The Cause of Addiction

I’ve seen several things recently that have argued that drug abuse is closely connected with bad environments, especially abuse as a child.  This anecdote is a great summary of why that is:

In the 1970s, Vancouver psychology professor Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Alexander built Rat Park, a lush cage where the rats had colored balls and the best rat food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, would happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats had used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Hostile Boss? Study Finds Advantages to Giving it Right Back

In what both the researchers and I found to be a surprise, it seems that when dealing  with a hostile boss, there are ways that its better to push back.  The  study found:

“The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse.”

“Hostile bosses were ones who did things like yell at, ridicule and intimidate their workers.”

“These are things that bosses don’t like and that fit the definition of hostility, but in a passive-aggressive form,” Tepper said.Employees who returned hostility did it by ignoring their boss, acting like they didn’t know what their bosses were talking about, and giving just half-hearted effort.

“I expect that you don’t have too many employees yelling and screaming at their bosses.”


Summer Jobs Reduce Crime Among Disadvantaged Youths

Not surprisingly, giving disadvantaged youth  summer jobs reduces violent crime (there’s no difference for property and drug crimes).

Youth employment programs have been studied in the past with mixed results. Most of the time, the program costs seem to outweigh the societal benefit. In this case, the program cost an estimated $3,000 per student ($1,400 for wages and $1,600 for administrative costs) while yielding around $1,700 in benefits from reduced crime. So the benefits did barely outweigh the administrative costs.

However, Heller insists that preventative programs like these are still more cost-effective than remediative punishment like prison.

“The results echo a common conclusion in education and health research: that public programs might do more with less by shifting from remediation to prevention. The findings make clear that such programs need not be hugely costly to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth; well-targeted, low-cost employment policies can make a substantial difference, even for a problem as destructive and complex as youth violence.”

The Power of Social Inheritance – Social Mobility is a Myth

This article from Huff Post argues (persuasively) that social status is communicated more effectively than some genetic traits.

That is the depressing conclusion — or, if you’re already part of the social elite, the great news — of a new study by economists Gregory Clark of the University of California, Davis, and Neil Cummins of the London School of Economics. The hope that we can claw our way up from our low station to someplace fancier is a delusion for most of us, according to this study. We inherit social status from our parents just as much as, if not more than, our physical traits.

And this social status often persists across many, many generations. The title of the study — “Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1170–2012” — gives you some idea of just how many generations we’re talking about here: 28 generations of 30 years each. The study looked at centuries of data on the social statuses of English families. It found that many of the families who were socially elite landowners in 1170 — your Montgomerys, Nevilles, and Percys — were still socially elite in 2012.

Voting for your “Team” more important than their policies

This article from the Washington Post discusses the psychology of voting one’s interest verses voting for ones’ party.

Alaska elected a Republican senator and passed a recreational marijuana initiative, along with an increase in the minimum wage. North Dakota elected a Republican congressman and rejected a Personhood amendment. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota elected a Republican senator and governor, and passed a minimum wage increase.  This led Zachary Goldfarb to write: “Americans will vote for Republicans even though they disagree with them on everything.”

My research suggests a key reason why this happened: our partisan identities motivate us far more powerfully than our views about issues. Although voters may insist in the importance of their values and ideologies, they actually care less about policy and more that their team wins.

This “team spirit” is increasingly powerful because our party identities line up with other powerful identities, such as religion and race. Over the last few decades, Republicans have generally grown increasingly white and churchgoing, while Democrats have become more non-white and secular. This sorting of identities makes us care even more about winning, and less about what our government actually gets done.