“‘Why We’re Polarized’ shows how media, emotion, politicians and more are dividing Americans” By Dan Hopkins [On Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized]

“‘Why We’re Polarized’ shows how media, emotion, politicians and more are dividing Americans

Ezra Klein explains the political science for you.

By Dan Hopkins

Jan. 29, 2020 at 9:45 a.m. GMT-3

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/01/29/why-were-polarized-shows-how-media-emotion-politicians-more-are-dividing-americans/

Few books are as well-matched to the moment of their publication as Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized.” President Trump has just become the third president ever to be impeached — and the first one where the votes have fallen almost perfectly along party lines. Klein’s careful book explains how different groups of Americans can see politics through such different lenses, examining how various psychological mechanisms allow committed partisans to rationalize almost anything their party does.

Klein first came to my attention during the 2009-2010 health-care debate, when his Washington Post blog “Wonkblog” was the go-to site for understanding the political and policy dynamics surrounding that legislation. This book fully displays the attributes that have made Klein’s journalism so successful.

The book is undeniably wonky, in the best sense of the word. Klein is an astute reader of political science and social psychology, disciplines he takes seriously. I should disclose that I occasionally wrote for Wonkblog several years ago. But given how much Klein has done to elevate political and social science, it’s hard to find a political scientist not in his debt.

Klein’s book starts with the psychological underpinnings of polarization, and then looks at ways that today’s media landscape and political institutions generate feedback loops that amplify it. In this view, polarization is self-reinforcing. Political elites divide over a question, and then citizens, picking up on those divisions, follow the natural grooves of human psychology by dividing themselves into increasingly meaningful groups. Those emerging divisions, in turn, heighten politicians’ incentives to accentuate their divisions. Thick with insight, the book is especially compelling on how today’s media environment fosters identity-infused content.

But Klein may have incorporated certain lessons from contemporary political science too well — picking up its blind spots and inheriting my discipline’s collective overemphasis on political psychology.”

***

“Why We’re Polarized

Simon & Schuster, 2020.

Ezra Klein

https://www.amazon.com.br/Why-Were-Polarized-Ezra-Klein/dp/1797107658

“America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: it’s working exactly as designed. In this book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us—and how we are polarizing it—with disastrous results.

“The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.”

In Why We’re Polarized, Klein reveals the structural and psychological forces behind America’s descent into division and dysfunction. Neither a polemic nor a lament, this book offers a clear framework for understanding everything from Trump’s rise to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift to the politicization of everyday culture.

America is polarized, first and foremost, by identity. Everyone engaged in American politics is engaged, at some level, in identity politics. Over the past fifty years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.

Klein shows how and why American politics polarized around identity in the twentieth century, and what that polarization did to the way we see the world and one another. And he traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.

This is a revelatory book that will change how you look at politics, and perhaps at yourself.”

“Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind” by Alex Rosenberg [Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective]

Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind – Alex Rosenberg (Department of Philosophy, Duke University)

––––––––––––––––––

Rosenberg, Alex. 2020. “Scientism Versus the Theory of Mind.” Social Epistemology Review and
Reply Collective 9 (10): 48-57.

https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-4Mf

Those who, like me, accept scientism adopt this definition with two elisions easy to spot: we delete the word ‘unwarranted.’ Scientism has obvious and important implications for what an American humorist, Garrison Keeler, called “life’s persistent questions.” Here is a list of some of them, and the answers I believe scientism requires us to give them.

Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

Why am I here? Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work? Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance!

What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.

Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.

What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.

Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.

Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with (from Rosenberg 2011, 2-3).

(…)

Until Darwin (1859) came along things looked pretty good for Kant’s (2007, XVII) pithy observation that there never would be a Newton for the blade of grass—that physics could not explain living things, human or otherwise, because it couldn’t invoke purpose.

But the process that Darwin discovered—random, or rather blind variation, and natural selection, or rather passive environmental filtration—does all the work of delivering the means/ends economy of biological nature that shouts out ‘purpose’ or ‘design’ at us.

(…)

Hardly anyone accepts scientism. Why not? Distaste? Implausibility? Too hard to understand?

All of the above, but all three of these factors are rooted in the same cause. The rejection of scientism is bred in the bone, as close to hard wired as it can be. It’s caused by our unswerving devotion to the theory of mind, a theory we carry with us and use everywhere and always.

The theory of mind (hereafter TOM) has other names—folk psychology, common sense psychology, the belief/desire model of human action. It has been formalized as the starting point of empirical cognitive social psychology.

(…)

Why does the TOM block acceptance of scientism? To begin with it does so, because it blocks the understanding and acceptance of science. The TOM makes us story-tellers and story-consumers. It’s what makes us love narratives with plots—human motivations fulfilled or thwarted. It’s what facilitates our remembering them, we even use them as devices to remember non-narrative information (cf. techniques for memorizing random lists). The TOM turned humans into hyperactive motivation detectors. Because we can’t escape relying on the TOM, we anthropomorphize everything. But of course, science doesn’t come packaged in stories about good guys, bad guys and their motives, narratives with plots.  Science is delivered in laws, equations, models, data-assembles, things we can’t keep in our heads because we can’t assemble them into stories. Our devotion to the TOM obstructs our uptake of science.

