Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘Psychology

Why does walking through a doorway make you forget what you were about to do?

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It’s called the “Doorway Effect,” and psychologist Tom Stafford writes about it on BBC:

We’ve all done it. Run upstairs to get your keys, but forget that it is them you’re looking for once you get to the bedroom. Open the fridge door and reach for the middle shelf only to realise that we can’t remember why we opened the fridge in the first place. Or wait for a moment to interrupt a friend to find that the burning issue that made us want to interrupt has now vanished from our minds just as we come to speak: “What did I want to say again?” we ask a confused audience, who all think “how should we know?!”

Although these errors can be embarrassing, they are also common. It’s known as the “Doorway Effect”, and it reveals some important features of how our minds are organised. Understanding this might help us appreciate those temporary moments of forgetfulness as more than just an annoyance (although they will still be annoying).

These features of our minds are perhaps best illustrated by a story about a woman who meets three builders on their lunch break. “What are you doing today?” she asks the first. “I’m putting brick after sodding brick on top of another,” sighs the first. “What are you doing today?” she asks the second. “I’m building a wall,” is the simple reply. But the third builder swells with pride when asked, and replies: “I’m building a cathedral!”

Maybe you heard that story as encouragement to think of the big picture, but to the psychologist in you the important moral is that any action has to be thought of at multiple levels if you are going to carry it out successfully. The third builder might have the most inspiring view of their day-job, but nobody can build a cathedral without figuring out how to successfully put one brick on top of another like the first builder.

As we move through our days our attention shifts between these levels – from our goals and ambitions, to plans and strategies, and to the lowest levels, our concrete actions. When things are going well, often in familiar situations, we keep our attention on what we want and how we do it seems to take care of itself. If you’re a skilled driver then you manage the gears, indicators and wheel automatically, and your attention is probably caught up in the less routine business of navigating the traffic or talking to your passengers. When things are less routine we have to shift our attention to the details of what we’re doing, taking our minds off the bigger picture for a moment. Hence the pause in conversation as the driver gets to a tricky junction, or the engine starts to make a funny sound.

The way our attention moves up and down the hierarchy of action is what allows us to carry out complex behaviours, stitching together a coherent plan over multiple moments, in multiple places or requiring multiple actions.

The Doorway Effect occurs when our attention moves between levels, and it reflects the reliance of our memories – even memories for what we were about to do – on the environment we’re in. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The way we use external things as memory aids is, of course, the idea behind souvenirs and other such mementos, and accidental mementos are common — sounds (e…g., songs), fragrances, and tastes often trigger memories, and in so doing, they seem a part of ourselves. This is why losing all one’s possessions — for example, when one’s home burns completely, as happened to thousands in California over the past few years — is so devasting: in a sense, one loses a part of oneself: all those things attached to our memory and thus our identity.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2021 at 11:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People

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Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, writes in the NY Times:

A few years ago, I made the mistake of having an argument with the most stubborn person I know. R., whose initial I’m using to protect his privacy, is a longtime friend, and when his family came to visit, he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated — and never would be.

I’m no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but I was concerned for his children’s safety, so I started debunking some common vaccine myths. After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated. Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.

Then came 2020. Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19. It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community: About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.

I decided to see if I could open R.’s mind to the possibility. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would be opened as well.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again. I’ve run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters. But I don’t always practice what I teach.

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

That’s what happened with my friend. If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines, I had to rethink my approach.

Several decades ago, when treating substance abuse problems, psychologists developed a technique called motivational interviewing. The central premise: Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change. You do that by interviewing them — asking open-ended questions and listening carefully — and holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts more clearly. If they express a desire to change, you guide them toward a plan.

Say you’re a student at Hogwarts, and you want to help your uncle reject Voldemort. You might start like this:

You: I’d love to better understand your feelings about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Uncle: Well, he’s the most powerful wizard alive. Also, his followers promised me a fancy title.

You: Interesting. Is there anything you dislike about him?

Uncle: Hmm. I’m not crazy about all the murdering.

You: Well, nobody’s perfect. What’s stopped you from abandoning him?

