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For the first full episode of Mindscape, it's an honor to welcome social psychologist Carol Tavris. Her book with co-author Eliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), explores the effect that cognitive dissonance has on how we think. We talk about the fascinating process by which people justify the mistakes that they make, and how that leads to everything from false memories to political polarization. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/carol-tavris.mp3" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Carol Tavris received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous books, covering topics such as gender, biology, and emotion, and is a frequent contributor to a variety of newspapers and magazines. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Download Episode
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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00hello everyone and welcome to the mines K. podcast I'm your host John Carroll and I have a confession to make namely I have made mistakes over the course of my career as a scientist and a writer for that matter over the course of my life as a human
00:00:16being when faced with decisions I have sometimes made the wrong choice maybe you have to and happily we have on today's podcast the perfect person to talk about this idea that people make mistakes doctor Carol Tavis who's one of the world's experts not on making mistakes are the
00:00:34ways that we make mistakes but on what happens after we make mistakes in a masterful book that she wrote with her co author Elliot Aronson cold mistakes were made but not buying me why we justify foolish believes bad decisions and hurtful acts doctor terrorist talks about the idea
00:00:53of cognitive dissonance and how we are forced by cognitive dissonance to come up with excuses and justifications for the mistakes that we make we might like to imagine that we are perfectly rational reasonable beings but the psychological truth is very much the opposite of that we make up
00:01:12reasons why something was the right choice after all or why we couldn't had any other pop shin but to make it cognitive dissonance theory explains why we do this in in some sense it's the mother of all cognitive bias sees it helps us understand why we're not the
00:01:28perfect rational reasonable people we pretend to be and Carol terraces a perfect person to talk about this with she's the author of several popular books and also a famous textbook on psychology that you may have used in your intro psych course way back in the day other books
00:01:44include psycho babble and bile bunk using psychology to think critically about issues in the news the miss measure of woman why women are not the better sex the inferior sex or the opposite sex and in September she has a new book coming al called estrogen matters like taking
00:02:02hormones in menopause can improve women's well being and lengthen their lives without raising the risk of breast cancer I have to confess I am not an expert on either estrogen or menopause or hormones so that's not what we're talking about in this podcast but then again that maybe
00:02:20that is a mistake that I making that's what we will be talking about how we make mistakes so maybe I should read up on estrogen hormones that we can bring that doctor taverns back to have a conversation about that today we're gonna be talking about cognitive dissonance and
00:02:34white makes us think that we never actually really make mistakes so let's start Carol terrorists welcome to the landscape podcasts very happy to be talking with you so you're a social psychologist right is that correct descriptor it is as opposed to cognitive psych what it what are the
00:03:08different kinds of psychologist one could be all right hardly anyone knows what a social psychologist is they think you know your therapist who gives a lot of parties in total units social that's but it must be %HESITATION social psychology was a field born at the intersection of sociology
00:03:26the study of groups in society and the individual and fundamentally it is the study of every social influence on human beings which is to say everything of influences on how we think how we behave influences of the environment on our behavior %HESITATION influences of our thinking culture of
00:03:50the thing that's interesting about social psychology to me is that it's the field that really looks at something that many Americans don't like which is the idea that we really are influenced by our environment in ways that we don't realize and don't really want to realize because after
00:04:07all world individualists we make up our own minds were very independent American three other mereka tree so I always found social psychology wonderfully interesting and rich because there's no topic it does not cover from love to hate %HESITATION my dear co author and very good friend Elliot Aronson
00:04:27said that when he was a student he was drawn to social psychology because clinical psychology is about repair but social psychology is about change it's a more optimistic approach to the world because by understanding how we as individuals and how what is happening in our world influence us
00:04:49we can actually take some steps to improve things but you don't see patients no you're not at that they'll they'll be clinical side that would be a clinical psychologist the field of psychology we actually speak about the difference between the way clinical psychologists are trained or I should
00:05:07say psychotherapists are trained and the way psychological scientists are trained this creates what we speak of as the scientist practitioner gap if you will because many psychotherapists which by the way is an unregulated word you know you you could put out a shingle tomorrow doing broccoli therapy and
00:05:24it would be completely legal but it might lose out to that that broccoli not broccoli really %HESITATION is so psychotherapy anybody could be anything and call themselves a psychotherapist clinical psychologists have a PhD in that field clinical psychology and their field is to study psychological disorders and problems
00:05:43%HESITATION their training varies from very good scientific training to zero okay %HESITATION so the rest of psychology the psychological sciences if you will of specify particular areas of study so developmental psychologist study development from the infant to death %HESITATION social psychologist do what I just described %HESITATION %HESITATION
00:06:07cognitive psychologist study the mind thinking memory and so forth so those are different specialties within psychological science but most people to this day when they hear psychologist they think your therapist yes I think that there's a couch absolutely and not just a therapist %HESITATION coaches have been out
00:06:23for decades decades nobody like I love that you give me that your shingle your therapy can have the couch if you want I don't have about chocolates abruptly the couches candles the whole bit in our textbook Carol weighed at the Caroline I did for so many years we
00:06:40actually proposed chocolate immersion therapy as probably the most beneficial thing too I like if I weren't so damned ethical I could be really rich we all have that problem exactly and so you have very is arrows in your quiver I know you've been a number of books but
00:06:56you're in one of my favorite books of all time %HESITATION mistakes were made but not by me and this is on the subject of cognitive dissonance so when you tell us a little bit about number when you have a co author who already mentioned Elliot Aronson and how
00:07:11the book came to be and what cognitive dissonances in one sentence or three you get all hours I have a ninety cents as well so I guess first I should say would cognitive dissonances every social psychology student learned this I did when I was the in graduate school
00:07:26of million years ago it's a simple mechanism but it's it's developed over the decades into a really rich the array of understanding why it is that when you tell somebody in a kind and warm and friendly way here's some information that shows why you're wrong they rarely thank
00:07:42you they tell you where you can go with high things than what you can do with them and they're just not inclined to be I have you've never experienced so you know my friend still say to me to this day %HESITATION Carol you're so delusionally dear to things
00:07:58that just by explaining to people hears of them portent binding you need to know that they are not always grateful to all the cognitive dissonance really means is that is the uncomfortable feeling we have when two ideas clash with each other conflict with each other it can be
00:08:16to ideas to believes or it can be more commonly an attitude and behavior so the classic example is smoking a person who smokes knows that smoking is dangerous and stupid so they will be in a state of dissonance I smoke but I'm doing something dangerous and stupid this
00:08:38discomfort is cognitive dissidence and Leon Festinger who developed this theory in the late fifties described it as being as uncomfortable has been hungry or thirsty it's so uncomfortable that you really motivated to reduce it in whatever way you can well if you're a smoker you need to quit
00:08:59smoking or you need to justify smoking you know to say well it's unhealthy but I'll be thin and because it is good decides at myrtle lived to be ninety seven look cool look really cool so cognitive dissonance of them you know I I don't think I took a
00:09:17terribly seriously I thought it was really an interesting theory but I didn't have much appreciation of its depth of application and then after George Bush got us into the Iraq war Elliott and I were sitting around talking about say was George Bush in which Iraq war %HESITATION W.
