Sunday, September 21, 2014

Random links 21.9.14

1. Marsh et al (2014), Neural and cognitive characteristics of extraordinary altruists, PNAS
Abstract: In this study, we used structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess a population of extraordinary altruists: altruistic kidney donors who volunteered to donate a kidney to a stranger... Functional imaging and behavioral tasks included face-emotion processing paradigms that reliably distinguish psychopathic individuals from controls. Here we show that extraordinary altruists can be distinguished from controls by their enhanced volume in right amygdala and enhanced responsiveness of this structure to fearful facial expressions, an effect that predicts superior perceptual sensitivity to these expressions. These results mirror the reduced amygdala volume and reduced responsiveness to fearful facial expressions observed in psychopathic individuals. Our results support the possibility of a neural basis for extraordinary altruism.

2. Why behavioural economics is cool and I'm not

3. Atul Gawande is giving the BBC Reith lectures this year

4. Johnson et al. (2014), Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction, J Psychopharmacol
Abstract: To determine the safety and feasibility of psilocybin as an adjunct to tobacco smoking cessation treatment we conducted an open-label pilot study administering moderate (20 mg/70 kg) and high (30 mg/70 kg) doses of psilocybin within a structured 15-week smoking cessation treatment protocol. Participants were 15 psychiatrically healthy nicotine-dependent smokers (10 males; mean age of 51 years), with a mean of six previous lifetime quit attempts, and smoking a mean of 19 cigarettes per day for a mean of 31 years at intake. Biomarkers assessing smoking status, and self-report measures of smoking behavior demonstrated that 12 of 15 participants (80%) showed seven-day point prevalence abstinence at 6-month follow-up.

5. NYT: How Likely Is It That Birth Control Could Let You Down? 

6. Data Colada on testing for quadratics
"When testing inverted u-shapes we want to assess whether:
At first more x leads to more y, but eventually more x leads to less y.
If that’s what we want to assess, maybe that’s what we should test.Here is an easy way to do that that builds on the quadratic regression everyone is already running.
1)      Run the quadratic regression
2)      Find the point where the resulting u-shape maxes out.
3)      Now run a linear regression up to that point, and another from that point onwards.
4)      Test whether the second line is negative and significant."

Irish Economics and Psychology Conference

The seventh annual one day conference on Economics and Psychology, co-organised by researchers from UCD, ESRI and NUIM, will be held on October 31st in the UCD Geary Institute. The purpose of these sessions is to develop the link between Economics, Psychology and cognate disciplines in Ireland. A special theme of these events is the implications of behavioural economics for public policy though we welcome submissions across all areas of intersection of Economics and Psychology. We welcome submissions from PhD students as well as faculty and also welcome suggestions for sessions on policy and industry relevance of behavioural economics. Programmes from the previous six events are here. Abstracts (200-500 words) should be submitted before September 30th. Suggestions or questions please send to

Sign up to attend here

Confirmed speakers:

Dr. Pete Lunn (ESRI)
Do Consumers Value Products they are Familiar with more Accurately? (with Marek Bohacek & Féidhlim McGowan).
We investigate how the precision of consumer valuations is affected by familiarity with the product. Using a within-subject design, we compare performance in a 2AFC "objective valuation" task across four products: houses, contracts for broadband services, and two unfamiliar computer-generated products. Participants decide whether each product, with a given set of attributes at a particular price, represents good or bad value. The value of the familiar products is objectively defined by two statistical models relating attributes to prices in the market. The same models also determine the mathematical relationship between attributes and prices of the two unfamiliar products, allowing us to identify the effect due to familiarity. Data collection is to be completed by end-September. We will present an initial analysis of the experimental data at the conference.

Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling)
Time preferences predict inflammation in later life
Prominent economic and psychological models suggest that impatient individuals with high discount rates invest less in their health leading to adverse physiological consequences (Grossman, 1972; Hall & Fong, 2007). The aim of this study is to test, for the first time, whether time discount rates elicited from an incentivised experiment become biologically embedded via changes in C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen levels over time.

The sample was drawn from the population-based English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Those who completed a preference module and provided blood plasma samples at two time-points for analysis were included in the study (n=427; Age=63.6 (SD=5.7); 52.8% Female). Discount rates were calculated from a set of 12 choices between smaller sooner and larger later rewards (e.g. £25 in two weeks or £30 in one month) where the participant won the value of a randomly selected choice (median reward £28).

