Saturday, June 29, 2013

New approach to learning

FOr a while the learning literature in behavioral/experimental economics was very active (though I always thought learning was a misnomer, I think of it more as adaptation). REcently I've come across a new paper that puts some of these ideas to a more direct test:

Heinrich H. Nax, Maxwell N. Burton-Chellew, Stuart A. West and H. Peyton Young have a paper on "Learning in a Black Box" where they look at subjects that play a public good game either with information, or in the "black box" treatment, where they basically just press buttons and get to see what happens to their own payoff. The results are qualitatively quite similar, when they compare behavior across a couple of public good games with different parameters.

It might be nice to use this technique to in general test how much of "fairness" results could be achieved via a "black box" technique.

I am aware that psychologists, foremost Ido Erev has done lots of "black box" choices over lotteries, I am not aware that this technique has been used much when testing behavior in games...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Female Actors in Movies

The role of women in movies hasn't been that big these past years. There is a paper on "Gender Inequality in 500 Popular Films: Examining On-Screen Portrayals and Behind-the-Scenes Employment Patterns in Motion Pictures Released between 2007-2012" by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Elizabeth Scofield, & Dr. Katherine Pieper.

Very early on they state:
Females are grossly underrepresented on screen in 2012 films. Out of 4,475 speaking characters on screen, only 28.4% are female. This translates into a ratio of 2.51 males to every 1 female on screen. 2012 reveals the lowest percentage of on-screen females (28.4%) across the 5-year sample. Only 6% of the top-grossing films in 2012 featured a balanced cast, or females in 45-54.9% of all speaking roles. Just over a quarter of all narrators (27.5%) are female.

Here is a nice summary Figure...

See also my earlier post here

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Graduation speech by Neil Gaiman

Next to the speech of J.K. Rowling, I found another good graduation speech: by Neil Gaiman.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Femen and Facebook

The Austrian newspaper Der Standard writes that the Femen page has been blocked on facebook, see here. When you google femen germany you can reach their facebook link, and a post of

"FEMENs Haupt-Facebookseite und FEMEN France wurden offline genommen: Facebook behauptet, sie würden Pornographie enthalten. Dann haltet ihr also Bilder einer weiblichen Brust für Pornographie? ist das euer Ernst? Facebook, du machst dich damit nur lächerlich!

The main FEMEN Facebook page, as well as FEMEN France, have been shut down. Facebook claims that they "contain pornography". So pictures of female breasts are porn? Are you serious, guys? Facebook, your behaviour is simply ridiculous!"

Their page is visible (though blurry and/ot star-ry at times)

Der Standard goes on to write (in german...)

"Stillende Mütter und nackte Männer

Es handelt sich längst nicht um den ersten Eingriff Facebooks zur Wahrung der eigenen Richtlinien. Im Januar 2009 sorgte die Entfernung der Bilder stillender Mütter für einen Aufschrei. Jedoch ohne Folgen, solche Bilder werden auch weiterhin nicht toleriert.

Im November 2012 fiel ein Werbesujet des Wiener Leopold Museums dem Regiment des Netzwerks zum Opfer. Die Kulturinstitution hatte auf einem Plakat drei Männer nackt im künstlerischen Kontext abgebildet. Facebook griff ein, weil auch die Abbildung von Penissen nicht von den Richtlinien gedeckt ist."

Here is a funny picture that was censured by Facebook, but eventually, after complaints, was reinstated...

I recently had a discussion on rights with a colleague: Here's a social problem: While facebook clearly is a private company and I guess can decide what it allows on its pages, it seems problematic that they can decide what to block (or any other big widely used provider of that form). Clearly blocking decisions can be made without any court order.
What when a decision is made not to depict men in dresses? (Sorry Scotland, there goes some heritage...) women wearing burkas? women in trousers?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Talk in Berlin

On Wednesday I give a seminar at the TU Berlin, We June 26, 16:30-18:00, Muriel Niederle
BH-N 128.

I'll talk about "Identifying Predictable Players"

Monday, June 24, 2013

A good graduation speech by J.K. Rowling

I just had some discussion about graduation speeches. Here is a good one, by J.K. Rowling, which she gave at Harvard in 2011

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Female Mentoring and advice

I'll be helping to mentor a new crop of Assistant Profs through CSWEP.

