Monthly Archives: September 2008

People more likely to lie by e-mail

People were almost 50% more likely to lie in e-mail messages than in traditional pen-and-paper communications, according to two new studies co-authored by Lehigh’s Liuba Belkin.  [And earlier research showed that face-to-face communication was even more trustworthy.]    Moreover, individuals felt more justified in lying via e-mail.

The paper, “Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying in Online Ultimatum Bargaining.” was reported by Liubia Belkin (Lehigh), Terri Kurtzberg (Rutgers) and Charles Naquin (DePaul) at the August annual meeting of the Academy of Management.

Bubkin points out that there is a lot of e-mail in the workplace and “[a]nd in an organizational context, that leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and, as we saw in our study, intentional deception.”

In a prior study, the three co-investigators found that e-appraisals of peers were more negative than those done in writing which the authors concluded was consistent with the current study in showing that accountability is lower online.

The study asked 48 full-time MBA students to divide $89 between themselves and another unknown party, who only knew that somewhere between $5 and $100 had been given to distribute.  It was an Ultimatum Game where the receiving party had to accept whatever amount to them.  The MBA students reported the amount that they were giving to the other person and ‘how much they had to distribute.’ Students reporting using e-mail lied more than 92 percent of the time, while those using pen-and-paper lied slightly less than 64 percent.  Not only did pen and paper users distribute more to the other party, but they felt less justified in lying.  The authors surmised that people may lie more via e-mail because they falsely perceive the written documents to be more ‘legal” and permanent.  In a follow-up study, they learned that this justification with lying by e-mail was determined before they chose how much to share with the other person.

The authors noted: “”Overall, the lower degree of social obligation found in the use of e-mail versus paper, coupled with ambiguity for communication norms and lack of formal rules, procedures, and expectations regarding e-mail, may allow individuals to tap into a sense of psychological justification for their deviant behaviors (such as deception) more easily online than in the paper mode.”

In a second, related study of 69 full-time MBA students, they found that MBA students still lied, regardless of how well they identified with the recipient, although they lied less if they identified more with the other person.

The authors note that other recent studies have found e-mail to be associated with lower interpersonal trust, more negative attitudes, and, a greater penchant for “flaming”—sending messages that are offensive, embarrassing, or rude.

Cites: Naquin C.E., Kurtzberg, T.R., & Belkin, L.Y (2008, forthcoming) “Online communication and social dilemmas: How communication media influences interpersonal trust, cooperative behavior and perceptions of fairness,” Social Justice Research Journal.

– Naquin C.E., Kurtzberg, T.R., & Belkin, L.Y (2008) “Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying in Online Ultimatum Bargaining” (Paper, annual meeting of the Academy of Management, August 2008)

Only the lonely die young (UPDATED 5/2013)

(picture by moann)

(picture by moann)

John Cacioppo (from Univ. of Chicago) has a new interesting trade book out (with William Patrick) called Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

His interview with the Boston Globe appeared in the Sunday Magazine over the weekend. Among his quotes/observations:

  • “Social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking,”
  • Loneliness is not simply a matter of being alone.  The lonely often spend as much time with others as the less lonely.  The key difference is that the lonely have the feeling that any real connection with others is lacking.
  • Loneliness is half heritable and half environmental, but the heritable part seems to be associated with how much disconnection hurts.
  • “In 1984, the question was asked [in the GSS survey], ‘How many confidants do you have?’ And the most frequent answer was three. That question was repeated 20 years later, in 2004, and the most frequent response was zero.”

Cacioppo and Patrick highlight some interesting experiments among the lonely, among them:

  1. That faced with a task of trying enough cookies to rate their flavor, on average, people who have been told that co-workers didn’t like working with them ate twice as many cookies as people who had been told that co-workers loved working with them.
  2. Those who are lonely, for example in playing the Ultimatum Game, settle for far worse outcomes or  distributions than those who are not lonely (similar to people with low self-esteem choosing partners or dates who mistreat them, subconsciously justifying that they are not worthy of better treatment).
  3. The lonely sleep less well and less efficiently.
  4. The lonely can’t think as clearly.
  5. The lonely were more likely to describe a gadget anthropomorphically and the lonely were more likely to believe in the supernatural (e.g., God, angels or miracles), and believed in the supernatural more when they were feeling lonely.
  6. Lonely people had higher levels of chronic inflammation, a condition associated with heart and artery disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses.