Uncle: I’m afraid he might direct the murdering toward me.

You: That’s a reasonable fear — I’ve felt it too. Are there any principles that matter so deeply to you that you’d be willing to take that risk?

In controlled trials, motivational interviewing has helped people to stop smoking, abusing drugs and alcohol, and gambling; to improve their diets and exercise; to overcome eating disorders; and to lose weight. The approach has also motivated students to get a good night’s sleep; voters to reconsider their prejudices; and divorcing parents to reach settlements.

Recently, thanks to a vaccine whisperer, it has been applied to immunization. Arnaud Gagneur is a pediatrician in Quebec who encourages reluctant parents to immunize their children. In his experiments, a motivational interview in the maternity ward after birth increased the number of mothers willing to vaccinate their children from 72 percent to 87 percent; the number of children who were fully vaccinated two years later rose by 9 percent. A single conversation was enough to change behavior over the next 24 months.

I set up a conversation between Dr. Gagneur and my friend. After 90 minutes, it was clear to me that R.’s vaccination stance had not changed.

“I have tried to apply all the principles of motivational interviewing, but I have had the unpleasant feeling of not doing so well,” Dr. Gagneur wrote to me in email. “R. is very knowledgeable and always ends up finding arguments that support his decision.”

Strangely, I didn’t feel defeated or irritated. I wanted to learn how my friend’s views could evolve.

The pioneers of motivational interviewing, William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, have long warned against using the technique to manipulate people. It requires a genuine desire to understand people’s motivations and help them reach their goals. Although R. and I both want to keep his children healthy, I realized I had never tried to understand his perspective on vaccines before. So the next morning, I called him.

In our past debates, R. had focused only on the potential downsides of vaccinations. With Dr. Gagneur, though, he acknowledged that vaccines could be good for some but not necessarily for others. If he lived in a country experiencing an outbreak of, say, malaria, would he consider immunization? “You weigh the pros and cons,” he said.

Psychologists find that when we listen carefully and call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking, they become less extreme and more open in their views. I wondered how my friend’s ambivalence applied to Covid, and I knew that the kinds of questions I asked would matter. Social scientists have found that asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice, rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was more effective in opening their minds. As people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan, they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.

So for my second attempt,

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2021 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Politics, Science

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How Cognitive Bias Can Explain Post-Truth

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Lee McIntyre has a very interesting article in The MIT Reader, adapted from his book Post-Truth. It begins:

To say that facts are less important than feelings in shaping our beliefs about empirical matters seems new, at least in American politics. In the past we have faced serious challenges — even to the notion of truth itself — but never before have such challenges been so openly embraced as a strategy for the political subordination of reality, which is how I define “post-truth.” Here, “post” is meant to indicate not so much the idea that we are “past” truth in a temporal sense (as in “postwar”) but in the sense that truth has been eclipsed by less important matters like ideology.

One of the deepest roots of post-truth has been with us the longest, for it has been wired into our brains over the history of human evolution: cognitive bias. Psychologists for decades have been performing experiments that show that we are not quite as rational as we think. Some of this work bears directly on how we react in the face of unexpected or uncomfortable truths.

A central concept of human psychology is that we strive to avoid psychic discomfort. It is not a pleasant thing to think badly of oneself. Some psychologists call this “ego defense” (after Freudian theory), but whether we frame it within this paradigm or not, the concept is clear. It just feels better for us to think that we are smart, well-informed, capable people than that we are not. What happens when we are confronted with information that suggests that something we believe is untrue? It creates psychological tension. How could I be an intelligent person yet believe a falsehood? Only the strongest egos can stand up very long under a withering assault of self-criticism: “What a fool I was! The answer was right there in front of me the whole time, but I never bothered to look. I must be an idiot.” So the tension is often resolved by changing one of one’s beliefs.

It matters a great deal, however, which beliefs change. One would like to think that it should always be the belief that was shown to be mistaken. If we are wrong about a question of empirical reality — and we are finally confronted by the evidence — it would seem easiest to bring our beliefs back into harmony by changing the one that we now have good reason to doubt. But this is not always what happens. There are many ways to adjust a belief set, some rational and some not.

