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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 8, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“If you want one experiment that perfectly captures what science is learning about the deep-seated differences between liberals and conservatives, you need go no further than BeanFest. It's a simple learning video game in which the player is presented with a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes, with different numbers of dots on them. When each new type of bean is presented, the player must choose whether or not to accept it – without knowing, in advance, what will happen. You see, some beans give you points, while others take them away. But you can't know until you try them.

“In a recent experiment by psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook, a group of self-identified liberals and conservatives played BeanFest. And their strategies of play tended to be quite different. Liberals tried out all sorts of beans. They racked up big point gains as a result, but also big point losses – and they learned a lot about different kinds of beans and what they did. Conservatives, though, tended to play more defensively. They tested out fewer beans. They were risk averse, losing less but also gathering less information.

“One reason this is a telling experiment is that it's very hard to argue that playing BeanFest has anything directly to do with politics. It's difficult to imagine, for example, that results like these are confounded or contaminated by subtle cues or extraneous factors that push liberals and conservatives to play the game differently. In the experiment, they simply sit down in front of a game—an incredibly simple game – and play. So the ensuing differences in strategy very likely reflect differences in who's playing.”

– From “The origins of ideology” at washingtonmonthly .com

A quiz

What was the original minimum wage set by the Fair Labor Standards Act?

Wisdom of the ages

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." – Anais Nin

Current wisdom

“The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball. I just try to take advantage of it every night.” – LeBron James, after scoring a career-high 61 points in Miami's 124-107 victory over Charlotte.

Quiz answer

25 cents an hour, on Oct. 24, 1938.

Snob words

cockalorum (kok-uhl-lawr-uhm), n. – a self-important little man, as in: “The editorial writer wondered whether the politician was a natural cockalorum or had to work at it.”

Today in history

On this date in 1813, the IRS began to levy and collect income taxes; talk about a day that will live in infamy!

Now you know

During an average lifetime, the heart will pump nearly 1.5 million barrels of blood – enough to fill 200 train tank cars.