Tag Archives: Self Interest

Selfishness. . . Is Good For You

by Richard

Gordon Gecko said it first. Well, possibly he said it first in an Oliver Stone movie, but I think you get the point.

Greed, he said, for lack of a better word, is good.

It turns out, old Gordon wasn’t just some sort of bottom-dwelling scumsucker. He was right. Sort of.

People are inherently selfish. Research shows we’re happier and our lives improve when we focus on ourselves.

Makes sense, right?

So why does research also show that we often put others first and fail to choose what will make us happy?

The problem comes, researcher Jonathan Berman says, when we have to decide between spending the $20 we found on the ground on new shoes and donating it to charity.

If you’re walking by a shopping center when you pick up the money, you’re more likely to freely spend it on yourself. But if you’re walking by a homeless shelter, “suddenly spending $20 on yourself feels so different,” Berman says.

Ah, guilt.

Berman and his colleague Deborah Small at the University of Pennsylvania hypothesized that forcing a person to be selfish would be liberating – allowing them to enjoy their self-interest pursuit without feeling selfish.

Berman and Small conducted three separate studies with anywhere from 130 to 250 participants to test their theory. Their results were published . . . in the journalPsychological Science.

Turns out that if you find some way to be greedy, or selfish, and keep that money without guilt, you’re a much happier dude or dudette. If you’re forced to spend money on yourself, without the option of spending it on charity or giving to others, it makes you feel good.

Not sure why that should be shocking, but it is a little odd to think about. Are the people who can go ahead and spend lavishly on themselves without worrying about others, simply more evolved, more able to tap into what makes them happy? Or are they just a bunch of greedy bastards and this is a fine justification?

Science may never know.

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Freaky Friday: Teenage Brains

by Richard

We’re going to close out science week with a look at teenage brains, thanks to the fine folks over at National Geographic magazine. No, sorry, dude, I have no idea why National Geographic is talking about brains instead of mountains and suchlike.

Or naked tribeswomen. What? That was a big part of the allure of the magazine lo these many years ago.

One guess I’ve got on why the dudes at the magazine are focusing on brains is that the fellows at the National Geographic tv channel are running a big special on brains starting this Sunday (Oct. 9 for the date impaired). Nah. Cross promotion probably has nothing to do with it.

Anyway, back to the article. While it’s beautiful to look at, coming as it does from photographic champ National Geographic, the ground it covers isn’t all that new. Basically, the magazine is looking at stuff we’ve talked about on this site before.

Teenage brains aren’t done, they’re more like works in progress. Thanks to advances in medical imaging techniques, we’re able to look inside those scarily moody teenage brains and watch the thinking bits at work. We can then compare them to adult brains and see how the teenage brain is in the process of winnowing out connections that don’t work, or don’t work well enough, and establishing connections between neurons that more simply help it do the work it needs to do.

This is an ongoing process, one that doesn’t finally complete until well into the teen dude and dudette’s early 20’s. Not only that, the article says, but teens also are more prone to taking risks that adult dudes would shy away from. Basically that’s all up to dopamine, one of the brain’s key neurotransmitters that has to do with pleasure and risk-seeking behavior.

When (brain) development proceeds normally, we get better at balancing impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, ethics, and even altruism, generating behavior that is more complex and, sometimes at least, more sensible. But at times, and especially at first, the brain does this work clumsily. It’s hard to get all those new cogs to mesh.

Which is why teenagers often do things that, to them, seem perfectly sensible, but to outside observers (read, parents) seems like screamingly, hair-raisingly dangerous and stupid.

Even as brain function develops, it doesn’t do so on a smooth path. There’s tons of stops and starts, screeches into reverse, and all sorts of jaggedy movement. Just so you understand why your teenage dude was a pleasure to be with at breakfast, but by lunch it was all you could do not to strap him to his chair with duct tape and call the exorcist.

Teenage brains: Cthulhu ain’t got nothing on them.

Go. Read. May it bring you comfort that you’re not alone and that there really is a reason for it.

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Earth Day 2011

by Richard

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day, a day we set aside to honor the earth. Well, not so much honor as we try to do something to make the physical world a better place.

That might be something as simple as picking up trash alongside the road or making sure that Coke bottle goes into the recycling bin rather than the trash, to something as profound as planting a couple of trees native to your area or volunteering to clean up a natural area near your home.

Earth Day isn’t some hippy-dippy, patchouli-stinking love fest here, my conservative dude friends. It’s a good idea. Seriously. We only have one earth on which to live. (For now! Fingers crossed) Doesn’t it seem like a good idea to try and keep it around and habitable for a while?

Earth Day is becoming one of the most important hallmarks in the world of conservation and recycling. It carries with it powerful connotations of ecological responsibility and taking ownership of our planet; after all, it is the only Earth that we have, and taking steps to lessen the impact that you and your fellow man have on it is nothing short of revolutionary.

Earth Day gives those people who have not taken part in recycling the opportunity to make changes to their lives and their community that they will cherish for a lifetime.

Personally, I think it’s in our own self-interest to start working on these things. I mean, it’s a fact that the planet’s oil reserves will eventually become exhausted. We need to be working on alternatives. It’s not hippy, my friends, it’s smart.

All-electric cars are just a start. We need to be able to consistently — on a massive scale — generate power from renewable and sustainable sources. That means wind, solar, geothermal. All those goodies that people have tried to politicize.

When the oil runs out, and it will, we need something to replace it. And if we’re not already far down that road when the oil stops flowing, we’re in massive trouble. I know we, as a people, have a hard time actually looking to and planning for the future. Especially politicians, who can’t look beyond their own narrow self interest and the next election cycle. But this is important.

This is the good future you want for your kids. And their kids. And all the rest of the young dudes not here yet. And it’s for us. We want our lives to be comfortable and, without a relatively inexpensive and renewable source of energy to power our gadgets and geegaws, we’re in for some hurting down the road.

Take the time today to put aside politics and try and think of the good of the species. I really want to be able to use that iPad 39 when I’m 90 years old. Is that so wrong?

But we need to start now. Here. Today. Join me?

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