(…)

Our reliance on the TOM makes understanding science difficult just because science doesn’t come in stories with plots and motives and stories that we are hard wired to crave, to be satisfied with, to remember. Insofar as science banishes purpose, teleology, design and thus their well-understood causes—desire and belief—from nature, it makes itself hard to accept. More important, the TOM is among the presuppositions of most of our philosophically deep questions, and one of most indispensable building blocks of most of the alternative answers to these questions. Pull the TOM out from under the questions and the answers and they can’t even really be stated or answered in terms we can or will accept. But, as we will see, pulling the rug out from under the TOM is what science does. And that is what makes scientism so hard for people even to understand or contemplate.

(…)

It hardly needs saying that TOM underlies much that scientism rejects just because science makes scientism reject the TOM. Without the TOM, there is no space of reasons in our heads, no place were meanings can lodge and have a role in thought or action. That implies there’s no will, and so no free will, no agency or responsibility, no enduring self that can entertain or respond to reasons, not to mention the interpretations that we overlay on events to give them meaning. Neuroscience banished purpose from our heads as completely as Darwin banished from the rest of the biological domain. Without reasons in our heads, or anywhere else, there are no resources to scientifically construct what Sellars called “the manifest image” required by our culture, civilization, its legal, political, moral, creative, artistic subsystems. The costs of surrendering the TOM are huge, so huge we can’t do it for the practical purposes of everyday life, indeed for civilization as a whole. This fates us to the use of a highly imperfect (predictively unreliable, explanatorily baseless) instrument in the construction and operation of the institutions of our culture. The TOM’s baselessness explains many of their failures, defects and deficiencies.

But all this is too much for science to overthrow. And if creatures like us have a hard time understanding science in the first place, because the TOM that’s bred in our bones obstructs science, then we’ll have an even tougher time even understanding, let alone accepting scientism.”

“Conflict Changes How People View God” | Psychological Science

“Conflict Changes How People View God

Psychological Science

Nava Caluori, Joshua Conrad Jackson, Kurt Gray, and Michele Gelfand

First Published January 28, 2020

https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619895286

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797619895286

Abstract

Religion shapes the nature of intergroup conflict, but conflict may also shape religion. Here, we report four multimethod studies that reveal the impact of conflict on religious belief: The threat of warfare and intergroup tensions increase the psychological need for order and obedience to rules, which leads people to view God as more punitive. Studies 1 (N = 372) and 2 (N = 911) showed that people’s concern about conflict correlates with belief in a punitive God. Study 3 (N = 1,065) found that experimentally increasing the salience of conflict increases people’s perceptions of the importance of a punitive God, and this effect is mediated by people’s support for a tightly regulated society. Study 4 showed that the severity of warfare predicted and preceded worldwide fluctuations in punitive-God belief between 1800 CE and 2000 CE. Our findings illustrate how conflict can change the nature of religious belief and add to a growing literature showing how cultural ecologies shape psychology.”

Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne (Georgetown University Press, 2018)

“Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence

by Kenneth Payne

Georgetown University Press, 2018.

https://www.amazon.com.br/Strategy-Evolution-War-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/1626165807

Kenneth Payne is a senior lecturer in the School of Security Studies at King’s College, London. He is also a senior member of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, having earlier been a visiting fellow in the Department of International Relations there. Payne’s research is broadly in the field of political psychology and strategic studies. He is the author of two previous books, The Psychology of Strategy: Exploring Rationality in the Vietnam War and The Psychology of Modern Conflict.

This book is about the psychological and biological bases of strategy making in war as they have evolved in humans over our history as a species. The book is also a cautionary preview of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will revolutionize strategy more than any development in the last three thousand years of military history. Machines will make important decisions about war on both sides, and they may do so without input from humans. Kenneth Payne describes strategy as an evolved package of conscious and unconscious behaviors with roots in our primate ancestry. Human-made strategy is influenced by emotion as well as reason, with both positive and negative results. The strategic implications of AI are profound because they depart radically from the biological basis of human intelligence. Rather than being just another tool of war, AI will exponentially speed up decisionmaking, make choices humans might not make, and force faster actions and reactions. This book is a fascinating examination of the psychology of strategy-making from prehistoric times, through the ancient world, and into the modern age. It also offers a concerning preview of a future when humans cede at least some control over their destiny.”

“Does the extended evolutionary synthesis entail extended explanatory power? – J. Baedke, A. Fábregas-Tejeda & F. Vergara-Silva, Biology & Philosophy, vol. 35, 2020

“Does the extended evolutionary synthesis entail extended explanatory power?

Jan Baedke, Alejandro Fábregas-Tejeda & Francisco Vergara-Silva

Biology & Philosophy, volume 35, Article number: 20 (2020)

Published: 23 January 2020

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10539-020-9736-5

Abstract

Biologists and philosophers of science have recently called for an extension of evolutionary theory. This so-called ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ (EES) seeks to integrate developmental processes, extra-genetic forms of inheritance, and niche construction into evolutionary theory in a central way. While there is often agreement in evolutionary biology over the existence of these phenomena, their explanatory relevance is questioned. Advocates of EES posit that their perspective offers better explanations than those provided by ‘standard evolutionary theory’ (SET). Still, why this would be the case is unclear. Usually, such claims assume that EES’s superior explanatory status arises from the pluralist structure of EES, its different problem agenda, and a growing body of evidence for the evolutionary relevance of developmental phenomena (including developmental bias, inclusive inheritance, and niche construction). However, what is usually neglected in this debate is a discussion of what the explanatory standards of EES actually are, and how they differ from prevailing standards in SET. In other words, what is considered to be a good explanation in EES versus SET? To answer this question, we present a theoretical framework that evaluates the explanatory power of different evolutionary explanations of the same phenomena. This account is able to identify criteria for why and when evolutionary explanations of EES are better than those of SET. Such evaluations will enable evolutionary biology to find potential grounds for theoretical integration.”

