You Are Not So Smart 023: Learning from warring tribes of children

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By David McRaney at 1:58 pm Thu, May 8, 2014

yanss-logo-100You are Not So Smart is hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert.

In the 1950s, in an effort to better understand group conflict, a team of psychologists nearly turned a summer camp into Lord of The Flies.

The story of how and why it was so easy to turn normal boys into bloodthirsty, warring tribes (and how those tribes eventually reconciled and became peaceful thanks to brilliantly conceived cooperative exercises) can teach you a lot about a common mental phenomenon known as the illusion of asymmetric insight – something that helps keep you loyal to certain groups and alters the way you see outsiders.

(Left: Icebergs from the Pross and Ronin Study)

Later experiments revealed that if you imagine people’s inner lives as icebergs with some things showing above the surface and some things hidden from view, that you have a tendency to believe most of your iceberg is hidden, while everyone else’s is mostly visible. Scaled up, you also believe this about the groups, cultures, and nations to which you belong – yours are nuanced and complicated, theirs are simple and transparent (and dumb).

This asymmetry of insight colors your interactions and decisions big and small. That’s what we explore in this inbetweenisode of the YANSS Podcast.

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Published 1:58 pm Thu, May 8, 2014

About the Author

David McRaney is a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. He's the author of the books You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb. He has written for several publications, including The Atlantic and Psychology Today. He lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

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