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You Are Not So Smart podcast 017: Alternative Medicine - Tim Farley

You 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. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener.

Where is the line between medicine and alternative medicine? Are Eastern medicine and Western medicine truly at odds, and if so, who is right and who is wrong? What harm is there in using complementary or integrative treatments in an effort to improve wellness?

In this episode we discuss alternative medicine with Tim Farley, creator and curator of What's The Harm, a website that tracks the harmful effects that result from seeking out alternative treatments and cures before or instead of seeking out science-based medicine. Tim also created the website Skeptical Software Tools, and he tweets at @krelnik.

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You Are Not So Smart podcast 016: Conspiracy Theories

You 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. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener.

This episode of You Are Not So Smart is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create you own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and ten percent off go to Squarespace.com and use the offer code PIPE.

Who is pulling the strings? Who is behind the coverup? Who holds the real power, and what do they want? How deep does the conspiracy to control your mind go?

In this episode we discuss the history, social impact, neuroscience, and psychology behind conspiracy theories and paranoid thinking.

Our guests are Steven Novella and Jesse Walker. Listen as they explain why we love conspiracy theories, how they flourish, how they harm, and what they say about a culture.

Steven Novella is a leader in the skeptic community, host of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He blogs at Neurologica, Skepticblog, and Science-Based Medicine.

Jesse Walker is the book editor for Reason Magazine and author of the new book, The United States of Paranoia, a Conspiracy Theory. Walker's articles can be seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many others. He blogs at The Perpetual Three Dot Column.

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You Are Not So Smart podcast 015: You Are Now Less Dumb

You 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 this inbetweenisode David reads an excerpt from his book, You Are Now Less Dumb, about a strange experiment in Michigan that tested the bounds of the self by throwing three very unusual men into a situation that won’t likely be repeated ever again by science. (The photo is of the Ypsilanti state hospital and it comes courtesy of Opacity.us. )

In the next episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, neurologist Steven Novella and author Jesse Walker explain why we love conspiracy theories, how they flourish, and what they say about a culture.

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You Are Not So Smart podcast 014: How stories can change beliefs and behaviors

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You 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. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark

In this episode we discuss the power that narratives have on our beliefs and behaviors with Melanie C. Green, a psychologist who studies the persuasive power of fiction.

According to Nielsen, the TV ratings company, the average person in the United States watches about 34 hours of television a week. That’s 73 days a year. Over the course of a lifetime, the average American can expect to spend a full decade lost in the trance spell that only powerful narratives can cast over the human mind.

What is the power of all the stories we consume through television? What about movies and books and comics and video games and everything else? How does it affect our beliefs and behaviors?

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You Are Not So Smart podcast 013: Clive Thompson and How Technology Affects Our Minds


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The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.

However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.

We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.

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Science show on consciousness, with Alan Moore


BBC Radio 4 has kicked off a new season of the amazing science show The Infinite Monkey Cage, and the second episode of the series is a wonderful panel discussion on consciousness called Through the Doors of Perception. This episode is greatly enhanced by the presence of Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, Lost Girls, From Hell, and many other standout comics. Moore's contributions on the relationship of art and magic to consciousness are the most interesting parts of the show -- though the whole thing is fascinating (Download the MP3).

(Image: Alan Moore, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from mbiddulph's photostream)

You Are Not So Smart podcast 012: The Dangerous Passion of Jealousy:


Why do human beings experience jealousy, what is its function, and what are the warning signs that signal this powerful emotion may lead to violence?

Once reserved for the contemplation of poets and playwrights, jealousy is now the subject of intense scientific scrutiny. "Mate poachers abound," explains this week's guest, psychologist David Buss, who says that his research supports his hypothesis that human jealousy is an adaptation forged by evolutionary forces to deal with the problems of infidelity. Moderate jealousy, he says, is healthy and signals commitment, but there is a dark and corrosive side as well that follows a clear, predictable pattern before it destroys lives.

David Buss is a professor of psychology who studies human mating at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Evolution Of Desire: Strategies Of Human Mating, The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and Sex, The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, and Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations from Adventure to Revenge. You can learn more about him and his work at DavidBuss.com.