Three Classic Findings from Social Psychology

In 1957, Leon Festinger published his pioneering book “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,” in which he offered the idea that we seek harmony between our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, and experience psychic discomfort when they are out of balance. In seeking resolution, our primary goal is to preserve our sense of self-value.

In a typical experiment, Festinger gave subjects an extremely boring task, for which some were paid $1 and some were paid $20. After completing the task, subjects were requested to tell the person who would perform the task after them that it was enjoyable. Festinger found that subjects who had been paid $1 reported the task to be much more enjoyable than those who had been paid $20. Why? Because their ego was at stake. What kind of person would do a meaningless, useless task for just a dollar unless it was actually enjoyable? To reduce the dissonance, they altered their belief that the task had been boring (whereas those who were paid $20 were under no illusion as to why they had done it). In another experiment, Festinger had subjects hold protest signs for causes they did not actually believe in. Surprise! After doing so, subjects began to feel that the cause was actually a bit more worthy than they had initially thought.

But what happens when we have much more invested than just performing a boring task or holding a sign? What if we have taken a public stand on something, or even devoted our life to it, only to find out later that we’ve been duped? Festinger analyzed just this phenomenon in a book called . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. In fact, there’s a whole book more.

See also “How To Handle Post-Truth Now That Trump Is Gone.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2021 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Memes, Science

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Incitement to violence is rarely explicit – here are some techniques people use to breed hate

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H. Colleen Sinclair, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Mississippi State University, writes in The Conversation:

As senators plan for an impeachment trial in which former President Donald Trump is accused of inciting his supporters to mount a deadly insurrection at the Capitol, global concern is growing about threats of violent unrest in multiple countriesincluding the U.S. The United Nations reports the proliferation of dangerous speech online represents a “new era” in conflict.

Dangerous speech is defined as communication encouraging an audience to condone or inflict harm. Usually this harm is directed by an “ingroup” (us) against an “outgroup” (them) – though it can also provoke self-harm in suicide cults.

U.S. law reflects the assumption that dangerous speech must contain explicit calls to criminal action. But scholars who study speeches and propaganda that precede acts of violence find direct commands to violence are rare.

Other elements are more common. Here are some of the red flags.

Firing up emotions

Psychologists have analyzed the speeches of rousing leaders like Hitler and Gandhi for their emotional content, assessing how much fear, joy, sadness and so on were present. They then tested whether the levels of emotion could predict whether a certain speech preceded violence or nonviolence.

They discovered the following emotions, particularly combined, could ignite violence:

  • Anger: The speaker gives the audience reasons to be angry, often pointing out who should be held responsible for that anger.
  • Contempt: The outgroup is deemed inferior to the ingroup, and thus unworthy of respect.
  • Disgust: The outgroup is described as so revolting they are undeserving of even basic humane treatment.

Constructing the threat

By studying political speeches and propaganda that have inspired violence, researchers have identified themes that can stir these powerful emotions.

Targets of dangerous speech are often dehumanized, depicted as fundamentally lacking qualities – empathy, intelligence, values, abilities, self-control – at the core of being human. Commonly, outgroups are depicted as evil, due to their alleged lack of morality. Alternatively, they may be portrayed as animalistic or worse. During the Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches in Hutu propaganda.

To build a “story of hate,” a good guy is needed to counter the villain. So whatever dehumanizing quality is present in the outgroup, the opposite is present in the ingroup. If “they” are the Antichrist, “we” are the children of God.

Alleged past wrongdoings of the outgroup against the ingroup are used to position the outgroup as a threat. In cases of ongoing conflict between groups, such as between Israelis and Palestinians, there may well be examples of past wrongs on both sides. Effective dangerous speech omits, minimizes or justifies past wrongs by the ingroup members, while exacerbating past wrongs of the outgroup.

Competitive victimhood” is used to portray the ingroup as the “real” victim – especially if ingroup “innocents” like women and children have been harmed by the outgroup. Sometimes past acts of the outgroups are fabricated and used as scapegoats for the ingroup’s past misfortunes. For instance, Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany losing World War I.

