Articles to 2014-03-08

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Seemingly Stanford & Bradley are increasingly being disproved by the growing number of new aDNA determinations. On the other hand we should keep in mind the problems of finding remains of Anglo-Saxon invaders in the archeological record – so far all individuals tested have turned out to be acculturated Britains. The whole area where Solutréen immigrants may have settled, all of eastern USA, is known for its extremely bad bone preservation. To my mind Stanford & Bradley’s arguments are convincing.

Probably the most valuable commentary in Henrich et al. 2010 is the one by Baumard & Sperber. American undergraduates do not necessarily possess an intrinsically different personality but are conditioned to at the same time take the experiment less seriously – in terms of the description given of the context – and more seriously – viewing it as an exam situation. A typical example are economics games which usually result in participants making the wrong decisions. Often the description contains probabilities given in precise numerical form. The only time that happens in real life is by bank “advisers” or more precisely bank sales clerks on a commission. In real life the numbers are never known precisely but ideally best guesses or realistically self-serving distortions, so the decision maker, i.e. any successful investor, had better attach sizeable corrections to them first. All those who accept the sales blurb verbatim – i.e. do what is required to succeed in the economics game – invariably lose all their savings.

In competitive games I may be much more callous and unrelenting than I’d ever be with enemies and competitors in real life because “it’s just a game” or much less so because I’m playing with and against my friend and neighbour who may be much less trained in taking losing in games lightly as is common in western societies. Again this is about interpreting the test and not about personality. If so the American undergraduates are probably the only group on whom these experiments can be performed meaningfully, because they are the only ones trained to engage with hypothetical and artificial scenarios as intended.

Bennis & Medin, Boesch, Gächter, Rai & Fiske, and Shweder all point in the same direction but coming from different points of view and adding further aspects.
   “Behavior in artificial games does not correlate strongly to social behavior in the community” [Rai & Fiske]
   “the most ubiquitous source of error in efforts to know the other. This is to interpret as a cultural difference what is in reality a failure of communication. [...] many of the cultural differences reported by psychologists and others using questionnaires or tests come from failures of communication misreported as differences.” [Shweder]

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