YANSS Podcast 033 – The psychology of forming, keeping, and sometimes changing our beliefs

The Topic: Belief

The Guests: Will Storr, Margaret Maitland, and Jim Alcock

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Pizza Hut Pyramids

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Put your right hand on your head. Unless you are near a mirror, you can no longer see your hand, but you know where it is, right? You know what position it is in. You know how far away it is from most of the other things around you. I’m using the word “know,” but that’s just for convenience, because you don’t actually know those things. That is, you can’t be 100 percent certain your hand is on your head. You assume it is, and that’s as good as it is going to get – a best guess. We’ll come back to that. You can put your hand down now.

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YANSS Podcast 26 – Maslow’s Hammer

The Topic: Maslow’s Hammer

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Photo by Michael Jastremski – Original here: http://bit.ly/1iqqkjs

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“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.

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YANSS Podcast 017 – Tim Farley explains the potential harm in using alternative medicine

The Topic: Alternative Medicine

The Guest: Tim Farley

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Dr. Terminus, the snake oil salesman from Disney's "Pete's Dragon"

Dr. Terminus, the snake oil salesman from Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”

Where is the line between regular 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?

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YANSS Podcast 014 – Melanie C. Green and how stories can change beliefs and behaviors

The Topic: Narratives

The Guest: Melanie C. Green

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Falcor the Luck Dragon from the Universal Pictures film, The Neverending Story

Falcor the Luck Dragon from the Universal Pictures film, The Neverending Story

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

According to 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.

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YANSS Podcast 11 – Hazel Markus and The Influence of Where You Live on How You Think

The Topic: Culture

The Guest: Hazel Rose Markus

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Tombstone Honor Latin

Is your state of mind from one situation to the next drastically altered by the state in which you live? According to cultural psychologists, yes it is.

Studies show that your thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in response to a particular setting will reliably differ from those of others in that same setting depending on where you spent your childhood or even where you spent six years or more of your adult life.

On this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast, we explore cultural cognition and the psychological effects of the region you call home on the brain you call yours.

My guest this week:

Hazel Rose MarkusHazel Rose Markus is a social psychologist at Stanford University who studies the effects of culture, class, ethnicity, region, society, and gender on the concept of self and human psychology in general. She is the author of “Clash! Eight Cultural Conflicts that Make Us Who We Are.” You can learn more about her at her website here.

After the interview I try out a cinnamon chocolate cookie and read a bit of psychology news about how reading good books can make you more adept at reading faces.

In every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and 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 Tamar Levanoni who submitted a recipe for cinnamon chocolate cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Nov6Cookies

Links and Sources:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Boing Boing Podcasts

The Website of Hazel Markus

Clash! Eight Cultural Conflicts that Make Us Who We Are

Tombstone Latin

The Southern Hallway Bump Study

The Good Books and Empathy Study

YANSS Podcast – Episode Nine – Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory

The Topic: Arguing

The Guest(s): Hugo Mercier and Jeremy Sherman

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 8.50.37 PM

In 2008, renowned programmer and essayist Paul Graham wrote a guide for citizens of cyberspace titled “How to Disagree.”

Ten years had passed since the invention of the comment section. Twitter was two years old. The world had spent nine months with the iPhone. To Graham it had become apparent that the Internet had permanently changed the paradigm of the written word, which was as he put it, “writers wrote and readers read.” Instead, he predicted the call and response model of the web was here to stay. People would add their perspectives to everything. Content had become and would forever be a conversation, he predicted, and that meant everyone would need to learn how to argue more efficiently because exposure to rampant bickering would soon become a big part of daily life.

The reason, explained Graham, was that when you agree with something you usually don’t have much to add, so most people tend only to respond in paragraph form when they disagree. Naturally then, more disagreements than agreements would soon begin to spawn, and they would reproduce at a much higher rate. The result would be an Internet that looked and seemed angry and polarized, which might then become a weird sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. He warned: “…there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.”

A year after Graham wrote his essay, Facebook lowered the already low cost of agreeing to a single click of a “like” button. The disagreements he predicted began to stack upon each other and grow long enough to benefit from spell checking.

Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, everywhere you click online you can witness the roiling boil of response just as Graham divined, and you can see why he suggested we ought to learn how to disagree like civilized adults. Just bounce over to the Huffington Post and check out the comments under any story focused on politics. You’ll find an opinionated, angry human centipede snaking its way down the page. On YouTube, minutes-old comments float around underneath videos posted years ago, each one a fragment of an ongoing argument populated with thousands of participants eagerly punching keyboards in an attempt to prove his or her beliefs are sound. The discourse there has encouraged 13,000 people to download a browser extension that turns all comments into variations of the phrase, “Herp derp.”

So, here in the online world Graham warned us about, human beings seem to be getting into and spectating upon more arguments than ever before. Our beliefs are getting challenged every day. Our ideologies and political camps are regularly being raided. According to many experts, this is not a bad thing, just a new one. Will it change us? Sure. But it will probably change us for the better.

Our increased exposure to arguing also means increased exposure to the mental foibles and errors of logic and reasoning that so often appear when people square off in rhetorical combat. Arguing with ourselves and others has become a fascination. We are suddenly eager to buy books about irrationality because we see so much more of it in our daily lives than just a decade ago. There seems to be so much more motivated reasoning and self delusion in the world than ever before too, thanks to the natural imbalance of communication Paul Graham told us to expect. We all want to understand what is making all of us so unreasonable. That yearning has helped bring the wisdom of the skeptical movement closer to the mainstream and place books about the psychology of bias on bestseller lists.

A question we never really considered asking is now making our brains itch. Why do we argue? What purpose does it serve? Is all this bickering online helping or hurting us?

Science thankfully has something to say about these questions, and what it has to say may even help explain reason itself. That’s the subject we explore in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.

My guests are:

JeremyShermanJeremy Sherman, an evolutionary epistemologist, which means he researches how humans evolved to make generalizations and 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.

Hugo-MercierHugo 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” (PDF) 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.

After the long interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and 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 Jaimie-Leigh Jonker of New Zealand who submitted a recipe for orange coconut chocolate chip cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 8.55.19 PM

Links:

• Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

• Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipe

• Hugo Mercier’s Paper: “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory”

• Hugo Mercier’s Website

• Jeremy Sherman’s Blog

• Paul Graham: “How to Disagree”

YouTube Herp Derper

NYT article on the history of Internet commenting

YANSS Podcast – Episode Eight – The Psychology of Video Games

The Topic: Video Games

The Guest: Jamie Madigan

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Last of Us Friend or Foe

A scene from “The Last of Us”

“The Last of Us” is a video game, a work of interactive art, and a question will arise in the back of your mind while playing, “What would I do in this situation?” and the answer will make you feel emotions no other art form can elicit.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, 20 years after the fall of mankind, in a world nature has mostly reclaimed, where resources are few and trust is scarce. Hope is the commodity in shortest supply. Most everyone has given up on rebuilding the old world. This is just how it is now. Every encounter with strangers pings that most primal of judgments under uncertainty: “Is this a potential friend or foe?”

Familiar? Sure, it’s a theme being explored all over in fiction. Something in the zeitgeist has us fretting over these things again, but in a game you have the opportunity to actually test yourself in a virtual reality, to see what you would do when the stakes are as high as possible. Would you trust others? Would you help strangers? Would you kill to survive?

In addition, “The Last of Us” explores something the gaming world calls ludonarrative dissonance. Many modern games have detailed stories with great writing and well-acted scenes interspersed between what amounts to bursts of mass murder. It can make a player feel like his or her agency in the world has been stolen by the storyteller, that the characters you are asked to portray live in two realities, one you control and one you do not. This can feel really off-putting when the characters are jaunty, smarmy, and noble in the cutscenes, but then you are asked to use those people to do terrible things. In an effort to solve this problem, Naughty Dog, the developers of “The Last of Us”, crafted an experience where you and the character feel justified when pushed to do harm, but afterward you, the gamer, feel disgusted with yourself and horrified by the power of the situation to change your behavior and shift your moral center. You find yourself quickly learning to avoid violence – a behavior I was astonished to see evoked in myself inside a game world, and was thrilled to experience. That’s something you won’t get watching “Breaking Bad.”

