Tag Archives: human-nature

OkCupid statistics on older women

OkCupid is a large online dating website. They therefore have a lot of data relating to interesting subjects.

Their blog, OkTrends, is dedicated to showing statistical analyses of various parts of their dataset. It’s fascinating reading and I highly recommend it.

The latest post is about the merits of older women and includes a lot of interesting graphs.

This graph shows the oldest and youngest women that men claim they are interested in as they get older.

  • Men are only ever willing to consider women slightly older than themselves
  • As they grow older men are interested in relatively younger and younger women

Graph showing the ages of women acceptable to men as they age

This graph, by contrast, shows the ages of women that men actually try to chat up on the website.

  • Men are actually sending messages to women much younger than their supposed youngest acceptable
  • By far the most messages are going to very young women

The ages of women that men actually send messages to as they age

This is the same for women.

  • Women are also interested in men younger than they say they are
  • Women are less age sensitive than men

The ages of men that women actually send messages to as they age

Even more interesting are the vertical color changes. For example, as soon as women turn 20 it seems that they suddenly feel comfortable contacting much older men.

The same thing happens again when women turn 29. At 28 women send plenty of messages to young men (19 or 20) and almost none to men over 42.

But when they turn 29 women suddenly send almost no messages to men under 22 but start sending many more messages to men in their 40’s and early 50’s.

The benefits of older women

The blog then goes on to sing the praises of older women.

Older women are cheekier when it comes to sex (several more graphs on the site):

Women enjoy sex more and more as they age

Older women are also more comfortable with themselves (again more graphs on the site):

Women also become more and more confident as they age

There is a lot more information and many more graphs (including several interactive ones) on the actual blog. I recommend taking a look.

The Psychology of Power and Corruption

The old anecdote says that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Economist has a fascinating article describing experiments into this effect.

These experiments show that there is in fact a causal link between power and corruption. Even more interestingly, they may point to the reason for this link.

How the experiments work

The researchers used “priming” techniques to make test subjects feel either powerful or powerless.

Once primed, both high-power and low power subjects were asked to rate the morality of various situations. For example the researchers asked subjects to rate the morality of cheating on taxes or of taking an abandoned bicycle.

The results

The experiments showed a significant difference in the judgments of high-power and low power subjects:

  • High-power = Judge others more harshly than yourself
  • Low-power = Judge others more leniently and yourself more harshly

Power does indeed seem to cause people to judge themselves more leniently than others – they are moral hypocrites.

The entitlement hint

It seems that powerful people not only abuse the system, they also feel entitled to abuse it. This proved to be an important hint and the researchers did more experiments to explore this entitlement.

In these experiments the subjects were primed again, but this time entitlement was split from power:

  • High-power subjects who felt they deserved to be powerful
  • High-power subjects who felt they did not deserve the power
  • Low-power who deserved to be powerless
  • Low-power who did not deserve to be powerless

These subjects were also asked to rate moral actions of themselves and others.

Again the powerless judged others leniently and themselves harshly. This was true whether they legitimately powerless or not.

As expected, those who felt entitled to their power judged others very harshly and themselves very leniently.

The interesting result is for those who were powerful but felt the high-power position was undeserved. These subjects were lenient on others but very harsh on themselves.

This was the exact opposite of the normal result for high-power test subjects.

The reasons why

Why would undeserving powerful people be harsher on themselves than others? That is the opposite of the usual reaction to having power.

The answer to that question provides an elegant explanation for the whole set of results.

Humans evolved living in smallish groups with dominance hierarchies. In such hierarchies all of the experimental results make sense.

Powerful (dominant) members of the band can get away with bending the rules (judging themselves more leniently). They should also deal harshly with anyone lower in the hierarchy taking a chance (judging others more harshly).

Powerless group members should be submissive – they should judge others (normally more dominant) leniently and themselves harshly.

When people from low in the hierarchy find themselves temporarily in powerful positions they are in danger of attracting punishment from the true dominants.

