aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, April 07, 2008
6 Quirks of Ownership: Possessions Bend Perceptions
Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog has done an absolutely terrific job of summarizing Chapter 7—“The High Price of Ownership: Why We Overvalue What We Have”—of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.
From his post 6 Quirks of Ownership: How Possessions Bend Our Perceptions:
Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational argues that ownership has 6 strange effects on us:
1. Ownership increases perceived value to us: As soon as we acquire something we start to develop an attachment to it. Just the sheer fact of ownership increases how much we value it - we seem to develop a relationship with objects.
2. We tend to focus on losses: When selling we tend to overlook the money we’ll be gaining and focus on the object we’ll be losing. Our natural aversion to feeling bad then motivates us to place a higher asking-price on the long-cherished house, car or record collection than the market will bear.
3. We assume others share our perspective: Surely potential buyers understand how strongly we feel about our dusty old vinyl records? No, they don’t care - in fact they’re far more likely to notice how badly we’ve stored them or what poor taste in music we have.
4. Effort increases perceived value: A table I have bought and struggled to build myself has more value to me than the same table I bought, for the same price, ready assembled. Expending our own effort means we’ve invested ourselves in an object, so it has more perceived value to us. Other people don’t recognise this (and there’s no reason why they should).
5. Virtual ownership: We can even start feeling we own something before we actually do. Dan Ariely argues that the prices people are prepared to pay on auction sites like EBay are often inflated by people’s imagined ownership. Once we place our first bid we start to fantasise about ownership. Consequently when other bids come in we ignore our previously stated maximum because we’re now starting to value the item more, since we’ve been thinking about owning it.
6. Partial ownership: Marketing executives know the power of ownership so they use all kinds of tricks to encourage partial ownership because it often leads on to full ownership. We don’t usually return our furniture within the 30-day money-back guarantee period because we’ve grown attached to it - it’s ours.
So the high price we tend to put on our own possessions is not just greed, we really do begin to perceive stuff in a different way once we own it. Unfortunately these biases open us up to all sorts of detrimental effects.
We might set unrealistic prices for things we’re trying to sell, resulting in us failing to sell them at all. Or, when buying, we can be suckered into virtual or partial ownership en route to full ownership of something we didn’t necessarily want in the first place.
Of course the solution to these problems is trying to think objectively about our own possessions and those that we’d like to acquire. But that’s easier said than done. It’s very difficult to be dispassionate when selling something that you treasure and it’s easy to form an imaginary relationship with something we want to own.
Edits to gay soldier’s Wikipedia entry traced to Pentagon
I was traveling when the story of Maj. Alan Rogers, a gay soldier who was killed in January in Iraq, made news because media sources such as the Washington Post and National Public Radio chose not to mention that Rogers was gay in their coverage of his posthumously awarded Purple Heart and a second Bronze Star. See, for example, here, here and here.
Well, it turns out that a Pentagon computer was used last week to edit the gay soldier’s Wikipedia entry. The Washington Blade:
A Wikipedia article about Maj. Alan Rogers, a gay soldier who was killed in January in Iraq, was apparently edited by someone in the Pentagon, who removed any mention that Rogers was gay.
The user on Monday redacted details about Rogers that appeared on the online encyclopedia site. Information that was deleted included Rogers’ sexual orientation; the soldier’s participation in American Veterans for Equal Rights, a group that works to change military policy toward gays; and the fact that Rogers’ death helped bring the U.S. military’s casualty toll in Iraq to 4,000.
Rob Pilaud, a patent agent and a friend of Rogers who attended the soldier’s funeral, restored the information to the Wikipedia article the next day. Pilaud was among Rogers’ friends who created the Wikipedia page.
The anonymous poster also provided the following comment in the “discussion” section about the article:
“Alan’s life was not about his sexual orientation but rather about the body of work he performed ministering to others and helping the defense of the country,” the poster wrote. “Quit trying to press an agenda that Alan wouldn’t have wanted made public just to suit your own ends.”
The IP address attached to the deletion of the details and the posted comments is 220.127.116.11. The address belongs to a computer from the office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) at the Pentagon. The office is headed by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, who was present at Rogers’ funeral and presented the flag from Rogers’ coffin to his cousin, Cathy Long.
The Army’s public affairs office did not return a call seeking comment.
RELATED: Kevin Naff has an editorial in that same edition of the Blade, The Washington Post’s gay problem—Why did editor Len Downie go to such lengths to hide the simple fact that a soldier was gay?
Sir Ian McKellen becomes bishop for a day
Never one to shy away from controversy, Sir Ian McKellen is secretly plotting to launch a campaign to shame the Anglican Church over its refusal to give equal rights to homosexual clergy.
In an act of solidarity with the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, the Church’s first openly homosexual bishop, the celebrated actor intends to read out a sermon written by the prelate, who has been barred from the landmark Lambeth Conference this summer that is seeking to prevent a schism over the issue.
Standing alongside the bishop, who will remain silent throughout, the star of The Lord of the Rings will deliver a broadside against the Church’s attitude to homosexuals with the kind of passion and force normally reserved for his performances on the stage.
A Dose of Libertarian Paternalism
Shankar Vedantam has a column in the WaPo today looking at Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s important work:
In their new book, “Nudge,” [link] the authors suggest that policymakers should artfully guide people to make better decisions by designing the way choices are presented to them. The work has drawn the attention of the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and Thaler said that he and Sunstein have become informal advisers to the campaign. Several ideas related to mortgage-policy reform and the credit markets have been “adopted and adapted” by Obama, Thaler added.
Sunstein, a law professor, and Thaler, an economist, have long been students of psychology. They call themselves libertarian paternalists—because they agree with the libertarian insight that people benefit from having choices. But Thaler and Sunstein also argue that people regularly make systematically irrational choices. (Many academics divide their money equally between stocks and bonds.)