Watch a teaser trailer showing a friend-or-foe scenario here: Link

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In this episode of the YANSS podcast, we explore games and their potential to reveal our self delusions. I interview Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com, who writes about the behaviors and cognitions that games both exploit and uncover. It’s a great interview. We discuss everything from the motivational nudging in “Candy Crush Saga” to the power of endowed progress when endorsing people on LinkedIn. Please forgive us for geeking out so hard during it. I promise, non-gamers will learn plenty in this episode. Links to the things mentioned in the episode are at the bottom of this post.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Violet Sinnarkar who submitted a recipe for white chocolate oatmeal cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 12.51.51 PM

White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Links:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Boing Boing Podcasts

Psychology of Games

Papers, Please

Spent

Newsgaming

Underground Railroad Game

The Walking Dead 

Narco Guerilla 

The Last of Us

Candy Crush Youtube Video 1

Candy Crush Youtube Video 2

Candy Crush Youtube Video 3

Candy Crush Youtube Video 4

The study concerning the cognitive load of poverty

YANSS Podcast – Episode Six – Happy Money

The Topic: Spending Money

The Guest: Elizabeth Dunn

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby – Source: Warner Bros.

Which would you rather have, a mansion the likes of Jay Gatsby, fully decorated and furnished or the memories of a month spent on the International Space Station? Would you rather own the kind of car they photograph for wall posters with doors that open in an unusual manner or spend a year practicing guitar for a chance to play a single show with the Red Hot Chili Peppers? How about $1,000 cash or a gourmet meal for you and your friends cooked by and enjoyed in the company of Gordon Ramsay? Assuming in each of these scenarios you can only have one and never have the other, which would you pick?

When asked similar questions, most people choose the tangible things over the experiences. The material items just seem more valuable in the long run, and cash always seems more practical than a fleeting indulgence. Yet the research says if you are seeking long-term happiness, nothing compares to unique experiences, even short experiences, even bad experiences. Over time, things lose their luster, but memories do not. Memories grow and spread inside your mind like a tree that can always be harvested of its fruit. They become a part of you, increasing in value as you age and continuously providing stories and smiles long after a nice car becomes just a way to get to Taco Bell or a nice house becomes the place where you watch Breaking Bad before going to bed.

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YANSS Podcast – Episode Four – The Self Illusion

The Topic: The Self

The Guest: Bruce Hood

The Episode: Download - iTunes - Stitcher - RSS - Soundcloud

Russian Dwarf Hamster – Photo by cdrussorusso

You are a pile of atoms.

When you eat vanilla pudding, which is also a pile of atoms, you are really just putting those atoms next to your atoms and waiting for some of them trade places.

If things had turned out differently back when your mom had that second glass of wine while your dad told that story about when he sat on a jellyfish while skinny dipping, the same atoms that glommed together to make your bones and your skin, your tongue and your brain could have been been rearranged to make other things. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen – the whole collection of elements that make up your body right down to the vanadium, molybdenum and arsenic could be popped off of you, collected, and reused to make something else – if such a seemingly impossible technology existed.

Like a cosmic box of Legos, the building blocks of matter can take the shape of every form we know of from mountains to monkeys.

If you think about this long enough, you might stumble into the same odd questions scientists and philosophers ask from time to time. If we had an atom-exchanging machine, and traded one atom at a time from your body with an atom from the body of Edward James Olmos, at what point would you cease to be you and Olmos cease to be Edward James? During that process, would you lose your mind and gain his? At some point would each person’s thoughts and dreams and memories change hands?

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Formal Sweatpants Procrastination Comic

Josh Mecouch over at Formal Sweatpants created a new comic based on a YANSS post a while back on procrastination. Thanks, Josh. This is great. That post discussed the concept of future self vs. present self, and how present bias affects your ability to predict how you will behave and make choices over time.

You may see some future collaborations between YANSS and FS, stay tuned. Until then, here is the comic:

Links:

Formal Sweatpants

Procrastination

Procrastination Video