Denise_Melchin comments on Empirical data on value drift - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Denise_Melchin 24 April 2018 05:20:55PM *  14 points [-]

Thanks for collecting the data Joey! Really useful.

i) I'm not sure whether 'value drift' is a good term to describe loss of motivation for altruistic actions. I'm also not sure whether the data you collected is a good proxy for loss of motivation for altruistic actions.

To me the term value drift implies that the values of the value drifting person are less important to them than they used to be, as opposed to finding them harder to implement. Your data is consistent with both interpretations. I also wouldn't call someone who still cares as much about their values but finds it harder to be motivated having 'value drifted'.

If we observe someone moving to a different location and then contributing less EA wise, then this can have multiple causes. Maybe their values actually changed, maybe they lost motivation or EA contributions have just become harder to do because there's less EA information and fewer people to do projects with around.

As the EA community we should treat people sharing goals and values of EA but finding it hard to act towards implementing them very differently to people simply not sharing our goals and values anymore. Those groups require different responses.

ii) This is somewhat tangential to the post, but since having kids came up as a potential reason for value drifting, I'd like to mention how unfortunate it can be for people who have had kids if other EAs assume they have value drifted as a result.

I've had a lot of trouble within the last year in EA spaces after having a baby. EAs around me constantly assume that I suddenly don't care anymore about having a high impact and might just want to be a stay at home parent. This is incredibly insulting and hurtful to me. Especially if it comes from people whom I have known for a long time and who should know this would completely go against my (EA & feminist) values. Particularly bitter is how gendered this assumption is. My kids' dad (also an EA) never gets asked whether he wants to be a stay at home parent now.

I really had expected the EA community to be better at this. It also makes me wonder on how many opportunities to contribute I might have missed out on. The EA community often relays information about opportunities only informally, if someone is assumed to not be interested in contributing the information about opportunities is much less likely to reach them. Thus the belief that EAs will contribute much less once they have kids might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Comment author: Joey 24 April 2018 09:59:41PM 5 points [-]

I agree regarding implementation difficulties, particularly long term ones (e.g. losing a visa for a place you were living in with a big EA community) can muddy the waters a lot. It's hard to get into the details, but I would generally consider someone not drifted if it was a clearly capacity affecting thing (e.g. they got carpal tunnel) but outside of that they are working on the same projects they would have wanted to in all cases.

A more nuanced view might be break it down into: “Value change away from EA” - defined as changing fundamental ethical views, maybe changing to valuing people within your country more than outside of it.. “Action change away from EA” - defined as changing one of the fundamental applications of your still similarly held values. Maybe you think being veg is good, but you are no longer veg due to moving to a different, less conducive living situation.

With short and long term versions of both and with it being pretty likely that “value change” would lead to “action change” over time, I used value drift as a catch-all for both the above. It’s also how I have heard it commonly used as, but I am open to changing the term to be more descriptive.

“As the EA community we should treat people sharing goals and values of EA but finding it hard to act towards implementing them very differently to people simply not sharing our goals and values anymore. Those groups require different responses.”

I strongly agree. These seem to be very different groups. I also think you could even break it down further into “EAs who rationalize doing a bad thing as the most ethical thing” and “EAs who accept as humans that they have multiple drives they need to trade off between”. Most of my suggestions in the post are aimed at actions one could take now that reduce both “action change” and “value change”. Once someone has changed I am less sure about what the way forward is, but I think that could warrant more EA thought (e.g. how to re-engage someone who was disconnected for logistical reasons).

On ii)

Sorry to hear you have had trouble with the EA community and children. I think it's one of the life changes that is generally updated too strongly on by EAs and assuming that a person (of any gender) will definitely value drift upon having children is clearly incorrect. Personally I have found the EAs who I have spoken to who have kids to be unusually reflective about its effects on them compared to other similar life changes, perhaps because it has been more talked about in EA than say partner choice or moving cities. When a couple who plans to have kids has kids and changes their life around that in standard/expected ways, I do not see that as a value drift from their previous state (of planning to have kids and planning to have life changes around that).

I also think people will run into problems pretty quickly if they assume that every time someone goes through a life change that the person will change radically and become less EA. I think I see it intuitively as more of a bayesian prior. If someone has been involved in EA for a week and then they are not involved for 2 weeks, it might be sane to consider the possibilities of them not coming back. On the flip side, if an EA has been involved for years and was not involved for 2 weeks, people would think nothing of it. The same holds true for large life changes. It’s more about the person's pattern of long term of behavior and a combined “overall” perspective.

My list of concerns about a new trend of EA’s “relaying information about opportunities only informally” is so long it will have to be reserved for a whole other blog post.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 27 April 2018 01:33:40PM 7 points [-]

I still think you're focussing too much on changed values as opposed to implementation difficulties (I consider lack of motivation an example of those).

With short and long term versions of both and with it being pretty likely that “value change” would lead to “action change” over time

I think it's actually usually the other way around - action change comes first, and then value change is a result of that. This also seems to be true for your hypothetical Alice in your comment above. AFAIK it's a known psychology result that people don't really base their actions on their values, but instead derive their values from their actions.

All in all, I consider the ability to have a high impact EA-wise much more related to someone's environment than to someone's 'true self with the right values'. I would therefore frame the focus on how to get people to have a high impact somewhat differently: How can we set up supportive environments so people are able to execute the necessary actions for having a high impact?

And not how can we lock in people so they don't change their values - though the actual answers to those questions might not be that different.

Comment author: Denkenberger 24 April 2018 11:02:06PM 1 point [-]

I second the being sorry about the trouble with EAs and kids. Having kids does make it more difficult to be a 50% EA, but there definitely examples such as Julia Wise/Jeff Kaufman, Toby Ord/Bernadette Young, and myself. As for the gendered response, about 3% of US stay-at-home parents are dads. But one time I thought through my friends, and it was 50%! Granted, they were pretty left-leaning, but so is EA. As an aside, now that young women make more money than young men (largely because women go to college at higher rates than men), if we made the decision just based on money, we could have the majority of stay-at-home parents be dads.