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More on Political Opinions and Tribal Pressures

January 23, 2019 | By | Reply More
More on Political Opinions and Tribal Pressures

At The Atlantic, Jay Van Bavel discusses recent experiments showing that we are not permanently polarized with regard to our political positions. The article is titled, How Political Opinions Change.

In a recent experiment, we showed it is possible to trick people into changing their political views. In fact, we could get some people to adopt opinions that were directly opposite of their original ones. . . . A powerful shaping factor about our social and political worlds is how they are structured by group belonging and identities… We are also far more motivated to reason and argue to protect our own or our group’s views. Indeed, some researchers argue that our reasoning capabilities evolved to serve that very function.

People tend to take more extreme positions of their same viewpoint when challenged with information supporting the opposite view. The trick is to suggest to the person that they actually held the opposite view through false-feedback. The take-away: “people have a pretty high degree of flexibility about their political views once you strip away the things that normally make them defensive.”

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Scientific Reasoning, Tribal Reasoning

January 22, 2019 | By | Reply More
Scientific Reasoning, Tribal Reasoning

It’s not enough to be a scientifically savvy person, because your scientific savviness can be hijacked by your tribal impulses, leading to such things as intelligent people vigorously arguing that climate change is a hoax.

That is the conclusion of Dan Kahan, writing for The Atlantic in “Why Smart People Are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth.”

Unless accompanied by another science-reasoning trait, the capacities associated with science literacy can actually impede public recognition of the best available evidence and deepen pernicious forms of cultural polarization.

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Coddled Children Grow up Self-Disruptive

September 19, 2018 | By | 1 Reply More
Coddled Children Grow up Self-Disruptive

In The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Attorney Greg Lukianoff (founder of FIRE) and moral psyhchologist Jonathan Haidt address America’s mushrooming inability to engage in productive civil discourse. Increasing numbers of people are claiming that they cannot cope with ideas that challenge their own world view. They sometimes claim that ideas that challenge their own ideas are “not safe.” In dozens of well-publicized cases, rather than work to counteract “bad” ideas with better ideas, they work to muzzle speaker by disrupting presentations or even running the purportedly offensive speakers off campus.

There is a related and growing problem. We cannot talk with each other at all regarding many many important issues. We shout each other down and use the heckler’s veto. These maladies are especially prominent on some American college campuses, but these problems are also rapidly spreading to the country at large, including corporate America.

Consider this 2016 example featuring the students of Yale having a “discussion” with Professor Nicholas Christakis:

You would never guess it from this video alone, but this mass-meltdown was triggered after child development specialist Erika Christakis (wife of Nicholas), sent this email to students.?This incident at Yale is one of many illustrations offered by Haidt and Lukianoff as evidence of a disturbing trend. ?Here’s another egregious example involving?Dean Mary Spellman at Claremont McKenna College who was run out of her college after committing the sin of writing this email to a student. ?More detail here.?

The authors offer this as the genesis of the overall problem:

In years past, administrators were motivated to create campus speech codes in order to curtail what they deemed to be racist or sexist speech. Increasingly, however, the rationale for speech codes and speaker disinvitations was becoming medicalized: Students claimed that certain kinds of speech—and even the content of some books and courses—interfered with their ability to function. They wanted protection from material that they believed could jeopardize their mental health by “triggering” them, or making them “feel unsafe.”

The solution offered by Lukianoff and Haidt is to take a moment to stop to recognize what they call the “Three Bad Ideas.”

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Optimism: A secret weapon for You.

September 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

I am enjoying many of the blog posts of Mr. Money Mustache. Today I read his paean to optimism, titled: “The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism.” He describes optimism as a “secret weapon” that you can and should employ every day. He is not channelling Pollyanna, but making his argument based on solid science.

But what good is fictional asset like an Optimism Gun when we’re trying to accomplish things here in the real world? The answer is a Hell of a lot of good, because in this world full of humans, almost all of our “reality” is created in our own heads . . . There are several psychological principles at work that make all this work on a practical level. What follows are excerpts of the reasons you need to be optimistic, but I would optimistically recommend that you would enjoy his entire post.

  • Humans are automatically drawn to Leaders: . . . If you dare to express optimism about anything, you’re stepping onto a little soapbox, and it gets attention.
    People want it to be true: If you’ve become a small-time leader and you deliver the Good Word, people will naturally want to keep listening, because you help them feel good about things too.?
  • Optimism tricks you into trying more things. . . .
  • You are forced not to focus on things you can’t control: One of the most useful lessons of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is that you never worry about stuff you cannot control. You just work on the things you can. . . .
  • Acknowledge and Bow Down to the Placebo Effect: When it comes to health and well-being, the mind controls the body way more than rational people like to admit. . . .
  • I enjoy hacking this fact to control my own health. I have a permanent belief that I am unusually healthy, and that this condition will persist forever. [O]ptimism is limiting the release of the human stress hormone Cortisol, which tends to destroy health. The less you worry about health, the healthier you become.
  • Optimism is rare, and deadly when combined with competence: If you’re a smart guy or gal at your workplace, the other smart people are expecting you to be pessimistic, just like them. . . . You can slip in [optimistic] ideas . . .Your coworkers will be fooled into thinking that they really can do those things, which they wouldn’t have otherwise tried.
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Getting upset about the right things.

