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List Of Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of “Willpower”

[content note: dieting]

Warning: I have not checked any of these claims for truth, I was generally not impressed with the skepticism level displayed in this book, and I highlighted the passages I found most surprising or counterintuitive. So these are quotations, not endorsements. As Ashleigh Brilliant says, “My sources are unreliable, but their information is fascinating.”

A good way to appreciate the Zeigarnik effect is to listen to a randomly chosen song and shut it off halfway through. The song is then likely to run through your mind on its own, at odd intervals. If you get to the end of the song, the mind checks it off, so to speak. If you stop it in the middle, however, the mind treats the song as unfinished business.

[Examination-related words] popped more frequently into the mind of the group who had been told about the exam but hadn’t made plans to study for it. No such effect was seen among the students who’d made a study plan. Even though they, too, had been reminded of the exam, their minds had apparently been cleared by the act of writing down a plan.

In 1995, Tierney did a semiscientific survey of a New York phenomenon: the huge number of intelligent and attractive people who complained that it was impossible to find a romantic partner. Manhattan had the highest percentage of single people in any country in America except for an insland in Hawaii originally settled as a leper colony. What was keeping New Yorkers apart? Tierney surveyed a sampling of personal ads in the city magazines of Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. He found that singles in the biggest city, New York, not only had the most choice but were the pickiest in listing the attributes of their desired partners. The average personal ad in New York maganize listed 5.7 criteria required in a partner, significantly more than second place Chicago’s average (4.1 criteria) and about twice the average for the other three cities.

Bob Boice looked into the writing habits of young professors and tracked them to see how they fared. Some of these professors would collect information until they were ready and then write a manuscript in a burst of intsense energy. Others plodded along at a steadier pace, trying to write a page or two every day. When Boice followed up on the group some years later, he foud that their paths had diverged sharply. The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called “binge writers” had fared far less well, and many of them had had their careers cut short.

As early as the 1920s, researchers reported that students who spent more time in Sunday school scored higher on laboratory tests of self-discipline. Religiously devout children were rated low on impulsiveness by both parents and teachers…But psychologists have found that people who attend religious services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress others or make social connections, don’t have the same high level of self-control as the true believers.

A clear difference between Chinese and American toddlers appears when they’re asked to override their natural impulses. In one test, for instance, the toddlers are shown a series of pictures and instructed to say “day” whenever they see the moon and “night” whenever they see the sun. In other tests, the toddlers try to restrain themselves to a whisper when they’re excited, and play a version of Simon Says. The Chinese four-year-olds generally perform better on these tests than Americans of the same age. The Chinese toddlers’ self-control might be due in part to genes. There’s evidence that the genetic factors associated with ADHD are much rare in Chinese children than in American children. But the cultural traditions undoubtedly play a role as well. Asian-Americans make up only 4% of the US population but account for a quarter of the student body of elite universities like Stanford, Cornell, and Columbia. They’re more likely to get a college degree than any other ethnic group, and they go on to earn salaries that are 25% above the American norm. Their success has led to the popular notion that Asians are more intelligent, but that’s not how James Flynn explains their achievements. After carefully reviewing IQ studies, Flynn concludes that the scores of Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans are very similar to Americans of European descent. If anything their IQs are slightly lower, though they do show up more at both the upper and lower extremes. The big difference is they make better use of their intelligence. People working in elite professions like physicians, scientists, and accountants generally have an IQ above a certain threshold. For white Americans, that threshold is IQ 110, but Chinese Americans manage to get the same elite jobs with an IQ of only 103.

When asked how parents could contribute to childrens’ academic success, the mothers who had emigrated from China most frequently mentioned setting high goals, enforcing tough standards, and requiring children to do extra homework. Meanwhile, the native-born mothers of European ancestry were determined not to put too much pressure on children They most frequently mentioned the importance of not overemphasizing academic success, of stressing the child’s social development, and of promoting the idea that “learning is fun” and “not something you work at”. Another of their chief concerns was promoting the child’s self-esteem, a concept of just about no interest to the Chinese mothers in the study.

[In his preliminary marshmallow-test-style experiments in Trinidad], Mischel stumbled upon a bigger and more meaningful effect. Children who had a father in the home were far more willing than others to choose the delayed reward. Most of the racial and ethnic variation could be explained by this difference, because the Indian children tended to live with both parents whereas a fair number of the African children lived with a single mother. These findings, which were published in 1958, didn’t attract much attention at the time or in ensuing decades, since it was dangerous to one’s career to suggest that there might be drawbacks to single-parent homes…One possible explanation is that children in one-parent homes start off with a genetic disadvantage in self-control. After all, if the father (or mother) has run off and abandoned the family, he may have genes favoring impulsive behavior. Some researchers have attempted to correct this by looking at children who were raised by single parents because the father was absent for other reasons (like being stationed overseas, or dying at a young age). Predictably, the results were in between. These children showed some deficits, but their problemes were not as large as those of the children whose fathers had voluntarily left the home.”

Nurture Assumption said the opposite (children whose fathers left for valid reasons were totally indistinguishable from children with two parents), I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this.

When fat lab rats are put on a controlled diet for the first time, they’ll lose weight. But if they’re then allowed to eat freely again, they’ll gradually fatten up, and if they’re put on another diet it will take longer to lose the weight this time. Then, once they again go off the diet, they’ll regain the weight more quickly than the last time. By the third or fourth time they go through this boom-and-bust cycle, the dieting ceases to work – the extra weight stays even though they’re consuming fewer calories.

If true this would require a pretty high-level uncoupling of calories and weight gain.

An English bookmaker, the William Hill agency, has a standing offer to bet against anyone who makes a plan to lose weight. The bookmaker, which offers odds of up to 50 to 1, lets the bettors set their own target of how much weight to lose in how much time. It seems crazy for a bookmaker to let bettors not only set the terms of the wager but also control its outcome – it’s like letting a runner bet on beating a target time he sets himself. Yet despite these advantages, the bettors lose 80% of the time.”

I tried to find these people’s website to see how the numbers worked, but it wouldn’t let me in because I’m in the US. Brits might want to check this out.

Dieters have a fixed target in mind, and when they exceed it for any reason – [like being told to taste test a milkshake as part of an experiment] they regard their diet as blown for the day. So they think what the hell, I might as well enjoy myself for the day and the resulting binge often puts on far more weight than the original lapse.

People who weigh themselves every day are far more effective at preventing their weight from creeping back up.

Some of the [experimental subjects] were shown a meal from Applebees consisting of chicken salad and a Pepsi; others were shown an identical meal with some added crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free”. The people were so entranced by the crackers’ virtuous label that their estimate for the meal with crackers was lower than that for the same meal without the crackers!

A new form of the Conjunction Fallacy?

To mimic the human studies [on ego depletion], experimenters depleted the willpower of one group of dogs by having each dog obey “sit” and “stay” commands from its owner for ten minutes. A control group of dogs was simply left alone for ten minutes in cages. Then all the dogs were given a familiar toy with a sausage treat inside of it. All the dogs had played with the toy in the past and successfully extracted the treat, but for this study the toy was rigged so that the sausage could not be extracted. The control group of dogs spent several minutes trying to extract it, but the dogs who’d had to obey the commands gave up in less than a minute. It was the familiar ego-depletion effect, and the canine cure turned out to be familiar too. In a follow-up study, when the dogs were given different drinks, the drinks with sugar restored the willpower of the dogs who’d had to obey the commands. Newly fortified, they persisted with the toy just as long as the dogs who’d been in cages.

People with poor self-control were likelier to hit their partners and to commit a variety of other crimes, again and again, as demonstrated by June Tangney, who worked with Baumeister to develop the self-control scale on personality tests. When she tested prisoners and then tracked them for years after their release, she found that the ones with low self-control were most likely to commit more crimes and return to prison.

In one remarkable study, researchers in Finland went into a prison to measure the glucose tolerance of convicts who were about to be released. Then the scientists kept track of which ones went on to commit new crimes. Just by looking at the response to the glucose test, the researchers were able to predict with greater than 80% accuracy which convicts would go on to commit violent crimes. These men apparently had less self-control because of their impaired glucose tolerance, a condition in which the body has trouble converting food into usable energy.”

SO SOOOOO SKEPTICAL.

When people in laboratory experiments exercise mental self-control, their pulse becomes more erratic; conversely, people whose normal pulse is relatively variable seem to have more inner energy available for self-control, because they do better on laboratory tests of perseverance than people with steadier heartbeats.

Also pretty skeptical here, given past experience.

A psychoanalyst named Allen Wheelis in the late 1950s revealed what he considered a dirty little secret of his profession: Freudian therapies no longer worked the way they were supposed to. In his landmark book, The Quest For Identity, Wheelis described a change in character structure since Freud’s day. The Victorian middle-class citizens who formed the bulk of Freud’s patients had intensely strong wills, making it difficult for therapists to break through their ironclad defenses and their sense of what was right and wrong. Freud’s therapies had concenctrated on wayhs to break through and let them see why they were neurotic and miserable, because once those people achieved ionsight, they could change rather easily. By midcentury, thought, people’s character armor was different. Wheelis and his colleagues found that people achieved insight more qui9ckly than in Freud’s day, but then the therapy often stalled and failed. Lacking the sturdy character of the Victorians, people didn’t have the strength to follow up on the insight and change their lives

This is actually sorta plausible to me. My (very limited) experience with psychoanalysis is that it’s not nearly as hard as people claim to get patients to tell you things about themselves and produce apparent “revelations”, but these rarely change behavior in interesting ways. I’d never thought before that this might be a historical change as opposed to just Freud getting it wrong.

[Subjects] wore beepers that went off at random intervals seven times a day, prompting them to report whether they were currently experiencing some sort of desire…the researchers concluded that people spend at least a fifth of their waking hours resisting desires – between three and four hours a day…Overall, they succumbed to about a sixth of the temptations.

Someone responded by my last post by pointing out a Christian philosopher saying the same thing and noting that Science always thinks it’s gotten ahead of Religion only to find that Religion’s known it all along. Nevertheless, I will venture to say no religious source on temptation includes the observation that on average people succumb to about one-sixth of them. That one totally goes to Science.

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250 Responses to List Of Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of “Willpower”

  1. RCF says:

    Re: the Zeigarnik effect

    Anyone else reminded of this scene?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiF9JfPTI_8

  2. Anonymous says:

    Set up a UK proxy?

    • Christopher says:

      I had a look at the William Hill website (I’m in the UK), but couldn’t find anything about weight-loss bets. (On the other hand, I am fascinated by the fact that they seem to have an extensive market for bets on virtual sporting events.)

      The paper about William Hill weight-loss bets states “Typically, each bet begins with a letter or email from the bettor to William Hill, outlining the amount of weight the person would like to lose and over what time period.” Given that the company apparently loses £500/year on such bets (20% are successful, but odds range from 5:1 to 50:1) while gaining considerable publicity (typically a full-page story in one or more UK tabloid newspapers) on the rare occasions that the bettor wins, it is presumably in the company’s interest not to make it too easy for people to place such bets, least losses mount or media interest decline.

  3. Cauê says:

    >”A new form of the Conjunction Fallacy?”

    Sounds like the less-is-better effect.

    I have observed people behaving as if *adding* salad to a meal would make it less fattening. I have also pointed it out in one occasion, and I would describe the reaction as a moment of realization, perhaps 1/4 of an epiphany.

    • suntzuanime says:

      In theory, if the salad sates you and makes you less likely to eat less healthy things later, it may well make the meal less fattening in terms of overall effects.

      • speedwell says:

        Back in the 70s when they first sold canned weight loss meal replacement shakes (called Sego if I remember correctly), they were marketed as miracle weight loss aids. My mother used to tell a joke: “I can’t understand why I’m gaining so much weight, I have a Sego three times a day and a light snack just like it says on the can. One with breakfast, one with lunch, and one with dinner.”

        Incidentally they were horrible, basically a heavy milk and sugar concoction fortified with barely enough vitamins and minerals to satisfy the RDA if you had them as directed. They didn’t work for Mom, possibly because people with family histories of diabetes shouldn’t be drinking three milkshakes a day. Also because us kids used to steal them 😉

        • Deiseach says:

          That name reminds me of a favourite joke of my late father’s:

          Sago and we’ll all go!

          No, I never said it was a good joke. He loved terrible jokes, what I believe young people nowadays call “dad jokes” 🙂

    • Trevor says:

      Yes! Thank you! That’s the name I was trying to remember.

      It inspired me to go back and read Hsee’s original paper. I couldn’t help but smile every time he acknowledged that each study was conducted over “~100 students from a large Midwestern university”.

      I wonder how much variation we would see in this effect at different universities across the country.

      Do you know of any meta analyses? I’m having a lot of trouble filtering out false positive search results for “less is better meta analysis” et cetera.

      • Shenpen says:

        My favorite: “science shows people enjoy buying experiences more than possessions!”

        People = 24 psychology students from a US university, non-poor whites mostly.

        Meanwhile, people in Albania are happy enough to buy old Mercedes cars…

        • RCF says:

          I guess that depends on how one defines “possessions” and “experiences”. Does food count as “possessions”? What about rent? Gas?

        • antiquarian says:

          It should have said something like “well-off people in rich Western countries” prefer buying experiences. Certainly after a sufficient number of possessions pass through your life, one begins to see their limitations.

        • Tom Womack says:

          If I wanted a car on the budget of an Albanian, an old Mercedes would be a fine option: they don’t get much less comfortable with age and they’re proverbially well-engineered. Though petrol is quite expensive by Albanian standards in Albania.

          Buying possessions that expand the range of experiences you can readily have – the shiny gaming computer, the car, the fancy camera lenses – is the best of both worlds.

      • Cauê says:

        I don’t have time to get into it now, but looking for “evaluability hypothesis” will probably work better.

        (less-is-better isn’t a great name, really)

    • Shenpen says:

      >I have observed people behaving as if *adding* salad to a meal would make it less fattening.

      And they are right – as it will take longer for them to get hungry, their daily/weekly calorie intake will be lower.

      The problem is you took it too literally. They talked about the meal, but they meant their overall intake.

      • Cauê says:

        Dramatization:
        A: [puts a mountain of food on the plate]
        B: “Oh, wow, are you preparing to hibernate or something?”
        A: [looks at the plate, uncertain] “Yeah, maybe you’re right, I should take some salad” [*adds* lettuce and tomato]

        Plus, when I point it out, they agree, find it funny and act like they learned something.

        • Godzillarissa says:

          Probably depends on the size of the salad.

          The handful of ‘alibi-greens’ won’t really have any effect on saturation, while an actual salad (sans mayonaisse-peanutbutter-dressing) can actually be very helpful in aiding a diet.

          Makes me think, though. Do dieters prefer a Hamburger Royal TS to a regular Hamburger Royal?

        • speedwell says:

          It just dawned on me that they were probably substituting the salad for the next non-salad thing they were going to reach for. And went along with your lecture out of shame.

          • Cauê says:

            Yes, you’re the third person to say that.

