Breaking the loop of black-and-white thinking

Beliefs are a building blocks of society and economy, thanks to their advantage of guiding consistent behaviour and judgments. Yet beliefs need revisions to be a key element of healthy cognition. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”, Keynes reportedly answered to an accusation of being inconsistent. Overly rigid beliefs are the basis of many destructive issues for individuals, nature, and society problems—prejudices, discrimination, conspiracy theories, psychiatric disorders. In principle, provision of counterevidence can destabilize rigid beliefs and lead to their revisions. But numerous experiences suggest that this is not that simple. Rigid beliefs show remarkable inertia and require cognitive resource for rational response, often not available.

The paper “Belief traps: Tackling the inertia of harmful beliefs” provides explanation of this inertia using recent findings from neurobiology, psychiatry, and social sciences. The paper presents a unifying framework of how self-amplifying feedbacks shape the inertia of beliefs on levels ranging from neuronal networks to social systems. The chart summarizes it and shows how resilience of beliefs is boosted by stressful conditions.

Black-and-white thinking is a major risk factor for the formation of resilient beliefs. Lack of cognitive resources contributes to this dichotomous thinking. Stress could also exacerbate it. No surprise that conspiracy thinking and psychiatric disorders tend to peak during crises. On an individual level, false beliefs may lead to unwise decisions. On a societal level, unfounded beliefs could lead to behaviour with enormous costs for society and nature—beliefs in conspiracy theories may hamper the functioning of institutions; beliefs about intrinsic capacities related to groups (gender, race) perpetuate discrimination, entrench inequalities, result in underutilization of human potential; belief that some parts of animals—rhinoceros horn, shark fin—works as a medicine drive species extinct. Resulting inequality, poverty and lack of education could further promote stress and lack of cognitive resources, a driving factors of black-and-white thinking, thus closing the loop.

The paper suggests the most effective way to counteract this vicious cycle may be measures reducing social stress. Addressing social factors such as poverty, social cleavage, and lack of education could prevent the emergence of rigid beliefs. Finland national basic income experiment reported positive effects on the sense of well-being of recipients and feelings of trust in other people and the government. Most recent UNDP Human Security Report puts agency at the core of an expanded human security framework, reminding that wellbeing achievements alone are not enough, and help avoid the pitfalls of partial solutions, such as delivering protection with no attention to disempowerment or committing to solidarity while leaving some lacking protection.

Read it out loud!

Good vocal variety is the best tool in your public speaking toolbox. It helps keep the audience engaged, provide them with your meaning and emphasis, and activate pathos part of the rhetorical triangle. You could learn to use it effectively to enhance your presentation, just need some practice. However, preparing both content of speech and practicing vocal variety could be hard exercise. One possible solution is using existing text to read them out loud, similar to the Toastmasters legacy advanced manual “Interpretive Reading”.

One excellent source of “fake-it-until-you-make-it” texts is famous letters. Project Letters of Note compiled a collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters. It is available in a book form of book and in an online-collection. It was extended by a Letters Live project, a series of live events where remarkable letters are read by a diverse array of outstanding performers. You could find many videos on project’s Youtube channel and use them for practice.

Select your favourite letter and read it out loud to improve your vocal variety! (NB: My favourite is Benedict Cumberbatch reads Sol LeWitt’s “DO!” letter to Eva Hesse)

Words you should never use

Words matters. Certain words can can belitle your ideas, convey uncertainty, and makes you sound unsure and wobbly. Other words exaggerate in such an extent, that they lose potency. Here are seven words to avoid:

🚫 Just belittle people, trivialize things and mask discomfort—”she is just an intern”, “I just want to say…” Just drop it!

🚫 Only as an adverb sounds judgmental and sarcastic—“If only you listened when I talk to you”

🚫 But is a fly in the ointment. “I like your idea BUT…” is conversation killer. Try to replace it with AND

🚫 Should is a way of punishing ourselves and others for not hitting a mark or reaching a goal, which could well be artificial or impossible—“You should do it another way”

🚫 Absolutely is a filler word with imbued with exaggeration. “Would you like pancakes for breakfast?” “Absolutely!” Ehm, “Yes” (or “No”) is enough.

🚫 Always and Never (and their buddies Everybody and Nobody) are divisive and inflammatory. Few things in the world are permanent, and exceptions are ubiquitous.


