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YANSS 160 – What therapy is, what it isn’t, and the difference between idiot compassion and wise compassion

August 14, 2019 - 22:06

In Lori Gottlieb‘s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, she opens with a quote from James Baldwin that reads, “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.”

It’s a book about therapy, what is is, what it isn’t, and how people do and do not change their behaviors. It’s intimate and human, gut-wrenching and inspiring, and full of science and drama and an honesty and candor that you rarely find in books like this.

It’s also a true story, about Gottlieb’s decision, as a therapist, to go see a therapist herself after a traumatic life event sends her reeling.

It’s also an autobiography, telling the story of how she became a therapist and what she learned about herself in therapy, later in life after she had a thriving practice. It’s also about the arc of change that five people experience while in therapy.

It’s a big book, 58 chapters long — so you get an deep, intimate look into the lives of those patients as they get what they need from therapy.

One is John, a belligerent asshole who wants to be a better husband and father. Another is Julie, a woman trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. Charlotte is a 20-something with alcohol and relationship issues who is trying to define herself. Rita is a woman close to 70 with depression who is dealing with a lifetime of regret concerning her children. And Lori, the author, was blindsided by an awful revelation from the man she expected to marry, which leads to a breakup that scrambles her plans, her sense of self, and alters her feelings of security, while causing her to fixate on her mortality and loneliness and so much more.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is doing really well in the publishing world. It’s been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for several months and will soon be a television show on ABC starring Eva Longoria. For me though, the most interesting part of the book is when Gottlieb explains the transtheoretical model of change — a much-researched scientific foundation used by therapists that explains how people go about realizing they want to change their behavior — and how to guide them though it.

In the episode, I talk to her about that, how people go from resisting change to embracing the behaviors required to alter their own thoughts and feelings when stuck in destructive, unhealthy loops. You’ll also learn the difference between idiot compassion and wise compassion, and we cover the misconceptions people tend to have about therapy and therapists, because more than anything else, her book is about pulling back the curtain and showing what therapy really is.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

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Links and Sources

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Lori Gottlieb’s Website

YANSS 159 – How political conflict became a battle over ‘who we think we are, rather than reasoned differences of opinion.’

July 29, 2019 - 16:30

Dinner parties used to be where you avoided politics. Now talking about politics at dinner parties is the norm.

Years ago, we avoided politics because we assumed the people at our table had diverse political identities, and we didn’t want to introduce a topic that might lead to an argument. Today, we assume our guests share a single identity, after all, why else would we have invited them?

Something has changed in the United States, and for many of us, it’s only at Thanksgiving dinner, a gathering where we don’t get to sort ourselves by political tribe, that we must face people who see the world differently than ourselves.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

You can also support the show through PayPal by clicking this link.

In this episode, we spend time with political scientist Lilliana Mason who discusses this in her new book, Uncivil Agreement, in which she says we actually agree about most things, and strangely, “our conflicts are over who we think we are, rather than reasoned differences of opinion.”

As Mason explains, “Our opinions can be very fluid, so fluid that if we wanted to come to a compromise we could, if there were not these pesky identities in the way. We can’t come to a compromise because our identities are making us want to take positions as far away from the other side as possible. What that means is that we are trying to look like we disagree in order to defend our identity and our sense of difference from other people.”

As an example, Mason says that six months ago 99 percent of Americans would have said that, of course, children should not be separated from their parents. Now that the issue is politicized, people claim to feel differently, but in reality, it’s only tribal signaling at play. If their party were to ask them to express their true feelings, they would. They’ve become trapped by tribe.

“Our actual opinions, our levels of agreement, are different than what we are willing to accept our government to do because we don’t want to feel like our party is losing,” explains Mason in the show.

Lilliana Mason is professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland where she researches partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and American social polarization. She is the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identityand her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio. Her book outlines how we’ve moved away from issue-based polarization and entered a new realm of identity-based polarization. As long as the identity divide is maintained, we will behave more like warring tribes than a unified nation of people who have different values and ideas about what policies should be enacted. According to Mason, “Right now, we’re telling ourselves a story about a war that’s going on in our country, and it’s only making the war worse.”

Links and Sources

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Previous Episodes

Lilliana Mason on Twitter

Papers mentioned:

YANSS 158 – The science behind why we find A/B testing icky when it comes to policies, practices, medicine, and social media

July 20, 2019 - 20:42

In 1835, at a tavern in Bavaria, a group of 120 people once met to drink from a randomized assortment of glass vials.