Our results indicate a substantial relationship between high discount rates and high levels of inflammation two years later as gauged by CRP (β=.18; p<.001) and fibrinogen (β=.1; p<.05) in analyses which adjusted for age, gender, marital status, wealth and prior inflammation levels. This pattern was robust to the inclusion of controls for BMI, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, other long-term illnesses, smoking, physical activity, and alcohol consumption. Further adjustment for cognitive functioning and the Big Five personality traits did not affect the associations observed. This study provides strong evidence that incentivised elicited discount rates robustly predict longitudinal changes in inflammation in a national sample.

Prof. Liam Delaney (Stirling)
Behavioural Economics and Irish Public Policy 
This presentation will outline the relevance of the last ten years of behavioural economics and behavioural science for research across a number of domains including pensions policy, financial regulation, education, health and consumer policy.

Dr. Edel Walsh, School of Economics, University College Cork

An Examination of Life Satisfaction in Ireland: Evidence from the European Social Survey 5 (2010)

The aim of this research is to establish the most significant factors affecting life satisfaction, at an individual level, in Ireland during the recent economic recession. The global financial crisis significantly impacted the Irish economy and by 2010 Ireland was experiencing its third consecutive year of negative growth. During the period 2007 to 2010 the level and rate of unemployment increased substantially in Ireland with an average unemployment rate of 13.8 per cent being reported in 2010. In addition, unemployment affected men more than women and in particular the 20-24 year age group. Given the well-established link between life satisfaction, income and unemployment, the economic conditions in Ireland in 2010 make it an interesting case to study. The data used in this analysis were obtained from the Irish component of the European Social Survey 5 (2010). Using both OLS and ordered probit models the determinants of life satisfaction are estimated. The paper also tests if there are significant gender differences in the results but find no significant differences in the determinants of male and female life satisfaction in Ireland at that time. The main findings suggest that unemployment has a statistically significant effect on reducing life satisfaction. Income is found to have a significant, but modest effect on improving life satisfaction. The results also suggest that being young (24 or younger) or old (over 65) and having social connections have the largest positive effects on life satisfaction. Other findings suggest that having children positively impacts on one’s life satisfaction. Living in a rural area of Ireland is a positive factor affecting an individual’s satisfaction with their life. Further significant results indicate that life satisfaction is largely, negatively influenced by marital status (being divorced or separated) and suffering from a disability. The overall findings are important in the context of the current policy focus on well-being in Ireland.

Dr. Ronan Lyons (Trinity College Dublin & Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE)
What house price equation do households use? Insights from the Irish housing market, 2003-2014
Housing is the most important good in the typical household’s consumption basket and the largest asset in its portfolio. Given this, and given that expectations about house prices act as a demand shifter, the measurement of house price expectations is a topic of importance for economic policy. This research attempts to answer two related questions. Firstly, to what extent are expectations backward-looking, rather than based on perceptions of future fundamentals? And secondly, how do households believe that changes in fundamentals will affect house prices? These questions are answered combining national surveys (2003-2008), national and local surveys (2011-2014) and an experimental survey, drawing on methods from the willingness-to-pay literature.

Prof. Rowena Pecchenino (NUIM)
The Economic Consequences of Despair
This paper examines despair, the total loss of hope, from the perspectives of many disciplines to characterize the despairing individual, his motivations, and his capacity for decision-making.  It then examines the extent to which economics has recognized despair and whether economics should incorporate despair into its theoretical and policy analyses, and, if so, how.

Prof. Ruth Byrne (TCD)

Professor of Cognitive Science
School of Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience
Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland

‘The Cognitive Science of the Human Imagination’

The human imagination remains one of the last uncharted terrains of the mind. In everyday imaginative thought, people often create alternatives to reality and imagine how events might have turned out ‘if only’ something had been different. People engage in such flights of the imagination for more than entertainment – psychological experiments show that the alternatives to reality that people create ensure that they learn the causes of outcomes and how to prevent them in the future; they contribute to the experience of emotions such as regret, guilt, relief and hope; and they underlie social ascriptions of blame, responsibility, and fault. The loss of these imaginative thoughts following certain sorts of brain injury has devastating consequences for normal cognition. New discoveries suggest that, just as experiments have shown that rational thought is more imaginative than previously supposed, so too imaginative thought is more rational than previously supposed.  Cognitive scientists have established that people tend to change the same sorts of things in their ‘if only’ thoughts, such as events within their control, actions rather than inactions, exceptions rather than usual events. These ‘fault-lines’ in the human imagination provide important clues about its logic and its limitations, and indicate that imaginative thoughts are guided by the same principles that underlie rational thoughts. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 19th ESRC Workshop on Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes

