I recently attended the Los Angeles Times Book fair, which was held at USC this year. For anyone who lives close to Los Angeles, I would highly recommend it, as over a 2 day period, I saw Andrew Breitbart, Larry Flynt, Father Greg Boyle, Steve Lopez, and countless other interesting people speak about books they had written. I met and bought a book from a guy who biked from Alaska to Chile...on a tandem bike!
One thing that always interests me is attending panels on the book industry, and there happened to be a panel that included representatives from three of the best independent bookstores in the country, Powell's Books, Vroman's Books (that now owns Book Soup too), and City Lights. The panelists talked about the challenges of selling books in an age of Amazon and e-readers, with many of them echoing themes about how independent bookstores have become a "3rd place" where people can browse and discover books, which may or may not lead to a sale of a physical book.
One thing I study is the tendency to make experiential vs. material purchases and I therefore asked a question, which relates both to my research and my own experience in bookstores, which is that what I really value about physical bookstores is the experience of browsing the shelves, not the ability to buy physical books. I normally walk out with a number of books, but I'm not necessarily there to buy something...rather, I'm there to experience the world of ideas. Buying a book there just seems like the polite thing to do. It occurred to me that other readers might be like me and appreciate the experience of browsing books more than owning any physical book. Indeed, this market research that I later found agrees, in that they found that younger buyers appreciate the brick-and-mortars shopping experience of physical bookstores, even as there is significant leakage whereby they actually purchase books online.
Both because I was curious and because I'd like to help booksellers, I decided to look at our yourmorals data to see if I could say anything about the personality profile of readers vs. non-readers. This is certainly a unique sample - over educated and likely non-fiction readers as we get a lot of people who find our website via science articles - but while the mean levels of reading are meaningless, the relationships between variables in our sample often generalize (see this article). We actually have a question, "How many hours a week do you spend reading?", that I used to characterize people as readers and non-readers and my first thought was that readers would be more experiential, as opposed to material purchasers. However, in the 175 people who had taken our experiential vs. material purchasing measure, the correlation was insignificant (and negative), meaning that my hypothesis was likely wrong. Readers are not experiential rather than material purchasers, at least in our data set.
I then thought I'd explore more and below is a graph of the Big 5 personality traits of readers vs. non-readers.
The trend for openness to experience is clear and robust. It replicates within political groups and within each gender. The effect size is about a half of a standard deviation. People who are "original", "curious", "deep thinkers" read more. This is perhaps different than stimulation seeking (readers also do not score higher on valuing stimulation on the Schwartz values scale) or experiential purchasing, in that readers aren't necessarily seeking novelty or thrills (otherwise they might experience the world more directly, rather than reading about it). Here are some related differences between light (under 10 hours per week - in blue) and heavy (more than 20 hours per week reading - in green) readers.
Heavy readers are more comfortable with uncertainty (low need for closure), enjoy deliberate cognitive thinking (high need for cognition), and tend to try to understand how the world works in a systematic way (higher systemetizer scores).
These are hardly earth shattering findings, but sometimes its useful to emphasize what you already know and doing this analysis perhaps crystallizes the question I proposed to the panel. I asked if there was a way for those of us who enjoy the experience of bookstores to pay for the experience, perhaps through memberships, rather than the material goods, which are often more efficiently bought elsewhere. However, readers are not necessarily more experiential purchasers, as I had originally thought and it isn't just an experience that should be offered. Rather heavy readers (at least in this sample) are people who enjoy engaging in the world of ideas. Buying books is one way for readers to engage in effortful thinking and gain understanding of the world, but perhaps independent bookstores can think of other ways to charge people for better access to the world of ideas, leading to more congruence between what readers want and what only brick and mortar stores can provide. The LA Times book fair, though free, is perhaps a good model, where people line up for access to intellectually stimulating panels with live discussions. I am not in the book industry, but I'm hopeful that the idea that booksellers are selling ideas, rather than books, will be generative, in terms of thinking up ideas for supporting the livelihoods of independent booksellers. Charging for panels, better access to authors, or providing a marketplace of ideas that are specific to a very local community are thoughts that come to mind, but I'm sure there are many other ways. Personally, I'd happily give more money to my local bookstore, if they could somehow leverage their physical space in a way that would help me think of and discuss new interesting ideas in new interesting ways.
