Saturday, April 7, 2018

When you've begun to think like a gun
The rest of the year has already gone

The sight of a rifle hanging on a wall in Act 1 makes it more likely that the playwright will use it in Act 3.This is an example of the Weapon Priming Effect, where exposure to a weapon-related vocabulary, as well as to the sight of firearms, predisposes people towards acts of aggression. Similarly, symbolic 'violence' in video games leads to violence IRL, and news of a school mass-shooting primes NRA-owned politicians towards blaming gun violence on video games rather than on the gun-dealers.

Is this going to be another of your roundabout lede-burying approaches to a topic, Uncle Smut?

Foreshadowing and indirection are perfectly cromulent narrative techniques. Also if we didn't bury the lede then it would not be able to rise again on the 3rd Day IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROPHECY.
Smut burying a lede
Weapons Effects are a special case of the 'social priming' tradition of psychology, which was popular and much-run-after among the cool kids not long ago, finding its way into popular culture through books about tapping into the power of unconscious cognition through Nudging and Blinking. Then the wheels came off the trolley problem when leading lights in the field were found to be making everything up. But a Quartz contributor somehow slept through the last few years and is still pimping the priming paradigm as if the Replication Crisis never happened.
Because of the role they play in our thought processes, the metaphors we choose to use can dramatically impact people’s perceptions in ways that have real-world consequences.
The Quartz opinionator invokes the Macbeth Effect. It turns out that three is the optimum number of witches for making an ambiguous prophecy that persuades a clan leader to kill his liege and seize the throne of Scotland. Also, inciting subjects to wipe their hands reduces their awareness of guilt, social obligation and responsibility (except when it doesn't)... on account of "Washing one's hands of it" being a common English idiom. Or perhaps the reduction in guilt is the source of that idiom.*

I am on the record as mooting that experiments in this line of research are all tentative and preliminary and should be called "Pilate studies", but no-one listens to Uncle Smut.

Alternative title:

Blood Sugar Sex Magick


We cannot help suspecting this to be an indirect way of leading into the main topic.

Sort of... because what I really want to rant about is "Ego Depletion", where psychologists compare will-power to muscular strength (because it is called "power"), so that prolonged use exhausts it, while a boost of blood-sugar is enough to revive it. This isn't really a priming phenomenon, because it's not the subjects who respond to the power of words and treat a metaphor as a real connection, it's the psychologists.

We heard that 'Out of the strong, came forth sweetness', but this seems to be the other way around

Indeed. And it seems that undepleted Ego also enhances self-control and pro-social behaviour, i.e. Sweetness of blood = Sweetness of disposition, which is why diabetics are always altruistic. Make a note of Brad Bushman, the last author there.



This whole line of research reached Peak I-am-Not-Making-This-Up with the Married-Couple / Voodoo-Dolly study. According to our sources, this was originally pitched as a Reality-TV show that went horribly wrong so it was repurposed for academia.




1. Recruit couples under cover of darkness.
2. Induce them to "just play a game" in which they blast each other with annoying and deafening noises to induce rancour and bad feelings.**
3. Measure blood glucose.
4. Give each partner a supply of pins and a generic featureless soft toy.
5. ????
6. Publication, press-release, clickbait publicity.
Now there does exist a literature on Voodoo-Doll pin-poking as a way of measuring aggression and anger against one's children, although that was an imaginary doll and the pins were equally non-existent.
In Bushman et al., however, the Pin Count supposedly measures self-control (or the lack thereof)... Don't we all want to poke pins into fabric mannequins labelled as our loved ones, or to deface their photographs or whatever? Umm, neither do I. All that holds us back is our iron glucose-fueled self-control, in the service of a sense of decorum and obedience to the rules of society that say no voodoo.
[Must credit Andrew Gelman]

Alternative Title #2:

Following the footsteps Of a rag doll dance
We are entranced Spellbound

It may surprise you to learn that our man Bushman has weighed in on hand-washing, and reports the Macbeth effect to be so strong that even watching someone else's toilette works as a conscience-cleansing prime. This is fortunate as it means that reading through that digression on social priming was not a total waste of time. Unless you washed hands, lost all sense of social obligation, and didn't read it.



