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Vladimir_Golovin comments on Experiential Pica - Less Wrong

81 Post author: Alicorn 16 August 2009 09:23PM

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Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 August 2009 05:03:55AM 11 points [-]

What if akrasia is experiential pica?

In my case, it definitely seems to be so. I noticed that my akratic habit #1, competitive PC gaming, seems to kick in when I have a status or achievement deficiency. I'm a reinforcement whore, so when I don't have a steady stream of incoming positive reinforcements, which happens a lot on long projects, I may turn to games to get a quick and reliable fix.

Comment author: bgrah449 17 August 2009 02:54:44PM 14 points [-]

I do this. As humans, we have needs for certain things, like nutrients and status (usually through achievement). I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft, until eventually I realized that

video games : need for achievement :: McDonalds : need for calories

In the same way advertisers use Photoshop to create women so beautiful they couldn't actually exist, and the same way the fast food industry creates foods so calorie-dense they couldn't actually exist, video games have created a source of achievement that provides achievement so reliably it couldn't actually exist. There's a word for this phenomenon, but it eludes me presently.

"Pica" is a new word to me, but is exactly what I realized was going on for me. When the urge to play video games, or solve a Rubik's cube for the millionth time, is strongest, I have learned that that's a reliable indicator that what I actually need to do is study, do laundry, cook a meal, etc.

This is because video games have divorced the feeling of achievement from actual life progress. I used to wake up and play video games all day, then feel good, shut off the video game, and look around and realize I hadn't cleaned the apartment or studied for professional exams. Unlike pica, this is an actual feedback loop - these situations grow worse when I ignore them, and the worse they got the more I tried to fight off the feeling of "not achieving" with video games - ignoring them.

Eventually, I realized the food metaphor myself and wrote notes to myself like, "Achievement without progress is like eating a Twinkie instead of a balanced meal." This helped a lot.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 17 August 2009 03:09:42PM 7 points [-]

There's a word for this phenomenon, but it eludes me presently.

Superstimulus.

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 August 2009 10:49:46PM 6 points [-]

video games : need for achievement :: McDonalds : need for calories

Why the McDonalds hate? There's not that much difference between McDonalds food and what you get in fancier, more expensive restaurants. Whether you order a steak or a hamburger, you're still eating dead cow flesh. And the steak won't have lettuce and tomato on it.

This is because video games have divorced the feeling of achievement from actual life progress. I used to wake up and play video games all day, then feel good, shut off the video game, and look around and realize I hadn't cleaned the apartment or studied for professional exams. Unlike pica, this is an actual feedback loop - these situations grow worse when I ignore them, and the worse they got the more I tried to fight off the feeling of "not achieving" with video games - ignoring them.

Perhaps this is backwards, but I've been measuring my personal level of accomplishment by how I do at games - video and otherwise - instead of more conventional measures for a long time now. I'm not particularly proud of my academic achievements, and consider them more a credit to my parents than myself.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 August 2009 10:55:45PM *  7 points [-]

Why the McDonalds hate? There's not that much difference between McDonalds food and what you get in fancier, more expensive restaurants.

Do you have tastebuds?

I mean, I know I'm a food snob, but... Maybe the problem is that you have a confused category of "fancy, expensive restaurant"?

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 August 2009 11:22:00PM 3 points [-]

I mean, in terms of nutrition and being a superstimulus. What you get in a fancy French restaurant is likely to be just as good - or bad - for your body as what you get in McDonalds. Heck, the fancy restaurant probably uses a lot more butter, for one thing.

In terms of taste, though, I agree that McDonalds is less than impressive - the other common fast food chains are significantly better, as far as I'm concerned. Personally, I don't notice much of a difference in the amount of pleasure I get from eating Really Expensive food (I've been to a Really Expensive restaurant once or twice on vacation) and from eating more ordinary food that I happen to like.

Comment author: kpreid 18 August 2009 12:35:57AM 3 points [-]

Neither the fancy restaurant nor the fast food restaurant is optimizing for nutrition.

However, the fast food restaurant is optimizing for cost, while maintaining acceptable taste. The fancy restaurant, though, is probably serving food that is in some way traditional (else it would be Weird, not Fancy; there are exceptions of course); that is, there is a long history of people eating it. I have heard (no sources, sorry) that any particular traditional cuisine tends to be reasonably healthful [compared to what? I forget], presumably because people have been successful living off it.

So given that, the fancy restaurant is likely to serve more nutritious food.

(I think the weakest link in this is whether the average fancy restaurant does, in fact, serve traditional-in-that-sense food, and whether the presumable skew towards the particularly appealing, rather than typical, food of that cuisine opposes this effect.)

