YANSS 042 – Reducing Unconscious Biases and Prejudices With Rubber Hands and Virtual Reality

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The Topic: Bodily Resonance

The Guest: Lara Maister

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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One of the more unsettling recent scientific discoveries is the fact that your behavior is influenced every day by unwanted, unconscious social and cultural biases.

Sure, you accept that some people think in certain ways that you don’t because they’ve absorbed cultural norms that you didn’t, but what about your own mind? It can seem as if once you’ve recognized your own contributions to racism and privilege you should then be able to proceed with a clean slate, rebooted with the awareness of your own ignorance, but free from it.

The evidence suggests it isn’t that easy. The desire alone doesn’t seem to remove prejudice from your thoughts and actions. In experiments where subjects were asked to identify an image within two seconds and to mark it as either a gun or a tool, subjects were much more likely to mistake tools for guns if they first saw a black face before making the call. If shown a white face beforehand, those same people made the mistake in reverse, mislabeling guns as tools. In another line of research, scientists found that people trying to make fair and unbiased decisions in the justice system are just as susceptible. Those researchers wrote that in court cases “involving a white victim, the more stereotypically black a defendant is perceived to be, the more likely that person is to be sentenced to death.”

The seeds of bigotry and xenophobia were planted in your brain long ago, and though you can consciously desire to be unbiased when it comes to race, religion, age, politics, and all the other social phenomena that glom people together – those things have already molded the synaptic landscape in your head. Undoing that in an effort to reduce prejudice will take time. The good news is that neuroscientists are, right now, working on how that undoing might be accomplished at the individual level.

Lara MaisterIn this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with cognitive neuroscientist Lara Maister who has married two fascinating and somewhat bizarre lines of research, one from psychology which reveals the unsettling truth behind hidden racial biases, and another from neuroscience that reveals how easily you transfer feelings of ownership from your familiar flesh onto inanimate objects and virtual-reality models.

Listen as Maister describes how she measured people’s implicit racial attitudes, and then reduced the strength of those unconscious, automatic, undesirable cognitive processes by mentally placing those same subjects in avatars designed to look like members of groups and subcultures to which the subjects did not belong. For those who would like to see less prejudice in the world, the results were equal parts encouraging and trippy.

Can changing your body, even just for a few minutes, change your mind? Can a psychological body transfer melt away your long-held opinions and unconscious prejudices? Maybe so. Learn more about this and other strange psychological phenomena as cognitive neuroscientist Lara Maister describes her unconventional experiments in the latest episode.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about scientists reducing prejudices and unconscious biases through mindfulness meditation.

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 the book, “You Are Not So Smart,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Jeszica Rose who submitted a recipe for jeszicookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

jezsicookieLinks and Sources

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Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Changing Bodies Changes Minds: Owning Another Body Affects Social Cognition

Lara Maister’s Research

White More Likely to Misidentify Tools as Guns When Linked to Black Faces 

Split-Second Decisions and Unintended Stereotyping

Looking Deathworthy
Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts
Capital-Sentencing Outcomes

Drunk Tank Pink

Mindfulness Mitigates Biases You May Not Know You Have

Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias

The Rubber Hand Illusion – Horizon: Is Seeing Believing?

YANSS 039 – Unconscious learning, knowing without knowing, blind insight and other cognitive wonders with guest Ryan Scott

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The Topic: Blind Insight

The Guest: Ryan Scott

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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What is the capital of Bulgaria? If you don’t know, just take a guess. Seriously, any answer will be fine. Even Bolgonia – I won’t know, just say something so we can move on.

Ok, now, what is the capital of Italy? Are you sure about that?

Now take a moment and think about your own thinking. How confident are you right now that your guesses are correct? Very confident? What about being wrong? Can you feel an intuition about your own wrongness? If so, can you also feel the strength of that intuition? Maybe you don’t feel like one of your answers is a guess at all (especially if you live near Bulgaria). Maybe you feel that way about both answers. If you feel that way, how confident are you that you aren’t guessing and that you know for sure you know what you know and that you know what you know is a fact?

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YANSS 038 – How the Halo Effect Turns Uncertainty into False Certainty

The Topic: The Halo Effect

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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It’s difficult to be certain of much in life.

Not only are you mostly uncertain of what will happen tomorrow, or next year, or in five years, but you often can’t be certain of the correct course of action, the best place for dinner, what kind of person you should be, or whether or not you should quit your job or move to a new city. At best, you are only truly certain of a handful of things at any given time, and aside from mathematical proofs – two apples plus two apples equals four apples (and even that, in some circles, can be debated) – you’ve become accustomed to living a life in a fog of maybes.