00:09:37W. yeah %HESITATION so this was in two thousand three so several years later when it was abundantly clear that the justifications for going into Iraq were completely wrong there were no weapons of mass destruction and so forth %HESITATION and of course the whole country had noticed that bush
00:09:55did not say Gee we were wrong so sorry we made a really bad mistake about spending a trillion dollars in going into Iraq instead he found other justifications for the war well we're bringing democracy to the region and so so at least not having this conversation and he
00:10:11said you know he said I disagree with those Democrats %HESITATION who thought that bush was lying to the country he said I don't think he was lying to the country I think he was lying to himself he was doing what all of us do when we have made
00:10:31a decision to do something is we screen out discrepant dissonant information that suggest our decision is wrong we focus we cherry pick the information the tells us our decision is the right one and we go forth the so we make the decision and then we justify it is
00:10:50that I think that George Bush had made the decision to go into Iraq and therefore ignored the arguments from his own intelligence community that that might not be a good thing to do and I said my goodness I said and from that conversation because that war was so
00:11:09devastating to our country and so help a plea wrong we thought well how do we want to analyze this how do we want to talk about this and from that conversation came the idea to do a book that would apply the many domains of our lives in which
00:11:29the need to reduce dissonance gets us into terrible terrible trouble not just politically but in our relationships in our understanding of memory in therapy in really every aspect of our lives right yeah so one of the things we could do an entire podcast on just this but your
00:11:49book is filled with these wonderful do you see examples of people being in possession of an idea face with new information that conflicts with that idea and coming up with justification so I'd many questions but let's just give the reward to our podcast listeners by telling them some
00:12:08of these juiciest examples in love in the law right in %HESITATION like you said politics already doomsday cults is one of the best well what doomsday cults well doomsday cults %HESITATION yes the two filmmakers in England actually made a little film about a doomsday guy who predicted the
00:12:26end of the world %HESITATION doomsday is particular is a pretty good story because it was one of the stories that got Leon Festinger involved with this whole notion of cognitive dissonance which was this he got involved with the cult many years ago sorry he was the originator of
00:12:43the idea yeah Leon Festinger it was a social psychologist at Stanford so what years are we talking here late fifties okay late fifties and Festing her into colleagues infiltrated a doomsday cult in which a woman whom they called Marian Keech predicted that the world would end on December
00:12:59twenty first of that year and they know they join this group and what they found was when they join the group they were pretending to attend believers attending to be with believers so there were several people there are many people who believe the world is going to come
00:13:13to an end if you believe the world can come to an end you could do one of two things you could sit quietly in your house and wait for the world and or you could proselytize you could sell your house in your cow and go off and live
00:13:25with Marian Keech on the you know go go be with her on the night of the great event for John good immersion Ferris state it wasn't in god's the matter with you if you invent the doomsday cult I will offer them this fine it's like there's a lot
00:13:40healthier and safer by the way doomsday so the so they go to sit with her on the night of December twenty first meanwhile her husband slept soundly the whole night having that believe one single word of this time at two AM at two AM there's no sign of
00:13:58any magic spaceship coming to whisk them away and save them you see they were going to be saved because they understood that the world was coming to an end no spaceship nothing's happening what to do what to do and finally very late Mrs Keach has a vision and
00:14:17the vision is that the world has been saved because of the devout belief of her little band right this is a lot better way to reduce dissidents between I just made the stupidest mistake I could ever have made what kind of an idiot MRI to have made this
00:14:38prediction this allows you to think of yourself as a smart kind and wonderful person and have your prediction fail this is the essence of what Elliot Aronson did in advancing the theory of dissidents by turning it into a theory of self justification to the two ideas can be
00:14:58dissonant you know you like Woody Allen films and your friend doesn't like Woody Allen films and so you might try to decide your friend is it's okay to be stupid about Woody Allen films or whatever it might be but the distance that most stings is when information about
00:15:18a belief or something that we've done directly causes us to question our self concept something about ourselves that we feel is really important about ourselves if you criticize something about me that I don't consider important %HESITATION I don't think I'm good at %HESITATION well so what you can
00:15:36deal with that but if you show me how I've not been skeptical about something I really should have been skeptical about I've let go ability take over I'm going to be really embarrassed and I'm going to try to reduce that dissidents either by defending myself and by dismissing
00:15:51the evidence that I've been off gullible fool so that's why it's so important to understand how dissidents works because when the self concept is threatened I'm a good word the smart person and now you're telling me I've done something bad cruel harmful and wrong well to soften take
00:16:13your information with you to meet one of the most important findings of this theory is that it explains why people who are good compassionate caring people will often find themselves continuing practices that are wrong harmful an out dated precisely because they see themselves as good kind compassionate people
00:16:40I'm a doctor you're telling me that this thing I've been doing in my practice for twenty years is harming my patients the hell it is I'm a good competent doctor so I'm gonna keep doing this any give examples for example of %HESITATION in the legal system people being
00:16:56found guilty by prosecutors but then obviously exculpatory evidence comes along clearly mistakes have been made and yet the people who did the prosecution to the detectives who %HESITATION arrested the person in the first place don't see it that way they do not because they're the good guys by
00:17:13definition of prosecutors and police are the good guys we're the ones in the white hats in those bad people or bad and now you're telling me that I a good person put another good person in prison well that's not even possible therefore okay so if he didn't commit
00:17:29this particular crime he certainly committed other crimes and so it but I'm not doing anything wrong anyway I mean that truly is their reasoning the the inability to I mean of course there are many venal and up reasons that people might not admit mistakes that's not what we're
00:17:50%HESITATION we're talking about I mean people will fail to admit a mistake because they don't want to be fired they don't want to be fine they don't wanna go to prison I mean that's the those are obvious reasons that people lie dissidents explains why we lie to ourselves
00:18:05that's why it's so pernicious and so dangerous and so important to understand and so we've done %HESITATION politics and the law and doomsday cults love lives marriages ever happened that we %HESITATION are just an old no no that's okay that's interesting %HESITATION one more thing about the law
00:18:26though because this is so important throughout the legal system and in the military %HESITATION once people believe that they are interrogating a guilty person nothing that person does or says will this confirm their belief %HESITATION this is true of the psycho therapists and social workers who believe that