- Ravi Iyer
Recently, Jon Haidt wrote a an opinion piece about the death of Bin Laden, which points out that people are expressing love for their ingroup, it does not necessarily translate to hate of other groups. As I've said before, few things in psychology are categorically one thing or the other, and certainly there is a minority who will use the death of Bin Laden to express dislike of Islam. Testosterone, that accompanies winning, can have that effect. However, several research studies have shown that ingroup love and outgroup hate are indeed separable, and that if you give people a chance to separate the two, they are often feeling ingroup love, not outgroup hate.
When does ingroup love lead to outgroup hate and when does it not? The simple answer (see this review article for more detail), is that when people think of a situation in competitive zero-sum terms, they are likely to highly correlate. Think of the difference between a rock concert and a baseball game. If you are at a Prince concert, you don't shout slogans about how much Madonna sucks. There is no competitive frame. But a "yankees suck" chant can occur anywhere in Boston or inside the men's room of Comerica Park.
Politics is certainly a zero-sum game and for some liberals and conservatives, anything which is a congruent with either the politicians or beliefs of the other side is seen as bad. So some conservatives have been reluctant to credit Obama and some liberals are reluctant to endorse patriotic zeal. Indeed, in our yourmorals.org data, identification with your country (using a subscale of Sam McFarland's Identification with All Humanity scale) is negatively correlated with liberal identification.
However, given that ingroup love and outgroup hate are not always correlated, and in this case, Bin Laden is not popular in the Arab world, cases where ingroup love leads to outgroup hate are likely to be outliers. Most people see it as love for their country, justice, and/or a blow for terrorists, not as a win in a larger battle against non-Americans. One could see it as a victory for the type of universalism that liberals desire, given that what Bin Laden wanted most was a competitive zero-sum conflict with the west. Indeed, patriotism itself has an empathic component to it, correlating with Empathic Concern (e.g. "I would describe myself as a pretty soft-hearted person", Davis, 1983) scores (see below).
I am generally liberal and have prototypically liberal angst about celebrating any death. But in the case of the collective unity we are seeing, I think liberals should take yes for an answer to our universalist impulses and appreciate the resulting unity. There are forces in the world (e.g. selfishness, competition, or threat) that cause us to restrict our circle of concern to ourselves and those immediately around us and there are forces in the world that cause us to expand our circle of concern and care. I welcome the celebrations, because I'm hopeful this is a case of the latter.
- Ravi Iyer
President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed recently and I've witnessed an array of emotions. Some view it in partisan terms, wondering if it will benefit Obama. Many are celebrating, which is understandable, but some people also understandably feel uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating death, even the death of someone responsible for the murder of thousands. Personally, I've felt both emotions. Bin Laden was actively plotting more attacks and caused the death of someone I cared about. If nothing else, the closure that it brings her family is something to feel good about. Still, reflection and sadness about the circumstance in it's entirety seems fitting as well. I can identify with this Wall Street Journal article which details the reaction of someone who lost a brother, saying "my satisfaction with justice tonight is of course mixed with very sad feelings about my younger brother and that justice for him is something he will never of course be able to appreciate."
I do not begrudge anyone their joy (life is short, enjoy it), but satisfaction and reflection dominate my thoughts as well, when I think about September 11th and the semi-closure that Bin Laden's death brings. Some Muslims celebrated September 11th, perhaps influenced by Bin Laden, and some Americans since have wanted revenge on all of Islam. In a sense, this is all the legacy of Bin Laden's terrible act on September 11th. Why did he do what he did and how did he get so many people to join him? Unlike a serial killer, who may have some weird grasp of reality, Bin Laden actually had to convince a number of sane people to join him in his crimes (perhaps by hypermoralizing them). He did it by creating an us vs. them, zero-sum mentality with "images of Iraqi children starving under American-led sanctions, of Israeli soldiers manhandling Palestinian women, and of Osama bin Laden, looking messianic in his flowing robes, exhorting his brothers to rise up and end Islam's humiliation once and for all." He wanted a long war divided along religious lines. Given the risks he took, it is safe to say he was willing to die for such division, or in psychological terms, for the chance to create a zero-sum battle between west and east, where the losses of one side (even the losses of civilians) were a gain to the other.
We should deny him that goal, as that, not just death, would be his ultimate defeat. One of the oldest findings in social psychology is that superordinate goals create unity. Killing Bin Laden was one such superordinate goal, shared by Democrats and Republicans, Muslims and Christians. Rather than worry about who gets credit for this, finding unity in his death would be the ultimate defeat for Bin Laden, whose life was all about sowing division. As Robert Wright said, on the website for his book about Non-Zero sum thinking, "Killing Osama bin Laden and his kind is one thing. Killing his memes is getting trickier all the time." Let's kill Bin Laden's zero-sum meme.
- Ravi Iyer