Saturday, April 30, 2011

Relaxed Parenting

Bryan Caplan, one of my favorite bloggers and Economics Prof at George Mason has a new book out with some findings that may seem counterintuitive. He did a meta-analysis of parenting research – looking at all the research that investigated the effects of parents’ engagement with the kids, stress on education, discipline, and other variables. What he found is that when you put it all together, these things can have large short term effects but over the long term they had no impact on the future career success, financial success, or happiness of the kids. Genetics and the external environment were much more important. So he recommends just chilling out and enjoying your children. If we want to improve the world, we are better off encouraging parents with good genes to have more kids.

I know this will be controversial to many of you. But the book is based on solid research methods. And the good news is that being a parent should actually be less work than most of us put in.

Primed Placebo

Here is a variation of my favorite medical intervention – the placebo. There is a chemical that causes people to have violently ill and painful reactions to alcohol. It was discovered by accident in the rubber processing industry. The workers found themselves unable to drink any alcohol without feeling intense pain – like they were exploding. It stays in your body up to a couple of days if you are exposed.

So the variation on the placebo is to turn this into a cure for alcoholism. They told the patient that they were implanting under their skin a 3 year dose (which doesn’t really exist). Then they said to test it they put a drop of the drug and a drop of alcohol on their tongues. They felt this violent, extreme pain for a brief time (it was only a drop). They were told that the impland had 100 times that amount of the chemical, so if they drank any alcohol during those three years they would feel 100 times the pain. Fear of this pain was supposed to keep them on the wagon.

If the patient fell off the wagon within a day or two, they would still get sick because of the residual effects of the test dose. And most people who did fall off, did so within the first few days. Those who had enough fear to get through those first few days made it through the three years and went back for another placebo implant.