The resilient children had an internal locus of control

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

Maria Konnikova — author of The Confidence Game and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes — explains how people learn to become resilient — or not:

In 1989 a developmental psychologist named Emmy Werner published the results of a thirty-two-year longitudinal project. She had followed a group of six hundred and ninety-eight children, in Kauai, Hawaii, from before birth through their third decade of life. Along the way, she’d monitored them for any exposure to stress: maternal stress in utero, poverty, problems in the family, and so on. Two-thirds of the children came from backgrounds that were, essentially, stable, successful, and happy; the other third qualified as “at risk.” Like Garmezy, she soon discovered that not all of the at-risk children reacted to stress in the same way. Two-thirds of them “developed serious learning or behavior problems by the age of ten, or had delinquency records, mental health problems, or teen-age pregnancies by the age of eighteen.” But the remaining third developed into “competent, confident, and caring young adults.” They had attained academic, domestic, and social success—and they were always ready to capitalize on new opportunities that arose.

What was it that set the resilient children apart? Because the individuals in her sample had been followed and tested consistently for three decades, Werner had a trove of data at her disposal. She found that several elements predicted resilience. Some elements had to do with luck: a resilient child might have a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or other mentor-like figure. But another, quite large set of elements was psychological, and had to do with how the children responded to the environment. From a young age, resilient children tended to “meet the world on their own terms.” They were autonomous and independent, would seek out new experiences, and had a “positive social orientation.” “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.

[...]

George Bonanno is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College; he heads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab and has been studying resilience for nearly twenty-five years. Garmezy, Werner, and others have shown that some people are far better than others at dealing with adversity; Bonanno has been trying to figure out where that variation might come from. Bonanno’s theory of resilience starts with an observation: all of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress. When it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others?

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? “Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic,” Bonanno told me, in December. “To call something a ‘traumatic event’ belies that fact.” He has coined a different term: PTE, or potentially traumatic event, which he argues is more accurate. The theory is straightforward. Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it. (Bonanno focusses on acute negative events, where we may be seriously harmed; others who study resilience, including Garmezy and Werner, look more broadly.) Take something as terrible as the surprising death of a close friend: you might be sad, but if you can find a way to construe that event as filled with meaning—perhaps it leads to greater awareness of a certain disease, say, or to closer ties with the community—then it may not be seen as a trauma. (Indeed, Werner found that resilient individuals were far more likely to report having sources of spiritual and religious support than those who weren’t.) The experience isn’t inherent in the event; it resides in the event’s psychological construal.

[...]

The good news is that positive construal can be taught. “We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” Bonanno said. In research at Columbia, the neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner has shown that teaching people to think of stimuli in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative, or in a less emotional way when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—changes how they experience and react to the stimulus. You can train people to better regulate their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects.

Similar work has been done with explanatory styles—the techniques we use to explain events. I’ve written before about the research of Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who pioneered much of the field of positive psychology: Seligman found that training people to change their explanatory styles from internal to external (“Bad events aren’t my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one narrow thing rather than a massive indication that something is wrong with my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than assuming it’s fixed”) made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The same goes for locus of control: not only is a more internal locus tied to perceiving less stress and performing better but changing your locus from external to internal leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance. The cognitive skills that underpin resilience, then, seem like they can indeed be learned over time, creating resilience where there was none.

Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true. “We can become less resilient, or less likely to be resilient,” Bonanno says. “We can create or exaggerate stressors very easily in our own minds. That’s the danger of the human condition.” Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened. In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.

He was universally reckoned the most ignorant and stupid person among them

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

While visiting the flying island of Laputa, Gulliver finds himself “little regarded,” because of his unimpressive mathematical and musical abilities:

On the other side, after having seen all the curiosities of the island, I was very desirous to leave it, being heartily weary of those people. They were indeed excellent in two sciences for which I have great esteem, and wherein I am not unversed; but, at the same time, so abstracted and involved in speculation, that I never met with such disagreeable companions. I conversed only with women, tradesmen, flappers, and court-pages, during two months of my abode there; by which, at last, I rendered myself extremely contemptible; yet these were the only people from whom I could ever receive a reasonable answer.

I had obtained, by hard study, a good degree of knowledge in their language: I was weary of being confined to an island where I received so little countenance, and resolved to leave it with the first opportunity.