“An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs” by Brandon Bretl

“An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs

written by Brandon Bretl

https://quillette.com/2020/01/13/an-evolutionary-explanation-for-unscientific-beliefs

Brandon Bretl is a research fellow and PhD candidate in the department of educational psychology at the University of Kansas. His current research is focused on explaining how political ideology and other cultural factors influence cognitive development during adolescence. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonBretl

As it turns out, the theory of evolution by natural selection provides a strong explanation for how and why some people don’t believe evolution by natural selection has ever taken place. I initially thought the problem was a matter of knowledge and the standards people have for what constitutes knowledge, but eventually it became clear that holders of anti-scientific beliefs (from William Jennings Brian of the Scopes Monkey Trial to modern day conspiracy theorists) typically root their convictions in moral obligation.

To understand morality from an evolutionary point of view, one needs to realize that humans have always existed in groups. Often, these groups compete with one another, and this means group-level selection pressures have influenced individual traits, including psychological traits. For example, if two tribes come into conflict with one another, the tribe with members better able to cooperate will prevail. Thus, psychological phenomena such as empathy, concern for fairness and reciprocity, in-group loyalty, and respect for hierarchy have a selective advantage in contexts of group competition, and we immediately recognize the lack of these traits as psychopathy. In other words, most humans have innate tendencies that guide moral development—participating in fair exchanges and seeing moral violators punished are both inherently pleasurable, whereas witnessing injustice and suffering are inherently uncomfortable (just as sweet tastes are innately pleasurable and bitter tastes are innately aversive, even for infants).

Thus, what we consider moral and why we consider it moral are not arbitrary nor are they solely guided by social learning. Our moral intuitions are rooted in natural selection’s answers to social problems that have consistently arisen throughout our evolutionary past. Nonetheless, what we readily recognize as moral is dependent on a wide range of conceptual abilities that must be flexible enough to adapt to cultural contexts and be utilized correctly in specific social circumstances (for instance, empathy for an in-group member’s loss but pleasure in an enemy’s loss), so a significant part of our moral intuitions are dependent on learning and social experience as well.

(…)

Prior to science and accurate causal models for natural phenomena, cultures themselves evolved through trial and error, relying on superstition, myth, and tradition to perpetuate survival-enhancing knowledge and skills. In such circumstances, an ability to override rational thoughts in favor of conformity could have a reproductive benefit. We can see evidence of such conformity biases in neuroimaging studies—when participants change their opinions to match with others, the part of the brain involved in feelings of pleasure and happiness becomes more active. We’re also more likely to imitate and learn from high-prestige individuals, which is why high-prestige individuals are paid so much to market products (a phenomenon known as the “prestige effect”). Finally, in the most extreme cases, high-emotional arousal can completely shut down a person’s rational faculties.

(…)

 If you doubt that these psychological mechanisms exist, try using evidence to convince a creationist that evolution by natural selection occurs or a climate change denier that human-induced climate change is real, or a die-hard Cowboys fan that the Green Bay Packers are a better football team. Most likely you already have tried something like this, and you know very well that it is futile, enraging, and sometimes even traumatic.

(…)

Appeals will be made to moral foundations such as care, harm, justice, respect for authority, in-group loyalty, cleanliness, purity, or sanctity, either implicitly or explicitly. It is this moral framing that stimulates the emotional response, not the other way around; and this moral framing is designed to take advantage of some of our most deeply evolved psychological traits.”

Philosophy of Immunology by Thomas Pradeu

Philosophy of Immunology

Thomas Pradeu, Université de Bordeaux

Series: Elements in the Philosophy of Biology

Access: Open access

https://www.cambridge.org/core/elements/philosophy-of-immunology/06F0C341035299674EECF0406E5D8E31

Immunology is central to contemporary biology and medicine, but it also provides novel philosophical insights. Its most significant contribution to philosophy concerns the understanding of biological individuality: what a biological individual is, what makes it unique, how its boundaries are established and what ensures its identity through time. Immunology also offers answers to some of the most interesting philosophical questions. What is the definition of life? How are bodily systems delineated? How do the mind and the body interact? In this Element, Thomas Pradeu considers the ways in which immunology can shed light on these and other important philosophical issues. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108616706
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Online publication date: January 2020
Online ISBN: 9781108616706

“Death of the individual. There is no such thing as self, argues professor Tom Oliver” [The Telegraph]

“Death of the individual. There is no such thing as self, argues professor Tom Oliver”

Neither our bodies nor our minds represent us, claims Prof Tom Oliver

18 JANUARY 2020 • 8:00PM

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2020/01/18/death-individual-no-thing-self-argues-professor/

John Donne, the English cleric and poet, wrote in the 17th century: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

And now a British academic has claimed that human individuality is indeed just an illusion, because societies are far more intertwined at a mental, physical and cultural level than people realise.

In his new book, The Self Delusion, Professor Tom Oliver, a researcher in the Ecology and Evolution group at the University of Reading, argues that there is no such thing as ‘self’ and not even our bodies are truly ‘us’.

Just as Copernicus realised that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, Prof Oliver said society urgently needs a Copernican-like revolution to understand that people are not discrete beings but rather part of one connected identity.

“A significant milestone in the cultural evolution of human minds was the acceptance that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, the so-called Copernican revolution,” he writes.

