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April 20-21, 2020: Invited guest at the Global Solutions Summit 2020 in Berlin, Germany

April 22, 2020: Talk at Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University, UK.

June 2, 2020: Talk on “Communcation and Competition” at Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA) Summit at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

June 27, 2020: Invitee to Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture delivered by Michael Gove.

July 2-3, 2020: Keynote at the Culture Conference in Stirling, UK

July 2, 2020: Lecture on “What affects our level of collective intelligence?” at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute hosted by the Templeton World Charity Foundation at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

July 8-10, 2020: Invited guest at the Diverse Intelligences grantee meeting hosted by the Templeton World Charity Foundation at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

July 12, 2020: Radio interview with Matthew Syed and Neil Lawrence hosted by Alexis Conran on Radio 4, UK.

July 22, 2020: Talk and discussion on “The Cultural Evolution of Intelligence” at Cross Roads on Youtube Live hosted by Cross Labs, Tokyo, Japan.

August 18, 2020: Panelist on “Behavioral Science for Global Good” at Behavioral Insights Group conference hosted by Harvard Business School / Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

November 24-25, 2020: Ditchley Foundation meeting on World Trade Organization (WTO) reform.

Psychology as a Historical Science

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper on “Psychology as a historical science” in Annual Review of Psychology. Catalyzing the field of “historical psychology” by reviewing work on: origins of psychology and institutions today, psychology of the past (data from dead minds).

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Our psychology is shaped by our societies, and our societies are shaped by their histories. We can do better than butterfly collecting–just measuring cross-cultural diffs. For psychology to develop a full theory of human behavior, we need historical psychology.

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Psychology is shaped by millions of years of genetic evolution, thousands of years of cultural evolution, & a short lifetime of experience; yet, much of the field has focused on that short lifetime of experience. The WEIRD People Problem is not only about geography but history.

Past societies can be as culturally distant as distant societies. Cohort effects are a sliver of the cross-temporal variation we would expect in a culturally evolving species. History serves as a kind of psychological fossil record, a source of “data from dead minds”.

We (1) review work in historical psychology; (2) introduce methods including causal inference & how to extract data from dead minds; (3) explore the role of theory in mapping history to psychology; and (4) provide some conclusions concerning the future of this field.

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E.g.s: Religious evolution & social psych. Some gods gained the ability to see into hearts & control an afterlife contingent on compliance. In many large-scale societies, these gods became omniscient, omnipotent, & omnibenevolent, coevolving with the scale of their societies.

This historical theory makes predictions not only about expected relationships in the historical record but also about expected contemporary cross-cultural diversity in religious beliefs and cognition. In doing so, the theory links historical psychology to cultural psychology.

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WEIRD Psychology may have its origins in suppressing kin networks, changing family structures, & related via one particular religion: The Catholic Church

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Institutions rest on invisible cultural and psychological pillars. E.g. a constitution’s proclamations are irrelevant without a belief in the rule of law, or norms of punishment for violations of this rule.

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We discuss the importance of causal inference techniques in historical psychology: instrumental variables, difference-in-differences, regression discontinuity. Some e.g. use for slavery & trust in strangers; agriculture & sex diff, gender inequality, collectivism; personality.

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Historical psychology includes the psychology of the past – data from dead minds, cognitive archeology. Historical databases are emerging. But sometimes the data is qualitative requiring tools like text analysis.

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We discuss some examples of the importance of theory. A society has codependent norms, values, beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. If one takes an exploratory approach and looks for correlations in history, there are many to be found. Theory helps clarify causality.

Collaboration between psychologists, historians, and other humanities scholars is important (see religiondatabase.org for an e.g.). We discuss challenges & strategies.

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Taking history seriously is a critical part of moving beyond the WEIRD people problem and making psychology a genuinely universal science of human cognition and behavior.

National Academy of Engineering

Cultural Evolution and the Paradox of Diversity

Summary from Twitter thread:

As an engineering grad, I’m delighted to contribute to the latest National Academy of Engineering Bridge issue on “The Paradox of Diversity” https://nae.edu/244742/Cultural-Evolution-and-the-Paradox-of-Diversity

It’s short, but here’s a quick trailer.