September 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

Here’s a post by Darrell Lackey, a pastor challenging Christians to get save their energy and frustration for the right kinds of things. He begins the post with this statement that Tony Campolo has been known to use when addressing Christian audiences:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.

There is some good food for thought for all of us in this post, whether or not we are religious (I am not). ?For example, many of us often get much more upset about the minor irritations of our own local lives than the enormous suffering and stark injustices over the next hill or the next continent. For instance, our own country has been bombing many countries in the Middle East for many years. ?We’ve been bombing Afghanistan since 2001, and according to reliable sources, we have been killing many innocent civilians in a “war” regarding which we are utterly unable to articulate any meaningful objective or metric of success. Therefore, that “war” goes on, largely unchallenged and unnoticed, our news media almost never mentioning that we are even at war. ?Out of sight, out of mind for most of us.

If we want to be morally cohesive, we need to use unceasing effort to make certain we are focused on the things that matter. ?That is often not easy to do. ?Trying to stay focused on important things in a sustained way wears us down. ?It’s not easy to be moral. ?It’s much easier to complain about that the microwave burned the popcorn.

To live moral lives, we need to stay focused on important things, and focus is another word for attention, a psychological resource that humans have in short supply. ?Attention is like a spotlight. ?When we look at a thing, we often exclude attending to most other things. ?that’s how we are wired; we are almost the opposite of omniscient, even though we want to believe that we are generally aware of most things that are important.

Because attention is so limited, our attentional decisions and habits (maybe we should call this our “attentional hygiene”) gives us great power to define our “world.” ?Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we are capable of manipulating what we pay attention to, and whatever we choose to ignore simply doesn’t exist for us; if we are not paying ?attention to something, it holds no moral sway over us because our attentional choices turn it into nothing at all. Most of us aren’t at all bothered by world starvation most of the time because ?we are not thinking about that horrific problem. ?Further, human animals are capable of not paying attention to things that are right in front of us. ?This is especially true when we are emotionally motivated to not see. ? See no evil and hear no evil functionally means that there is no evil.

I have long been fascinated by this confluence of attention and morality and, in fact wrote a detailed paper on it, drawing from many domains of cognitive science: ?Decision Making, the Failure of Principles,?and the Seduction of Attention.”??Feel free to take a look, if you find this general topic compelling.

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Sneaking reliable evidence past flawed world views

December 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

When solid evidence conflicts with a world view, some people often reject the evidence rather than the flawed world view. In Scientific American’s “How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail,” Michael Shermer (a former fundamentalist Christian) suggests the following approaches to persuading such people:

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

The rejection of facts is often caused by either or both of two human tendencies:

1. Cognitive Dissonance: the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.

Psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.” Festinger called this cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.

2. Backfire Effect: Corrections actually increase misperceptions.

Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.” For example, subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite … and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them.

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The belief in inevitable progress as magic thinking

June 7, 2015 | By | 3 Replies More

From Chris Hedges at Truthdig:

The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.

The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all.

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Republicans: Motivated by Fear

March 11, 2015 | By | 4 Replies More

Randa Morris of Addicting Information examines the root of modern right wing ideology:

We know that conservatives respond strongly to negative stimuli. We know that they are motivated by fear, or what researchers describe as ‘perceived threats’. We know that conservatives are often deeply insecure. Hibbings?research?also suggests that conservatives view themselves as part of a small group, and that they perceive those outside of the group as a threat to the well being of the group itself. That knowledge goes a long way toward explaining conservatives attitudes toward immigration as well as their hatred of minorities, non Christians and others who fall outside of their elite circle.?Going one step further, it seems that there is a belief that everyone outside of the group is a threat to the group itself.

One thing we still don’t know is whether conservatives are born with these tendencies or whether they learn them throughout life. Is it nature or nurture? One thing is for sure, those at the top of the right wing food chain know very well how to exploit their base through fear and negativity. The extreme right wing operates very much like a religious cult. The main job of the cult leaders is to keep the members fearful and distrusting of everyone outside of the group, thus ensuring that they can continue to control the message.

I tend to believe that the right wing media is the cause of the underlying psychology that researchers observe in conservative personalities. Logically speaking, how many people would be afraid of?absurd conspiracy theories?like?Agenda 21?or?Obamacare death panels?or FEMA camps, if the right wing media didn’t disseminate so many lies? The same goes for just about any of things that conservatives fear, from?immigrant children?to any form of?sane gun control, the conservative media keeps these people afraid at all times.

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We’re from the government. Trust us.

March 1, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

If I may make a gross over-characterization. Both people on the left and right trust the government, but in different respects. People on the right trust law enforcement and the military. People on the left trust government-run social programs. Both are victims (as we all are) of confirmation bias.

Here is a sad story of gross malfeasance by the CIA, and attempts to make the information public. The whistleblower in this case, Jeffrey Sterling could be facing a stiff sentence for allegedly revealing that the CIA handed (to Iran) valuable information regarding the construction of a nuclear bomb to Iran.

Also discussed is the equally sad story of reporter James Risen spending substantial time in prison for protecting his sources.

In light of this frustrating set of revelations, the question arises: How are citizens supposed to know what their government is up to? Barack Obama has continued and even increased crack-downs on whistle-blowers and surveillance on members of the press. How are citizens supposed to stay informed. What is the means to rope in irresponsible law-enforcement? Given this event and these trends, the “answer” is that citizens should simply trust their government.

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