You Are Not So Smart

How strong is your bullshit detector? And what exactly IS the scientific definition of bullshit?

In this episode we explore what makes a person susceptible to bullshit, how to identify and defend against it, and what kind of people are the most and least likely to be bowled over by bullshit artists and other merchants of pseudo-profound, feel-good woo.

Direct download: 066_-_Bullshit_-_Gordon_Pennycook.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:40pm EST

Our guest in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is psychologist Laurie Santos who heads the Comparative Cognition Laboratory at Yale University. In that lab, she and her colleagues are exploring the fact that when two species share a relative on the evolutionary family tree, not only do they share similar physical features, but they also share similar behaviors. Psychologists and other scientists have used animals to study humans for a very long time, but Santos and her colleagues have taken it a step further by choosing to focus on a closer relation, the capuchin monkey; that way they could investigate subtler, more complex aspects of human decision making – like cognitive biases.

One of her most fascinating lines of research has come from training monkeys how to use money. That by itself is worthy of a jaw drop or two. Yes, monkeys can be taught how to trade tokens for food, and for years, Santos has observed capuchin monkeys attempting to solve the same sort of financial problems humans have attempted in prior experiments, and what Santos and others have discovered is pretty amazing. Monkeys and humans seem to be prone to the same biases, and when it comes to money, they make the same kinds of mistakes.

Direct download: 064_-_Monkey_Marketplace_-_Laurie_Santos_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:17pm EST

What effect does Google have on your brain? Here's an weirder question: what effect does knowing that you have access to Google have on your brain?

In this episode we explore what happens when a human mind becomes aware that it can instantly, on-command, at any time, search for the answer to any question, and then, most of time, find it.

According to researcher Matthew Fisher, one of the strange side effects is an inflated sense of internal knowledge. In other words, as we use search engines, over time we grow to mistakenly believe we know more than we actually do even when we no longer have access to the internet.

Direct download: 063_-_The_Search_Effect_-_Matthew_Fisher.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:48pm EST

In psychology, they call it naive realism, the tendency to believe that the other side is wrong simply because they are misinformed.

According to Lee Ross, co-author of the new book, The Wisest One in the Room, naive realism has three tenets. One, you tend to believe that you arrived at your political opinions after careful, rational analysis through unmediated thoughts and perceptions. Two, since you are extremely careful and devoted to sticking to the facts and thus free from bias and impervious to persuasion, anyone else who has read the things you have read or seen the things you have seen will naturally see things your way, given that they’ve pondered the matter as thoughtfully as you have. And three, if anyone does disagree with your political opinions it must be because they simply don’t have all the facts yet.

Since this is the default position most humans take when processing a political opinion, when confronted with people who disagree, you tend to assume there must be a rational explanation. Usually, that explanation is that the other side is either lazy or stupid or corrupted by some nefarious information-scrambling entity like cable news, a blowhard pundit, a charming pastor or a lack thereof.


Ross and Ward concluded that naive realism leads people to approach political arguments with the confidence that “rational open-minded discourse” will naturally lead to a rapid narrowing of disagreement, but that confidence usually short lived. Instead, they say our “repeated attempts at dialogue with those on the ‘other side’ of a contentious issue make us aware that they rarely yield to our attempts at enlightenment; nor do they yield to the efforts of articulate, fair-minded spokespersons who share our views.” In other words, it’s naive to think evidence presented from the sources you trust will sway your opponents because when they do the same, it never sways you.

Listen in this episode as legendary psychologist Lee Ross explains how to identify, avoid, and combat this most pernicious of cognitive mistakes.

Direct download: 062_-_Naive_Realism_-_Lee_Ross.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:28am EST

You have the power to wield neuroplasticity to your advantage.

Just as you can change your body at the atomic level by lifting weights, you can willfully alter your brain by...thinking in a certain way. In this episode we explore using your brain to change your brain at the level of neurons and synapses beyond what is possible through other methods like learning a new language or earning a degree in chemistry. With mindfulness meditation, the evidence seems to suggest that one can achieve a level of change that would be impossible otherwise. The more you attempt to focus, the better you get at focusing on command, and so a real change begins taking place - you slowly become able to think differently, to hold thoughts differently and to dismiss thoughts that before led to attention difficulties or what feels like unwanted thoughts or clutter - and that’s not magical or the result of shaking hands with a deity, it’s biological. Listen as author and meditation teacher Michael Taft explains the benefits of secular, scientific practice of modern mindfulness meditation

Direct download: 061_-_Mindfulness_-_Michael_Taft.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:49am EST

Is all this new technology improving our thinking or dampening it? Are all these new communication tools turning us into navel-gazing human/brand hybrids, or are we developing a new set of senses that allow us to benefit from never severing contact with the people most important to us?

That's the topic of this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, and to answer these questions we welcome this episode's guest, Clive Thompson, who is the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. As the title suggests, he disagrees with the naysayers, and his book is an impressive investigation into why they are probably (thankfully) wrong.