Before shuffling them, they divided the vials into two sets. One contained distilled water from a recent snowfall and the other a solution made by collecting 100 drops of that water and dropping into the pool a grain of salt, and then diluting a drop of the result into another 100 drops, again and again, 30 times in all.

They did this to test out a new idea in medicine called homeopathy, but it was the way they did it that changed things forever. By testing options A and B at the same time, but without telling sick people which option they would be getting, they not only debunked a questionable medical practice, they invented modern science and medicine.

About 200 years later a company in California tried something similar. A group of 700,000 people gathered inside a virtual tavern to share news and photos and stories both happy and sad. The company then used some trickery so that some people randomly encountered more happy things and others more sad things.

They did this to test out a new idea in networking called emotional contagion, but it was the way they did it that changed how many people felt about gathering online. By testing options A and B at the same time, but without telling people which option they would be getting, they not only learned if a computer program could make its users more happy or more sad, they created a backlash that resulted in a large-scale, world-wide panic.

Though we always learn something new when we perform an A/B test, we don’t always support the pursuit of that knowledge, which is strange, because without A/B testing we have to live with whatever option the world delivers to us, be it through chance or design. Should we use cancer drug A or B? Should we try gun control policy A or B? Should we try education technique A or B? It seems like our reaction to these questions would be to support testing A on half the people, B on the other, and then to look at which one works best and go with that moving forward, but as you will learn in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, new research shows that a significant portion of the public does not feel this way, enough to cause doctors and lawmakers and educators to avoid A/B testing altogether.

Back at the tavern, they called the (barely) salt water in the vials a C30-solution because it was made using homeopathic techniques that rely on the C scale. C is short for centesimal, which means a division into hundredths. The scale was named and created by the inventor of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann who believed that if something caused an illness, then giving that thing to someone who was already sick would cure them. This hair-of-the-dog concept is, of course, not true, but people believed it was sound medical advice going back to the Greeks and beyond.

In the late 1700s, the time when Hahnemann became a physician, this idea had come under some scrutiny, because it killed people. Got a tummy ache? Here, take this concoction of fermented oatmeal, snake venom, and rancid meat so your stomach aches even more. It will cause vomiting and diarrhea and blood yawns, but once you are done writhing in agony, you’ll be all better. Unless you die. But if you do die, well, hey, it’s 1781. We tried our best.

Hahnemann thought that, sure, this ancient idea of similia similibus curantur, or “what makes a man ill also cures him,” caused too much harm. His innovation? Dilute the bad thing until it doesn’t do anything bad. And with that, he had invented homeopathy, which roughly translates to “kind-of like suffering, but not.”

Homeopathy became very popular in the we-have-no-idea-what-we-are-doing era of medicine. Why? Because doctors didn’t wash their hands, prescribed cocaine to children for toothaches, and used a bevy of techniques that today would land you a prison sentence even if the patient survived. In a medical environment where doing nothing at all would actually be the better option, homeopathy did indeed save lives. So, based on those results, not knowing any better, the first homeopathic schools opened in 1835, and by the turn of the century there were dozens of colleges and more than 15,000 homeopaths, each accepting cash that was covered with more molecules of medical value than could be found in the water they peddled in exchange.

Although homeopathy had its heyday, and although it is still practiced today by people who like their medicine based on ideas that predate the discovery of vitamins and vaccines, it was almost immediately criticized and ridiculed by the medical community of the 1800s. It’s easy to see why. If you dilute something to one part in one hundred, like a single grain of salt, you get a C2-dilution. But Hahnemann said you needed to dilute things to C30, and at that point you would have to give out more a billion doses per second to the entire human race for the length of time it took the Earth to cool into a livable planet before a single person would likely receive a single molecule of whatever it was that you diluted.

And it is this fact that lead 120 people to meet in a Tavern in Bavaria in 1835 at an event organized by “a society of truth-loving men” living in Nuremberg. They were lead by Friedrich Wilhelm von Hoven, who was the head of local hospitals there, and who was also not a big fan of homeopathy. He had written a scathing review of the practice, explaining that homeopathic remedies had zero effect on people’s health, and added that whatever it was that people experienced would be the same thing they would experience without taking anything at all. All they had was a belief that they had received a cure, he wrote, and apparently, sometimes, that was all a patient needed. Johann Jacob Reuter, a popular, local homeopath, objected to all this, and so to settle the dispute the town decided to put the stuff his conceptions to the test.