00:18:51they could tell if a child had been sexually abused say if the child admitted it while the child had been abuse but if the child denied it while the child was into Nile so there was no way if you are convinced that you know what has really happened
00:19:05in the situation with a child or a suspect or a a convict or anybody %HESITATION everything that person does will confirm your belief to make your believe consonant with what you're doing it's %HESITATION %HESITATION the way that's many %HESITATION police officers are even trained to detectives are trained
00:19:25in interviewing is if a suspect seems nervous that's a sign of guilt but if it's a sign of nervousness because you're interested in you're innocent like the alternative explain exactly which they are not trained to think up that's right and %HESITATION and that parallels what he said about
00:19:43George W. and the Iraq war and the clearly in our it's not just high stakes %HESITATION courtroom dramas in our everyday lives in our personal lives in marriages is going to be something where our partner accuses us of a certain kind of behavior maybe there's a twinge of
00:19:58truth to that accusation and were able to justify it somehow yes we are aren't way yes yes indeed well only puts it this way he said here's how it works he said you fall in love and the person is the most wonderful person it this person is just
00:20:15adorable everything about this person is a lovable thing you are in a state of blissful consonants because everything this person does conforms to what do you think the ideal partner should be send a tiny blip occurs on the landscape of love wait that's okay crab grass in the
00:20:39line of life whatever it might end of your beloved turns out to have a habit that %HESITATION you really don't like so much you know you like getting places twenty minutes early and your beloved likes to get there two days later right this okay now at first what
00:20:59people do is just dismiss this dissident information about the perfection of the beloved and say it's really not important and most of the time it's not but what happens next is going to be key for how couples maintain their relationship in the sense that all of us do
00:21:22things that the other person is annoyed by or doesn't agree with and then the question is whether %HESITATION you come to see those things as as behaviors that are two dissident to live with or where the reduced dissonance by saying you know what this person is so wonderful
00:21:41and so many other ways that this particular problem is trivial and I can live with this but those are the negotiations we do all through our lives you can see what happens when people have made the decision to divorce is that suddenly they they have a meant they
00:21:57have a little memory of surgery and immediately forget everything they ever once loved about the person and out everything about the person is demonic terrible and wrong and I you know I always knew for ever that this person was the worst possible personal no you didn't a switch
00:22:15flips right a switch flips and the switch flips because now you are seeking to be consonant in your view that this person is too damn terrible to live with any further and so everything then gets re written to conform to the new story in my book the big
00:22:31picture I talk about similar ideas because I'm trying to talk about some kind of coherence in one's view of the world salinities the idea of a planet of believe that you have a set of beliefs that are kind of like rocks or asteroids that come together under mutual
00:22:46gravitational pull because they seem you know to fit together and you have you develop a coherent view of how to look at the world and this is your planet of believe and these planets develop their defense mechanisms right if if something comes along a straight rock from outer
00:23:01space and it threatens to undermine the integrity of the planet you try to blasted out of space right you don't try to fit it in necessarily and it's very interesting while the logical dissonance here I think that is yes right it's very interesting I mean you you might
00:23:17say given these examples why don't people just change their minds right now is it just a matter of %HESITATION it's too much work like when we get a New World to you it is it is it all about status and their self image or does it go deeper
00:23:30than that well it's both of those things it depends what the world view is about in in particular so and how important it is to whether this is really a world view that governs how you see the world and how you behave in that world and we all
00:23:45have our narrative says the trendy word now is our stories that govern our lives %HESITATION is George Gerbner once said we're the only species that tells stories and lives by the stories we tell that's really the key thing so for example if %HESITATION we can see this with
00:24:04with memories everybody comes up with the story of their lives I was raised this way this is the kind of person I am %HESITATION this is what happened to me that has made me what I am today that story is often a very powerful one because it explains
00:24:25to us who we are so now I come along and say to you you know what that memory you have of what your father did to you and you were seventeen so that didn't happen at all that way and it's jarring it's charming to learn that a memory
00:24:40you have that seems to fit the story you tell about your life isn't so that's why we get so upset to learn that our memories are fallible and are wrong %HESITATION so as I said earlier in LA it's view about %HESITATION the dissidents that hurts the most is
00:25:00the dissonance that most blows up the planet if you will that most questions something we've so we've lived by whether it's religion or atheism or a life story I believe about why we are the way we are %HESITATION and moreover where it's not just changing one idea but
00:25:22changed but we're one idea is going to pull out a thread that's going to unravel the whole thing so these ideas of cognitive dissonance it's slightly different but clearly related to cognitive biases that we have right the little bugs in our reasoning capacities that motivate us to think
00:25:39one way or the other %HESITATION %HESITATION motivated reasoning %HESITATION %HESITATION my brain is not giving me any because of lies he goes up my head confirmation bias let us like he went well and come to distance is based on that and I want to say that this is
00:25:55a a theory of mental functioning that has more than two thousand experiments supporting it in every aspect of social and cognitive psychology it has a lot of evidence underlying it and one reason is that that the component cognitive biases really are subsumed under it in a way that
00:26:13is %HESITATION cognitive dissonance rests on a number of particular biases one is the confirmation bias which we might call the consonants bias I'm going to look for information that confirms what I believe and will keep me in the state of confidence and I'm gonna dismiss and throw out
00:26:29and tell you you're a jerk could you give me infidel evidence that's dissident right %HESITATION so the confirmation bias is key to how we keep our thoughts consonant %HESITATION there is the of the bias that we're not biased but it's a very good by us I really loved
00:26:47that about as the Russ is I don't have that bias not the unbiased I think is the cutest bias ever but you see it think how it plays out you and I are having an argument I am an unbiased person therefore if I can just sit here and
00:27:02tell you why you're wrong and I'm right you will understand that you are wrong and I am right in that will be fine because you are biased and I'm not and we'll have a lovely covers only I understood progress to be made there you go and the fact
00:27:16that you do not accept what I have told you and instead have your own beliefs %HESITATION unthinkable that means you're biased and I'm not I mean it's it's a central filter of how we get through our days %HESITATION and it is the reason that corals and arguments not