Direct download: 058_-_Technology_-_Clive_Thompson_Rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:28pm EST

Reframing is one of those tools that emerged from psychology that just plain works...it’s practical, simple, and with practice and repetition leads to real change in people with a variety of problems. It works because we rarely question our own interpretations, the meanings we construct when examining a set of facts, or out own introspection of internal emotional states. So much of the things we feel in anticipation are just best guesses and assumptions, models of reality that may or may not be accurate and will likely pan out much differently than we predict.

In this episode, we meet Tom Bunn, a former pilot, and Robert Morris, a startup CEO, who are both exploring the power of reframing to change people's thoughts and behaviors - one to conquer the fear of flying, the other to crowdsource a new social network devoted to mental health.

Direct download: 060_-_Reframing_-_Robert_R._Morris.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:56am EST

Just how much control do you really have over your life, relationships, happiness, and the events around the world? Well, much less than we would like to admit.

Yet, time and again, we see in psychology, that in situations in which the outcomes are clearly, undoubtable random, people tend to latch onto any shred of evidence that could be interpreted otherwise.

Our guests in this episode are psychiatrist Michael I. Bennett and his comedy writer daughter Sarah Bennett whose new book, Fuck Feelings makes the case for accepting the illusion of control as a guiding principle for living a better life.

Direct download: 059_-_The_Illusion_of_Control_-_Michael_and_Sarah_Bennett.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:22pm EST

10 years after Katrina the residents of New Orleans and portions of Mississippi are still experiencing PTSD. In this episode we explore what causes this disorder, why it happens, what triggers the symptoms, and how to combat the effects with University of New Orlean psychologist Robert D. Laird.

Direct download: 057_-_PTSD_-_Robert_D._Laird.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 5:40pm EST

Before we had names for them or a science to study them, the people who could claim the most expertise on biases, fallacies, heuristics and all the other quirks of human reasoning and perception were scam artists, con artists, and magicians. On this episode, magician and scam expert Brian Brushwood explains why people fall for scams of all sizes, how to avoid them, and why most magicians can spot a fraudster a mile away.

Direct download: 056_-_Magicians_and_Scams_-_Brian_Brushwood.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 7:48pm EST

Is psychology too WEIRD? That's what this episode's guest, psychologist Steven J. Heine suggested when he and his colleagues published a paper suggesting that psychology wasn't the study of the human mind, but the study of one kind of human mind, the sort generated by the kinds of brains that happen to be conveniently located near the places where research is usually conducted - North American college undergraduates. They called them the WEIRDest people in the world, short for Western, Education, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic - the kind of people who make up less than 15 percent of the world's population. In this episode, you'll learn why it took so long to figure out it was studying outliers, and what it means for the future of psychology.

Direct download: 055_-_WEIRD_People_-_Steven_J._Heine.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:50pm EST

Is the person you believe to be the protagonist of your life story real or a fictional character? In other words, is your very self real or is it an illusion? According to psychologist Bruce Hood, the person at the center of your life isn't really there; it's all neurological smoke and mirrors. Sure, you have the sensation that you have a self, and that sensation is real, but the beliefs and ideas that spring from it are not. Learn all about it in this episode in which you'll hear some new material mixed with a rebroadcast of episode four's interview with the author of The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood.

Direct download: 054_-_The_Self_-_Bruce_Hood_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:36pm EST

Can new computer programs rid us of the cognitive errors that lead to learned helplessness in the classroom? In this episode Ulrik Christensen, senior fellow of digital learning at McGraw-Hill Education, explains how adaptive learning tools are changing the way teachers approach students, empowering educators to provide the kind of attention required to pass along mastery in areas where traditional approaches don't seem to work.

Direct download: 053_-_Adaptive_Learning_-_Ulrik_Christensen.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:34pm EST

Stuck in a bad situation, even when the prison doors are left wide open, we sometimes refuse to attempt escape. Why is that? In this episode learn all about the strange phenomenon of learned helplessness and how it keeps people in bad jobs, poor health, terrible relationships, and awful circumstances despite how easy it might be to escape any one of those scenarios with just one more effort. In the episode, you'll learn how to defeat this psychological trap with advice from psychologists Jennifer Welbourne, who studies attributional styles in the workplace, and Kym Bennett who studies the effects of pessimism on health.

Direct download: 052_-_Learned_Helplessness.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:52pm EST

It’s peculiar, your inability to predict what will make you happy, and that inability leads you to do stupid things with your money. Once you get a decent job that allows you to buy new shoes on a whim, you start accumulating stuff, and the psychological research into happiness says that stuff is a crappy source of lasting joy. In this rebroadcast, listen as psychologist Elizabeth Dunn explains how to get more happiness out of your money...with science!

Direct download: 050_-_Happy_Money_-_Elizabeth_Dunn_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 5:16pm EST

Work sucks, but it doesn't have to. In this episode we go inside Google in an interview with Lazlo Bock, head of People Operations. Bock has helped the company conduct experiments and introduce policies and procedures that have applied knowledge gained from psychology and neuroscience concerning biases, fallacies, and other weird human behavior quirks. The result has been a workplace where people are happier, more productive, and better able to pursue that which fulfills their ambitions. Learn all about Google's approach as Lazlo describes his new book, Work Rules, a collection of insights from Google's evidence-based, data-driven human relations.