More than 100 citizens, some with illnesses and some with just curiosity, met the doctors and the truth-loving men at the tavern The experimenters numbered 100 vials, split them into two lots, shuffled them, and filled half with snow water and the other with the C30 homeopathic solution created by Reuter. The vials were then distributed, but no one knew who got what. Independent observers recorded which vials had which solution, who had received which, and then sealed and protected the information so the recipients and the doctors couldn’t affect the results with beliefs. Three weeks later, everyone gathered again. First, people reported whether they had experienced anything. Then the sealed information was opened, and everyone learned what everyone drank. Only eight people reported any effects, and among them, half had taken the plain water and half the solution. The truth-loving men concluded homeopathy was bunk

As the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine later reported, “The organizers concluded that the symptoms or changes which the homeopaths claimed to observe as an effect of their medicines were the fruit of imagination, self-deception and preconceived opinion.”

And with that, as noted earlier, in many ways, modern medicine was born. They had unknowingly invented the double-blind trial, randomized control groups, randomization, placebos, and many other aspects of experimental design that we use to this day. And once we figured out that we could do this, we were able to put all sorts of things to the test — medical procedures, drugs, education techniques, financial decisions, public policies, folk remedies, martial arts techniques and farming practices, and on and on and on. Instead of making a choice between A or B and living with it, or deciding to stick with tradition or choose a new path, or trying a new medicine or doing nothing at all, we could try out both choices to see which lead to the preferred outcome, and then make an evidence-based judgment how to approach the problem we were trying to solve. Once we did this, a whole lot of things that seemed to work turned out to have no effect, or to have a worse effect than their alternatives. A whole lot of practices and policies turned out to be based on superstition or wishful thinking or to be politically motivated or in some other way emotionally motivated.

So you might think that, in general, as an idea, as a practice, the A/B test would be beloved, supported, and encouraged as a way to test out policies and practices and drugs and treatments, which brings us to that company in California 200 years later.

In 2014, Facebook wanted to know if Facebook was making people sad. There was a lot of conjecture at the time that it was. After all, this was, on one hand, a highlight reel of the lives of friends and family, showing only the best-looking selfies, and best aspects of their lives. On the other hand, people were sharing a lot of outrage and political discontent, arguing about the issues of the day, and passing around memes that were often more infuriating than funny. Of all the strange changes to our daily lives and social interactions that came with widespread adoption of the platform, people wondered if it was injecting us with depression.

Facebook asked researchers at Cornell to look into it, and they did what 200 years of science said they should do. They created an A/B test, or what science calls a randomized experiment and what medicine called a randomized controlled trial. They set aside 700,000 users, and for one week Group A saw more positive items than usual, Group B saw more negative items than usual, and a control saw what everyone else outside the experiment was seeing.

In the end, the researchers concluded that Facebook did affect our emotions like so many of us thought it might. The effects were small, but real: if people saw more negative news, it made them more sad than a control. Same for positive news. But the strongest emotions emerged when the study was revealed to the public, because the public felt angry, creeped-out, and in some new, Black Mirror kind of way, violated.

The Atlantic called it “Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment.” The headline in the New York Times read, “Facebook Tinkers with Users’ Emotions.” There were protests, and there were calls from lawyers, activists, and lawmakers to investigate. People called it “intrusive,” “spooky,” and “scandalous.” Facebook defended itself, and then everyone argued what we should do about all this. As The Guardian reported, “Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, said: ‘The Facebook ‘transmission of anger’ experiment is terrifying.’ He asked: ‘Could the CIA incite revolution in Sudan by pressuring Facebook to promote discontent? Should that be legal? Could Mark Zuckerberg swing an election by promoting Upworthy [a website aggregating viral content] posts two weeks beforehand? Should that be legal?'”

Bioethics researcher Michelle Meyer, and her colleagues started to wonder why people reacted so poorly, considering that Facebook and other institutions, including hospitals, governments, and schools, are always testing their products, policies, and practices, just not in an A/B experimental design. Instead, they usually just change how things work, what drugs we take, or how their products function — and then we go on living. Facebook manipulated our behavior by inventing Facebook, and then again and again each time it has updated how Facebook works. But as long as the changes were universal, we didn’t freak out. Why is it, Meyer and her team asked, that making those changes random causes a backlash?

It’s an important question because, as Meyer and her team point out, “A/B tests, have long been the ‘gold standard’ for evaluating drugs and other medical interventions and are increasingly used to evaluate business products and services, government programs, education and health policies, and global aid.'”