There was a great lord at court, nearly related to the king, and for that reason alone used with respect. He was universally reckoned the most ignorant and stupid person among them. He had performed many eminent services for the crown, had great natural and acquired parts, adorned with integrity and honour; but so ill an ear for music, that his detractors reported, “he had been often known to beat time in the wrong place;” neither could his tutors, without extreme difficulty, teach him to demonstrate the most easy proposition in the mathematics. He was pleased to show me many marks of favour, often did me the honour of a visit, desired to be informed in the affairs of Europe, the laws and customs, the manners and learning of the several countries where I had travelled. He listened to me with great attention, and made very wise observations on all I spoke. He had two flappers attending him for state, but never made use of them, except at court and in visits of ceremony, and would always command them to withdraw, when we were alone together.

I entreated this illustrious person, to intercede in my behalf with his majesty, for leave to depart; which he accordingly did, as he was pleased to tell me, with regret: for indeed he had made me several offers very advantageous, which, however, I refused, with expressions of the highest acknowledgment.

On the 16th of February I took leave of his majesty and the court. The king made me a present to the value of about two hundred pounds English, and my protector, his kinsman, as much more, together with a letter of recommendation to a friend of his in Lagado, the metropolis. The island being then hovering over a mountain about two miles from it, I was let down from the lowest gallery, in the same manner as I had been taken up.

The continent, as far as it is subject to the monarch of the flying island, passes under the general name of Balnibarbi; and the metropolis, as I said before, is called Lagado. I felt some little satisfaction in finding myself on firm ground. I walked to the city without any concern, being clad like one of the natives, and sufficiently instructed to converse with them. I soon found out the person’s house to whom I was recommended, presented my letter from his friend the grandee in the island, and was received with much kindness. This great lord, whose name was Munodi, ordered me an apartment in his own house, where I continued during my stay, and was entertained in a most hospitable manner.

The next morning after my arrival, he took me in his chariot to see the town, which is about half the bigness of London; but the houses very strangely built, and most of them out of repair. The people in the streets walked fast, looked wild, their eyes fixed, and were generally in rags. We passed through one of the town gates, and went about three miles into the country, where I saw many labourers working with several sorts of tools in the ground, but was not able to conjecture what they were about: neither did observe any expectation either of corn or grass, although the soil appeared to be excellent. I could not forbear admiring at these odd appearances, both in town and country; and I made bold to desire my conductor, that he would be pleased to explain to me, what could be meant by so many busy heads, hands, and faces, both in the streets and the fields, because I did not discover any good effects they produced; but, on the contrary, I never knew a soil so unhappily cultivated, houses so ill contrived and so ruinous, or a people whose countenances and habit expressed so much misery and want.

This lord Munodi was a person of the first rank, and had been some years governor of Lagado; but, by a cabal of ministers, was discharged for insufficiency. However, the king treated him with tenderness, as a well-meaning man, but of a low contemptible understanding.

When I gave that free censure of the country and its inhabitants, he made no further answer than by telling me, “that I had not been long enough among them to form a judgment; and that the different nations of the world had different customs;” with other common topics to the same purpose. But, when we returned to his palace, he asked me “how I liked the building, what absurdities I observed, and what quarrel I had with the dress or looks of his domestics?” This he might safely do; because every thing about him was magnificent, regular, and polite. I answered, “that his excellency’s prudence, quality, and fortune, had exempted him from those defects, which folly and beggary had produced in others.” He said, “if I would go with him to his country-house, about twenty miles distant, where his estate lay, there would be more leisure for this kind of conversation.” I told his excellency “that I was entirely at his disposal;” and accordingly we set out next morning.

During our journey he made me observe the several methods used by farmers in managing their lands, which to me were wholly unaccountable; for, except in some very few places, I could not discover one ear of corn or blade of grass. But, in three hours travelling, the scene was wholly altered; we came into a most beautiful country; farmers’ houses, at small distances, neatly built; the fields enclosed, containing vineyards, corn-grounds, and meadows. Neither do I remember to have seen a more delightful prospect. His excellency observed my countenance to clear up; he told me, with a sigh, “that there his estate began, and would continue the same, till we should come to his house: that his countrymen ridiculed and despised him, for managing his affairs no better, and for setting so ill an example to the kingdom; which, however, was followed by very few, such as were old, and wilful, and weak like himself.”