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You Are Not So Smart 011: Hazel Markus and The Influence of Where You Live on How You Think


You 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. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark

Is your state of mind from one situation to the next drastically altered by the state in which you live? According to cultural psychologists, yes it is.

Studies show that your thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in response to a particular setting will reliably differ from those of others in that same setting depending on where you spent your childhood or even where you spent six years or more of your adult life.

On this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast, we explore cultural cognition and the psychological effects of the region you call home on the brain you call yours.

My guest this week:

Hazel Rose Markus is a social psychologist at Stanford University who studies the effects of culture, class, ethnicity, region, society, and gender on the concept of self and human psychology in general. She is the author of Clash! Eight Cultural Conflicts that Make Us Who We Are. You can learn more about her at her website here.

After the interview I try out a cinnamon chocolate cookie and read a bit of psychology news about how reading good books can make you more adept at reading faces.

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Secret history of "Positive Thinking" and the New Age

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BB contributor Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent Occult America, has a new book due out shortly that traces the fascinating cultural history of the New Age and self-help movement, titled One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. The roots and impact of "Positive Thinking," from its 19th century occult core all the way to Dale Carnegie's confidence building books and Nike's "Just Do It" campaign, will surprise you. In the video above, Mitch gives a concise summary of One Simple Idea. And over at Time, Mitch wrote a guide to the "The 10 Best Self-Help Books You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of." Mitch writes, "Critics generally view positive thinking as namby-pamby nonsense. But the philosophy has produced ideas that are deeply useful, even profound. You probably believe some of them already." Here are a couple of his selections:

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Delusions that could be real, but they're not

Last year, Joshua Brady of Matoaca, Virgina convinced a man named Herson Torres to rob banks in the Washington, DC area. Brady said that he was a CIA agent and this was part of an undercover operation to audit bank security. Brady wasn't actually a CIA agent though. He just thought he was. And as George Costanza once said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." BB pal Jon Ronson tells Brady's story for This American Life. In this terrific piece, Jon delves into delusional disorder, a rare psychiatric condition usually characterized by delusions that are within the realm of possibility. It's like something from a Philip K. Dick novel where reality is in the eye and mind of the beholder, until it isn't.

"You Can't Handle The Truth" (This American Life)

Ronson learned about Brady's bizarre tale from Tom Schoenberg's excellent Businessweek article, "In Virginia's Fairfax County, Robbing Banks for the CIA"

The science of "new baby smell"

TIL: There are studies that suggest new babies really do smell different, and seem to trigger special brain chemical pathways in women. But, simultaneously, the smells we more consciously associate with "new baby" — i.e., the new baby smell used in baby products and baby-fresh scents — varies widely by culture. Make of this what you will.

The science of to-do lists

Research says "to-do" lists don't work, writes Daniel Markovitz at Harvard Business Review. That's not exactly what he means, though. Instead of condemning the very idea of "to-do" lists, Markovitz piece makes an interesting case for re-thinking how you use those lists. If you're throwing a jumble of stuff to be done onto a page, that's probably not going to be terribly effective. A better solution involves breaking down how various tasks fit into allotted spaces of time on specific days, and setting up that more realistic list as a part of your routine, rather than just magnetizing it to the refrigerator. Basically, it's not that "to-do" lists suck. It's that some people probably aren't using them effectively.

You Are Not So Smart 009: The Psychology of Arguing


You are Not So Smart is a new addition to Boing Boing's line-up of terrific podcasts! It's 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. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark

Why do human beings get into arguments? What does science have to say about argumentation? Is there an evolutionary explanation? Is arguing adaptive? Is all our bickering in comments, forums, social media and elsewhere a good or a bad thing? Those are some of the questions posed in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. We ask those questions of:

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist. He says that means he researches how humans evolved to draw conclusions from inconclusive data. At 24, he was an elder in the world’s largest hippie commune, but now he lectures at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville California and is a chief researcher at Berkely’s Consortium for Emergent Dynamics where he and others research how minds emerge from matter. He is now working on a book, "Doubt: A Natural History; A User's Guide" and he blogs at Psychology Today.

