Social Psych

December 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Social psychology, in graduate school, turned out to be much different from what my undergrad teachers had led me to believe. I was expecting Goffman, Erik Erikson, the Meads (George and Margaret). Instead, grad school took me to the world of the social psych experiment.

At the time, I thought it was all trivial and manipulative. I said as much at the time. The intellectual forebears of experimental social psychology, it seemed, were “Beat the Clock” and “Candid Camera.” (Those too young to remember the former can find clips on YouTube. Here are some screen grabs.)

(Click on the image for a larger view.)
I was joking, of course, and I made this observation only to a few fellow students, not faculty. But now, I have just come upon a paragraph by Phil Zimbardo,* reflecting on his own famous experiment and that of Stanley Milgram:
Only after Stanley died did I become aware of our mutual admiration for Allen Funt, creator of Candid Camera. I consider Funt to be one of the most creative, intuitive social psychologists on the planet. For 50 years he has been contriving experimental scenarios in which ordinary people face a challenge to their usual perceptions or functioning. He manipulates situations to reveal truths about compliance,conformity, the power of signs and symbols, and various forms of mindless obedience.**
Bud Collyer, eat your heart out.

*From Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives on the Milgram Paradigm, Thomas Blass, ed., 2009.

** For another view on “mindless obedience” in experiments, see this earlier post.

A Real Death Panel

December 3, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The death panel is not Obama’s. It’s in a state dominated byRepublicans – the governorship and a 2-1 majority in both houses.
Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients . . . .

Francisco Felix, 32, a father of four who has hepatitis C and is in need of a liver, received news a few weeks ago that a family friend was dying and wanted to donate her liver to him. But the budget cuts meant he no longer qualified for a state-financed transplant.

He was prepared anyway at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center as his relatives scrambled to raise the needed $200,000. When the money did not come through, the liver went to someone else on the transplant list.
Full story on page one of today’s New York Times (online here).


December 2, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

They didn’t have performativity back when I went to school, so I don’t really know what it is. Is this an example?

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Full article here.

Via Brad DeLong, and all over the blogosphere today, even though it’s originally from 1974.

Citizen Kanye

December 1, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I wish I knew more about the economics of the music business.

At first glance, it looks like Kanye West’s decision to sell his new album for $3.99* at Amazon is putting pride ahead of profit. Zach Baron at the Village Voice says that Kanye did it only because of the swift sales success of another album, “Speak Now,” by, oh, what was her name? You know, that one at the VMA.

There’s money, and there’s competitive, striving megalomania. (I can’t believe I am the first person to come up with the pun in the subject line of this post. But if someone else did put it out there, Google’s algorithm places it far down on the list.) In some areas, striving and ego go together like a horse and carriage. At the financial houses (Goldman Sachs, et. al.), they say that those multi-million dollar bonuses are not about the money and what it buys. The dollars are just a way of keeping score. You want a $20 million bonus because the guy at the next desk got $18 million.

But apparently, in the music business, at least for the top stars, what you keep score with is not dollars but sales, regardless of the economics.
the rush toward ever lower pricing . . . pushes the consumer cost of an album ever closer to that terrifying price point: free. Nobody in the industry wants that, let alone a guy poised to sell something in the neighborhood of a million records over the next week.
It’s like the old joke about the businessman who has cut his price so low that he’s losing $2 on every item he sells. When asked how he can do that, he says, “We’ll make it up in volume.”

I guess Kanye’s beautiful, dark, twisted response would be, “We’ll make it up in ego.”


* Now, after the first week surge, the download price has gone up to $4.99.

HT: Tyler Cowen for the link to the Voice.