A particularly dangerous fabrication is when outgroups are accused of plotting against the ingroup the very deeds the ingroup is planning, if not actually committing, against the outgroup. Researchers coined the term “accusations in a mirror” after this strategy was explicitly described in a Hutu propaganda handbook following the Rwandan genocide.

Disengaging one’s moral compass

Effective dangerous speech gets people to overcome internal resistance to inflicting harm.

This can be accomplished by

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2021 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Politics, Science

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A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon

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In watching the videos of the attack on the Capitol it struck me that it seemed somewhat like a multplayer online game acted out in real life (especially given that such games usually seem to involve combat — as if we are doing simulation training to make people adopt violence as the standard way of solving problems). The parallels — and the effects of learning behaviors from online games — are discussed in a very interesting article on Medium.

Friedrich Nietzche’s famously wrote, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” First I’ll observe that the QAnon worldview does indeed have its converts fighting monsters (cannibalistic pedophile Satan-worshiping liberals), and as we saw on Wednesday, some of the QAnon faithful have indeed become monsters. Moreover, as the following article points out, those playing the game QAnon are being played by the game.

One thing I gleaned from the article is why teaching by the Socratic method is so effective

Reed Berkowitz writes:

I am a game designer with experience in a very small niche. I create and research games designed to be played in reality. I’ve worked in Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), LARPsexperience fictioninteractive theater, and “serious games”. Stories and games that can start on a computer, and finish in the real world. Fictions designed to feel as real as possible. Games that teach you. Puzzles that come to life all around the players. Games where the deeper you dig, the more you find. Games with rabbit holes that invite you into wonderland and entice you through the looking glass.

When I saw QAnon, I knew exactly what it was and what it was doing. I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)

QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.

It is the differences that shed the light on how QAnon works and many of them are hard to see if you’re not involved in game development. QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.

Guided Apophenia

In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

Apophenia is “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it’s not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at. More about this later.

Everyone on the board agrees with you because it’s highly likely they were the ones that pointed it out to you just for that purpose. (more on this later)

“Hey, what’s that?!”

“It looks like an arrow, pointing at the wall.”

“Why do you think it’s there? Do people just leave arrows pointing to things randomly? What does your common sense say about that?”

“It says there must be something there.”

“Yes. You are right. Maybe you should look at it more closely?”

Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.

Even Q-Anon was only one of several “anons” including FBIanon and CIAanon, etc, etc. Q rose to the top, so it got its own YouTube channels. That tested, so it moved to Reddit. The theories that didn’t work, disappeared while others got up-voted. It’s ingenious. It’s AI with a group-think engine. The group, led by the puppet masters, decide what is the most entertaining and gripping explanation, and that is amplified. It’s a Slenderman board gone amok.

Let’s go back to the arrow on the ground again.

It was not an arrow on the ground, pointing to a clue in a wall. It was just some random bits of wood. They did not discover an arrow. They created it. They saw random pieces of wood and applied their intelligence to it, and this is everything.

It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.

Propaganda and Manipulation

Another major difference between QAnon and an actual game, is that Q is almost pure propaganda. That IS the sole purpose of this. It’s not advertising a product, it’s not for fun, and it’s not an art project. There is no doubt about the political nature of the propaganda either. From ancient tropes about Jews and Democrats eating babies (blood-libel re-booted) to anti-science hysteria, this is all the solid reliable stuff of authoritarianism. This is the internet’s re-purposing of hatred’s oldest hits. The messaging is spot on. The “drops” implanted in an aspic of anti-Semitic, misogynist, and grotesque posts on posting boards that, indeed, have been implicated in many of the things the fake conspiracy is supposed to be guilty of!

Q is also operating in conjunction with  . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 12:30 pm

Is success due to luck? or hard work?