            I’m >95% certain that’s not it, but I’m not talented enough at writing to convey the scene.

            Anyway, it’s not like it’d be unprecedented. It’s very likely the same thing the book is talking about on the quoted part:

            “Some of the [experimental subjects] were shown a meal from Applebees consisting of chicken salad and a Pepsi; others were shown an identical meal with some added crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free”. The people were so entranced by the crackers’ virtuous label that their estimate for the meal with crackers was lower than that for the same meal without the crackers!”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Caue

            Your dramatization begins
            A: [puts a mountain of food on the plate]

            If I were A, even if I understood and agreed immediately, what would I do with the existing mountain? Scrape the existing food back into the serving containers it came from (yuck)? Put the plate down (where?) and get an empty plate and start over?

            A less awkward thing would be to add the salad to the plate, then eat just the salad.

        • Deiseach says:

          Cauê, why do you feel the need to tell someone “Whoa, slow down, you’re eating too much!”

          Are you personally paying for the food they consume? Did they take that perfectly roasted chicken leg you were going to reach for? Are you their parent?

          If the answer to any of the above is “No”, then what business is it of yours how much or what way they eat? This is part of what is so annoying when one is fat: the perfect right other people – complete strangers – feel to comment on one’s food choices and eating habits in public.

          You only do it to your friends? If they’re thin, then how and what they eat is obviously not doing them any harm, so shut up about it. If they’re fat, here’s an amazing revelation: fat people know we’re fat. Shaming them by jokes about “are you going into hibernation” is not going to make them miraculously drop pounds right there and then. Once again, shut up about it. Let people eat what they like how they like when it’s none of your business (you’re not cooking, paying for the food, or parent of a Type I diabetic child or child with food allergies who has to monitor what they eat for genuine health reasons).

          Re: glucose and willpower, this study may be of interest – glucose versus fructose and their effects on cerebral blood flow to the hypothalamus, feelings of hunger and satiety, and the reward effects of food.

          Seemingly, glucose ‘turns off’ appetite, makes you feel fuller, reduces cerebral blood flow, and has other interesting effects when it comes to hunger and satiety. Maybe it works for restoring willpower by making the brain feel it has been given a treat/had a meal and so taken on new energy source to be used?

          • Cauê says:

            See, I said I wasn’t good at conveying the scene, but I’m apparently worse at it than I thought.

            I’m neither A nor B in the post above. In reality, A was B’s mother, and B was worried about her health (I don’t remember the words used). I just pointed out that adding salad wouldn’t reduce the number of calories, and we all had a laugh about it.

            But ok, I give up, the example is retracted and I’ve learned not to try telling personal anecdotes.

    • Julie K says:

      I had an example of the less-is-better effect last year, shortly after reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was with my son at a buffet and he complained that half the dishes were things he didn’t like (like salads). Clearly he would have rated the buffet higher if the places on the table containing unwanted dishes had been left empty.

      • Or maybe happier if they had contained wanted items, leading to greater overall choice.

        • Cauê says:

          Yes, which is uninteresting.

          What is interesting is that a restaurant with only the wanted options will be rated higher than a restaurant with the same wanted items *plus* some unwanted, entirely optional items.

          But only if rated separately. When the choices are presented side by side we can recognize the second restaurant is better.

  4. library executioner says:

    I will never understand people who are capable of defacing books.

    • I’m the exact opposite! Writing notes in books makes them more valuable to you (and to your biographers, if you’re, say, Fermat). Anyone for whom the notes devalue the book can just buy a fresh copy.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        I don’t always take notes on books, but when I do I use soft (2B) pencils so they can be erased without leaving much of a trace.

      • speedwell says:

        Well, there’s a difference between penciling your own notes lightly in your own books, and some college student using a highlighter indiscriminately on and writing the local pizza delivery phone number and his undying love for his latest date in the margins of the textbook he borrowed from the college library.

        • Airgap says:

          Or his undying love for the date, along with her phone number. Somebody had done this in the linear algebra book I bought second-hand. I went out with her three times before I realized the mistake.

          • zz says:

            An classier alternative to shipping your enemies glitter: donating a bunch of textbooks to a local university, each with some variation of

            Hot nympho from [location]
            [Enemy’s phone number]

            Now, not have you only aimed a bunch of randomly*-timed booty calls at your enemy, you’ll be hailed as a philanthropist!

            /s

            *Actually, not random. You should be able to control the distribution of calls by choosing which pages you choose to place the message on.

          • Airgap says:

            Your enemies? Was sending her a “Sorry it didn’t work out” box of glitter a mistake?

          • Deiseach says:

            zz, that’s not big, not clever and not funny. Some jerk leaving a girl’s name and number so she can be harassed at any time of the day or night with drunken (or sober, which is worse I can’t decide) calls all on a variant of “Hey bitch, I know you’re a whore” is not classy by any definition.

            An enemy? Because she may have made the fatal mistake of saying “No” when he asked her out for a date? Or she broke up with him because he was a jerk? Or she was simply in his class and never fell down before him begging him to be her boyfriend, all because she lacked the mind-reading powers to know he was interested in her because he never said a word.

            I don’t like practical jokes anyway, but things like this – which are not jokes but are a form of passive-aggressive violence – are even less funny. The added sexism of “hot nympho” (because doing the male version of this would be “rent boy” or phrases I won’t use on here because this isn’t the Nifty gay porn fiction site, and I note you don’t consider that anyone would do the likes of this to a male enemy) just is the icing on top.

          • Cauê says:

            For some reason I read zz’s “enemy” as a guy.

          • Deiseach says:

            Interesting, Cauê; what made you read “nympho” as male?

            I’m asking because gendered insults appear to be A Thing, and certainly things like “bitch”, “slut” and “nympho” are used for women. Being fair, men get called “bastard”, “dick” and “prick”.

            I was going to say I don’t even know what the male version of “nympho” would be, when it occurred to me that I do; it would be “satyr” (as satyriasis for men is to nymphomania for women) and seriously, when is the last time you saw anything along the lines of:

            Hot satyr at (location). For a good time, call (phone number)?

            When’s the last time you heard a man insulted for wanting too much sex?

            “Oh, Joe’s mad for sex, he can’t get enough of it! He’s got three different girlfriends on the go, besides the women he picks up for one night stands!”

            What response seems the most likely here?

            (a) Wow, what a stud!
            (b) Ugh, that nympho!

            Equality in gendered insults based on sexual appetite, say I! 🙂

          • Dude Man says:

            @ Deiseach

            The insult is for a made up story anyways, so it being gendered isn’t a factor in whose phone number you list. The enemy is the relevant person, not the nympho.

            Also, the comic suggests that “classier” means more inventive and not less harmful (which only makes sense if you don’t care that classy means something else, but I digress). It certainly isn’t less harmful than sending glitter.

          • Cauê says:

            I imagined a male enemy getting calls from people looking for female nymphos.

          • Airgap says:

            Has anyone else noticed how much less controversial absurdist humor is than humor involving ways to hurt people?

            One obvious advantage is that the absurdism gives you plausible deniability if you accidentally make it sexist. Also, it’s usually funnier anyway.

    • Shenpen says:

      This is where YourMorals / Haidt methods break down: a classic case of liberals basing morals on a purity/disgust element.

      I know because my dad was the same – he was horrified in a purity, almost religious sense when I wanted to use childhood books as kindle for a bonfire because to him it meant disrespecting the sacredness of Knowledge, Enlightenment, Science, Literature, High Culture. He told me it is a nazi thing to burn books, and not in the sense that it is something nazis do, but rather that it turns people into nazis: disrespecting the Englightenment and its symbols leads to savage, barbaric behavior.

      In short, it was a secular-liberal purity-sacredness argument on steroids.

      • Irrelevant says:

        I think your dad just had a weird justification. For me, destroying books is only hard when they’re story books, and it’s clearly a result of my brain having a hard time distinguishing the story, which it values, from the object in which the story is written down. I can get around it by thinking about the story abstractly.

      • speedwell says:

        I agree with your father to the extent that I would probably jump into the fire to rescue the books. (My father believed this to be a Jewish heritage thing.) I would have taught you quite firmly that unwanted childhood books are to be given to children who lack them because of poverty or parental ignorance.

        • Shenpen says:

          Hm, my father was also Jewish. A people of the book thing maybe?

          • SFG says:

            Oh G_d, yes. (I am half Jewish, but not religious). May have something to do with the sacredness of the Torah, I’d guess.

            Evangelical Christians have similar taboos around Bibles, I think…

      • Emile says:

        *gasps in anguish*

        What kind savage throws books into a bonfire???

        • Shenpen says:

          Anyone who considers them an item not any more sacred than say clothes. Once wear and tear caused by careless handling, and every photo has a moustache added (it was school textbooks, with historical photos etc.) they start to look like salad with letters on it anyway, and time to get rid of them.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Books were once incredibly valuable. Now they are disposable. Libraries have to pay good money to dispose of them without do-gooders shoving them back up the library’s return bin sideways.

          • Deiseach says:

            Books are sacred!

            I’m wincing at the notion of throwing books into a fire (even though rationally I know that it’s a way of disposing of unwanted books, and it’s not like he was burning the only copy of an incredibly rare work), because I was so desperate for books in my childhood and had so little access to them, I did dig out a mouldy box of books from a neighbour’s garage and triumphantly return home with a mould-spotted, damp-swollen, and coverless version of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Black Arrow” 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        a classic case of liberals basing morals on a purity/disgust element

        IDK whether Haidt makes this point, but the key difference seems to be that liberals are less likely to want to base laws on their own purity/disgust reactions.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t buy that at all. Progressive thought on the environment seems to be a clear example of the purity/disgust dichotomy and they love basing laws on that. Sure, they always say that hurting the environment is going to backfire on us eventually(as if it was a scientific law) but they don’t base their love of the environment on how it affects us.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Also cigarette smoking, big gulp sodas, fatty food (and alcohol, reaching back a bit).

            I suspect most of the “liberals don’t have a purity/disgust axis” comes largely from improper labeling; they’ve got it, but they call it something else instead.

          • Cauê says:

            And I’ll eat my metaphorical hat if liberals’ reactions to certain magic words don’t turn out to be neurologically equivalent to Muslims’ reactions to blasphemy.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Jaskologist,

            That’s exactly right. I think statutory rape is the perfect example of that. Progressives believe that as long as it’s consensual, people should be allowed to have sex with whoever they want. But they also think a 15 year old girl having sex with an older guy is wrong, so they call it rape even if she is begging to have sex with the guy.

          • Anonymous says:

            Also cigarette smoking, big gulp sodas, fatty food (and alcohol, reaching back a bit).

            These do seem like good candidates for things that blue-tribe people judge along a purity/disgust axis. But I think these things only got associated with disgust reactions after they were found to have bad consequences. (Similarly with environmental pollution?). Perhaps for blues disgust reactions mainly develop in response to things that violate other moral axes?

          • The disgust and regulatory hostility aimed at e-cigs belies the suggestion that only harmful things are treated with the purity/disgust reaction.

          • Cauê says:

            One could sorta rescue Anon’s hypothesis by saying that disgust reactions develop *from* things that *are perceived to* violate other moral axes, but can end up applying to things that only resemble those (I’ll add “chemicals” and eugenics to e-cigs here).

            I’m trying to think of counterexamples, and came up with taboo tradeoffs involving money, but I’m not sure this works.

            (also, there are purity/sacredness reactions common to blues and reds)

          • Anonymous says:

            @Wrong Species, Sorry, I thought that progressive positions would be given fair treatment here, or that critiques of them would be backed up with evidence of some sort. I appear to have been mistaken in that regard.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Your trivially false claim got fair treatment. Progressives are neither necessarily nor typically libertarians, in either a relative or absolute (anarchist/minarchist) sense.

            So, sure, unlike that other tribe, MINE supports Freedom.*

            *the Freedoms that really matter, not the ones I dislike.**

            **except when it’s more convenient not to do so, then sacrifices must be made.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Irrelevant, I think you just proved my point quite elegantly. I really ought to thank you.

          • Harald K says:

            Mai La Dreapta: E-cigs are rare here in Norway, but snus (snuff) is common, and I see a bit of the same thing.

            Although I agree brown blobs in public bathroom sinks isn’t too delicate, it beats tobacco smoke by a mile both in health effects and externalities. Still it’s getting ever more restricted in line with cigarettes.

          • Eric S. Raymond says:

            That’s right – you can see lefty/bicoastal purity fixations very clearly in their reactions to concepts like “natural foods” or “genetically modified (anything)”

            It’s unreflective Rousseauianism, ids what it is.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I suspect most of the “liberals don’t have a purity/disgust axis” comes largely from improper labeling; they’ve got it, but they call it something else instead.

            This liberal’s axes don’t shape like that. The other end of my disgust axis is ‘Ok, got rid of that, now no problem’. The other end of my impurity axis is ‘Eh, I blew that one, better luck next time’. My reaction to destruction of an acre of forest is sadness, anger, and strategy.

            To me, ‘purity’ in an emotional sense is not a property of an object, it is an action I (occasionally) do: like managing to get through a performance without a mistake, or checking the fine print on the ingredient labels to make sure there is no trace of animal product in a cake for the guru.

          • Mary says:

            “And I’ll eat my metaphorical hat if liberals’ reactions to certain magic words ”

            That would be cool if the eating wasn’t metaphorical.

        • John Schilling says:

          The largest US regulatory agency being the EPA, would seem to argue against that position.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t consider that to be only a liberal value, unless you’re using liberal in a very broad sense. I lean to the right but wouldn’t dare “defile” a book.

        • Shenpen says:

          Perhaps you lean right only in the American sense, which simply means an older kind of secular liberalism, but not really serious rightwingitude, just being inside the righter side of a liberal society, but not actually opposing that liberal society. Litmus test, how much like you have for Franco (from Spanish Civil War) on a scale of -100 (literally Satan) to 100 (literally a perfect celestial hero) ? For most American conservatives, this will be around -40 to -60, while e.g. for most people on the Hungarian right or similar right leaning people in most of Eastern Europe it will at 40 to 60.

          • Anthony says:

            I would put Franco in positive territory, though not as high as European rightwingers. Anyone who prevents a Communist takeover is positive.

      • Anthony says:

        I have almost the same reaction as your father, and I’m not a liberal – I’m a secular conservative. I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as saying it turns people into Nazis, but I wouldn’t dismiss the argument, either.

      • Cauê says:

        I only get a visceral reaction to burning books when it’s done with the purpose of limiting the availability of information.

        I don’t care nearly as much when it’s because, say, a bookstore overestimated demand.

        • speedwell says:

          Oddly, I don’t have a problem with books being recycled. It seems to be the act of incinerating them that triggers the horrified reaction. I think part of the idea is that recycling isn’t, historically and iconically, an act of willful destructiveness used to demonstrate in the strongest possible way that these books with this message are so harmful, for whatever reason, that their mere presence needs to be exterminated and cleansed with fire.

