The Endowment effect is the tendency for us to overvalue things we own. Here’s how to beat it. Source: The Endowment Effect: Why You Can’t Let Go Of Your Possessions Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Louis Chew of Constant Renewal. Not long ago, I tried clearing some of my possessions. It didn’t […]
Measuring Twitter bots’ effects on the opinions of real people can yield surprising results about what makes them influential.
Adding bots into an online discussion can definitely affect the views of real people. Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock.com
Nearly two-thirds of the social media bots with political activity on Twitter before the 2016 U.S. presidential election supported Donald Trump. But all those Trump bots were far less effective at shifting people’s opinions than the smaller proportion of bots backing Hillary Clinton. As my recent research shows, a small number of highly active bots can significantly change people’s political opinions. The main factor was not how many bots there were – but rather, how many tweets each set of bots issued.
My work focuses on military and national security aspects of social networks, so naturally I was intrigued by concerns that bots might affect the outcome of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. I began investigating what exactly bots did in 2016. There was plenty of rhetoric– but only one basic factual principle: If information warfare effortsusing bots had succeeded, then voters’ opinions would have shifted.
I wanted to measure how much bots were – or weren’t – responsible for changes in humans’ political views. I had to find a way to identify social media bots and evaluate their activity. Then I needed to measure the opinions of social media users. Lastly, I had to find a way to estimate what those people’s opinions would have been if the bots had never existed.
Finding tweeters and bots
To narrow the research a bit, my students and I focused our analysis on the Twitter discussion around one event in the lead-up to the election: the second debate between Clinton and Trump. We collected 2.3 million tweets that contained keywords and hashtags related to the debate.
Then we made a list of the roughly 78,000 Twitter users who posted those tweets and constructed the network of who followed whom among those users. To identify the bots among them, we used an algorithm based on our observation that bots often retweeted humans but were not themselves frequently retweeted.
This method found 396 bots – or less than 1 percent of the active Twitter users. And just 10 percent of the accounts followed them. I felt good about that: It seemed unlikely that such a small number of relatively disconnected bots could have a major effect on people’s opinions.
A closer look at the people
Next we set out to measure the opinions of the people in our data set. We did this with a type of machine learning algorithm called a neural network, which in this case we set up to evaluate the content of each tweet, determining the extent to which it supported Clinton or Trump. Individuals’ opinions were calculated as the average of their tweets’ opinions.
Once we had assigned each human Twitter user in our data a score representing how strong a Clinton or Trump backer they were, the challenge was to measure how much the bots shifted people’s opinions – which meant calculating what their opinions would have been if the bots hadn’t existed.
Fortunately, a model from as far back as the 1970s had established a way to gauge people’s sentiments in a social network based on connections between them. In this network-based model, individuals’ opinions tend to align with the people connected to them. After slightly modifying the model to apply it to Twitter, we used it to calculate people’s opinions based on who followed whom on Twitter – rather than looking at their tweets. We found that the opinions we calculated from the network model matched well with opinions measured from the content of their tweets.
Life without the bots
So far we had shown that the follower network structure in Twitter could accurately predict people’s opinions. This now allowed to us to ask questions such as: What would their opinions have been if the network were different? The different network we were interested in was one that contained no bots. So for our last step, we removed the bots from the network and recalculated the network model, to see what real people’s opinions would have been without bots. Sure enough, bots had shifted human users’ opinions – but in a surprising way.
Given much of the news reporting, we were expecting the bots to help Trump – but they didn’t. In a network without bots, the average human user had a pro-Clinton score of 42 out of 100. With the bots, though, we had found the average human had a pro-Clinton score of 58. That shift was a far larger effect than we had anticipated, given how few and unconnected the bots were. The network structure had amplified the bots’ power.
We wondered what had made the Clinton bots more effective than the Trump bots. Closer inspection showed that the 260 bots supporting Trump posted a combined 113,498 tweets, or 437 tweets per bot. However, the 150 bots supporting Clinton posted 96,298 tweets, or 708 tweets per bot. It appeared that the power of the Clinton bots came not from their numbers, but from how often they tweeted. We found that most of what the bots posted were retweets of the candidates or other influential individuals. So they were not really crafting original tweets, but sharing existing ones.
It’s worth noting that our analysis looked at a relatively small number of users, especially when compared to the voting population. And it was only during a relatively short period of time around a specific event in the campaign. Therefore, they don’t suggest anything about the overall election results. But they do show the potential effect bots can have on people’s opinions.
A small number of very active bots can actually significantly shift public opinion – and despite social media companies’ efforts, there are still large numbers of bots out there, constantly tweeting and retweeting, trying to influence real people who vote.