Angered by retraction, sight of weapons, and by
matching orange t-shirt, 
researcher attacks critic
However, Bushman's main output seems to be in the Weapons Priming field. One paper was retracted because his student made up the data; another went t.u. because the data looked bogus and the co-author was unavailable to vouch for or explain them (due to the political shenanigans in Turkey); a meta-analysis went through vicissitudes.

These experiences did not deter him from reviewing the topic for Current Opinion in Psychology. Then reviewing it again a year later, for the same journal, in almost the same words. This inspired raised eyebrows and criticism from Gelman and Neuroskeptic, but in the authors' defense, they may have depleted their blood glucose at the time.
I am primed to stab someone in the back
Here at Riddled Research Laboratory we find ourselves primed to design experiments along similar lines. Does the act of wiping clean a slate dispose people towards forgiving past transgressions and accepting a "Fresh Start" correctional policy? If you task subjects with lashing together a mock-up of an aeroplane out of twine and bamboo poles, do they become more desirous of consumer goods and more convinced by wistful-thinking cargo-cult theories in psychology?


* "Lacan was able to show that the Unconscious was really another writing system, 'structured like a language', and that fortunately the language was French, and not German, and was therefore much wittier than had been supposed. Showing that what we call dreams are actually a series of bedtime puns on French words, he was thus not only able to still French suspicions, but actually to establish the domination of French culture even at the level of the id."

** This may sound unethical, but is all for the worthy cause of studying "Intimate partner violence [which] affects millions of people globally".

3 comments:

rhwombat said...

Ah lurves me the smell of crepustularence, I mean cromulence, inna morning. It smells like ...

Emma said...

I guess Janet Leigh must've blasted Anthony Perkins with a lot of loud, irritating noises off-screen in Psycho, which is why he interrupted her cleansing ritual my murdering her instead of merely purifying his id. Or whatever.

I guess that was a way to explain baptism as a thing? Except that baptism already explains itself as a thing, just by being what it is. He should've tried to find a behavioral-psychology explanation for Christian-themed cannibalism.

For what it's worth, I don't think the Quartz contributor "slept through" the debunking of the theory so much as "he had no idea what he was talking about but had to get through a 'science' post of some kind anyway."

So, wait, is the theory that if I look at a gun, I'm more likely to want to shoot people? Or that if I hear somebody say, "son-of-a-gun," I start thinking about shooting people? Or that if I hear somebody say, "you might as well kill two birds with one stone," I can't help but wander out in the yard and try to smash birds with rocks? I'm not really clear on what's happening there.

As I have repeatedly (and perhaps embarrassedly) mentioned, I suffer from PCOS and it fucks with my blood sugar. I am definitely an asshole when my blood sugar is low — at least until I faint, of course. I was under the impression that's because the lack of glucose triggers a release of cortisol and other hormones/chemicals responsible for panicking and irritability, and also for liberating short-term glucose stores. Is that not what these poor children are talking about? It's so hard to tell.

Smut Clyde said...

So, wait, is the theory that if I look at a gun, I'm more likely to want to shoot people? Or that if I hear somebody say, "son-of-a-gun," I start thinking about shooting people?

Both. Both are part of the theory. In semantic priming, the "spread of activation" from using or hearing a word does not care about the context of that word.
Now in semantic priming effects, this is just about use of words. If the fiendish researcher has asked you a question about searching for something, to which you reply "rifle", this increases the chance that firearm-related words will turn up in your answers to later questions... for, let's say, the next minute or so. Activation of nodes in a semantic network mumble mumble mumble.

The social priming theorists extended this to claim that your behaviour is also affected. They take metaphors seriously so they conclude that everyone else does. After we induce you to think about age-related words, you will walk more slowly when you leave the laboratory, because your mental construct of "old age" has been activated.

That study (Bargh et al) did not stand up well to replication, but it was tremendously influential. In particular, Bushman seems to have swallowed this social-priming bolus.