Cultural evolution and the paradox of diversity

Diversity is a double edged sword. Governments and organizations often push for greater diversity and tolerance for diversity, because the human tendency is toward squashing difference and selecting others like ourselves. But diversity can both help and harm innovation.

On the one hand, there’s intellectual arbitrage: discoveries and technologies situated in one discipline that draw on a key insight from another. Here diversity is a fuel for the engine of innovation.

On the other hand, diversity is, by definition, divisive. Without a common understanding, common goals, and common language, the flow of ideas in social networks is stymied, preventing recombination and reducing innovation. How do we reap the benefits without paying the costs?

Consider the challenge of collaborations between scientists and humanities scholars (or even between scientists in different disciplines). The key is to find common ground through strategies such as optimal assimilation, translators and bridges, or division into subgroups.

Resolving the tension between diversity and selection is at the core of a successful innovation strategy. And there are many possible solutions.

Some dimensions of diversity matter more than others—without a common language, communication is difficult. On the other hand, food preferences create little more than an easily solved coordination challenge for lunch.

But between these are many dimensions where optimal assimilation may be desirable and traits can be optimized, such as psychological safety so people feel free to share unorthodox ideas.

Other strategies include interdisciplinary translators. In my role at the Database of Religious History (DRH)—a large science and humanities collaboration—we have benefited from a few scholars trained in both to bridge the gap.

Innovation can also be divided into independent groups, coordinating within the group but competing against others trying different strategies (e.g. competition between firms).

Check out the full issue here: https://www.nae.edu/244665/Winter-Issue-of-The-Bridge-on-Complex-Unifiable-Systems

Behavioral Science for Global Good at Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) conference hosted by Harvard Business School / Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

I was a panelist at the  Behavioral Science for Global Good at Behavioral Insights Group  (BIG) conference hosted by Harvard Business School (add link) / Harvard Kennedy School (add link). The goal of the panel was to offer insight into the ways in which behavioral science may need to change in the future in order to fulfill its stated mission to make a positive difference in the world—particularly on how to expand our focus beyond predominantly WEIRD researchers, WEIRD research topics, and WEIRD populations.

My fellow panelists included:

  • Dolly Chugh, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at NYU
  • Chaning Jang, CSO / VP of Research at the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics
  • Shinobu Kitayama, Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology at University of Michigan
  • Steven Roberts, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University
  • Neela Saldanha, Senior Advisor at the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics – who did a wonderful job chairing the discussion.

Diverse Intelligences grantee meeting hosted by the Templeton World Charity Foundation at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK

I spent the last few days at the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) Grantee Meeting, online instead of the University of St Andrews, Scotland (due to the pandemic). This conference has become an annual highlight for me, I thoroughly enjoy discussing intelligence with an amazingly diverse and interdisciplinary group of brilliant scholars.

“What affects our level of intelligence?” at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute hosted by the Templeton World Charity Foundation at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

This year’s Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute was held online due to the pandemic. I delivered a lecture over Zoom on “What affects our level of intelligence?” followed by a lively discussion with the students. The lecture discussed brain evolution, the Cultural Brain Hypothesis, collective brain, and a cultural evolutionary account of intelligence. You can watch it below:

Communication and Competition at the Learning Innovations LaBarge tree “LILA” at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA

 I ran a workshop on communication competition at the Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), part of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The LILA group include people from industry and the military. We discussed various aspects of the science of cooperation, including how and when it fails.I also introduced some new work on the paradox of diversity and on measuring cultural distance.

One of the participants, Sue Borchardt is now making an animated series based on the talk.

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

Summary from Twitter thread:

🚨Now out in Psychological Science! Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620916782

1/ The world is not WEIRD vs non-WEIRD.

How psychologically and culturally distant is the US from Canada? China from Japan?

2/ CFst is a lens for looking at differences between and within populations. It’s flexible, robust, and theoretically-meaningful.