00:27:36only continue but escalate because the determination to show that other person why they're wrong why they're wrong and you're not continues so many of the information biases that governess in a way can be subsumed under this over arching need to be consonant to keep our beliefs uniform and
00:28:04motivating a motivated reasoning is it is exactly the more recent term for this as Eliot says every few years somebody renames dissidents there is something else so they can get their publication and to show why it's not cognitive dissonance at all as their needs doing well but it's
00:28:21the same thing so in I mean in some sense this is it we'd rather be coherent and right that's what how our brains work anyway you wouldn't say that out loud but sort of under the hood this is the machinery working to make everything smooth out through the
00:28:35conflicts wherever we can yes and and we would add to that is evolutionarily speaking of very adaptive strategy you don't want to keep changing your mind four times before breakfast you don't want to sit there saying should I brush my teeth although then you read a study of
00:28:52flossing and you think but look at the I'm just being silly but %HESITATION if we had to change our minds with everything that came along every day we wouldn't get anything done and so we choose what kind of could you believes we wanna hold and for the most
00:29:12part spend our energy following those then then investigating every new thing that might cause a leaders some evolutionary pressure to be correct about the world also but there is clearly a trade off right somehow whether it's there might be some physics explanation for this I'm not sure some
00:29:29Bayesian reasoning some efficiency some thermodynamics explanation but coherence and like you say somehow the coherence of the world view has been so important as we've gone through the generations that that is is almost up most we try to make sense of the world well that's right and of
00:29:46course so many of the things that involved to suit us when we lived in tribes little little bands %HESITATION who were effective ways of keeping us routed to and connected to our tribe mates of and of course the corollary of that is that anyone who is not in
00:30:07our tribe was an enemy who had to be stopped out immediately and that their opinions are definitely wrong okay so happy you will pass that yes indeed %HESITATION so those were a you know deaf to strategies for thinking and behaving but they don't always service well today and
00:30:24you pointed out that there's almost an inverse correlation and our ability to deal with these are gonna buy a sees with how smart somebody is their intelligence or their level of self esteem if the better you are at reasoning the better it turns out you are at reconciling
00:30:40these dissidents is in a way that doesn't change your mind %HESITATION not reconcile lives is it better at justifying justify justifying yourself yeah yeah exactly it's you know it's it's your most skeptical skeptics don't tell me I've been gullible or the people who think of themselves as being
00:31:00most competent and articular sphere who are going to resist being told they put an innocent kind prisoner they've just kill the patient and so forth %HESITATION of course I want to make it clear there are many many exceptions of people who really want to improve how they do
00:31:16their jobs and how they live in the world but they are not generally the majority I would like to mention because I find so many people have found this metaphor to be really helpful %HESITATION in their lives so I'll I'll mention it now %HESITATION we call it in
00:31:36the book the pyramid of choice and %HESITATION as I say it's been very touching to me to find people have written and said I love this really works for me so it started because somebody did a study a long time ago of %HESITATION school children their kids and
00:31:57this question is what's your view of cheating so imagine a pyramid or a triangle for two dimensional you're at the top of this ed and your views you you and your pal have the same views of cheating you don't think it's a great thing to do but it's
00:32:15not the worst crime in the world okay it isn't it you're neutral about cheating now you're taking a test it's really an important test is the final exam your grade is going to depend on this exam we all know how students are if I don't pass this everything
00:32:31will go some of my cat believe me you see in the bag that my world will end but you freeze on a crucial question you do not know how to answer this question your grade is gonna you're gonna fail this is horrible and suddenly the student next to
00:32:47makes our answer abundantly clear and so you have in one second cheat or don't cheat also in this study some of the kids were given a situation which they were able to cheat some not so for that here's what they found the second you make that decision impulsively
00:33:03you cheat sump you cheap because the greatest really important you don't cheat because your integrity is more important now the minute you make that decision you must make your behavior and your believe about cheating consonant so if you cheat your attitude will now shift to be cheating is
00:33:23really not such a bad thing everybody cheats it's not important and I'll never cheat again if you resist the impulse to cheat you say wait a minute cheating is not a victimless crime we all suffer from it it's a terrible thing cheaters are bad so in arm in
00:33:38arm metaphor of this pyramid you make that first step down the pyramid you cheer you don't cheat over time what happens is you become more and more entrenched in your view of cheating is a good thing or a bad thing until over time if you are both at
00:33:56the bottom of this pyramid standing far apart from each other in your views about cheating the one who cheated will think it's completely trivial and not important at all in the one who resisted will want to hang you by your ankles outside the school door having started almost
00:34:10the same believed having started exactly and what's really interesting about this when you visualize it you can see how difficult it is to go back up and say wait a minute I was wrong to cheat and that's why I mean there are many metaphors for this was slippery
00:34:29slope and so forth but it it by seeing it in the dissonance way in a self justification where you can see how hard it becomes to go back and say you know that little jump a little random thing I did has led me far from what my original
00:34:45views of cheating were so this metaphor applies to so many decisions that we make in our everyday lives %HESITATION from an impulsive decision somebody's accused of rape or accused of some other horrible act and what do we do as citizens reading the newspaper that I tried to say
00:35:06reading the newspaper please forgive me I am so sorry %HESITATION I want to say anything right owning the whimsy what is the newspaper okay up but we we all listening to the pond listening to the podcast we all make impulsive decisions that person's guilty or that person's innocent
00:35:27and then we don't want to hear we don't want to wait for god for bid evidence %HESITATION please suggesting that we're right or wrong and so we see these in today's world where everybody instantly jumps to an opinion about everything without necessarily waiting for it evidence for further
00:35:44information and that's how quickly you can get a meshed in justifying that initial jump off the pyramid when you turn out to be wrong not so easy to say I love the pyramid choice I think I'm in the crowd who once you explain it to me was like
00:35:58oh my goodness that just explains so many things %HESITATION you know the faculty at Duke University when that lacrosse team was accused of raping the stripper that they'd hired and so forth and the the faculty AT members of the faculty took out a full page ad saying you
00:36:15know the culture of the rape culture of our athletic %HESITATION teams and so for this disgraceful that it that it %HESITATION another words assuming that the allegations against the team were accurate and when they turned out not to be in when they were full yeah they were false
