Single-payer reform is ‘the only way to fulfill the president’s pledge’ on health care

February 20, 2017

Proposals floated by Republican leaders won’t achieve President Trump’s campaign promises of more coverage, better benefits, and lower costs, but a single-payer reform would, according to a commentary published today [Tuesday, Feb. 21] in Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the nation’s most prestigious and widely cited medical journals.

Republicans promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act on the first day of the Trump presidency. But the health reform effort has stalled because Republicans in Congress have been unable to come up with a better replacement and fear a backlash against plans that would deprive millions of coverage and raise deductibles.

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Population density pushes the ‘slow life strategy’

February 14, 2017

Big cities with lots of people usually garner images of a fast paced life, where the hustle and bustle of the city is met, and at least tolerated, by those who live there. They live for the “rush” of city life, and all of the competition that lies therein.

But a new study by Arizona State University shows the opposite may be true – that one psychological effect of population density is for those people to adopt a “slow life strategy.” This strategy focuses more on planning for the long-term future and includes tactics like preferring long-term romantic relationships, having fewer children and investing more in education.

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Why are the oldest people the most excluded?

January 4, 2017

People over the age of 85 are significantly more likely to suffer social exclusion than those in the 65 to 84-year-old bracket, according to new research.

In a study* of more than 10,000 people over the age of 65, social policy researchers found the so-called ‘oldest old’ – classed as those 85 and over – have more trouble accessing services such as healthcare and food shops, with 16 per cent reporting ‘significant’ problems, compared with only four per cent of their younger counterparts. And women were found to be less likely to be able to access services than men.

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The war on drugs has failed and doctors should lead calls for change

November 15, 2016

The enforcement of prohibition – a ban on the production, supply, possession, and use of some drugs for non-medical purposes – causes huge harm, and doctors should lead calls for drug policy reform, argues The BMJ today.

Editor in chief, Dr Fiona Godlee, and features and debates editor, Richard Hurley, say prohibition laws, colloquially known as the “war on drugs,” cost at least $100bn annually but have failed to curb either supply or demand, reduce addiction, minimise harm, cut violence, and reduce profits for organised crime.

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President Obama has constitutional power to appoint, not just nominate, successor to Scalia

March 24, 2016

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that they would neither consider nor vote on any nominee to the court picked by President Barack Obama. According to a new paper co-written by two University of Illinois legal experts, that position may be more problematic – both pragmatically and constitutionally – than those senators realize. Read more

Placing your value on time more than money is linked to happiness

January 8, 2016

Valuing your time more than the pursuit of money is linked to greater happiness, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

In six studies with more than 4,600 participants, researchers found an almost even split between people who tended to value their time or money, and that choice was a fairly consistent trait both for daily interactions and major life events. Read more

Why good people do bad things

June 5, 2015

Honest behavior is much like sticking to a diet. When facing an ethical dilemma, being aware of the temptation before it happens and thinking about the long-term consequences of misbehaving could help more people do the right thing, according to a new study.

The study, “Anticipating and Resisting the Temptation to Behave Unethically,” by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Behavioral Science and Marketing Professor Ayelet Fishbach and Rutgers Business School Assistant Professor Oliver J. Sheldon, was recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It is the first study to test how the two separate factors of identifying an ethical conflict and preemptively exercising self-control interact in shaping ethical decision-making.

In a series of experiments that included common ethical dilemmas, such as calling in sick to work and negotiating a home sale, the researchers found that two factors together promoted ethical behavior: Participants who identified a potential ethical dilemma as connected to other similar incidents and who also anticipated the temptation to act unethically were more likely to behave honestly than participants who did not.

“Unethical behavior is rampant across various domains ranging from business and politics to education and sports,” said Fishbach. “Organizations seeking to improve ethical behavior can do so by helping people recognize the cumulative impact of unethical acts and by providing warning cues for upcoming temptation.”

In one experiment, business school students were divided into pairs as brokers for the buyer and seller of a historic New York brownstone. The dilemma: The seller wanted to preserve the property while the buyer wanted to demolish it and build a hotel. The brokers for the seller were told to only sell to a buyer who would save the brownstone, while the brokers for the buyer were told to conceal the buyer’s plan to develop a hotel.

Before the negotiations began, half of the students were asked to recall a time when they cheated or bent the rules to get ahead. Only 45 percent of those students thinking about their ethics ahead of time behaved unethically in the negotiations, while more than two-thirds, or 67 percent, of the students who weren’t reminded of an ethical temptation in advance, lied in the negotiations in order to close the deal.

