You Are Not So Smart (psychology)

Do you think that everything you believe is true? If not, then what are you wrong about? It is a difficult question to answer, and it leads to many others. Where do our beliefs come from, and how do we know where we should place our doubt? Why don't facts seem to work on people? In this episode we explore the psychology of belief through interviews with Margaret Maitland, an Egyptologist, Jim Alcock, a psychologist who studies belief, and Will Storr, a journalist who wrote about his adventures with people who believe in things most people don't in his book, The Unpersuadables.

Direct download: 033_-_Belief_v2.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:12am EDT

Is willpower a skill? Is it something we develop like a muscle, or hone like a talent - is it something we can strengthen through practice and mental exercise? The latest research suggests willpower is more like a fuel, a resource, an internal battery, and once you've used it up, you much recharge it or else you'll be unable to keep your hand out of the cookie jar. Speaking of cookies...we also explore in this episode how psychologists have used cookies in novel ways to uncover the secrets of our minds.

Direct download: 32_-_Ego_Depletion.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:44pm EDT

Why do you so often fail at removing bad habits from your life?

You try to diet, to exercise, to stop smoking, to stop staying up until 2 a.m. stuck in a hamster wheel of internet diversions, and right when you seem to be doing well, right when it seems like your bad habit is dead, you lose control. It seems all to easy for one transgression, one tiny cheating bite of pizza or puff of smoke, and then it's all over. You binge, calm down, and the habit returns, reanimated and stronger than ever.

You ask yourself, how is it possible I can be so good at so many things, so clever in so many ways, and still fail at outsmarting my own vice-ridden brain? The answer has to do with conditioning, classical like Pavlov and operant like Skinner, and a psychological phenomenon that's waiting in the future for every person who tries to twist shut the spigot of reward and pleasure - the extinction burst, and in this episode we explore how it works, why it happens, and how you can overcome it.

Direct download: 31_-_Extinction_Burst.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 4:08pm EDT

Is it true that all it takes to be an expert is 10,000 hours of practice? What about a professional athlete? Do different people get more out of practice than others, and if so, is it nature or nurture? In this episode we ask all these things of David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, who explains how practice affects the brain and whether or not greatness comes naturally or after lots and lots of effort.

Direct download: 030_-_Practice_-_David_Epstein.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 11:49pm EDT

029 - Labels - Adam Alter

What are the subconscious, invisible, involuntary ways that labels affect the way we think, feel, and behave? Listen as Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink, explains how labels affect every way in which we interact as human beings.

Direct download: 029_-_Labels_-_Adam_Alter_1.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:32am EDT

What causes people to riot? What gives a rousing speech its power over the masses? Could you be seduced by the presence of a mob to do things you wouldn't do otherwise? We ask these questions and more of Michael Bond, author of The Power of Others, as we examine the psychological power of crowds to alter our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Direct download: 028_-_Crowds_-_Michael_Bond.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:19pm EDT

I recently collaborated with Joe Hanson of the YouTube channel It’s Okay to be Smart and helped him write an episode about pattern recognition. I thought it would be great to bring him on the show and interview him in an episode all about the new science communicators.

We learn what it is like to be part of the new wave of science communication, talk about science literacy, and discuss the ramifications of rubbing a beard with an infected chicken before conducting lab work.

After the interview, I discuss a study about the difference between dogma and belief superiority, and how it helps explain why some politicians will never compromise.

Direct download: 027_-_Science_Communication_-_Joe_Hanson.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:23pm EDT

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” You’ve heard the expression before. You’ve may have, like myself, smugly used it a few times to feel like you made an intelligent point in an office conversation. It’s one of those great comebacks that we’ve decided is ok to use in professional settings like congressional debates and televised political arguments about everything from gun control to foreign policy. But, it might surprise you to learn who wrote it, how young the above quote is, and why it was written in the first place.

Direct download: 026_-_Maslows_Hammer.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:42pm EDT

The clothes you wear have powers...over your mind. Your wardrobe doesn't just affect the way others see you, but it affects the way you see yourself. That results in changes in perception, attention, behavior, and more. Learn what researcher Hajo Adam has to say about the phenomenon he discovered along with Adam Galinsky, enclothed cognition, and how you can use it to your advantage.

Direct download: 025_-_Enclothed_Cognition_-_Hajo_Adam.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:36am EDT

Why do we sleep and why do we dream? Despite the fact that every human being spends roughly 1/3 of his or her life asleep, science has yet to crack the mystery of the phenomenon. Why do we sleep and dream? The answer for now is...we don't know. To learn more, we interview psychologist Richard Wiseman who has written a new book on sleep and dreaming that promises to help you get the most out of both based on what science has learned so far.

Direct download: Sleep.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 5:12pm EDT

In the 1950s, a group of psychologists nearly turned a summer camp into Lord of The Flies. The story of how and why it was so easy to turn normal boys into bloodthirsty, warring tribes can teach you a lot about a common mental phenomenon known as the illusion of asymmetric insight - something that helps keep you loyal to certain groups and alters the way you see outsiders.