00:36:30and when the district attorney was disbarred for not sharing appropriate information with the defense %HESITATION was there a letter from the faculty saying she we made a mistake you know we should have been so quick to judgement maybe we should've waited for the evidence in that many letters
00:36:47lance that so many men history yeah %HESITATION I this is related to what I'm sure is a cognitive bias I've not seen it talked about in psychology or whatever but when dealing with probability human beings are very bad estimating call abilities but also they're very bad at accepting
00:37:07the probabilities go from zero to one hundred percent right I think that when faced with something that might happen you're not sure it's going to happen it seems to me people will only really deeply except three possibilities that the chance of this thing happening is zero percent that's
00:37:23not gonna happen that it's a hundred percent it's definitely going to happen or that it's fifty percent to the we have no idea whether will happen or not the idea that it's seventy percent and that sometimes the thirty percent thing happens I think that Nate silver got in
00:37:37a lot of Flack after Donald Trump got elected because he gave something like a seventy percent chance that Hillary Clinton we get elected and afterwards he was like that wasn't wrong like thirty percent things happen all the time and the week we have this in ability I think
00:37:54to correctly judge probabilities that or not fifty fifty or one or zero does that make sense is absolutely well it and it's completely true and of course %HESITATION as we know when people make decisions medical decisions right do I want this treatment it has a ten percent chance
00:38:14of success and a ninety percent chance of failure I mean we are asked to make medical decisions often on the basis of likelihood right right and risks %HESITATION and it's very hard to %HESITATION very often to make those decisions or we look at the the chance of something
00:38:33happening rather than the chances of it not happening yet so that's just that's a difficult skill to acquire but truly important one a lot of poker players become very wealthy also people's inability to correctly judge these probabilities and probably also the same the pyramid of choice also feeds
00:38:50into the idea of not only how we justify our own police but how we view others you know are are it disclosed back to the couples divorcing right like you were in love with this person at one point now you decide you want to be with them anymore
00:39:04and they're now Satan and talking to other people about them afterward must lead these people to say well why were you ever in love with this person right but help but but you change how you view the other each side that's right well what you say is we
00:39:21have this guy in a row is a friend of Elliott's who having left his wife of thirty seven years said to her said to her I never really loved you well know for the first thirty five acres he did it right so I just found online this things
00:39:37that just been going around how Democrats and Republicans view each other to not have the view themselves but how they think actually it that's I think the study did ask out they view themselves but who cares about that those are more or less accurate but they ask questions
00:39:50you know they ask Republicans what percentage of Democrats are agnostics are atheists the correct answer is about nine percent and %HESITATION the answer given by Republicans was ninety percent or thirty six yeah some reason Billy there the one I liked was %HESITATION how many Democrats are gay or
00:40:11lesbian and thirty eight percent is the of the average Republican things over a third of Democrats are gays or lesbians in the correct answers closer to six percent and the same thing for blacks and union members %HESITATION it's but to be very very honest the Republicans bad ideas
00:40:30about Democrats were less crazy than Democrats bad ideas about Republicans so how many Republicans are sixty five or older Democrats thought it was forty four percent of the vote age of sixty five which even a small amount of thinking numbers don't really work out that way closer to
00:40:48twenty percent %HESITATION in my favorite how many Republicans they also Republicans tend to be evangelical southerners but they also thought the Republicans earned over to under fifty thousand dollars a year the average Democrat thinks that forty four percent of Republicans earn more than two hundred fifty thousand dollars
00:41:07a year and the real numbers two percent not forty four percent and partly the misinformation but it has to be part of the part of the car the distance story right like we tell a caricatured story of the people we disagree with that makes us look better yes
00:41:29well yes I mean that you've packed a lot into that %HESITATION those answers stem from stereotypes that we have of another group a group that we don't know much about I mean I remember reading a story about some New Yorker who had moved to Idaho and everybody in
00:41:49Idaho thought he was really good at what they thought of him and sort of a crazy liberal Jewish communist pinko gaze guy I don't know but the people in I know had no experience with new Yorkers they know nothing about new Yorkers and he goes to Idaho with
00:42:08plenty of assumptions and expectations about people and I know they're all gun toting idiots or whatever the hell do you thought they were and %HESITATION what happens when you have people living in the same community who have different opinions is that you see diversity in attitudes and behavior
00:42:26amongst them my good friend and co author Carole Wade who lives in northern California in a very gun toting conservative area but she said the we disagree politically but we see each other as the real human beings that they are I see Republicans I disagree with but they
00:42:48are so caring members of their community and they are active in feeding the poor and the hungry and they would stop by the side of the road if you were in any kind of trouble to help you and so it's not stereotype thinking so what asking questions like
00:43:02this of Democrats and Republicans is asking about a stereotype right %HESITATION or something about that group that you don't like their rich they're gay they're crazy what I was gonna use that Democrats thought that so many Republicans were at once really rich and also at Intel calls out
00:43:19make sure that the logic and coherence did not enter the stereotyping you should know that by now but yeah and I think that may be does this help also explain I I really I didn't want to open the Pandora's box but social media and how vitriolic things are
00:43:36and how we respond viscerally and bad lead to the slightest amount of disagreement %HESITATION online because we don't appreciate the humanity of the people behind the words right it's not a face to face conversation all you're seeing is this one little snippet of belief or opinion and you
00:43:55can react instantly and badly to it in this kind of safe well body counts to ten let alone a hundred and fifty right you know the first book I wrote anger the misunderstood emotion a very long time ago %HESITATION was an examination and part of the catharsis hypothesis
00:44:12the idea that it's really good and healthy to express your anger when you feel angry and that will reduce your heart rate then that will yield prevent you from getting ulcers and all kinds of other good things wrong this is my first experience with explaining kindly to people
00:44:25why these clinical assumptions and Freudian notions about catharsis not only were wrong but harmful because the more people express anger the angrier they get generally speaking %HESITATION and it doesn't calm you down it riles you up and so forth and in that book and everyone instantly agreed %HESITATION
00:44:43and as you can see evidence yes I had a wonderfully interesting evidence and of course as you can see thanks to the diminution of anger in our society that everybody does your phone thank yeah so now they told me what I could do with my ideas catharsis one