Hugo Mercier is a researcher for the French National Center for Scientific Research who shook up both psychology and philosophy with a paper published in 2011 titled, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory” (PDF) that proposed humans evolved reason to both produce and evaluate arguments. Respected and well-known names in psychology like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt have both praised the paper as being one of the most important works in years on the science of rationality. You can find his website here.

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B.F. Skinner totally geeks out over the box he built for his baby

The Skinner Box, as applied to human infants, was not what you think it was. Psychologist B.F. Skinner did not raise his daughter inside a box without human contact. Nor did she later grow up to be crazy and commit suicide because of said lack of contact. In fact, just a few years ago, Deborah Skinner Buzan wrote a column for The Guardian debunking those powerful urban legends herself.

Instead, what Skinner did was build his daughter the sort of crib that you might expect a scientist raised in the era of mid-20th-century Popular Science-style scientific futurism and convenience to build. He called it the "Air-Crib" and it was designed to maintain a perfectly comfortable temperature, provide baby Deborah with built-in toys to keep her entertained, be simple to clean, and make it easier to stick to the "cry it out" and heavily regimented feeding/sleeping schedules that were, at the time, standard parenting advice.

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Clothes have power over your mind

David McRaney, author of You Are Now Less Dumb and the host of Boing Boing's podcast You Are Not So Smart, made this video about the effect your clothes have on the way you think and behave.

The voices in your head are culturally specific

I'm utterly fascinated by the way culture affects the outcomes of mental illness — whether that's in terms of prevalence of specific disorders, how we interpret and treat those disorders, or even how seemingly innate symptoms express themselves in wildly different ways. Case in point: The voices that schizophrenics hear. In the US, those voices seem to talk a lot about violence — what a person should to do themselves, or to others. In Chennai, India, on the other hand, schizophrenic patients report that voices most commonly command them to do household chores. The disturbing content comes in the form of sexual comments or directions to drink from the toilet.

Cognitive blind-spots of Silicon Valley successes


Here's the slide deck [PDF] from a Michael Dearing presentation called "The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done." As Kottke points out, a lot of context is missing, but what's there is fascinating -- an enumeration of the blind spots of "people who get extraordinary stuff done in Silicon Valley," based on interviews with 4,515 founders from 2,481 companies.

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Revisiting Milgram's obedience experiment: what did he actually prove?


We all know about Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, in which volunteers believed that they had shocked other volunteers to death, just because the experimenter had told them they were expected to. But a new book called Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments by Australian journalist and psychologist Gina Perry revisits Milgram's original research documentation and concludes that Milgram fudged his conclusions.

After examining the original tapes of Milgram's experiments and interviewing the surviving subjects and researchers, Perry concludes that Milgram's experimenters didn't stick to a set script (as has always been reported), but rather wheedled and nagged the subjects into turning up the shock dial. What's more, it seems that a substantial fraction of the subjects realized that there were no actual shocks, seeing through the ruse -- they were also recorded as people who were willing to shock strangers to death on the say-so of a man in a labcoat.

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Psychology research is not a self-help manual

Psychology professor Jamil Zaki has a nice post explaining why the findings that come out of experimental psychology should not be taken as lessons to help you lead a better, happier, fuller life. The short version: That data is about population averages, not individuals. The goal is to better understand how the human mind works — not to categorically explain what your mind is doing.

You Are Not So Smart 008: Video Games and Self Delusion


Guess what -- Boing Boing has added a new show to its line-up of terrific podcasts! It's called You Are Not So Smart and it's hosted by David McRaney, 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. David runs the You Are Not So Smart website, a blog about about the psychology of self delusion. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert. David concludes each episode by eating a delicious cookie. Enjoy! -- Mark

In this episode we discuss the how video games can help us understand our delusions and speak with Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com. Also, at the end, we eat a white chocolate oatmeal cookie and discuss a misconception about poverty.

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If London Underground lines were people, what personality types would they have?

For the last couple of years, each train line on the London Underground has been given its own voice. Ed Jefferson analyzed the lines' tweets to assign Kiersey/Myers-Briggs psychological temperaments to each. [via MeFi]

You might think that Waterloo & City Line couldn’t even have a Myers-Briggs Type, being a tunnel in London with some trains in it, but you’d be wrong. Whilst the normal way to establish a Myers-Briggs Type is get someone to fill in a questionnaire, it’s apparently possible to use a sample of text to analyse the personality of the author. And while the Waterloo & City Line didn’t have much to say for most of its 115 year history, for the last couple of years, it, and all the other London Underground lines, have been tweeting. So I use samples of tweets to discover what kinds of personalities they have.

