Naturalizing the Social, and Vice Versa

by Kieran Healy on January 21, 2010

Via Cosma Shalizi, reports of a very interesting piece of work: Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour, C. Eisenegger, M. Naef, R. Snozzi, M. Heinrichs & E. Fehr, Nature 463, 356-359 (21 January 2010). The abstract:

Both biosociological and psychological models, as well as animal research, suggest that testosterone has a key role in social interactions1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Evidence from animal studies in rodents shows that testosterone causes aggressive behaviour towards conspecifics7. Folk wisdom generalizes and adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic, or even aggressive human behaviours. However, many researchers have questioned this folk hypothesis1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, arguing that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behaviours in challenging social interactions, but causal evidence that discriminates between these views is sparse. Here we show that the sublingual administration of a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions. However, subjects who believed that they received testosterone—regardless of whether they actually received it or not—behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with placebo. Thus, the folk hypothesis seems to generate a strong negative association between subjects’ beliefs and the fairness of their offers, even though testosterone administration actually causes a substantial increase in the frequency of fair bargaining offers in our experiment.

Dirty Bertie

by Henry Farrell on January 21, 2010

If I’d had time last week to write about Irish politics, I’d have blogged about Bertie Ahern’s success in getting the taxation authorities not to make him pay any taxes on his forthcoming autobiography. Creative works enjoy an exemption under Irish tax law. Both “Alex Massie”: (who reveals that the former Taoiseach’s full name is Patrick Bartholomew Ahern – news to me) and “Fintan O’Toole”: are quite upset about all of this. I’d have expected O’Toole to be more forgiving; after all, in his recent book (forthcoming soonish “in the US”: unless you have a Kindle, in which case it’s available already) on feckless politicians, property developers and the travails of the Irish economy, O’Toole describes Bertie as:

“a character in a long-running soap opera. Such characters are meant to be people like us, except that an absurd number of dramatic things happen to them. Their marriages break down, they have complicated, drawn-out love affairs, their children marry pop-stars and have twins, or become famous novelists overnight.

Surely, the autobiography of a fictional character is fictional itself by definition, and hence as creative as creative can be?

More to the point: O’Toole’s book, _Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger_ is highly recommended. It is written in haste and _saeva indignatio_ and hence not as polished as his work usually is, but is very strong in both analysis and indictment. Since Daniel has already “promised a review”: (and what could possibly go wrong with such a promise?), I won’t write one here, instead making two short points. [click to continue…]

Sally Mann, uncertainty and the collodion process

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2010

A bit of mindless surfing had me looking at the execrable Instapundit for the first time in ages … but there was actually something interesting there: a link to Sally Mann, talking about memory, uncertainty and the collodion process. Those 19th-century photographers who managed to produce near-flawless images using the process were really something.