“However, we have one more big myth to dispel: that we exist as independent selves at the centre of a subjective universe.

“You may feel as if you are a discrete individual acting autonomously in the world; that you have unchanging inner self that persists throughout your lifetime, acting as a central anchor-point with the world changing around you. This is the illusion I seek to tackle. We are seamlessly connected to the world around us.”

Prof Oliver, who is also a government adviser, said his journey as a scientist had led him to believe not only that supernatural powers do not exist, but individual humans do not either.

He argues that there are around 37 trillion cells in the body but most have a lifespan of just a few days or weeks, so the material ‘us’ is constantly changing. In fact, there is no part of your body that has existed for more than 10 years.

And the majority of cells in the body are not human, as we contain more bacterial cells than human cells.

Likewise recent findings in psychology and neuroscience suggest that even our minds are simply an echo-chamber of previously learned beliefs.

“Findings across a wide range of scientific disciplines increasingly support the idea that the central, discrete ‘I’ we obsessively nurture, protect and talk to throughout our lives is just an illusion,” said Prof Oliver.

“Since our bodies are essentially made anew every few weeks, the material in them alone is clearly insufficient to explain the persistent thread of an identity.

“We are like a thread in a tapestry that is unaware of the majesty of the whole interconnected piece. We are not sovereign individuals but part of a deep interconnected universal network.”

Prof Oliver claims that individualism is actually bad for society, and only by realising we are part of a bigger entity can we solve pressing environmental and societal problems.

Through selfish over-consumption we are destroying the natural world and using non-renewable resources at an accelerating rate.

“We are at a critical crossroads as a species where we must rapidly reform our mindsets and behaviour to act in less selfish ways,” he said

“Loosen your grip on the illusion of an independent ‘I’ and open your eyes to the hidden connections all around you.”

The self Delusion: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters, W&N are publishing on 23rd January 2020.

***

“The Self Delusion: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters (English Edition) eBook Kindle

Tom Oliver

Weidenfeld & Nicolson (23rd January 2020)

https://www.amazon.com.br/Self-Delusion-Surprising-Science-Connected-ebook/dp/B07SZL5H4S

We like to believe that we exist as independent selves at the centre of a subjective universe; that we are discrete individuals acting autonomously in the world with an unchanging inner self that persists throughout our lifetime.

This is an illusion.

On a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know: we cannot use our bodies to define our independent existence because most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks; the molecules that make up our bodies have already been component parts of countless other organisms, from ancient plants to dinosaurs; we are more than half non-human, in the form of bacteria, fungi and viruses, whose genes influence our moods and even manipulate our behaviour; and we cannot define ourselves by our minds, thoughts and actions, because these mainly originate from other people – the result of memes passing between us, existing before, after and beyond our own lifespans.

Professor of Ecology Tom Oliver makes the compelling argument that although this illusion of individualism has helped us to succeed as a species, tackling the big global challenges ahead now relies on our seeing beyond this mindset and understanding the complex connections between us. THE SELF DELUSION is an explosive, powerful and inspiring book that brings to life the overwhelming evidence contradicting the perception we have of ourselves as independent beings – and why understanding this may well be the key to a better future.

Do Political Campaigns Change Voters’ Minds? By Hugo Mercier

“Do Political Campaigns Change Voters’ Minds? By Hugo Mercier

Evidence shows that ads almost never affect us the way a personal conversation can

By Hugo Mercier

— Prof. Mercier is a cognitive scientist at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris. His new book, “Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe,” will be published by Princeton University Press on Jan. 28.

Updated Jan. 17, 2020 2:02 pm ET

https://www.wsj.com/articles/do-political-campaigns-change-voters-minds-11579282258?mod=e2tw

(…)

For nearly two decades, political scientists have systematically tested the effectiveness of political campaigns. To find out whether a campaign strategy works, the best solution is to use randomized control trials. For example, you can randomly select certain neighborhoods to receive a campaign mailing supporting a particular candidate. If those areas vote for the candidate in greater numbers, it should be because the mailing influenced their choice.

This is what Alan Gerber of Yale University, a pioneer in the field, did in one of the first such studies, published in the journal American Behavioral Sciences in 2004. Nearly 100,000 households received mailings in favor of a congressional candidate. Were these people more likely to vote for the candidate? Not one bit. (More precisely, they were 0.2% more likely to do so, which is statistically insignificant.) The study was convincing because it was big: As a rule, the larger the sample, the more solid the conclusion.

In some of the other studies that Prof. Gerber conducted, he found that campaign mailings did have an effect on votes. But these experiments had smaller sample sizes, and their results were contradictory—in one of them, mailings seemed to make people less likely to vote for the candidate. The best way to make sense of such studies is to pool them in a meta-analysis, a statistical test that aggregates the results of many experiments to see if robust patterns emerge.

Last year, in a paper published in the American Political Science Review, political scientists Joshua Kalla of Yale and David Broockman of Stanford looked at all the studies that used randomized trials to test the effectiveness of political campaigns, adding nine of their own studies for good measure. The whole spectrum of campaign tools was covered—mainly canvassing, phone calls and mailings, with a few studies focusing on TV and online ads. The researchers’ conclusion was unambiguous: “The best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.”

(…)

These experiments might seem dated. Who uses snail mail or answers their landlines anymore? The internet is the future, and online campaigns can buy data by the cartload to better aim their targeted messages.

