There are Free Lunches Statement of Intentions

There are Free Lunches: Behavioral Clues to Live Happy in the Economic World is a blog that intends to present updated and relevant information about the "hidden" and only recently uncovered dimensions of the economic science: the behavioral factors. With this blog we intend to promote in Europe and in the rest of the World, the top research articles and perspectives on behavioral economics, decision making, consumer behavior, and general behavioral science. We aim to be followed by journalists, academics, managers, civil servants, and everyone who wishes to improve their daily interaction with the economic world and consequently, their lives' happiness.

Monday, 14 January 2013

O2 #3 The Brain's Ability to Look Within: A Secret to Well-Being (via Psychology Today)

Tapping into our ability to turn attention inward empowers and heals.

The Two Paths of Attention: Outward & Inward

What's the difference between noticing the rapid beat of a popular song on the radio and noticing the rapid rate of your heart when you see your crush? Between noticing the smell of fresh baked bread and noticing that you're out of breath? Both require attention. However, the direction of that attention differs: it is either turned outward, as in the case of noticing a stop sign or a tap on your shoulder, or turned inward, as in the case of feeling full or feeling love. 
Scientists have long held that attention – regardless to what – involves mostly the prefrontal cortex, that frontal region of the brain responsible for complex thought and unique to humans and advanced mammals. A study by Norman Farb from the University of Toronto published in Cerebral Cortex, however, suggests a radically new view: there are different ways of paying attention. While the prefrontal cortex may indeed be specialized for attending to external information, older and more buried parts of the brain including the “insula” and “posterior cingulate cortex” appear to be specialized in observing our internal landscape.

Most of us prioritize externally oriented attention. When we think of attention, we often think of focusing on something outside of ourselves. We "pay attention" to work, the TV, our partner, traffic, or anything that engages our senses. However, a whole other world exists that most of us are far less aware of: an internal world, with its varied landscape of emotions, feelings, and sensations. Yet it is often the internal world that determines whether we are having a good day or not, whether we are happy or unhappy. That’s why we can feel angry despite beautiful surroundings or feel perfectly happy despite being stuck in traffics. For this reason perhaps, this newly discovered pathway of attention may hold the key to greater well-being.

Read here this interesting article about the importance of looking within: LookWhithin 

O2 #2 Perspectives about New Directions for Economic Measurement (via Federal Reserve)

I appreciate the opportunity to speak at a conference with the important theme of
economic measurement. In many spheres of human endeavor, from science to business
to education to economic policy, good decisions depend on good measurement. More
subtly, what we decide to measure, or are able to measure, has important effects on the
choices we make, since it is natural to focus on those objectives for which we can best
estimate and document the effects of our decisions. One great pioneer in this subject
area, of course, is Simon Kuznets, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1971 for his work
on economic measurement, including the national income accounts. Over the years many
economists have built on his work to further improve our ability to quantify aspects of economic activity and thus to improve economic policy making and our understanding of how the economy works. The remarkably broad and ambitious research program of this
conference and the impressive expertise that has been assembled illustrate the continued vitality of this field. Evolving technologies that allow economists to gather new types of data and to manipulate millions of data points are just one factor among several that are likely to transform the field in coming years.

As we think about new directions for economic measurement, we might start by
reminding ourselves of the purpose of economics. Textbooks describe economics as the
study of the allocation of scarce resources. That definition may indeed be the “what,” but
it certainly is not the “why.” The ultimate purpose of economics, of course, is to
understand and promote the enhancement of well-being. Economic measurement
accordingly must encompass measures of well-being and its determinants.
In the tradition of national income accounting, economic policymakers have
typically focused on variables such as income, wealth, and consumption. The Federal
Reserve has a statutory mandate to foster maximum employment and price stability,
which motivates our extensive efforts to monitor and forecast measures of employment
and inflation. Substantial research and the development of data collection infrastructures
have, over the years, greatly enhanced our ability to receive timely and accurate measures
of those variables. Aggregate measures, such as gross domestic product and personal
consumption expenditures, are useful for monitoring people’s ability to meet basic
material needs and for tracking cyclical and secular changes in the economy as a whole.
Indeed, the experience of the recent financial crisis and the ensuing recession was
strongly reflected in nearly all of these aggregate measures, indicating the severe
economic stress felt by millions of people and hundreds of communities across the

But, as many of you will discuss this week, aggregate statistics can sometimes
mask important information. For example, even though some key aggregate
metrics--including consumer spending, disposable income, household net worth, and debt
service payments--have moved in the direction of recovery, it is clear that many
individuals and households continue to struggle with difficult economic and financial
conditions. Exclusive attention to aggregate numbers is likely to paint an incomplete
picture of what many individuals are experiencing. One implication is that we should
increase the attention paid to microeconomic data, which better capture the diversity of
experience across households and firms. Another implication, however, is that we should
seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being, the ultimate objective
of our policy decisions.