ESRC Workshop 3: Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes (19/9/14)

This is the third Behavioural Science Workshop in a series of six that will take place in 2014/15. These workshops are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The venue is the Court Room on the 4th Floor of the Cottrell Building at Stirling University. There will be drinks and dinner after the days talks to which all attendees are welcome.

This workshop will address the ESRC’s priority objective of fostering research that capitalizes on the growing data resources available in the UK Data Archive and comparable international depositories. There is now an abundance of large databases, which assess detailed psychological, economic, and health measures in samples of tens of thousands of participants over several years or even decades.

The theme of the workshop is how the measurement of constructs such as childhood personality, well-being, intelligence and adverse conditions in early life can be used to understand the unfolding of economic, health and welfare outcomes throughout adulthood. The comparative benefits of contemporary measurement and retrospective accounts of early conditions will be addressed, studies utilizing this data presented, and limitations (e.g. recall, desirability biases) discussed.

Sign up to the workshop here


09:00-09:20: Registration

09:20-09:30: Welcome and workshop introduction

09:30-10:00: Fionnuala O'Reilly (Stirling University)
Associations between childhood self-regulation and adult socioeconomic status
Abstract:Uncovering the childhood determinants of socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood is an important social goal. In this paper, we utilised the British Cohort Study (N = 6,700) to examine the association between childhood self-regulation and a set of socioeconomic factors measured in adulthood, adjusting for a range of important potential confounding variables including childhood cognitive ability and parental SES. Specifically, we tested the association between self-regulation at age 10 and the cohort members' income, social class, educational attainment, home ownership and self-ratings of their financial position at age 30 and 42.

We found that higher self-regulation at age 10 had a substantial and significant association with better SES outcomes at both age 30 and 42. On average a 1 SD increase in childhood self-regulation was associated with a 0.13 SD increase in adult SES; an effect size comparable to that of a 1 SD increase in childhood cognitive ability (0.17 SD). On average 30% of the relationship between childhood self-regulation and adult SES was explained by educational attainment. Finally, we found that childhood self-regulation acts as a medium through which individuals may attain higher social standing, both inter-generationally and over the course of their own lives.

10:00-10:30: Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling University)
Poor childhood self-discipline predicts physiological dysregulation in midlife (with Liam Delaney).
Childhood self-discipline emerges early, is malleable, and could contribute substantially to a healthy life. The present study examined associations between self-discipline at ages 7 and 11 and physiological dysregulation in middle age. Participants were 6,878 British men and women born in March 1958 who took part in the National Child Development Study. Self-discipline was gauged using a 13-item teacher-rated scale from the Bristol Social Adjustment Guide assessing concentration (e.g. ‘cannot attend or concentrate for long’), perseverance (e.g. ‘can never stick at anything long’), restlessness and impulsive behaviour (e.g. ‘constantly needs petty correction’). Blood plasma samples and anthropometric data were collected and analysed using standard procedures at age 45. An overall physiological dysregulation index was derived from a set of 12 biological variables: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index, waist/hip ratio, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, Von Willebrand factor, glycosylated haemoglobin, tissue plasminogen activator, and peak flow (Cronbach’s α = .76).

Higher levels of self-discipline were significantly associated with lower physiological dysregulation (B = -.073, SE = .013; β = -.073; t = -5.80, p < .001), after controlling for sex, intelligence at age 11, and socioeconomic status at birth. This association was relatively unaffected  by further adjustment for a large set of childhood controls (B = -.068, SE = .017; β = -.068; t = -5.30, p < .001) including parental characteristics (e.g. age, mother’s education), family difficulties (e.g. housing, financial), aspects of the home environment (e.g. region, crowding), conditions at birth (e.g. birth weight, breast feeding), physician assessed medical conditions (e.g. asthma, emotional maladjustment, diabetes) and relative weight at age 7. By adjusting for a broad set of important covariates in a large-scale representative cohort these analyses provide robust evidence that childhood self-discipline is associated with long-run health effects that cannot be attributed to other psychological factors like intelligence or emotional problems or to initial health or environmental conditions.