          • Mary says:

            Do you have a similar objection to burning the flag?

            Free speech necessarily includes the message that some messages are so harmful, for whatever reason, that their mere presence needs to be exterminated and cleansed with fire.

          • speedwell says:

            I am very uncomfortable with using fire to destroy any symbol that is so pregnant with meaning to so many people. To me it’s the equivalent, on a social scale, of an abusive spouse in a rage destroying something that the victim spouse holds dear. It invests the symbol with power. it shows that you fear the symbol. It’s best demonstrated by a bunch of chimpanzees beating up the dead body of a predator animal.

      • library executioner says:

        Burning books would just kill me. I get really upset when a book is accidentally damaged.

        • Airgap says:

          I really think it depends on the books. If I saw someone burning a big stack of those phone book-sized “Learn C++ in 21 days” books, I’d congratulate him for his contribution to the computer science literature.

    • antiquarian says:

      When it comes to highlighting or underlining, I’m with you, but marginalia often improve the book; they’re like amateur annotations and take the book out of the realm of the distant and purely intellectual.

  5. Janne says:

    Re: weighing yourself every day. Should be completely unsurprising that direct feedback helps you control a parameter over time.

    I started weighing myself every day a few years after I started losing weight. The patterns became quite obvious after a couple of years: I tend to gain during short business travels and holidays, and during weekends; I tend to lose weight during regular weeks. Could be restaurant food rather than home-cooked dinners of course. But I hold steady during long-term (month or so) trips to a single place, and during weekends when I work from home.

    Home cooked vs. restaurant dinner seems to matter a bit, but the most important correlation seems to be keeping a regular daily schedule: whether I eat each meal at the same place and at the same time every day or not. Complete guess is that the regularity allows me to adjust the volume of food over time to align with the amount I actually need.

    • Exactly, the more data the better. Fitness trainers often recommend weekly weigh-ins because the daily random weight fluctuations freak people out. But of course the answer to that is not less data but data smoothing. (Have I mentioned Beeminder does data smoothing oh my god I’m insufferable I’m sorry.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What do you use for smoothing? Have you tried loess?

        • Exponentially weighted moving average, same as prescribed in The Hacker’s Diet. Loess/lowess looks promising; thanks for mentioning it. We’ve experimented with a few things, like butterworth filters and ridge regression. Would love to get more advice on smoothing!

          • Army1987 says:

            A rectangular seven-day moving average would average weekly cycles out, for people who eat more on weekends than on weekdays.

            (I used to do that before reading The Hacker’s Diet, when I uncritically accepted its exponential moving average, and I had even forgotten about it until I read a comment by ChristianKl on Less Wrong.)

          • Anthony says:

            Some women may want to use averaging over a 4-week cycle. One woman in a weight-watchers group I was in would go two weeks with one to two pounds gain, lose a pound or two in the third week, then drop 11 pounds in the fourth. At her weight, an average loss of 2.5 – 3 pounds a week was perfectly healthy for her, but if a nutritionist caught her in just before and after the fourth week would be horrified.

          • Janne says:

            Depends on the purpose of your smoothing (or, really, model fitting). You want to see long-term trends? Seasonal trends? Remove daily noise? Highlight day-of-week differences or suppress them? Perhaps you might want to explicitly model extraordinary events such as seasonal holidays in order to highlight their influence, or to discount their effect on the overall weight trends.

        • Janne says:

          Any kind of smoothing is OK, though I’d stay away from a box filter (they tend to introduce artifacts). I use an 7-day variance gaussian for my regular plot (along with the individual data points) since it makes longer-term trends neatly visible. But of course it’s easy to play around with the data in R and look for any kind of data. For instance, a .5 kilo daily variance is normal and expected, so having the scale jump a kilo one day is nothing to worry about; neither is a kilo down of course.

    • Shenpen says:

      Let’s name it the Accounting Effect. What gets measured gets managed largely because it would be a fucken shame not to. Measuring is a way to shame-and-guilt-tripping oneself (or a whole org) to do something. It kills certain excuse mechanisms.

      I am on day 10 of zero alcohol intake, which never happened in the last 20 years. Method: buying a small physical notebook (more serious psychological effect than a computer file) and recording my daily intake. After a week I was just shamed by myself out of drinking.

      (I also use another trick. There is a Better Self who wants to live healthy, and a Lower Self who wants to indulge in impulses and cravings. I used to identify with Better Self and consider Lower Self a non-me demon, which came back to bite me in the ass every time I let my guard down and I was down to drinking and fast food again. Now I identify with Lower Self and construct Better Self as The Boss. Like, I really would like a drink, but The Boss told me I cannot. And don’t fight The Boss, he is all-powerful, resistance if futile, obey and suffer, that sort of thing. Be depressed, feel bad, if you want to, feel unhappy and cravey, but obey, that sort of thing. This works for me. DAE? Does it have a name?)

      • Nathan C says:

        Sounds like Lacan’s perspective on Freud concerning the superego and id (the ‘you’ who identifies would be the ego, I suppose).

    • Tom Womack says:

      I’ve weighed myself daily for a few years now. Nothing particularly insightful; restaurant meals make you weigh significantly more the next morning, evenings spent drinking make you weigh significantly more the next morning, if you weigh yourself after vigorous exercise and a shower your weight has gone down quite a lot.

  6. Anonymous says:

    re: “SO SOOOOO SKEPTICAL.”

    I haven’t read the study they’re referring to, but I recall reading a different study that claimed to predict recidivism rate for youth offenders with 70% accuracy. It turns out you could get a 67% accuracy rate by just predicting “will not re-offend” for every person, since 67% wouldn’t re-offend, and their complicated regression model only increased that by 3%.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      And then there are studies that claim success despite a worse prediction than base-rate.

  7. > Others plodded along at a steadier pace, trying to write a page or two every
    > day. […] The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure.

    I hope this part turns out to be reliable because it’s a great endorsement of Beeminder’s approach.

  8. Nothing Above says:

    You might want to put an eating disorder trigger warning up.

  9. > I tried to find these people’s website to see how the numbers worked,
    > but it wouldn’t let me in because I’m in the US.

    I used hacker superpowers [1] and searched for “weight” but the only publicly listed bet is about what the weight of William and Kate’s second baby will be.

    Nonetheless, these weight loss bets are still happening, probably rarely, as evidenced by this article: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/erdington-man-wins-weight-loss-8384749

    I was going to self-snark about Beeminder offering infinitely worse odds than William Hill but, really, taking the example in that article, losing a life-changing amount of weight (70 pounds) vs losing the 70 pounds and gaining 2500 pounds (sterling) are really almost indistinguishably good. In fact, since Beeminder has a much better system for *staying* at your new weight, I’d argue that tips the scales (tee hee) in Beeminder’s favor.

    More importantly, as I’ve been saying like a broken record in other comments here, beeminding weight (in this case) works better because you’re not committing to some monumental task in a year but rather incremental progress every day. Relevant manifesto: http://blog.beeminder.com/akrasia

    I think the combination of a William Hill style bet plus Beeminder would be especially good. That would nicely thwart what I’m certain is the common failure mode that justifies the “up to 50-to-1 odds”, namely, the slippery slope of “I’ll finish off this pie now and make up for it by eating that much less tomorrow”.

    [1] Right click, “inspect element”, delete “warning blah blah” and “overlay something something”.

    • radm says:

      Given half-a-dozen google-able newspaper reports of £1000+ wins, and the statistic of ~100 bets a year, it seems unlikely WH makes a direct profit on those bets.

      If they did, they would presumably feature them far more prominently on their website, rather than being something it seems like you have to individually arrange with a store manager.

      On the other hand, even £5000 is well within the marketing budget for a local newspaper story that prominently features the bookmakers name and emphasizes that it is possible to win by betting, and that they will pay out.

    • Nornagest says:

      Right click, “inspect element”, delete “warning blah blah” and “overlay something something”.

      I keep forgetting that Chrome can do that.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I found a study that matched the description in the excerpt (Betting on weight loss…and losing: personal gambles as commitment mechanisms;
      Nicholas Burgera and John Lynhamb).

      The 80% figure is based on a sample of 51 bets provided by the agency to the researchers. A review of the letters written by the bettors to initiate the process seems to indicate that a solid majority volunteered that they’d previously tried and failed to lose weight more conventionally (indicating possible selection bias towards people who are bad at losing weight). The average weight loss goal in the study seemed pretty ambitious (2.7 lbs a week sustained for a period of eight months, whereas the standard recommendation for sustainable weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week).

      The study also noted that the agency loses on average $500/year running the weight loss bets, which they accept for the sake of publicity.

  10. speedwell says:

    My doctor believes that “yo-yo dieting” harms the metabolism and causes insulin resistance, which could explain the observed effect (and it IS observed) that people who repeatedly diet and regain the weight damage their ability to lose the weight later. I asked whether normal hormonal changes as a person ages might not be part of the picture, and he said he wouldn’t be at all surprised. It is certainly true that women with polycystic ovary syndrome have special trouble losing weight even on severely calorie-restricted diets; women on the whole find it more difficult to lose weight for reasons directly related to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, and PCOS women even more so because they not only have wonky sex hormones but also because they typically develop insulin resistance.

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) As a long-term yo-yo dieter, the lab rat experiment sounds plausible to me. If you’re someone who needs to diet to lose a significant amount of weight (none of those rubbish “drop two dress sizes for Christmas and fit into that little black party dress!” quickies for people who need to shift four to six pounds of pudge), then to get it off and keep it off, there is no such thing as “coming off the diet”.

      There is no such thing as “hit your target weight and now you can eat normally”. ‘Normally’ in that case means ‘stick to calorie restrictions, count carbs, avoid the fattening things, exercise exercise exercise’ for the entire rest of your life, and before you naturally thin types go “But that’s what everyone does!”, it also means sticking to lower calorie intake than the ‘average recommended adult level’, sometimes much lower, more and harder exercise, and no room for “Oops, binged a bit at my friend’s wedding, better hit the gym for a bit longer the next week” and it comes off.

      You lose the weight, you go back to eating in a non-diet way (and this does not mean ‘stuffing your face’, it means ‘eating like the members of your family and your friends who don’t need to go on diets’), the weight packs back on plus a bit extra, you start dieting again, it’s tougher to lose the weight, rinse and repeat.

      (2) I’d never thought before that this might be a historical change as opposed to just Freud getting it wrong.

      Did you really never think that, back in Freud’s day, all this was new so people had no idea what was supposed to be floating around in the subconscious? Whereas in our day, and during the years intervening, psychological theories became commonplace so people ‘know’ what kind of things they’re supposed to be hung-up on, what kinds of experiences are likely to be at the root of their problems (the infamous ‘tell me about your mother’), and what kinds of insights they should be having – but knowing all that and being able to act on it and change are still very different things.

      (3) I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this

      Because it was neither popular nor profitable, when divorce was being liberalised and the pro-divorce side were going on about how this was a great social good, to argue that divorce might have negative consequences, particularly for children who were seen as innocent parties.

      Anyone here want to stand up and make an argument that same-sex marriage might be bad for children? Mmm-hmm, I thought so. At the very least, you’d be accused of being a religious zealot bigot indulging in negative propaganda to further your goals of oppression and denying people the right to love and a fresh start.

      When people wanted easier divorce, they also wanted to believe that children were flexible and malleable, that there were no downsides to amicable divorces, that it was better for children to be in a single-parent home than one with two parents hostile to one another and fighting, that people deserved a chance at love and happiness, etc. etc. etc. Any studies saying “Yeah, but one-parent families of divorce don’t do so well” were right-wing Republican/Catholic propaganda (insert your detested ideological opponents of choice; in my country, naturally, it was the enlightened modern progressives versus the dark bigots of the Church wanting to retain social power) and wasn’t to be taken seriously, even to debunk it, since their data was obviously wrong, cherry-picked, and slanted to prop up their faulty case.

      (4) And now, having depressed you all, I wish you all a Happy St Patrick’s Day!

      • Irrelevant says:

        Anyone here want to stand up and make an argument that same-sex marriage might be bad for children?

        I dunno about good or bad, but all the studies claiming it does NOTHING are pretty strong evidence that either the studies suck or the genetic determinists are righter than I thought.

        • Anthony says:

          I recall seeing a study which said that children with two gay male parents did *better* than those with two straight parents, who did better than those with two gay female parents.

          However, I don’t recall if they made any allowances for confounding by socioeconomic levels or race.

          • Randy M says:

            If that is the one I recall, it was based on voluntary surveys in a gay magazines with the intentions of the study laid out, or something equally likely to yield objective participants.

          • Airgap says:

            I remember one for lesbians, which compared “child of two self-selected educated, upper-middle class lesbian parents in a stable relationship” to “random child” and found that the lesbian group did slightly better. No, really! It seems lesbianism is some kind of magic solution to parenting issues. Perhaps the NSF could arrange for a detachment of Smith College-educated social workers to teach childrearing-improvement lifestyle strategies to welfare mothers in the ghetto. Perhaps the program could be dramatized by Vivid Entertainment. The major danger here seems like the possibility of them running out of “Closing the Gap” related sexual puns.

          • Nita says:

            @ Airgap

            But the controversial policy question is not “should we turn random parents into lesbians?”, it’s “should a typical lesbian couple seeking custody or adoption be considered valid candidates, rather than rejected outright?”

            Of course, “self-selected, educated, upper-middle class and stable” vs “random” is still a bit too skewed, but not as much as you suggest.

        • Mary says:

          I’ve heard of studies where it does no worse than similarly situated children.

          Unfortunately, because the vast majority of children raised by homosexuals were conceived in heterosexual marriages that ended in divorce, what that means is that they are compared to children more likely to have problems.

      • Jiro says:

        There is no such thing as “hit your target weight and now you can eat normally”.

        In order to lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you use.

        In order to stay at your target rate, you must consume as many calories as you burn.

        Clearly, the second of these involves consuming more calories than the first (at least when you’re near your target). So while “you can eat normally” may be technically false, you can certainly eat *more* normally.

        • Jehst says:

          Yo Jiro, that reasoning works if you assume a linear model of weight loss. There are potential nonlinearities involved that could make it so you need to eat fewer calories at weight x-1 than weight x to sustain a current level of bodyfat.

          I’m paraphrasing from this article, http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/another-look-at-metabolic-damage.html:

          The determinants of total metabolic rate are multi-fold, typically divided up into the following four categories:

          BMR: Basal metabolic rate which is the basal processes to run your body.
          TEF: Thermic effect of food, the extra calories you burn from eating. Quick-estimated at 10% or so it actually depends on the nutrient eaten.
          TEE: Thermic effect of exercise. The calories burned through exercise.
          NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The calories you burn moving around, fidgeting, changing postures.

          All 4 of these factors respond to changing food intake and body weight. Essentially, the calories required to maintain a body-weight will reduce as you lose weight.