Issue with existing approaches:
1. Societies are distributions of traits. Mean estimates are misleading. Brazil looks like Turkey on Hofstede:

2. Variance captures some of this (Turkey is culturally tighter than Brazil), but how do you capture nominal traits like political priorities: “give people more to say”, “maintain order in the nation”, “fight rising prices”, or “protect freedom of speech”?3. Genetic distance is a proxy, but can be misleading: Hong Kong is more than an order of magnitude more genetically similar to China than to Britain, but is culturally similar to both due to Britain’s century-long history in Hong Kong.4. Linguistic distance is better, but the resolution is low. Difficult to distinguish the cultures of Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, all of whom speak English.3/ Fst is theoretically meaningful within evolution: measures how genotype frequencies forsubpop differ from expectations if there were random mating over the entire population. i.e. it measures the degree to which the populations can be considered structured and separate.4/ For cultural inheritance, this is directly analogous to between-group differentiation caused by selection, migration, and social learning mechanisms.5/ Cultural FST (CFst) is calculated in the same manner as Genetic FST, but instead of a genome, we use World Values Survey as a “culturome”.
Questions as loci.
Answers as alleles.

CFst can handle continuous, binary, or nominal traits.6/ Because traits tend to cluster within a society, it’s also robust to missing questions or data. You can drop even 50% of data or questions and get very little deviation.

Even if we don’t ask every conceivable question, if you ask a broad range, you’ll get a similar answer.

Note: Traits cluster within, but not necessarily between societies. 7/ We create an American scale (useful as a proxy WEIRD scale) and a Chinese scale as an example.

8/ American scale correlates with cultural dimensions, tightness, values, extraversion and personality variance, and many behavioral measures: blood donations, diplomat parking tickets, corruption perceptions, honesty in the wallet drop study:

Civic honesty around the globeRationalist approaches to economics assume that people value their own interests over the interests of strangers. Cohn et al. wanted to examine the trade-off between material self-interest and more a…https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/70

Distance…

9/ The Chinese scale is less predictive – why? Two possibilities:

1. WEIRD nations are truly psychological outliers in some objective sense. Plug for @JoHenrich ‘s brilliant new book: amazon.com/WEIRDest-Peopl…

2. Psychological measures have been studied because they are remarkable to WEIRD researchers.

If psychology was dominated by Chinese psychologists, we would see a different set of psychological outcomes covered in textbooks. 10/ Resolving which of these explanations is correct will require greater diversity in both researchers and samples.11/ Final caveats:
1. Similar distance from US / China does not mean cultural similarity. Japan & Norway are similarly distant from US, but are not necessarily similar to each other.

Like Colombia and the UK are similarly geo distant from US but nowhere near each other.

Culture is a large n-dimensional space. 2. The US is relatively homogeneous (note, it’s a loose country, but similarly loose in all regions relative to other large populations). Societies are not homogeneous. They have multivariate distributions of many traits along many dimensions with structure within structure.

There are likely to be cultural differences between not only regions within a country but also ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic class, and other groupings. These are all avenues for future research. 3. We need more data from the Middle East and Africa! We have every reason to suspect the American scale will continue to stretch as we map out these psychological terrae incognitae.These regions (and others like South Pacific) are a treasure trove for the next generation of cultural psychologists. Not just about psychological outcomes, but also questions we ask, and way we organize psychology. What we know is the tip of the iceberg of the human psyche. END I lied. There’s also a website: culturaldistance.com

Selected Media Coverage

Nautilus

Marginal Revolution

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance at Brunel University, London

I was delighted to discuss my recent paper on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” at the Center for Culture and Evolution (add link to center) of Brunel University (add link to university). The center is emerging as an exciting and quickly growing hub for cultural evolutionary research.

Special guest at the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA

On the back of the Nature Human Behaviour article on psychology’s Problem in Theory, I was invited as a Special Guest to the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA. The meeting was designed as formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking conferences to which I’ve been. I tweeted some highlights and a few of my thoughts in relation to the problem in theory:

See more by searching Twitter for #metascience2019

More details from the conference website:

