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Fairness Games

The Ultimatum Game is a famous experiment in behavioral economics that tests people's perceptions of fairness.

Player A is given a sum of money (the "pie") and told they must offer some share of it to Player B

  • If Player B accepts the offer, both players get the agreed amounts
  • If Player B rejects, neither player gets anything

Even though Player B should rationally accept any positive offer, since something is better than nothing, in practice offers perceived as unfairly low (usually below 20% of the total) are often rejected.

With skin in the game, people are even more willing to sacrifice to enforce fairness. The Ultimatum Game reveals a deep human aversion to getting shortchanged.

Section: 4, Chapter: 15

Book: Misbehaving

Author: Richard Thaler

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study looked at effects of childhood trauma in 17,000 adults:

  • 2/3 of participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience
  • 1 in 5 were sexually abused; 1 in 4 beaten or witnessed domestic violence
  • More ACEs led to more mental health issues, addiction, health problems and early death. The ACE study showed that childhood trauma is far more common and damaging than previously recognized

Section: 3, Chapter: 8

Book: The Body Keeps the Score

Author: Bessel van der Kolk

The Milgram Experiments - A Shocking Discovery About Obedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram's famous experiments at Yale tested obedience to authority to an unsettling degree:

  • "Teachers" were instructed to give increasingly severe electric shocks to a "learner"
  • The shocks weren't real, but the teachers thought they were
  • Over 60% of subjects fully obeyed the experimenter and continued to the highest voltage, even with the learner screaming in agony
  • Subjects were everyday people deeply distressed by their actions, but they still obeyed
  • Shows the immense power of authority - and the human capacity for cruelty under its direction

Section: 1, Chapter: 6

Book: Influence

Author: Robert Cialdini

People Love Talking About Themselves

In a study, commuters on Chicago trains were assigned to either talk to a stranger, sit in solitude, or do whatever they normally do. While subjects expected to be least happy talking to strangers, the opposite was true - those who engaged with strangers were most satisfied with their commute. The study suggests that people welcome the opportunity to talk about themselves and have someone take an interest in their lives, even if it's a stranger. But social norms discourage us from these interactions.

Section: 1, Chapter: 3

Book: You're Not Listening

Author: Kate Murphy

What Is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory is the most important concept for understanding romantic relationships. Through a famous experiment called the "Strange Situation," researcher Mary Ainsworth identified 3 attachment styles in children:

  • Anxious - These babies became very distressed when separated from their mothers and weren't easily soothed even when reunited. They desperately craved closeness but didn't trust it.
  • Avoidant - These babies seemed indifferent when their mothers left and returned. They learned to suppress their need for connection as a defense mechanism.
  • Secure - These babies were upset when their mothers left but quickly settled when they came back. They felt safe in the relationship.

We often carry these same patterns into adult romantic partnerships.

Section: 1, Chapter: 6

Book: How to Not Die Alone

Author: Logan Ury

Learned Helplessness

Psychologist Martin Seligman conducted experiments demonstrating "learned helplessness." Dogs who were given electric shocks with no ability to avoid them eventually stopped trying to escape the pain, even when later given the opportunity.

Similarly, people can learn to believe that their efforts don't matter. When people feel they have no choice, even in situations where they do, they tend to either give up or become overzealous and try to do everything. Both responses keep us from making the wisest decisions about where to invest our limited time and energy.

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: Essentialism

Author: Greg McKeown

The Futility Of Dieting For Most

An analysis of 2000 diet studies found that despite the intuitive appeal of "eat less, move more," diets simply don't work long-term for most people. The findings are stark:

  • 2 years after starting a diet, people weigh on average only 2 lbs less than when they started
  • 5 years out, the average loss is still only 6.6 lbs
  • At most 20% of people maintain a 10% weight loss for a year
  • Up to 66% of people actually gain fat mass despite exercising

This dismal track record is not due to individual failings, but to biological and environmental factors that doom most diets.

Section: 1, Chapter: 6

Book: Magic PIll

Author: Johann Hari

Are Monkeys More Rational Than Humans?

In the epilogue, Levitt and Dubner describe a provocative experiment by Yale economist Keith Chen. Chen taught capuchin monkeys to use money, then observed their economic behavior. Remarkably, the capuchins exhibited many of the same biases and irrationalities as humans:

  • The monkeys responded to price changes, buying less of a food when its price rose
  • They fell for the "sunk cost fallacy," eating more of a food they paid more for
  • Like humans, the monkeys were loss-averse, strongly preferring gambles framed as bonuses vs. deductions

Levitt and Dubner argue the capuchin experiments hold a mirror up to human nature. If even monkeys exhibit economic biases, it suggests they may be more deeply hardwired than we'd like to admit. The authors believe acknowledging the limits of human rationality is a first step to devising policies and incentives that account for it. Rather than expecting people to act like Econs, they suggest we design systems that anticipate predictably irrational actors.