Yet there is no evidence that online political ads are any more powerful than old-fashioned TV spots. Indeed, there are good reasons to think that all online ads, not just the political ones, have little impact. Randall Lewis, a researcher at Google, a company that makes 90% of its money selling online advertising, found (in an unpublished paper co-authored with Justin Rao of Microsoft ) that the effects of online ads are so small and variable that it is essentially impossible to measure their return.

(…)

When we encounter a message that challenges our views—like being asked to vote for a candidate we don’t already favor—our first reaction is usually to reject it. We change our minds only if we are provided with good arguments, ideally in the context of a discussion and from a source we perceive as competent and trustworthy. Gaining voters’ trust or engaging them in proper discussion is very hard to do en masse, which is why large-scale persuasion nearly invariably fails to convince us.”

“It’s the network, stupid: Study offers fresh insight into why we’re so divided” [by Jennifer Ouellette – Ars Technica]

“It’s the network, stupid: Study offers fresh insight into why we’re so divided”

Social perception bias might simply be an emergent property of our social networks.

JENNIFER OUELLETTE – 1/4/2020, 5:07 PM

https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/01/its-the-network-stupid-study-offers-fresh-insight-into-why-were-so-divided

Social perception bias is best defined as the all-too-human tendency to assume that everyone else holds the same opinions and values as we do. That bias might, for instance, lead us to over- or under-estimate the size and influence of an opposing group. It tends to be especially pronounced when it comes to contentious polarizing issues like race, gun control, abortion, or national elections.

Researchers have long attributed this and other well-known cognitive biases to innate flaws in individual human thought processes. But according to a paper published last year in Nature Human Behaviour [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0677-4], social perception bias might best be viewed as an emergent property of our social networks. This research, in turn, could lead to effective strategies to counter that bias by diversifying social networks.

(…)

The team was surprised to find that the survey results closely matched the model’s predictions. Specifically, “People who were surrounded by people similar to them think that their group is larger than it really is, and people who have more diverse social circles think their group is smaller than it really is,” Galesic told Ars. “These biases are exaggerated with the relative size of the majority and minority groups.””

***

“Homophily and minority-group size explain perception biases in social networks

Eun Lee, Fariba Karimi, Claudia Wagner, Hang-Hyun Jo, Markus Strohmaier & Mirta Galesic

Nature Human Behaviour volume 3, pagesc1078–1087(2019)

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0677-4

Abstract

People’s perceptions about the size of minority groups in social networks can be biased, often showing systematic over- or underestimation. These social perception biases are often attributed to biased cognitive or motivational processes. Here we show that both over- and underestimation of the size of a minority group can emerge solely from structural properties of social networks. Using a generative network model, we show that these biases depend on the level of homophily, its asymmetric nature and on the size of the minority group. Our model predictions correspond well with empirical data from a cross-cultural survey and with numerical calculations from six real-world networks. We also identify circumstances under which individuals can reduce their biases by relying on perceptions of their neighbours. This work advances our understanding of the impact of network structure on social perception biases and offers a quantitative approach for addressing related issues in society.”

“How does your body respond to feelings of moral outrage? It depends on your politics” [From University of Southern California/Medical Xpress]

“How does your body respond to feelings of moral outrage? It depends on your politics”

by University of Southern California

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-01-body-moral-outrage-politics.html

When you see someone being unfair, disloyal or uncaring toward others, do you feel a sense of moral outrage in the form of a twisting stomach, pounding heart or flushing face? And is it possible that your body’s response depends on your political affiliation?

Researchers with the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) set out to examine how and where emotions associated with violations of moral concerns are experienced in the body, and whether political orientation plays a role.

“Our study finds that liberals and conservatives feel moral violations in different areas of their bodies, interpret them as distinct complex feelings and make different moral and political judgements,” said Morteza Dehghani, assistant professor of psychology and computer science at the BCI and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “This was particularly true for perceptions of feelings of loyalty and purity.”

The research was published today in Psychological Science.

Liberals and conservatives: Wired differently?

Prior research has shown liberals and conservatives rely on different moral foundations and react differently to violations of morals. The authors say their study is the first to indicate that political orientation influences where and how violations of specific moral concerns—including care, fairness, purity, loyalty and authority—are felt in the body. For example, liberals feel violations of purity in their crotch area, chest and slightly in their heads while conservatives feel these violations almost exclusively—and very strongly—in their heads.

***

“Body Maps of Moral Concerns

Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Morteza DehghaniFirst

Published January 8, 2020 Research Article

https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619895284

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797619895284

Abstract

It has been proposed that somatosensory reaction to varied social circumstances results in feelings (i.e., conscious emotional experiences). Here, we present two preregistered studies in which we examined the topographical maps of somatosensory reactions associated with violations of different moral concerns. Specifically, participants in Study 1 (N = 596) were randomly assigned to respond to scenarios involving various moral violations and were asked to draw key aspects of their subjective somatosensory experience on two 48,954-pixel silhouettes. Our results show that body patterns corresponding to different moral violations are felt in different regions of the body depending on whether individuals are classified as liberals or conservatives. We also investigated how individual differences in moral concerns relate to body maps of moral violations. Finally, we used natural-language processing to predict activation in body parts on the basis of the semantic representation of textual stimuli. We replicated these findings in a nationally representative sample in Study 2 (N = 300). Overall, our findings shed light on the complex relationships between moral processes and somatosensory experiences.