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YANSS Podcast 036 – Why We Are Unaware that We Lack the Skill to Tell How Unskilled and Unaware We Are

The Topic: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Guest: David Dunning

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

A scene from NBC's "The Office"

A scene from NBC’s “The Office”

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Here’s a fun word to add to your vocabulary: nescience. I ran across it a few months back and kind of fell in love with it.

It’s related to the word prescience, which is a kind of knowing. Prescience is a state of mind, an awareness, that grants you knowledge of the future – about something that has yet to happen or is not yet in existence. It’s a strange idea isn’t it, that knowledge is a thing, a possession, that it stands alone and in proxy for something else out there in reality that has yet to actually…be? Then, the time comes, and the knowledge is no longer alone. Foreknowledge becomes knowledge and now corresponds to a real thing that is true. It is no longer pre-science but just science.

I first learned the word nescience from the book Ignorance and Surprise by Matthias Gross. That book revealed to me that, philosophically speaking, ignorance is a complicated matter. You can describe it in many ways. In that book Gross talks about the difficulties of translating a sociologist named Georg Simmel who often used the word “nichtwissen” in his writing. Gross says that some translations changed that word to nescience and some just replaced it with “not knowing.” It’s a difficult term to translate, he explains, because it can mean a few different things. If you stick to the Latin ins and outs of the word, nescience means non-knowledge, or what we would probably just call ignorance. But Gross writes that in some circles it has a special meaning. He says it can mean something you can’t know in advance, or an unknown unknown, or something that no human being can ever hope to know, something a theologian might express as a thought in the mind of God. For some people, as Gross points out, everything is in the mind of God, so therefore nothing is actually knowable. To those people nescience is the natural state of all creatures and nothing can ever truly be known, not for sure. Like I said, ignorance is a complex concept.

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YANSS Podcast 035 – Sunk Costs and the Pain of Vain

The Topic: The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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Every once in a while you will ask yourself, “I wonder if I should quit?”

Should you quit your job? Should you end your relationship? Should you abandon your degree? Should you shut down this project?

These are difficult questions to answer. If you are like me, every time you’ve heard one of those questions emerge in your mind, it lingered. It began to echo right as you woke up and just as pulled the covers over your shoulders. In the shower, waiting in line, in all your quiet moments – a question like that will appear behind your eyes, pulsating like a giant neon billboard until you can work out your decision.

Oddly enough, as a human being, that decision is often not made any easier when quitting is the most logical course of action. Even if it is obvious that it is no longer worth your time to keep going, your desire to plod on and your reluctance to quit are both muddled by an argumentative loop inside which you and many others easily get stuck.

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YANSS Podcast 034 – After This, Therefore Because of This: Your Weird Relationship with Cause and Effect

The Topic: The Post Hoc Fallacy

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 3.02.37 PM

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When I was a boy, I spent my summers with my grandparents. They, like many Southerners, had a farm populated with animals to eat and animals to help. It was everywhere alive with edible plants – fields of corn and cucumbers and peas and butterbeans and peanuts, and throngs of mysterious life from stumps claimed by beds of ants to mushroom fairy rings, living things tending to business without our influence.

Remembering it now, I can see the symmetry of the rows, and the order of the barns, the arrangement of tools, the stockpiles of feed. I remember the care my grandmother took with tomatoes, nudging them along from the soil to the Ball jars she boiled, sealing up the red, seedy swirls under lids surrounded by brass-colored shrink bands. I remember my grandfather erecting dried and gutted gourds on polls so Martins would come and create families above us and we wouldn’t suffer as many mosquito bites when shelling peas under the giant pecan tree we all used for shade.

For me, the wonder of that life, even then, was in how so much was understood about cause and effect, about what was to come if you prepared, took care, made a particular kind of effort. It was as if they borrowed the momentum of the natural world instead of trying to force it one way or the other, like grabbing a passing trolley and hoisting yourself on the back.

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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 018 – How Benjamin Franklin dealt with haters

The Topic: The Benjamin Franklin Effect

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

Benjamin

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 (read more about the effect here).

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

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YANSS Podcast 015 – I read an excerpt from You Are Now Less Dumb

The Topic: Narrative Bias

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

The Ypsilanti State Hospital - Photo Courtesy of Opacity.Us

The Ypsilanti State Hospital – Photo Courtesy of Opacity.Us

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.

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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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