“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



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


“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.


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


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


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)


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


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?


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.”