Re: The race is on

Fri, 18 Sep 1998 09:50:35 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: The race is on
Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 09:50:35 -0400 (EDT)

Some examples of empirical memetics research from a behaviourist

Already published:

Gatherer D and Manning FCR (1998) Correlation of examination
performance with lecture attendance: a comparative study of first-year
biological sciences undergraduates. Biochemical Education 26, 121-124.

Students exhibit a wide range of education-oriented behavioural
strategies, eg. lecture attendance, individual quiet study, reading in
the library, group revision sessions, and of course what we jokingly
call the 'null allele' of drinking in the bar. In this paper we
demonstrate that lecture attendance is a behavioural strategy of
variable effectiveness (as measured by academic performance). Ethnic
minority students success rate is directly correlated with their
attendance record, whereas this is not the case for indigenous
students. There are also 'hidden variables', as male students perform
significantly worse than females, but for unknown reasons unrelated to
lecture attendance behaviour.

In a follow-up study (not yet published) we approach the
behavioural response to the 'hard' selection event at the end of each
academic year (ie. the worst students get thrown out), as opposed to the
'soft' selection criteria imposed by staff, in this case compulsory
lecture attendance vs. gentle non-judgmental explanation of the 'fact'
[it is false, except for minorities] that 'lecture attendance improves
your exam score'. ('Stick' is better than 'carrot' as it turns out, but
it's a long and complicated story).

Our long term goal is to construct an empirical cultural behavioural
ecology (in other words a memetic analysis) of undergraduate learning
behaviour, in the light of the several selective pressures within the
cultural system (grading, expulsion, peer status, financial etc).

Forthcoming attractions include:

a) a study in collaboration with Liverpool Institute of the Performing
Arts on the evolution of an improvisational theatre piece over two
semesters. Here we can see generation of behavioural diversity by the
recycling of plots, storylines and even fragments of dialogue from
Greek myths to classic plays through to television soaps. This
behavioural variation is selected by many criteria at many levels,
producing an 'artefact', the finished scripted play which has adapted
to the cultural environment in which it was produced.

b) a study of how the recent rule changes in football have influenced
players' behaviour. Notably, the behaviours produced are not those
intended by those who have imposed the selective pressure of the rule
change. For instance 'Golden Goal' has produced less attacking play
rather then more. Likewise, the prohibition on tackling from behind
has influenced the behaviour of forwards as much as it has that of
defenders. In addition to this micro-evolutionary approach, there are
macro-evolutionary aspects worthy of study. The World Cup Final was a
stunning example of how apparently unbeatable, flamboyant, free-ranging
football came spectacularly unstuck against tight defence and
penetrating counter-attack. The prediction is that this will change
the overall tactics of football teams on a global basis. There is some
retrospective evidence for this, as the World Cup winning England side
of 1966 which played without wing-backs ('the wingless wonders')
resulted in the virtual disappearance of the wing-back for several
years. Likewise the success of Dutch 'total football' in 1974 etc.

This is backbreaking work, 96 hours of football videos to be watched
and annotated and compared with control data from the pre-rule change
period, several hundred hours of improvisational theatre rehearsals
etc. I'm fortunate that I can rely on the services of dedicated
colleagues (particularly Nick Owen of LIPA) who are willing to do the
spadework and let me have their results for analysis. Future academic
memetics will be behaviorist in its approach, of that I have no doubt.
Current academic empirical memetics is already behaviourist.

Model _cultural_ systems such as these are the way ahead. By
contrast, anything to do with sex is a non-starter as it will be
impossible to prove that sexual preferences, for example, are not
genetic - sex is simply not strictly cultural. Such model cultural
systems as sports, education and theatre are best analysed on a
strictly behavioural level, as my colleagues' accumulating empirical
data shows.

So when we say Meme Lab, we mean Meme _Lab_.

Ball in your court, mentalists.


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