It's a little funny that is't called mentoring: Wikipedia informs me:

"When Athena visited Telemachus she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of Telemachus' mother Penelope.[2] As Mentor, the goddess encouraged Telemachus to stand up against the suitors and go abroad to find out what happened to his father. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, Athena appeared briefly in the form of Mentor again at Odysseus' palace.

Because of Mentor's relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena's encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the personal name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague."

If you have any tips you would have been happy someone had told you at the beginning of your career, let me know, please!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Displaying Religion and God

The norms between publicizing religion and god are quite different in the EU and the US.

Ad Europe, the nytimes just picked up a story about the commemorative Slovakian euro-coin. A first story on this I found is "Slovakia removes saints' halos on new euro coin" written in November 2012. They state

"Slovakia, responding to requests from some fellow eurozone countries, has removed the halos from a €2 coin commemorating the 1,150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Moravia."

The NYtimes has a story about A More Secular Europe, Divided by the Cross.

They write:

"Throughout its modern history, however, the “European project,” as the Continent’s current faltering push for unity is known, has sought to keep religion and the unruly passions it can stir at arm’s length. The 1957 Treaty of Rome and other founding texts of what is today the European Union make no mention of God or Christianity."

Then they go on

"Leading the charge was France, which enforces a rigid division of church and state at home, and objected to Christian symbols appearing on Slovak money that would also be legal tender in France. Greece, where church and state are closely intertwined, also protested, apparently because it considers the Greek-born monks Cyril and Methodius as part of its own heritage."


Church attendance is falling across Europe as belief in God wanes and even cultural attachments wither. The Continent’s fastest-growing faith is now Islam. In Britain, according to a poll last year, more people believe in extraterrestrials than in God. In the European Union as a whole, according to a 2010 survey, around half the population believes in God, compared with over 90 percent in the United States.

In the end

"...the commemorative coins will finally be minted next month — two months later than originally planned — but with halos and crosses."

The US, of course, went the other way:

Wikipedia says:

"In God we trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the unofficial motto of E pluribus unum, adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782.

"In God we trust" first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. Some secularists object to its use.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Competitiveness and Age

There are now a few papers that look at gender differences in competitiveness in relation to age.

Taking the findings of all those papers seriously, suggests that selection could be a huge problem, and that basically one might be able to get whatever result one wanted.

The first paper I am aware of is "Competitiveness Across the Life Span: The Feisty Fifties", Ulrich Mayr, Dave Wozniak, Casey Davidson, David Kuhns, and William T. Harbaugh, Psychology and Aging, 2012 Jun;27(2):278-85.

The abstract reads:
Existing theories on life span changes in confidence or motivation suggest that individuals’ preferences to enter competitive situations should gradually decline with age. We examined competitive preferences in a field experiment using real financial stakes in 25- to 75-year-olds (N=543). The critical dependent variable was whether participants chose to perform a simple mental arithmetic task either under a piece-rate payment schedule (i.e., $.25 per solved item) or a competitive payment schedule ($.50 per solved item if the overall score is better than that of a randomly selected opponent, $0 otherwise). Results revealed that competitive preferences increased across the life span until they peaked around age 50, and dropped thereafter. We also found that throughout, men had a substantially larger preference for competing than women extending previous findings on college-aged participants. The age/gender differences in preferences were neither accounted for by actual differences in performance nor individuals’ subjective confidence. This first systematic attempt to characterize age differences in competitive behavior suggests that a simple decline conception of competitiveness needs to be reconsidered.

The summarizing figure is

The second paper is a new working paper by J. Flory, U. Gneezy, K.Leonard and J. List, "Sex, Competitiveness, and Investment in Offspring: On the Origin of Preferences" comes to very different conclusions (and fails to cite the former paper):

Their abstract reads:
Gender differences in competitive behavior have received much attention,  demonstrating a systematic gap between males’ and females’ tendencies to  compete. Theories predict a biological factor linked to an evolutionary response to the different paths to reproductive success for men and women. Since strategies for reproductive success change over the female life-cycle, the gender gap is predicted to be largest for young adults but after menopause women should be as  competitive as men. Using data drawn from two very different societies, we find  strong support for this theoretical prediction: competitiveness in women is tightly linked to their biological roles in childrearing.