In this episode you will learn what they found, and why they concluded that, “rigorously evaluating policies or treatments via pragmatic randomized trials may provoke greater objection than simply implementing those same policies or treatments untested.” In other words, we would rather live with an untested option A, or an untested option B, than live in a world where A and B are being tested at the same time. Meyer and her team call this the A/B effect, and you will learn all about it in this episode.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with The Psychology of Human Behavior taught by David W. Martin. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world and what motivates us to think, feel, and behave differently from one another. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

There is no better way to create a website than with Squarespace. Creating your website with Squarespace is a simple, intuitive process. You can add and arrange your content and features with the click of a mouse. Squarespace makes adding a domain to your site simple; if you sign up for a year you’ll receive a custom domain for free for a year. Start your free trial today, at Squarespace.com and enter offer code SOSMART to get 10% off your first
purchase.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Objecting to experiments that compare two unobjectionable policies or treatments

Inventing the randomized double-blind trial: the Nuremberg salt test of 1835

Homeopathic Pharmacy: Theory and Practice

Homeopathic Dilutions

Our Aversion to A/B Testing on Humans Is Dangerous

Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment

Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions For Science

Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions

Michelle Meyer’s Website

Christopher Chabris’ Website

The Meyer-Chabris Lab

YANSS 157 – The psychology behind why people don’t speak out against, and even defend, norms they secretly despise

July 2, 2019 - 23:53

Have you ever been in a classroom or a business meeting or a conference  and had a question or been confused by the presentation, and when the person running the show asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” or, “Does anyone not understand?” or, “Is anyone confused?” you looked around, saw no one else raising their hands, and then chose to pass on the opportunity to clear up your confusion?

If so, then, first of all, you are a normal, fully functioning human being with a normal, fully functioning brain, because not only is this common and predictable, there’s a psychological term for why most people don’t speak up in situations like these. It’s called pluralistic ignorance.

In a “Does anyone have any questions?” scenario like this, each confused individual waits to see if anyone else raises their hands, not wanting to be singled out as the only person falling behind. When no one does, each then assumes they must be the only person who has no idea what is going on and decides to remain silent. After a few seconds, the speaker moves on, and the result is a shared, inaccurate view of reality in which everyone thinks that everyone else has no questions. The speaker thinks the room is following along just fine, and everyone begins living a lie.

There are several ways to define pluralistic ignorance, and that’s because it’s kind of a brain twister when you try to put it into words. Psychologist Deborah Prentice says, it’s “a phenomenon in which you feel like you’re different from everyone else, but in fact you are exactly the same. It’s a kind of illusory deviance, a sense that you are not with the majority that everyone in the majority can have simultaneously.”

And this phenomenon scales up to the level of norms. When people are unhappy with a norm, but aren’t sure if they are alone in that thinking, when they don’t know what the majority opinion truly is, they play it safe and adhere to the norms of the day, but since we can’t read each other’s minds, we assume that others are following norms because they actually believe in them. Everyone in the group, at the same time, gets stuck following a norm that no one wants to follow.

The false belief that the majority supports a norm slows down the process of ending it and sways policy makers, employers, advertisers, and the rest of society to act as though they live in a world that isn’t really there. And when change is on the horizon, pluralistic ignorance keeps people on the fringe, the sort of people who will be phased out by that change, clinging to their outdated beliefs for longer than they should. It also keeps their opponents feeling less supported than they truly are while pushing people in the middle to favor the status quo. In the end, a make-believe status quo changes the way everyone acts and thinks. As sociologists Hubert J. O’Gorman and Stephen L. Garry once put it, people often “unintentionally serve as cultural carriers of cognitive error.”

Pluralistic ignorance has been blamed for everything from excessive drinking on college campuses to the persistence of racial segregation well into the 1970s. So, how do you deal with such a strange and mind-twisting phenomenon? Well, for some norms, the solution is simple, though it can take a lot of organization and effort. You must ask everyone what they really think and feel, and then you broadcast that to everyone in some way. You must make the private public. You must make it safe to say what is really on your mind — or you simply reveal that it was safe to do so all along.