In another experiment involving workplace scenarios, participants were less likely to say it is okay to steal office supplies, call into work sick when they aren’t really ill, or intentionally work slowly to avoid additional tasks, if they anticipated an ethical dilemma through a writing exercise in advance and if they considered a series of six ethical dilemmas all at once.

In other words, people are more likely to engage in unethical behavior if they believe the act is an isolated incident and if they don’t think about it ahead of time.

The results of the experiments have the potential to help policy makers, educators and employers devise strategies to encourage people to behave ethically. For example, a manager could control costs by emailing employees before a work trip to warn them against the temptation to inflate expenses. The notice could be even more effective if the manager reminded employees that the urge to exaggerate expenses is a temptation they will encounter repeatedly in the future.

The most powerful learning ‘tool’

April 10, 2015

It is cultural transmission – the ability to pass knowledge on from one individual to another even across generations – that makes us unique among animals. True, we also learn by observing what happens in the world around us, for example, by associating events that frequently occur together (or in a rapid sequence). However, human “communication” may constitute such a powerful instrument that it overrides “statistics”, as observed in a study just published in PLOS One and conducted by Hanna Marno, researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste.

“Human beings learn from statistical associations between events and objects. If, for example, one event very frequently follows another, we’ll learn to associate the first with the second and to use this association in our daily lives” explains Marno. “However, this is not the only way we learn. For humans, in fact, sharing information by communication is a vitally important factor”. This means that whereas normally we will associate an object with an action after observing their co-occurrence for a certain number of times, when certain communicative “cues” intervene (eye contact or verbal reinforcement from another person), then learning could take place far more rapidly and without any need for repeated observations.

“In our experiments, infants aged about 18 months watched an adult interact with a box that had two buttons and a heart-shaped lamp on it; when either of the two buttons was pressed the heart lit up” explains Marno. In the “baseline” condition only the efficiency of the action varied: in one case, the button on the right would light up the heart-shaped lamp two-thirds of the time (high efficiency) and the one on the left only the remaining one-third (low efficiency), whereas in the other case the situation was reversed. In the experimental condition, a “communication” variable was added: the demonstrators could remain neutral (as at baseline) or interact with the child through non-verbal (eye contact) and verbal cues (in so-called “motherese”, the typical way adults talk to young children) to emphasise their action. Then, in a later phase, the children were left alone to interact with the box and the investigators recorded which button they pressed first.

“The results demonstrate that in these experiments the ‘communicative’ signals are more important than the efficiency of the action” explains Marno. “Compared to children’s tendency to choose the more efficient button in the neutral condition, in the experimental situation they tended to prefer the button with low efficiency if this had been highlighted by the adult’s communicative signals”.

More in detail…

Marno started her studies on the effect of communicative signals by testing adult subjects. In fact, communication seems to play a specific, powerful role for adults as well. “Information about an object may be contingent or general. For example, when learning about an object, we can learn its position, which is most of the cases transitory information related to a specific moment in time, or we can learn more general features like its shape and function, which are not bound to any specific time period”.

In her experiments with adults, Marno observed that while mere observation of objects can contribute to the acquisition of contingent and transitory information, when communicative signals are also present, there is a bias to acquire some permanent, more general information. “Our studies clearly demonstrate the huge importance of communication in human learning”.

Scrap ‘unwinnable’ drugs war and divert funds into curbing global antibiotic misuse

February 21, 2013

Governments around the world should stop squandering resources fighting an “unwinnable war” against illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Instead, they should use the cash to curb antibiotic misuse, which poses a far more serious threat to human health, claims a leading ethicist in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Dr Jonny Anomaly, of Duke University, Durham in North Carolina, USA, says that concerted collective action is needed to tackle the excessive and casual prescribing of antibiotics, which has led to a worrying rise in resistance to these medicines.

“Government action is both more appropriate and more likely to be effective in regulating antibiotics than it is in criminalising narcotics,” he writes.

Dr Anomaly says the arguments put forward for continuing to plough resources into the war on illegal drugs, such as the need to curb the related violence and social harms, should, of course, be taken seriously.

But he contends that “most of the violence and crime associated with narcotics is caused by laws that prohibit drug use, rather than drug use itself.” And the argument that stimulant drugs increase violent tendencies is not based on strong evidence, he says.

He accepts that a drug habit takes its toll on friends and family, but argues that this does not justify treating this behaviour as a crime.