          As you start dieting:
          – BMR goes down as you lose weight because a smaller body burns fewer calories (note that fat loss will also be accompanied by muscle loss)
          – TEF automatically goes down a bit since you are eating less food
          – TEE reduce, since at any given absolute exercise intensity, a smaller person burns less calories
          – as for NEAT, there are large individual variations, but you generally tend to be more lethargic during the day when you diet, so you end up moving around less, burning fewer calories in total. And while it’s great to think that you can consciously impact this, NEAT is subconscious. At best you can offset it with more exercise.

          Other factors like changes in nutrient partitioning (amount of excess calories converted to fat/muscle, amount of deficit calories sourced from fat/muscle) will also create non-linearities in fat loss efforts.

          Note that neither me nor the cited article are claiming that these effects make fat loss impossible, but Deiseach’s claim about having to eat less than perviously at a lower bodyweight/bodyfat have some merit. However, I will speculate that at the very end of a weight loss diet you should be able to increase your caloric intake from (maintenance – deficit) to (maintenance) even though your maintenance requirements at bodyweight X-1 are less than they used to be at bodyweight X.

      • Highly Effective People says:

        Like all good talking points the “children are better off in an amicable divorce” one is only mostly wrong.

        ~20% of divorces are in high conflict (abuse, addictions, adultery, etc.) marriages which could conceivably hurt childrens’ development. The other 80% low conflict marriages are apparently not meaningfully different from successful marriages.

        So in an alternative world where the only options were ‘no divorce ever’ or ‘divorce at will’ (counterfactual #1) and children in single parent households had outcomes <1/4 as bad as children in high conflict households (counterfactual #2) this argument would make sense. By political standards that makes it refreshingly realistic.

        (I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence but sarcasm is notoriously hard to convey online. I am agreeing with Deiseach.)

        • Mary says:

          One notices that divorce only helps the children of high conflict marriages if they succeed in turning it into a low-conflict divorced situation. This is not the common result.

  11. Douglas Knight says:

    Nurture Assumption said the opposite (children whose fathers left for valid reasons were totally indistinguishable from children with two parents), I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this.

    Anger? Is that an appropriate response to disagreement?

    Anyhow if you find your memory of Harris disagreeing with the facts, surely the problem is not Harris, but your memory? I haven’t read her books, so I don’t know how much she talks about this, but here’s the first relevant passage I find (p 284–5):

    a lot of things you’d think would matter turn out not to matter….The fatherless ones who are better off—and this is curious, too—are the ones whose fathers have died. “Children who grow up with widowed mothers,” McLanahan said, “fare better than children in other types of single-parent families.” In some studies, in fact, they fare as well as children who grow up with two living biological parents.

    In this passage she is relying on McLanahan & Sandefur’s book, which may not consider fathers absent due to distant jobs.

    • Kyle Strand says:

      Also , does “found the contrary evidence” mean something in addition to what this book says? You haven’t given us the greatest confidence in its reliability.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yeah, the book just cites Gottfredson and Hirschi, apparently on the topic of children of single parents having negative outcomes, without clearly indicating that the book talks about the case of “valid reasons.”

  12. anon1 says:

    > Some researchers have attempted to correct this by looking at children who were raised by single parents because the father was absent for other reasons (like being stationed overseas, or dying at a young age). Predictably, the results were in between.

    Aren’t impulsive people more likely to do something stupid and die young?

    • Stezinech says:

      It’s a good bet that impulsiveness is related to age of death. Several large studies have shown an association between IQ and age of death, and IQ and impulsiveness are negatively correlated.

      On the other hand, being stationed overseas sounds like something that could be related to Conscientiousness (which is negatively related to impulsiveness). So, perhaps this group of fathers was pretty heterogenous, and grouping them together didn’t make much sense.

      • Nonnamous says:

        Of the people I know who joined the military, not all of them are shining examples of low impulsiveness.

        • Stezinech says:

          Lol, fair point. Personally, I have no clue what leads soldiers to the be stationed overseas, so I could be way off on that one.

  13. Douglas Knight says:

    In 1995, Tierney did a semiscientific survey

    Tierney is one of the coauthors, a journalist. I think that’s pretty cool.

  14. Civilization14 says:

    Just wanted to note that I’m very interested in this topic and, like you, interested to know what is actually true (and thus likely to be very useful) vs. poorly supported pop. sci.

    Question for everyone though: I’ve seen several places this “drink sugary drinks to restore willpower” or even just “rinse your mouth with sugar drinks to restore willpower”. However, I’ve seen conflicting things about artificial sweeteners with regard to this, so what’s up? (presumably swishing artificial sweeteners works as well as sugar, since neither actually affects blood glucose if you spit it out)

    I.e. should I be drinking artificially sweetened drinks to restore willpower (without the side effects of added sugar) or not? (I don’t think I’m going to regularly swish and spit sugary drinks, but just drinking artificially sweetened drinks seems a workable alternative)

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Artificially sweetened drinks do boost my willpower but I end up feeling very dizzy if I actually use that willpower for some physical activity.

    • speedwell says:

      If you’re going to try this, at least use xylitol, which is far lower in calories, kinder to glycemic control, and prevents tooth decay (your dentist will approve of your mouthwash habit).

    • speedwell says:

      It occurred to me that I read that serotonin is manufactured in the gut from carbohydrates. I know that when I was on a very strict low-carb diet, I suffered greatly from depression and anxiety, and when I relaxed my carb restrictions slightly, my mood improved. I find it difficult to argue that just the culinary experience of having a daily slice of whole wheat bread or a helping of beans was so rewarding in and of itself that it helped clear the clouds of major depression. Could serotonin be part of the explanation of why sugar worked to improve the functioning of the rats?

      Also… those interested in the exchange below where another commenter mentioned using inositol should look into the role of inositol in neurobiology.

  15. Shmi Nux says:

    If you are using the Chrome browser, the Zenmate extension often helps in bypassing geographical restrictions.

  16. Rachael says:

    “A clear difference between Chinese and American toddlers appears when they’re asked to override their natural impulses. In one test, for instance, the toddlers are shown a series of pictures and instructed to say “day” whenever they see the moon and “night” whenever they see the sun.”

    My daughter took part in a study like this! She had to say “happy” when seeing a sad face and “sad” when seeing a happy face, and they were comparing British and Chinese preschoolers. I thought they told me the Chinese kids found it more difficult to give the “wrong” and “silly” answers, but I could be misremembering.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Were both groups of children told to use words in their native languages?

      • Rachael says:

        The ones in our study must have been, because the Chinese kids were actually in China and might not have known English. Dunno about the ones in the book, if they were Chinese-American.

    • Mary says:

      One notes too that it doesn’t having to be overriding their natural impulses; it could be a healthy refusal to obey someone obviously wrong-headed.

  17. Alex Godofsky says:

    These findings, which were published in 1958, didn’t attract much attention at the time or in ensuing decades, since it was dangerous to one’s career to suggest that there might be drawbacks to single-parent homes…

    That doesn’t sound right.

    • Deiseach says:

      Photo post looking back to the Irish divorce referendum of 1995. Note how the “no” side are all religious/old/white males/rural country types, and the “yes” side are the bright new forward looking progressives – Nell McCafferty (renowned Irish feminist) with a young Bono on the “right to remarry” side versus the Bible-thumpers.

      “The last great fear-mongering culture war before instant fact-checking” sign-off sentence – the “No” side did quote American studies about the effects of divorce on children and the one-parent family, but that was – as you may see – dismissed as “fear-mongering”.

      Now you tell me – who are the goodies and who are the baddies in that post? What opinions might or might not have a bad effect if you express them to your peers and fellow-workers? If you said “divorce has a bad effect on the outcome of children’s lives”, are you going to be seen as really worried about the children, or as a backwards, oppressive bigot using propaganda scare tactics?

      • Alex Godofsky says:

        1995 is a long ways away from 1958.

        • Jiro says:

          But not so far when you consider that since Ireland is Catholic, its attitudes towards divorce are probably more representative of America in the past than America in the present. Progressives would be fighting divorce later than in America, so the period where discouraging divorce is a progressive taboo would also be later.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, it took a couple of referenda before we got the happy result of legal divorce (if you detect some cynicism there, you wouldn’t be wrong).

          We had referenda in 1986, there was one mooted to be held after that but the government of the day collapsed and finally the last one in 1995 which carried the “yes” vote for amending the Constitution to permit divorce by 0.5%. At which point, having won, the pro-divorce side changed their policy from “We’ll keep fighting no matter the percentage against us” to “Hey, the people have spoken, no point having more referenda on the topic”.

          Meh. Progress happens, like it or not (or whether it’s progress or not).

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            If the pro-divorce referendum lost in 1986, I’m pretty sure in 1986 it wasn’t verboten to express anti-divorce sentiments.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s a narrow way of thinking about it. The point at which it’s most verboten is when the fight is happening, not after the fight is over. Now that you have no chance of changing society’s attitudes to prevent divorce, a study showing that divorce is bad will no longer be considered as threatening as it would have been back when the exact same study could have hurt the struggle.

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            Jiro, if over 50% of voters rejected a thing then I am pretty sure that at least someone was managing to say things against that thing without being struck down by lightning and/or twitter mobs.

          • Irrelevant says:

            You’re conflating local and global consensus, Alex.

            I have no idea about the specific example in Irish politics here, but in the general case what Jiro’s describing is both possible and common. Convenient example is the Iraq War, which it was perfectly OK to criticize once we were locked into it but was extremely career-damaging to oppose as a journalist or politician during the lead up. Everyone hates a Cassandra.

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            Your analogy would only work if the AUMF Iraq had failed to pass Congress.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, you didn’t hear the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the backwards rural Bible-thumpers had made a show of the nation before the neighbours and let the family the government down in the eyes of the world.

            That’s a line being recycled for the same-sex marriage referendum these days, actually; “If Ireland doesn’t pass this, we’ll be regarded as terribly backwards by our peers in Europe” 🙂

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            I bet there was plenty. But “one side in a political debate yells at the people on the other side” does not mean debate has been shut down.

        • Randy M says:

          Academics tend to be ahead of the curve.

      • Shenpen says:

        Interesting how the primary issue of conservatives seems to be not that they have wrong ideas, but they are absolutely horrible at expressing them “cool” ways.

        Of course, from the conservative angle wanting “coolness” is a problem in itself, as they will see it as the lack of depth and discipline and other virtues, still.

        The problem is IMHO that there are two ways to be cool, either look very compassionate or very bright. Bright-without-compassionate leads to the Ayn Rand type cool, which is only cool for a smaller group of people, compassionate-without-bright leads to the “hippie” type cool, this is more popular, and both leads to the most popularity.

        The issue of conservatives is that they are the harbinger of bad news, basically the messengers who are shot. When stripped of all the Jesus, the conservative messenge is “you cannot have nice things because human nature is so fucked and civilization so brittle that it would have all kinds of less obvious but bad consequences, nice, compassionate and bright changes one after the other could totally end up us going back to cannibalism”.

        And basically this pessimistic message comes accross as neither compassionate nor bright, ending up not being cool.

        I would say, it is a classic case of Buridan’s Ass. Its pessimistic nature first kills the compassionate angle. Unlike libertarians, who are often to happy to project a cruel-but-bright type of cool, conservatives actually have some compassion and thus they try to sweeten the pill and dull the pain with a generous helping of Jesus. But that just ends up killing whatever bright kind of cool was left in it.

        Onward to the solution.

        Is it possible to come accross as compassionate as the harbinger of bad news, when there are a lot of bright people out there busy denying that your news are true? Probably not. A “I am really, really sad to have to ampute your leg to save your life” message will never sound compassionate as long as the opposition keeps saying “but you don’t have to!”

        So conservatives end up competing with libertarians for the small group of people who are content with the bright type of cool only. NRx is born.

        If the compassion problem could be solved – if bad news could made look caring when the majority actually denies their truth – it would also solve the problem of the lack of the bright cool, as there would no need to scoop Jesus into the cup to make it less bitter.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Is it possible to come accross as compassionate as the harbinger of bad news, when there are a lot of bright people out there busy denying that your news are true?

          Not to derail I hope, but with a few words Searched and Replaced, this piece could be helpful to the people on the AVG side.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The Moynihan Report, heavily criticized by the left, was released in 1965, which is about the same time period.

  18. Army1987 says:

    I wish I had known about the William Hill thing back in January: https://www.beeminder.com/army1987/goals/weightloss

    (in case you’re wondering the figures in the comments are body fat percentage measurements)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Are there any good books that summarize a bunch of results in a readable way, without interpreting them, let alone fitting them into a narrative?

  20. Marcel Müller says:

    “When fat lab rats are put on a controlled diet for the first time, they’ll lose weight. But if they’re then allowed to eat freely again, they’ll gradually fatten up, and if they’re put on another diet it will take longer to lose the weight this time. Then, once they again go off the diet, they’ll regain the weight more quickly than the last time. By the third or fourth time they go through this boom-and-bust cycle, the dieting ceases to work – the extra weight stays even though they’re consuming fewer calories.”

    “If true this would require a pretty high-level uncoupling of calories and weight gain.”

    And this is utterly plausible if not to say necessary in a (evolutionary) biological sense. In fact one should be very surprised if it were not so. Of course wight gain is strictly calories in versus calories out as predicted by thermodynamics, but both sides of the equation are – surprise – tightly regulated. If this were not true even slight deviations (in both directions) from the required caloric uptake were fatal over surprisingly short timeframes (a 10% deviation over 20 days would gain or loose 1 kg of adipose tissue, which means that an average 10% deviation (a slice of bread or two) over 1 to 3 years would kill or at least incapacitate you).

    I really liked how Scott used hight as a sanity check for our expectations about inteligence. I will do the same with bodytemperature and body wight. Body temperature obeyes the same strict calories in (metabolic heat) versus out (heat loss) as body weight. Imagine you decided for some reason, you wanted to decrease your body temperature by a degree or two. You might manage that for a limited amount of time by plunging into cold water (~ excercise) or somehow reducing your metabolism (~ dieting). But now your bodies temperature regulation will adapt and counteract your intervention. Furthermore I don’t have data on this, but I’d bet that after doing this repeatedly the intervention will become less effective.

    On the other hand if you have fever (~Obesity) your body temperature will increase without hopping through any hoops or expending willpower.

    This analogy goes even further: Physical activity (~ binge eating) will slightly increase the body temperature in a healthy person but it will quickly revert to normal.

    So my two cents on this topic are that as long as we do not find the dial to set the wight setpoint or at least find out what screws the setpoint up in obese people (gut microbiome? light dark cycle? fructose? probably something else entirely…) pretty much any wight loss attempt is doomed. Amazing wight loss stories – with or without effort – are probably coincidential alterations of this very setpoint.