So they act extra-submissively by judging themselves extra harshly and being extra lenient on others.

It all makes sense!

Referees: They’re not perfect

Any sports fan knows that referees are as human as the rest of us – mistakes do creep in.

However, I recently read this short article citing studies that show ref’s also make more subtle, but systematic mistakes.

Home Crowd Advantage

This article discusses a study of 3500 Bundesliga matches that found measurable bias in favor of the home team:

  • Interestingly the bias was more significant when there was no running track around the field – in other words when the fans were closer to the ref.
  • Refs were shown footage of tackles with the sound on and the sound off. Those watching with the sound on ruled in favor of the home team 15.5% more often!

The Team in Red

In the past I have read that football teams wearing red win slightly more matches. This article discusses a study of tae kwon do referees found that they favor the fighter in red.

In tae kwon do one fighter has a red helmet and one has a blue helmet.

In the experiment 42 experienced refs were shown videos of sparring rounds.

  • The red fighters were awarded on average 13% more points
  • The videos were then digitally altered to switch the color of the helmets. Suddenly the points awarded flipped over with the new reds getting a bigger share.

Lost wallets with baby photos more likely to be returned

This article reports on an experiment investigating the impact of various photos in lost wallets.

240 wallets were distributed on the streets (in Britain). Each wallet had the same random items in it, but no cash.

The only difference was a single photo included:

  • Photo of a baby: 88% of wallets returned
  • Photo of a puppy: 53% of wallets returned
  • Photo of a family: 48% of wallets returned
  • Photo of an elderly couple: 28% of wallets returned
  • Card showing recent charity giving: 20% of wallets returned
  • Control with no extra items: 15% of wallets returned

Even in such a small experiment the baby photo obviously had a significant emotional impact on those who found the wallets.

Irrational human nature at work again.

Superb visual illusions

I just came across an interesting website – Illusion of the Year Contest. They have a competition for best visual illusion of the year and some of the entries are great.

I’ve included some of my favorites below.

This one is very interesting. When you zoom out and the faces are smaller they appear to be looking at eachother. Zoom in and they suddently appear to be looking at you.

It seems like our brains use different heuristics to figure out where a person is looking. When no other information is available the brain uses darker patch in an eye to indicate where the iris is and hence where the person is looking.

When the images are closer and more information becomes available then the border of the iris itself dominates. Awesome illusion.

I really like this one. The two images are actually of exactly the same androgynous face. The only difference is the contrast. Higher contrast seems feminine while lower contrast seems masculine. I don’t really know why that would be the case – any ideas?

It does help to explain why woman wear contract increasing mascara, eye-liner, blush and lipstick.

Facial contrast suggests sex - visual illusion

Finally, this one is also pretty cool. The dots seem to be bouncing off of eachother. In fact the inner dot traces a square and the outer dot traces a circle. Maybe our brains have a hueristic to infer a relationship between them.

Yearbook smiles related to lower divorce rate

The Economist has a very interesting article reporting experiments that show a relationship between smiling in a yearbook photo and divorce later in life.

The Experiment

  • The experimenters got hold of about 700 yearbook photos
  • The smiles in the photos were then rated
  • Smile ratings were then statistically compared with divorce in later life

The Results

  • Never divorced subjects had average smile ratings of 5.9
  • Divorced subjects had average smile ratings of 5.2 (a statistically significant difference)
  • Those who were least smiling were three times more likely to be divorced than those who were most smiling

It seems that statistically significant information can be gleaned from a thin “slice” of information. Smiles really do indicate personality.

Our brains appear to solve problems unconsciously

One day, back when I was a schoolboy, I got stuck with a particularly tricky programming problem. After unsuccessfully puzzling over the problem I decided to take a break and went for a walk with my family.

About an hour later, while chatting about something else entirely, I was suddenly struck by the solution – it just popped into my head. It was an excellent example of the subconscious mind ticking away at a problem.

Since then I have often wondered at how solutions seem to just pop into my mind. When trying to solve a tricky problem or brain-teaser the solution suddenly appears – but from where?