The Boston Sunday Globe interview with Cacioppo can be read here.

See article “The Science of Loneliness” (New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, May 2013)

2008 Civic Health Index: Sustaining civic engagement beyond Election Day

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) today released their 2008 civic report called “America’s Civic Health Index: Beyond the Vote”. [True confessions: the Saguaro Seminar was a co-advisor to NCoC on the report, together with CIRCLE.]

The report focuses on the encouraging uptick in youth civic engagement and strategies for sustaining this engagement beyond Election Day. One of the cautionary findings of the report is that many Americans did not expect their political engagement to continue after Election Day.  For example, only 14% were confident they would try to change local policies regarding schools, work or neighborhoods.

That said, the report does note 4 policies on which there is broad bipartisan support:

  1. Giving young people the opportunity to earn tuition money through a year of service (87% support)
  2. Holding a national deliberation among citizens on some issue and requiring Congress to respond to what the citizen-deliberators say (80% support)
  3. Requiring service learning in schools (service learning uses community service projects to teach underlying academic skills; so for example a project to measure the pollution of a local streambed could also teach young people about scientific measurement).  76% of respondents support this.
  4. Strengthening civic education through new tests in this subject (67% support).

The report also highlights high levels of political participation thus far in the 2008 election and the many varied forms that this political participation is taking.

NCoC is featuring a keynote address by Sandra Day O’Connor who recently called for beefing up civics curricula and a panel this afternoon on sustaining civic engagement, featuring people like “Alan Khazei, Founder and CEO of Be the Change, Barb Quaintance VP of AARP, former Congressman Bob Edgar, CEO of Common Cause, Ian Rowe, Vice President at MTV, and Maya Enista, CEO of Political consultant Joe Trippi will moderate a discussion on the Internet community and community between Founding President of Facebook, Sean Parker and William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.”

Americans find community in megachurches

Lakewood, largest church in US (picture by j foong)

Lakewood, largest church in US (picture by j foong)

In megachurches across America (churches regularly drawing over 1000 congregants), Americans are finding community more than smaller churches.

A new study by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion found that megachurch members were twice as likely to have friends in the congregation than members of smaller churches. Megachurch members also were more personally committed to the church — attending services and tithing more often.  ISR’s co-director, Rodney Starke noted that Baylor’s biennial survey disabused several stereotypes of megachurches: “They’re big. … they’re kind of cold, they (have) kind of theater audiences — all wrong.”

The community-building of megachurches is of a piece with a chapter by Robert Putnam and Lewis Feldstein in Better Together (2004) on Saddleback Church in Southern California (Pastor Rick Warren’s church — of Purpose-Driven Life fame). Putnam/Feldstein described the powerful small-group structure in these churches that gives parishioners strong personal contacts, gives them a sense of community, and taps their passions. There is also an excellent article by Malcolm Gladwell on this cellular church structure in “The Cellular Church“.

The Washington Post noted that the Baylor study found that: “Ninety-two percent of megachurch members believe that hell “absolutely exists,” compared with just over three-quarters of small-church members, the survey found. And eight in 10 megachurch worshipers believe that the Rapture — when followers of Jesus Christ believe they will be taken to heaven — will “absolutely” take place, compared with less than half of those who attend small churches.

“In addition to their evangelical mission, megachurches thrive because of the social experience they provide and their emphasis on music. “The same things that made them popular — contemporary music and practical, applicable sermons that apply to people’s daily lives — remain a real draw for folks,” said Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.”

The Washington Post commented that the Baylor survey follows upon “a survey released last week that found that megachurches’ three-decade expansion shows no signs of abating. That study, of churches with weekend worship attendance of 2,000 or more, found that the average megachurch’s attendance grew 50 percent in the past five years.”

See: Big Churches Not Always Impersonal, Study Finds (Washington Post, 9/19/08, p. A6, Jacqueline L. Salmon)

Economy dangling by the thin thread of trust

from leonardosam, Flickr

from leonardosam, Flickr

These are unprecedented times for our economy (at least since the Great Depression). No one would have predicted several years ago that we’d see the federal government forced to take over the two largest mortgage holders (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae), the largest worldwide insurer (AIG), and 3 of the 5 largest investment banks forced either to sell at bargain-basement prices, declare bankruptcy or get government assistance (Merrill Lynch; Lehman Brothers; Bear Stearns, respectively).

