Things tagged sociology:

An Atlas of Upward Mobility Shows Paths Out of Poverty

The New York Times:

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots more than 20 years ago, Congress created an anti-poverty experiment called Moving to Opportunity. It gave vouchers to help poor families move to better neighborhoods and awarded them on a random basis, so researchers could study the effects.

The results were deeply disappointing. Parents who received the vouchers did not seem to earn more in later years than otherwise similar adults, and children did not seem to do better in school. The program’s apparent failure has haunted social scientists and policy makers, making poverty seem all the more intractable.

Now, however, a large new study is about to overturn the findings of Moving to Opportunity. Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.



The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

Jessica Benko in The New York Times:

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.



The Problem With ‘Fat Talk’

Renee Engeln in The New York Times:

Conversational shaming of the body has become practically a ritual of womanhood (though men also engage in it). In a survey that a colleague and I reported in 2011 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, we found that more than 90 percent of college women reported engaging in fat talk — despite the fact that only 9 percent were actually overweight. In another survey, which we published in December in the Journal of Health Psychology, we canvassed thousands of women ranging in age from 16 to 70. Contrary to the stereotype of fat talk as a young woman’s practice, we found that fat talk was common across all ages and all body sizes.



Does Lady Luck exist or do you make your own luck?

Carlin Flora in Aeon:

New findings suggest that luck is not a phenomenon that appears exclusively in hindsight, like a hail storm on your wedding day. Nor is it an expression of our desire to see patterns where none exist, like a conviction that your yellow sweater is lucky. The concept of luck is not a myth.

Instead, the studies show, luck can be powered by past good or bad luck, personality and, in a meta-twist, even our own ideas and beliefs about luck itself. Lucky streaks are real, but they are the product of more than just blind fate. Our ideas about luck influence the way we behave in risky situations.


The team then dug deeper to reveal why these streaks were in fact real: it was the bettors’ own doing. As soon as they realised they were winning, they made safer bets, figuring their streaks could not last forever. In other words, they did not believe themselves to have hot hands that would stay hot. A different impulse drove gamblers who lost. Sure that lady luck was due for a visit, they fell for the gambler’s fallacy and made riskier bets. As a result, the winners kept winning (even if the amounts they won were small) and the losers kept losing. Risky bets are less likely to pay off than safe ones. The gamblers changed their behaviours because of their feelings about streaks, which in turn perpetuated those streaks.



In violent times, young Japanese just shrug

Michael Hoffman in The Japan Times

The weekly Shukan Kinyobi discerns a “new fatalism” among young people. Meaning what? A feeling that effort reaps no rewards and so is not worth making; that the world is what it is and cannot be changed — at least not by me, even if I felt like changing it, which I don’t; that luck or inborn talent (which, being inborn, is just luck under another name) determines destiny, excluding most of us from the really good things in life — if they really are good, which they’re not, so to hell with them.

It sounds like despair but it is not. In fact, reports Shukan Kinyobi, young people have never been happier. A paradox indeed — one well worth exploring.



People think their opponents are hate-filled—unless you pay them money

John Timmer at Ars:

The hypothesis focused on the motivation for continuation of the conflict. Individuals on any side of it will believe that their own group is driven to work together by love of each other. They’ll refuse to recognize that same love in their opponents, instead assuming that the opposition is driven by hatred. That hatred, naturally, is directed at your own group. By assuming your opponents have an intractable negative bias against you, you end up with no desire to work with the opposition and pessimism about the prospects for any compromise. “If adversaries believe inflexibility on the other side renders mutual compromise impossible, they will be unlikely to adopt seemingly rational strategies for conciliation,” as the authors put it.

To test this, the authors surveyed both US citizens about the Democrat-Republican divide, and Israelis and Palestinians about their conflict. In general, their hypothesis held up well. Most groups felt that their own members were motivated by love of each other, while the opposition was united in their hatred of the survey subjects.

To quantify the negativity, the authors measured the relative bias between how much individuals ascribed mutual love to their opponents and how much they ascribed hatred to them. The strength of this bias correlated with a reduced willingness to negotiate, reduced perception that a favorable compromise could be reached, and other measures of optimism. In short, once you’re convinced your opponents hate you, then future prospects start to look bleak.

