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In America, It’s Do What You Want

Question: Are American saving habits different from those in other countries?

Dan Ariely: So, the question is, are Americans different than other people? And I think in some sense we are and in some sense we aren't. I don't think we are different people: we are wired the same way, we're very similar. In fact, most of the research we do, we show that people are the same everywhere. There are really small differences.

Where we are different is in the social norms. So, if you grew up in another country and your parents tell you, "Little Johnny," or a different name, depending on the country, "When you get a paycheck, you save 30% of it. You save 25% of it." Parents tell you what to do. There's almost a rule of what to do. That's not clear of the right approach. It's not clear of the right number to save. But parents tell you what you are supposed to be doing.

In the U.S., I think there is an ideology of not telling kids what to do. Nobody to tell you who to marry, not tell you what job to pick. You're your own person. You have the freedom to choose, including the freedom to fail in magnificent ways. And I think that's the big difference. In other countries there is basically a social norm about saving that is passed from generation to generation. In the U.S. there isn't.

Now, one other interesting thing that is happening is what's happening now in terms of savings and saving rates are increasing up, now quite dramatically. And part of it is because people have lost trust. I mean, who would you trust right now? Which bank would you trust? Which investment would you trust? Do you really want to put your money; do you want to suffer more of these losses that we just had? You know, these volatility that we see is just unexplainable by any rational standards. Nobody has any clue about how to explain this, and nobody wants to experience that. So, we hold more money back, we don't necessarily want to invest in the market and by default, people are saving more.

Now, the interesting question is whether we will develop habits of savings. And I am actually quite optimistic about this because if you think of people as making decisions actively, every time we think about the cup of coffee, we say, "How much will I enjoy the cup of coffee, what else could I not do in the future because I buy this cup of coffee? These are incredibly hard decisions. So, people don't do them and instead they rely on habits. These habits fuel our decisions even when the underlying causes are irrelevant.

So the one question about now is whether people would start saving, whether we would get in the habit because of this, mostly because of the fear of putting money in the stock market, and actually they will keep on doing it even when it's not necessarily the greatest strategy in the world, but will develop a habit for doing so. And this will happen for the depression era and I think it will happen now again.

Recorded on November 16, 2009

The US ideology of independence greatly hinders fiscal responsibility.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

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Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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