And while supporters of tough action on illegal drugs fear that the absence of harsh penalties will simply make it easier to get hold of them, Dr Anomaly points to the evidence in Portugal – the only country that has decriminalised recreational drug use.

This “suggests that consumption has not significantly increased for most drugs, and has actually declined for some…greater accessibility does not necessarily lead to more drug use by either adults or children,” he writes.

At the very least antibiotic resistant infections have the power to harm others and make illness more costly to treat, and they can often kill, he warns.

“This feature gives antimicrobial drugs a fundamentally different moral status from recreational drugs, and it suggests that current policy priorities are based on moral confusion, scientific ignorance, or both,” he suggests.

He puts forward several possible ways of tackling antibiotic resistance.

These include phasing out the use of these drugs in farming, along with factory farming; cash incentives for pharmaceutical companies to conserve existing drugs; banning over the counter sales of antibiotics in developing nations; and global surveillance of resistant bacteria, spearheaded by the world’s wealthy nations.

In addition to this, a flat user fee should be levied on courses of antibiotics, the monies from which could be used to fund antibiotic research, he suggests.

“A user fee would not be a panacea. But it could be a crucial part of a multidimensional approach to the problem of resistance. User fees are especially attractive because of their fairness and simplicity,” he says.

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[Collective action and individual choice: rethinking how we regulate narcotics and antibiotics Online First doi: 10.1136/medethics-2012-101160]

Contact: Stephanie Burns
sburns@bmjgroup.com
44-020-738-36920
BMJ-British Medical Journal

Greed, not generosity, more likely to be ‘paid forward’

December 17, 2012

Paying it forward – a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you – is a heartwarming concept, but it is less common than repaying greed with greed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“The idea of paying it forward is this cascade of goodwill will turn into a utopia with everyone helping everyone,” said lead researcher Kurt Gray, PhD. “Unfortunately, greed or looking out for ourselves is more powerful than true acts of generosity.”

The study, published online in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, is the first systematic investigation of paying forward generosity, equality or greed, according to the authors.

“The bulk of the scientific research on this concept has focused on good behavior, and we wondered what would happen when you looked at the entire gamut of human behaviors,” said Gray, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who conducted the study with researchers at Harvard University.

In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to pay greed forward to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction. Women and men showed the same levels of generosity and greed in the study.

In one experiment, researchers recruited 100 people from subway stations and tourist areas in Cambridge, Mass., to play an economic game. They told participants that someone had split $6 with them and then gave them an envelope that contained the entire $6 for a generous split, $3 for an equal split, or nothing for a greedy split. The participants then received an additional $6 that they could split in another envelope with a future recipient, essentially paying it forward.

Receiving a generous split didn’t prompt any greater generosity than receiving equal treatment, but people who received nothing in the first envelope were more likely to put little or nothing in the second envelope, depriving future recipients because of the greed they had experienced. The average amount paid forward by participants who received a greedy split was $1.32, well below an equal split of $3.

The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that greed would prevail because negative stimuli have more powerful effects on thoughts and actions than positive stimuli. Focusing on the negative may cause unhappiness, but it makes sense as an evolutionary survival skill, Gray said. “If there is a tiger nearby, you really have to take notice or you’ll get eaten,” he said. “If there is a beautiful sunset or delicious food, it’s not a life-or-death situation.”

The study also examined whether people would have similar reactions involving work rather than money. In one online experiment, researchers told 60 participants that four tasks needed to be completed, including two easy word association games and two boring, repetitive tasks that involved circling vowels in dense Italian text. They explained to the participants that someone had already split the work with them, leaving them the two fun tasks in a generous split, one fun task and one boring task in an equal split, or both boring tasks in a greedy split. The participants then had to complete those tasks and split an additional four tasks with a future recipient. The results were the same, with greed being paid forward more than generosity.

“We all like to think that being generous will influence others to treat someone nicely, but it doesn’t automatically create a chain of goodwill,” said Gray. “To create chains of positive behavior, people should focus less on performing random acts of generosity and more on treating others equally – while refraining from random acts of greed.”

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Article: “Paying It Forward: Generalized Reciprocity and the Limits of Generosity,” Kurt Gray, PhD, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Adrian F. Ward, MA; and Michael I. Norton, PhD, Harvard University; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General; online Dec. 17, 2012.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and athttp://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-ofp-gray.pdf

Kurt Gray, PhD, can be contacted at kurtgray@unc.edu or by phone at (617) 279-3683.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 137,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Contact: APA Public Affairs
public.affairs@apa.org
202-336-5700
American Psychological Association

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