Education

A Real Life Milgram Experiment

by on October 23, 2014 at 7:30 am in Education, Film, Science | Permalink

This amazing video, introduced by Philip Zimbardo, discusses a real world Milgram “experiment” in which people obeyed an authority figure to an astounding degree, even when the authority figure was just on the telephone.

The video comes from the Heroic Imagination Project which hopes to use the results of social psychology to help people to take effective action in challenging situations. More videos on obedience to authority, including from Milgram’s experiment, can be found in the resource section along with other social psychology videos and other interesting materials.

Here is one more, this time a little lighter, an experiment in which people find themselves unexpectedly married:

Let’s assume books — at the margin of course — bring some external social value, perhaps by stimulating ideas production or by improving the quality of voting and citizenship.  If that were the case, at which margin should we look for this external benefit?  I can think of a few possibilities:

1. More books should be produced.  Yet this hardly seems plausible, as there are so many books produced right now and most of them are largely ignored.  In any case, Amazon clearly makes a larger number of books readily accessible, although its lower prices may discourage the number of books longer run.

2. Better books should be produced.  Arguably this is true by definition, but it is not a useful means of evaluating most proposed changes to the book market.  That said, Amazon creates an open forum for useful reviews.  That may improve long-run book quality, or at least lead to a more useful matching of readers with books.

3. Books should be cheaper and thus purchased and read more often.  Maybe so, but public libraries give books away for free — great books too — and their shelves are not stripped bare.  So making commercial books cheaper will get us only so far.  If all books were completely free, reading would go up by only so much, because time and attention would remain scarce.  In any case, with reference to the recent debates, Amazon does in fact make books cheaper.

4. Books should be more vivid in the minds of readers.  People would read more if the books meant more to them and that is a more effective lever than simply making books cheaper.  You will note of course that “buzz” can make books more vivid, and so Piketty’s Capital became a vivid book for a large number of people.  They bought it, though most of them did not read past page 26.  So even making books more vivid will not necessarily bring about the desired end of additional interested readership.  That said, Amazon does create various lists to try to boost the buzz around books, and Amazon tries to raise the relative status of reading and book-buying more generally.

It is in fact not so easy to specify how we might reap significant additional social benefits from the current book market.  The real externality, if there is one, lies in improving the humans not the books.

In the meantime, Amazon, in its current configuration, seems to be producing some marginal social benefits.

Hi future, competency-based learning

by on October 21, 2014 at 9:40 am in Education, Medicine | Permalink

From Inside Higher Ed:

The University of Michigan’s regional accreditor has signed off on a new competency-based degree that does not rely on the credit-hour standard, the university said last week. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools gave a green light to the proposed master’s of health professions education, which the university’s medical school will offer. In its application to the regional accreditor, the university said the program “targets full-time practicing health professionals in the health professions of medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and social work.”

The link is here, via Phil Hill.

Explorationsineconomics.com.

Here you can watch a video about Alan Krueger not being able to get a mortgage on a second home.

The economic value of misbehavior

by on October 17, 2014 at 3:52 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

There is a new paper by Papageorge, Ronda, and Zheng, with a very interesting thesis, namely that preparing rowdies for better schooling results may not help their long-term prospects in life:

Prevailing research argues that childhood misbehavior in the classroom is bad for schooling and, presumably, bad overall. In contrast, we argue that childhood misbehavior reflects underlying traits that are potentially valuable in the labor market. We follow work from psychology and treat measured classroom misbehavior as reflecting two underlying non-cognitive traits. Next, we estimate a model of life-cycle decisions, allowing the impact of each of the two traits to vary by economic outcome. We show the first evidence that one of the traits capturing childhood misbehavior, discussed in psychological literature as the externalizing trait (and linked, for example, to aggression), does indeed reduce educational attainment, but also increases earnings. This finding highlights a broader point: non-cognition is not well summarized as a single underlying trait that is either good or bad per se. Using the estimated model, we assess competing pedagogical policies. For males, we find that policies aimed at eliminating the externalizing trait increase schooling attainment, but also reduce earnings. In comparison, policies that decrease the schooling penalty of the externalizing trait increase both schooling and earnings.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

This is a fascinating Scott Alexander take on tribalism and how political issues are framed, starting with Ebola.  As Robin Hanson would say, “politics isn’t about policy.”  Here is the segment on how climate change issues might be marketed to the Right:

Global warming has already gotten inextricably tied up in the Blue Tribe narrative: Global warming proves that unrestrained capitalism is destroying the planet. Global warming disproportionately affects poor countries and minorities. Global warming could have been prevented with multilateral action, but we were too dumb to participate because of stupid American cowboy diplomacy. Global warming is an important cause that activists and NGOs should be lauded for highlighting. Global warming shows that Republicans are science denialists and probably all creationists. Two lousy sentences on “patriotism” aren’t going to break through that.