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2021 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

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Cognitive biases that trip us up

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From here. I particularly like this explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is too often (mis)stated as a result of lacking intelligence (which is wrong: intelligence is no guard against DK), rather than as a result of lacking knowledge (the essential cause of DK). I think the (perhaps unconscious) reason for the misstatement—that it is stupidity and not ignorance that results in the fallacy—is that intelligent people want to believe that they are immune to the effects of DK. The misstatement is itself an instance of the DK effect.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2019 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Science

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Caring for your introvert

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Now that I’ve been presented with obvious evidence that I’m an introvert, I found this article by Jonathan Rauch quite interesting:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.

Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2009 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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We are HIGHLY spatially oriented creatures

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As you might expect from our arboreal ancestry. Mind Hacks:

There’s an intriguing study about to be published in Psychological Science finding that people wearing prism glasses that shift everything to the right overestimate the passage of time, while people wearing left-shift glasses underestimate it.

The researchers, led by psychologist Francesca Frassinetti, asked participants to watch a square appear on-screen for varying time periods, and then reproduce the duration or half the duration with a key press.

Glasses that skewed vision to the left seemed to shrink time, while glasses that skew everything to the right expanded it.

Apart from the interesting perceptual effect, it gives further evidence for the idea that our internals model of space and time are heavily linked, to the point where modifying one has a knock-on effect on the other.

In fact, there is increasing evidence that other abstract concepts are implicitly understood as having a spatial layout. Experiments on the SNARC effect have found that numbers seem to have a ‘location’, with larger numbers being on the right and smaller numbers on the left.

At least, that seems to be the case for native English-speakers, but for Arabic speakers, where text is written right-to-left, the reverse seems to be true.

It would be interesting to whether Arabic speakers show a reverse time alteration effect of if they wear prism glasses. Whatever the answer, it would raise lots of interesting questions about how much language influences our abstract ideas and whether it only applies to certain concepts.

Prism glasses have long been a tool in psychology and there is a mountain of research on how we adjust to living in the world even when everything is shifted through the lens.

Tom recently found a fantastic (1950s?) archive film called ‘Living in a Reversed World: Some Experiments on How We See the Directions of Things’ where several volunteers are asked to wear prism glasses for weeks on end.

Hilarity ensues, at least at first, but as co-ordination skills adapt the volunteers can go about their daily tasks, to the point of being able to ride bicycles, even when their vision has been flipped around.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2009 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Stalkers and assassins

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Interesting post from Mind Hacks:

I’ve just found this fascinating 2006 article by a consultant psychiatrist to the US Secret Service that classifies the types of stalkers and assassins that have troubled the President of the United States.

The piece, by psychiatry professor Robert Phillips, reviews past classifications of presidential harassers and cases from the literature to produce a list of main types.

In my work as consultant to the U.S. Secret Service on protective intelligence cases, it is my clinical assessment that aids in their ultimate determination of who poses a potential risk to a protectee.

In performing evaluations of persons who have either threatened or attacked presidents, pursued them without nefarious intent, or appeared at the White House without invitation, I have searched for a framework that would allow me to integrate my diagnostic opinion of an individual subject with a conceptualization of what is known about others who have acted similarly.

Phillips’ classification includes:

* The Resentful Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Pathologically Obsessed Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Presidential Infamy Seeker
* The Presidential Nuisance or Presidential Attention Seeker

But perhaps most interesting is the part where he illustrates each type with examples from past cases.

These include famous cases, such as John Hinckley – the man who shot President Reagan but was apparently also a stalker of Carter, to less well known cases such as one woman referred to only as ‘Ms Doe’ who "possessed a delusional love interest" in Clinton.

It’s interesting to compare this classification with the independently created typology of stalkers of the British royal family drawn from the Metropolitan Police’s Royalty Protection Unit files.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:22 pm

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Tools = temporary body parts

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Interesting post at Mind Hacks:

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers an intriguing study that provides further evidence for the theory that the brain treats tools as temporary body parts.

Using tools has lots of interesting effects on our perception. In one of my favourite studies, psychologist Dennis Proffitt found that we perceive distances as shorter when we have a tool in our hand, but only when we intend to use it.

This latest study found that using a tool for only a few minutes modified the body’s action settings. In the experiment, participants were asked to repeatedly pick up a block that had been placed in the middle of the table.