Their main figure is

The third paper I know of on age and competitiveness, considers years of work experience instead of age (though the two are highly correlated). It is a paper by Andreas Leibbrandt, Uri Gneezy, and John A. List, "Rise and fall of competitiveness in individualistic and collectivistic societies", PNAS, 2012.

Their abstract reads:
Competitiveness pervades life: plants compete for sunlight and water, animals for territory and food, and humans for mates and income. Herein we investigate human competitiveness with a natural experiment and a set of behavioral experiments. We compare competitiveness in traditional fishing societies where local natural forces determine whether fishermen work in isolation or in collectives. We find sharp evidence that fishermen from individualistic societies are far more competitive than fishermen from collectivistic societies, and that this difference emerges with work experience. These findings suggest that humans can evolve traits to specific needs, support the idea that socio-ecological factors play a decisive role for individual competitiveness, and provide evidence how individualistic and collectivistic societies shape economic behavior.

Their main figure is

Furthermore, they find that for women:
"Women in the individualistic societies who do not fish were as competitive as women in the collectivistic societies who do not fish (15% vs. 14.7%, Fisher’s exact test, P = 1, n = 66), suggesting that traits that evolve at work do not easily spread to other society members"

There is strong suggestive evidence that experience and age are highly correlated:

"On average our subjects were 38.2 y (±13.3 SD, n = 289), lived for 28.3 y (±15.8 SD, n=289) in the same fishing society, and had worked for 18.4 y (±12.4 SD, n=289, variable=work experience) professionally as fishermen. In both settings, fishermen work for most of the year, and for 5 to 7 d a week. They are heavily dependent on the shrimp and fish resources: there are very few other types of jobs in these societies, and fishing is often the only possible"

Of course taking these results, suggests that gender differences in competitiveness can either increase or decrease, it may depend on the work experience of subjects at hand...

Some curious aside:
  • Of papers 2 and 3 (that came after paper 1) only paper 2 cites paper 1.
  • Papers 2 and 3 do not cite each other...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Seminar in Frankfurt

On Wednesday I'll present in Frankfurt, I'll talk about "Identifying Predictable Players", joint with Dan Knoepfle and Dan Fragiadakis, see here, 17 c.t. means 5 pm cum tempore, so, 5:15 (at least that's what it would mean in Vienna...)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Publication Bias

Here is a really fun experiment, old though, and, as so often with fun experiments, run by psychologists:

"Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again"
Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci June Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Volume5, Issue02, June 1982 pp 187-195

The abstract reads:
"A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables. 

The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices. 

With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated."

I wonder if that was one motivator for the double blind refereeing at the AER... I guess Google made all that pretty meaningless...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Scientific conduct: Science and policy don't always mix well it seems

There has been quite some controversy over studies showing a positive impact on weight on longevity.

Katherine M. Flegal, PhD; Brian K. Kit, MD; Heather Orpana, PhD; Barry I. Graubard, PhD, "Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories - A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis" JAMA. 2013;309(1):71-82  write in the abstract:

Importance:  Estimates of the relative mortality risks associated with normal weight, overweight, and obesity may help to inform decision making in the clinical setting.

Conclusions and Relevance  Relative to normal weight, both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.

An editorial in Nature, "Shades of Grey" writes:
"Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, told US National Public Radio that “this study is really a pile of rubbish, and no one should waste their time reading it”."

"Critics of Flegal and of others who have reported similar findings take issue not just with the data used to make the claims, but the damage they feel that the claims will inflict on public-health efforts. [..]  To discuss publicly results that threaten to undermine the simple message that ‘fat is bad’ will confuse doctors and the public, the critics say."

"The political mantra on public-health advice is clear: don’t send mixed messages. The media and those who get their information from the media prefer things in black and white: red wine is good for you; chocolate is bad for you. But, of course, science does not deal in black and white, hence the common criticism that scientists cannot make up their minds. One week, one group argues that extreme exercise is positive for health; the next week, a different set of researchers says the opposite."

