Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Random Links

There are always interesting articles I find across the internet that I mean to write about.  Sometimes I do.  Sometimes I forget.  Sometimes I procrastinate so much that they become super stale.

Here are some that have been floating around for a while:

The New York Times on Decision Fatigue:  The case studies are a real eye-opener.  The first one is three prisoners in an Israeli prison.  Each had served 2/3rds of their sentence, but the review board only recommended parole for one - the prisoner who appeared before them at 8:50am.  To quote the article, "The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down....Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it"

All the tests and examples they give clearly illustrate the realness and possible dangers of decision fatigue.  About two thirds of the way through, the researchers apparently stumbled across the cause of (and a possible solution to) this phenomenon.  Another quote:

In their eagerness to chart the human equivalent of the computer’s chips and circuits, most psychologists neglected one mundane but essential part of the machine: the power supply. The brain, like the rest of the body, derived energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refueling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose. Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The glucose would at least mitigate the ego depletion and sometimes completely reverse it. The restored willpower improved people’s self-control as well as the quality of their decisions: they resisted irrational bias when making choices, and when asked to make financial decisions, they were more likely to choose the better long-term strategy instead of going for a quick payoff.

And later:

Apparently ego depletion causes activity to rise in some parts of the brain and to decline in others. Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects. 
There are some great things in here to learn about the decision making process and human willpower.  Well worth the read.

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"The Pump You Pump Water From":  A little change of topic.  This is an essay by Sven Birkerts about writer's block.  In almost poetic terms, Birkerts captures the extreme joy writers feel when the words flow and the intense frustration when everything that comes out of your pen feels like crap.  Enjoyable for both writers and non-writers.

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