It’s a reminder to be careful about what you read – and what you believe – on social media. We recommend double-checking that you are following people you know and trust – and keeping an eye on who is tweeting what on your favorite hashtags.
What are our screens and devices doing to us? Psychologist Adam Alter has spent the last five years studying how much time screens steal from us and how they’re getting away with it. He shares why all those hours you spend staring at your smartphone, tablet or computer might be making you miserable — and what you can do about it.
The growing trend of taking smartphone selfies is linked to mental health conditions that focus on a person’s obsession with looks.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help a patient to recognize the reasons for his or her compulsive behavior and then to learn how to moderate it,” he told the Sunday Mirror.
Is it possible that taking selfies causes mental illness, addiction, narcissism and suicide? Many psychologists say yes, and warn parents to pay close attention to what kids are doing online to avoid any future cases like what happened to Bowman.
“I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realized I couldn’t, I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life,” he told The Mirror.
The teenager is believed to be the UK’s first selfie addict and has had therapy to treat his technology addiction as well as OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Part of his treatment at the Maudsley Hospital in London included taking away his iPhone for intervals of 10 minutes, which increased to 30 minutes and then an hour.
Public health officials in the UK announced that addiction to social media such as Facebook and Twitter is an illness and more than 100 patients sought treatment every year.
“Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem,” said Pamela Rutledge in Psychology Today.
The big problem with the rise of digital narcissism is that it puts enormous pressure on people to achieve unfeasible goals, without making them hungrier. Wanting to be Beyoncé, Jay Z or a model is hard enough already, but when you are not prepared to work hard to achieve it, you are better off just lowering your aspirations. Few things are more self-destructive than a combination of high entitlement and a lazy work ethic. Ultimately, online manifestations of narcissism may be little more than a self-presentational strategy to compensate for a very low and fragile self-esteem. Yet when these efforts are reinforced and rewarded by others, they perpetuate the distortion of reality and consolidate narcissistic delusions.
Check the infographic below for all the details, which comes courtesy of The Best Computer Science Schools.
You are what you read.
Kristine Anthis Ph.D.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to be a nicer person who is more sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings, read more novels. Really.
Once you are absorbed in the world of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and other popular novels, you might find yourself a more empathetic person. Researchers who study how reading literature affects us have found that just like anything else, we get better at a subject the more we practice it; the more fiction we read, the more we understand how and what other people think (Djikic & Oatley, 2014).
It may be that in the process of appreciating others’ lives, we incorporate these experiences into our own personality, resulting in a new and reconfigured self. Readers often experience emotions similar to those of fictional characters, which increases our empathy for them. In doing so, “Literature can help us navigate our self-development by transcending our current self while at the same time making available to us a multitude of potential future selves” (Djikic & Oatley, 2014, p. 503). So the more we read, the more we expose ourselves to other ways of being, and other potential identities.
If you are wondering whether or not television or film have the same effect, the answer is unclear, given more research is needed. But television and film provide audiovisual information that novels do not, so literature likely requires more cognitive effort unless the television show or film is complex and challenging (and many contemporary media are).
Novels therefore provide ideal opportunities to practice our emotional intelligence skills such as empathy, as well as the awareness and monitoring of our emotions (Mar, Oatley, Djikic, & Mullin, 2011). And what we read matters, suspense and romance novels seem to foster greater interpersonal sensitivity than do science fiction novels (Fong, Mullin, & Mar, 2013). There are subtle distinctions within genres though. As a fan of Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction, I look forward to more research on the differences among various genres and sub-genres of literature.
Regardless, the next time you are running errands and waiting in line, consider dipping into that novel you started rather than texting mindlessly or zoning out with a game — if you do so regularly, you will likely become a more sensitive and thoughtful person.
Djikic, M. & Oatley, K. (2014). The art in fiction: From indirect communication to changes of the self. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(4), 498-505.
Fong, K., Mullin, J. B., & Mar, R. A. (2013). What you read matters: The role of fiction genre in predicting interpersonal sensitivity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(4), 370-376.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Djikic, M., & Mullin, J. (2011). Emotion and narrative fiction: Interactive influences before, during, and after reading. Cognition and Emotion, 25(5), 818-833.
The art secrets hiding in plain sight: Expert reveals the easy-to-miss details that are key to unlocking the meaning of some of the world’s most famous paintings (so did YOU spot them?)