00:44:59guy wrote to me and said when my wife dense the car I want to yell at her I want to get her letter to feel even worse than she does for two eight strategies to help them %HESITATION please so this one researcher had identified the conditions under which
00:45:19the expression of anger is likely to be cathartic that is to make you feel good this is a hair the first is no retaliation from the target right so you say to your agrees that weighty you are a toad and the targets as you're right you know I
00:45:41really am a to K. so there's no retaliation that's good game of them you are anonymous so the target can't respond to you your anger is proportional to the offense so if somebody does something trivial and you hit them with a howitzer you're gonna be embarrassed and sort
00:46:05of over kill but if you feel your responses the appropriate righteous thing you're going to feel good so that that's the the gist of these conditions all of which are met by the internet you get to just rant immediately you get to zap somebody you get to be
00:46:25self righteously satisfied I showed that person what what and %HESITATION once again people just failed to take my advice about this you know I wrote I remember writing a letter to a column this Russell Baker who was funny guy and he wrote something that I disliked about the
00:46:44women's movement I don't even remember what it was and I wrote him an angry letter I was told rific let me tell you I me and smart and stupid because you know how you feel when you're writing something in anger so I sent this letter and he sent
00:46:59it back to me edited had written in the margins and commented in basically because I get this thing back and I realize how really rude I'd been and how I was not going to persuade him of anything in my rudeness and so then I replied I'm sorry this
00:47:18is not what I meant to say let's try again send him that one and he wrote back and said I think this could be the beginning of a lovely and civilized correspondence it was a great lesson for me because with anger there's two reasons to be enraged when
00:47:37as you want to punish the other person and the others you'd like to change the other person or fix the problem between you and a lot of people confuse those motives I think and this brings us to the question of what we learned from cognitive dissonance theory about
00:47:51how to actually change people's minds if that word to be article I think as you're implying sometimes that's not our goal sometimes you just wanna let loose and that's right and maybe we should squelch that impulse but sometimes you want to reach people knowing that people are defensive
00:48:06about their existing views and knowing that they want to justify themselves as I'd give us a clue as to help me better personally it gives us a very important clue one that's not always successful because we can do better with our own views perhaps than trying to change
00:48:20the other guys but the the rule the guiding rule number one is do not make the other person feel stupid for what they believe and this is of course what people do what's the matter with you what were you thinking when you did that how did you spend
00:48:34five thousand dollars on magazine subscriptions you know what are you an idiot well what is the person going to set you up now exquisitely put them in a terrible state of dissonance between I'm a smart person I spent this money this money on magazine subscriptions because I'm hoping
00:48:50a win the lottery and my children will have money for ever my motive was a good one %HESITATION so when you make people feel stupid for believing what they believe you guarantee that they will hold on to that belief even more strongly you've just guaranteed it %HESITATION so
00:49:07instead you look to understand or talk to the person about why they believe what they do what it what that believe service for them how it helps them either they themselves see any problems with it whether this is a better way of getting what it is they want
00:49:24%HESITATION so that you don't make it an adversarial I'm right near wrong because that one's going to go nowhere for me it Anthony Penn who's another podcast guest talks about giving people a soft landing he talks about why certain communities %HESITATION have different believes that they do and
00:49:40say well you know what the E. D. all you're telling them is that they're idiots and their irrational they don't understand the reason and evidence and no one has ever been really persuaded by that that's exactly right his his his put it exactly in dissidents terms %HESITATION if
00:49:54you're gonna make me feel stupid I'm out of here and by the way it may be that the accuser we the smart questioner really don't understand what that belief is serving for the other person what they gain by believing as they do how it comforts them how they've
00:50:14lived by it how much investment of time and emotional energy they've put into that belief %HESITATION one of %HESITATION Ellie it's classic experiments severity of initiation I'm liking for the group itself famous funny study but basically what he found is that the more work and pain and effort
00:50:35you put into joining a group the more you're going to like that group even if it turns out to be really a stupid an interesting group so all of us have beliefs that we have spent a lot of time %HESITATION and sometimes sometimes pain as well and investing
00:50:50I think for ourselves in understanding dissonance of the story we tell in our book which which I just love because I think it's the it's such a good guideline for us all is this is a true story when Ronald Reagan went to Bitburg Germany to lay a wreath
00:51:10there at the cemetery where it turned out that forty seven **** officers have been buried there was an enormous protest over this he's going to the cemetery in honoring these **** war dead and Reagan's good friendship on Paris then prime minister of Israel was of course particularly outrage
00:51:31so were many others around the world but Reagan didn't back down so someone else Perez how do you feel about the fact that your good friend Ronald Reagan went to Bitburg to do this ceremony and Paris said when a friend makes a mistake the friend remains a friend
00:51:53and the mistake remains a mistake that is the goal and how we ought to think about cognitive dissonance because the usual impulse friend has made a mistake is to drop the friend or minimize the mistake you can see this in news reports all the time somebody we really
00:52:17think is a fabulous person has been convicted of some crime accused of something and we visit if people don't know which which weight at which way to go I know that god I know that's so sweet doesn't sound like him at all exactly or or %HESITATION you know
00:52:33them or the mistake please what he did %HESITATION it's just trivial you know dismiss and it's forty three children really in %HESITATION is so that's the usual thing that we do when we usually do that unconsciously we make those those reductions of dissidents under the radar to allow
00:52:53ourselves to feel comfortable because living with dissonance is painful I wanna go back to that point it's really uncomfortable Sarah Silverman has a fantastic three minute video that she did when her good close friend Louis C. K. was discovered to have been committing these right awful sexual acts
00:53:14and she heard her video is a perfect statement of a person indocin and she said what he did was wrong it disgusts me and I hate it he's been my very good friend for many years I know what a great humanitarian is what a great father he is
00:53:32what a great friend isn't so she's able to separate these two things and he said I don't know where I'm going to resolve this but that that's the struggle that's worth doing rather than throwing him under the bus or minimizing his actions it's harder it's harder it seems
00:53:50to me like empathy is important here and %HESITATION Paul bloom psychologist one hoping to get as a future podcasts against he wrote a book it a billion idea that's right a book called against empathy entities that and very very roughly speaking his idea is that it having empathy
