The last prize, for the best literature review of spaced repetition, was moderately successful, inspiring a pretty good review of the academic literature on spaced repetition. I am interested in experimenting more with prizes, but I would like to get input other people's input: what are other good topics for future prizes?

The topic should be:

  1. Well defined.
  2. Not too big. Something someone could understand pretty well in two weeks. 
  3. Academically researched.
  4. Relevant to being effective.
I am also open to projects besides literature reviews but literature reviews seem the most attractive to me right now. 
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Hm. We are principally interested here, practicality-wise, in akrasia and productivity. I don't know of any particular area of the akrasia literature that hasn't been discussed thoroughly here. Productivity-wise, software tools outside psychological training like dual n-back and spaced repetition tools like Mnemosyne/Anki already have their coverage. Nootropics are a common interest, but the major ones seem covered either by Wikipedia or my own stuff.

Maybe there's an area of psychology missing? For example, I've wondered how well-researched the Big Five personality factors are, and in particular, what the research on Conscientiousness says. I've collected a number of citations on it, but this has always been half-hearted. Which is too bad, because Conscientiousness seems like a major factor that LWers lack, and is pretty closely related to akrasia. Lukeprog claimed there was research into how to improve it in one of the reviews he cited, but I couldn't refind it.

I think perhaps the problem is that we aren't aware of all the little subfields that are useful and interesting. For example, I know of people working on posts that cover the literature on 'brainstorming' and 'learning how to solve physics problems'. Both of these sound really interesting and quite useful, but I don't want to make a prize about these since people are already working on them.

Conscientiousness sounds like it might be a good topic.

Conscientiousness sounds like it might be a good topic.

A new citation I've worked in, the Terman study (only very intelligent children were used) discussed in - eyeballing it, going from 10th to 90th in Conscientiousness was worth $800,000 over a lifetime. More than a similar jump in IQ.

Very interesting. I am especially interested in this because I have recently acquired some artificial conscientiousness via habitual use of task lists.

As a principle, things you can change are much more interesting for a literature review. For nootropics the change in IQ or other measure of even task-specific ability would be interesting to quantify. Similarily, personality traits and their payoffs are only interesting if is possible to change ones own personality.

Similarily, personality traits and their payoffs are only interesting if is possible to change ones own personality.

Don't neglect the usefulness of understanding personality traits for the purpose of predicting the behaviors of others.

You are right. Though in this respect any connection between ability and any trait is interesting.

As a principle, things you can change are much more interesting for a literature review.

Very true, it's easier to make things pan out that way; 'understanding to predict', as wedrifid suggests, is real and valid, but harder to be measure so you know you are not wasting your time. Conscientiousness may or may not be a thing you can change, see the last line.

Maybe that in itself would be an interesting topic: What you can actually change about yourself. Can you change your appearance? Your tastes? Your personality?

Of course it is easier to change and measure short-term effects such as a change in habits. Do any other, similarily easy to measure short-term changes and benefits come to mind? Any of those would be suitable for a literature review.

Your review of spaced repetition falls in this category for example. You can change how you learn and this change, especially the change in what you retain can be measured and has been measured.

I am reading Ericson's "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance" which you linked to in your spaced repetition review. It's quite interesting but seems to focus mostly on expert skill which doesn't seem that useful for most people. Do you know if there is an experimental literature on the more general topic of "skill acquisition and improvement"? Literature that deals with questions like if I'm trying to learn to do and understand math proofs easily or to learn to type correctly and efficiently or learning to do literature reviews well what are the strategies that I should expect to work well?

Do you know if there is an experimental literature on the more general topic of "skill acquisition and improvement"?

(I think you may be underestimating the value of deliberate practice, but if you don't like that, read the Handbook as well.)

Funnily enough, I just linked someone on IRC about that topic... I plan to start with page 43 of and see where the citations lead me.

Since I am currently trying to do skill acquisition along several fronts getting a lit review on this topic is very attractive to me. If you need papers you don't have access to, please email me as I have university library website access and will gladly search for them.

That is a huge document. Could you provide a useful pointer or two inside of it for useful findings for autodidacts?

I'm afraid I can't since I've only read part-way through it. The best I can say is read the first chapter or the table of contents and look at the ones that look interesting.


Oh sorry, I do strongly suspect that deliberate practice is useful for skill improvement from at low to moderate levels, I am just curious what kinds are best and interested in seeing more experimental results (though maybe ericsson does this, I haven't finished).

Maybe about "how to format knowledge for easy learning" There is an optimal strategy to turning information into something that is easy to learn, but we seem to be limited to a couple of sites discussing it.

The recent Direct Instruction thread suggests there is more to it.

Yes, hence why I suggest Theory of Instruction for review.

Although the comment I just made today on this post is currently sandwiched between two comments made yesterday (I thought comment threads just ended up in order from most recent to least?)

Wanting that it be noticed as much as possible, I'll just ctrl-v here if that's not a breach of etiquette:

I would like to link to this comment on Eliezer's post "the cluster structure of thingspace" in which I quickly note how TOI relates.


Two that come immediately to mind:

1) Cognitive enhancement, covering both the various nootropics and more "traditional" methods like exercise and getting enough sleep.

2) The paleo diet

(If these are too large, covering one particular facet would still be valuable. Ex: one particular class of nootropics, or the lectin-allergy hypothesis)

I think I want to stay away from nutrition; there's such a bad track record of controversy there.

The effect of sleep and exercise on cognitive function are good topics.

Sleep is a huge issue. Much work has been done on both cognitive and health effects, but I'd like to see a cost/benefit analysis - not like sleep is free. I feel there is a lot of room for 'winning' over default behavior in this area.

There have been a fair few articles on LessWrong about utilitarian giving, with existential risk reduction and foreign aid being the most commonly recommended. Given that for many LessWrongers maximizing utilions is a major T. In my own investigations, I've found terribly few well-researched critiques on aid. Most of the criticism that does exist focuses on aid given directly to governments. Whilst this does make up a large portion of overall aid given, this is mostly irrelevant for e.g. deciding whether to give to any GiveWell recommended charities.

The major problem with writing such an article would be the lack of high-quality, academic research in this area. Having said that, there has been [i]some[/i] good research, and doing some original research is not out of the question.

Full disclosure: If you did choose this as a topic for a future prize, it is very likely that I would submit an entry for it.