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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 103

Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street — our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet — mainly because that’s what friends and neighbors do. In the wake of the hottest years on record, only robust measures to curb greenhouse gases promise relief from more frequent and intense storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires, and famines. Robert Frank describes how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. Frank and Shermer also discuss:

  • luck and how lives turn out
  • circumstances of behavior
  • peer pressure and pressures on peers
  • free will, volition, and self-control
  • positive behavioral externalities, e.g., solar panels
  • happiness vs. purpose/meaning/comfort
  • utilitarianism vs. natural rights theory
  • abortion, capital punishment, polygamy, prostitution, and the selling of organs
  • behavioral contagions: smoking, problem drinking, obesity, tax cheating, bullying, and wasteful energy use
  • same-sex marriage and other areas of moral progress
  • arms races: good and bad
  • climate change
  • belief in god and religion in decline, and
  • UBI (Universal Basic Income).

Robert H. Frank received his M.A. in statistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1971, and his Ph.D. in economics in 1972, also from U.C. Berkeley. He is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1972 and where he currently holds a joint appointment in the department of economics and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment. For the past several years, his research has focused on rivalry and cooperation in economic and social behaviour.

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This episode was released on February 11, 2020.

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