Recently, the Los Angeles Lakers won game 7 against the Boston Celtics and there were riots in the streets of los angeles. Below is a video of some of the scene.
This scene is not unique to Los Angeles. In fact, riots appear to occur with regularity when sports teams win. There were riots in Boston when the Celtics won in 2008 and riots in Los Angeles when the Lakers won in 2009 too. This seems to counter the common sense idea that people should be happy when they win, such that they are more generous with others. Happy people tend to be generous people (though the causal relationship might run in the reverse direction), not rioters. Shouldn't the people in the losing cities be the ones who rampage out of frustration? Yet there is an astonishing correlation between rioting and winning in the Lakers-Celtics series and in sports rioting more generally.
A colleague of mine dug up this study (Bernhardt et al, 1998) to explain it to me and I think it's worth sharing. It's been replicated by others as well. Unfortunately, the article itself is protected by the wall of the academic journal system, but the basic pattern of results is illustrated below.
Basically, fans of the winning team gain testosterone, which has been linked to aggressive behavior. Fans of losing teams lose testosterone, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Winners are encouraged to compete more...losers cut their losses.
Does this same effect extend to politics? My gut tells me no, as politics is less primal and the results develop over months, not hours. In fact, most of the time, we know who will win before an election and so what the winners feel is relief (an idea somewhat validated by this study). This article (fully visible by the public, since it was commendably published in an open access journal) illustrates that for some individuals, there was indeed no testosterone increase among winners, but the same decrease among losers, in the 2008 presidential election.
Another interesting resource, for those interested in the consilience of multiple views on the subject, is Bill Buford's book, Among the Thugs, where he lives among chronic sports rioters, fans of English football. His explanation dovetails nicely with Bernhardt et al's research (quote thanks to this source):
I had not expected the violence to be so pleasureable....This is, if you like, the answer to the hundred-dollar question: why do young males riot every Saturday? They do it for the same reason that another generation drank too much, or smoked dope, or took hallucinogenic drugs, or behaved badly or rebelliously. Violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenaline-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself, with, I was convinced, many of the same addictive qualities that characterize synthetically produced drugs.
For more information, here is another parallel view and a link to a more general overview of the causes of violence in sports riots (unfortunately, again, full text inaccessible without a university login...hrm!...I hope someday to be in a position to publish only in open access journals).
- Ravi Iyer
I personally do not believe in torture, but I have to admit that when I think of it, my mind prototypically thinks of the potential harm that might befall an innocent person caught by an unscrupulous policeman who is all too sure of his moral superiority. What would I do if I knew with 100% certainty that torture of a known murderer/rapist would save countless lives, including the lives of many people I knew and loved?
Is support for torture restricted to the evil among us (e.g. liberals who think that Dick Cheney = Darth Vader)? When individuals say that they are torturing an evil few in order to save many innocents (an argument based in Utilitarianism), are they lying about their noble goals? A recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that individuals may not be honest about their utilitarian motives. From the abstract:
The use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects is typically justified on utilitarian grounds. The present research suggests, however, that those who support such techniques are fuelled by retributive motives.
This is a very well done experimental study, which illustrates an important point about other potential motives for torture, specifically a desire for retribution or vengeance. However, it may be nitpicking or splitting hairs, but I might instead have written "those who support such techniques may also be fuelled by retributive motives." Indeed, in the study itself, there is an increase in support for severe interrogation techniques when there is a greater likelihood that the suspect is withholding information that may save lives, especially among Republicans, the group most likely to be "those who support such techniques." The fact that retributive motives exist, does not necessarily mean that utilitarian motives do not. One could probably design a study that shows the opposite, where utilitarian motives dominate, given the total control one has in a lab environment.
Our yourmorals.org data suggests that utilitarian motives are indeed important in predicting attitudes toward torture. There are a number of measures that tap utilitarian thinking, but the most convincing to me are the classic moral dilemmas that ask people if they are willing to take some action (e.g. flipping a switch) to save 5 innocent people at the cost of 1 innocent life. They are convincing because they are generally free of any political content or judgment about the worth or guilt of individuals. Below is a graph relating responses to these dilemmas to attitudes toward torture. Higher scores on the Y axis indicate more willingness to sacrifice 1 life for 5. Higher scores on the X axis indicate willingness to support torture in more situations.
There is a fairly robust positive correlation between utilitarian judgments on these dilemmas and support for torture (the dip on the far right for liberals is likely due to there being such a small number of liberals who think torture is often justified).
If I look at other utilitarian measures such as moral idealism (using the Ethics Position Questionnaire - e.g. "The existence of potential harm to others is always wrong, irrespective of the benefits to be gained.", r=-.35) or moral maximizing (using an adapted version of Schwartz's maximizing-satisficing scale - e.g. "In choosing a moral action, one should never settle for a morallyimperfect action.", r=-.15), you find the same relationship. Controlling for political affiliation and beliefs about punishment and disposition toward vengeance, one still finds significant relationships between utilitarianism and support for torture.
My take home. Part of promoting civil politics is to take people at their word for their motives, rather than questioning them. There may indeed be some vengeful motive behind torture...but there are utilitarian motives as well and those of us who dislike torture might actually get further confronting torture on utilitarian grounds rather than attempting to question the motives of those who believe in torture.
- Ravi Iyer
Watching baseball can be a frivolous pursuit and a distraction from psychology research, but last night something happened which demonstrated a psychological finding far more effectively than any study or paper.
Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was very close to pitching a perfect game. For non-baseball fans, its a very rare occurrence, comparable to other rare unpredictable events that take some amount of skill and luck, like bowling 300 or climbing Mount Everest and seeing the perfect sunset. Its something you can work hard for, but even the best of pitchers may not achieve the feat.
On the very last batter that Galarraga had to get out, a close play occurred at first base, and the umpire incorrectly ruled the batter safe. TV replays have confirmed that the batter was actually out, and the umpire agrees he made a mistake. Still, Galarraga has been deprived of his perfect game.
Perfect games happen and personally, I dont normally care that much. But the reaction of Galarraga will make me a fan of his for life. Does anyone remember Roberto Alomar spitting at an umpire because of a relatively inconsequential strike call? Some have called Galarraga the anti-Alomar for his forgiving reaction. Watch how Galarraga smiles after the play or watch his reaction in the below video, talking about it later.
Galarraga's remarkably calm and forgiving reaction has led to a series of articles talking about him, probably a lot more than if he had completed his perfect game. He plans to shake hands publicly with Jim Joyce, the umpire who missed the call, and present him with the lineup card in the next game, in a public show of forgiveness in front of thousands of fans who might otherwise be irate at Joyce the entire next game.
Personally, I learned something from Galaragga's reaction that I'll take with me the next time I am wronged. Its something subtle and true about the power of forgiveness...something that I always know, but often dont have the strength or awareness to practice. Galaragga is not just reducing the amount of animosity in the world, but he is also ensuring his own happiness.
Studies confirm the relationship between being a forgiving person and being a happier person (Maltby, Day, Barber, 2005). Below is a graph of our yourmorals.org data showing the relationship between forgiveness of others (using the Heartland Forgiveness Scale - "I continue to punish a person who has done something that I think is wrong.") and satisfaction with life ("The conditions of my life are excellent."). As in the Maltby et. al study, forgiving people are indeed happier.
It may not have been a perfect game....but it was as close to a perfect reaction as we generally see and I'm hopeful this story will be remembered far more than if an actual perfect game had occurred. It's a stark contrast to the ugliness we often see in most news and politics. As Galarraga put it himself, everything happens for a reason.
- Ravi Iyer