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 18 August 2009 01:32:30AM 2 points [-]

California cuisine in particular can get expensive, and one of its hallmarks is the inventiveness of the chef in combining fresh ingredients into a new dish. So you're probably right that expensive French or expensive Italian is mostly traditional food, but there are other cuisines that aren't like that.

Comment author: kpreid 18 August 2009 02:30:34AM 0 points [-]

That's the type of exception I had in mind. Of course, “fresh” says something about the nature of the food too. (Unless you mean "novel" as opposed to "recently alive".)

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 18 August 2009 04:30:44PM 2 points [-]

The "fresh" in California cuisine is about "recently alive", though "novel" is often part of the experience as well.

Comment author: Alicorn 18 August 2009 01:05:50AM 6 points [-]

The fancy French restaurant may use more butter, but they also know about the existence of vegetables that aren't iceberg lettuce, the most ordinary of tomatoes, and onion. And they use spices more esoteric than salt, some of which have beneficial health effects. And they don't encourage you to consume your meal with an enormous container of fizzy sugar water.

Comment author: CronoDAS 18 August 2009 04:31:34PM 3 points [-]

Well, you're right about the diversity of ingredients. And indeed, the fizzy sugar water is definitely bad. I don't order it myself, though, because fizzy drinks usually give me heartburn. (I get water or orange juice.)

I just think that a lot of the food served at fast food restaurants isn't as awful as people assume it to be. At least, I think we can agree that there are things that are a lot worse than a McDonalds hamburger, which, for all its flaws, is still more like actual food than a Twinkie is. ;)

Comment author: randallsquared 19 August 2009 04:08:31AM 1 point [-]

Frankly, for a lot of people (myself included), I think increasing the portion size by 10% counts for more enjoyment than using more than one kind of tomato or eight kinds of lettuce. It's reliable in a way that adding other kinds of things isn't, since the more different things there are, the more likely it is that one of them or some combination will be unpalatable.

Please consider the possibility that some of us actually prefer chain restaurant food to "fancy Xish restaurant" food, bizarre as it may seem to you, if you don't. :)

Comment author: Alicorn 19 August 2009 04:38:54AM 3 points [-]

I think such a preference is more likely to result from an inadequate sample of fancy food (because some upscale places aren't at all good enough to justify their cost) and/or sour grapes about its expense, but perhaps some people are well-sampled and find fancy food financially accessible and still don't think it's an improvement over McDonald's. These people, I contend, do not have tastebuds. McDonald's can ruin chicken fingers.

(For what it's worth, I virtually never go out to eat at all (on my own dime): when I do, I make a point of getting mostly things that I don't know how to cook myself, such as sushi.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 19 August 2009 05:38:53AM 5 points [-]

Y'know, I plain can't eat McDonalds myself. But I also can't tell the difference between low-quality and high-quality chocolate, and my girlfriend can, and she thinks McDonalds is one of the culinary wonders of the world.

It takes all sorts.

Comment author: thomblake 19 August 2009 03:18:26PM 3 points [-]

McDonald's can ruin chicken fingers.

I contend that it was because they were working outside their milieu. Chicken McNuggets are already perfect, and so one must feel a tearing at one's soul to work for McDonalds and invent another chicken dish.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 18 August 2009 02:52:54AM 1 point [-]

McDonald's is also maximizing for serving size. Fancy restaurants rarely do this; some pretty much minimize portion size so they can sell you as many overpriced microportions as possible. But a lot of fast food (and chain restaurants) sell huge, cheap portions compared to more expensive restaurants, so it is something of a case of having a whole lot of something compensates for it not being quite what you need.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 August 2009 09:26:42PM 4 points [-]

I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft

Speaking of WoW, I have a very strong suspicion that the Blizzard game design team explicitly knows and uses intermittent / variable-ratio reinforcement schedules to keep the game addictive.

Comment author: Aurini 22 August 2009 06:23:25PM 1 point [-]

I'm afraid I can't link you, but I've (somewhere) read discussions on precisely that. Most game designers don't know the terminology, but they're intimately familiar with the effect.

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 August 2009 10:08:32PM 0 points [-]

I played WoW for a while and got bored with it. I did, however, get a cool 1000 Achievement points, though. ;)

Comment author: pjeby 17 August 2009 05:26:43PM 2 points [-]

this is an actual feedback loop - these situations grow worse when I ignore them, and the worse they got the more I tried to fight off the feeling of "not achieving" with video games - ignoring them.

Not unlike binge eating to avoid feelings of being fat and unlovable, or going shopping for cheap crap to avoid the feelings caused by not having enough money.