Then, they had to repeat the same actions with a grabber – a long, mechanical lever tipped with a two-fingered "hand" – and then a third time, with their own hand again.

Small LEDs on the volunteers’ hands allowed Cardinali to track their movements and calculate the speed and acceleration of their arms. She found that they reached for the block differently after they had been accustomed to the grabber, taking longer to accelerate their hands more slowly and to seize the block (although once they actually touched the blocks, they grasped them in just the same way as before). The delays even affected the speed at which they pointed at the block, a behaviour that wasn’t "trained" by the grabber.

To Cardinali, these results suggested that after using the grabber, the volunteers’ had included it into their mental representation of their own arms. Because of that, they felt that their arms were longer than they actually were and reached for the block more slowly.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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The psychology of the scam

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Mind Hacks posts:

I’m just reading a fascinating report on the psychology of why people fall for scams, commissioned by the UK government’s Office of Fair Trading and created by Exeter University’s psychology department.

It’s a 260 page monster, so is not exactly bed time reading, but was drawn from in-depth interviews from scam victims, examination of scam material, two questionnaire studies and a behavioural experiment.

Here’s some of the punchlines grabbed from the executive summary. The report concluded that the most successful scams involve:

Appeals to trust and authority: people tend to obey authorities so scammers use, and victims fall for, cues that make the offer look like a legitimate one being made by a reliable official institution or established reputable business.

Visceral triggers: scams exploit basic human desires and needs – such as greed, fear, avoidance of physical pain, or the desire to be liked – in order to provoke intuitive reactions and reduce the motivation of people to process the content of the scam message deeply.

Scarcity cues. Scams are often personalised to create the impression that the offer is unique to the recipient.

Induction of behavioural commitment. Scammers ask their potential victims to make small steps of compliance to draw them in, and thereby cause victims to feel committed to continue sending money.

The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it. Scam victims are led to focus on the alleged big prize or reward in comparison to the relatively small amount of money they have to send in order to obtain their windfall.

Lack of emotional control. Compared to non-victims, scam victims report being less able to regulate and resist emotions associated with scam offers. They seem to be unduly open to persuasion, or perhaps unduly undiscriminating about who they allow to persuade them.

And here’s a couple of counter-intuitive kickers:

Scam victims often have better than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content. For example, it seems that people with experience of playing legitimate prize draws and lotteries are more likely to fall for a scam in this area than people with less knowledge and experience in this field. This also applies to those with some knowledge of investments. Such knowledge can increase rather than decrease the risk of becoming a victim.

Scam victims report that they put more cognitive effort into analysing scam content than non-victims. This contradicts the intuitive suggestion that people fall victim to scams because they invest too little cognitive energy in investigating their content, and thus overlook potential information that might betray the scam.

Interesting, people who fall for scams often have a feeling that it’s dodgy. The report suggests we trust our get instincts. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

We like to think that only other people fall for scams, but as I’m working my way through the report it’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.

A really fascinating read and a great example of applied psychology.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Mindset as positive voodoo

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Yesterday I blogged about nocebos: when you mind holds beliefs that lead it to attack the body. Last night I was reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, PhD, and it struck me that she is in a way exploring the same sort of phenomenon, though on the positive side and in different language. The two approaches are looking at the same general thing, but from different angles and with different vocabularies.

Here’s the opening of her book:

When I was a young researcher, just starting out, something happened that changed my life. I was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, and I decided to study it by watching how students grapple with hard problems. So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected.

Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, I love a challenge!" Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, "You know, I was hoping this would be informative."

What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?

Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.

What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

I, on the other hand, though human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture.

Whether human qualities are things that can be cultivated or things that are carved in stone is an old issue. What these beliefs mean for you is a new one: What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait? Let’s first look in on the age-old, fiercely waged debate about human nature and then return to the question of what these beliefs mean for you…

It’s a fascinating book with many implications for child-rearing. For example, you never praise a child for how smart s/he is, but rather for how well they work. Good grades are attributed to good work, not to intelligence. You can find more information in this earlier post.