    • speedwell says:

      I’ve said a lot about insulin resistance in this thread, but there’s a lot of good evidence that it is perhaps one of the largest influences on the setpoint you describe. As an insulin-resistant non-insulin-dependent diabetic, I’ve been interested in this subject for years. I find it immensely difficult to lose weight, and I have rather a lot of weight to lose. My clinic diabetes educator (I live in Ireland) thinks I am a candidate for weight loss surgery, which I refuse to submit to for various excellent reasons I won’t go into here because I don’t want to derail the thread, but there exists a body of evidence that argues that the surgery itself has effects on the setpoint, at least in the short term (people tend to gain the weight back after WLS for any number of possible reasons), and an equally respectable body of evidence that argues that the observed effects on insulin resistance and other metabolic markers of obesity is due purely to the diet given to WLS patients immediately after surgery.

      After quite a lot of study, I have settled on intermittent fasting as a technique I’d like to try, and will approach that with my new bariatric specialist in Galway at our first appointment. Apparently IF, if sensibly planned (I won’t be eating white bread or sugary foods anytime soon, to be sure), has most of the good effects we see in other diets without the metabolic damage we see in continuous control.

      I’d love to try a gut microbiome therapy if it is ever made available to me. But I need to do something in the meantime.

      Incidentally, my clinician and I were very amused by the following lab results: On a very-low-carb diet in Texas with reasonably small portions and 1500mg of time-release Metformin per day, my A1C was 6.1 (considered tightly controlled). Off the low-carb diet in Ireland with normal portions and the occasional alcoholic drink, and digestive biscuits (a plain cookie) or wheaten bread (a dense Irish soda bread made with wholemeal flour) with my tea, and 1500mg of regular Metformin, my A1C was 6.3 (still considered tightly controlled). My post-meal tested blood sugar levels and overall fasting levels didn’t look terribly different between the two cases, either.

      • Richard says:

        If things are bad enough that you are seriously considering surgery, you might want to try and brute-force some weight loss.

        The thing is that with genuine army boot-camp levels of exercise and a low-carb diet, it is impossible not to lose weight. I know half a dozen people who have been through such a regime and all of them have been able to keep their weight down after. Everyone loses weight during the regime, but I have done no followup on the people I didn’t know personally to see if they have gained it back.

        I have been assisting on one such programme that consisted of 2x7hr sessions of bicycling daily for 3 weeks and an expected daily weight loss of .3 – .5 kg. One friend of mine did 4 of these in a row and lost a total of 60kg over 12 weeks, but that is not considered to be entirely healthy.

        Probably a lot more painful than surgery, but might be worth checking with your doc to see if he thinks you will survive it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Richard, how many people in their everyday lives do 7 hours of cycling a day?

          You see the problem here? Average people don’t have to go to that level to shift weight or keep within an up-and-down range of a couple of pounds.

          If Mary or Joe has to be doing cycle race training levels of exercise every day just to stay within the BMI chart “average normal” range, then there’s a problem with the metabolism somewhere.

          • Richard says:

            This is not a continuous effort, it is a boot-camp type short-term effort to brute force the weight down. Many people have vacations.
            Maintenance exercise after the desired weight is reached is 30-60 minutes per day usually, though quite a few find exercise to be pleasant after the initial pain and do somewhat more.

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            Richard, how many people in their everyday lives do 7 hours of cycling a day?

            That may be why he called it “genuine army boot-camp levels of exercise”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Richard and Andy, some people have to stay on those brutal levels for maintenance. That’s why I get so angry about the merry chirping “It’s basic common sense! Eat less, exercise more! If you want to lose weight, burn more calories than you consume!”

            The thinnest day I ever lived, I was not as skinny as the tall, skinny thing that just jogged by me as I was walking to work. I’ll never be that thin; my bones and frame aren’t that make. Even starving down to ‘bones sticking out’, I’ll never be that narrow (I’ll still have wide hips and shoulders, even if I managed to starve myself down to being six stone in weight).

            But that’s the target the BMI is telling me I should hit; if you’re X height you must be Y weight, otherwise you’re Scientifically Unhealthy Overweight. And of course, being fat is a simple matter of eating more than you need to eat and not exercising enough.

            Never mind the week I quite literally ate nothing (because I had no money due to a screw-up in work paying me), was fainting all over the place, still had to walk everywhere, and didn’t drop one fucking pound in size.

          • Jiro says:

            Never mind the week I quite literally ate nothing (because I had no money due to a screw-up in work paying me), was fainting all over the place, still had to walk everywhere, and didn’t drop one fucking pound in size.

            You may have been bad at weight loss, but the laws of physics must have been like nothing to you back then.

          • Hari Seldon says:

            Deiseach, I can feel your frustration. I would like to lose about 20 pounds permanently, but find it incredibly difficult to keep off. I am an avid cyclist and typically put in ~10 hrs each week. I usually lift weights 2-3 times each week. My weight won’t budge below 190 unless I drop my daily calories to ~1700. That is well below what is considered “safe” for my size and activity level. But even that gives a sloooow weight loss.

            I work with my half-brother. His mother’s side is tall and lean. My mother is probably close to 300 lbs. I exercise like crazy; he rarely exercises. I never eat breakfast; he always has breakfast and then a high-carb sugary snack around 10. We usually eat the same lunch. I drink diet soda for snacks; he drinks sugar soda and always has candy around.

            He is 190 pounds and looks lean and fit. I am 190 pounds and look like I never get off the couch. Life ain’t fair like that.

            Yes, calories —–> weight gain. And at a certain point, the laws of thermodynamics take over. Stop eating and you WILL lose weight.

            But we are not bomb calorimeters that losslessly convert all unused energy to adipose. There is a lot of weird stuff going on between calories consumed and adipose cells enlarged. I don’t think science is even close to having a good handle on metabolism.

            I don’t have any advice, just wanted to assure you that you are not alone. We are bombarded with the incessant cries of thin people yelling “it’s simple thermodynamics, fatty!” Sometimes it’s just nice to hear that you are not the only one who has good reason to doubt the dogma of the day.

          • Anonymous says:

            Plausibly you (Deiseach) retained additional water weight, counterbalancing the loss of fat/muscle weight.

            It seems literally impossible to have an energy output, no energy input and not lose some stored energy. But if you were drinking liquids (which you almost certainly were, seeing as you aren’t dead) that could make up the weight.

            I know people with severe protein deficiencies retain water (kwashiorkor), is there some sort of lesser condition for short term starvation?

          • speedwell says:

            Anon, if I may? The wretched truth is that the body doesn’t just burn fat when in starvation mode (unless you are a housecat going into hepatic lipidosis), it burns muscle. That’s why so many diets stress protein intake, so that the body takes it out of the diet rather than out of muscles. I am guessing that Deiseach experienced a short-term muscle burn. Just a guess though. I’m going to scapegoat female and adrenal hormones for a reason why, but I stress that I’m just guessing.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jiro et al, I wish to Christ I understood what happened, because I was consoling myself with a week of trying to survive on NO FUCKING MONEY AT ALL with “Oh well, at least I’ll drop a few pounds, right?”

            Wrong. Granted, I was drinking water like a camel to stave off hunger pangs, and it’s possible that I was so bloated from fluid retention that that is why my clothes weren’t looser on me and my face, etc. was still as fat as ever, but otherwise – I. Don’t. Know. Why. It. Didn’t. Work.

            And that’s the attitude that makes me (and other fat people) bang our heads off the wall: “Oh come on, you must be mistaken (lying you fat fraud); if you were Doing It Right, you’d lose weight!”

          • Cauê says:

            Deiseach, I remember one other person I’ve seen trying to make this point with as much energy and frustration as you. Perhaps this is what will make you warm up to Eliezer Yudkowsky?

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/a6/the_unfinished_mystery_of_the_shangrila_diet/
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/ab/akrasia_and_shangrila/
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/ev3/causal_diagrams_and_causal_models/

            (especially the comments – I think there was more, but can’t find it)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Hari Seldon: Thirded. I managed to lose about 25 lbs before plateauing through several months of active effort, which included several hours a week of running, weightlifting, etc… and chugging water all day to kill hunger and therefore eat less. Can you guess what happened the second I stopped? That’s right; the weight came back! So in other words, if I want to be 225 lbs for the rest of my life, I’ve got to commit to a never-ending fight against entropy. Scratch that, a second never-ending fight against entropy; the only reason my set point is even at 250 lbs in the first place (and not 300 lbs like it used to be) is because I have already switched to a low-carb diet, permanently.

            Meanwhile, people who are naturally skinny eat enough to feel satisfied, and make delicious refined carbohydrates a regular part of their diet, and occasionally treat themselves with candies or deserts, and don’t have to push themselves to do more exercise than they feel like doing, and they have no problems with remaining at their skinny set point. At all.

            Look, I’m not one of those fat acceptance, healthy at every size, big is beautiful tumblrinas, okay? I know that being fat is ugly, and unhealthy, and physically limiting, and has negative externalities. I’m not in denial here. But the simple fact is that Calories In, Calories Out is bullshit. It is a colossal, epic, sun-blocking pile of bullshit.

            @Cauê: He also has a couple of good posts on Facebook.

            https://www.facebook.com/yudkowsky/posts/10151804857224228
            https://www.facebook.com/yudkowsky/posts/10152183037759228

            For the record, I agree with Eliezer on pretty much everything here, except for his cringeworthy use of the term “metabolic privilege” and its derivatives. The last thing people making this point need is to get pattern-matched to that side of Tumblr.

          • Shenpen says:

            I wonder if I may be lucky. I unleashed 15 years of drinking far far too much alcohol and eating peasant food all the time – bacon, sausages, bread – and at about 25% over the weight when I was athletic. This 25% is enough to put me into the obese BMI, borderline, but I wonder if this is still an unusually lenient punishment for those 4 eggs, bacon, 0.25kg bread breakfasts which were supposed to quench the burn of the 2 liter beer, 3 whiskey last evening, and basically doing shit like this every day over a decade.

        • Marcel Müller says:

          Sure you’ll lose wight but how many month until you got it back? Is there a controled study that this works long term?

        • speedwell says:

          Just a word to the wise: please do not assume that people with a health problem have not tried as hard as they can, much less tried your favorite method. Yes, I have used caloric levels that would make me a rock star on pro-ana sites. Yes, I had a personal trainer for a while. When I was 17 and had a more active metabolism, I went on Weight Watchers when they had a tier system… level 1 was the harshest and meant to jump start you in the first two weeks, level 2 was the main weight loss regimen, and level 3 was “maintenance”. I was on level 1 for seven straight months, supervised by my mother who was a fanatic about my goddamn weight and logged every particle I ate and charted my activity level (and no, I did not cheat, hide food, or eat larger portions than suggested), and I did not lose a single pound. If I had a dollar for every doctor who told me “this should work; you aren’t doing it right” despite me being a fucking perfectionist about it, I could afford bail after I punched out the next one. Just don’t.

        • Shenpen says:

          I did the brute-forcing once. I used one of those turmix drinks where you eat nothing for 3 days just drink it, then you can for 7 days a light dinner, then light lunch etc. It reduced my appetite.

          It was gym 5 days a week, about 1.5 hours and a really radical diet. Breakfast and lunch was 1 wholemeal roll and 1 yoghurt, and dinner like 1/8 chicken breast with vegs.

          It was brutal, efficient, 103 kg down to 80 in 4 months and yet with fairly good muscles, not muscle loss more like gain, and I don’t think I could garner the will to do it again.

          You see, I was desperate to find a girlfriend. Now I am a family father. Mission accomplished

          The issue is, that the only reason I could do it was that it was my No. 1 priority in my life, obsessed about it. Now I always juggle 4-5 ones.

      • Marcel Müller says:

        “I’d love to try a gut microbiome therapy if it is ever made available to me.”

        Maybe you want to try http://www.generalbiotics.com/ this https://orders.generalbiotics.com/orders/new? Though no clear evidence that it helps I think.

        • speedwell says:

          You never know, Marcel. Very often a therapy addresses only one uncommon cause of a common issue, which is why there are often several different medicines to treat a given illness. I wouldn’t try it first, but having exhausted most of the usual methods, I am wondering what to do next. I’ll discuss it with my specialist; thank you very much for the link.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Speedwell, I’ve recently been taking inositol in an attempt to stave off insulin resistance (my mother is a type II diabetic, and I want to avoid going down that road). Not sure if it’ll help you to lose weight, but it’s one more thing to consider.

          • speedwell says:

            Anon, if you get it in bulk, you can even use it to sweeten your tea with, and there is some evidence it can help reduce the depression and anxiety commonly associated with diabetes and prediabetes. Yes, inositol is lovely stuff, even though you need to take several grams of the stuff a shot (which is why using it as an alternate sweetener is an idea; it is about half as sweet as sugar). Look into tagatose as well if you find it more readily obtainable; it has proven effectiveness in helping manage glycemic control, and is fully as sweet as sugar (and has far less digestive upset than the sugar alcohols, of which inositol is one).

    • kernly says:

      …pretty much any wight loss attempt is doomed.

      Wouldn’t forcible intervention still work? Instead of being able to get food for yourself, you’re only allowed the food you’re provided. Instead of choosing whether you walk to work or take a car, you have to walk some mandated part of the way. Your body might be screaming for more food and less activity, but if it can’t get it it doesn’t matter. Would it really continue to scream forever, or eventually acclimate to the new situation after weeks, months, or years? If you’d be in constant misery for years as a result of such an intervention, it wouldn’t be worth it, but I’m doubtful that that would be the result.

      • speedwell says:

        Instead of being able to get food for yourself, you’re only allowed the food you’re provided. Instead of choosing whether you walk to work or take a car, you have to walk some mandated part of the way.

        In a way I wish this did work; I would not have been a heavy teenager despite my parents’ incessant supervision of my diet and activity level. I was totally motivated to comply, but if I hadn’t been fully compliant, they would have known.

      • Why do you think people would acclimate?

        • speedwell says:

          That’s an excellent question, actually. People who are active tend to see their insulin resistance go away to some extent. If prediabetes has not progressed to the point of real concern (A1C over 5.5, let’s say) then diabetes is less likely to develop later. Most frank type 2 diabetics eventually lose function gradually and injected insulin comes into the picture. You’d expect to see the insulin sensitizing effects of exercise become less influential at that point, I suppose. There are other metabolic and cellular issues (such as the uptake and metabolism of Vitamin D) that go along with diabetes. Other conditions, such as hypothyroidism or PCOS, that lead to obesity may have different mechanisms in addition to insulin resistance that might compromise the long-term effects of exercise (I can only speak to what I personally know).

          A friend who is an athlete and personal trainer also points to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, and therefore people sometimes don’t realize the extent to which they are “losing weight” when they replace fat with muscle.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Because it’s a remarkable claim that a system which otherwise yells for a while but gives up and gets used to things, and which can accommodate a move from the tropics to the arctic, can form an indelible attachment to staying a specific mass. Has anyone ever proposed a mechanism that would let that happen?

          • speedwell says:

            Bodies are remarkable things, aren’t they? As far as I know, the research into this particular subject is ongoing, and there are many possible causes to untangle and explore. Perhaps you’d find a review of the available literature as interesting as I did.