We came at length to the house, which was indeed a noble structure, built according to the best rules of ancient architecture. The fountains, gardens, walks, avenues, and groves, were all disposed with exact judgment and taste. I gave due praises to every thing I saw, whereof his excellency took not the least notice till after supper; when, there being no third companion, he told me with a very melancholy air “that he doubted he must throw down his houses in town and country, to rebuild them after the present mode; destroy all his plantations, and cast others into such a form as modern usage required, and give the same directions to all his tenants, unless he would submit to incur the censure of pride, singularity, affectation, ignorance, caprice, and perhaps increase his majesty’s displeasure; that the admiration I appeared to be under would cease or diminish, when he had informed me of some particulars which, probably, I never heard of at court, the people there being too much taken up in their own speculations, to have regard to what passed here below.”

The sum of his discourse was to this effect: “That about forty years ago, certain persons went up to Laputa, either upon business or diversion, and, after five months continuance, came back with a very little smattering in mathematics, but full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region: that these persons, upon their return, began to dislike the management of every thing below, and fell into schemes of putting all arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics, upon a new foot. To this end, they procured a royal patent for erecting an academy of projectors in Lagado; and the humour prevailed so strongly among the people, that there is not a town of any consequence in the kingdom without such an academy. In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair: that as for himself, being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did, in every part of life, without innovation: that some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill common-wealth’s men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country.”

His lordship added, “That he would not, by any further particulars, prevent the pleasure I should certainly take in viewing the grand academy, whither he was resolved I should go.” He only desired me to observe a ruined building, upon the side of a mountain about three miles distant, of which he gave me this account: “That he had a very convenient mill within half a mile of his house, turned by a current from a large river, and sufficient for his own family, as well as a great number of his tenants; that about seven years ago, a club of those projectors came to him with proposals to destroy this mill, and build another on the side of that mountain, on the long ridge whereof a long canal must be cut, for a repository of water, to be conveyed up by pipes and engines to supply the mill, because the wind and air upon a height agitated the water, and thereby made it fitter for motion, and because the water, descending down a declivity, would turn the mill with half the current of a river whose course is more upon a level.” He said, “that being then not very well with the court, and pressed by many of his friends, he complied with the proposal; and after employing a hundred men for two years, the work miscarried, the projectors went off, laying the blame entirely upon him, railing at him ever since, and putting others upon the same experiment, with equal assurance of success, as well as equal disappointment.”

In a few days we came back to town; and his excellency, considering the bad character he had in the academy, would not go with me himself, but recommended me to a friend of his, to bear me company thither. My lord was pleased to represent me as a great admirer of projects, and a person of much curiosity and easy belief; which, indeed, was not without truth; for I had myself been a sort of projector in my younger days.

Conscientiousness consistently played the most important role

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

Of the Big Five traits, conscientiousness consistently played the most important role in academic and professional success, Charles Murray explains (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class), with openness in second place:

Poropat reported effect sizes for them of +1.14 and +0.96 respectively, far larger than those for agreeableness (+0.19), emotional stability (+0.36), or extraversion (+0.23). In addition to its value for academic performance, conscientiousness has also been found to predict job performance, salary, promotion, and occupational prestige. These findings make sense.

IQ score is a better predictor of job performance than a résumé, evaluation through a job interview, assessment centers, or work samples

Friday, March 6th, 2020

One of the most common assertions about IQ, Charles Murray reminds us (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class), is that it doesn’t predict performance in the real world of work:

The truth is the opposite. It’s not just that IQ predicts job performance for people with cognitively demanding jobs; IQ predicts job performance to some degree for people across the entire range of jobs. People who are responsible for new hires at a workplace should know that an IQ score is a better predictor of job performance than a résumé, evaluation through a job interview, assessment centers, or work samples.

The heritability of those talents will rise

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

The third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class describes heritability:

Another common misunderstanding is to think that the heritability of a trait refers to individuals. Mathematically, heritability refers to a whole population. Suppose that genes explain 70 percent of a population’s variance in height. You can use this information to conclude that “genes probably have a lot to do with how tall Joe is,” but it does not mean that “genes explain 70 percent of how tall Joe is.”