Although the field is still young, there have been interesting developments in the
measurement of economic well-being. In a commencement address two years ago titled
“The Economics of Happiness,” I spoke about the concepts of happiness and life
satisfaction from the perspective of economics and other social science research.

Read the rest of the introduction, from Ben S. Bernanke - Chairman
of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, to the
32nd General Conference of the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth here: BernankeConferenceResearchIncomeWealth

O2 #1 What is Positive Psychology (via YouTube)

Watch here a very insightful and entertaining presentation describing what is Positive Psychology: PositivePsychology

Friday, 11 January 2013

CO2 #3 Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are (via TED)

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident -- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions.
Watch one of the most viewed TED talks of all time here: BodyLanguage 

CO2 #2 Could boredom be curable? (via The Boston Globe)

An elusive human annoyance may finally be yielding its secrets.

YOU’RE DRIVING TO WORK one morning when you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam. You’re sitting in math class, listening to your teacher explain the afternoon’s lesson. You’re labeling envelopes to send out party invitations, letter after letter after letter. What do these seemingly unrelated experiences share? They have the potential to be unbelievably boring.
Boredom is more than just one of life’s minor irritations. It has been implicated in drug use and alcoholism, problematic gambling and compulsive behavior—and has even been tied to potentially lethal errors in job execution. Bored nuclear military personnel perform less reliably than colleagues engaged in their work; bored airline pilots become more likely to rely heavily, and dangerously, on automated processes.
Philosophers and scientists alike have found ways to describe boredom as an experience, from the ochlos of ancient Greeks to the unresolved conflicts of modern psychodynamic theory. But when it comes to what actually triggers boredom, an answer has remained elusive. Boredom can occur in a perplexingly broad range of situations and seems to involve both our external environment and our inner resources.
Now, after an exhaustive survey of every study they could locate that mentioned boredom—over 100 are referenced in the final ­paper—a group of psychologists from York University in Canada has proposed an answer, essentially a new unified theory of boredom. In a new review paper published this fall in Perspectives on Psychological Science, cognitive psychologist John Eastwood and his team suggest all boredom may result from essentially the same thing: a conflict of attention, or attention misfocused in a way that disrupts our engagement. Sometimes the problem is that there is too much competing for our attention, sometimes too little. In all cases, they argue, boredom has as much to do with our inner response to our circumstances as to the circumstances themselves.
Read the rest of this insightful article about boredom here: BoredomCurable 

CO2 #1 Five Presentation Mistakes Everyone Makes (via Harvard Business Review)

We all know what it's like to sit through a bad presentation. We can easily spot the flaws — too long, too boring, indecipherable, what have you — when we watch others speak. The thing is, when we take the stage ourselves, many of us fall into the same traps.
Here are five of the most common, along with some tips on how to avoid them.
1. Failing to engage emotionally. You risk losing your audience when you just "state the facts," even in a business setting. No presentation should be devoid of emotion, no matter how cerebral the topic or the audience. Speak to people's hearts as well as their minds. Look for ways to add emotional texture to your exhibits, data, proofs, logical arguments, and other analytical content. Try opening with a story your audience can relate to, for example, or including analogies that make your data more meaningful.
To unearth the emotional appeal of your ideas, ask yourself a series of "why" questions. If you're requesting funding to pay for cloud storage, for instance, start by asking, "Why do we need cloud storage?" Your answer may be something like "to facilitate data sharing with colleagues in remote locations." Then ask why you need to accomplish that — and you'll eventually get to the human beings who will be affected by your ideas. Suppose your answer is "to help remote colleagues coordinate disaster relief efforts and save lives." That's your emotional hook. Once you've found it, it's easier to choose words and images that elicit empathy and support.
Get to know the other 4 presentation mistakes everyone makes here: 5PresentationMistakes