You Are Not So Smart (psychology)

Last year on this show, we did three episodes about the backfire effect, and by far, those episodes were the most popular we’ve ever done.

In fact, the famous web comic The Oatmeal turned them into a sort of special feature, and that comic of those episodes was shared on Facebook a gazillion times, which lead to a stories about the comic in popular media, and then more people listened to the shows, on and on it went. You can go see it at The Oatmeal right now at the top of their page. It’s titled, you are not going to believe what I am about to tell you.

The popularity of the backfire effect extends into academia. The original paper has been cited hundreds of times, and there have been more than 300 articles written about it since it first came out.

The backfire effect has his special allure to it, because, on the surface, it seems to explain something we’ve all experienced -- when we argue with people who believe differently than us, who see the world through a different ideological lens -- they often resist our views, refuse to accept our way of seeing things, and it often seems like we do more harm than good, because they walk away seemingly more entrenched in their beliefs than before the argument began.

But…since those shows last year, researchers have produced a series new studies into the backfire effect that complicate things. Yes, we are observing something here, and yes we are calling it the backfire effect, but everything is not exactly as it seems, and so I thought we should invite these new researchers on the show and add a fourth episode to the backfire effect series based on what they’ve found. And this is that episode.

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Direct download: 120_-_The_Backfire_Effect_-_Part_Four_v2.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:16pm EDT

Our guest for this episode, Will Storr, wrote a book called The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science.

In that book, Storr spends time with Holocaust deniers, young Earth creationists, people who believe they’ve lived past lives as famous figures, people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, people who stake their lives on the power of homeopathy, and many more – people who believe things that most of us do not.

Storr explains in the book that after spending so much time with these people it started to become clear to him that it all goes back to that model of reality we all are forced to generate and then interact with. We are all forced to believe what that model tells us, and it is no different for people who are convinced that dinosaurs and human beings used to live together, or that you can be cured of an illness by an incantation delivered over the telephone. For some people, that lines up with their models of reality in a way that’s good enough. It’s a best guess.

Storr proposes you try this thought experiment. First, answer this question: Are you right about everything you believe? Now, if you are like most people, the answer is no. Of course not. As he says, that would mean you are a godlike and perfect human being. You’ve been wrong enough times to know it can’t be true. You are wrong about some things, maybe many things. That leads to a second question – what are you are wrong about? Storr says when he asked himself this second question, he started listing all the things he believed and checked them off one at a time as being true, he couldn’t think of anything about which he was wrong.

- Show notes at: www.youarenotsosmart.com
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Direct download: 119_-_The_Unpersuadables.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:37pm EDT

In this episode of the YANSS Podcast, we sit down with legendary science historian James Burke.

For much of his career, Burke has been creating documentaries and writing books aimed at helping us to make better sense of the enormous amount of information that he predicted would one day be at our fingertips.

In Connections, he offered an “alternate view of history” in which great insights took place because of anomalies and mistakes, because people were pursuing one thing, but it lead somewhere surprising or was combined with some other object or idea they could never have imagined by themselves. Innovation took place in the spaces between disciplines, when people outside of intellectual and professional silos, unrestrained by categorical and linear views, synthesized the work of people still trapped in those institutions, who, because of those institutions, had no idea what each other was up to and therefore couldn’t predict the trajectory of even their own disciplines, much less history itself.

In The Day the Universe Changed, Burke explored the sequential impact of discovery, innovation, and invention on how people defined reality itself. “You are what we know,” he wrote “and when the body of knowledge changes, so do we.” In this view of change, knowledge is invented as much as it is discovered, and new ideas “nibble at the edges” of common knowledge until values considered permanent and fixed fade into antiquity just like any other obsolete tool. Burke said that our system of knowledge and discovery has never been able, until recently, to handle more than one or two ways of seeing things at a time. In response we have long demanded conformity with the dominant worldview or with similarly homogenous ideological binaries.

My favorite line from the book has to do with imagining a group of scientists who live in a society that believes the universe is made of omelettes and goes about designing instruments to detect traces of interstellar egg residue. When they observe evidence of galaxies and black holes, to them it all just seems like noise. Their model of nature cannot yet accommodate what they are seeing, so they don’t see it. “All that can accurately be said about a man who thinks he is a poached egg,” joked Burke, “is that he is in the minority.”