00:54:07tends to be something we do for people who are like us and therefore too much empathy pushes us away from the direction of reason and rationality and thoughtfulness because it just makes us instantly identify with other people but it sounds like if we're really trying to understand people
00:54:26who seem to be doing something we don't understand ourselves putting ourselves in their place understanding where they came from what like you said I'm saying the reasons why those beliefs are so valuable to them would be useful to us well it is the the question is the consequences
00:54:42of understanding you know the French say to understand all this to forgive all no it isn't enough to understand all this to understand all yeah that's all it is and then once you understand then you can decide do I want to forgive this is important to forgive does
00:54:57my understanding give me greater compassion for why this person has behaved as they have and make me more forgiving of it or not that's a separate question of and that's it a moral issue a moral choice for each of us but we all live by the attribution is
00:55:18we make of other people's behavior this is another big part of social psychology which is how the explanation we make of why people do what they do affects everything so if you think your beloved has been %HESITATION rude to you or thoughtless because your beloved had a horrible
00:55:40day at work and in Los Angeles at nineteen hour commute home K. you'll be more forgiving than if you're attribution is to their personality they're just the way they are and even talking to people in public if we want to say this person disagrees with me is it
00:55:57because they have a principled objection to what I'm saying or just because they have bad motives and are not acting in good faith and clearly don't understand the force of my reasons exactly well it's why the goal really of what it means to be open minded is to
00:56:13make ourselves open to other people's points of view without the the the dissidents reduction reaction is get that other point if you out of here wanted in the room but when you can do it if you have to make important decisions of you can surround yourself with people
00:56:31who aren't yes heirs who are just going to agree with you but who might show you where you might be wrong that's extremely useful and then we have the idea of persuading others we also the idea of fixing ourselves right I I've been in the crowd when you've
00:56:48given talks to audiences %HESITATION tam for example and it's amazing yeah you explain how cognitive dissonance makes people justified their mistakes and things like that and everyone in the audience going yes the people I disagree with it due to a ballet and almost no one says maybe I
00:57:07am justifying my mistakes like what is their tool kit or a checklist or some set of strategies we can have to notice when we're doing this so we're doing the self justifying behavior sure you notice that you're just a well that's what we're so good right at coming
00:57:28up with the excuse so when it's an excuse and one is just the correct rational reconstruction of we were thinking in such a way how well that's a very fine question the %HESITATION one of the things it's been interesting to read data Amazon reviews up of our book
00:57:42is how many people say well I started reading this book I was this explains all my friends and then halfway through this explains the government to and then at the end of on explains me I'm I see science in general as a form of arrogance control in the
00:58:03sense that it's one of the most organized methods we have a forcing us to put our beliefs to the test and forcing us to face dissonance if the test does not confirm what we believe that's that's the method we have set up to test our beliefs %HESITATION and
00:58:22you don't have to do a scientific experiment to do that to take some believe that you hold and say well I'm really what is the evidence for this %HESITATION is there you know what is the evidence changing %HESITATION what I once thought to be true %HESITATION I look
00:58:40back on my writing in social psychology and I'm it's interesting to me how many ideas have have changed irritatingly because the evidence is chain store has become more persuasive I do I personally agree that you know acting as an informal scientist is a good way to correct yourself
00:59:01again some of these biases like you say much of the scientific method informal and crazy and unsystematic as it is is about putting off the possibility that we will for sounds one way or the other I'm always very mused as a cosmologist as a physicist if I say
00:59:18something about the Big Bang or Einstein a relativity there's some fraction of people out there in the world who will say oh you're just defending the establishment views of the cause Moze and I want to say you know all of my incentives are in the other direction right
00:59:33like you don't become a famous physicist by saying that Einstein was right right the whole point the whole you know incentive structure in science is to say the great people of the past were wrong and we can do better than that and that's that's a wonderful sort of
00:59:49self corrective to try to do now on the other hand at the same time I realize I'm telling a flattering story about myself because saying that scientists are the best at correcting their false impressions because they have the scientific training in them well no scientists are human like
01:00:05everybody else I think is that true I mean I aren't you guys there flawed human very well there's a couple of out liars but it's so even scientists are ought not always happy that the results when results don't come out the way they would like them to I
01:00:21mean we all you know they'll say well that I guess I didn't do that study well enough that I better redo that another forty five times till it comes out right right %HESITATION the ideal scientists with me might all aspire to but everybody knows the feeling of %HESITATION
01:00:42thinking you know how can I redo this so it will come out the way I wanted to come out but certainly impaired leaders a million examples of feelings yeah yeah yeah %HESITATION but indeed size is self correcting released it moves forward in certain lurching way is %HESITATION it's
01:00:59and starts and you're right people do have an incentive to find something new and different to say %HESITATION I mean you know in in my field it's always so interesting to me that all the studies that show that %HESITATION similarities between women and men and personality traits are
01:01:14abilities and skills and seven that that those never get publishes the differences that are sexy might wanna know what what differences there are and the news that there are differences isn't news and it isn't interesting %HESITATION but but the the goal is to feel free enough to investigate
01:01:33questions wherever they might lead and one of the problems of course were facing in our polarized society is that it's getting harder for people to do that to question received wisdom certainly in the social sciences oh my god you know to ask provocative questions to be a naysayer
01:01:49too right and you mentioned %HESITATION the brain did I mention about I think you mentioned bring thank you decided maybe that may have projected on to you I don't know %HESITATION we've been talking in psychological terms of course there's the sexy thing going on right now which is
01:02:06the neuro scientific way of talking about these things actually looking in the brain not just talking the person but doing it MRI or MEG studies of what's going on inside their heads do these concepts of dissidents and justification map on two parts of the brain is that %HESITATION
01:02:21something that we aspire to or we can say now or or is just crazy yes yes and no yes %HESITATION the number of researchers have tracked cognitive dissonance into the brain they find out which parts of the brain are %HESITATION lighting up the light lighting up I love
01:02:38that language lighting up is it's an artificial light up but okay %HESITATION when the brain is in a state of distance of one of the cutest experiments was to have Democrats and Republicans process information about their favorite political candidate %HESITATION positive information about their favorite candidate positive information