Underlying the well-working of the whole economic system both at the micro and macro level is trust. Other scholars have written about this before, most notably James Coleman in his 1988 discussion of Jewish diamond merchants in New York (“Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital“); the merchants’ interconnecting networks and interpersonal trust allowed them to freely lend diamonds to each other for examination and ensure that the bags were honestly returned.  The social networks helped ensure that any short-term gains to be made through dishonesty would be swamped by being shunned in the future when one’s poor reputation spread through these networks.

But at the macro level, our economy also depends on trust:  Trust that the banking systems will continue to work. Trust that the U.S. government will be in a position to pay back all the money it borrows for Treasuries. Trust that stocks will go up or are a good place to park retirement assets. Trust that one’s money market fund that has nominally had an unguaranteed $1 per share price will continue to be so valuedTrust that funding will be available in the future at reasonable rates.

When trust starts to dry up, these well-oiled financial systems can become remarkably rusty and liquidity and access to capital can dry up amazingly fast.  At the same time on Tuesday that AIG was trying to get billions pumped into their operations, they had a remarkably hard tapping credit;  the benchmark inter-bank LIBOR rate (used to peg many variable rate mortgages) literally nearly doubled in one day.

One of the spectacular ways in which one sees trust underlying our economy is in bank failures. While some bank runs are driven by fraudulent activity by the bank that suddenly cause everyone to question whether their assets’ security, normally we live with the fiction that our assets are there for us.  In reality of course, our bank deposits aren’t sitting in the bank, but the bank has lent out our money to make more money and to be able to pay us interest, meet their expenses and make a profit. The banks keep some small reserves to cover the expected levels of daily withdrawals, but these are desperately inadequate when we all decide to do this at the same time and the banks can’t get our cash back fast enough from borrowers. As “It’s A Wonderful Life” styled it, ‘Don’t Look Now, but there’s Something Funny Going on at the Bank, George.’

There was an interesting commentary on bank panics by Jane Kamensky (Brandeis) and this one (LA Times Op-Ed) and a talk show where she discusses the importance of trust to banks.

The FDIC tried to help create trust after the Great Depression by insuring our deposits up to $100,000, hoping that this would avoid runs on banks, although we are learning that this too depends on trust. There is some mounting evidence that the amounts FDIC maintains are not really adequate for a big financial meltdown. The FDIC used up one sixth of their total reserves just paying out to IndyMac depositors when that bank went under this summer. While the FDIC can raise premiums that banks pay for this insurance, at some point they run the risk that these higher payments will in turn make more banks unprofitable and force them to liquidate as well.

The economy is becoming like the veritable sausage axiom, don’t pay too much attention examining how it’s produced.

[For good background on what is going on with the economic woes, see “Diamond and Kashyap on the Recent Financial Upheavals”, these NY Times posts, or “Worst Crisis Since ’30s with No End Yet In Sight” (WSJ), likening crisis to doctors treating a patient in intensive care.]

Note: HybridVigor has an interesting post that concludes from the financial meltdown in 2008 that “Markets depend on trust, but self-interested egoists don’t engender trust.”  More specifically, “When it comes to social trust, free markets are freeloaders. Free markets are most efficient when a high degree of social capital exists, but the “flaw” Greenspan alludes to is simply the friction between egotism and trust. It turns out that trust, not egotism, is what keeps a market in check. But markets today encourage risky, self-centric, and flamboyant behavior. The Laws of Relation predict that relationships set up in this way result in everyone being worse off.”

Note also that David Brooks has a related article 4-5 months after this post called “An Economy of Faith and Trust” (1/16/09)

All I Want for Christmas is our Civics back

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has an Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor sounding a theme very simpatico with the Saguaro Seminar’s concerns: the strange disappearance of civics courses.

She notes that the recent uptick in youth voting is encouraging, but it is a thin democracy indeed without a deeper understanding of civics, which she notes is a casualty of high-stakes educational testing. And we have been paying the price in a decline in civic skills and knowledge. *On the last nationwide civics assessment, administered in 2006, two- thirds of students scored below proficiency. Not even a third of eighth-graders surveyed could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than a fifth of high school seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.*

As troubling, she notes a growing race and class discrepancy: a *widening civic achievement gap. Hispanic and African-American students are twice as likely as their white counterparts to lack civic knowledge and skills, while low- income students score significantly lower than middle- and upper- income students. In other words, our schools’ failure when it comes to civic education is especially stark in communities most in need of civic engagement.*

She calls on states and the federal government on the 221rst anniversary of the Constitution to beef up the civic content of schools to truly make our democracy strong.