          • Irrelevant says:

            There are some shockingly specific mechanisms in there, to be sure. For instance, I recently discovered that while you have a healing gut wound, sneezing shuts off. Not via conscious resistance, but physically, so even if you get a cold or allergies, the instinct is completely suppressed and there’s no risk of ripping yourself back open that way. So, yes, I’m interested, but I was hoping for a starting point more specific than just “the available literature.”

          • speedwell says:

            Fair enough. I’m just an informed layman, but the most interesting information I’ve come across implicates cortisol and stress, and the accompanying adrenal, thyroid, and other hormonal mechanisms that regulate metabolism. The new understanding of the role of the gut microbiome and its impact on not just metabolism but also on neurotransmitters is also promising.

  21. JG says:

    As far as I can tell, people only lose weight over the long term when they increase their socioeconomic status. If you hang out with rich people in Manhattan all the time you’ll gradually get thinner. If you hang out with rural red state types you’ll gradually get fatter. The exact causal mechanism is hard to pinpoint, but the trend is easy enough to see. It’s especially noticeable when you visit your former social circle after being away for a long time.

    The standard weight-loss ads describe people who remain in the same house in the same town, live with the same family, hang out with the same friends, do the same job, and permanently eliminate a lot of body fat. I’ve never seen a single person pull that off.

  22. Bric n' Brac says:

    The William Hill bet sounds like an excellent opportunity for amateur wrestlers, boxers, bodybuilders, and MMA fighters cutting weight for a competition to clean up on the side.

  23. Joe says:

    This post inspired me to finally start reading “The Training of the Will” by Johann Lindworsky. Apparently religion says it is more important to have a good will rather than a powerful one.

    http://www.booksforcatholics.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=B&Product_Code=091214131X&Category_Code=Learning_the_Faith

  24. social justice warlock says:

    Re: Freud, in Christopher Lasch’s “Culture of Narcisissm” he alludes a number of times to a consensus view (or at least cites particular views) among psychoanalysts that there was a personality shift around midcentury from neurosis to narcissism.

  25. Santoculto says:

    The problem is always the interpretation and confusion between correlation and causality.

    About chinese ( official dog and cat eaters) and white native americans cognitive differences, well, easterners are very adapted to bureaucratic societies. It explain part of their successes in western societies. Dispising cultural recreative context, is like if they are in their own home (nations).
    Educational interventions by tiger moms can’t explain completely this contextual asian superiority because any “change” happen without inner acceptance OR bio-behavioral predispositions. Then, can be possible that easterners can be more cognitive efficient to bureau-mundane stuff than original westerners even in lower iq standard compare with whites. But what seems a disadvantage can explain ultimate western cognitive advantage.

    • Harald K says:

      easterners are very adapted to bureaucratic societies

      If so, that’s completely on the cultural/social level, not the genetic. It’s a pet peeve of mine that people underestimate the time it takes for selective pressures to drive a population in the direction you’d expect. China has been bureaucratic in a blip of evolutionary time, in that period of time the vast majority of people who failed to have kids did so for reasons completely unrelated to their adaption to bureaucracy.

      It’s not even clear evolution has much variation to work with in terms of adaption to bureaucracy. If the variation isn’t already there, it will take a long time for selective pressure to matter. The supply side of evolution matters.

      • Peter says:

        Complete random side point: I was reading http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/afterlife/ and came across this interesting thing about Near-Death Experiences: “In Western NDEs there is often a “spirit guide” who counsels the experiencer that it is better that he or she should return to life. In India, on the other hand, the person is often turned back with the information that there has been a clerical error in the paperwork, so that it was by mistake that he or she came to this point!”

        Quite what this says about Easterners and bureaucracy I don’t know, but I thought it was interesting.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Other than confirming that it is in fact possible to believe in reincarnation, I don’t think it says anything.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        Do you mind fleshing out this blip-of-evolutionary-time argument? Ideally without contradicting facts such as the disproportionate prevalence of Tay-Sachs disease among Ashkenazi Jews.

        • Harald K says:

          It’s probably a better use of our time if you explain why you think I’m wrong. Because I don’t see at all what a heritable disease arising from mutations on a single gene has to do with it. (Surely you don’t think there has to be an explanation in terms of selective pressure why some modern human groups have this gene more than others?)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Actually, that was a very efficient use of time.

            (Yes, I do. I do think that genetics is a quantitative subject and we can quantify which diseases need explanation and which do not.)

          • Geirr says:

            @Harald K

            >Surely you don’t think there has to be an explanation in terms of selective pressure why some modern human groups have this gene more than others?

            I don’t think there has to be an explanation. Genetic drift is a thing, and the effective population size of the Ashkenazim was quite low at the founding, less than 2,000 Jewish males, IIRC. As it happens I don’t believe Tay-Sachs is a result of genetic drift. It could plausibly be a mutation protecting against tuberculosis.

            >Tay-Sachs Disease
            Carrying Tay-Sachs disease may protect against tuberculosis (TB). In Ashkenazim populations, up to 11 percent of the people are Tay-Sachs carriers. During World War II, TB ran rampant in Eastern European Jewish settlements. Often, healthy relatives of children with Tay-Sachs disease did not contact TB, even when repeatedly exposed. The protection against TB that Tay-Sachs disease heterozygosity apparently offered remained among the Jewish people because they were prevented from leaving the ghettos. The mutant allele increased in frequency as TB selectively felled those who did not carry it and the carriers had children with each other. Genetic drift may also have helped isolate the Tay-Sachs allele, by chance, in groups of holocaust survivors. Precisely how lowered levels of the gene product, an enzyme called hexoseaminidase A, protect against TB isn’t known.

            One of the joys of a passing familiarity with population genetics is knowing about effective population and genetic drift.

            http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetic-drift-and-effective-population-size-772523

            >The least domesticated foxes, those that flee from experimenters or bite when stroked or handled, are assigned to Class III. Foxes in Class II let themselves be petted and handled but show no emotionally friendly response to experimenters. Foxes in Class I are friendly toward experimenters, wagging their tails and whining. In the sixth generation bred for tameness we had to add an even higher-scoring category. Members of Class IE, the “domesticated elite,” are eager to establish human contact, whimpering to attract attention and sniffing and licking experimenters like dogs. They start displaying this kind of behavior before they are one month old. By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent. Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.

            http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/1999/2/early-canid-domestication-the-farm-fox-experiment/2

            That is why I think your blip in time argument is bollocks. A mere ten generations is sufficient to breed an animal that’s far, far outside the previous range of variation.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            I’m not very familiar with this topic, but it is my understanding that
            (a) Ashkenazi divergence from most closely related population groups is relatively recent, i.e. on roughly the same time scale as you call a blip of evolutionary time
            (b) Tay-Sachs is a genetic, hereditary disease
            (c) Tay-Sachs is vastly more common among Ashkenazi than most closely related groups
            (d) insofar as this has happened without any selective pressure, the process must have been yet slower than otherwise, but the presence or absence of selective pressures is not of consequence for my argument.

            It seems hard to reconcile, that a blip of evolutionary time is plentiful for a population group to become vastly more predisposed to Tay-Sachs, but not for other changes related to behavior. You are of course free to reject my claims about Tay-Sachs and Ashkenazi, or to reject the comparison altogether – I am just interested to hear how your point of view applies to this.

          • Harald K says:

            Geirr:

            It could plausibly be a mutation protecting against tuberculosis.

            Fair enough. I don’t know enough to say, but that is a lot more plausible to me, since dying from tuberculosis is very different from dying from bureaucracy.

            In human history since the dawn of agriculture (which is a very short time span in evolutionary history): what has killed people before procreating? Disease, in particular communally transmitted diseases. So that’s where you have the vast majority of selective pressure: for resistance to diseases, or for diet that lets you be healthy when others are malnourished.

            Let’s say there IS a mutation for favorable adaption to bureaucracy adaption. And some chinese kid 2000 years ago is born with it, yay! Unfortunately, he died age 4 from poor sanitary conditions.

            I do not reject and have never rejected disease-related adaption on historical time scales. Not just because we have genetic evidence of it, but because we can just look at the piles of bodies and say, “yup, here we clearly see selective pressure in action”. (We can also be pretty confident about the “supply side”, that selective pressure has sufficient genetic variation to work with, and doesn’t need to wait too long for mutation to provide more.) For bureaucratic adaption, we have none of those things.

            I encourage people to do what every beginning programmer does, and cook up some simulations. See how much time it takes for your critters to evolve an advantage in A, when 99% of the time they fail to reproduce for reasons unrelated to A.

          • Harald K says:

            Unique Identifier: As I hope I explained with the above post, I’m ready to believe there was selective pressure involved in spread of Tay-Sachs related mutations in Ashkenazi populations.

            Ideally you should show me the product of that selective pressure, e.g. a pile of dead kids. But since tuberculosis is known to be able to produce piles of dead kids that’s not too implausible.

            (It’s a slightly larger issue that whatever pressures tuberculosis exerted on Ashkenazi Jews, it presumably also exerted on other populations. But since diseases are rather “unfair” from our genes’ perspective – who dies from them doesn’t just depend on individuals’ resistance, but on travel patterns, climate, and other things outside easy control of our genes – it’s also not implausible that tuberculosis was especially hard on Ashkenazi Jews just from bad luck.)

          • Unique Identifier says:

            These are reasonable positions, but the argument from timespan seems to be doing little if any work.

            It’s worth pointing out that whether a disease kills you, often has a lot to do with whether you have a family to take care of you, whether you are malnourished, etc. Disease doesn’t necessarily as much screen off as it mediates the selective pressures for bureaucratic skills.

            [I don’t think the particular theory about bureaucracy in China is a good one.]

          • Harald K says:

            What’s the “argument from timespan”? sounds like a strawman version of an argument I made.

            My argument was that in the time period in question (the period China has had a bureaucracy), the vast majority of people who failed to have kids did so for reasons completely unrelated to their adaption to bureaucracy.

            The time period in question is not a separable part of that argument.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            The ‘argument from timespan’ is that evolution is such a slow and gradual process, that recent history is entirely negligible. The extreme version of the argument says that since the divergence of modern human population groups is relatively recent, there cannot be any meaningful differences between them. Less extreme versions discount everything since the invention of agriculture, or since the Roman Empire, or since the industrial revolution.

            Writing off bureaucratic China as a blip in evolutionary time suggests a similar position, but as long as we agree that some sort of integral of [magnitude of selective pressure] over [period of time] is what matters, I don’t think there’s much more to say.

      • Geirr says:

        >>easterners are very adapted to bureaucratic societies

        >If so, that’s completely on the cultural/social level, not the genetic.

        This isn’t true. Rice growing cultures like China, Japan and Korea have much, much lower levels of ADHD than wheat growing/pastoralist cultures, which in turn have lower levels than hunter gatherers and recent converts to agriculture.

        >It’s a pet peeve of mine that people underestimate the time it takes for selective pressures to drive a population in the direction you’d expect. China has been bureaucratic in a blip of evolutionary time, in that period of time the vast majority of people who failed to have kids did so for reasons completely unrelated to their adaption to bureaucracy.

        This would be more plausible if I hadn’t read your dismissal of Audacious Epigone’s speculation on gnxp.com on why Scandinavians are unusually good looking due to the persistence of leprosy there longer than elsewhere in Europe. He is obviously familiar with the mathematics of population genetics, which he used in that post and provided a plausible mechanism, analogising leprosy to parasite load, which results in stronger sexual selection across the Animal Kingdom. Your argument was, like here, just, Waaah, not enough time.

        >It’s not even clear evolution has much variation to work with in terms of adaption to bureaucracy. If the variation isn’t already there, it will take a long time for selective pressure to matter. The supply side of evolution matters.

        Again, ADHD. Now I’m not saying bureaucracy actually was a strong selective pressure. I think that what actually happened is that rice farmers can be much more productive under a strong state, which does large irrigation works but mostly the selection pressure is that all else equal the harder a rice farmer works the more likely it is that they’ll have enough to eat.

        I vaguely recall an undergraduate thesis paper from Greg Cochran’s blog on this topic, ages ago, where this was more fleshed out.

        All that said, you keep on harping on about the “Blip of evolutionary time”. Evolution can in fact work quite fast. In historical time lactase persistence in adulthood has gone from nothing to fixation in large parts of Eurasia, and the Black Death, which basically came and went in the space of 100 years made a big difference in the distribution of immune system types in Europe.

        The entire field of population genetics is about when selection pressures work, and how fast. If you want an example look here

        http://www.unz.com/gnxp/selection-in-europeans-but-it-still-sweeps/#comment-900101

        If you want to know more read any of these books.

        Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics
        Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory
        Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, and the Neutral Theory
        Principles of Population Genetics

        • Harald K says:

          “This would be more plausible if I hadn’t read your dismissal of Audacious Epigone’s speculation on gnxp.com on why Scandinavians are unusually good looking due to the persistence of leprosy there longer than elsewhere in Europe. ”

          Oh good, I’ve drawn the attention of evo-psych fans. No, I’ll stand by that argument. It wasn’t “waah, not enough time”, it was “waah, not enough dead bodies”. See my above posts.

          When Audacious Epigone posited a selective pressure, they were saying that lots and lots of people died childless because they couldn’t tell leprosy from ugliness, and accidentally married lepers. This is what a selective pressure would imply in this case. There’s no other way to read them.

          I thought when I presented it that way, it would be obvious why the argument was laughable, but apparently I was wrong.

          In historical time lactase persistence in adulthood has gone from nothing to fixation in large parts of Eurasia, and the Black Death, which basically came and went in the space of 100 years made a big difference in the distribution of immune system types in Europe.

          Yes. And you’ll notice, in both those cases, there are plenty of piles of dead bodies we can point to to show that the selective pressure was real. For the kooky scandinavian beauty leprosy theory, there isn’t.

      • Mary says:

        Depends on the pressure.

        Adult lactose tolerance whipped through Europe like nobody’s business. Which is odd because we had been dairying for a millennium at that point, and had mastered arts like making cheese, butter, and yogurt so we could use the milk without it. (Heck, they think it started in Turkey where you could leave your milk out a few hours and have yogurt. Why is having it a few hours earlier that much of an advantage?)

  26. onyomi says:

    Though I do think genetics play a huge role in determining ultimate potential, I tend to fall somewhat more in the “success is under your control” camp. One reason is what I might call “prioritization.”

    For example, if you told me “if you lose 10 pounds in the next two months you will look and feel healthier,” I would believe you, but I probably wouldn’t succeed at doing it (though I would try–I’m constantly engaged in a low-level effort to lose weight, the effect of which is to always keep me somewhere between “as lean as I’d like to be” and “so fat I can’t comfortably fit in my old pants”).

    However, if someone said to me, “lose 10 pounds in the next two months and I’ll give you 10,000 dollars,” then I’m 100% sure I could do it. That is, that which seems “impossible” suddenly becomes possible with a sufficiently strong motivation.

    How does it become possible? I know in my case that it would be a matter of priorities. Losing weight takes time and energy, especially mental energy. It takes away time and energy from things like work, hobbies, and social interaction. I never feel as if I have a surplus of time and energy in any given month, yet I’m also sure I could rearrange my priorities to emphasize any one thing if that rearrangement meant 10,000 dollars.

