A couple days ago I posted a quote from Matt Yglesias about the danger bold predictors have of becoming cranks. Today, via the Freakonomics blog, I came across an argument about the relationship between the spread of antidepressants and stock market bubbles.
In 2000, Slate contributor Robert Wright noted that a “psychiatrist is now speculating that maybe Prozac and other antidepressants are being gobbled in such volume as to account for the stock market’s seemingly unshakeable self-esteem.” University of Michigan professor Randolph Nesse proposed “the possibility that this market is different because investor’s brains are different.”
What percent of brokers, dealers, and investors are taking antidepressant drugs? Wealthy, stressed urbanites are especially likely to use them. I would not be surprised to learn that one in four large investors has used some kind of mood-altering drug. What effects do these drugs have on investment behavior? We don’t know…. From seeing many patients who take such agents, I know that some experience only improved mood, often a miraculous and even life-saving change. Others, however, report that they become far less cautious than they were before, worrying too little about real dangers. This is exactly the mind-set of many current investors.
Human nature has always given rise to booms and bubbles, followed by crashes and depressions. But if investor caution is being inhibited by psychotropic drugs, bubbles could grow larger than usual before they pop, with potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences.
So, Big Money contributor Caitlin McDevitt asks, “Did Prozac cause the most recent market free fall? Seems like a stretch, but if so, then maybe the ‘great recession’ should have been called a ‘depression all along.”
Given that I work a lot with groups in workshops, it makes me wonder: if you could convince everyone in a workshop to take Prozac (or some other mood-altering drug), what kind of results would you get? Would people be more open to crazy scenarios? Would a map of the future be all about the Singularity or talking unicorns bringing world peace? Or– the more interesting possibility– would the results be awful because people wouldn’t care about the future? (I doubt I’ll get the chance to test the theory any time soon.)
However, there are other things I am experimenting with that don’t require medical supervision, but which I hope deliver some improvements in workshops. Changing the food is one.
I don’t buy the idea that if you feed people marinated tofu you’ll make them smart; but we know a lot about how our brains respond to foods in general, and can design food into workshops in ways that keep people active and well-fed, but don’t make them sated and sluggish. For a while I’ve suspected that caterers unintentionally undermine good meetings and workshops by serving so many pastries, bagels, and coffee. Turns out these are foods that tend to be high on the glycemic index, or sugary things that overstimulate people and encourage the production of memory-impairing hormones like cortisol.
So I’m not only trying to get different foods into my events; I’m also serving them differently, distributing them more evenly through the day so people aren’t tempted to overeat and then crash. We’ll see if it makes a difference in the energy levels of the workshops, and the results.