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Downward causation and existing preference…


“Elements at a lower ontological level affect those at a higher one.”

“Once habits become established they become a potential basis for new intentions or beliefs.”

In other words, if there are systemic properties and tendencies then individual components of the system act in conformity with them.

Institutions systematically direct individual memory and channel our perceptions into forms compatible with the relations they authorize. They fix processes that are essentially dynamic, they hide their influence, and they rouse our emotions to a standardized pitch on standardized issues. Add to all this that they endow themselves with rightness and send their mutual corroboration cascading through all the levels of our information system. … For us, the hope of intellectual independence is to resist, and the necessary first step in resistance is to discover how the institutional grip is laid upon our mind. –Mary Douglas, How Institutions Think (1987)

Reliance on habits and rules limits the explanatory scope of rational optimization.

Habitual modifications are consistent with some unchanging ‘meta-preference’ function.

Institutional changes and constraints can cause changes in habits of thought and behavior. Institutions constrain our behavior and develop our habits in specific ways.

‘The situation of today shapes the institutions of tomorrow through a selective, coercive process, by acting upon men’s habitual view of things’.

In meeting our desire for meaning we acquire the habits of thought and behavior of our culture. We use institutions and their routines as templates in the construction of our habits, intentions and choices.

There are situations where individual purposes and choices are molded as ‘brainwashing’.

Habit does not deny choice. Different sets of habits may give rise to competing preferences. A choice is then made, and this choice may itself involve a further cluster of habitual interpretations or predispositions.

On the one hand, choice is a largely unpredictable outcome of the complex human nervous system, situated in a complex, open and changing environment. On the other hand, our inheritance, upbringing and circumstances affect our choices. Human agency is neither uncaused nor generally predictable.

Instinctive propensities are heavily diverted or overlaid by habits and beliefs acquired through interaction with others in a social culture. Accordingly, habit is a bridging element between the biological, psychological and social domains.

Habits impel behavior that is, in turn, consciously or unconsciously imitated by others. Eventually, this copied behavior becomes rooted in the habits of the imitator, thus transmitting from individual to individual an imperfect copy of each habit by an indirect route.

Cultural selection, like natural selection works at the level of the population, not simply of the individual. It exerts ‘downward causation’ by exploiting mechanisms of imitation, conformism and constraint.

Political scientist have often discussed habit, but by making it an outcome of rational choice. On the contrary, it has been argued here that habits are developmentally and practically prior to any form of conscious reasoning. Even rational choices require habits as a substratum.

Remarkably, despite the uncountable number of mathematical models of human behavior in politics, very few examples are based on habit.

It may be possible to overcome the dilemma between methodological individualism and methodological collectivism. By acting not directly on individual decisions, but on habitual dispositions, institutions exert downward causation without reducing individual agency to their effects. Furthermore, upward causation, from individuals to institutions, is still possible, without assuming that the individual is given or immanently conceived. Explanations are reduced neither to individuals nor to institutions alone.

Circular, positive feedback from institution to individuals and from individuals to institutions can help to enhance the durability of the institutional unit. What would then be theorized is the self-reinforcing institutional structure. Accordingly, within an institutional structure, it may be possible to show that malleable preferences lead to stable emergent properties. These properties may exist not despite, but because of, malleable preferences.

To understand fully the ways in which human agents are molded by institutions we have to look at particular cultures, circumstances and cases. An understanding of the world requires theory, but it cannot be obtained by theory alone.

Excerpts from The Hidden Persuaders, by Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Published in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, March 2003, 27(2), pp. 159-75.

For example:

Report: ‘Seat Fillers’ Being Employed At DNC, Lockdown In Place To Prevent Delegates From Walking Out During Hillary’s Speech…

See Also

Study shows explicit judgments may differ from implicit beliefs regarding stereotypes

Meet Jonathan and Elizabeth. One person is a doctor and the other is a nurse. Who is the doctor? When nothing else is known, the base rate principle favors Jonathan to be the doctor and the fairness principle favors both individuals equally. However, when individuating facts reveal who is actually the doctor, base rates and fairness become irrelevant, as the facts make the correct answer clear. In three experiments, explicit and implicit beliefs were measured before and after individuating facts were learned. These facts were either stereotypic (e.g., Jonathan is the doctor, Elizabeth is the nurse) or counterstereotypic (e.g., Elizabeth is the doctor, Jonathan is the nurse). Results showed that before individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs followed the fairness principle, whereas implicit beliefs followed the base rate principle. After individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs correctly aligned with stereotypic and counterstereotypic facts. Implicit beliefs, however, were immune to counterstereotypic facts and continued to follow the base rate principle. Having established the robustness and generality of these results, a fourth experiment verified that gender stereotypes played a causal role: when both individuals were male, explicit and implicit beliefs alike correctly converged with individuating facts. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate that explicit beliefs uphold fairness and incorporate obvious and relevant facts, but implicit beliefs uphold base rates and appear relatively impervious to counterstereotypic facts.


Neuroscientists find evidence for ‘visual stereotyping’


Study offers evidence of unconscious thinking impacting conscious decision making

The controversial idea that information can be processed and evaluated unconsciously to change behavior has had a particularly impactful history. Here, we extend a simple model of conscious decision-making to explain both conscious and unconscious accumulation of decisional evidence. Using a novel dichoptic suppression paradigm to titrate conscious and unconscious evidence, we show that unconscious information can be accumulated over time and integrated with conscious elements presented either before or after to boost or diminish decision accuracy. The unconscious information could only be used when some conscious decision-relevant information was also present. These data are fit well by a simple diffusion model in which the rate and variability of evidence accumulation is reduced but not eliminated by the removal of conscious awareness. Surprisingly, the unconscious boost in accuracy was not accompanied by corresponding increases in confidence, suggesting that we have poor metacognition for unconscious decisional evidence.

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