Archives for perception



To Test or Not to Test

Many folks always ask me what the impact of randomized trials are on development. We at Innovations for Poverty Action and the M.I.T. Jameel Poverty Action Lab are dedicated to randomized trials to help push forward evidence-based policymaking. Yet what is the evidence that evidence shifts views? Not always so easy to do. I’ve done some work on the donor side, which I’ve reported on here before.  Here is a meta-study that uses two of my studies that found fairly different results. One found that access to credit in South Africa led to increased income, the other found that access to credit in the Philippines had no discernible impact on income.

The researchers sent off about 1,500 mailers to microfinance institutions around the world, telling them about the positive study, the negative (or non-positive, technically) study, or a placebo (no mention of a study), and asked them if they wanted to participate in a randomized trial to measure the impact of their organization.  They then saw which microfinance leaders responded, and whether they responded favorably or negatively. Read More »



Why Does the Kindle Feel So Much Heavier Than the Nook?

As someone in a mixed marriage — that is, in our home we read on Kindles and Nooks (and also an iPad) — I got a laugh out of the following e-mail. It’s from a Buenos Aires reader named Pablo Untroib:

Hi guys, read your 1st book and I’m on my way to finish SuperFreakonomics, today it happened something that I thought you would be interested. First a little introduction:

Two months ago I purchased a Nook simple touch e-book reader, these gizmos aren’t that popular here in Argentina compared to USA, so my wife’s 1st reaction was, why you spent money on that thing? So I loaded it with some books, she likes and not a day passed then she said: this Nook is mine, you should get a new one for yourself. Strategic error on my side, I should had purchased two to start with.

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Narcissists Look Like Good Leaders. But Are They?

Generally speaking, narcissists tend to do well in life. Which is strange, since we usually look down on traits such as arrogance and inflated self-image. And yet, for all the reasons we hate them, society usually rewards narcissists in one crucial category: leadership. For some reason, even though we claim to see through all the trappings of self-love and big egos, we tend to think that narcissists make good leaders, and in group settings, consistently lift them to positions of power. Apparently, we’ve been duped. While narcissists may look like good leaders, according to a new study by a group of psychology researchers from the University of Amsterdam, they’re actually really bad at leading.

The study is due to be published in the October issue of the journal Psychological Science. Here’s the abstract: Read More »



What Chess Tells Us About the Value of Perception

As a physics student, I found that I could solve most of the problems simply by looking at derivations and listening carefully to my reactions to the equations. A soft voice inside me would say, “No, that term just doesn’t seem right. Go and find out what went wrong there.” Or, “Ah, these terms hang together and the result feels right. It must be okay.” And it almost always worked out. My piano teacher would do the same when playing an unfamiliar piece of music. She could play it just by making sure it sounded right.

Were these just party tricks? Or was a more fundamental process going on? Read More »



The Way We Think About Risk is Risky

From the Soapbox Science blog on Nature.com, here’s an interesting piece by risk consultant David Ropiek on the ways in which we perceive and react to risk. His basic thesis is that our interpretation of risk is almost always subjective rather than fact-based, which gets us into trouble.

We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive). That produces what I have labeled the Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts, which is a huge risk in and of itself.

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The Illusionists

Screen shot from Arthur Shapiro’s blog. For fans of the Spinning Dancer illusion, let us recommend Arthur Shapiro’s Illusion Sciences blog, which features a new optical illusion every week. Shapiro, an associate professor at the Bucknell University Department of Psychology and Program in Neuroscience, is a contestant in the Neural Correlate Society’s “Best Visual Illusion […] Read More »



Reading Incomprehension

On Dan Hamermesh‘s always-interesting blog, I read the first sentence of a recent entry: My grandson will be 13 in 13 months. I had to read it three times to realize that this was not a clever way of saying that he had a brand new grandson. The “months” at the end of the sentence […] Read More »



A Dutchman Levitates at the White House

As much as I liked Penn & Teller, there was no levitation involved when I recently saw their show. This guy, however, more than makes up for it. His name is Wouter Bijdendijk and yes, that is the White House in the background. I guess he wasn’t able to get inside, unlike someone we know. […] Read More »