Section: 1, Chapter: 6

Book: Super Freakonomics

Author: Steven D. Levitt , Stephen J. Dubner

Sleep Deprivation Kills Faster Than Food Deprivation

In animal studies, total sleep deprivation kills rats and flies faster than total food deprivation. Key findings include:

  • Rats died after 15 days of total sleep deprivation, on average
  • This was about the same time it took for rats to die from total food deprivation
  • Rats lost their lives almost as quickly from selective REM sleep deprivation as from total sleep deprivation
  • Prior to death, the rats developed skin lesions, weight loss, hypothermia and sepsis (bloodstream infection)

These animal experiments prove that sleep is a life-sustaining biological necessity, not just a "nice to have." Sleep is arguably more essential for survival than food in the short-term. Sleep deprivation essentially causes the body to "self-destruct" through multiple organ failure if pushed to the extreme.

Section: 4, Chapter: 12

Book: Why We Sleep

Author: Matthew Walker

The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Scientific Management

Frederick Winslow Taylor pioneered the concept of "scientific management" in the early 20th century, seeking to optimize industrial efficiency through time-motion studies, process optimization, and centralized planning. His reductionist approach of breaking work down into specialized, repetitive tasks boosted productivity tremendously and left an enduring mark on management thinking across business, government and the military. However, the rigidity and top-down control inherent in "Taylorism" has limitations in environments with greater complexity and unpredictability.

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: Team of Teams

Author: Stanley McChrystal

The Inescapable Impact of Early Caregiving Relationships

Two landmark prospective studies, by Sroufe and colleagues and by Putnam and Trickett, definitively showed:

  • The quality of early caregiving relationships, not temperament or IQ, was the most powerful predictor of mental health outcomes
  • Abuse and neglect led to a host of cognitive, emotional, behavioral and health problems that often persisted into adulthood
  • Supportive, consistent early caregiving relationships provided a buffer against adversity and promoted resilience

Section: 2, Chapter: 10

Book: The Body Keeps the Score

Author: Bessel van der Kolk

Superforecasters Beat The Wisdom Of The Crowd By 60%

The Good Judgment Project (GJP), led by Philip Tetlock and Barbara Mellers, recruited thousands of volunteer forecasters to predict global events as part of a tournament sponsored by the research agency IARPA. Questions covered politics, economics, national security and other topics relevant to intelligence analysts.

The GJP used multiple methods to boost forecast accuracy, including training, teaming, and statistical aggregation. But its most striking finding was that a small group of forecasters, the "superforecasters", consistently outperformed others by huge margins.

Across the first 2 years of the tournament, superforecasters beat the "wisdom of the crowd" (the average forecast of all participants) by 60% - a stunning margin. They even outperformed professional intelligence analysts with access to classified data. This suggests that generating excellent prediction accuracy doesn't require subject matter expertise or insider information - just the right cognitive skills and habits.

Section: 1, Chapter: 4

Book: Superforecasting

Author: Philip Tetlock

Your Brain Waves Sync Up With Someone When You're Truly Listening

Neuroscientist Uri Hasson conducted a study where he had subjects listen to someone telling a story while undergoing fMRI scans. He found that the greater the overlap between the speaker's brain activity and the listener's brain activity, the better the communication and understanding between them. Good listeners' brain waves literally sync up with the speaker, leading to greater connection.

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: You're Not Listening

Author: Kate Murphy

The Milgram Experiment Shows How Readily People Follow New Authority

Lesson 1: Do not obey in advance: Don't voluntarily conform to a new authoritarian system before it fully takes hold.

The famous Milgram experiment at Yale in 1961 showed how quickly people will follow the commands of an authority figure, even if it means harming others. Subjects were told to administer shocks to unseen participants, and most continued to do so even when the person seemed to be in agony or dying, simply because the experimenter told them to continue. This reveals how people adapt to new authority, a key ingredient in the transition to tyranny.

Section: 1, Chapter: 1

Book: On Tyranny

Author: Timothy Snyder

Six Degrees Of Separation

Stanley Milgram's famous experiment showed that most people are connected by about 6 links in a chain. A few key points:

  • A very small number of people are connected to everyone else in just a few steps, while the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.
  • In a social epidemic, Connectors spread ideas to a wide range of people, Mavens provide the message itself, and Persuaders convince people to act on that message.
  • Paul Revere was a Connector, spreading the word "The British are coming!" His social connections enabled him to tip public opinion and mobilize resistance.

"Six degrees of separation doesn't mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few."

Section: 1, Chapter: 2

Book: The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Belonging Cues Light Up The Brain

MIT's Human Dynamics Lab, led by Professor Alex Pentland, used sociometric badges to measure the behavioral signals exchanged in successful groups. They found that high-performing groups consistently displayed a set of subtle cues that generate feelings of belonging and safety:

  • Close physical proximity (often in circles)
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humor, laughter

Pentland found that belonging cues were the single greatest predictor of group performance, more important than all the individual skills and intelligence of the group's members. These cues trigger the release of oxytocin and activate neural pathways of trust and cooperation, enabling the group to sync their behaviors and act as one.

Section: 1, Chapter: 1

Book: The Culture Code

Author: Daniel Coyle

Books about Scientific Study

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