Another Week Ends

1. From The Atlantic comes “Why Being an Obsessed Soccer Fan Can Make You Really, […]

Ethan Richardson / 7.13.12

1. From The Atlantic comes “Why Being an Obsessed Soccer Fan Can Make You Really, Really Happy,” a look into the camaraderie of fandom–which seems simple enough–but not only does fandom give purpose and an unusual chance to breach the confines of self-interest, it also provokes inclusion by way of exclusivity. People have the opportunity, despite their level of fandom, to be fans, together—to identify with something that’s not themselves, together.

The Penn State Nittany Lions Paternoville “White Out”

Trying to rationalize fandom can be a complicated, even futile process. But studies by psychologists have shown that identifying yourself with a sports team can have profound implications. According to Daniel L. Wann, a professor at Murray State University, and a pioneer in the field of sports psychology, the more passionate your fandom, the more positive the impact is on your psychological health. Based on surveys of American sports fans over more than two decades, Wann has categorized fans in relation to the degree to which they consider their team an extension of themselves. He describes the more ardent fans, the ones who consider their team to be an important part of their lives, as “highly identified” fans, and the ones who follow their team more loosely, with a sense of detachment, as “weakly identified” fans. He says, in the case of the highly identified fans, the social connections that are formed through their fandom—the camaraderie that comes out of following games with a group of people—plays a significant and positive role in their lives.

…But more than these implications, it was the friendships and the camaraderie that the European championship has helped create among expatriates that were most palpable. The England versus Italy quarterfinal, for instance, saw every square inch of Smithfield occupied. There were new friendships being formed with soccer acting as the fulcrum. On the first floor, more than 200 fans crammed together, sang “God Save the Queen” heartily and cheered England through every minute of the game. There were regular match-goers as well as others who were using the occasion to make new friends.

Tony Keefe, who had moved to New York from London more than 10 years ago, was seated with a group of fans on a corner table on the second floor. Keefe only knew Greg Zalka, a fellow London native, and a couple of others at the table. But Zalka had invited a number of his friends and they in turn had invited others, creating a big party of English fans that was integrated through the national soccer team. “It’s all about the camaraderie,” said Zalka, who like the others was dressed in an England jersey. “We may not get this back home, where we’re essentially with our own group of friends and family. Here we get to see other fans, and make so many great connections. We have a common passion and interest, and in the end, it’s all about the company.”

2. A basic lesson in the truth behind reverse psychology and its efficacy over at PsyBlog. Pay attention specifically to the rules behind what makes reverse psychology work–the greater the freedom restriction, the greater the chance at success! Are you “resistant to direct requests?” (ht JD).

Watch out, though, people hate being manipulated. If they sense you are trying to get them to do something by telling them to do the opposite, a form of reverse reverse psychology may operate. So they end up doing what you tell them, just to spite your attempts to control them.

Reverse psychology is a tricky customer both in real life and in the psych lab. Researchers have found it difficult to pin down exactly when reverse psychology works and when it doesn’t. Here are a few factors likely to increase psychological reactance:

  • The more attractive and important the option that’s being restricted, the greater the psychological reactance.
  • The greater the restriction of freedom, the greater the psychological reactance.
  • Arbitrary threats produce high reactance because they don’t make sense, which makes people more rebellious.

In real life reverse psychology likely works best when used subtly and sparingly on people who are resistant to direct requests.

Also in Science, Medical News Today provided some ratifying Freudian insights on psychological distinctions between depression and guilt.

3. Summer spending hikes has The Atlantic thinking about the will-bound bargain-shopper, who thinks she is getting a good deal and, yet, finds human condition landmines along the way. “The 11 Ways that Consumers are Hopeless (at Math)” is a behavioral economics lesson chock full of the foundational anthropologies we know so well. 6 and 11 in particular are amazing: basically that we’re primarily emotional (6) and that the Law is written on our hearts (11):

(6) We let our emotions get the best of us. In a brilliant experiment from Poundstone’s book, volunteers are offered a certain number of dollars out of $10. Offers seen as “unfair” ($1, let’s say) activated the insula cortex, “which is otherwise triggered by pain and foul odors.” When we feel like we’re being ripped off, we literally feel disgusted — even when it’s a good deal. Poundstone equates this to the minibar experience. It’s late, you’re hungry, there’s a Snickers right there, but you’re so turned off by the price, that you starve yourself to avoid the feeling of being ripped off. The flip-side is that bargains literally make us feel good about ourselves. Even the most useless junk in the world is appealing if the price feels like a steal.