Heritability is not a fixed number for a given trait. It can vary by age, for example. We will encounter an example of this when we get to the heritability of IQ: Counterintuitively, it increases as people get older.

Heritability also varies by population. For example, suppose you want to know the heritability of performance on the SAT and you compare two sets of students. One sample is from an ordinary New York City public high school and the other is from Stuyvesant, a famous high school for the intellectually gifted. For practical purposes, Stuyvesant scores will be concentrated in a narrow range — probably 1500 to 1600. The scores for the sample from an ordinary high school will vary from 400 to 1600. The denominator for the heritability ratio calculated from students at Stuyvesant will be smaller than the denominator from the sample from the ordinary high school. Other things equal, the heritability of SAT scores in the Stuyvesant sample will be higher than the heritability for the sample from the ordinary high school.

Heritability can also vary over populations, or over the same population over time, for an important reason that is too seldom recognized: As society does a better job of enabling all of its citizens to realize their talents, the heritability of those talents will rise.

For instance:

For the first half of the twentieth century, Norway was a country in which the amount of schooling you got depended strongly on where you lived (many remote places did not have secondary schools) and your family’s social class. In 1960, the average years of education for Norwegian adults was 5.9. After World War II, access to elementary and secondary school became nearly universal. By 2000, the average Norwegian adult had 11.9 years of education. Norwegian allele frequencies for the SNPs that are associated with years of education cannot have changed appreciably from 1960 to 2000. The absolute genetic contribution was effectively constant. But the heritability of educational attainment for Norwegian male twins born before 1940 was 40 percent. For their counterparts born after 1940, it was approximately 70 percent.

Adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

In the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class Charles Murray proposes that racism and sexism are no longer decisively important in who rises to the top, in part because differences in educational attainment and income nearly disappear for people at similar IQ levels:

Even without adjusting for anything, there’s no female disadvantage to worry about when it comes to educational attainment. Women now have higher mean years of education and a higher percentage of college degrees than men and have enjoyed that advantage for many years. These advantages persist over all IQ levels.

[...]

In terms of the raw numbers, Asians have higher educational attainment than any other ethnic group. Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower educational attainment than whites, but these discrepancies are more than eliminated after adjusting for IQ.

[...]

Asians retain their advantage over whites after adjusting for IQ.

[...]

A substantial female disadvantage in earned income exists, but it is almost entirely explained by marriage or children in the household. Using Current Population Survey data for 2018, earnings for women who were not married, had no children living at home, and worked full-time were 93 percent of the earnings of comparable men.

[...]

Married women with children in the house have considerably lower earned income even after adjusting for IQ, but the main source of the income discrepancy is not that married women in the labor force earn less than unmarried women, but that married men earn more than unmarried men.

[...]

Using raw 2018 data from the CPS, Asians have higher mean earned income than whites, while Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower mean earned income than whites.

[...]

In the earlier survey, adjusting for IQ wipes out the ethnic income differential among whites, blacks, and Latinos (Asians were not included in this survey). In the latter survey, whites and Latinos have effectively the same earned income while the fitted mean for blacks is 84 percent of the fitted mean for whites.

[...]

The fitted mean for Asians is 57 percent higher than the fitted mean for whites.

Inherited wealth is a tangential contributor

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Charles Murray introduces the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class) by mentioning another book about class that he (co-)wrote:

The book’s main title was The Bell Curve. In many ways, it documents the ways in which a segment of American society is a indeed morphing into a castelike upper class. But inherited wealth is a tangential contributor. The bare bones of its argument are that the last half of the twentieth century saw two developments of epochal importance: First, technology, the economy, and the legal system became ever more complex, making the value of the intellectual ability to deal with that complexity soar. Second, the latter half of the twentieth century saw America’s system of higher education become accessible to everyone with enough cognitive talent. The most prestigious schools, formerly training grounds for children of the socioeconomic elite, began to be populated by the students in the top few percentiles of IQ no matter what their family background might be—an emerging cognitive elite. By 2012, what had been predictions about the emerging cognitive elite as we were writing in the early 1990s had become established social facts that I described in another book, Coming Apart.

