Communication, Threats, and Laughter
Homo Politicus and Argument (Nearly) All the Way Down: Persuasion in
Perspectives on Politics, March 2009, Pages 103-124
Much theorizing about world politics and many policy recommendations are predicated on a rather thin view of homo politicus, often assuming that humans are rational and self-interested strategic actors and that force is the ultima ratio of politics. This thin notion should be replaced by a richer understanding of homo politicus that includes the characteristic activities of political actors: we fight, we feel, we talk, and we build institutions. This understanding helps illuminate the scope and limits of strategic action, argument and persuasion in world politics in both empirical and normative senses. I describe the spectrum of political action that situates the role of argument and persuasion within the extremes of brute force on one side and mutual communication on the other. I also discuss barriers to argument and communication. Noting the role of argument in this spectrum of international and domestic political practice suggests that it is argument (nearly) all the way down and that the scope of argument can be and in some cases has increased over the longue durée. Coercion, by itself, has a limited role in world politics. The claim that there are distinctive logics of argumentation, strategic action, or appropriateness misses the point. Argument is the glue of politics — its characteristic practice. Understanding politics as argumentation has radical empirical and
normative implications for the study and practice of politics.
The laughter of the 1962 Tanganyika ‘laughter epidemic’
Humor – International Journal of Humor Research, February 2007, Pages 49–71
The present article discusses the role of laughter in the much cited ‘laughter epidemic’ that occurred in Tanganyika in 1962. Despite its extraordinary nature, the veracity of the event is confirmed, crucially on
the basis of similar reports. But most current representations are flawed by their exaggeration and misinterpretation of the role of laughter in the event, relating it to a humorous stimulus, a virus or environmental contaminant, or identifying it as contagious laughter. It is argued that the event is a motor-variant case of mass psychogenic illness of which laughter is one common symptom. Therefore it cannot serve as support for other arguments in humor research.
Essential conditions for evolution of communication within a species
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 21 October 2008, Pages 768-774
A major obstacle in analyzing the evolution of information exchange and processing is our insufficient understanding of the underlying signaling and decision-making biological mechanisms. For instance, it is unclear why are humans unique in developing such extensive communication abilities. To treat this problem, a method based on the mutual information approach is developed that evaluates the information content of communication between interacting individuals through correlations of their behavior patterns (rather than calculating the information load of exchanged discrete signals, e.g. Shannon entropy). It predicts that correlated interactions of the indirect reciprocity type together with affective behavior and selection rules changing with time are necessary conditions for the emergence of significant information exchange. Population size variations accelerate this development. These results are supported by evidence of demographic bottlenecks, distinguishing human from other species’ (e.g. apes) evolution line. They indicate as well new pathways for evolution of information based phenomena, such as intelligence and complexity.
(ED: These conditions do not appear to have been met in the state of Rhode Island. Communication there is nearly impossible!)
When Sweet Talk Sours: The Evil Eye in Rivalry
Tanya Menon & Oliver Sheldon
University of Chicago Working Paper, January 2008
Friendly gestures (e.g. flattery, positive affect, praise) typically earn good will. However, drawing from anthropological research on the “evil eye”, we suggest that people are wary of friendly gestures, especially when rivals initiate them. In Study 1, neither Botswanans nor Americans credited friendly rivals for their overtures. In Study 2, the more negotiators exhibited kindness to rivalry-primed counterparts, the less those
counterparts trusted them. In Study 3, friendly rivals provoked more superstitious learning (“jinx” attributions, avoidance, and contamination fears) than hostile rivals. We argue that friendly gestures backfire because they violate people’s predictable schemas about how rivalry should proceed. In Study 4, people reliant on schemas (those making fast judgments versus careful judgments) viewed rivals negatively regardless of the gestures they conveyed. Study 5 literally cast the “evil eye” upon participants by placing them in a room with photos of friendly or hostile eyes gazing at them. Schema-reliant people (those with high need for closure) were most likely to scapegoat friendly rivals.
Avoiding the sharp tongue: Anticipated written messages promote fair
Erte Xiao & Daniel Houser
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming
Research in economics and psychology has established that informal non-monetary sanctions, particularly expressions of negative emotion or disapproval, can enforce fair economic exchange. However, scholars are only beginning to understand the reasons non-monetary sanctions affect economic outcomes. Here we provide evidence that a preference to avoid written expression of disapproval, or negative emotion, plays an important role in promoting fair decision making. We study one-shot Dictator games where one subject has the right to determine a division of an amount of money between herself and her receiver. In relation to the standard game, we find significantly fewer earning-maximizing decisions when receivers can react to
offers with ex post written messages. We further find that credible threats of monetary sanctions, while economically inefficient, are significantly more effective than written messages in deterring selfishness. Our data provide new perspectives on the role of communication in promoting economic efficiency in social environments, and support economic theories of decision incorporating psychological factors such as guilt, shame, and self-deception.
On the "1962 Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic": I have no way of knowing. But I bet the cause was the announcement that the Legislature was going to pass a "Stimulus Package." (Actually, the apparent cause was that some kid at a boarding school told a joke. My second bet: it involved flatulence. Everybody loves flatulence. And passing gas and passing a Stimulus Bill are very similar, and have similar effects. So, I stand vindicated!)
(Nod to Kevin L)