INVITED SPEAKERS

Carl Bergstrom (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford, UK), Annette N. Brown (Family Health International 360, Durham, USA), Tim Errington (Center for Open Science, Charlottesville, USA), James Evans (University of Chicago, USA), Daniele Fanelli (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne, AU), Jacob Foster (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), Andrew Gelman (Columbia University, New York, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford University, USA), Daniel Kahneman (Princeton University, USA), Zoltán Kekecs (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, HU), Carole Lee (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Edward Miguel (University of California, Berkeley, USA), Staša Milojević (Indiana University, Bloomington, USA), Michèle Nuijten (Tilburg University, NL), Cailin O’Connor (University of California, Irvine, USA), Adam Russell (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, USA), Marta Sales-Pardo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, ES), Melissa Schilling (New York University, USA), Jonathan Schooler (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA), Dean Keith Simonton (University of California, Davis, USA), Roberta Sinatra (IT University of Copenhagen, DK), Paula Stephan (Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA), Simine Vazire (University of California, Davis, USA), Bernhard Voekl (University of Bern, CH), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, Berlin, DE), Shirley Wang (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA), Jevin West (University of Washington, USA), Yang Yang (Northwestern University, Evanston, USA)

PANEL DISCUSSANTS

Christie Aschwanden (Emergent Form, USA), Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern University, Boston, USA), Richard Harris (National Public Radio, Washington, USA), Chonnettia Jones (Wellcome Trust, London, UK), Stephanie Lee (BuzzFeed News, New York, USA), Arthur Lupia (National Science Foundation, Alexandria, USA), Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch, New York, USA), Dawid Potgieter (Templeton World Charity Foundation. Nassau, BS), Norbert Schwarz (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA), Kathleen Vohs (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA), Jonathan Yewdell (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, USA)

SYMPOSIUM ORGANIZERS

Brian Nosek (Center for Open Science, USA), Jonathan Schooler (UC Santa Barbara, USA), Jon Krosnick (Stanford Univ., USA), Leif Nelson (UC Berkeley, USA), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, DE)

SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY BOARD

Deborah Mayo (Virginia Tech, USA), Helen Longino (Stanford Univ., USA), Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine, USA), Rebecca Saxe (MIT, USA), Colin Camerer (Caltech, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford Univ., USA), Stephen Fiore (Univ. Central Florida, USA), Richard Harris (NPR, USA), John Protzko (UC Santa Barbara, USA)

OBJECTIVES

During this decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new discipline called metascience, metaresearch, or the science of science. Most exciting was the fact that this is emerging as a truly interdisciplinary enterprise with contributors from every domain of research. This symposium served as a formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. The meeting have brought together leading scholars that are investigating questions related to themes such as:

  • How do scientists generate ideas?
  • How are our statistics, methods, and measurement practices affecting our capacity to identify robust findings?
  • Does the distinction between exploratory and confirmatory research matter?
  • What is replication and its impact and its value?
  • How do scientists interpret and treat evidence?
  • What are the cultures and norms of science?

Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) Grantee Meeting at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute at the University of St Andrews, Scotland

I spent the last few days at the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) Grantee Meeting at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. This was my second time attending the meeting and I enjoyed once again discussing the challenges of understanding intelligence (and its implications) with an amazingly diverse and interdisciplinary group of brilliant scholars.

Are Collectivistic Cultures More Prone to Rapid Transformation? Computational Models of Cross-Cultural Differences, Social Network Structure, Dynamic Social Influence, and Cultural Change

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper in Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR): Societies more susceptible to social learning (e.g. China) more culturally stable, but also more susceptible to rapid transformation. Punctuated cultural equilibrium. Models differences in cross-cultural social networks and influence. Why? 1/3

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1088868319855783?journalCode=psra

Consider Majority illusion (Blue Fashionable will be perceived as majority view due to social network structure).

Some societies more likely to conform. Under most conditions, conforming to the majority leads to stability, but… 2/3

A well connected ideologue taking advantage of that conformity leads to rapid social change.

In a less well connected society with fewer conformists, too many leaders, not enough followers making it harder for one to dominate and kickstart a country-wide revolution. 3/3

“Culture Evolving and Scales of Cooperation Competing” at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) conference at the University of Warwick, UK

I was invited to present my work on cultural evolution and how scales of cooperation compete at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) conference at the University of Warwick, UK. You can read more about cultural evolution in this chapter , more about scales of cooperating competing in this Evonomics / Promarket piece and some experimental evidence in this Nature Human Behavior paper.