Is there a way out of this morass? Since money makes the world go around, the authors decided to try a small payment. They told a group of US participants that they’d give them $12 if their evaluation of their opponents’ motivations matched the value their opponents gave for themselves. In other words, if a Democrat gave Republicans a self-love/opponent-hate rating that matched the one Republicans gave themselves, they’d get $12.

The goal wasn’t really to harness greed; rather, it was simply to get people to stop and think of their opponents more carefully—to view them as humans, rather than some generic “other.” To an extent, it worked. Simply offering the payment reversed the general trend, with people ascribing more self-love than other-hate to their opponents.

It would be easy to dismiss this as participants simply matching what they’d expect their opponents to say in order to get some money. But this change had the effect of reducing the bias score the authors calculated above. And they again showed that bias correlated with pessimism about compromise, a sense that a win-win agreement wasn’t possible, and a tendency to assume that the opposition’s opinions were an essential part of their nature. By reducing this bias, the small payment made people more open to the idea of compromise.

Paper is here.



Destiny’s Unintended Critique of Consumerism

Surprisingly, one of the best reviews so far comes from The New Yorker. I feel they really get the game …

Simon Parkin in The New Yorker:

Video games like Destiny are entire worlds that are governed by the rules and systems that their designers lay down. Because of this, they often take on the systems of the culture in which they are created, in this case, late capitalism. You are thrust into a world, told to work (here, your work is to harvest glimmer, a currency dropped by aliens), and use the fruits of your labor to improve your equipment. These upgrades allow you to work more quickly, more efficiently, or for greater gains. In this way, the ecosystem of investment and yield is established, an Ouroboros that is both irresistible and, by design, never completely satisfying. It replicates the familiar grind of consumerism; you are made to feel constantly dissatisfied with your possessions because you have the knowledge that there’s always a slightly better gun, cloak, or helmet just out of the reach of affordability.

So you return to work in order to save up. The better your equipment, the greater your social status with other players. The greater your social status, the more they will want you on their team and the more they will envy your achievements, which are clearly displayed in the clothes that you wear (in the game’s later stages, the only way to advance your character is by equipping him or her with better items). In this way, from a certain angle at least, Destiny exposes the alluring futility of the consumerist systems on the other side of the screen.

Use the archive.is link below to avoid their annoying paywall.



Japanese population cohorts by year




Seven Days And Nights In The World's Largest, Rowdiest Retirement Community

Boasting 100,000 residents over the age of 55, The Villages may be the fastest growing city in America. It’s a notorious boomtown for boomers who want to spend their golden years with access to 11 a.m. happy hours, thousands of activities, and no-strings-attached sex, all lorded over by one elusive billionaire.



The End of Gamers

Dan Golding:

Taken in their simplest, most basic form, a videogame is a creative application of computer technology. For a while, perhaps, when such technology was found mostly in masculine cultures, videogames accordingly developed a limited, inwards-looking perception of the world that marked them as different from everyone else. This is the gamer, an identity based on difference and separateness. When playing games was an unusual activity, this identity was constructed in order to define and unite the group (and to help demarcate it as a targetable demographic for business). It became deeply bound up in assumptions and performances of gender and sexuality. To be a gamer was to signal a great many things, not all of which are about the actual playing of videogames.

When, over the last decade, the playing of videogames moved beyond the niche, the gamer identity remained fairly uniformly stagnant and immobile. Gamer identity was simply not fluid enough to apply to a broad spectrum of people. It could not meaningfully contain, for example, Candy Crush players, Proteus players, and Call of Duty players simultaneously. When videogames changed, the gamer identity did not stretch, and so it has been broken.

And lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the irrelevance of the traditionally male dominated gamer identity, recent news confirms this, with adult women outnumbering teenage boys in game-playing demographics in the USA.

The predictable ‘what kind of games do they really play, though—are they really gamers?’ response says all you need to know about this ongoing demographic shift. This insinuated criteria for ‘real’ videogames is wholly contingent on identity (i.e. a real gamer shouldn’t play Candy Crush, for instance).

On the evidence of the last few weeks, what we are seeing is the end of gamers, and the viciousness that accompanies the death of an identity.



What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save You?

There are two things I care passionately about, and believe american culture (western culture generally) have wrong; education, and death. Here is a great piece on the latter. This is not something we can fix through legislation. (see: Death councils). It will have to be a cultural shift.

