Presented in the context of bringing together consilience from outside of psychology, a friend of mine sent me the below TED video, by Simon Sinek, which I believe has a lot in common with what much of psychology is discovering, specifically that intrinsic gut-level motivations are much more powerful than extrinsic rational motivations. In some ways, much of moral psychology is just using the scientific method to argue what Hume knew all along, that "reason is a slave of the passions"....and passion results from intrinsic, not extrinsic motivation.
Besides dovetailing with my research, I think there is a practical value to be taken from this video. I often find myself concentrating on what I am doing, sometimes forgetting why I do things. In a world where we all have too many paths to choose from, we sometimes choose the path that has the most urgency (extrinsic motivation) rather than the path that is the most meaningful (intrinsic motivation). In business, that might mean doing whatever generates a profit now, rather than what satisfies the business' core mission. In academia, that may mean writing a paper for publication sake (extrinsic reasons) rather than exploring ideas that may not just get published, but also may serve some larger purpose. If you are inclined to explore these theories/ideas further, I might read more about self-determination theory, which talks about how intrinsic, rather than extrinsic motivation, leads to better human functioning, in addition to the benefits described in the above talk.
- Ravi Iyer
I just finished Ted Conover's book, Rolling Nowhere, which I definitely recommend to anyone interested in understanding the human condition. In fact, I'd recommend any/all of Conover's books, where he assumes roles as diverse as a prison guard, illegal immigrant, and in this book, a train jumping hobo. Personally, psychology is always more convincing when placed in a larger context, with conclusions reached from different angles (consilience) and I think there is as much to learn about the human condition from one of Conover's books as in an issue of a psychological journal. In Rolling Nowhere, Conover hops trains for a few months and joins a subculture of 'tramps' that live a wandering, lonely lifestyle on the margins of society.
This may be an odd thing to say, but as a liberal, Rolling Nowhere helped me to appreciate American libertarians better. There are surely lots of differences between liberals and libertarians, but there are similarities as well. The book helped me contextualize the relationships we've found between being libertarian, which implies a sacredness placed on the value of freedom, psychological reactance, and the desire for stimulation. These are traits where liberals tend to score higher than conservatives as well.
The below graphs, taken from our yourmorals.org data, show these characteristics, using the Schwartz Values Scale, comparing liberals, libertarians, and conservatives. Notice that while self-direction is valued highly in all groups, it is highest in libertarians, and the difference between self-direction and the next highest value, is greatest for libertarians. Liberals score higher in self-direction than conservatives.
In the above graph, libertarians also show a relatively high desire for stimulation (equal to liberals, higher than conservatives) and a relatively low value placed on tradition and conformity. This is consistent with the idea that libertarians are experience seekers, an idea further confirmed by the below graph of libertarian big five personality dimensions, where libertarians score relatively high (similar to liberals) on openness to experience.
Conover writes a fair amount about the motivation that made him (who seems to lean liberal) seek to experience life as a tramp:
I hit the rails to learn and because, as Lonny said, when you become afraid to die, you become afraid to live. Confronted by the prospect of entering a laid-out and set-up life largely devoid of the need to be resourceful, I had desired an activity with an unpredictable outcome. Risk-taking, in a way, seemed its own reward.
Notice how in the above graph, libertarians score relatively low in agreeableness (e.g. "likes to cooperate with others"). That converges with the below measure of psychological reactance (e.g. "I become angry when my freedom of choice is restricted").
As Conover writes -
To understand tramps...you have to understand the idea that people cannot always do what they are told. Maybe you are told to get a job, but there aren't any; maybe you return from a crazy war and are told to carry on as though nothing ever happened...Many tramps' careers on the road began when the tramp told society, "You can't fire me-- I quit!"
There may indeed be a lot of overlap between the tea party movement and traditional republicans. But that doesn't mean that there isn't something that liberals can't identify with in the American libertarian. Both groups share a desire to escape established structure (liberals score higher than conservatives on reactance) and seek new experiences (high openness to experience scores), and I bet Rolling Nowhere, with it's portrait of individuals who have escaped life's routines, living by their own resourcefulness, is the kind of book that would appeal to many members of both groups.
- Ravi Iyer
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