10:30-11:00: COFFEE

11:00-11:45: Professor Markus Jokela (University of Helsinki)
Adolescent verbal ability and health outcomes in the British Household Panel Survey

11:45-12:30: Dr. Iris Kesternich (Munich)
Early-life circumstances predict measures of trust attitudes among adults
(with Maximiiana Hörl, Jim Smith & Joachim Winter).
Trust in strangers plays a decisive role in economic interactions, and at the same time it shows substantial heterogeneity across individuals. The sources of this individual-level variation are largely unknown. This paper investigates whether a major shock experienced in childhood can permanently shape preferences for trust. We relate a measure of trust in strangers available for a nationally representative sample of the German population to exposure to a hunger episode after the Second World War. We collected data on caloric rations that vary by month and across regions to capture exposure to hunger. We find that trust is significantly diminished for those more affected by the hunger episode.

12:30-13:30: LUNCH

13:30-14:15: Mark Egan (Stirling University)
Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment: evidence from three cohort studies
(with Michael Daly & Liam Delaney)
The effect of childhood mental health on later unemployment has not yet been established. This presentation reviews recent work examining whether childhood psychological distress places young people at high risk of subsequent unemployment and whether the presence of economic recession strengthens this relationship. We investigate these relationships using three nationally-representative cohort studies - 19,377 individuals from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in Britain and 6,474 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) in the United States - with a combined total of 3.8m observations. Distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire at age 14 in the LSYPE, via a teacher-rated measure of depression at age 7 and 11 in the NCDS and with the Mental Health Inventory at age 16-20 in the NLSY97.

There are two main findings. Firstly, children with higher levels of distress went on to experience higher levels of youth unemployment in all cohorts examined. These effects were large, statistically significant and could not be accounted for by early environmental factors, intelligence, or personality characteristics. Secondly, analyses of the 1980 recession in the UK and the 2007 recession in the United States reveals that children with higher levels of distress were disproportionately more likely to become unemployed during the fallout of these economic downturns. These findings point to a previously neglected contribution of childhood mental health to youth unemployment which may be particularly pronounced during times of economic recession. Our findings also suggest a further economic benefit to enhancing the provision of mental health services early in life.

14:15-15:00: Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (UCL)
Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed-effects (with Andrew Oswald)
The question of whether there is a connection between income and psychological well-being is a long-studied issue across the social, psychological, and behavioral sciences. Much research has found that richer people tend to be happier. However, relatively little attention has been paid to whether happier individuals perform better financially in the first place. This possibility of reverse causality is arguably understudied. Using data from a large US representative panel, we show that adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction or positive affect grow up to earn significantly higher levels of income later in life. We focus on earnings approximately one decade after the person’s well-being is measured; we exploit the availability of sibling clusters to introduce family fixed effects; we account for the human capacity to imagine later socioeconomic outcomes and to anticipate the resulting feelings in current well-being.

The study’s results are robust to the inclusion of controls such as education, intelligence quotient, physical health, height, self-esteem, and later happiness. We consider how psychological well-being may influence income. Sobel–Goodman mediation tests reveal direct and indirect effects that carry the influence from happiness to income. Significant mediating pathways include a higher probability of obtaining a college degree, getting hired and promoted, having higher degrees of optimism and extraversion, and less neuroticism.

15:00-15:30: COFFEE

15:30-16:15: Professor Alissa Goodman (Institute of Education)
Long-term effects of childhood mental and physical health conditions
In this presentation I assess and compare long-term adult socioeconomic status impacts from having experienced psychological and physical health problems in childhood. The research is based on prospective data from the British National Child Development Study, a longitudinal study of a cohort of 17,634 children born in Great Britain during a single week in March 1958. Large effects are found due to childhood psychological problems on the ability of affected children to work and earn as adults and on intergenerational and within generation social mobility. Effects of psychological health disorders during childhood are far more important over a lifetime than childhood physical health problems. There is a strong interrelationship between cognitive development and emotional and behavioural disorders in childhood, which in part explains the significance of childhood psychological problems in later life.