- Kelly Grovier’s book, A New Way of Seeing, examines the secrets hiding within famous works across time
- Reveals an Easter egg hidden in Hieronymus Bosch’s famous The Garden of Earthly Delights from 1505-10
- Also points out a tiny symbolic rabbit in J. M. W. Turner’s Rain Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway
Cultural critic Kelly Grovier, who was born in California but now lives in Ireland, has explored every element of 57 different works of art to discover their secrets for his seventh book.
A new book has revealed the crucial hidden details you have missed in some of the world’s most well-known paintings.
A New Way of Seeing: The History of Art in 57 Works hopes to change the way people view these incredible pieces forever through recognising their hidden meanings.
From Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the book helps guide viewers to seemingly innocuous details that are actually bursting with meaning.
‘I wrote A New Way of Seeing because I wanted to understand what makes great art great,’ Kelly said.
‘I sensed there were hidden mysteries and strange depths to the paintings and sculptures that we all know by heart but never really look at. I wanted to help readers reconnect with those masterpieces that have the power to enrich our experience of the world.’
Here, Kelly reveals the details you might have missed in some very recognisable paintings…
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
J. M. W. Turner, Rain Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway
Édouard Manet, A Bar at The Folies-Bergère
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights
Edvard Munch, The Scream
We thought we’d seen the all the Christmas adverts this year already, with only a few days left until the big day itself. However, Google has arrived late to the party with what could be the best of them all.
Its Home Alone Again commercial, posted on YouTube, is quite simply brilliant. It brings Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) back for a modern retake on the classic Christmas movie – one of our favourites of all time.
You can watch it below, along with a selection of the best Christmas adverts that have appeared on UK TVs or online during the 2018 festive period.
Google: Home Alone Again
Imagine what Kevin McAllister’s Home Alone experience would have been like with a Google Home digital assistant.
It must also be said that Macaulay Culkin is looking great these days. Would be good to see him more active on TV or film in 2019.
John Lewis: The Boy and the Piano
You might be a bit sick of it by now, and it’s no patch on former years’ efforts, but the 2018 John Lewis Christmas ad is still one of the best around.
We’re not convinced many small kids will be getting pianos this year though.
While you can watch the actual John Lewis advert above, spare a moment for the real John Lewis who is regularly inundated on Twitter by confused customers.
Twitter brilliantly captured this in its own festive advert this year.
Waitrose: Fast Forward
Another great John Lewis spoof comes from one of the retailer’s own brand partners, Waitrose.
It apes a lot of family’s thoughts on the annual unveiling of the JL Christmas ad.
Aldi: Kevin the Carrot and the Wicked Parsnip
Aldi went all out with its Kevin the Carrot Christmas adverts this year, with several reimagined fairy tales featuring an evil parsnip.
This is our fave, not least for the punchline.
Sainsbury’s: The Big Night
Sainsbury’s went with the tried and trusted children’s Christmas play for its 2018 commercial.
Here, you can see a much longer version than the one aired on TV. We still like the bit with the plug.
Iceland: Say Hello to Rang-tan
You won’t have seen this Iceland advert on British TV this Christmas as it was banned for being too political.
However, it is a great commercial with a good message that’s well worth a watch.
Apple: Share your Gifts
To highlight the creative applications possible with Apple devices, it made a wonderfully animated short film about a girl afraid to show others her work.
The much longer version than shown on TV is available above.
McDonald’s: Reindeer Ready
As a follow up to last year’s McDonald’s ad, the 2018 version now features Santa treating his own herd to the fast food chain’s “Reindeer Treats”.
To be honest, they’d probably have preferred Big Macs.
Visa: Keep it Local this Christmas
Finally, another good message, this time from Visa.
With online shopping and Christmas deliveries being easier than ever, don’t forget the humble high street shop keeper who relies on your custom – especially at this time of year.
People’s taste for shiny stuff might be rooted in a very basic instinct. Image: Sports car via stephen rudolph / Shutterstock Source: An Evolutionary Theory For Why You Love Glossy Things BY ERIC JAFFE The evidence that people are drawn to shiny things is all around us: from the pages of lifestyle magazines to the […]
An MIT model predicted when and how human civilization would end. Hint: it’s soon.
In 1973, a computer program was developed at MIT to model global sustainability. Instead, it predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end. While many in history have made apocalyptic predictions that have so far failed to materialize, what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true. Could the machine be right?
Why the program was created
The prediction, which recently re-appeared in Australian media, was made by a program dubbed World One. It was originally created by the computer pioneer Jay Forrester, who was commissioned by the Club of Rome to model how well the world could sustain its growth. The Club of Rome is an organization comprised of thinkers, former world heads of states, scientists, and UN bureaucrats with the mission to “promote understanding of the global challenges facing humanity and to propose solutions through scientific analysis, communication, and advocacy.”