“We agree with people who want to allow the market to flourish, so we are libertarians in that sense,” Sunstein said. “On the other hand, we don’t believe you can just have markets and then declare victory. It is legitimate to be paternalistic in terms of steering people in directions that will increase the likelihood they will do well.” [...]
Setting up default choices is one of the recurring themes of “Nudge,” because a lot of research shows that people are powerfully influenced by default options. When new employees are told that retirement accounts will be started for them unless they object, for example, most sign up cheerfully. When told that the accounts will not be started unless they opt in, most employees do not sign up because not having the account is then the default choice.
It is not surprising that Thaler and Sunstein’s approach would appeal to Obama’s post-partisan views: On the meltdown in subprime mortgages, Thaler and Sunstein criticize the liberals who call for the end of such mortgages as well as the conservatives who reject any form of regulation. The problem, they argue, is not that the mortgage industry came up with a tool to offer money to people with poor credit, but that the industry got away with being deliberately opaque.
Most home buyers, including MBA students at a top school, as one study found, have trouble comparing loan offers and discerning broker fees—money that goes to middlemen—from interest, money that investors need to take on the risk of lending their cash. Consumers who get the best mortgages invariably pay the least in fees.
If all mortgage lenders were required by law to disclose the terms of their loans electronically, Thaler predicted that Web sites would immediately emerge to translate those offers into plain English so people could compare loans: “You apply for a mortgage, and you get an e-mail with a file that has all the features of your mortgage. You upload it into Mortgage-Helper.com, and it will tell you what that mortgage really means. It will say, ‘Here are your payments this year, and here is what happens next year, and here is what happens if interest rates went up, and are you aware there is a prepayment penalty of $7,000, and, by the way, here are three other loans that have the following features.’ . . . This is the way to make markets efficient.”
Here’s Sunstein and Thaler’s principal paper, Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an Oxymoron (a brief 45 pages).
Republican Offenders dot com
An internet agitprop artist publishing the website “Republican Offenders dot com” has produced a list of 272 Republicans charged with criminal activity, 60 of which are pedophiles. Each name is linked to a group heading of the type of crime alleged or convicted. (Among the categories are rape, bribery and “assorted felonies”.)
I live in a town with six state prisons. Recently I joined the advisory board of one of them, the YDC (Youth Development Center). Their Internet access is strictly limited and, I learned, the large majority of inmates receive no visitors.
For the families and friends of those who do receive visitors, Prison Talk is a community website that sounds like it may be an invaluable resource.
Yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine:
Prison Talk, a big board with nearly 150,000 members and 2,500 regular readers a day ...caters to what turns out to be an underserved consumer niche: family and friends of the incarcerated. Prison inmates, whose Internet access is extremely limited, also turn up periodically, usually seeking pen pals through a third party. The site, which costs nothing to join, was founded seven years ago and has drawn around 3.5 million messages, including poetry, small talk, business deals, memoirs, sermons, laments, photo albums and ideological screeds. Like the sprawling American prison system itself, the board has come to constitute a robust social reality - albeit one whose contents can’t be searched with Google or other engines, since Prison Talk is closed to the unregistered.
The board’s activity is propelled by the frustration and enterprise of lonelyhearts who crave contact while fighting boredom and despair. The postings, including those from former inmates, dramatize the widespread effects of imprisonment as vividly as any book since the 2000 exposÃ© “Newjack,” Ted Conover’s chronicle of his year working as a corrections officer in Sing Sing, the maximum-security state prison in New York. And even Conover couldn’t offer the sheer volume of fine-grain logistical detail and jaw-dropping incongruities that surface on Prison Talk: topics on the site include marrying someone in prison; raising children whose parents are imprisoned; loving lifers; curing dry winter skin; preparing for executions; and having fun (jokey guards, nightly dance-offs) behind bars.
The posts themselves are by turns rueful, salacious, puzzled and pleading.... Prison Talk promises support without judgment, and in accordance with the site’s bylaws, uncooperative members are banned. (The site also counsels members to be circumspect with information that might be used against inmates or jeopardize their appeals.)
David Frisk, an aerial photographer and home-automation expert, started Prison Talk in 2001 to helped convicts’ loved ones navigate the prison system. Frisk hatched his idea in a jail cell: he served time in the early ‘90s in a medium-security federal prison for pawning a rifle while on probation for auto theft. Like anyone working online, he has since developed theories about revenue streams. Small but constant banner ads, targeted for his audience, run along the top of Prison Talk.... Frisk, who is known on the site by his screen name, Fed-X, has been accused by detractors of exploiting a vulnerable and largely female membership by encouraging dependence; soliciting contributions as if the site were a charitable cause and not an ad-sponsored business; and promoting dodgy ventures like a print magazine that some subscribers say they never received…
Most Prison Talk members, however, seem fiercely loyal to him, and say they feel deeply beholden to Prison Talk itself. Many of them virtually live on the site, concluding their posts with tickers - countdown widgets, like the ones used on pregnancy and weight-loss boards - showing how much time is left in their chosen inmate’s sentence....
A small band of board activists, led in part by a Prison Talk member named Judy Wickliff, has recently used the site to plan a latter-day Boston Tea Party to protest the disenfranchisement of American prisoners. “No incarceration without representation” is their slogan. In July they plan to bombard legislators with mailed tea bags and a list of proposed reforms to the criminal-justice system. It could be said that Prison Talk is steadily documenting and even galvanizing a subculture, if it weren’t for the February report from the Pew Center on the States that one in 99 people in America is now in prison. Let’s call it a culture, then.