Many scientists bring up the parable of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In the story by Hans Christian Andersen, a vain emperor hires two tailors who tell him they’ve made a suit of clothes so fine that it appears invisible to people who are unfit for their job or are very dumb. The trick, of course, is that the tailors haven’t made anything at all. All the emperor’s lackeys and subjects act as if his clothes were beautiful and amazing out of fear of appearing stupid or unfit, until finally a child points out that the emperor is walking around naked. At that point, everyone sighs in relief and feels safe to say what they were thinking all along. Stories with similar plots go back to antiquity, so the idea has been with us for a long time. The takeaway is usually: if someone has the courage to speak up, then the spell will be broken.

But there is an exception. A dark, terrible exception. When almost everyone in a group privately disagrees with a norm, or a decision, or an idea, or a practice, or a plan…but everyone also thinks they are alone in that disagreement, they may go along with what they think is the consensus, which leads a group of people to prepare to act in a way that no one actually wants to act. When one person speaks up, instead of breaking the spell, the crowd will sometimes shout that person down.

That’s what happened in 1978 at Jonestown, when Jim Jones asked 700 people to kill 300 of their children and then themselves. One person, Christine Miller, stood up and plead for everyone to choose another option. She defied her leader, and her community. Instead of joining her in revolt, the people around her engaged in what psychologists call false enforcement. By shouting at her, they signaled they were willing to die to show their loyalty to the group, even though in so doing they destroyed the very group to which they were signaling their allegiance.

False enforcement is one of our most twisted predilections, a sort of algorithmic mental malfunction that can cause pluralistic ignorance to turn deadly, and in this episode, you will learn how prevalent it is out here among our everyday lives, and what we can do about it.

 

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with The Psychology of Human Behavior taught by David W. Martin. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world and what motivates us to think, feel, and behave differently from one another. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Deborah Prentice is a professor of psychology and provost at Princeton University. Her work focuses on “how people are guided by norms and constrained by norms; how they respond when they feel out of step,” and how they determine what the norms of their groups and communities are; and how they react… to those who violate social norms.”

Robb Willer is a professor of sociology, psychology, and organizational behavior and the director of the Polarization and Social Change Laboratory at Stanford University. He studies the social forces that bring people together, divide them, and shape their political attitudes.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Deborah Prentice’s Website

Robb Willer’s Website

Robb Willer’s Twitter

Pluralistic Ignorance and Alcohol Use on Campus: Some Consequences of Misperceiving the Social Norm

The False Enforcement of Unpopular Norms

SDSU’s Jonestown Website

Christine Miller: A Voice of Independence

IMAGE CREDIT: Emperor’s New Clothes: Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 – 1859)

IMAGE CREDIT: Christine Miller: San Diego State University

IMAGE CREDIT: Jonestown: NBC News Archives

MUSIC CREDIT: Mogwai, Drew Garraway, Snabish

YANSS 156 – The science behind how we became so obsessed with our selves

July 2, 2019 - 00:43

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with my friend and one of my favorite journalists, author Will Storr, whose new book just hit the shelves here in the United States. It’s called Selfie: How We Became so Self-Obsessed, and What it is Doing to Us.

The book explores what he calls “the age of perfectionism” — our modern struggle with our many modern pressures to meet newly emerging ideals and standards that tell us if we are falling short of the person we ought to be – and how that struggle to be that person is an impossible task. As he says in the book, “perfectionism is the idea that kills,” and you’ll hear him explain what he means by that in the interview.

In the book, Will embarks on two investigative journeys. The first is an examination of the self as a psychological mechanism. He digs deep into what science has to say about where our concept of self originated and how it operates so that he can understand how perfectionism causes that mechanism to malfunction.

The second is how the cultural concept of self originated and then evolved over millennia. The very concept of a self has changed many times, as have the pressures that concept has endured, and depending on where you live today, the lineage of your culture’s idea of the ideal self will strongly differ from people who live elsewhere, surrounded by different cultural norms and expectations that change what it means to be fully realized and unique individual.

As he writes, “it is the self that wants to become perfect, and it’s our culture that tells us what perfect actually is.” It’s a great book, and I hope you check it out.

For this episode, Will and I just had a conversation about it, and there’s some great prescriptive advice near the end involving a lizard on an iceberg.

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Will Storr’s Website

YANSS 155 – What we can learn about why we dangerously disagree on the truth from The Dress, Yanny, and bloie, presented live in New York at The Bell House

June 7, 2019 - 00:32

For the 155th episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, David McRaney, four experts, and a bunch of YANSS fans got together for a deep dive into how we turn perception into reality, how that reality can differ from brain to brain, and what happens when we dangerously disagree on the truth.