01:02:55about the opponent of that's dissident okay bad information about your guy you know %HESITATION and when they were in a state of dissonance Mike I did something bad the other guy did something good you could see you could see it in their brains and they said they said
01:03:13it was like when Constance was restored it was like twirling a met the trailing out of a mental kaleidoscope to get the pieces to fit right people really were happy when the pieces fit right that said %HESITATION I don't know what we learned from this that we didn't
01:03:30know otherwise and %HESITATION I'm very interested in brain research of course but I've also written about sooner %HESITATION science which is the notion that if we just have a brain in there were really doing science and very often a lot of the studies are just somebody's got a
01:03:45scanner and I'm going to do what I can with I love the term neurobiology for the temptation to find things going on in the fMRI after saying there it is you know there are the brains and like to debate and read it and what do you know now
01:03:59that you didn't know before now of course there %HESITATION sites is very important but it's also hard to do right right and maybe it'll be easy to over claim what you're getting %HESITATION yes of course it is of course it is and you know it's like really like
01:04:12all new technologies you know give a boy a hammer and everything needed around and give researchers a scanner and everything in it scanning but what am I looking for and it's very early days we don't do you know we're pre Galileo right we're trying to collect data understand
01:04:25that the brain is way more complicated in the solar system ever what they are but you also mentioned %HESITATION or it talked about the idea of memory PSE and how memories aren't always accurate and this is something I first came to from %HESITATION neuroscience from studies actually from
01:04:43I was studying the arrow of time the difference between the past and the future and there's these wonderful studies I don't pretend to be able to judge the scientific credibility of various neuroscience studies maybe it is %HESITATION bollocks but here's what the study said that if you put
01:04:58someone in F. MRI machines so you're basically taking pictures of where the blood is zooming around in their brain and you ask them to imagine a past experience remember what it was like your birthday last year what you where you were having dinner or whatever certain parts of
01:05:16the brain laid up in excitement because you're turning around memory remembering this scene and then you ask them to imagine the future seem to measure what your next birthday will be like you're somewhere else and so forth the claim was it's exactly the same parts of the brain
01:05:31that are doing the same thing of course they're doing something different but evolution is sort of cheap bright evolution reuses things that are that are already there maybe the hypothesis goes the way that we learned to imagine the future is by taking advantage of the fact we had
01:05:49a part of the brain the could remember the past and just putting it to use again the idea being that the memory of the past is not a videotape rates on a recording that is stored as a JPEG file or an intake file somewhere it's more like a
01:06:04screen play and we remember the past we download the screen play and put the play on again just like we do one remember the future we have that in the future now it's more like for like sales of a film where you have a few have a couple
01:06:17of those cells of the film and you are you are interpolating the connecting elements in a strip of film in a film strip %HESITATION I wish I didn't mean to interrupt you but I would say something a little different which is when you're asking them to remember a
01:06:35past a childhood birthday or imagine a future one you're you're imagining both of those things where you don't know that the recall of the birthday is is accurate what you're asking for is tell me a story about what that birthday is that you think you remember you're not
01:06:50actively or accurately retrieving every detail about that fifth birthday party you have a few details about it you've seen pictures of it your mother's told you what the color the cake was you know or whatever it might be must leave seen pictures of it and heard stories about
01:07:06it and so you've made up a little memory of your fifth birthday party that may or may not be true and by the way every time you talk about your fifth birthday party you're going to embellish it and with every embellishment your memory of it will change and
01:07:19you reinforce reinforce than I was a story yes exactly it's why it's certified so dissonant for people to read to accept the evidence that memory is fallible in these ways of %HESITATION and it's we we keep our memories consonant with whom we think we are now I mean
01:07:45my brother my I had an older half brother who had a terrible step father who is really pretty mean to him and bill's memory of his stepfather was how meanness stepfather was damn it all the time and he could tell you these stories but years later when he
01:08:01confronted a step further about it is the first step father was you know disciplinarian and called the stepfather said but you were difficult kid you didn't listen you didn't want to talk to me about reasons for things I had to be a strict disciplinarian with you because otherwise
01:08:17you'd go head first out the window and get into more trouble my brother had written out of his memories his own part in the story and that's a common thing that we do so in that way he created a story about how his stepfather was mean to him
01:08:30and made him do this that may have so past and future in %HESITATION is a is a lovely Erro but what we know about memory is well at the you know with with all the research on how unreliable memory is I think it's important to say it's also
01:08:49pretty damn good overall overall overall I'm glad I have won the random I'm losing it rapidly so what remains I'm happy for it but but that is a hard thing for us I think to understand that it's more efficient for the brain to jettison elements of an event
01:09:10to remember that we really don't need to have and to give us the gist the center piece of it but it's also what allows us to rethink events that happened and to reconsider their causes or other things that were happening at the time and it was interesting to
01:09:26me to realize that utterly false memories can be just as vivid and just as absolutely convincing to the remember as accurate ones so it's a so I guess %HESITATION people hate that people wrong and right but it's wrong to have the metaphor in your mind of like a
01:09:46photograph that is aging and and getting the word out over time you have a very crisp very vivid very believe will memory that is a hundred percent full exactly and that so that's the reason some crazy there I mean it's not just a that's what I mean it's
01:10:02not to JPEG %HESITATION imagine your brain you're you're somehow sharpening up and and as we said telling the story over and over again I think this is gonna be part of my chocolate immersion there self story one here just keep repeating it you know tell the self this
01:10:16version of the conversation you just had to which you come out victorious pretty soon you forget it wasn't a version that actually happened I think it's very effective there I think is a very effective therapy the French have an expression you know l'esprit disco yea the wit of
01:10:29the staircase which is the which he deft retort that you think of making as you're leaving the party in walking downstairs is exactly we can I mean we could have recreate that memory to have be at something you said at the time I live in fear of this
01:10:44and I live here that I'm going to %HESITATION have be grateful that I didn't ask you a whole bunch more questions but Carol terrorist thank you very much for being on the spot in a pleasure thanks on and

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