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Pragmatic prospection emphasizes utility of predicting rather than mere predictability

Behavioral and Brain Sciences; New York Vol. 40,  (2017). DOI:10.1017/S0140525X16000984

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Cultures vary in many ways, including planfulness, punctuality, and violence. Van Lange et al. propose a novel, creative theory suggesting that proximity to the equator increases aggression. The mediating factors are heat (temperature), environmental predictability and harshness, life history orientation, and self-control.

We find much to admire in this (CLASH) theory, especially its emphasis on low self-control. In this brief comment, we respectfully note one problematic assertion and propose possible remedies.

The issue concerns the nature of prediction and prospective cognition. CLASH theory asserts that harsh and unpredictable climates reduce self-control. A priori, it seems one could make the opposite assumption, because self-control may be more needed for survival in harsh and unpredictable climates than in comfortably benign and predictable ones.

Harshness and unpredictability are perhaps slippery terms. Van Lange et al. assert that climates near the equator have harsher and less predictable climates than those far from it, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. We found this claim surprising and suspect many others will also. To compare the U.S. states closest to and farthest from the equator, it seems implausible to assert that Hawaii's climate is harsher and more unpredictable than Alaska's. Anecdotally, local Hawaii television stations do not bother with on-air weather reports, reportedly because the weather is so easily predictable that it seems foolish to have an expert go on camera and make essentially the same forecast every day.

The term predictability is perhaps slightly the wrong concept for this theory. The usual meaning of predictability refers to how accurately future events can be specified in advance. We suspect that if inhabitants (or experts) were asked to predict the high temperature on a particular day one or two months hence, their predictions would be more accurate in Hawaii than in Alaska. In that literal sense, Hawaii's climate is more...