contact. Research to date has provided mixed evidence. The current study seeks to inform this debate by examining the effect of being stopped or arrested on subsequent delinquent behavior and attitudes. Relying on three waves of data from a multisite sample of youth, we use propensity score matching to control for preexisting differences among youth who have and have not experienced police contact. Our findings reveal that being stopped or arrested not only increases future delinquency but also amplifies deviant attitudes.

The BPS Research Digest elaborates:

The key finding is that with participants matched for propensity, those who had contact with the police at time two (compared with those who didn't) said at time three that they'd feel less guilt if they committed various offences from theft to violence; they expressed more agreement with various "neutralisation" scenarios (e.g. it's OK to lie to keep yourself out of trouble); they were more committed to their deviant peers (e.g. they planned to continue hanging out with friends who'd been arrested); and finally, they said they'd engaged in more offending behaviour, from skipping classes to taking drugs or being violent. This pattern of results differed little whether police contact involved being arrested or merely being stopped.

3D Printers for Everyone?

We've blogged before about the potential of 3D food printers, but at the moment such printers seem out of reach for the average consumer.  Perhaps not for long -- a new paper by B.T. Wittbrodt, A.G. Glover, J. Laureto, G.C. Anzalone, D. Oppliger, J.L. Irwin, and J.M. Pearce conducts a cost-benefit analysis of 3D printers for the average household:

This study reports on the life-cycle economic analysis (LCEA) of RepRap technology for an average U.S. household.  A new low-cost RepRap is described and the costs of materials and time to construct it are quantified.  The economic costs of a selection of twenty open-source printable designs (representing less than 0.04% of those available), are typical of products that a household might purchase, are quantified for print time, energy, and filament consumption and compared to low and high Internet market prices for similar products without shipping costs.  The results show that even making the extremely conservative assumption that the household would only use the printer to make the selected twenty products a year the avoided purchase cost savings would range from about $300 to $2,000/year.  Assuming the 25 hours of necessary printing for the selected products is evenly distributed throughout the year these savings provide a simple payback time for the RepRap in 4 months to 2 years and provide an ROI between>200% and >40%.  As both upgrades and the components that are most likely to wear out in the RepRap can be printed and thus the lifetime of the distributing manufacturing can be substantially increased the unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already. It appears clear that as RepRaps improve in reliability, continue to decline in cost and both the number and assumed utility of open-source designs continues growing exponentially, open-source 3-D printers will become a mass-market mechatronic device.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Lessons From a No-Tipping Restaurant

Our recent podcast about tipping mentioned a San Diego restaurant, the Linkery, that adopted a strict no-tipping policy. The Linkery has since closed its doors, but owner Jay Porter (who was featured in the podcast) has been writing about the effects of a no-tipping policy. Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of his blog posts. A summary of his takeaways:

1) Due to poorly cohering laws in many Western U.S. states, using a service charge has typically been the only legal way for a restaurant business to balance wages between servers, bartenders, cooks and dishwashers. That’s why restaurants like Chez Panisse instituted such a [service charge] policy.. Subsequent court decisions in the Western U.S. have opened up the possibility that other arrangements are legal, but the service charge is still the safest model.

2) Because tips cannot legally, in most cases, be controlled by the employer, they are typically distributed (or not distributed, as the case may be) according to a social compact between the employees. That social compact is either unenforced or enforced through social means, like ostracization. In either event, the systems for both acquiring and distributing tips are easily gamed by members of the compact who are intent on doing so.

FREAK-est Links

1. They said it would never happen: Israel's ultra-orthodox lose many of their exemptions.

2. Health-care economics: how the American Medical Association prices medical procedures.

3. The most popular page on Wikipedia in 2012: Facebook. (HT: Eric M. Jones)

4. Everyone knows that the French work fewer hours -- but judging by their GDP per capita, they are very productive.

Selling Thigh Space

Quartz reports that a Japanese P.R. company is paying women to wear advertising stickers on their thighs:

Advertising on women’s skin appears to be much more cost-effective than forking out exorbitant sums for public billboard space. In 2012, the overall expenditure on ‘outdoor’ advertising in Japan was ¥299.5 billion ($2.99 billion) (pdf). The going rate on each thigh, according to the company, is $121 per day. The 3,000 Japanese women who signed up to participate will slap stickers on their thighs in exchange for that sum. The campaigns, which began rolling out earlier this year, so far have included plugs for the movie Ted and the band Green Day.