Vocational doors really did open

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

A look back at what has happened to educational and job choices over the last 50 years suggests that vocational doors really did open for women during the 1970s, Charles Murray says (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1971, 38 percent of women’s bachelor’s degrees were in education. That proportion had fallen by half by the early 1980s. Meanwhile, degrees in business grew from 3 percent in 1971 to 20 percent by 1982.

[...]

Consider first the most Things-oriented STEM careers — physics, chemistry, earth sciences, computer science, mathematics, and engineering. The percentage of women’s degrees obtained in those majors more than doubled from 1971 to 1986 — but “more than doubled” meant going from 4 percent to 10 percent.

And 1986 was the high point. By 1992, that number had dropped to 6 percent, where it has remained, give or take a percentage point, ever since.

[...]

Women’s degrees in People-oriented STEM — biology and health majors — doubled in just the eight years from 1971 (9 percent) to 1979 (18 percent), remained at roughly that level through the turn of the century, then surged again, standing at 27 percent of degrees in 2017.

[...]

It looks as if women were indeed artificially constrained from moving into a variety of Things occupations as of 1970, that those constraints were largely removed, and that equilibrium was reached around 30 years ago.

[...]

The effect of the feminist revolution on the vocations of college-educated women was real but quickly reached a new equilibrium. For women with no more than a high school education, it is as if the feminist revolution never happened.

[...]

The subtext of this chapter has been that it’s not plausible to explain the entire difference in educational and vocational interests as artifacts of gender roles and socialization. If that were the case, the world shouldn’t look the way it does. In contrast, a mixed model — it’s partly culture, partly innate preferences — works just fine. In this narrative, females really were artificially deterred from STEM educations and occupations through the 1950s and into the 1960s. One of the effects of the feminist revolution was that new opportunities opened up for women and women took advantage of them.

The revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Charles Murray explores the revolution in women’s education and work since the 1960s (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class):

In 1960, a few years before second-wave feminism took off in the United States, only 41 percent of women ages 25–54 were in the labor force. In 2018, that figure stood at 75 percent.

From 1960 to 2018, women went from 1 percent of civil engineers to 17 percent; from 5 percent of attorneys to 35 percent; from 8 percent of physicians to 42 percent.

Not a single woman was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 1960, nor would there be any until 1972.34 In 2018, 25 women were Fortune 500 CEOs, among them the chief executives of General Motors, IBM, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, and General Dynamics.

In 1960, there was one woman in the U.S. Senate. After the 2018 election, there were 25. In the 1960 House of Representatives, there were 19 women. After the 2018 election, there were 102.

[...]

By 2016, 1,082,669 women got bachelor’s degrees compared to 812,669 men—a 33 percent difference.

[...]

In 1960, 20 men got a professional degree for every woman who did. By 1970, the ratio was less than 10 to 1. By 1980, it was less than 3 to 1. In 2005, women caught up with men. Since then, more women have gotten more professional degrees than men in every year. As of 2016, 93,778 women got a professional degree compared to 84,089 men.

It’s time for learning

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Children are born curious:

The number of questions a toddler can ask can seem infinite — it is one of the critical methods humans adopt to learn. In 2007, researchers logging questions asked by children aged 14 months to five years found they asked an average of 107 questions an hour. One child was asking three questions a minute at his peak.

But research from Susan Engel, author of The Hungry Mind and a leading international authority on curiosity in children, finds questioning drops like a stone once children start school. When her team logged classroom questions, she found the youngest children in an American suburban elementary school asked between two and five questions in a two-hour period. Even worse, as they got older the children gave up asking altogether. There were two-hour stretches in fifth grade (year 6) where 10 and 11-year-olds failed to ask their teacher a single question.

In one lesson she observed, a ninth grader raised her hand to ask if there were any places in the world where no one made art. The teacher stopped her mid-sentence with, “Zoe, no questions now, please; it’s time for learning.”

The latest research suggests we should be encouraging questions, because curious children do better:

Researchers from the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Center for Human Growth and Development investigated curiosity in 6,200 children, part of the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

I’m not sure the causality runs that way.

