Arnold Kling  

Willpower

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Universal Social Programs vs. ... More on Social Security and Po...

That is the title of a new would-be hit pop-sci book by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. I liked it better than Freakonomics, which is faint praise. It probably deserves more praise than that. Definitely worth reading, but then you can give it away because you won't need to re-read it.

Some excerpts (no page numbers, because I read it on Kindle):


People often conserve their willpower by seeking not the fullest or best answer but rather a predetermined conclusion. Theologians and believers filter the world to remain consistent with the nonnegotiable principles of their faith.

It would be interesting to study the psychology of people dealing with facts that seem to contradict their world view. How exhausting is it to change your mind?

the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day. Use your self-control to forma daily habit, and you'll produce more with less effort in the long run.

I can think of a famous blogger and ethnic dining maven who already knew that:

religion is a profoundly influential human phenomenon that has been evolving effective self-control mechanisms for thousands of years.

On the Amy-Chua/Bryan Caplan debate, the authors take Chua's side:

The many Asian-American success stories have forced developmental psychologists to revise their theories of proper parenting.

A major thesis of the book is that self-control is not entirely innate. It can be taught, improved, and enhanced. The authors claim that parenting styles can affect it. In fact, they claim that the non-absence of a father improves self-control.

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...when Mischel analyzed just the African homes...About half of the children living with fathers chose the delayed reward, but none of the children in fatherless homes were willing to wait.

The authors concede that some of this difference is genetic (an absent father is likely to have less self-control, and to pass this along to children), but they cite studies that attempt to control for this that still show a difference.

The authors argue that computer games can help encourage self control.


Even when players lose battles or make mistakes or die, they remain motivated because of the emphasis on rewards rather than punishment. Instead of feeling as if they've failed, the players think they just haven't succeeded yet.

Do the players grow up to become financial regulators?



COMMENTS (10 to date)
Dan Hill writes:

I think the word for non-absence is presence...

fundamentalist writes:
religion is a profoundly influential human phenomenon that has been evolving effective self-control mechanisms for thousands of years.

Hayek praises the role of religion in forcing us to do the right thing when we can find no immediate rationality for doing so in "Fatal Conceit."

Richard Squire writes:

"Do the players grow up to become financial regulators?"

Arnold, you need to warn us when you're about to end a post with a one-liner that hilarious. I nearly spewed my morning coffee all over my iMac.

Joe Kristan writes:

Seldom does a post so effectively lead up to the last sentence. Lovely.

Troy Camlin writes:

How exhausting is it to change your mind?

It varies. If one is wrong about a simple fact that does not change anything else you believe, it's easy to do. People do that all the time. But if one is changing from being a creationist to a Darwinist, well, that is a change of world view. One changes what one believes about the nature and age of the universe, the earth, and life itself. One changes what one believes about the origins of life, the nature of that life, and the origins and nature of humans. One can still believe in God, but one ends up with a world view as complex as Tielhard de Chardin's. One can either go that way, or eject God from one's world view for the simpler vision. Such a change from creationism to Darwinism is indeed exhausting. That's why you don't see it too often, why it requires a lot of education for the change to take place, and why cultures take a long time to change on such issues. All of these are the same reasons most people remain folk economists, and why the intelligent designers and creationists of economics -- the supporters of the "mixed economy" and socialism -- are so hard to convince.

Now, for the issue of raising children. Studies on "dads" and "cads" -- those who marry and settle down and take care of the kids vs. those who sleep around with lots of women -- show that no matter if the father is a dad or a cad, if the child is raised by a dad, he will most likely become a dad, while those who are raised without a dad tend to become cads. These studies have been done on the full scale: children of dads raised by the dads, children of cads raised by dads (yes, women cheat with and get pregnant by cads far more often than people realize), children of dads raised by single moms (due to a divorce, for example), and children of cads raised by single moms (for obvious reasons). In this case, the mating strategy has been shown to be influenced by the presence or absence of the father almost exclusively. This of course affects many other elements of their lives -- no doubt, will power is among them.

Jonathan Bechtel writes:

@TroyCamlin

Can you point to some research on what you talked about?

Evan writes:
On the Amy-Chua/Bryan Caplan debate, the authors take Chua's side:
I think a posible explanation for this is that Bryan relies mostly on twin studies, which, due to adoption eligibility issues, tend to only study the middle class. Bryan has admitted that his findings and parenting advice only applies to middle class parents in the First World and that results may vary by SES. Baumeister and Tierney, by contrast, seem to have used studies that looked at all SES.
The authors claim that parenting styles can affect it. In fact, they claim that the non-absence of a father improves self-control.
I wonder if this stacks? Will children adopted by married gay men possess near-superhuman levels of self control, or are there diminishing returns? Or is the key to have two parents in the home, regardless of sex? Again, it seems like studying children raised by homosexual couples would be an effective way to measure this.
@TroyCamlin

Can you point to some research on what you talked about?

Seconded.
ionides writes:
the psychology of people dealing with facts that seem to contradict their world view.

I once heard a comment on this by the psychologist Carl Faber. "Values are in the eyes" he said. You will never see facts which contradict your values.

Or you could say that values are anterior to perception, and condition it.

Troy Camplin writes:

This is the article I learned this from:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~kruger/dads-cads.html

They cite the original research.

ThomasL writes:
Theologians and believers filter the world to remain consistent with the nonnegotiable principles of their faith.

The strange part of this statement to me is that it implies that "believers" are somehow distinct, as if "nonbelievers" rolled their own and smoked the world straight.

If by filtered, they mean the desire to explain apparent contradictions into non-contradictions, I would say that applies to every human being on the face of the earth. Everyone has things they hold on to tightly enough that if contradicted, they don't let go of without a fight.

It would also seem to presuppose that all apparent contradictions are, in fact, real contradictions--or, another way to say it, there is no such thing as an "apparent contradiction" or a "real contradiction" there is just "contradiction" because looking like a contradiction and being a contradiction are indistinguishable states. They make no allowance for something the simply looks like a contradiction at first, but after digging a bit deeper proves not to be one, since the very act of digging into it would mean "filtering."

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