    I’m pretty sure I am very typical in this regard.

    This supports the notion, of course, that willpower is a limited resource, and that willpower expended on, say, weight loss, may not be available for saving money, working harder, etc.

    Yet it also seems to speak strongly against pure determinism of things like weight. Almost anyone can lose weight given a strong enough motivation; therefore, it’s not a matter of who has and doesn’t have willpower, but in how people chose to spend it.

    This is also strikes me as a useful heuristic for determining whether someone needs more motivation or more sympathy. If person a would be happier if he or she accomplished x but seems to lack the ability to do so, ask yourself, “could person a accomplish x if offered a suitably large sum of money to do so?” If the answer is “yes,” they need more active encouragement. If “no,” sympathy and accommodation.

    The Beeminder, obviously is an attempt to use this dynamic to our favor, but in an opposite way: lose money if you don’t do it. I’m sure this works well for some, but I read some people saying it didn’t work for them and merely stressed them out. I think I would be among those. “Lose 10 lbs. or we’ll take 10,000 dollars from you” feels very different to me than “lose 10 lbs. and we’ll give you 10,000 dollars.” The former inspires in me feelings of being harassed and badgered, while the latter inspires in me a kind of excitement at the prospect of a big gain.

    Of course, one can’t very well have a website that gives out money every time someone says they’ve gone for a jog, but in theory, at least, there seems to be something about that probably dopamine-related sense of “potential for a big win” that is much more effective to me than the fear of a loss (though the fear of failure can be a very big motivator, too, and certainly there’s a much bigger chance I’d lose weight if faced with losing 10,000 dollars than if faced with no consequences–I just think it would be much more stressful and probably less likely to succeed than the “win 10,000” scenario).

    That said, I also wonder if the key factor isn’t positive vs. negative but the subjective largeness of the sum. If you offered me 100 dollars to lose 10 lbs. I probably would not succeed, as 100 dollars, while desirable, is not desirable enough for me to seriously rearrange my daily life priorities (10,000 might be similarly useless motivation for someone who makes 7 figures a year). Faced with losing an amount of money that is more than I can afford, however, I’d probably do it.

    Therefore, if I were going to use Beeminder, I’d predict the most effective, if scary, way to use it, is to pledge more money than you can comfortably lose and find a way to ensure you can’t get out of it. To do less might just annoy and stress you without actually exceeding the needed threshold of scary consequences.

    • Beautifully said. I would argue though that the combination of a high-stakes bet and Beeminder’s yellow brick road would actually mostly remove the mental energy / willpower expenditure. It’s just something that becomes built in to your daily routine, like going to work in the morning. I may be overoptimistic there. I should also point out that we recommend beeminding things under your direct control, like calories, steps, miles, minutes of exercise. Beemind actions rather than outcomes, in other words. Or at least beemind the outcomes conservatively, like cap the amount at risk (aka the pledge) at $5 and dial the yellow brick road to something super easy.

      I also love your heuristic for motivation vs sympathy. It’s a bit like our Want-Can-Will test for akrasia.

      As to your last point, that’s why we have an exponential pledge schedule: $5 then $10 then $30 then $90 then $270 then $810 then … well, that’s about as high as anyone’s ever gotten. But the idea is that the initial derailments are relatively cheap learning experiences and then you very quickly reach amounts that are highly motivating, without having wasted much on the previous amounts. (In fact, we derived that sequence as the solution to the constraint that the sum of the previous pledges never exceed half the current pledge.)

    • Rachael says:

      There’s a similar site, I think it’s called StickK, where the people who meet their goals receive some of the money confiscated from the people who don’t.

    • speedwell says:

      Oh, I can lose ten pounds like falling off a log. That’s no problem at all. I fluctuate that much from week to week. I could do it in a week without changing my diet or activity level by taking my blood pressure meds and drinking an extra liter of water a day. I have lost thirty pounds before pretty much by accident, without doing anything at all (except smile modestly at the doctor when he congratulated me on my weight loss), and gained it back without doing anything differently, too. Losing a hundred pounds, and keeping it off, is a different kettle of fish.

      • onyomi says:

        If offered a large sum of money at the end of each 2-month period to do so (but you’d have to give it back if you regained, say), could you lose 10 lbs. every 2 months for 24 months in a row? (Not meant to be glib–I’m generally curious; and if the answer is “no,” I’m curious as to what the limiting factor is).

        • Deiseach says:

          The first stone (14 lbs) you lose is water, as the doctor told me when I first reported back for my next appointment all proud of myself on my very first “really serious this time” diet with my news of “Yes, doctor, I’ve been good, see how much weight I lost?”

          So – lose 10 lbs in a month? Piece of cake. Lose real fat? That’s tougher. Keep losing fat? That’s where the “body self-regulates when it notices weight is coming off and thinks ‘oh no, famine!'” kicks in.

          I’ve been worrying about my weight since I was seven. I’m a long way past seven now. I don’t know any magic cure, and I’ve tried seriously dieting, tried half-assed dieting, tried all the things you’re supposed to do (and I can’t drive, so I’ve been walking and cycling everywhere; I have calves like treetrunks with muscle, not fat, since childhood).

          • onyomi says:

            I think 14 lbs is a lot of water. Most people can’t lose 14 lbs without actually losing some real fat, I’d say (Of course, the more one weighs the less significant is each lb. lost, so it will vary on that basis).

            It is true that when one first goes on a diet there is an initial bump which then plateaus. You have to create a caloric deficit of 3500 per lb. of “real” weight you want to lose. I know this is approximately accurate, because I think I burn about 3000 calories a day being alive, and I have gone on water-only fasts of up to 5 days a few times. After the first day of only water and no food you may seem to have lost 3-5 lbs., but after 5 days of no food you will find that, after things normalize, you have basically lost about 5 lbs. If the original pace held, 5 days of no food would=15 lbs. of weight lost, but it actually=5 lbs. of “real” weight lost (which is a bigger difference in terms of appearance and subjective feeling than most people probably think).

            Also, I think it’s true that fasting lowers your metabolism, but that may not be as bad as it sounds. Faster metabolism=faster death.

          • speedwell says:

            onyomi, there is evidence that managed fasting can increase longevity, perhaps by the mechanism you mention. I am also looking at possible mechanisms involving autoimmunity, insulin metabolism, motivation and other emotional considerations, and for lack of a better word, spiritual practice (meditation and fasting seem to go hand in hand, historically speaking). That’s one of the minor reasons I am considering an intermittent fasting regime, though since I am on diabetic medication I will need to take it up with my specialist first.

          • onyomi says:

            If you want to try fasting, you might consider these people:

            http://www.healthpromoting.com/

            I’ve not been there myself, though I’d like to go at some point, and I enjoyed their book, called “The Pleasure Trap.”

            I would say that intermittent fasting can be a good idea, and a useful weight loss tool, in my experience, however it is very different from more prolonged fasts (72 hours+) in terms of the physiological and psychological effects. I have found that longer fasts, though incredibly challenging psychologically, have very profound (positive) systemic effects on all kinds of things from digestion to anxiety to inflammation. I would even recommend it to someone who doesn’t need to lose weight (and, in fact, by healing absorption problems, it can paradoxically help people who need to gain weight to do so).

            While an undeniably powerful weight loss tool in its own right, fasting alone probably won’t totally fix a chronic weight problem, as the appetite upregulates to compensate as soon as you start eating again. For that one probably has to adjust other habits, which is actually why I’d like to try visiting such a fasting center at some point myself–not just to be in an appropriate environment for a more prolonged fast, but to hopefully retrain my palette and my cooking styles. (True North promotes a low-fat vegan diet, and while I don’t think I’ll ever go so far as to entirely eliminate meat and dairy, I think a milder version of such, say being vegetarian 4 or 5 days a week, is extremely do-able and still quite helpful in my experience).

            There is also a guy named Loren Lockman who runs his own center in Costa Rica. I think he has a lot of useful info about diet, health, and spirituality (can watch him on Youtube), though he goes a bit too far for my taste (raw vegan).

            If you do decide you’d like to try a longer fast at some point, let me know, as I have some moderate experience with what to expect and can tell you that many of the online recommendations about what to do (enemas, etc.) are extremely bad advice.

            I would also recommend meditation. It probably won’t help you lose weight directly, but it might help you with any emotional issues holding you back, and is, any case, good for you in a lot of other ways. I recommend this site:

            aypsite.org

          • speedwell says:

            Thank you, onyomi, we’re on the same page, and every one of your suggestions is valuable. I genuinely appreciate your input.

          • Mary says:

            “The first stone (14 lbs) you lose is water,”

            Which is why losing weight is good for high blood pressure.

        • speedwell says:

          I doubt it, but I’ll tell you why. I am a very compliant, perfectionist, even fanatical dieter when I am committed to a given diet. Losing the weight is itself sufficient motivation for me, to the point that offering me money would be insulting enough to throw me into a counterproductive passive-aggressive mode. (And yes, it’s been tried.) I don’t think the additional stress of having a money worry on top of my diet anxiety would do much more than complicate my cortisol balance and even cause weight gain. There was a study done a couple years ago that showed that harassing overweight people actually caused them to gain weight from the metabolic aspects of the stress response; I could find it if you’re interested, but it’s really tangential to your question.

          However, I have to stress that there are many reasons for people to be obese, and many levels of compliance, and if a method works for someone, it surely should not be looked down on just because it is unsuitable for someone else.

          • speedwell says:

            I should clarify that the “insult” in question comes partly from the feeling that you (general and not specific “you” here) think that being obese has a certain value to me that you have to compensate me for… or else that you are so personally offended by my weight, and have such a low opinion of my self-esteem and motivation, that you are desperate enough to resort to paying me to make your problem with me go away, and condescending enough to assume that I wouldn’t try it unless I was being paid off.

            Naturally this is only insulting to me because I am not lazy and ignorant, not emotionally attached to my fat, not inclined to see my weight as a fit subject for the emotional fixation of anyone outwith myself and my medical team, and not holding my hand out for a bribe or other reward since I am adequately motivated by the plain idea of losing the weight. Not everyone has the same mindset that I do.

            Also, I’m not angry with anyone here; I’m just explaining part of why the money thing probably isn’t right for me.

          • Deiseach says:

            harassing overweight people actually caused them to gain weight from the metabolic aspects of the stress response

            If shame worked to make you lose weight, I’d be Twiggy by now.

            And agreed on the counter-productive results of incentives. I have actually done spite-eating; e.g. when I’ve been out at public affairs and not eating because I wasn’t hungry or what was on offer didn’t appeal to me, and someone comes up and goes in a patronising way “Oh, you’re so good not to be eating! I can never resist!” or even worse “Ah, you’re sticking to the diet!” which makes me grab a plate and start eating because fuck you, random stranger, my life is none of your business.

            That’s probably the worst thing about being overweight; people wouldn’t dream of walking up to a thin* person and making comments about their weight and eating (or drinking?) habits at a party, wedding, or other public function. But they feel not alone free, but entitled to let you know their opinion of how unhealthy/gross you look.

            *I mean ‘normal weight’; very thin people probably get the reverse – faux-worry about “Ooh, you need to eat” or “You can get away with a few extra pounds”, and the assumption they may be anorexic. Same notion that people can comment on your weight regardless of whether they know you or not.

          • Airgap says:

            Depends how much shame. It may be possible to get them to commit suicide, triggering rapid weight loss due to decomposition, loss of bodily fluids, etc. This does sometimes lead to bloating in the short term, but the important thing is that they lose the weight and keep it off.

          • Deiseach says:

            Airgap, with that attitude, you could walk into a job as a consultant cardiologist at our local regional hospital 🙂

            Me: I do diet, but I have trouble with willpower
            Him: Ever see a fat hungerstriker? Exactly. That’s willpower.

            Conclusion: Recommended healthy weight loss regime – go on hunger strike!
            Cons: You may die
            Pros: But you will be a fabulously thin corpse!

          • Airgap says:

            I don’t think you’re taking a sufficiently broad view of the problem. Sure, you may have a few starvation deaths, and no real effect on most people, but since corpses have very low bmi, this may well bring the average bmi of the population into the “healthy” range.

  27. Sigivald says:

    People working in elite professions like physicians, scientists, and accountants generally have an IQ above a certain threshold

    I’m just amused by the idea that accountancy is an “elite profession” now.

    Nothing wrong with it, and it’s certainly demanding, skilled work.

    But does anyone think of it as an elite profession along the lines of being a medical doctor or a capital-s Scientist?

    • It’s a matter of money. See, e.g., Paul Starr’s “The Social Transformation of American Medicine.” Medical doctors used to be seen as middle class; they became “elite” as their incomes soared.

      Accounting firm partners in the U.S. now earn around $175,000 — that is surely more than most academic scientists are paid.

    • Deiseach says:

      Professions such as doctors and lawyers used to be regarded as something a step above servants; not quite the same as being in trade, but certainly not gentlemen.

      Social attitudes change 🙂

    • US says:

      My mother’s an accountant; it’d certainly be news to her that she’s working in an ‘elite profession’..

      I was also amused by the mental image of an academic scientist with an IQ around 110, but maybe that’s just me. I’m reasonably sure you wouldn’t even be able to get an undergraduate degree in some fields with an IQ like that.

      • Anthony says:

        There are very few subjects in which a person with a 110 IQ, sufficient conscientiousness, and some talent for the field couldn’t get a bachelor’s degree from some American university. Even a math or physics degree wouldn’t be impossible, though I’d bet against a person with IQ 110 completing it within 4 years, even at some of the least-elite universities.

        • US says:

          “There are very few subjects in which a person with a 110 IQ, sufficient conscientiousness, and some talent for the field couldn’t get a bachelor’s degree from some American university.”

          “I’m reasonably sure you wouldn’t even be able to get an undergraduate degree in some fields with an IQ like that.”

          I don’t see how those two statements conflict. But I think there are a few, and I’d be surprised if e.g. math and physics weren’t exceptions to the rule – based on e.g. numbers like these:

          http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/01/classicists-are-smart/#.VQmy6-FUVb1

          (Combine math and verbal and look up:
          http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/GREIQ.aspx

          Those are GRE-scores for people intending to study further, but some of the fields here have ‘translated’ average IQ scores north of 130. They seem to me like reasonable candidates for fields where even trying to gett a bachelor with an IQ of 110 seems foolhardy.

          Of course this is a little besides the main point; maybe someone with 110 could theoretically get a physics undergraduate degree, but good luck becoming an astrophysicist or a statistician with an IQ of, say, 115. That’s just not going to happen. If you want to be a professor (‘Scientist’), in a lot of fields I’d feel pretty confident that the implicit IQ floor is higher than 110.

          • Previously on Slate Star Codex: Talents Part 2: Attitude vs. Altitude.