Patterns and Drivers of Health Spending Efficiency

Health issues are high on public policy agenda. Health-related Sustainable Development Goals are yet to be achieved, COVID-19 pandemic is still on, and ageing population requires additional health services. Demands for health expenditures are at an all-time high all across the globe, while the fiscal space is limited. Not surprising, policymakers focus attention on ensuring that resources are used efficiently. This chart of the week shows losses—in terms of years of life and percent of GDP—due to health spending inefficiencies. It comes from the recent IMF Working Paper “Patterns and Drivers of Health Spending Efficiency”, which considers input- and output-oriented measures of (in)efficiency, depending on country distance from the frontier of expenditures-life expectancy.

The paper explores other patterns in efficiency across income groups, regions, and time, and the fiscal and years-of-life losses due to how health resources are spent. It goes further in exploring the question of drivers of health expenditure inefficiency, focusing on three major drivers: universal health coverage with essential services, income distribution, and corruption.

Universal health coverage is a crucial driver of health efficiency. If each country were to achieve, for each policy variable, the 75th percentile of its income group, low-income developing countries (LIDCs) would on average benefit from an increase of 3.4 years of life, while emerging markets (EMs) would gain 2.2 life years. Measured in expenditures savings, EMs and LIDCs to benefit from 0.39 and 0.37 percent of GDP. A more equitable distribution of income brings lower but still substantial gains in life expectancy by 1.7 and 2.1 years for EMs and LIDCs, respectively—or bring in savings of 0.17 and 0.12 percent of GDP. Better control of corruption is important, especially for EMs, which can benefit from an additional 1.6 years of life expectancy or avoid the waste of 0.27 percent of GDP in health spending. LIDCs gain 0.7 years of life expectancy or save 0.1 percent of GDP.

3 Ways to boost your listeners working memory

You want your presentation to stick. Audience keeps your main idea in mind. People apply it in the context of their business. Public respond to your call to action. All this require working memory. There are three ideas how to boost your listeners working memory:

🦸‍♂️ Manage interferences. Your presentation could be too familiar with other presentations, which people encounters earlier or after meeting. Clarify what must be remembered and make it distinct.

🎛 Group together materials to boost working memory. Lower cognitive workload to boost working memory—when you task people too much, they’ll look elsewhere for something easier to process. Instead of “1001 items to remember” go for 3 main ideas.

🔄 Link new concepts to the familiar. Current formula for working memory is “attention + long-term memory = working memory”. Use techniques that attract attention and then connect the new items to concepts that already exist in people’s long-term memory. Metaphor is a great device to do this linking.

The Economics of Fertility: A New Era

Poor families (and countries) tend to have more children. Women have to choose between work and children. These two empirical regularities have held for quite long. The economics of fertility has entered a new era because these stylized facts no longer universally hold—according to a recent IZA working paper “The Economics of Fertility: A New Era”.

The chart of the week shows one of the underlying factors—sharing household burden. The sample of OECD countries shows strong positive correlation between fair sharing of household work and total fertility rate.

According to the research, in high-income countries, the income-fertility relationship has flattened and—in some cases—reversed. The cross-country relationship between women’s labour force participation and fertility is now positive.

There is a number of new theories, explaining the compatibility of women’s career and family goals—a key driver of fertility. Four common factors facilitate combining a career with a family: (i) family policy; (ii) cooperative fathers; (iii) favourable social norms; and (iv) flexible labour markets.

These things don’t come automatically, investments in social care could make difference. Time poverty could hold back women labour market participation, even if other factors are favourable. Researchers suggest that public investment in the social care services sector have a significant multiplicative effect and create jobs in other sectors. The new economics of fertility hints that now there is no inevitable trade-off between women empowerment and fertility.

Five Best Practices for a Hybrid Workplace

Hybrid work is here and will stay, it is the new normal. Still, people feel isolated in front of their screens and suffer from Zoom fatigue. What could be done?

🌟 Help employees stay connected to the mission—this keeps the company culture alive, even virtually.

🤗 Practice Empathetic Leadership—build relationship, pay attention, and make a space for small talk.

🔄 Communicate synchronously when possible to keeping people connected.

Healthy work-life balance. Setting work boundaries will help make everyone feel important and empowered. NB: I add to all emails a line “🤖 You could receive this email outside of your regular working hours. Please respond it when appropriate. Bip!”

💤 Don’t fall into the “curse of knowledge”—other people might not understand what you are talking about. Less is more…

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