I just took the test (an enneagram-style sorting hat of dubious scientific rigor) and join the Waterloo & City Line in being an ESFP.

Regardless of type, of course, the Northern Line (ESTJ) is a complete arsehole on Friday nights. One interesting takeaway: the results suggest that two or three individual writers are handling all the lines.

The Uncanny Valley might not actually exist

The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.

Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.

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A reason to appreciate Thomas Kinkade

There's a theory that seeing something over and over and over will increase your acceptance of that thing. Applied to art, the idea suggests that what we think of as "good art" is actually just the stuff that we've seen a bunch of times. Which is sort of depressing. But here's some good news: There's evidence that this theory isn't true (at least, not always). A recent study found that people exposed to Thomas Kinkade paintings liked his work less and less the more often they saw it.

Domestication changes animal behavior

A domesticated ferret has more in common with a domesticated dog, behavior wise, than with its own wild cousins. At The Thoughtful Animal, Jason Goldman writes about research that shows how domestication changes animals' social cognitive skill set, leading to creatures that are more likely to respond to very human social cues like eye contact and pointing.

Argument: When losing is winning

[Video Link] Professor Daniel H. Cohen, a philosopher who specializes in argumentation theory, argues that the loser in an argument is often the real winner.

He explains, “Suppose you and I have an argument. You believe a proposition, P, and I don’t. I’ve objected, I’ve questioned, I’ve raised all sorts of counter-considerations, and in every case you’ve responded to my satisfaction. At the end of the day, I say, ‘You know what? I guess you’re right.’ So I have a new belief. And it’s not just any belief, but it’s a well-articulated, examined and battle-tested belief. Cohen continues, “So who won that argument? Well, the war metaphor seems to force us into saying you won, even though I’m the only one who made any cognitive gain. What did you gain cognitively from convincing me? Sure, you got some pleasure out of it, your ego stroked, maybe you get some professional status in the field but just from a cognitive point of view who was the winner?

Argument: When losing is winning

Memories, mistakes, and scientific evidence in the courtroom

Moheb Costandi has written two amazing profiles on psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher who has challenged the way we rely on memory in the courtroom and fought against attempts to legitimize "recovered" memories. Hugely controversial — she's received death threats from people who blame her for setting criminals free — Loftus' story isn't purely about science vs. emotion. In fact, Costandi writes, in her efforts make our concept of memory more evidence based, Loftus might be glossing over the rare and the weird-but-real.

What it feels like to be schizophrenic

Quora asks "What does it feel like to have schizophrenia?" The answers are, by turns, haunting, heartbreaking, and thoroughly engrossing. They also provide a really unique opportunity to better understand how the human brain operates, and what happens when it turns in on itself. Definitely worth reading.

That old feeling — the history of gerontophilia

Psychologist Jesse Bering explores Gerontophilia — the fetish for wanting to have sex with old people.

Humans will befriend a stick — as long as it moves properly

Human emotions and social interaction have a lot to do with body language — how our faces express what we're thinking and feeling, how our gestures are read by other people, and how we invade (or retreat from) each other's personal space. In fact, those movements and behaviors are so important that, if you map them onto an otherwise completely non-human, non-animal form, we'll start interpreting it as engaging with us — even if that form is nothing more than a moving stick.

This video, clips from a study that was published in 2011 by computer scientists at the University of Calgary, shows what test subjects did and said when they were left alone in a room with a stick-like robot, and asked to just think out loud and interact with the robot in whatever ways felt natural. Some people made friends. Others tried to fight it. And a few tried to talk it out of wanting to fight them.

Video Link

Placebo buttons

The "close-door" button in the elevator, the crosswalk button at the intersection, even the thermostat in your office — there's a good chance that they're all placebos. Over the last 20 years or so, many (though, weirdly, not all) of these buttons have become technically useless, but are left in place both because it's expensive to replace existing equipment and because, psychologically, they still serve a purpose.