At The Bell House in Brooklyn, David was joined on stage by NYU psychologists Moira Dillon, Jay Van Bavel, and Pascal Wallisch.

Moira Dillon studies how “the physical world in which we live shapes the abstract world in which we think,” at the Lab for the Developing Mind at NYU.  She and her colleagues study how humans make sense of their surroundings through spatial perception and how they attempt to communicate those surroundings though art, geometry, and mathematics.

From “neurons to social networks,” Jay Van Bavel studies how collective concerns like morals, group identity, and political beliefs affect human brains. His team at the Social Evaluation and Perception Lab studies these issues using social neuroscience, and approach that uses neuroimaging, lesion patients, and linguistic analysis of social media to examine how humans in groups affect the beliefs and perceptions of other humans in groups.

“How do people construct the subjective reality they inhabit?” That’s the question at the center of the work of Pascal Wallisch, who studies how human beings differ in the their interpretations of the objective truth. As part of that work, he has been the go-to scientist when it comes to making sense of The Dress, the Yanny/Laurel illusion, and several other viral phenomena on the internet. He even produced a study explaining exactly why some people saw the dress as one color, and others saw it as another.

Brian J. Reilly is the author of Getting the Blues: Vision and Cognition in the Middle Ages,  an interdisciplinary study of how people in the medieval era thought, wrote, spoke about and experienced color. In the show, he explains how people in previous eras and other cultures developed color terms when they needed. Even though they experienced the same world as us at the level of perceptions, at the level of categorization and communication, they experienced something else entirely.

The dress is bloie!

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with The Psychology of Human Behavior taught by David W. Martin. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world and what motivates us to think, feel, and behave differently from one another. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

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Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Illustrations used in the show (this is for podcast listeners):

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – SoundcloudYouTube

Moira Dillon Twitter

Jay Van Bavel Twitter

Pascal Wallisch Website

Pascal Wallisch Twitter

Brian J. Reilly Twitter

The Bell House

The Dress Study

We’re Only Beginning to Truly Understand Laurel vs. Yanny

Is Yanny/Laurel debate a sign of a coming civil war?

The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief

Jay Van Bavel’s Ted Talk

YANSS 154 – The Marshmallow Replication

May 27, 2019 - 19:22

In 1990, psychologist Walter Michel’s and his team released a landmark study into delayed gratification.

They offered kids a single marshmallow now, or two marshmallows later if they could resist temptation for 20 minutes. They found that the children who could wait were more likely to be successful later in life. They had higher test scores on the SAT, lower divorce rates, higher incomes, lower body mass indexes, and fewer behavioral problems as adults.

Today, if you go to YouTube and search for “The Marshmallow Test” you will find thousands of videos in which parents test their children to see if they can wait for the marshmallow. It’s understandable, because throughout the early 2000s, a slew of TED talks, popular books, and viral articles suggested that you could use the test to portend your child’s chances at reaching their life goals — and its fun and easy and you can eat all the extra marshmallows.

The marshmallow test is now one of the most well-known studies in all of psychology, right up there with the Milgram shock experiments and the Stanford prison experiment, but a new replication suggests we’ve been learning the wrong lesson from its findings for decades.

In this episode, we sit down with Tyler Watts, who researches early childhood development. According to his team’s research, the marshmallow test is still important and insightful, but an expanded replication shows the ability to delay gratification at 4-years old isn’t nearly as strong a predictor of later success as socio-economic status. In fact, it was socio-economic status all along that affected children’s ability to wait for the marshmallow.

These findings have huge implications for education, because many schools teach delayed gratification strategies to young children in the hopes of affecting their later success. According to Watts, those efforts aren’t likely to produce large effects, and what effects they do produce will be overwhelmed by the psychological impact of poverty and the environments it produces.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Learn about how your mind makes sense of the world by lying to itself and others. Click here for a FREE TRIAL.

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Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions

Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes

NICHD

Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development

Tyler Watts

Music: Incompetech and Caravan Palace

YANSS 153 – The neuroscience of happiness

May 27, 2019 - 19:14

What makes you happy? As in, what generates happiness inside the squishy bits that reside inside your skull?

That’s what author and neuroscientist Dean Burnett set out to answer in his new book, Happy Brain, which explores both the environmental and situational factors that lead to and away from happiness, as well as the neurological underpinnings of joy, bliss, comfort, love, and connection.

In the episode you’ll hear all that and more as we talk about what we know so far about the biological nature of happiness itself.

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Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Dean Burnett’s Website