(11) We’re compelled by a strong sense of fairness. I’ve already explained how our brains light up differently based on seeing a bargain vs. a rip-off. The shopper’s brain is motivated by a sense of fairness. Again, it comes back to the idea that we don’t know what things should cost, and so we use cues to tell us what we ought to pay for them. An experiment by the economist Dan Ariely tells the story beautifully. Ariely pretended he was giving a poetry recital. He told one group of students that the tickets cost money and another group that they would be paid to attend. Then he revealed to both groups that the recital was free. The first group was anxious to attend, believing they were getting something of value for free. The second group mostly declined, believing they were being forced to volunteer for the same event without compensation.

What’s a poetry recital by a behavioral economist worth? The students had no idea. That’s the point. I don’t know, either. That’s also the point. What’s a button-up shirt “worth”? What’s a cup of coffee “worth”? What’s a life insurance policy “worth”? Who knows! Most of us don’t. As a result, the shopping brain uses only what is knowable: visual clues, triggered emotions, comparisons, ratios, and a sense of bargain vs. rip-off. We’re not stupid. Just susceptible.

Also in the realms of buyer remorse, money woes, a great piece came by way of delanceyplace on a new book out entitled Debt: The First 5,000 Years, who knew, its origins hearken back to faithtalk (ht CR).

 “Why … do we refer to Christ as the ‘redeemer’? The primary meaning of ‘redemption’ is to buy something back, or to recover something that had been given up in security for a loan; to ac­quire something by paying off a debt. It is rather striking to think that the very core of the Christian message, salvation itself, the sacrifice of God’s own son to rescue humanity from eternal damnation, should be framed in the language of a financial transaction. …

4. Speaking of origins, NPR highlighted the new Batman: Earth One comic that’s got a twist to the orphaned vigilante narrative–he’s unsure.

In a canny move, however, artist Frank chooses to leave out one element in Batman’s design that has been a part of him since that very first adventure in 1939. Instead of glowering at the world from behind a pair of opaque white eye slits, Frank shows us Bruce Wayne’s eyes behind the mask — vulnerable, unsure and all-too-human. As a result, his Batman is no mysterious avenger of the night, no tireless avatar of Chiroptera-themed justice; he’s a schlub in an outfit, a vigilante haplessly attempting to strike terror into criminal hearts despite the run in his tights.

5. David Brooks discussed this week the New Elite of Merit, and how its no better than traditional generational elitism just because people have worked their way to get there. In fact, it makes folks even more entitled, even more desperate to maintain their ever-shifting ground (ht BG).

Over the past half–century, a more diverse and meritocratic elite has replaced the Protestant Establishment. People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.

Yet, as this meritocratic elite has taken over institutions, trust in them has plummeted. It’s not even clear that the brainy elite is doing a better job of running them than the old boys’ network. Would we say that Wall Street is working better now than it did 60 years ago? Or government? The system is more just, but the outcomes are mixed. The meritocracy has not fulfilled its promise.

Christopher Hayes of MSNBC and The Nation believes that the problem is inherent in the nature of meritocracies. In his book, “Twilight of the Elites,” he argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy.

6. The laws of the modern family still in tow over at Slate this week–texting parents are the new target. Talking about the new website “Parents on Phones,” the article uncovers the laws of the caretaker and the absurd judgmentalism of the caring parent, and support for freeing parents up to free their kids up.

The better parents have a stern message for the rest of us. We may be physically present, but we’re emotionally abandoning our children. Unlike (and here you should pick your option) parents of a generation ago, parents of a century ago, parents in small-town America—you, phone-obsessed caretaker, are destroying your relationship with your children through electronic neglect. You are missing the wonder and glory of truly being with them. You are teaching them that email is more important than they are.

I have neglected my children in every way it’s possible to neglect them with a mobile phone. I play Scramble with Friends rather than watch them cavort adorably in the bath. I send emails—sometimes shockingly unimportant emails—during dinner. I have drunk deep from the mobile Web during the third, and fourth, and fifth inning of my son’s Little League game. I hope and expect to see my distracted self, dead eyes glued to the screen, on Parents on Phones very soon.

Truly, the self-righteousness of the phoneless parent is unbearable. The prologue to Parents on Phones asks: “Have you ever checked your email or surfed the Web when you should be playing with your children?” That word “should”—it galls. Parents are not entertainment delivery devices for our children. We must keep our kids safe and happy and mentally engaged. Sometimes that means playing hard with them on the floor or on the playground. And sometimes that means setting them loose into the world, by themselves, to find a kid to play with, or a stick to poke in an ant hole, or a jungle gym to tumble off. Sometimes that even means—horror of horrors—letting your kids be bored.