If I were in charge of convincing the Red Tribe to line up behind fighting global warming, here’s what I’d say:

In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to potentially devastating natural disasters that could destroy American agriculture and flood American cities. As a result, the country mobilized against the threat. Strong government action by the Bush administration outlawed the worst of these gases, and brilliant entrepreneurs were able to discover and manufacture new cleaner energy sources. As a result of these brave decisions, our emissions stabilized and are currently declining.

Unfortunately, even as we do our part, the authoritarian governments of Russia and China continue to industralize and militarize rapidly as part of their bid to challenge American supremacy. As a result, Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind. Many analysts believe Putin secretly welcomes global warming as a way to gain access to frozen Siberian resources and weaken the more temperate United States at the same time. These countries blow off huge disgusting globs of toxic gas, which effortlessly cross American borders and disrupt the climate of the United States. Although we have asked them to stop several times, they refuse, perhaps egged on by major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela who have the most to gain by keeping the world dependent on the fossil fuels they produce and sell to prop up their dictatorships.

We need to take immediate action. While we cannot rule out the threat of military force, we should start by using our diplomatic muscle to push for firm action at top-level summits like the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we should fight back against the liberals who are trying to hold up this important work, from big government bureaucrats trying to regulate clean energy to celebrities accusing people who believe in global warming of being ‘racist’. Third, we need to continue working with American industries to set an example for the world by decreasing our own emissions in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Finally, we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them.

Please join our brave men and women in uniform in pushing for an end to climate change now.

The piece is interesting throughout, hat tip goes to MR commentator Macrojams.

As of 2004, only 16.7% of the cost of Korean higher education was picked up by government, as opposed to an OECD average of about 77% (see this paper).  That’s a relatively low level of subsidy.  And yet Korea has one of the highest degree-granting rates in the world, the status of the school you go to is all-important, tiers of quality are fairly rigid, admission is closely linked to exam performance, and doubts have been raised about how much people actually learn in those schools.  At least when it comes to surface phenomena, it appears Korean higher education has a lot to do with signaling.

In Germany they just made the universities completely free, and in the past they were quite cheap, which of course means subsidized.  Germany also sends a relatively high percentage of its population to vocational training, where presumably the students learn some concrete skills.  Could it be there is too much slacking in German universities (which I have interacted with twice, both as student and as professor) for attendance to serve as a very effective signal?

Can it be the case that a government subsidy, by limiting privately-perceived quality and returns, can lower private signaling costs?  Should advocates of the signaling model therefore be more favorably inclined toward subsidies?

There is a new product to help you with getting things done, writeordie.com:

Write or Die is an application for Windows, Mac and Linux which aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment. Historically Write or Die has specialized in being the stick in the carrot/stick motivation continuum, but it’s time to experiment with encouragement.

One of the biggest improvements is the inclusion of visual stimulus. Instead of just writing to avoid annoying sounds and alarm warning colors you can now customize your stimulus. If you like to see a cute puppy after you’ve reached a certain number of words, you can. If you’d like to write in fear of a jiggling spider, you can do that too.

Under some modes, if you spend too much time without typing, it starts erasing the words you already have created.

For the pointer I thank Jonathan Falk.

When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn’t buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn’t just stop at “no.”

That is quoted by Kottke, from a series by Joanna Goddard, the whole post is interesting on issues of child-rearing across the nations.

Online education continues to expand rapidly:

WASHINGTON—Saying the option is revolutionizing the way the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds prepare for the grade school years ahead, a Department of Education report released Thursday confirmed that an increasing number of U.S. toddlers are now attending online preschool. “We found that a growing number of American toddlers are eschewing the traditional brick-and-mortar preschools in favor of sitting down in front of a computer screen for four hours a day and furthering their early psychosocial development in a virtual environment,” said the report’s author, Dr. Stephen Forrest, who said that the affordability and flexibility characteristic of online pre-primary education are what make the option most appealing, allowing young children to learn their shapes and colors on a schedule that works best for them. “With access to their Show-And-Tell message boards, recess timers, and live webcams of class turtle tanks, most toddlers are finding that they can receive the same experience of traditional preschooling from the comfort of their parents’ living room or home office. In addition, most cited the ability to listen to their teacher’s recordings of story time at their own pace as a significant benefit of choosing an online nursery school.” Forrest added that, despite their increasing popularity, many parents remain unconvinced that online preschools provide the same academic benefits as actually hearing an instructor name farm animals and imitate their noises in person.

From America’s Finest News Source but do consider this.

Sentences to ponder

by on October 8, 2014 at 11:50 am in Data Source, Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

On average, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test, according to calculations from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (also known as FairTest), using data provided by the College Board, which administers the test.

Students from the wealthiest families outscored those from the poorest by just shy of 400 points.

From Josh Zumbrun, there is more here.

