The facts don’t speak for themselves. Someone always speaks for them.
From the opioid crisis to vaccines, vitamin and health supplements to climate change — even the widespread use of lobotomies to quiet problem mental patients — celebrity scientists and charismatic doctors have made tremendous mistakes. Thanks to their fame, they escaped the corrective mechanisms of science itself and spread their wrongness far and wide. Science always deals the problem. The truth wins. But before it does, many people can be harmed, and society can suffer.
Parker Wiseman ran for student office in high school with photocopied flyers. He debated the public school system in social studies class. In college he took the courses and shook the hands that would help him join that peculiar Southern subculture of the embattled Mississippi Democrat, a pugnacious sort who plays darts and drinks whiskey while wearing penny loafers and forces smiles meant to fool no one. People close to Parker Wiseman were not surprised when, at the age of 28, he became the youngest mayor in Starkville history.
In this episode, psychologist Per Espen Stoknes discusses his book: What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming.
In it, he describes the method he has developed for science communicators who find themselves confronted with climate change deniers who aren’t swayed by facts and charts. His book presents a series of psychology-based steps designed to painlessly change people’s minds and avoid the common mistakes scientists tend to make when explaining climate change to laypeople.
When you think about your future health, career, finances, and even longevity — you imagine a rosy, hopeful future. For everyone else, though, you tend to be far more realistic.
In other words, if you are a smoker, everyone else is going to get cancer. You’ll probably be in the that lucky portion who smokes into your 90s, or so you think. Similarly, the odds of success for a new restaurant change depending on who starts that venture. If its you, the odds are pretty good. If it is someone else, you see the odds as pretty bad.
In moments of ambiguity, we think in terms of frames, narratives, and categories.
These constructs are charged with meaning, and thanks to the associative networks they ping in our brains, labels and symbols, even colors, change the ways in which we think, feel and behave without us realizing it.
As a cognitive process, leaning on psychological metaphors to make sense of the world is invisible, involuntary, and unconscious –- and that’s why psychology is working so hard to understand it.
Confirmation bias is our tendency to seek evidence that supports our beliefs and that confirms our assumptions — when we could just as well seek disconfirmation of those beliefs and assumptions instead.
It feels like we are doing the hard work — doing the research required to build good beliefs — but since we can so easily find that confirmation, when we stop searching at those moments when we think we have made sense of the world, we can grow ever more wrong over time.
This is such a prevalent feature of human cognition, that until recently a second phenomenon has been hidden in plain sight. Recent research suggests that something called desirability bias may be just as prevalent in our thinking.
Since our past beliefs and future desires usually match up, the desirability of an outcome is often twisted into our pursuit of confirmation like a single psychological braid — and here’s the thing: When future desires and past beliefs are incongruent, desire usually wins out.
Is psychology too WEIRD? That’s what this episode’s guest, psychologist Steven J. Heine suggested when he and his colleagues published a paper showing that psychology wasn’t the study of the human mind, but the study of one kind of human mind, the sort generated by the brains that happen to be conveniently located near the places where research is usually conducted — those of North American college undergraduates.
They called them the WEIRDest people in the world, short for Western, Education, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic — the kind of people who make up less than 15 percent of the world’s population.
In this episode, you’ll learn why it took psychology so long to figure out it was studying outliers, and what it means for the future of the science.