Direct download: 022_-_The_Illusion_of_Asymmetric_Insight.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:52pm EDT

The problem with sorting out failures and successes is that failures are often muted, destroyed, or somehow removed from view while successes are left behind, weighting your decisions and perceptions, tilting your views of the world. That means to be successful you must learn how to seek out what is missing. You must learn what not to do. Unfortunately, survivorship bias stands between you and the epiphanies you seek.  
To learn how to combat this pernicious bias, we explore the story of Abraham Wald and the Department of War Math founded during World War II, and then we interview Wald's modern-day counterpart, Megan Price, statistician and director of research at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group who explains how she uses math and statistics to save lives and improve conditions in areas of the world suffering from the effects of war.
Direct download: 022_-_Survivorship_Bias_-_-_Megan_Price.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:05pm EDT

In this inbetweenisode, Christina Draganich explains how she came up with the idea to research placebo sleep, and she tells us how anyone with the right guidance can use science to expand our understanding of the natural world. We also learn about the continuity field generated by the human brain.

Direct download: 021_-_Inbetweenisode_3_-_Christina_Draganich.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 1:29am EDT

In this episode we discuss how terrible people are at predicting the future, how history really works, and how we can understand where we are going by changing how we view where we've been. Our guests are science historian and communications legend James Burke and Paleofuture creator Matt Novak.

Direct download: 020_-_The_Future_-_James_Burke_and_Matt_Novak.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:29am EDT

In this episode we learn about the placebo effect and how research continues to unravel the mysteries behind it and how it affects our behaviors.

Our guest is Kristi Erdal whose latest research discovered a new psychological phenomeon now known as placebo sleep.

After the interview, I eat a white chocolate Oreo cookie and discuss a new study into how the eccentricity of artists affects our perceptions of their art.

Direct download: 019_-_The_Placebo_Effect_-_Kristi_Erdal.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 8:13pm EDT

Benjamin Franklin knew how to deal with haters, and in this episode we learn how he turned his haters into fans with what is now called The Benjamin Franklin Effect.

Listen as David McRaney reads and excerpt from his book, "You Are Now Less Dumb," explaining how the act of spreading harm forms the attitude of hate, and the act of spreading kindness generates the attitude of camaraderie.

Direct download: 018_-_Inbetweenisode_-_The_Benjamin_Franklin_Effect.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:46pm EDT

Where is the line between medicine and alternative medicine? Are Eastern medicine and Western medicine truly at odds, and if so, who is right and who is wrong? What harm is there in using complementary or integrative treatments in an effort to improve wellness?

In this episode we discuss alternative medicine with Tim Farley, creator and curator of What's The Harm, a website that tracks the harmful effects that result from seeking out alternative treatments and cures before, or instead of, seeking out science-based medicine. Tim is a software engineer and research fellow at the James Randi Foundation. He also created the website Skeptical Software Tools, and he tweets at @krelnik.

Direct download: 017_-_Alternative_Medicine_-_Tim_Farley.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 11:53pm EDT

Who is pulling the strings? Who is behind the coverup? Who holds the real power, and what do they want? How deep does the conspiracy to control your mind go?

In this episode we discuss the history, social impact, neuroscience, and psychology behind conspiracy theories and paranoid thinking.

Our guests are Steven Novella and Jesse Walker. Steven is a leader in the skeptic community, host of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and a neurologist at Yale University's School of Medicine. Walker is the book editor for Reason Magazine and author of the new book, The United States of Paranoia, a Conspiracy Theory. 

Listen as they explain why we love conspiracy theories, how they flourish, how they harm, and what they say about a culture.

Direct download: 016_-_Conspiracy_Theories_-_Steven_Novella_and_Jesse_Walker.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:24pm EDT

In this inbetweenisode I read an excerpt from my book, You Are Now Less Dumb, about a strange experiment in Michigan that tested the bounds of the self by throwing three very unusual men into a situation that won't likely be repeated ever again by science.

Direct download: 015_-_Inbetweenisode_-_Narrative_Bias.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:19pm EDT

In this episode we discuss the power of narratives to affect our beliefs and behaviors with Melanie C. Green, a psychologist who studies the persuasive power of fiction. 

According Nielsen, the TV ratings company, the average person in the United States watches about 34 hours of television a week. That’s 73 days a year. Over the course of a lifetime, the average American can expect to spend a full decade lost in the trance spell that only powerful narratives can cast over the human mind. 

What is the power of all the stories we consume through television? What about movies and books and comics and video games and everything else? How does it affect our beliefs and behaviors? 

We discuss all of that and more with Melanie C. Green who is a social psychologist who developed the transportation into a narrative worlds theory that helps explain total story immersion and how it translates into influence over our real-world behaviors. Green is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

After the interview I eat some chocolate orange cherry cookies sent in by Elliot Jones and then discuss how photographs can either enhance or dampen your memory depending on how you use them.