(…)

Whether moral judgment is a product of reason or emotion has been an ongoing debate among philosophers and psychologists for decades. When moral psychology separated itself from moral philosophy, it almost exclusively focused on reasoning rather than on affective aspects of morality. The first empirical attempts in moral psychology started by examining cognitive-developmental components of understanding fairness and rules (Kohlberg, 1971; Piaget, 1948). But subsequently, as the field expanded, there was an increasing interest in the affective components of morality. Accumulating evidence suggests that emotion can ensue from, amplify, or directly cause moral judgment (Avramova & Inbar, 2013). Irrespective of the exact nature of the relationship between emotion and morality, distinct emotions are known to be associated with specific moral concerns as well as moral violations (Haidt, 2003). Emotions are neural and somatic events that have the evolutionary function of preparing an organism to respond adaptively to a change in social or physical circumstances (Darwin, 1872). Once emotions are induced, individuals can consciously experience them by constructing a feeling, that is, generating a conscious mental experience (Damasio, 1999). Constructing feelings of emotions depends on brain systems that map and regulate body responses (Damasio & Carvalho, 2013). Both classic and modern theories of emotion postulate that interoception—the sensing of physiological feedback from the body and its visceral organs—is essential for emotional experience (Damasio, 1999; James, 1994; Schachter & Singer, 1962). The link between interoception and emotion continues to be supported by various studies. For example, Barrett, Quigley, BlissMoreau, and Aronson (2004) found that arousal focus, the extent to which individuals emphasize the changes of feelings in their verbal reports of experienced emotion, is related to interoceptive sensitivity. Individuals who were sensitive to their heartbeat change in response to emotion-arousal images reported more intense emotional experiences compared with less sensitive individuals (Barrett et al., 2004), supporting the association between body feedback and emotional states.”

“Why Evangelicals Are Hardwired to Believe Certain Falsehoods” – by Bobby Azarian [Mind In The Machine]

“Why Evangelicals Are Hardwired to Believe Certain Falsehoods”

This brain quirk makes gaslighting particularly easy.

Posted Dec 31, 2019

Bobby Azarian Ph.D.
Mind In The Machine

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201912/why-evangelicals-are-hardwired-believe-certain-falsehoods

(…)

One reason Trump supporters believe him comes from a basic fact about the brain: it takes more mental effort to reject an idea as false than to accept it as true. In other words, it’s easier to believe than to not.

This fact is based on a landmark study [https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0007272] published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2009, which asked the simple question, how is the brain activated differently during a state of belief compared to a state of disbelief? To test this, participants were asked whether or not they believed in a series of statements while their brain activity was being imaged by an fMRI scanner. Some sentences were simple and fact-based (California is larger than Rhode Island), while others were more abstract and subjective (God probably does not exist). The results showed the activation of distinct but often overlapping brain areas in the belief and disbelief conditions.

While these imaging results are complicated to interpret, the electrical patterns also showed something that was fairly straightforward. Overall, there was greater brain activation that persisted for longer during states of disbelief. Greater brain activation requires more cognitive resources, of which there is a limited supply. What these findings show is that the mental process of believing is simply less work for the brain, and therefore often favored. The default state of the human brain is to accept what we are told, because doubt takes effort. Belief, on the other hand, comes easily.

This troubling finding makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. If children questioned every single fact they were being taught, learning would occur at a rate so slow that it would be a hindrance. But this fact could be just as easily applied to both the political left and right.

For Christian fundamentalists, being taught to suppress critical thinking begins at a very early age. It is the combination of the brain’s vulnerability to believing unsupported facts and aggressive indoctrination that create the perfect storm for gullibility. Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to be sculpted by lived experiences, evangelicals literally become hardwired to believe far-fetched statements.”

***

Harris S, Kaplan JT, Curiel A, Bookheimer SY, Iacoboni M, et al. (2010) The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief. PLOS ONE 5(1): 10.1371

https://doi.org/10.1371/annotation/7f0b174d-ab93-4844-8305-1de22836aab8

“Personality is not only about who but also where you are” – Dorsa Amir [From aeon]

From aeon.

“Personality is not only about who but also where you are”

Dorsa Amir
is an evolutionary anthropologist and postdoctoral research fellow at Boston College. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, on Buzzfeed and in TEDx talks.

https://aeon.co/ideas/personality-is-not-only-about-who-but-also-where-you-are

The first challenge is casting doubt on the tendency to see personality traits – patterns of behaviour that are stable across time – as parts of our identities that are inevitable and arising from within. While it’s true that people are the products of genes interacting with the environment (the answer to the question ‘Is it nature or nurture?’ is always ‘Yes’), work by the psychologist Nick Haslam at the University of Melbourne and other researchers has shown that people err in the direction of nature, seeing personality traits as much more fixed. In other words, you’re more likely to say that your friend Jane just is a patient person and always would be, even in an environment where it’s not the best strategy – for example, in a dangerous situation where tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Patience, you might say, is something that comes from within her, not from the world around her.

The other challenge concerns whom psychologists have been studying for the past century. While scholars know a fair amount about how traits develop, that knowledge derives from research on a very specific and peculiar subset of humans: those living in industrialised societies. As quantified in a now-landmark study called ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’ (2010), the anthropologist Joseph Henrich and his team at the University of British Columbia showed that roughly 96 per cent of subjects in psychology studies came from so-called ‘WEIRD’ societies – or those that are Western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic.

A bias toward WEIRD societies is problematic for a number of reasons. First, people in these societies are a poor proxy for the average human, representing countries that make up only about 12 per cent of the world’s population. But this asymmetry toward industrialised societies is problematic for another reason: it represents an environment that’s fundamentally different from the ones in which human beings evolved.