I like the last paragraph...

"It is easy to see why those who spend their lives trying to promote the health of others gnash their teeth when they see complex findings whittled down to a sharp point and used to puncture their message. It is more difficult, from a scientific perspective, to agree that these findings should not be published and discussed openly, warts and all, purely because they blend uncertainty into a simple mantra. Make things as simple as possible, Einstein said, but no simpler. And simple, black-and-white messages can cause confusion of their own. All things in moderation — and that should include the language we use."

For more of the history on obesity studies see the Nature editorial: The big Fat Truth

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Conference in Bonn

I'll be at the IZA conference in Bonn in the next 2 days. Here's the program:

Monday, June 17:

08:45 - 09:00 Registration

09:00 - 09:15 Welcome Address
Ulf Rinne (IZA Deputy Director of Research)
Marius Malinowski (HypoVereinsbank)
Michael Vlassopoulos (University of Southampton) and Steffen Altmann (IZA)

09:15 - 09:30 UniCredit & Universities Best Paper Award (*)
Reinhard H. Schmidt (Goethe University Frankfurt and Scientific Committee of the UniCredit & Universities Foundation)

09:30 - 10:15 Pedro Robalo (University of Amsterdam), Rei Sayag (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
  "Paying is Believing: The Effect of Costly Information on Bayesian Updating (*)"

10:15 - 11:00 Marie Claire Villeval (CNRS, GATE and IZA), Julie Beugnot (Université Laval), Bernard Fortin (Université Laval), Guy Lacroix (Université Laval)
  "Social Networks, Peer Pressure and Labor Supply"

11:00 - 11:30 Coffee Break

11:30 - 12:15 Robert Dur (Erasmus University Rotterdam and IZA), Josse Delfgaauw (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Arjan Non (Maastricht University), Willem Verbeke (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
  "The Effects of Prize Spread and Noise in Elimination Tournaments: A Natural Field Experiment"

12:15 - 13:00 Jordi Brandts (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Andrej Angelovski (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona), Carles Solà (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)
  "Hiring and Escalation Bias in Performance Evaluations: A Laboratory Experiment"

13:00 - 14:30 Lunch

14:30 - 15:15 Anat Bracha (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston), Uri Gneezy (University of California, San Diego)
  "Relative Pay and Labor Supply"

15:15 - 16:00 Nicola Lacetera (University of Toronto), Bradley Larsen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Devin Pope (University of Chicago), Justin Sydnor (University of Wisconsin)
  "Bid Takers or Market Makers? The Effect of Auctioneers on Auction Outcomes"

16:00 - 16:30 Coffee Break

16:30 - 17:15 Sebastian Goerg (Florida State University), Sebastian Kube (University of Bonn and IZA)
  "Goals (th)at Work? Goals, Monetary Incentives, and Workers’ Performance"

17:15 - 18:00 Oriana Bandiera (London School of Economics and IZA), Nava Ashraf (Harvard Business School), Scott Lee (Harvard Business School)
  "Mission Incentives: Experimental Evidence on Selection, Performance and Retention among Health Workers in Zambia "

19:00 Dinner at Restaurant "Bahnhöfchen", Rheinaustr. 116, Bonn

Tuesday, June 18:

09:30 - 10:15 Matthias Sutter (University of Innsbruck and IZA), Loukas Balafoutas (University of Innsbruck), Rudolf Kerschbamer (University of Innsbruck)
  "Moral Hazard in a Real-World Credence Goods Market"

10:15 - 11:00 Florian Englmaier (University of Würzburg), Johannes Buckenmaier (University of Cologne), Matthias Fahn (University of Würzburg)
  "Relational Contracts with Present-Biased Preferences"

11:00 - 11:30 Coffee Break

11:30 - 12:15 Michael Kosfeld (Goethe University Frankfurt and IZA)
  "Sorting of Motivated Agents: Evidence from Applicants to the German Police"