The increase in the cost of college and university and the difficult job market have increased the demand for college rankings. College Scorecard, the U.S. Department of Education’s entry, includes information on tuition, graduate rate, loan default rate and by 2015 it is scheduled to have information on graduate earnings. The Washington Monthly has a best bang for the buck ranking which works similarly.

A new and interesting entry into this field comes from LinkedIn which uses data on its 300 million members to define desirable employers and then rank universities based on getting their graduates jobs with those employers. The methodology is somewhat opaque and a bit sketchy but the idea is to define desirable employers by industry based on the revealed preference of employees in LinkedIn. In particular, firm A is raised relative to firm B if more people move from B to A than from A to B and similarly if firm A retains its employees longer than firm B. The percentage of a college’s recent graduates who obtain employment from the desirable employers is then used to rank the universities. No cost factors are included.

The results are not too surprising although by this ranking Georgetown university does better in finance (coming 3rd after the University of Pennyslvania and Yale) than I would have expected.

The results are less important, however, than the idea of using lots of data, often collected for other reasons, to unlock hidden value. Facebook has considerably more profiles than LinkedIn, often with education and employment data, so this type of analysis could become more common and more precise.

Hat tip: Tom Acox.

Neil Parmar has a good recent piece on the best ways to bribe your children.  Here is one of his points:

In addition to spelling out expectations and agreeing on rewards for specific achievements, surprise them once a while with a special reward for good behavior on a continuing basis. Research on how the brain works shows that children react well to surprises.

An unexpected trip to the aquarium, a local museum or another special experience “can be very motivating to a child,” says Srini Pillay, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief executive of NeuroBusiness Group, which uses brain science to help children and adults overcome psychological obstacles.

Science has shown that unexpected rewards, especially for younger children, can encourage them to make certain behaviors into a lifestyle. Sometimes when Brett Arrington, who owns a consulting firm, is shopping with his 6- and 9-year-old boys he purchases a toy they really want. Mr. Arrington waits until the boys have been especially helpful—by cleaning up someone else’s mess, for example—then he surprises them with the toy. It “works well because it’s not a promise and can happen whenever and for whatever,” says Mr. Arrington.

The full article is here.  It also suggests letting your children choose the reward and “matching gifts,” where you match their contribution toward some good or service, especially as your children grow older and develop some earning capacity.

Wild marmosets in the Brazilian forest can learn quite successfully from video demonstrations featuring other marmosets, Austrian scientists have reported, showing not only that marmosets are even better learners than previously known, but that video can be used successfully in experiments in the wild.

Tina Gunhold, a cognitive biologist at the University of Vienna, had worked with a population of marmoset monkeys in a bit of Brazilian forest before this particular experiment.

The forest is not wilderness. It lies near some apartment complexes, and the marmosets are somewhat used to human beings. But the monkeys are wild, and each extended family group has its own foraging territory.

Dr. Gunhold and her colleagues reported in the journal Biology Letters this month that they had tested 12 family groups, setting up a series of video monitors, each with a kind of complicated box that they called an “artificial fruit.”

All the boxes contained food. Six of the monitors showed just an unchanging image of a marmoset near a similar box. Three of them showed a marmoset opening the box by pulling a drawer, and three others a marmoset lifting a lid to get at the food.

Marmosets are very territorial and would not tolerate a strange individual on their turf, but the image of a strange marmoset on video didn’t seem to bother them.

Individual marmosets “differed in their reactions to the video,” Dr. Gunhold said. “Some were more shy, some more bold. The younger ones were more attracted to the video, perhaps because of greater curiosity.”

But, she said, the ones that watched the demonstrations were much better at getting the box open than the ones that had the placebo monitor, and they also tended to use the specific skill demonstrated, pulling the drawer open or lifting the lid.

There is more here (including video!), and for the pointer I thank Philip Wallach.

Maybe so.  Let’s hear from Mounir Karadja, Johanna Möllerström (my new colleague), and David Seim:

We study the extent to which people are misinformed about their relative position in the income distribution and the effects on preferences for redistribution of correcting faulty beliefs. We implement a tailor-made survey in Sweden and document that a vast majority of Swedes believe that they are poorer, relative to others, than they actually are. This is true across groups, but younger, poorer, less cognitively able and less educated individuals have perceptions that are further from reality. Using a second survey, we conduct an experiment by randomly informing a subsample about their true relative income position. Respondents who learn that they are richer than they thought demand less redistribution and increase their support for the Conservative party.

This result is entirely driven by prior right-of-center political preferences and not by altruism or moral values about redistribution. Moreover, the effect can be reconciled by people with political preferences to the right-of-center being more likely to view taxes as distortive and to believe that it is personal effort rather than luck that is most influential for individual economic success.

The paper (pdf) is here, and the pointer is from Gabriel Sahlgren.