Even gifted women who are attracted to STEM gravitate toward the life sciences

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Men and women have slightly different “cognitive toolboxes,” Charles Murray notes (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class), but they also have different interests, with women more interested in people and men more interested in things. For instance, men aligned with the following:

  • “The prospect of receiving criticism from others does not inhibit me from expressing my thoughts.”
  • A merit-based pay system
  • Having a full-time career
  • Inventing or creating something that will have an impact
  • A salary that is well above the average person’s
  • believe that society should invest in my ideas because they are more important than those of other people in my discipline.”
  • Being able to take risks on my job (–0.41)
  • Working with things (e.g., computers, tools, machines) as part of my job
  • “The possibility of discomforting others does not deter me from stating the facts.”
  • Having lots of money

And women aligned with the following:

  • Having a part-time career for a limited time period
  • Having a part-time career entirely
  • Working no more than 40 hours in a week
  • Having strong friendships
  • Flexibility in my work schedule
  • Community service
  • Having time to socialize
  • Giving back to the community

The men and women surveyed weren’t typical though:

The results I just presented came from members of SMPY’s Cohort 2, born in 1964–67, who at age 13 had tested in the top 0.5 percent of overall intellectual ability: the top 1 in 200.

[...]

The SMPY women were about twice as likely to take STEM majors as the general population of female undergraduates, but this was true of the men also, and so the male-female ratio in STEM degrees among the SMPY sample (1.6) was fractionally higher than the ratio in the general undergraduate population (1.5).

[...]

Even gifted women who are attracted to STEM gravitate toward the life sciences (People-oriented), not math and the physical sciences (Things-oriented). It was not a subtle tendency. Proportionally, males outnumbered females by almost two to one on the Things-oriented sciences, and females outnumbered males by almost two to one on the People-oriented sciences.

97 males and 7 females got perfect scores

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Average men and women have similar verbal and math abilities Charles Murray notes (in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, leaning on Diane Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities), but not as similar at the extremes:

On tests with nationally representative samples, females can be expected to consistently outperform males on a variety of verbal tasks, with a small advantage in reading and a more substantial advantage in writing.

[...]

To the question, “Is the typical male better at math than the typical female?” the answer is close to settled: “If yes, not enough to be noticeable,” with an open possibility that a small gap will close altogether.

[...]

“Sex differences in mathematics become progressively larger as the sample becomes more selective and the type of math skill becomes more advanced,” writes Halpern, and herein lies a major issue in the study of cognitive sex differences.

[...]

The last 60 years have seen major reductions in the male advantage at the extreme high end for 7th graders. For those in the top two percentiles, a ratio of about 2.0 in 1960 appears to have disappeared. For those in the top percentile, a male ratio of about 7.0 has fallen to around 1.5. At the most stratospheric level, the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, a male advantage that was measured at about 13 to 1 in the 1970s and the early 1980s has fallen to less than 3 to 1.

[...]

In short, what was once thought to be an overwhelming male advantage at high levels of math achievement has been greatly reduced during the last six decades.

[...]

The male-female ratios in the top percentiles of the AMC12 are substantial and they grow larger at the 98th and especially the 99th percentile. In the table, I counted perfect scores of 150 as being in the 99th percentile. When they are broken out separately, it turns out that from 2009 to 2018, 97 males and 7 females got perfect scores: a ratio of 13.9.

Can you draw a bicycle?

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

We overestimate our ability to explain how things work. Cognitive psychologist Rebecca Lawson at the University of Liverpool measured how well people understand how everyday objects work using the bicycle:

I have given the test to over 200 students and parents coming to Open Days at the University. Over 96% had learnt to cycle as children with a further 1.5% learning as adults and less than 3% never having learned. Also 52% of this group owned a bicycle. Sadly, the figures on actual cycling were low, with just 1% cycling most days, 4% cycling around once a week and 9% cycling about once a month. The vast majority either never cycle (52%) or rarely do so (33%). Nevertheless, even for these non-cyclists, bicycles are a common sight. Secondly, if Rozenblit and Keil are correct, people should greatly over-estimate their understanding of how bicycles work because bicycle parts are visible and they seem to be simple, mechanical devices.

Draw a Bicycle Figure 1

I first asked people to draw a bicycle and I then asked them to select which of four alternatives were correct for the frame, the pedals and the chain, see Figure 1. I used the multiple choice test to check that errors that people made were not just due to problems with drawing or in my judgement of the accuracy of their drawings, see Figure 2.