And then there’s this letter to Prudence:

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been married a little over two years, a second marriage for both of us. Soon after getting married, my husband, who works in information technology, revealed to me that for the prior year he had placed a tracker on my laptop to monitor every site I went to, every search I made. I thought something was wrong when he would ask me about things I didn’t discuss with him but had searched for online. I’ve woken up to find him holding my phone, scrolling through my messages. I’ve told him that this bothers me, that I’m not doing anything wrong, but some respect for personal boundaries is in order. Then he accuses me of hiding things. He recently bought me a new laptop, but I’m worried history could repeat itself. It leaves me with stomach cramps knowing that even this email itself could trigger a fight because he may be tracking me. He does well financially and we do have nice things, but he doesn’t like us to spend time with other people. I try to weigh the good against the bad, and I’m not unhappy apart from this issue. Can you please tell me if I’m the crazy one here?

—Demeaned and Frustrated

7. From Newser, Edifi is here! There’s a new tablet out for the Flock–and it’s not Moses’—check it out!

It’s got porn blockers, Christian radio, and 27 different translations of the Bible—it’s the Edifi, and religious retailer Family Christian calls it the world’s first Christian tablet computer, reports Fox News. And at just $149.99 for a 7-inch HD tablet that runs on Android, Family Christian says it is taking direct aim at Amazon’s $199.99 Kindle Fire. “It goes along with our mission: trying to get people closer to God … through a tablet,” says Family Christian’s tech supervisor. Of course, Fox quips that this isn’t actually the first tablet with that aim. “That honor goes to Moses and the Jews.”

8. Finally, in TV, Breaking Bad starts again July 15th, and it’s been reported Season Five will be more a bloodbath than it has ever been. Grantland ran a great piece about the impossibly nuanced left-brainedness of the show—it’s uncanny ability to plumb the depths of a causal narrative. The article, though, smartly points to creator Vince Gilligan’s knack for showing that Walter White-precision still won’t be enough to save him. Reminds me of the moral vision we’ve seen analyzed before…

But the deadly and calculating scientist that Walter longs to be is again and again undone by his very human flaws. Over time, his vanity has proved to be more toxic than the cancer that kick-started his double life — Hank’s plenty tenacious, but he’d still be playing with his rock collection if Walt hadn’t bristled at the thought of his brother-in-law considering drippy Gale a genius. (Imagine! The only recipe he’d ever invented was for vegan s’mores!) As last season’s deadly escalation proved, supporting his family was merely the most enduring of the flimsy justifications Walt has cooked up over time. First it was his own health care, then Hank’s, then it became a self-perpetuating cycle, all to prove once and for all that timid high school teacher Walt is the person who knocks on doors, not the one cowering behind them.

The problem is, his ego trip is leaving behind a rapidly escalating body count. Last season Walt’s need to control the parts of life that can’t be crammed into a test tube put a 6-year-old in the hospital. His little experiment worked: Jesse flipped back to his side and Gus was taken off the board. But any lab instructor would tell you: You don’t do the test to get the result you want. You do it to get the result that’s true. By Sunday’s premiere, Walt has totally abandoned his evidentiary principles, insisting that a plan worked solely “because I [said] so.” The transformation is now complete; he’s swapped the white coat for the black hat.

Further complicating things in this final season is the sudden lack of structure that surrounds him. Gus is gone, the cartel leadership lies flopped across a sunny patio like a bunch of overserved spring-breakers. The Super Lab — that expensive shrine to professionalism — is torched. What’s left to motivate Walter White now except his own staggering hubris? For any other show, this bold clearing of the decks — not to mention the call sheet — could be cause for alarm, especially when things are meant to be ramping up for the finale. But creating and maintaining tension has never been much of a challenge for Gilligan and his staff, and neither has turning a potential deficit into an advantage. (Consider how the first-season-disrupting writer’s strike led directly to the densely plotted Season 2. Or how the smart casting of Giancarlo Esposito allowed Gus to emerge as television’s most memorable nemesis when it became clear that the Twins — intended to be Season 3’s primary antagonists — had to go.) Hitting the reset button this late in the game is a central part of the story — and the storytelling. How long can a kingpin survive when the castle walls have all crumbled around him? Who’s left to protect the man who keeps insisting he’d do anything to protect his family? As Wikipedia University teaches us, entropy is more than a theory. It’s a law.