Atul Gawande in The New Yorker:

A few days before Thanksgiving, she had another CT scan, which showed that the pemetrexed—her third drug regimen—wasn’t working, either. The lung cancer had spread: from the left chest to the right; to the liver; to the lining of her abdomen; and to her spine. Time was running out.

This is the moment in Sara’s story that poses a fundamental question for everyone living in the era of modern medicine: What do we want Sara and her doctors to do now? Or, to put it another way, if you were the one who had metastatic cancer—or, for that matter, a similarly advanced case of emphysema or congestive heart failure—what would you want your doctors to do?

The issue has become pressing, in recent years, for reasons of expense. The soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it. Twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months which is of little apparent benefit.

And the hour long documentry on Frontline is here. Trailer for that:




Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State

Great interactive infographic in the NYT:


Foreign immigration is a hot topic these days, but the movement of people from one state to another can have an even bigger influence on the United States’ economy, politics and culture.



Eric X. Li: A tale of two political systems

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right? Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a succesful modern nation.




Charting culture



Study: Americans Less Fearful Of Storms Named After Women

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State looked at deaths caused by hurricanes between 1950 — when storms were first named — and 2012.

Even after tossing out Katrina and Audrey, particularly deadly storms that would have skewed their model, they found that hurricanes with female names caused an average of 45 deaths, compared with 23 deaths from storms with male names.

In order to back up their findings, the scientists surveyed hundreds of individuals and found that, even on paper, they were less fearful of storms they thought would hit like a girl.

“People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” said study co-author Sharon Shavitt in a statement. “The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women — they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”



Intel’s Sharp-Eyed Social Scientist

Natasha Singer in the NYT:

Dr. Bell’s title at Intel, the world’s largest producer of semiconductors, is director of user experience research at Intel Labs, the company’s research arm. She runs a skunk works of some 100 social scientists and designers who travel the globe, observing how people use technology in their homes and in public. The team’s findings help inform the company’s product development process, and are also often shared with the laptop makers, automakers and other companies that embed Intel processors in their goods.



Gender Swap - Experiment with The Machine to Be Another on Vimeo

Gender Swap is an experiment that uses themachinetobeanother.org/ system as a platform for embodiment experience (a neuroscience technique in which users can feel themselves like if they were in a different body). In order to create the brain ilusion we use the immersive Head Mounted Display Oculus Rift, and first-person cameras. To create this perception, both users have to synchronize their movements. If one does not correspond to the movement of the other, the embodiment experience does not work. It means that both users have to constantly agree on every movement they make. Through out this experiment, we aim to investigate issues like Gender Identity, Queer Theory, feminist technoscience, Intimacy and Mutual Respect.




Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in the NYT:

More than a decade into the 21st century, we would like to think that American parents have similar standards and similar dreams for their sons and daughters. But my study of anonymous, aggregate data from Google searches suggests that contemporary American parents are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.

Wow. And no change since 2004 …



How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love

Kevin Poulsen in Wired:

OkCupid was founded by Harvard math majors in 2004, and it first caught daters’ attention because of its computational approach to matchmaking. Members answer droves of multiple-choice survey questions on everything from politics, religion, and family to love, sex, and smartphones.

On average, respondents select 350 questions from a pool of thousands—“Which of the following is most likely to draw you to a movie?” or “How important is religion/God in your life?” For each, the user records an answer, specifies which responses they’d find acceptable in a mate, and rates how important the question is to them on a five-point scale from “irrelevant” to “mandatory.” OkCupid’s matching engine uses that data to calculate a couple’s compatibility. The closer to 100 percent—mathematical soul mate—the better.

But mathematically, McKinlay’s compatibility with women in Los Angeles was abysmal. OkCupid’s algorithms use only the questions that both potential matches decide to answer, and the match questions McKinlay had chosen—more or less at random—had proven unpopular. When he scrolled through his matches, fewer than 100 women would appear above the 90 percent compatibility mark. And that was in a city containing some 2 million women (approximately 80,000 of them on OkCupid). On a site where compatibility equals visibility, he was practically a ghost.

He realized he’d have to boost that number. If, through statistical sampling, McKinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest.



A Cold War Fought by Women

The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.