Draw a Bicycle Figure 2

I looked at three types of errors which would severely impair the functioning of a bicycle (see Figure 3 for examples of all three):

1. drawing the frame joining the front and back wheels (making steering impossible)

2. not placing the pedals between the wheels and inside the chain (the pedals were sometimes drawn attached to the front wheel, the back wheel or dangling off the cross-bar)

3. not putting the chain around the pedals and the back wheel (these errors were almost all because people drew the chain looping around both the front and the back wheel of the bicycle)

Draw a Bicycle Figure 3

It seems that many people have virtually no understanding of how bicycles work. This is despite bicycles being highly familiar and most people having learnt how to ride one. Most people know that turning the pedals drives one or both of the bicycle wheels forward, but they probably understand little more than this.

[...]

One last thing: unexpected sex effects. One finding that I was not looking for jumped out from the data. There were huge sex differences with females making many more errors than males.

[...]

Thus, at least for frame and chain errors, females make around twice as many errors as males. It could be argued that this is still a matter of experience. It is likely that boys cycle more than girls so many males who currently rarely cycle may have, over their lifetime, seen and used more bicycles than females. However the sex difference is even more extreme for those who claim to cycle around once a month, once a week or most days.

[...]

Not only do male non-cyclists make fewer errors than female non-cyclists, they also make fewer errors than female cyclists; whilst male cyclists make almost no errors.

Patrick Mahomes became the NFL’s best quarterback by refusing to specialize in football

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

Patrick Mahomes became the NFL’s best quarterback by refusing to specialize in football:

At Whitehouse High outside Tyler, Tex., Patrick Mahomes did not think of himself as a quarterback first, if at all. He told inquiring coaches his favorite sport was whatever was in season. He started at point guard as a freshman and quietly harbored a dream to play for Duke. He pitched and played shortstop for the baseball team and turned down a signing bonus after the Detroit Tigers drafted him. He played defensive back as a freshman and didn’t earn the starting quarterback position until early in his sophomore year.

[...]

He used his developmental years to cultivate a broad spectrum of tangible and intangible athletic capabilities. He gained a profound, intrinsic sense of how to wield his body in competition. He learned how to be the best quarterback by not playing quarterback.

[...]

Had Mahomes chosen to specialize, it is likely he never would have become a quarterback — his father, Pat Mahomes Sr., was a major league relief pitcher, and Mahomes’s best early success came as a pitcher.

The selection process isn’t the only benefit of waiting. Epstein said that several studies have shown athletes who play multiple sports require less time to become elite in the game they ultimately choose.

“[This] seems particularly to be true for athletes who play multiple ‘attacking’ sports,” Epstein wrote in an email. “That is, anything that requires you to build anticipatory skills — the perceptual expertise that allows you to react faster than your reflexes would allow because you’re essentially seeing things unfold before they actually happen.”

In Mahomes’s most luminous moments, a direct line can be drawn to the sports he played as a teenager in the winter and spring. He completes passes from various arm angles with precision, a skill Mahomes said he honed manning shortstop. He zings throws under pressure or without looking at his intended target, a feat he once made routine on the hardwood.

“We welcomed teams to press and trap us when he had the ball,” said Ryan Tomlin, Mahomes’s high school basketball coach. “He would throw no-look, diagonal passes across the court to a spot to where he knew a player was going to end up being. Which is exactly what I watch him do today. He’s just seeing things really before they happen, and he knows who’s going to be where, and he knows where the ball is going to be. Just things you can’t teach.”

Mahomes was an unselfish point guard with an unorthodox jump shot who managed to score when needed, a sneaky defender who, Tomlin said, was “fast without being fast.” He would often get out of position on defense, but Tomlin trusted Mahomes to sneak behind a ballhandler and make a steal. Mahomes credited basketball with enhancing his spatial awareness.

“You can tell by his vision he’s played basketball,” Chiefs quarterback coach Mike Kafka said.

When Mahomes reached the NFL, he leaned on footwork and technique picked up on the diamond. His proficiency at off-platform and across-body throws, he said, traces back to baseball. The bubble screen is a staple of Kansas City’s offense, and the play requires a quarterback to make a rapid-fire throw laterally, without even gripping the football’s laces, in a move similar to turning a double play in baseball.

