Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Rats “outperformed some of the world’s leading human fund managers”

The story is this: "The rats were trained to press a red or green button to give buy or sell signals, after listening to ticker tape movements represented as sounds. If they called the market right they were fed, if they called it wrong they got a small electric shock. Male and female rats performed equally well. The second generation of rattraders, cross-bred from the best performers in the first generation, appeared to have even better performance, although this is a preliminary result, according to the text."

All very horrible and interesting, no doubt. But what I want to know is whether humans are better fund managers if (a) they can hear financial information and/or (b) they are given electric shocks for bad calls and/or (c) they are the children of successful fund managers?

As for (a), we spend a lot of time making information visually accessible, but maybe having financial information presented as tunes would be even better. On (b), I see no reason why plenty of young graduates wouldn't volunteer to be tested with little electric shocks; indeed, if it were shown to be successful, I think a few would continue to agree to the risk of electric shocks in exchange for higher bonuses if they were more successful. On (c), I suspect we will need to wait for a larger population of cross-bred fund manager offspring in order to be certain, but surely one explanation for those families of doctors and lawyers one comes across is that people have been breeding better doctors and lawyers?

Finally, is this evidence against the idea that men and their testosterone levels are to blame for financial crashes? Do female rats perform as well - but more steadily, with male rats having a larger variance? This is the sort of thing the world needs to know before men are edged out of their last well-paid bastion of over-representation.

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