For some interesting links on civics, see our Saguaro page on this.

Read: Sandra Day O’Connor’s, “A democracy without civics?” (Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed, 9/18/08)

Do fat friends make you fat and less happy? (new evidence)

I blogged earlier about Christakis and Fowler’s 2007 research about obesity as a social epidemic.  [See blog posts here.]

David Branchflower et al have released a paper using European Barometer data (across 29 European countries) that suggests that for Europeans as well, having fat friends may increasingly make them fat.  One’s friends influences what one thinks of as fat or skinny, so having more obese friends, makes one ratchet up (subconsciously) what one thinks of as the dividing line between fat and thin.

Blanchflower and colleagues also find in German panel data that controlling for other factors, being fatter (having a higher Body Mass Index, or BMI) reduces one’s sense of subjective wellbeing (i.e., happiness).  As I noted in an earlier blog, since having friends itself is associated with higher happiness and many benefits of social capital, the conclusion is not to drop one’s overweight friends, but it does suggest that if one is not mindful to ensure that you have a healthy dose of thinner friends as well, you may well find yourself fatter and less happy overall.

See: David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Bert Van Landeghem, “Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility” (NBER Working Paper No. 14337, September 2008)

See also, Clive Thompson, “Is Happiness Catching?” (NYT Sunday Magazine, 9/13/09)

Social capital causes higher economic performance

Profs. Luigi Zingales (Univ. Chicago), Luigi Guiso (European Univ. Institute) and Paola Sapienza (Northwestern) have a new paper out called Long-Term Persistence.  They test Robert Putnam’s theory in Making Democracy Work, that it was the civic regions of Italy that became wealthy rather than the wealthy regions that became civic, and that high social capital levels persisted for centuries.

Zingales et. al are curious why, despite the rise of Asian tigers, the Industrial Revolution, and the Internet Revolution, there is still a correlation of 0.23 (surprisingly high) between income per capita by countries in the 1700s and 2000.

Their findings, using more sophisticated econometrics and instrumenting of variables finds that Putnam was right that levels of social capital help explain this persistent economic growth.  Using Italian data, and even instrumenting (adjusting) for factors that would have led to city-state independent regions forming back in medieval times, they find that social capital helps significantly explain the north-south economic gap in Italy.  And since not all parts of the north got these city-state independent institutions, their analysis helps explain how cities that experienced independence as free city-states in the 1200s today have higher levels of social capital and wealth.

They also try a difference-of-difference approach. “We…compare the difference in social capital between the towns predicted to become free city-states in the Center North (where they did…) and predicted to become free citystates in the South (where they did not). We use the difference in social capital between towns not predicted to become free city-states in the Center North and in the South as a control for generic differences between North and South. When we do so, we find that there is much less social
capital in the South regardless (an effect that could be either driven by history, as suggested by Putnam, or geography). The difference between free city-states and not within each macro-region, however, is present only in the North. For example, Northern free city-states have 17% more nonprofit associations than similar Northern towns that were not free city-states.

“Our difference in difference estimates suggest that at least half of the gap in social capital between the North and the South of Italy can be attributed to the free city-state experience.”  In the south of Italy they find validation of their instrument in that current levels of social capital do not differ between those that were expected to form city-states and those that were not and helps explain the impact of the Normans on the formation of southern city-states.

They instrument for the probability of becoming a city-state with historical factors (such as the Etruscan origin of the city and the presence of a bishop in year 1,000).

Having validated their instruments, they that one standard deviation increase in social capital increases per capita income by 21%. “This estimate vindicates [Kenneth] Arrow’s (1972) statement that much of economic backwardness is due to lack of trust and social capital.”  And the authors have done some indepent modeling in another 2008 article, “Social Capital as Good Culture”, Journal of the European Economic Association that suggests that even a 2-3 generation positive experience of cooperation can have lasting impact on the intergeneration transmission of beliefs in periods of centuries, even without the survival of any legal institutions.