Persuasion researchers understand how mantras mightcome to be believed based on repetition alone... Social psychologists have found such findings “scary.”Read More
“America is not as divided as some have suggested,” observed President Obama in the aftermath of recent shootings by and of police officers.
The President, who has previously displayed a deft understanding of behavioral science concepts, perhaps had in mind the availability heuristic—our tendency to estimate the likelihood of events based on their mental availability. Dramatic, vivid events—often those we can picture from news reports—come to mind more readily than statistical facts. Thus risks that easily pop into mind we exaggerate.
Some examples: Seeing Jaws caused many folks to fear shark attacks (despite being vastly more at risk from a car accident when driving to the beach). With images of air disasters in mind, many people fear one of the safest modes of travel—commercial flying. And with graphic videos of the seemingly senseless shootings by two police officers (among the more than 900,000 U.S. law enforcement officers), it is understandable that some people are now feeling heightened fears of all police, and that the ensuing slaughter of five police officers has further heightened our sense of racial division.
Post-Dallas, some folks also are worried about police officers increasingly being killed, allegedly due to President Obama’s rhetoric feeding a “war on cops” . . . although, actually, assault-caused police fatalities have declined under Obama (compared to his four predecessors).
These horrific incidents—committed by but three guys with guns—are likely, as the President implies, being overgeneralized. Yet there is real evidence that racial bias and injustice are, indeed, a continuing social toxin. In a case reminiscent of Philando Castile, Amadou Diallo in 1999 was riddled with 19 bullets while pulling out his wallet, which police misperceived as a gun. Not content to stop with this anecdote, social psychologists have repeatedly asked research participants to press buttons quickly to “shoot” or not shoot men who suddenly appeared on screen, while holding either a gun or a harmless flashlight or bottle. Compared to White men holding a harmless object, Black men were "shot" more frequently (by all viewers, regardless of race).
So Minnesota’s governor was probably right to suggest that, had Castile been White, he would be alive today. Acknowledging implicit, ingrained racial bias, FBI Director James Comey, in his 2015 report on “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race,” said this “is why we work to design systems and processes that overcome that very human part of us all.”
Moreover, while Castile’s being pulled over last week by police is merely a single data point—no basis for generalizing about law enforcement disproportionately targeting Black drivers—the FBI-reported fact is that Black drivers in the U.S. are about 30 percent more likely than White drivers to be stopped by police. And they are three times more likely to be searched. For Philando Castile, who had reportedly been stopped 52 times by police since 2002, this statistic was a lived experience.
So, yes, horrific events that kill people dramatically do distort our fears. And we are, as the President suggested, prone to overgeneralize from such. Three guys with guns are not the best basis for drawing wholesale conclusions about race in America.
Yet, as studies of implicit bias in the laboratory and the real world remind us, the pursuit of racial justice and reconciliation is unfinished business. And if it takes shocking events to make White folks see this, my race-expert colleague Charles Green (who blogs here) wonders: is it because of an unavailability heuristic? For those living in a nearly all-White world, are the everyday economic and social stresses of Black American life largely invisible? And is Green right to conclude that “White Americans are UNDER-concerned about racism” because, apart from dramatic happenings, there are so few memorable examples of racism available in their minds?
Recently, more than 750 psychotherapists have signed “A Public Manifesto: Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism.” Its author, University of Minnesota professor William Doherty, emphasizes that the manifesto does not seek to diagnose Trump, the person. Rather it assesses Trumpist ideology.Read More
The reality of top-down hearing helps explain why theater instructors and directors, who are training their actors to project their voices, may not appreciate the hearing difficulty faced by those of us with hearing loss—and why we appreciate mic’d actors and the hearing assistive technology described here.Read More
Is men’s capacity for arousal and orgasm with real partners reduced by their habituating (desensitizing) to the variety of streaming explicit sexuality? Is compulsive pornography-viewing literally a downer? Does it contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED)? If so, this is news worth reporting by us textbook authors, and would be a practical, nonmoral reason for encouraging boys and men to limit their hours in online fantasyland.Read More
Some psychological science findings are just plain fun. Few are more so than the studies of what Brett Pelham and his colleagues call “implicit egotism”—our tendency to like what’s associated with us.Read More
When 270 researchers in an “Open Science Collaboration” network redid 100 recent studies from three leading journals, only 36 percent of the findings replicated. But now another research team, led by Harvard social psychologist Daniel Gilbert, has reanalyzed the data and arrived at a radically different conclusionRead More
How do self-important, self-focused, self-promoting narcissists fare over time? Does their self-assurance, charm, and humor make a generally favorable impression, especially in leadership roles? Or is their egotism, arrogance, and hostility off-putting?Read More
Amid concerns about the replicability of psychological science findings comes “a cause for celebration,” argue behavior geneticist Robert Plomin and colleagues (here). They identify ten “big” take-home findings that have been “robustly” replicated. Some of these are who-would-have-guessed surprises.Read More
You’ve likely heard the NPR ads for brain fitness games offered by Lumosity. “70 Million brain trainers in 182 countries challenge their brains with Lumosity,” declares its website. The hoped-for results range from enhanced cognitive powers to increased school and work performance to decreased late-life cognitive decline or dementia.
But do brain-training games really makes us smarter or enlarge our memory capacity? In our just-released Exploring Psychology, 10th Edition, Nathan DeWall and I suggest “that brain training can produce short-term gains, but mostly on the trained tasks and not for cognitive ability in general.” As an earlier TalkPsych blog essay reported, Zachary Hambrick and Randall Engle have “published studies and research reviews that question the popular idea that brain-training games enhance older adults’ intelligence and memory. Despite the claims of companies marketing brain exercises, brain training appears to produce gains only on the trained tasks (without generalizing to other tasks).”
And that is also the recently announced conclusion of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), when fining Lumosity’s maker, Lumos Labs, $2 million for false advertising. As FTC spokesperson Michelle Rusk reported to Science, “The most that they have shown is that with enough practice you get better on these games, or on similar cognitive tasks . . . .There’s no evidence that training transfers to any real-world setting.”
Although this leaves open the possibility that certain other brain-training programs might have cognitive benefits, the settlement affirms skeptics who doubt that brain games have broad cognitive benefits.
As I make words march up the screen, I often feel more like a secretary, a mere recorder of ideas and words that come from I know not where. And yet I also know that if I keep reading and reflecting—and feeding the friendly little genie that each of us has in our heads—it will keep dictating, and I will continue transcribing.Read More