YANSS Podcast 028 – The Sanity of Crowds with Michael Bond

The Topic: Crowds

The Guest: Michael Bond

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

A rioter dressed in a Vancouver Canucks jersey cheers on while a car burns - Source: Wikimedia Commons, User: David Elop, Original here: http://bit.ly/1tqXdx6

A scene from the 2011 Vancouver riots, described by the photographer as, “a rioter dressed in a Vancouver Canucks jersey cheers on while a car burns” – Source: Wikimedia Commons, User: David Elop, Original here: http://bit.ly/1tqXdx6

It is a human tendency that’s impossible not to notice during wars and revolutions – and a dangerous one to forget when resting between them.

In psychology they call it deindividuation, losing yourself to the will of a crowd. In a mob, protest, riot, or even an audience, the presence of others redraws the borders of your normal persona. Simply put, you will think, feel, and do things in a crowd that alone you would not.

Psychology didn’t discover this, of course. The fact that being in a group recasts the character you usually play has been the subject of much reflection ever since people have had the time to reflect. No, today psychology is trying to chip away at the prevailing wisdom on what crowds do to your mind and why.

Michael BondThis episode’s guest, Michael Bond, is the author of The Power of Others, and reading his book I was surprised to learn that despite several decades of research into crowd psychology, the answers to most questions concerning crowds can still be traced back to a book printed in 1895.

Gustave’s Le Bon’s book, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,” explains that humans in large groups are dangerous, that people spontaneously de-evolve into subhuman beasts who are easily swayed and prone to violence. That viewpoint has informed the policies and tactics of governments and police forces for more than a century, and like many prescientific musings, much of it is wrong.

Listen in this episode as Bond explains that the more research the social sciences conduct, the less the idea of a mindless, animalistic mob seems to be true. He also explains what police forces and governments should be doing instead of launching tear gas canisters from behind riot shields which actually creates the situation they are trying to prevent. Also, we touch on the psychology of suicide bombers, which is just as surprising as what he learned researching crowds.

After the interview, I discuss new research into how hiring quotas work and don’t work in loose societies vs. tight societies.

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 book, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Laura Lee Gooding who submitted a recipe for stained-glass window cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Stained Glass Cookie

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

The Power of Others

Michael Bond’s Website

Gender Quotas and Tight Cultures Study

Gustave Le Bon’s “The Crowd”

Independence Day Speech

Game of Thrones Speech

Lord of the Rings Speech

St. Crispin’s Day Speech

We Are Marshall Speech

Gladiator Speech

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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 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 – 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

Enclothed Cognition

This is the first in a series of shorts I’m making with the help of Plus3 Video (www.plus3video.com).

I love it! Look for another one next month.

Source: Adam, Hajo, and Adam D. Galinsky. “Enclothed Cognition.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (2012): 918– 25.

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Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Signed Bookplate | P.O. Box 15792 | Hattiesburg, MS 39404…and you’ll get a signed bookplate back in the mail.

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If you have an e-book you would like signed, go to this link.

READ AN EXCERPT 

Head to Big Think to read a portion of the chapter on: The Common Belief Fallacy

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 Five – The Authenticity Hoax

The Topic: Selling Out

The Guest: Andrew Potter

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

Andrew Potter is the guest on this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast. He wrote the book The Authenticity Hoax and co wrote The Rebel Sell.

Both books present an upside-down view of the quest to avoid the mainstream and seek out the authentic. The books help explain how it came to be that so many people seem concerned about selling out both as a consumer and a producer. Most interesting though is Potter’s assertion that there really is no such thing as authenticity when you get right down to it. As he puts it, “there could never be an authenticity detector we could wave at something, like the security guards checking you at the airport.” Oh, and he says countercultures actually create the mainstream they rebel against.

According to Potter, a giant portion of modern people living in industrialized Western nations eventually notice just how much consumerism and conformity intrudes on their daily lives, and they seek release. The average person watching an interview of a reality television star on a 24-news-network following a musical performance by the latest winner of America’s Top Pawn Wife after a breakdown of what is trending on YouTube while commenting on an Instagram photo on Facebook on an iPad on a treadmill in the gym between advertisements for antidepressants and movies about mall cops who befriend talking ferrets will understandably feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time. The urge to walk away from all of that and get lost in the most obscure thing you can find, the most distant and untouched landscape you can visit, the least processed or marketed product you can put in your body, is strong and understandable and healthy, but Potter says it is ultimately futile.

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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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The Benjamin Franklin Effect

The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate.

The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.

Benjamin Franklin knew how to deal with haters.

Born in 1706 as the eighth of 17 children to a Massachusetts soap and candlestick maker, the chances Benjamin would go on to become a gentleman, scholar, scientist, statesman, musician, author, publisher and all-around general bad-ass were astronomically low, yet he did just that and more because he was a master of the game of personal politics.

Like many people full of drive and intelligence born into a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations. From an early age, he was a talker and a schemer – a man capable of guile, cunning and persuasive charm. He stockpiled a cache of cajolative secret weapons, one of which was the Benjamin Franklin Effect, a tool as useful today as it was in the 1730s and still just as counterintuitive. To understand it, let’s first rewind back to 1706.

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