Direct download: 118_-_Connections_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 11:51am EDT

In this episode we interview Dean Burnett, author of "Idiot Brain: What Your Brain is Really Up To." Burnett's book is a guide to the neuroscience behind the things that our amazing brains do poorly.

In the interview we discuss motion sickness, the pain of breakups, why criticisms are more powerful than compliments, the imposter syndrome, anti-intellectualism, irrational fears, and more. Burnett also explains how the brain is kinda sorta like a computer, but a really bad one that messes with your files, rewrites your documents, and edits your photos when you aren't around.

Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist who lectures at Cardiff University and writes about brain stuff over at his blog, Brain Flapping hosted by The Guardian.

Direct download: 117_-_Idiot_Brain_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 8:11am EDT

We've transferred our biases to artificial intelligence, and now those machine minds are creating the futures they predict. But there's a way to stop it.

In this episode we explore how machine learning is biased, sexist, racist, and prejudiced all around, and we meet the people who can explain why, and are going to try and fix it.

Direct download: 115_-_Machine_Bias_v2.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 7:45am EDT

In this divisive and polarized era how do you bridge the political divide between left and right? How do you persuade the people on the other side to see things your way?

New research by sociologist Robb Willer and psychologist Matthew Feinberg suggests that the answer is in learning how to cross something they call the empathy gap.

When we produce arguments, we do so from within our own moral framework and in the language of our moral values. Those values rest on top of a set of psychological tendencies influenced by our genetic predispositions and shaped by our cultural exposure that blind us to alternate viewpoints. Because of this, we find it very difficult to construct an argument with the same facts, but framed in a different morality. Willer’s work suggests that if we did that, we would find it a much more successful route to persuading people we usually think of as unreachable.

- Show notes at: www.youarenotsosmart.com
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Direct download: 114_-_Moral_Arguments_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 7:37am EDT

One of the most effective ways to change people’s minds is to put your argument into a narrative format, a story, but not just any story. The most persuasive narratives are those that transport us. Once departed from normal reality into the imagined world of the story we become highly susceptible to belief and attitude change.

In this episode, you’ll learn from psychologist Melanie C. Greene the four secrets to creating the most persuasive narratives possible.

- Show notes at: www.youarenotsosmart.com
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Direct download: 113_-_Narrative_Persuasion.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:26pm EDT

For computer scientist Chenhao Tan and his team, the internet community called Change My View offered something amazing, a ready-made natural experiment that had been running for years.

All they had to do was feed it into the programs they had designed to understand the back-and-forth between human beings and then analyze the patterns the emerged. When they did that, they discovered two things: what kind of arguments are most likely to change people’s minds, and what kinds of minds are most likely to be changed.

Direct download: 112_-_Change_My_View_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:24pm EDT

If you wanted to build a team in such a way that you maximized its overall intelligence, how would you do it? Would you stack it with high-IQ brainiacs? Would you populate it with natural leaders? Would you find experts on a wide range of topics? Well, those all sound like great ideas, but the latest research into collective intelligence suggests that none of them would work.

To create a team that is collectively intelligent, you likely need to focus on three specific factors that psychologist Christopher Chabris and his colleagues recently identified in their research, and in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast, he will tell you all about them and why they seem to matter more than anything else.

- Show notes at: www.youarenotsosmart.com
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Direct download: Collective_Intelligence_v3.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:04pm EDT

If you could compare the person you were before you became sleep deprived to the person after, you’d find you’ve definitely become...lesser than.

When it comes to sleep deprivation, you can’t trust yourself to know just how much it is affecting you. You feel fine, maybe a bit drowsy, but your body is stressed in ways that diminish your health and slow your mind.

In this episode, we sit down with two researchers whose latest work suggests sleep deprivation also affects how you see other people. In tests of implicit bias, negative associations with certain religious and cultural categories emerged after people started falling behind on rest.

- Show notes at: www.youarenotsosmart.com
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Direct download: 110_-_Sleep_and_Bias.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:42pm EDT