Direct download: 014_-_Narratives_-_Melanie_C._Green.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 10:02pm EDT

The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.

However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.

We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.

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. Thompson is a journalist whose work can be found published in Wired, The Washington Post, and the New York Times Magazine. You can learn more about him at his website.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about research into how the way you walk can encourage or discourage criminals to attack you.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Joye Swan who submitted a recipe for chewy rosemary sugar cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Direct download: Technology__Clive_Thompson_.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 9:15am EDT

Why do human beings experience jealousy, what is its function, and what are the warning signs that signal this powerful emotion may lead to violence?

Once reserved for the contemplation of poets and playwrights, jealousy is now the subject of intense scientific scrutiny. "Mate poachers abound," explains this week's guest, psychologist David Buss, who says that his research supports his hypothesis that human jealousy is an adaptation forged by evolutionary forces to deal with the problems of infidelity. Moderate jealousy, he says, is healthy and signals commitment, but there is a dark and corrosive side as well that follows a clear, predictable pattern before it destroys lives.

David Buss is a professor of psychology who studies human mating at The University of Texas at Austin. He his the author of The Evolution Of Desire: Strategies Of Human MatingDangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and SexThe Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, and Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations from Adventure to Revenge. You can learn more about him and his work at DavidBuss.com

After the interview I discuss a news story about research into societies in which women are more competitive than men.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Fernando Cordeiro who submitted a recipe for chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Direct download: Jealousy__David_Buss.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 3:04am EDT

If a world archery champion fell madly in love with the Eiffel Tower, who she considered to be a female, married the monument, and then went on to consummate her union with it, would you consider her a crazy person? How about perverted? Insane? What about a person who can only reach sexual climax by falling down stairs? What about a person who masturbates to wheelchairs or to a recently worn hearing aid?
Well, those people exist. But should we consider those people mentally ill whose sexual desires deviate from the norm? Given what science is telling us about sexuality, how should we adjust our thinking about perversion? That's the topic we explore in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. My guest is:
Jesse Bering's new book is "Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us." In it, he explores what is and is not normal, what is and is not perverted, and whether or not we should care about those things from a legal or moral standpoint. A former psychology professor at the University of Arkansas as well as former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast, Bering has written for Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, and Discover. His other books are "Why is the Penis Shaped Like That" and "The Belief Instinct." You can learn more about Jesse at his website.
Also, at the end, we eat a cinnamon cardamom snickerdoodle and discuss popcorn's effect on advertising.
Direct download: Perversion__Jesse_Bering.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:09am EDT

Why do human beings get into arguments? What does science have to say about argumentation? Is there an evolutionary explanation? Is arguing adaptive? Is all our bickering in comments, forums, social media and elsewhere a good or a bad thing? Those are some of the questions posed in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. We ask those questions of:


Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist. He says that means he researches how humans evolved to draw conclusions from inconclusive data. At 24, he was an elder in the world’s largest hippie commune, but now he lectures at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville California and is a chief researcher at Berkely’s Consortium for Emergent Dynamics where he and others research how minds emerge from matter. He is now working on a book, "Doubt: A Natural History; A User's Guide" and he blogs at Psychology Today. (link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ambigamy)


Hugo Mercier is a researcher for the French National Center for Scientific Research who shook up both psychology and philosophy with a paper published in 2011 titled, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory” that proposed humans evolved reason to both produce and evaluate arguments. Respected and well-known names in psychology like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt have both praised the paper as being one of the most important works in years on the science of rationality. You can find his website here. (link: https://sites.google.com/site/hugomercier/


Link to Hugo's paper:


Direct download: Arguing__Hugo_Mercier.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:34am EDT

In this episode we discuss the how video games can help us understand our delusions and speak with Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com. Also, at the end, we eat a white chocolate oatmeal cookie and discuss a misconception about poverty.     

Direct download: Video_Games_-_Jamie_Madigan.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 3:40pm EDT

In this episode, we discuss eyebeams and superseded scientific theories with Kevin Lyon, and at the end, we discuss vitamins while eating a fudgy oatmeal cookie.   

Direct download: Common_Sense___Kevin_Lyon.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 12:26pm EDT

In this episode we speak with Elizabeth Dunn about better spending money to increase happiness. Later, we eat an apple toffee cookie and explore novelty in old churches.

Direct download: Spending_Money__Elizabeth_Dunn.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 2:24am EDT

In this episode, we discuss selling out, countercultures, and authenticity with Andrew Potter, the author of "The Authenticity Hoax." Afterward, I eat a Chewie Chewbacca Chocolate Chip vegan cookie and read a study about the sugar high and hyperactivity.

Direct download: Selling_Out__Andrew_Potter.mp3
Category:psychology -- posted at: 6:19pm EDT