16:15-17:00: Panel discussion

Using Large Publicly Available Datasets for Psychological & Social Science Research

Would your research benefit from being able to analyse already-collected data on psychological measures from thousands of different individuals at multiple time-points? 

There are now many publicly available datasets within the UK (such as those hosted by the UK Data Service) and across the world. These data have been collected with the primary purpose of enabling researchers to better understand how people function within the world around them. Although these data-sets are free to access and are commonly used within economics and epidemiology, they remain under-utilized in many disciplines in the social sciences, particularly psychology. This is unfortunate given that many of these datasets contain measures and scales relevant to cutting-edge psychological research, such as personality, well-being, attitudes, behaviour, physical health and mental health. One barrier to unlocking these datasets' potential is having the necessary skills to manage and analyse them. We at the Behavioural Science Centre, Stirling Management School, in conjunction with the Economic Social and Research Council (ESRC), are offering 2 training workshops specifically built around these datasets to equip you with the necessary skills, which includes an introduction to the statistical package Stata, to handle them.

Workshop 1: Introduction to data analysis of large publicly available datasets (2-3 December 2014) 
Participants will learn how to obtain and manage data, use the statistical program Stata, conduct basic analysis and interpret the results. This workshop requires that participants are comfortable with basic statistics prior to the course and will enable researchers to begin using untapped resources immediately. 

Workshop 2: Advanced techniques for large publicly available datasets (18-19 March 2015) 
Participants will learn advanced statistical methodology to enable them to get the most out of large publicly available datasets. This will include panel data techniques such as understanding and implementing fixed effect and difference-in-difference models, as well as how to implement instrumental variable estimations. This workshop will require that participants have a basic knowledge of handling large datasets and using the statistical program Stata. Attendance at workshop 1, although not a pre-requisite, would represent sufficient knowledge. 

Further details: Both courses will take place at Stirling Management School, University of Stirling. At our Behavioural Science Centre we have a number of researchers, including Prof Liam Delaney, Dr Michael Daly (early Career Award recipient, UK Society for Behavioural Medicine), and Prof Alex Wood and Dr Christopher Boyce (joint winners, best paper using GSOEP data resource 2012-2013), with substantial experience using and publishing with these types of datasets. Both workshops are aimed at PhD students but advanced Masters students and post-PhD researchers are welcome to apply. The University of Stirling is approximately 50 minutes by train from Edinburgh, 25 minutes from Glasgow and 5 hours from London. The course is funded by the ESRC and the cost to participants is £50 (in addition to accommodation and transport).

How to apply: Participants are welcome to apply to attend one workshop or both. Please send a completed application form, including (1) a curriculum vitae, (2) a statement as to why you wish to attend and how it will benefit you and your research (suggested maximum 2 pages), and (3) a supporting statement from a supervisor or senior colleague, to

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

List of resources for the Stata commands 'margins' and 'marginsplot'

This is an ongoing list of resources for understanding the 'margins' and 'marginsplot' commands in Stata. If you know of links I have omitted, please let me know. 

The 'margins' and 'marginsplot' commands were introduced in Stata 11. They are very useful as a way of estimating and graphing predicted probabilities and are potentially much more informative than regression tables for certain kinds of analysis (e.g. when examining interaction effects, probit or logit regressions or any model which returns non-intuitive coefficients, like a negative binomial).

Despite their advantages, these commands are still somewhat underutilized, at least in terms of the papers I read. It may be the case that since margins is only a few years young, many researchers simply don't know about them or don't fully understand how useful they can be at clarifying regression results. Hopefully one side-benefit of this post will be to generate discussion from people who are using margins in their own research and/or flush out people who have valid objections to it that I may not be aware of.

1. Margins overviews:
- From Overview of margins & marginsplot.
- From UCLA: A brief overview of what margins can do & how to use it to examine interactions.
- From SSCC: Exploring Regression Results using Margins.
- The help file for margins in Stata 13.
- The help file for marginsplot in Stata 13.

2. I highly recommend Richard Williams's slides on "Using Stata’s Margins Command to Estimate and Interpret Adjusted Predictions and Marginal Effects" (2011). If you want to cite Williams, use his Stata Journal article on the same topic (2012).

3. Bill Rising's slides on "How to get an edge with margins and marginsplot" (2012).

4. Ben Jann's slides on "Predictive Margins and Marginal Effects in Stata" (2013).