Friday, 27 January 2012

San Diego Day 2 27/01/2012

It's another very cheery looking day in San Diego, but my day pretty much began with a rant from the hostel's reception guy. I woke up sinfully at 2pm, so I was in a hurry to get to the convention center to attend some of the talks. On the way out, I passed the reception dude and he was being friendly (as most Americans I've come across appear to be) and asked where I was headed to. So I told him that I was going for the psychology conference at the convention center. That got him started, with him asking, "what are you gonna do with a psychology degree? It don't pay shit man."

I can't reproduce exactly the entire dialogue, but the idea is this. He thinks there is no market for psychology and, if there is, it's a retarded market that doesn't pay well. As I wasn't sure how much he knew about what falls under the huge blanket term of psychology, I told replied that it really depends. His misgivings soon made sense, or at least I could understand. He eventually revealed that his girlfriend is pursuing a Masters in marriage therapy and counseling. They're getting buried in debt from her school fees, since she goes to a private school, and he's very sure she's only capable of finding work that will pay $20-30k per year after she graduates. If she doesn't go into the marriage and counseling stuff, she won't be able to get a job because nobody hires psychologists, or at least what he thinks psychologists are, because "every idiot out on the street can be a psychologist." And she still expects him to pay for her daily stuff, so he's visibly stressed out and pissed off.

I tried to familiarise him with broader ideas of what psychology can be, although I didn't refute his notions of psychology because I can't disagree with him on the fate of his girlfriend's education and employment, and indeed yes, compared to many other jobs, psychology jobs generally aren't the highest paying of the lot. The US government typically associates psychology with health, and we know what sort of stance the US government has when it comes to providing funds for health. And, if I'm not wrong, I think it is true that many Americans see pursuing psychology as a backdoor career if you can't do anything else. In Singapore, on the other hand, relative to the US, people do not simply jump into a psychology-related career and spend years on it expecting little financial payoff - the norms tend not to guide thinking and behaviour in this manner. And for those who have prudently chosen to do psychology (I must emphasize once again that this is relative to the US), there are job opportunities that are adequately emphasized by the Singapore government, with particular focus on behaviourally driven research guiding the country's policies. Singapore's academic landscape is also relatively young and new universities can be expected to emerge, with opportunities for professors and lecturers.

I can sympathize with the dude though - with only his hostel reception job (I'm not sure if he owns or manages the hostel; I hope he does), his debts won't go away and his wife may not be able to help much, especially since "she'll probably wanna start a family and then we'll also have to buy stupid shit. This is why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, because the rich can get into good jobs and won't have to make stupid decisions like getting a job in some psychology thing. If Obama gets re-elected, we're all gonna be dead. This country is a stupid shithole!"

So, on that note, I took a pensive walk to the convention center (it's a 2-mile walk by the way - lots of good walking exercise everyday).

Eventually, I'm back at the convention centre. I attended a few very interesting talks, mostly evolution-oriented.

One looked at the typical psychological concept, Belief in God. The gist is that (if we are allowed to be scientific and amoral about it) God serves an adaptive societal function - it allows altruistic punishments to be meted out while minimizing the costs to the punisher. Because if let's say you were attempting to punish a transgressor, society will definitely benefit but you could incur a cost to yourself since attempts to punish a person can result in retaliation, or you might be seen as an overly aggressive, violent person, etc. So, in other words, societies create gods to outsource the costs of punishment to them, thereby reducing the cost and responsibilities of the persons or institutions dishing out the punishments. This talk also showed that Belief in God was insufficient as a psychological concept, because priming a Belief in God can sometimes lead to conflicting outcomes. Instead, God is in the details - whether people believe in a benevolent, loving God or a domineering, punishing God can lead to different outcomes. In a few creative behavioural studies, it was found that people cheated more when they were primed with ideas of a forgiving God than when they were primed with a punishing God. An analysis of 53 cultures with data on whether they believed in heaven or hell and their crime rates also showed that cultures that believe dominantly in heaven have higher crime rates than cultures that dominantly believe in hell. While certainly correlational, I'd say this finding is still pretty fascinating.

Sat through two other very interesting talks that touched on dopamine receptor dimorphism and serotonin transporter dimorphism, and their effects on prosocial behaviour and religion. But I shan't go through those haha.

I had an hour and a half to kill before Jolene presents her poster, so I decided to get some pizza (probably the cheapest meal you can get in the US). I went to this place called Berkeley Pizza and tried to order a slice and a beer (that's my almost-finished pizza and brown ale in the picture - forgot to take a shot before chowing down!). The cashier suggested that I take up the two slices and a beer offer instead. I decided against it, because (1) I only wanted to eat one slice, and (2) I was naturally assuming that, while I would be economically getting more for my money to take up the offer, the one slice and a beer combination should still be somewhat cheaper overall. I didn't check the prices. The guy said okay and served.

Guess what? One slice and a beer cost $9.50. Two slices and a beer? $8. What the? I guess the cashier must've thought I was a retard, since the deal was meant to make it a no-brainer that we should all get two slices instead of one. But, that simply leaves me to conclude logically that if I really wanted to only eat one slice and a beer, I should still have bought two slices and a beer anyway, and throw one slice away. Amerika!

Berkeley's Pizza was reeling Star Wars IV on DVD though, pretty awesome.

Went for Jolene's poster session, and mingled a lot with other people while checking out their posters. I came across quite a number of posters that focused on the relationship between women's alcohol consumption and their subsequent or associated lack of sexual inhibition. Turns out they were all from the same university. I tried to probe them on what they thought the implications of their studies might be. They all remained tight-lipped like some conspiracy was happening.

One study that stuck in my head was on achievement-oriented individuals and how success or failure in a task led to changes in their collective self-esteem. When achievement oriented people failed in a task, they were more likely to dislike their group and want to dissociate themselves from those they are associated with. On the other hand, success in a task didn't make them like their groups more, because they were already expected to succeed anyway. Competitive rats.

Had fried cod fish tacos for dinner at the Tin Fish. Really super, and that's a huge-ass taco in the photo! You probably can't tell, because the Pepsi next to it is colossal too.

A photo of a bustling Friday night in Gaslamp Quarter.

Making my way home past some dark alleys. That's a tent with a homeless man sleeping inside. I had earlier passed another homeless beggar who had a sign next to him that read, "SHE HAD A BETTER LAWYER."

Just two streets away from me - ELM STREET. Hahah.

Tried to Skype home to make my dad happy but it turned out to be a very failed attempt because, while I could hear him, he couldn't hear me at all for some reason. I ended up writing what I wanted to say on paper and flashing it to the camera. But he still looks happy enough so I guess I'm off the hook a little now for always not calling home. Good night!

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