12:15 - 13:00 Mitchell Hoffman (Yale School of Management), Stephen Burks (University of Minnesota, Morris and IZA), Bo Cowgill (University of California, Berkeley), Michael Housman (Evolv on Demand)
  "The Value of Hiring Through Referrals"

13:00 - 14:30 Lunch

14:30 - 15:15 Judd Kessler (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), Lucas Coffman (Ohio State University), Clayton Featherston (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)
  "Can a Small Nudge Affect Job Choice? Evidence from Teach for America"

15:15 - 16:00 Florian Hett (University of Mainz), Yann Girard (Goethe University Frankfurt)
  "Competitiveness in Dynamic Group Contests: Evidence from Combined Field and Lab Data (*)"

16:00 - 16:30 Coffee Break

16:30 - 17:15 Muriel Niederle (Stanford University), Thomas Buser (University of Amsterdam), Hessel Oosterbeek (University of Amsterdam)
  "Gender, Competitiveness and Career Choices"

19:00 Dinner at Restaurant "Strandhaus", Georgstr. 28, Bonn

Friday, June 14, 2013

Banning ads...

Even in France...

French towns ban ads for award-winning gay film

"The sight of two men kissing and background figures appearing to have oral sex on a film poster got residents and mayors of two French towns so hot under the collar that the posters had to be removed, to the consternation of the film’s distributors."

Similar things happened in Vienna with a Exhibition at the Leopold Museum (see here in german and here in english), though with a slightly more revealing picture...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Seminar in Paris

I'll give a talk in Paris at MSE, on Friday, from 11-12:30. You can hear me talk about

 Augenblick, Ned, Muriel Niederle and Charles Sprenger, “Working Over Time: Dynamic Inconsistency in Real Effort Tasks”, January 2013, online appendixInstructions.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Living Wills revisited

Dick Thaler's proposal of a mandatory living will (see here) has received some attention (HT by Peter Ubel who wrote in Forbes on "Is Behavioral Economics the Death of Living Wills?"

He starts with
As a physician who conducts research on decision-making, I have been asked many times: What does behavioral economics teach us about the role of living wills in medical care?

Give someone a complicated choice, with lots of trade-offs, and Thaler could fill the semester explaining how and why that decision is likely to go wrong. Indeed, early developers of the living will went to elaborate lengths to create documents that describe the exact situations patients might encounter in the future. [..] No one familiar with the problem of “choice overload” could believe that reflection on so many possible futures, and some impossible choices, would somehow capture people’s true preferences.

To make matters worse, the trade-offs relevant to most living wills involve powerfully emotional and often strikingly unfamiliar choices. People must imagine what life is like with dementia or metastatic cancer or kidney failure. A slew of studies, including a number I have collaborated on with George Loewenstein and Dylan Smith, have shown that people are notoriously bad at predicting what life will be like with these health conditions. We don’t always know what we will want in our futures. My paternal grandmother said she would rather be dead than live in a nursing home, and then enjoyed her time in the nursing home so much after she moved in that she wondered what took us so long to find her a room there.

He then proposes a solution

Everyone should make sure they’re comfortable about who will make decisions for them if they are unable to decide for themselves.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Living Wills

Dick Thaler wrote an article in the NYtimes about Overcoming Obstacles to Better Health Care

One proposal is:

A requirement that all patients meet with their doctors or trained end-of-life counselors and prepare living wills. I am not suggesting that anyone be required to make any particular choices about these difficult end-of-life questions, merely that patients talk about the trade-offs and make some choices before they are incapable of doing so.

We now spend a disproportionate amount of money during the final months of people’s lives, often with little hope of meaningfully extending them. We should at least make sure that patients are given the opportunity to opt out of spending their final days in a hospital, hooked up to tubes and running up enormous bills.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Matching conference

From 11 to 12 June

Workshop on “Advances in Mechanism Design”, 11-12 june 2013 PSE

Paris School of Economics
Workshop on “Advances in Mechanism Design”
June 11–12, 2013
“Grande Salle”, 48 Boulevard Jourdan
If you wish to attend, please send a mail to
Please specify by June 03 if you would like to attend the lunch on June, 11 and June,
12 (subject to limitation)
Organizer: Olivier Tercieux (Paris School of Economics – CNRS)