[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.