(Btw, speaking of money, there's an excellent book called something like "How To Get What You Want With The Money You Already Have" that has an interesting set of life/mind hacks for breaking that particular cycle.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 August 2009 07:28:25AM *  3 points [-]

Oh, yes. This describes me as well. One thing I get out of games is a feeling of achievement. When I'm upset, I can often cheer myself up by playing a certain difficult video game that I've thoroughly mastered to the point where it feels easy. After having played a session of Space Megaforce, I feel much less like a useless and incompetent person. (Space Megaforce is also pretty good at getting me into the "flow" state - it's hard to dwell on my miseries while I'm busy putting my whole attention into the game performance.)

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 17 August 2009 03:14:31PM *  7 points [-]

One thing I get out of games is a feeling of achievement.

Try working on Project Euler problems instead. Should satisfy your need for immediate achievement gratification.

Comment author: HughRistik 18 August 2009 06:40:57PM 6 points [-]

Here's another videogame substitute that gives feelings of accomplishment and reinforcement:

Programming.

For me, this is a good substitute because when I play computer games, I get attracted to the technical aspects of the game and its mechanics anyway (e.g. "Theorycraft"). What I realized is that I have a need to always be systemizing something, which was a big source of computer games playing. With programming, I can systemize something that actually makes me money.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 18 August 2009 07:58:21PM *  0 points [-]

Hugh Ristik links to a Wikipedia article on the constellation of skills called systematizing. The article definitely implies that individuals better than average at systematizing are worse than average at empathizing. Does anyone have any theories on why being skilled in one decreases the probability of being skilled in the other?

The only theory I can think of that seems to fit the facts is that the child's natural human desire to learn the empathizing skills is stronger than the desire to learn systematizing skills, but since learning the empathizing skills tends to depend on many neurological and cognitive developmental events going right, some children stop being able to continue to learn empathizing, so they turn to systematizing because learning something is better than learning nothing.

(This theory does not mean that it is certain or even very likely that adults strong in empathizing are more useful to modern society than adults strong in systematizing, but it does mean that it is very likely that adults strong in empathizing enjoyed higher reproductive fitness in the EEA.)

Comment author: HughRistik 18 August 2009 08:14:02PM 0 points [-]

I recommend reading up on Simon Baron-Cohen's work. His theory is that systemizing is related to cognitive masculinization, e.g. through prenatal testosterone and other biological developmental factors (leading him to suggest that people with autism and Asperger's Syndrome exhibit an "extreme male brain").

Richard Lippa has also found that an important dimension of personality is orientation towards things (which corresponds to systemizing) or orientation towards people (which corresponds to empathizing). His research claims that the people-things dimension of interests is correlated with gender (males being more thing-oriented and females being more people-oriented on average), and independent of the Big Five personality traits.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 19 August 2009 12:03:05AM 0 points [-]

In a paper linked off of wikipedia SBC says When you plot these, five different “brain types” are seen but at the end says It may be that there is a degree of trade-off between E and S, such that the better one is at one, the worse one is at the other.

The last sentence doesn't leave me with a lot of confidence that he actually has plotted them. A first bit of evidence for that claim would that he published such a plot. or at least a correlation coefficient. Has he actually done so?

Comment author: Alicorn 17 August 2009 04:53:59PM 6 points [-]

For immediate "I have done a cool, hard thing easily!" gratification, it's probably very hard to switch gears - he's good at video games, has lots of practice, and can really do the hard ones easily. But there are lots of other areas with limitless, or almost limitless, potential for improvement, which is the same thing only better, and given the state of some of the activities in question in common practice, it doesn't take too long to get to a point where you can impress people. Making a cake from scratch is more than (my guess) 80% of the population ever does, now that mixes are so common (and now that making one from a mix is significantly more impressive than buying one from the grocery store). Cooking (mine of choice, so much space to play in!) or handicrafts (all kinds of variety, and so very convenient to be able to hold up an actual object and say "I totally made this" and distribute these objects at Christmas) or drawing (also one of mine, also lots of space to play and always the possibility of getting better) are all sources of "now I have accomplished something" feelings.

Comment author: Zvi 17 August 2009 10:59:29PM 5 points [-]

I wholeheartedly endorse this project; I got a very impressive return on investment, in terms of feelings of achievement, impressing others and of course delicious cake for a very small time investment. The only downside was that continuing to create them reliably leads me to consume large quantities of delicious cake.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 August 2009 11:01:15PM 4 points [-]

You can use cooking skills to create delicious dishes of quinoa and kale, too, if you are so inclined. It doesn't all have to be cake.

Comment author: CronoDAS 17 August 2009 09:50:37PM 3 points [-]

That... looks like fun, actually.