[...]

Mahomes’s unusual style scared off college recruiters and, later, teams in the draft. What some NFL scouts and executives saw was a raw quarterback with unorthodox mechanics and shoddy footwork. What those evaluators missed was a genius athlete who understood his biomechanics on a deep level after developing, to his benefit, outside the Quarterback Industrial Complex.

[...]

Mahomes sat his rookie season behind Alex Smith, but he validated Veach’s evaluation immediately. During training camp, Mahomes led Kansas City’s third-string offense against its third-string defense. His performance quickly became legend.

“It was like a phenomenon with Pat, where we run back to dorms and we would put the threes vs. threes on just because we wanted to see the throws he was making,” Veach said. “That doesn’t happen. You have training camp dog days. The veterans, they’re in the tent and they’re watering down. The vets would stand there … to watch the kid go against the threes. You knew you had something.”

David Epstein makes a similar point in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

It felt like the political classes in high school in China

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

While researching the future of America’s contest with China, Evan Osnos visited Joan Xu, an American screenwriter with an office at a WeWork downtown:

She wore a slate-blue silk shirt and jeans, and handed me coffee in a mug with a WeWork slogan: “Do what you love.” Xu’s parents emigrated from China to the U.S. to attend graduate school in economics. She was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Maryland. “I grew up in white suburbs with other lawyers’ and professors’ kids,” she said. In 2003, when she was fourteen, the family moved to Beijing. Her mother became a professor at Peking University, and Xu entered a prestigious middle school, where she had to catch up by learning to read and write Chinese. “Before that, I was very much single-culture,” she said. “Now we were memorizing poems written two thousand years ago. That was just mind-blowing to me, coming from an American education, where two hundred years is old.”

After high school, she returned to the U.S. to attend Harvard, where she sang in an a-cappella group and reëmbraced American life. In her application, she described wanting to be “a U.S.-China bridge” who might bring the countries closer together. “Everybody was, like, ‘Oh, this is great,’ ” she said. She loved Harvard, where she majored in political science, but a tone in her classes surprised her. “My sophomore tutorial was themed ‘Democracy.’ It was basically a whole year of every famous professor coming in and giving a lecture about why democracy is the only legitimate form of governance.” She told me, “It felt like the political classes in high school in China, where everyone knows it’s propaganda. It didn’t encompass the world I’d known.”

Xu moved back to Beijing in 2012, and eventually started working on co-productions between Chinese and American filmmakers. “It was, like, ‘Oh, this is the future! The two greatest countries producing culture together.’ ” Her optimism has since waned. “It has become pretty clear in the last few years that the Hollywood-China co-production is not a thing. It still happens financially; it just didn’t happen creatively.” A breaking point came in 2016, with the release of a historical fantasy called “The Great Wall,” directed by Zhang Yimou; it starred Matt Damon as a warrior with Chinese comrades, all fending off monsters. In the hype preceding its release, the producer hailed it as “a new kind of film.” Afterward, USA Today judged it “a complete train wreck.” Xu told me, “No one has attempted to do a large-scale creative collaboration like that again.” She went on, “It was already, conceptually, about as middle ground as a blockbuster had gotten. So, it was just, like, ‘O.K., there is no middle ground. Culturally it’s just too different.’ ” Chinese audiences will watch Chinese movies, or American blockbusters, but the combination doesn’t work.

Xu still wants to be bicultural, but she finds it increasingly difficult to combine both sets of values. “All of my friends who are similar to me in Beijing, in every one of our industries, ‘U.S.-China’ is not a thing anymore,” she said. “We’re basically seen as just China people now.”

Xu told me she is “pro-China,” and I asked what she meant. “Most people who are within the sphere of the West kind of reflexively look at China and see, ‘Oh, wow, totalitarian dictatorship, oppression, no human rights, suffering.’ Just evil, right? To be ‘pro-China’ is simply to realize that’s not right; there is much more going on. It’s not perfect, but it’s just simply an alternative system.” She went on, “I would say that the ideals of human rights are not bad to aim for, but it’s not a universal, God-given thing. It was something that was consensus-driven at a certain point in Western history. If you look at Chinese social progression, things are genuinely getting better for most people, despite the problems. It’s more of a battle of narratives about values.”