            Excerpt:

            Any time people talk about intelligence, height is a natural sanity check. It’s another strongly heritable polygenic trait which is nevertheless susceptible to environmental influences, and which varies in a normal distribution across the population – but which has yet to accrete the same kind of cloud of confusion around it that IQ has.

            EDIT: So I guess by that analogy, being just a bit above average intelligence means it’s not impossible to be an “eminent theoretical physicist” (let alone a mere professor, let alone getting an undergrad degree).

          • US says:

            I read that post a while back. I’m not sure what’s your point?

            If you’d like me to reframe the argument, I’d say that people who are 5’6 shouldn’t count on becoming pro basketball players, just as people with average IQs should not expect to succeed in fields in which a high IQ seems to be a requirement for success.

          • Airgap says:

            What if we relax the condition from “Become a professor of physics” to “Identify an important new physical phenomenon or law or similar, sufficient to make the reputation of a professor of physics, while tinkering around with inventions in your garage?” This seems comparable enough, and more plausible.

            For example, the Wright brothers basically built on the work of actual physicists, but what if they had come up with more of the ideas themselves, even if they didn’t publish fancy scientific papers?

  28. Ghatanathoah says:

    When asked how parents could contribute to childrens’ academic success, the mothers who had emigrated from China most frequently mentioned setting high goals, enforcing tough standards, and requiring children to do extra homework. Meanwhile, the native-born mothers of European ancestry were determined not to put too much pressure on children They most frequently mentioned the importance of not overemphasizing academic success, of stressing the child’s social development, and of promoting the idea that “learning is fun” and “not something you work at”. Another of their chief concerns was promoting the child’s self-esteem, a concept of just about no interest to the Chinese mothers in the study.

    It sounds to me like the European parents are the successful ones here. They’ve managed to teach their children that working extremely hard for good grades is a stupid and pointless waste of your life. The same is true for high-paying, high-status jobs and promotions (unless you’re an EA who is trying to make a ton of money to donate). No job is worth the amount of work these people put in.

    Over on Ozy’s blog I was recently introduced to the concept of treating someone as a “success object.” This is similar to the treating someone as a “sex object,” where you want someone to always be sexualized, sexy, and sexually available regardless of whether or not they want that for themselves. Similarly, you treat someone as a “success object” if you want someone to have a high-paying, high-status career or tons of academic success, regardless of whether or not that’s what they want for themselves. It seems to me that the European parents are treating their children like people, and the Chinese ones are treating them like objects.

    • Cauê says:

      May I poke at this a bit?

      Suppose I create the concept of a “Values Object”: for instance, if you want someone to be respectful, fair, compassionate, tolerant and definitely not racist, regardless of whether or not that’s what they want for themselves, you’re treating them like an object. Season to taste with whatever values one wants children to have.

      I bet someone already came up with “Friendship Object”. “Religious Object” would be obvious. “Professionalism Object” would be a thing with coworkers and business partners.

      This… doesn’t seem useful. I don’t think it’s carving reality at the joints.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        I definitely think “success object” carves reality at its joints, it refers to a phenomena that everyone knows about. The parent who wants their child to run the family business, even if the child hates that business. The parent who pushes their child to have a big successful career, even if all the child wants is a stress-free job where they can take lots of time off for their family. The parent who pushes their child to master a hobby that the child has no interest in mastering. The parent who pushes their child to marry a wealthy person instead of a person they love.

        In regards to you “Values Object” idea, if your child is a total sociopath, and you force them to be considerate of others, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that you are harming your child. That harm is totally justified by the benefits it has for others, but it’s still harm.

        But in the case of a “success object” the child is massively harmed for relatively small benefits for others. Forcing your child to live a miserable life at a job they hate usually harms them far more than it benefits anyone else.

        • Cauê says:

          I understand the situation you describe. What I don’t find useful is to frame it in terms of “think of them as a person” vs. “think of them as an object”.

          I didn’t mention harm. Is that part of the definition?

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            By “think of them as a person” what I mean is “assign value to this person’s own desires, life-goals, and happiness when making decisions about how to treat them.”

            Treating someone as an object means not assigning any value to what they want, and instead only valuing the purpose you assign them. In this case that purpose is bringing pride and honor to the parents and family through their career success.

            If you force a person devote most of their time to their career, even if they would much rather be doing something else, you are not considering “thinking of them as a person.”

          • Cauê says:

            Ok, look:

            1. We want things from people. We want behaviors from people.

            2. Sometimes what we want is conditional on them wanting the same thing, sometimes not.

            3. When it is not, sometimes we act on what we want only if they also want it, and sometimes even if they do not want it. This is sometimes considered good (e.g. education according to some values), sometimes bad (crime, education according to other values…). Sometimes it causes harm, sometimes not.

            What I’m trying to figure out is: at what point does framing it as “think of them as people” or “think of them as objects” buy me anything? What explanatory power does it have, how does it constrain my expectations? How does it change the moral calculus, beyond “does it cause harm”? It looks as if it doesn’t, and is only invoked as a way of saying “this behavior I’m talking about is bad”.

      • Anthony says:

        “Success object” has been around as a concept for a while, though the use I’m familiar with is as the male equivalent of a “sex object”.

      • Suppose I create the concept of a “Values Object”: for instance, if you want someone to be respectful, fair, compassionate, tolerant and definitely not racist, regardless of whether or not that’s what they want for themselves, you’re treating them like an object. Season to taste with whatever values one wants children to have.

        What? That’s like saying if I want someone not to shoplift from local stores, I’m treating them as a “Law-Abiding Object”.

        • Cauê says:

          …well, yes, it seems wrong, and that was my point?

          Would it be more clear if I used less fashionable values in the example, like knightly honor or spartan manliness? Perhaps the protestant work ethic?

          If the Tiger Mom scenario counts as “seeing them as objects, not people”, why not the “shaping them according to your values” scenario?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Being a successful ‘success object’ (or ‘work ethics object’) takes continuous time and effort to maintain. Whereas the examples above of ‘values objects’ don’t take much time away from other pursuits. While not shoplifting, you have plenty of time to do what you like; or just loaf around.

            So a list of ‘Don’t’s isn’t much of a burden (once you learn how to navigate). If the parents’ value system includes a lot of strong ‘Do’s (such as Earn to Give, or Convert the Heathen), then it can become the same kind of burden as being a Success Object.

            See GKC on ‘positive’ vs ‘negative morality.

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            If the Tiger Mom scenario counts as “seeing them as objects, not people”, why not the “shaping them according to your values” scenario?

            To some extent it does count. Trying to instill values into children that they are highly resistant to is becoming increasingly frowned on in society. The obvious example is trying to make gay children straight, or trans children cis.

            Most of the values society looks positively on parents instilling in their children are instrumental values (i.e. value getting a job so you can afford whatever lifestyle you end up choosing to live) or values about how to treat other people (i.e. “don’t be a bully.”) . These are cases where any harm the act of instilling these values has on the child is far outweighed by the benefit it has for others, and for the child.

            To some extent “Tiger Moms” can be seen as taking a good thing too far, they are instilling their children with positive instrumental values like hard work. But they are doing so in such an extreme fashion that the harm probably outweighs the good.

          • Cauê says:

            Houseboat, I understand the difference between positive and negative obligations, but I’m not sure whether you’re proposing this distinction as a way to tell when we’re “thinking of people as objects” or not (and if so, I don’t see how it does it).

            Ghatanathoah, you’re just telling me that one behavior is better than the other, or more or less harmful. This… sorta confirms that “think of them as objects” is just being used as “this is bad”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Caue

            My focus is on the effect on the child, rather than the motive/attitude of the parent. Even with an ‘object’ motive – “My kid will never be arrested, never be reported for bullying, never use drugs, and that will show the neighbors who is the best mom!” — the child may satisfy her without spending much time or energy at it, therefore taking no harm. Negative, ‘don’t’s.

            If it’s Positive Moral ‘Do’s, the child may be pressured regardless of the parent’s motive. Though an ‘object’ motive would be more likely to cause strain, even with ‘Don’t’s, because when the purpose is to make the child an unusual example, that will probably require zim doing unusual things (or not doing usual things), thus being out of tune with zis peers etc.

    • Nornagest says:

      Who’s happier, the Chinese kids or the European ones? Maybe more importantly, who’s happier in adulthood once you adjust for income?

      I don’t actually know the answer to this; but it seems fairly clear to me that doing what you want as a kid does not necessarily make you a happier adult. In fact, doing what you want at all, for sufficiently shallow values of “want”, does not necessarily make you happier.

      • roystgnr says:

        Why even adjust for income? If you’re attempting to judge the value of instilling behaviors that are intended in part to make your kids happier via a higher and more secure income, trying to cancel out any effects of income on happiness looks like an attempt at begging the question. You might as well ask whether kids who eat junk food all the time grow up to be healthy adults after adjusting for obesity and diabetes prevalence.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’d be adjusting for income because a lot of China is still essentially third-world and that would throw a lot of confounders into the mix; but on second thought I imagine these would probably be urban kids, reasonably well off, so I’m no longer sure that’s as necessary as I originally thought. Would probably still be a good idea.

          To clarify, I meant parental income. Correcting for personal income in adulthood would indeed be a bad idea for the reasons you cite.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        A person’s childhood, in modern cultures, generally composes around 20-30% of their total lifespan. So even if the misery they suffer as a child makes them happier as an adult, it isn’t always clear that it’s worth it. To use an extreme example, you wouldn’t subject a child to a day of agonizing torture to give them an extra hour of happiness as an adult.

        • Svejk says:

          I agree with this idea. Sometimes it seems we treat childhood as simply a period of goldfarming for adulthood success. I think more often than not, this just primes us to convert more and more of our lifespan into a grind for uncertain and oft-unrealized future benefit. A happy childhood is an immensely valuable thing in and of itself.

          On the other hand, given how our memories work, I’ve sometimes wondered if the best way to have a happy childhood is to have a happy adulthood. I supposes the answer is influenced by one’s stance on the persistence of self.

  29. Susebron says:

    There are a few typos, especially in the Allen Wheelis paragraph. “concenctrated on wayhs “, “ionsight”, and “qui9ckly” were the ones I spotted, but there might be others outside of that paragraph. Ionsight does sound kind of cool, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      computer spellcheckers are great: insland maganize foud childrens’ problemes Applebees (concenctrated wayhs ionsight qui9ckly)

      Incidentally, a lot of the phrasing is different from my copy. eg, my copy (and google’s) says “an Applebee’s meal,” not “a meal from Applebee’s.”

  30. orangecat says:

    Nurture Assumption said the opposite (children whose fathers left for valid reasons were totally indistinguishable from children with two parents), I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this.

    Even if nature heavily dominates nurture, you’d expect this. Some of the fathers who left for valid reasons might also have left for invalid reasons had they had the opportunity, so you’re getting a weighted sample of “good” and “bad” fathers.

  31. Simon says:

    Nurture Assumption said the opposite (children whose fathers left for valid reasons were totally indistinguishable from children with two parents), I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this.

    Have you found more contrary evidence than what’s in this quotation? I’m somewhat skeptical when an obscure study from 1958 is cited in favor of what’s now the politically preferred position…

    • Svejk says:

      Scott did a great post that partially addresses this not long ago. Among other data points, A meta-analysis by Amato and Keith, published in the 90s, demonstrated that bereaved children, like children of divorce, displayed poorer outcomes on several metrics than children who did not experience loss of a parent. There was an interesting paper that found that children whose parents divorced after they were born experienced poor outcomes, while those whose parents divorced before they were born (mostly) did not, a neat way to tease out some environmental effects. The consistent thread was that while both divorce and bereavement affect labour force participation, behaviour, personal satisfaction, marital status, etc., the effects from divorce were generally greater. Marital status/success, in particular, does not appear to be strongly affected by early loss of a parent in affluent countries, but is affected by divorce (here I am thinking particularly of a paper by Corak in the Journal of Labor Economics).
      One researcher made an interesting argument about how divorce v. bereavement differentially affect parent-child relationships and access to familial economic and emotional support networks. The gist was that survivors cling together, while divorce cleaves networks apart.
      There are a few studies of children who lose their parents through wholly exogenous effects, like natural disasters, and they also detect negative effects of early bereavement.

  32. Douglas Knight says:

    Nurture Assumption said the opposite (children whose fathers left for valid reasons were totally indistinguishable from children with two parents), I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence, and I’m still angry at them for this.

    No, you didn’t continually believe this from then till now. You at least temporarily stopped believing it when you specifically looked into it. (h/t Svejk)

    So I owe mainstream psychology an apology here. I was pretty sure they had just completely dropped the ball on this one and were foolishly assuming everything had to be social and nothing could be genetic. In fact, they were only doing that up until about ten or twenty years ago, after which point they figured it out and performed a lot of studies, all of which supported their idea of the stress of divorce having significant (though small!) non-gene-related effects.

    No, Harris does not merely say that psychology has failed to test the hypothesis. She points to studies that do test it, some directly contradicting the studies you cite. She does cite a twin study. Mainly, though, she gets her data from McLanahan and Sandefur, a book devoted to the proposition that single parents are harmful. In particular, they find that the number of years in the single parent household doesn’t matter, even up to their whole lives, directly contradicting the study you mention. (Harris does not cite a page number for this, just “graphs and tables.”)

    I’m not going to adjudicate between the studies Harris cites and those you cite. The point is that you do her a disservice by claiming that the field merely dropped the ball by failing to test the hypotheses and that she merely suggests a possibility that has not been tested: the field also dropped the ball by ignoring studies that did test it; and she didn’t merely choose to favor the genetic hypothesis, but looked for and found relevant studies.

    ━━━━━━━━━

    Also, Harris’s position is not that divorce is not bad for children, but that it is bad for different reasons than are generally believed. It causes the children to move. If the parents remain single, they move to worse neighborhoods. If they remarry, that’s even more moves.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Of course, if the field has failed to identify competing hypotheses, it is hard to blame it for ignoring the results that distinguish the hypotheses, at least if the papers don’t mention the hypotheses. For example, it is hard to blame McLanahan and Sandefur for failing to notice that their data supports a genetic hypothesis. But you can blame them for not noticing that “a lot of things you’d think would matter turn out not to matter” and that the things which do matter are “curious.”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “No, you didn’t continually believe this from then till now. You at least temporarily stopped believing it when you specifically looked into it.”

      That is why I never said I continually believed it from then till now. I said ” I believed them until I coincidentally found the contrary evidence” and am referring to exactly the things that inspired that post.

      Harris cites one study (possibly more but still a small number) supporting her hypothesis and calls that the state of the evidence. She fails to mention the other studies (I believe greater in number) that find contrary to her hypothesis. I consider this deceitful if deliberate, which it may not have been.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Sorry to interpolate your intellectual history. I guess I should have been suspicious about the word “still.”

        But the important point, emphasized in my prior comment is that Harris simply did not say the thing you are angry about.

        And, as you say in your earlier post, but seem to have forgotten now, only one article you cite predates Harris’s book. Accusing her of deceit for lacking precognition is ridiculous.