Saturday, June 23, 2007

set points or variable talent

Arnold Kling's recent post on Econlog got me thinking. He wonders what attributes are limited and which ones can be improved with practice. Clearly, we can exercise our muscles and get physically stronger. Can we do the same with things like altruism, self-control, self-regard, dogmatism, etc.?
For example, if we only have a limited amount of self-control, and we are forced to use it in one area (i.e. to watch our weight), then we have less self-control in other areas (to stop smoking). But if we practice self-control a lot, then maybe we can gain the ability to do more of it.

From a cognitive science point of view, we should be able to practice. If we can strengthen the schema associated with the attribute (self-control), then we can connect it to more responses (smoking). But no one has really looked at what cognitive neurophysiological structures give us things like self-control. I am not sure if it works.