What World One showed was that by 2040 there would be a global collapse if the expansion of the population and industry was to continue at the current levels.
As reported by the Australian broadcaster ABC, the model’s calculations took into account trends in pollution levels, population growth, the amount of natural resources and the overall quality of life on Earth. The model’s predictions for the worsening quality of life and the dwindling natural resources have so far been unnervingly on target.
In fact, 2020 is the first milestone envisioned by World One. That’s when the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically. The broadcaster presentedthis scenario that will lead to the demise of large numbers of people:
At around 2020, the condition of the planet becomes highly critical. If we do nothing about it, the quality of life goes down to zero. Pollution becomes so seriously it will start to kill people, which in turn will cause the population to diminish, lower than it was in the 1900. At this stage, around 2040 to 2050, civilised life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist.
Alexander King, the then-leader of the Club of Rome, evaluated the program’s results to also mean that nation-states will lose their sovereignty, forecasting a New World Order with corporations managing everything.
Sovereignty of nations is no longer absolute,” King told ABC. “There is a gradual diminishing of sovereignty, little bit by little bit. Even in the big nations, this will happen.
How did the program work?
World One, the computer program, looked at the world as one system. The report called it “an electronic guided tour of our behavior since 1900 and where that behavior will lead us.” The program produced graphs that showed what would happen to the planet decades into the future. It plotted statistics and forecasts for such variables as population, quality of life, the supply of natural resources, pollution, and more. Following the trend lines, one could see where the crises might take place.
Can we stave off disaster?
As one measure to prevent catastrophe, the Club of Rome predicted some nations like the U.S. would have to cut back on their appetites for gobbling up the world’s resources. It hoped that in the future world, prestige would stem from “low consumption”—one fact that has so far not materialized. Currently, nine in ten people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.
Here, Parag Khanna gets into the specifics of what the world may be like in the near future, if we don’t change course:
A Canadian study suggests that watching too much television can contribute to poor eating habits in adolescence and suboptimal school performance. While the concept is not new, the study suggests that screen time must be controlled by the early age of two, confirming new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers at Université de Montréal’s School of Psychoeducation, performed a longitudinal study looking at a birth cohort of nearly 2,000 Quebec boys and girls born between spring 1997 and 1998. The children were followed since they were five months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.
When they reached two years of age, their parents reported on their daily television habits. Then, at age 13, the youths themselves reported on their dietary habits and behavior in school.
The research appears in the journal Preventive Medicine.
“Not much is known about how excessive screen exposure in early childhood relates to lifestyle choices in adolescence,” explains Professor Linda Pagani. Pagnai supervised the research of graduate student Isabelle Simonato.
“This birth cohort is ideal, because the children were born before smartphones and tablets, and before any pediatric viewing guidelines were publicized for parents to follow. They were raising their children with TV and seeing it as harmless. This makes our study very naturalistic, with no outside guidelines or interference — a huge advantage.”
Simonato added, “Watching TV is mentally and physically sedentary behavior because it does not require sustained effort. We hypothesized that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won’t think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they’re older.”
In their study, the researchers found that every hourly increase in toddlers’ TV viewing forecasted bad eating habits down the road — an increase of eight percent at age 13 for every hourly increase at age two.
In questionnaires, those early-TV adolescents reported consuming more French fries, prepared meats and cold cuts, white bread, regular and diet soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, salty or sweet snacks, and desserts.
Early TV viewing also translated into less eating of breakfast on school days (by 10 percent) and led to more overall screen time at age 13.
Every additional hour of watching TV also predicted a higher body mass index (a 10 percent increase) and less effortful behavior at school in the first year of secondary school, ultimately affecting performance and ambition.
“This study tells us that overindulgent lifestyle habits begin in early childhood and seem to persist throughout the life course,” Pagani noted. “An effortless existence creates health risks. For our society that means a bigger health care burden associated with obesity and lack of cardiovascular fitness.”
The researchers also measured their results against revised screen time guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reduced the amount of daily viewing from two hours a day to one a day for children between ages two and five.
Compared to children who viewed less than one hour a day at age two, those who viewed between one and four a day later reported (at age 13) having less healthy dietary habits, skipping breakfast on weekdays, having a higher BMI, engaging in more intense screen time, and being less engaged as students.
“Because we had a lot of information on each child and family we were able to eliminate other psychological and socio-demographic factors that could have explained the results, which is a really ideal situation,” said Simonato.
“We even removed any influence of screen time habits at age 13 to really isolate long-term associations with toddler viewing.”
Dr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.