(…)

To understand why industrialisation might be an influential force in the development of behaviour, it’s important to understand its legacy in the human story. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago launched perhaps the most profound transformation in the history of human life. No longer dependent on hunting or gathering for survival, people formed more complex societies with new cultural innovations. Some of the most important of these innovations involved new ways of accumulating, storing and trading resources. One effect of these changes, from a decision-making standpoint, was a reduction in uncertainty. Instead of relying on hard-to-predict resources such as prey, markets allowed us to create larger and more stable pools of resources.

To understand why industrialisation might be an influential force in the development of behaviour, it’s important to understand its legacy in the human story. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago launched perhaps the most profound transformation in the history of human life. No longer dependent on hunting or gathering for survival, people formed more complex societies with new cultural innovations. Some of the most important of these innovations involved new ways of accumulating, storing and trading resources. One effect of these changes, from a decision-making standpoint, was a reduction in uncertainty. Instead of relying on hard-to-predict resources such as prey, markets allowed us to create larger and more stable pools of resources.”

“Can Empathic Concern Actually Increase Political Polarization?” – By Scott Barry Kaufman

From Beautiful Minds

Can Empathic Concern Actually Increase Political Polarization?

New research suggests that those who display the most concern for others are also the most socially polarized

By Scott Barry Kaufman on November 6, 2019

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/can-empathic-concern-actually-increase-political-polarization/

One recent survey found that among those who are highly engaged in politics, 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are “afraid” of the other party, and a near majority of Democrats and Republicans report being angry with the opposing party and see the opposing party as a threat to the nation’s well-being.

Obama has proposed that a major source of this political conflict is an “empathy gap”. But what if the reality is far more complex, and empathy in certain circumstances is actually the problem?

(…)

While empathic concern is often assumed to be a universal good, there are many cases in which empathy does not live up to its promise. Even those who score high on psychological tests of empathy aren’t always empathic.* After all, empathy is hard work. As a result, people often choose to avoid empathy, viewing it as just not worth the effort.

One important factor is the nature of the relationship with another person. Research shows that the suffering of a perceived member of an outgroup dampens the empathic response compared to empathic concern for an ingroup member’s suffering.

(…)

What about within the realm of politics? Are we all just treating politics as though it were one big sports game? In this extremely partisan climate, it certainly seems so. As political psychologist Lilliana Mason put it, “a partisan behaves more like a sports fan than like a banker choosing an investment. Partisans feel emotionally connected to the welfare of the party; they prefer to spend time with other members of the party; and when the party is threatened, they become angry and work to help conquer the threat, even if they disagree with some of the issue positions taken by the party.”

“Strength of conviction won’t help to persuade when people disagree” [Medical Xpress/University College London]

“Strength of conviction won’t help to persuade when people disagree

by University College London

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-12-strength-conviction-wont-people.html

If you disagree with someone, it might not make any difference how certain they say they are, as during disagreement your brain’s sensitivity to the strength of people’s beliefs is reduced, finds a study led by UCL and City, University of London.

The brain scanning study, published in Nature Neuroscience, reveals a new type of confirmation bias that can make it very difficult to alter people’s opinions.

“We found that when people disagree, their brains fail to encode the quality of the other person’s opinion, giving them less reason to change their mind,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Tali Sharot (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).

(…)

Professor Sharot added: “Opinions of others are especially susceptible to the confirmation bias, perhaps because they are relatively easy to dismiss as subjective. Because humans make the vast majority of decisions—including professional, personal, political and purchase decisions—based on information received from others, the identified bias in using the strength of others’ opinions is likely to have a profound effect on human behaviour.”

***

Confirmation bias in the utilization of others’ opinion strength

Andreas Kappes, Ann H. Harvey, Terry Lohrenz, P. Read Montague & Tali Sharot

Nature Neuroscience (2019)

Abstract

Humans tend to discount information that undermines past choices and judgments. This confirmation bias has significant impact on domains ranging from politics to science and education. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying this fundamental characteristic of belief formation. Here we report a mechanism underlying the confirmation bias. Specifically, we provide evidence for a failure to use the strength of others’ disconfirming opinions to alter confidence in judgments, but adequate use when opinions are confirmatory. This bias is related to reduced neural sensitivity to the strength of others’ opinions in the posterior medial prefrontal cortex when opinions are disconfirming. Our results demonstrate that existing judgments alter the neural representation of information strength, leaving the individual less likely to alter opinions in the face of disagreement.”

“What can we learn from bonobos and chimpanzees?” [Takeshi Furuichi. Bonobo and Chimpanzee, 2019]

From EurekAlert:

“What can we learn from bonobos and chimpanzees?

A personal account of bonobo and chimpanzee behaviour by a renowned Japanese primatologist explains what and why we should learn from our closest relatives

NEWS RELEASE 9-DEC-2019

Those who are not familiar with bonobos and chimpanzees may have trouble telling the two species apart: they look alike and they live in similar habitats. In fact, it wasn’t until 90 years ago that experts realised that bonobos and chimpanzees were different species. In his book, Bonobo and Chimpanzee, Takeshi Furuichi describes his observations of both species’ behaviour while drawing parallels between humans, bonobos and chimpanzees in an attempt to find solutions for the peaceful coexistence of human beings.”