I have to admit that I was praised for being smart and really didn’t learn how to study and work at things until I was an adult—and study skills are best learned very young, otherwise it’s difficult to embed them deeply enough.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 May 2009 at 8:26 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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Fascinating visual illusion

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2009 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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What makes us happy?

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Always a good question to ask, and the attempt to answer that question for herself and her own happiness eventually resulted in Joanna Field writing the fascinating book A Life of One’s Own, which I frequently recommend. Now there’s a very interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly about that very question. The article’s blurb:

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.

Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2009 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Secret email argument among psychologists about torture

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Very interesting story by Sherri Fink of ProPublica:

Earlier this week we published a story examining [1] the psychology profession’s tortured relationship with the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. We found that psychologists warned officials as early as 2002 against using potentially ineffective and dangerous interrogation techniques on detainees, according to a recently-released Senate Armed Services Committee report. However, what had been little noticed was that the same psychologists helped develop the harsh interrogation policies and practices they warned against.

As part of our report, we posted a listserv of internal emails between staff of the American Psychological Association and members of its "Psychological Ethics and National Security" task force. (Here’s the entire listserv.) [2] That listserv offers a rare look into a process that led to the adoption of an influential and controversial policy for the world’s largest professional organization of psychologists [3], which represents the profession of psychology in the United States. It also provides a window into a heated discussion among medical professionals grappling with their ethical obligations and their possible complicity in torture.

The task force was set up after news reports [4] suggested that psychologists and other health professionals had been complicit with abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, for example by sharing information about psychological vulnerabilities with interrogators. The group’s charge was to examine the ethical dimensions of psychologists’ involvement in "national security investigations" and consider whether the APA should develop policies to guide psychologists involved in those activities. The task force produced a 12-page report [5] stating that the APA’s ethics code prohibited torture, obligated psychologists to report any instances to appropriate authorities, and banned psychologists from using health care information in ways that could harm detainees.  Click to see the e-mail listserv obtained by ProPublica.

[2] But the report also gave psychologists an ethical blessing to continue consulting in national security-related interrogations. An organization of psychiatrists, in contrast, decided its physician members should not participate. In response, the Department of Defense changed its guidance [6] to state that psychologists, but no longer psychiatrists, should participate in so-called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams or "BSCTs" (pronounced "biscuits"), which assist interrogators in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After the report was issued, the APA task force itself became a target for criticism, when it was revealed that some members had consulted on interrogations at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, trained other psychologists to do so, or worked within chains of command that authorized the very practices the task force was established to consider (six of the nine voting members were members of or had consulted for the military or intelligence agencies).

The email traffic on the APA task force listserv [2] forms a dense but riveting narrative…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Torture

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Characteristics of the compassionate

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Interesting post in Mind Hacks. I find that GOP generally lacks compassion (for the powerless, I mean: the poor, the elderly, minorities, the disabled, and so on), and I wonder whether this explains it.

Newsweek has an article on human good and evil that trots out the usual Milgram-fuelled moral pondering before morphing into a fascinating piece on the psychology of compassion.

The most interesting part is where it discusses which psychological traits predict compassionate behaviour:

A specific cluster of emotional traits seem to go along with compassion. People who are emotionally secure, who view life’s problems as manageable and who feel safe and protected tend to show the greatest empathy for strangers and to act altruistically and compassionately.

In contrast, people who are anxious about their own worth and competence, who avoid close relationships or are clingy in those they have tend to be less altruistic and less generous, psychologists Philip Shaver of the University of California, Davis, and Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel have found in a series of experiments. Such people are less likely to care for the elderly, for instance, or to donate blood.

The Newsweek article labels these characteristics ’emotional traits’ but the researchers are actually using the psychological concept of attachment – an approach to relationships and human interaction style that can be seen throughout the lifespan.

The same research team has completed studies showing that increasing people’s perceived security increases altruistic behaviour.