Direct download: 051_-_Work_-_Lazlo_Bock.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:09pm EST

What if you could give yourself a superpower? That's what Jia Jiang wondered when he began a quest to remove the fear of rejection from his brain and become the risk-taking, adventurous person he always wanted to be. Hear how he forced himself to feel the pain of rejection 100 times in 100 days in an effort to desensitize himself, and how he recorded every moment on his way to making himself a better person.

Direct download: 049_-_Rejection_-_Jia_Jiang.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:45am EST

Can you change a person's mind on a divisive social issue? The latest science says...yes. But it will require two things: contact and disclosure. In this episode you'll travel to Mississippi to see how professional mind changers are working to shift attitudes on LGBT rights, and you'll learn how a man in Los Angeles conducted 12,000 conversations until he was able to perfect the most powerful version of contact possible. In one 22-minute chat, Dave Fleischer can change people's minds on issues they've felt strongly about for decades, and change them forever.

Direct download: 048_-_Contact.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:41pm EST

Public shaming is back. Once done in town squares, the subjects of our ridicule locked in pillories and unable to avoid the rotten fruit and insults we hurled at them, now the shaming takes place on the internet. No longer our neighbors, the new targets are strangers and celebrities, and instead of courts meting out justice, it is the aggregate outrage of well-meaning people on Twitter just like you. Listen as author Jon Ronson describes his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” in which he spends time with people who have had their lives ruined by modern, web-based public shamings in an attempt to reveal to each of us what can happen when, alone but together, we obliterate people for unpopular opinions, off-color jokes, offensive language, and professional faux pas.

Direct download: 047_-_Public_Shaming_-_Jon_Ronson.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:12pm EST

In this inbetweenisode you will hear an excerpt from a lecture I gave at DragonCon2014 and an interview with neurologist and host of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Steven Novella who discusses the psychology and neuroscience behind conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists.

Direct download: 046_-_Inbetweenisode_11_-_Steven_Novella.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:22pm EST

In this episode, we talk to Danielle Ofri, a physician and author of "What Doctors Feel" - a book about the emotional lives of doctors and how compassion fatigue, biases, and other mental phenomena affect their decisions, their motivations, and their relationships with patients.

You'll also hear Ofri discuss emotional epidemiology, the viral-like spread of fear and other emotions that can lead to panics like those we've seen surrounding Ebola, the Swine Flu, SARS, and other illnesses.

Direct download: 045_-_Doctors_-_Danielle_Ofri.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:35pm EST

This episode is a rebroadcast of two interviews from episode 20 all about how we are very, very bad at predicting the future both in our personal lives and as as a species. 

The first interview is with Matt Novak who writes for Paleofuture, a blog at Gizmodo that explores how people from the past imagined, often very incorrectly, what the future might be like in the decades to come. The second is with James Burke, the legendary science communicator and historian who created Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. 

Direct download: 044_-_Inbetweenisode_-_James_Burke_and_Matt_Novak_Rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:04pm EST

Did Brian Williams lie, exaggerate, or misremember? How certain are you that your most vivid memories are real? How easily could someone implant a false memory into your mind? In this episode you'll learn why psychologists say that your memory is mostly fiction as psychologist Daniel Simons explains how Brian Williams could have easily believed in a detailed war coverage memory that wasn't real, and you'll hear psychologist Julia Shaw explain how she was recently able to easily implant memories into college so that those students would admit to felony crimes that they did not commit.

Direct download: 043_-_Misremembering_-_Julia_Shaw.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00pm EST

Scientists are using rubber hands and virtual reality to transfer people's minds into avatars designed to look like members of groups and subcultures to which the subjects do not belong, and the results have been - well, trippy. Can changing your body, even just for a few minutes, change your mind. Can a psychological body transfer melt away long-held opinions and unconscious prejudices? Learn what cognitive neuroscientist Lara Maister has discovered in her unconventional experiments.

Direct download: 042_-_Bodily_Resonance_-_Lara_Maister.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:54pm EST

In this episode, two stories, one about a football game that split reality in two for the people who witnessed it, and another about what happened when a naked man literally appeared out of thin air inside a couple's apartment while they were getting ready for work.

Direct download: 041_-_Inbetweenisode_-_The_GameCeiling_Crasher.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 8:22pm EST

How far back can we trace our irrational behaviors and cognitive biases? Evolutionarily speaking, why do we even do these things? Can we blame our faulty logic on our cultures and institutions, or should we blame it on our biology and our genetic inheritance? Our guest on this episode is psychologist Laurie Santos who has created a novel approach to solving these questions - a marketplace where monkeys learn how to use money just like humans, and where they also tend to make the same kind of mistakes we do.

Direct download: 040_-_Monkey_Marketplace_-_Laurie_Santos.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 8:44pm EST

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