Sometimes I can follow my conscious thought process systematically arriving at a solution – but often it just pops into my consciousness.

The Economist has this fascinating article about an experiment illustrating that the subconscious mind is responsible for at least some problem solving.

Experimental subjects were faced with a brain-teaser had their brains scanned while they attempted to solve the problem.

Several seconds (up to eight) before a subject had a eureka moment his/her brain waves altered significantly.

This seems to show that the test subjects had subconsciously solved the problem several seconds before they consciously realized that they had the solution.

We are hopelessly ignorant of the workings of human consciousness. I truly hope that during my lifetime experiments such as this one will reveal this fascinating miracle.

Persistence hunting – humans running antelope to death

Kalahari bushman after a successful persistence hunt of a male kuduA while ago I watched a David Attenborough documentary that showed a bushman man running a Kudu to death. It was pretty amazing stuff – by persistently chasing the kudu through the heat of the day he was able to exhaust it to the point of collapse.

(Watch that part of the documentary on YouTube – 7 minutes)

I was very impressed (and sorry for the Kudu) but assumed that this was highly unusual.

It turns out that in ancient history persistence hunting (as it is known) was actually very common. In fact some anthropologists believe humans hunted in this way before they had tools such as spears and bows.

Our bodies are so well adapted to endurance running (especially in hot conditions where prey easily overheat) that these anthropologists believe persistence hunting was an evolutionary force in humans. It seems we are specifically evolved to be able to run a large antelope into heat exhaustion.

Some examples (many more in the other articles):

  • Running on two legs is slower in a sprint, but more efficient over long distances
  • Humans have toes that are far shorter than all other primates. This has been shown to be a big advantage – but only when running over distance
  • Hairless bodies and our all over sweating allows running in the heat. Antelope aren’t nearly as efficient at getting rid of heat – they must stop to pant

Interesting stuff. Here is another short article on the subject.

I have more than 5 senses

I do have more than 5 senses. So do you. And no, I’m not talking about any hippie stuff.

Senses are the physiological methods of perceiving our environment. When we were kids we got taught that humans have 5 senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste).

Is that really all there is to it? Only five ways of perceiving the world around us?

Actually no! If you really think about it we have other senses too:

  • Sense of balance. Known as equilibrioception this is how we keep our balance. Sensory organs in our ears take care of our senses of balance. Incidentally they also get quite confused when you spin around making yourself dizzy.
  • Sense of temperature. Known as thermoreception this is how we can sense heat and the lack of heat (cold)
  • Sense of body positions. This one is a little trickier to explain. Close your eyes and touch your nose with you finger. Even though your eyes were closed you could use propriorecption to sense where your hand was at all times.
  • Sense of pain. Nociception makes use of three different kinds of dedicated pain receptors to let us know when we are damaging our bodies.
  • Sense of time. Apparently our brains do have some sense of time – we’re able to understand roughly how much time has passed without other stimuli.

There are also other ‘senses’ that affect humans. For instance how do you think you know when you’re hungry?

So it seems that they lied to us when we were young. Yet another lie-to-children, although in this case I don’t think it was necessary.

Why people procrastinate

The Economist has this article reviewing experimental results that suggest people are more likely to procrastinate when given abstract tasks:

  • Concrete tasks = Act on time
  • Abstract tasks = More likely to procrastinate

The experiments
Three individual experiments were used to test the hypothesis. In each experiment test subjects were offered a reward (a few dollars) to complete a task within 3 weeks. Half were given a concrete task and the other half an abstract task.

The results
In all of the experiments the researchers found that those given concrete tasks were:

  1. Quicker to respond
  2. Far more likely to respond at all

The article itself doesn’t include much in the way of interpretation. I would think it quite obvious.

  • Concrete tasks: If you have confidence in what is required and that the task won’t change then it pays to get on with it
  • Abstract tasks: However, if the requirement is unclear and might change then it pays to hold out. If you get going you may do the wrong thing or the requirement might change.