If you read this psychological profile of the conservative mind, you can understand (from the above) why conservatives often seem to lack compassion.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2009 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Democrats, GOP, Science

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Human behavior and global warming

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Very interesting article on human decision-making in regard to the environment. It begins:

Two days after Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States, the Pew Research Center released a poll ranking the issues that Americans said were the most important priorities for this year. At the top of the list were several concerns — jobs and the economy — related to the current recession. Farther down, well after terrorism, deficit reduction and en­ergy (and even something the pollsters characterized as “moral decline”) was climate change. It was priority No. 20. That was last place.

A little more than a week after the poll was published, I took a seat in a wood-paneled room at Columbia University, where a few dozen academics had assembled for a two-day conference on the environment. In many respects, the Pew rankings were a suitable backdrop for the get-together, a meeting of researchers affiliated with something called CRED, or the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. A branch of behavioral research situated at the intersection of psychology and economics, decision science focuses on the mental proces­ses that shape our choices, behaviors and attitudes. The field’s origins grew mostly out of the work, beginning in the 1970s, of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists whose experiments have demonstrated that people can behave unexpectedly when confronted with simple choices. We have many automatic biases — we’re more averse to losses than we are interested in gains, for instance — and we make repeated errors in judgment based on our tendency to use shorthand rules to solve problems. We can also be extremely susceptible to how questions are posed. Would you undergo surgery if it had a 20 percent mortality rate? What if it had an 80 percent survival rate? It’s the same procedure, of course, but in various experiments, responses from patients can differ markedly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 April 2009 at 12:03 pm

Good pointers on tense discussions

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Interesting:

The rules are simple: don’t talk about politics, religion, sex, certainly not masturbation, and definitely don’t question how someone parents their children. After all, what are you going to do if the person you’re talking to is unwilling to appreciate your point of view? Can you handle a violent argument or an exhausting bout of strained silence? Out of fear, people hide from a number of important issues and a lot of relationships never build the strength to tolerate the intense emotions that arise during disagreements. As a clinical psychologist, I can tell you that handling conflict is essential to our well-being, healthy relationships, healthy workplaces, and healthy communities.

The truth is conflicts are inevitable. Human beings were never designed to live in the densely packed settings of modern society. With so many people in our personal space, so many emotions to read from so many faces, disagreements and arguments are unavoidable. It could be a romantic couple bickering on a regular basis about how to discipline their children. It could be a financially unstable business trying to negotiate a purchase with a stubborn buyer. It could be two nations that are inches away from war. Usually there is some value in negotiating some common ground to prevent conflicts from escalating into violent endings.

Researchers at Stanford University tested a simple idea for how to create successful outcomes during tense negotiations or conflicts. The reason that arguments can quickly turn ugly is that people don’t feel as if they’re being understood. Thus, make sure that each party feels as if they are being carefully listened to.

If people show that they are curious and willing to learn more about someone else’s opposing view, this might be the key to diplomacy. That is, ask a single clarifying question about what another person’s view is about. That’s it. One question with a few important guidelines: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Pornography’s appeal to conservatives

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Nigel Barber has an interesting column, which begins:

As far as online adult entertainment is concerned, the Red states are also the red light states. Eight of the top ten pornography consuming states went for McCain in the presidential election (the two exceptions, Florida and Hawaii went democratic).

The biggest consumer of Internet pornography was Utah with 5.47 subscriptions per thousand home broadband users compared to Montana the lowest state with 1.92 subscribers per thousand (1). Study author, Benjamin Edelman of Harvard Business School focused on broadband users because pornography is a bandwidth hog. Edelman was also careful to rule out the age distribution of the population, income, education, population density, marriage rates and other characteristics that might make state comparisons unfair. Utah still wound up at the top of the heap.

Utah’s top ranking surprises many. One can think of many adjectives to describe the state: religious, conservative, family-oriented, outdoorsy, clean-living, but few would have guessed top-pornography-consuming. Many would find it easier to attribute such interests to western neighbor Nevada, a center for gambling and prostitution. Ironically, Nevada doesn’t even make it to the top ten.

States that banned gay marriage had 11 percent more porn subscribers. The level of agreement in a state with the statement that "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" predicted higher pornography consumption. States claiming to have old-fashioned values about family and marriage purchased substantially more adult-content subscriptions.

In addition …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2009 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

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