More here: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/s-wcw120919.php

***

“Bonobo and Chimpanzee: The Lessons of Social Coexistence (Primatology Monographs)

Takeshi Furuichi

Springer, 1st ed. 2019

This book describes the similarities and differences between two species, bonobos and chimpanzees, based on the three decades the author has spent studying them in the wild, and shows how the contrasting nature of these two species is also reflected in human nature.

The most important differences between bonobos and chimpanzees, our closest relatives, are the social mechanisms of coexistence in group life. Chimpanzees are known as a fairly despotic species in which the males exclusively dominate over the females, and maintain a rigid hierarchy. Chimpanzees have developed social intelligence to survive severe competition among males: by upholding the hierarchy of dominance, they can usually preserve peaceful relations among group members. In contrast, female bonobos have the same or even a higher social status than males. By evolving pseudo-estrus during their non-reproductive period, females have succeeded in moderating inter-male sexual competition, and in initiating mate selection. Although they are non-related in male-philopatric society, they usually aggregate in a group, enjoy priority access to food, determine which male is the alpha male, and generally maintain much more peaceful social relations compared to chimpanzees.
Lastly, by identifying key mechanisms of social coexistence in these two species, the author also seeks to find solutions or “hope” for the peaceful coexistence of human beings.

“Takeshi Furuichi is one of very few scientists in the world familiar with both chimpanzees and bonobos. In lively prose, reflecting personal experience with apes in the rain forest, he compares our two closest relatives and explains the striking differences between the male- dominated and territorial chimpanzees and the female-centered gentle bonobos.”

Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug – Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves (Norton, 2019)”

“To Fight Polarization, Ask, “How Does That Policy Work?”” – by Alex Chesterfield and Kate Coombs

[From Behavioral Scientist]

To Fight Polarization, Ask, “How Does That Policy Work?”

By Alex Chesterfield and Kate Coombs

To Fight Polarization, Ask, “How Does That Policy Work?”

 

(…)

Alex’s experience reflects an increasingly split United Kingdom and United States, where ideological and political polarization (defined as the division of attitudes, typically along a single dimension)— have evolved into a new “phenomenon of animosity,” according to political scientist Shanto Iyengar and colleagues. That phenomenon is affective polarization—when ordinary people “increasingly dislike and distrust those from the other party.” Research from 2010 shows, for instance, that nearly half of Republicans, and about one third of Democrats, said they would feel “somewhat or very unhappy” if their child married a member of the opposing party. This was around 5 percent in the 1960s.

(…)

In one U.S. study, when research asked participants of various political affiliations to explain how different policies, such as instituting a cap and trade system, would bring about specific outcomes, like reduced carbon emissions, they moderated their attitudes and reduced their donations to relevant advocacy groups. In contrast, the participants who simply provided a list of reasons that they supported a policy did not. These findings, researchers conclude, could imply a connection between polarized attitudes and overly simplistic mental models for how policies actually work.

(…)

Alex Chesterfield
Alex Chesterfield is a behavioral scientist working in financial services. She is an associate of the Depolarization Project, based in Stanford, California. Previously, she was an elected local government councillor in the U.K. and has an M.Sc. from UCL in cognitive and decision science.

Kate Coombs
Kate Coombs is a behavioural scientist working in financial services. She holds an MSc in Cognitive and Decision Sciences from University College London.”

“Social influencers: what can we learn from animals?” [Oxford University]

[From Oxford University]

“Social influencers: what can we learn from animals?

http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-12-05-social-influencers-what-can-we-learn-animals#

Research from Oxford University calls us to reconsider how behaviours may spread through societies of wild animals, and how this might provide new insights into human social networks.

Our social connections to one another, whether it be online or in real life, give rise to our ‘social networks’. Previously, it has often been assumed that the individuals with the most social connections are the primary ‘social influencers’ and most likely to acquire, and spread, new behaviours. Behaviours were viewed to spread simply based on the amount of exposure to others, just like contracting a contagious disease might depend on exposure to infected individuals. This viewpoint has not only been applied to humans, but also a range of different animal species too.

However, a new study from Oxford University suggests our understanding of animal behaviours are enhanced by drawing on the latest findings in human systems, which show that the most influential individuals are not necessarily the most social ones. Instead, the most important individuals often tend to be those occurring in tight knit friendship circles. Even though these individuals may have relatively few social connections, they wield high influence within their cliques and promote the rapid spread of new behaviours.

The new study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, shows how these recent insights, coming from contexts as varied as how new technologies are adopted, how political movements occur, and even how social media hashtags spread, can now be harnessed for furthering our understanding of animal societies too. The study presents examples showing how even in the most basic systems, small changes in how behaviours spread can enormously affect which animals might adopt a behaviour, and which might be important to spreading it.

The author of the study, Dr Josh Firth, said: ‘Just like in humans, various animal species are known to be capable of social considerations, such as when to adopt a behaviour, or who to learn from. These choices mean that behaviours don’t spread like diseases.’

***

The study:

Considering Complexity: Animal Social Networks and Behavioural Contagions
Josh A. Firth

Published:December 03, 2019

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2019.10.009

Jonathan Haidt Explains How Social Media Drives Polarization

“In a time of heightened political tension, Jonathan Haidt has a good idea of what’s driving this polarized atmosphere around the world. He is a social psychologist who believes social media has transformed in recent years to become an “outrage machine,” spreading anger and toxicity. He sits down with Hari to discuss this difficult problem and what the possible solutions could be.”

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/jonathan-haidt-explains-how-social-media-drives-polarization/