The agency has a few requirements for its walking billboards: they must be over 18, have at least 20 friends on social networking sites, and must post pictures of themselves wearing the sticker in two different geographic locations.  The agency also "recommends" that the women wear miniskirts and long socks to draw attention to the ads.  "It’s an absolutely perfect place to put an advertisement, as this is what guys are eager to look at and girls are eager to expose," Hidenori Atsumi, the agency's CEO, told ITN.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Trends in School Financing

The New York Fed recently released an interesting set of maps and charts on school financing in New York and New Jersey that demonstrate the effect of national fiscal policy on public-school students. Their findings:

  • School funding and school expenditures increased steadily through the 2000s, but have slowed in the past year or two.
  • Federal funding swelled during the federal stimulus period, but has since begun to ebb.
  • Recent patterns in state and local funding show signs of slowing down.
  • While instructional expenditures remained on trend (or suffered only slightly) during the recession, there is evidence of sharper cuts in recent years.
  • In spite of these broad patterns, there are considerable variations across states and districts.
  • Trust Among Thieves

    A new paper by Federico Varese and Paolo Campana looks at police-intercepted phone data on the Italian and Russian mafia to study how criminals cooperate. In  "Cooperation in Criminal Organizations: Kinship and Violence as Credible Commitments" (abstract; PDF), they find that sharing information on violent acts increased cooperation. Varese writes to us in an email: "The idea is that criminals might trust each other more after they have shared compromising information on themselves and especially have used violence together, an insight from Thomas Schelling that we test and found to be correct."

    The abstract:

    The paper argues that kinship ties and sharing information on violent acts can be interpreted as forms of ‘hostage-taking’ likely to increase cooperation among co-offenders. The paper tests this hypothesis among members of two criminal groups, a Camorra clan based just outside Naples, and a Russian Mafia group that moved to Romein the mid-1990s. The data consist of the transcripts of phone intercepts conducted on both groups by the Italian police over several months. After turning the data into a series of network matrices, we use Multivariate Quadratic Assignment Procedure to test the hypothesis. We conclude that the likelihood of cooperation is higher among members who have shared information about violent acts. Violence has a stronger effect than kinship in predicting tie formation and thus cooperation. When non-kinship-based mechanisms fostering cooperation exist, criminal groups are likely to resort to them.

    How Politicians Plug Electric Cars

    A new study by Bradley W. Lane, Natalie Messer-Betts, Devin Hartmann, Sanya Carley, Rachel M. Krause, and John D. Graham on why governments promote electric vehicles finds that the environmental benefits of the vehicles have little to do with politicians' motives for supporting the industry. Perhaps not surprisingly, "Government Promotion of the Electric Car: Risk Management or Industrial Policy?" (gated) finds that the economic benefits of the industry are the primary motivator for most governments. From the press release:

    Contrary to common belief, many of the world’s most powerful nations promote the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles primarily for reasons of economic development – notably job creation – not because of their potential to improve the environment through decreased air pollution and oil consumption.

    This is among the main findings of a study by researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental (SPEA) and University of Kansas that analyzed policies related to electric vehicles (EVs) in California, China, the European Union, France, Germany, and the United States – political jurisdictions with significant automotive industries and markets for EVs.

    “Billions of dollars are being invested despite doubts that some express about the viability of electricity as a propulsion system,” said John D. Graham, SPEA dean and co-author of the study. “The objective of many of these national and sub-national governments is to establish a significant position – or even dominance – in the global marketplace for these emerging, innovative new technologies.”