20 September 2012

Quirks of the Evolving Human Mind / Brain

It has been a long journey from the brain of a vole to the brain of homo sapiens sapiens. At times, I doubted whether we would ever make it. And surprise! We haven't.

We have a long distance yet to travel, and many innate quirks and weaknesses to grow beyond. Here is more on one surprising brain-quirk that may leave you scratching your head:
Brain's Evolution

People can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions...

The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements — either about moral principles relating to society in general or about the morality of current issues in the news, from prostitution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

...Each survey was given on a clipboard, on the back of which the researchers had added a patch of glue. When participants turned the first page over to complete the second, the top set of statements would stick to the glue, exposing the hidden set but leaving the responses unchanged....Two statements in every hidden set had been reworded to mean the opposite of the original statements. For example, if the top statement read, “Large-scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism,” the word ‘forbidden’ was replaced with ‘permitted’ in the hidden statement.

Participants were then asked to read aloud three of the statements, including the two that had been altered, and discuss their responses.

About half of the participants did not detect the changes, and 69% accepted at least one of the altered statements.

People were even willing to argue in favor of the reversed statements: A full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements, the authors write.

...The study raises questions about the validity of self-report questionnaires, says Hall. The results suggest that standard surveys “are not good at capturing the complexity of the attitudes people actually hold”, he says, adding that the switching technique could be used to improve opinion surveys in the future.

...The possibility of using the technique as a means of moral persuasion is “intriguing”, says Liane Young, a psychologist at Boston College in Massachusetts. “These findings suggest that if I'm fooled into thinking that I endorse a view, I'll do the work myself to come up with my own reasons [for endorsing it],” she says. _SciAm

Original Study from PLoS One

Why am I not surprised that a college psychology professor would see these findings as a possible means of moral indoctrination -- or brainwashing? Perhaps because so many college professors consider indoctrination into "correct ideology and morality" to be their primary goal.

My first inclination is to suspect that the researchers tumbled across some particularly stupid or brain-damaged volunteer subjects. Since the "survey" for the study took place in a public park in Sweden, one has to wonder whether most of the respondents were tourists or immigrants who lacked a firm mastery of the Swedish language. Or are survey respondents so eager to please pollsters that they are willing to go out of their way to "play along?"

I admit that it was a great shock to learn that at least half the people of most communities and societies have IQs below 100. I had always wondered why people did so many idiotic things, and created such perverse systems of government and education. Of course, in countries such as Haiti, around 90% or more have IQs below 100. When seen in that way, the dysfunction of Haiti -- and nations with similarly low average IQs -- do not seem so surprising.

But the extent of quirkiness of the human brain goes far beyond low IQ, poor EF, cultural blind spots, and predictable sensory illusions. Even intelligent humans can be led into logical traps and delusions, without being aware. Popular news and entertainment media are geared to exploit these human weaknesses, as are political campaigns, attorneys, advertisers, educational indoctrinators, organisations that solicit funds from the public, religious groups, and any good salesperson.

Try not to be a sitting duck for a society that is likely to be packed with grifters and arrogant and demanding public "servants." As for your children, don't you think it's time you set about making them truly dangerous? In today's world, their survival is apt to depend on it.

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Blogger Eric said...

One of the long-standing interests is working to automate the exploitation of these predictable cognitive biases, though I'm still not good enough at execution and the tech isn't quite there yet to make it work.

Friday, 21 September, 2012  
Blogger Artur Lerner said...

"it was a great shock to learn that at least half the people of most communities and societies have IQs below 100"

I can relate to this completely. I'm forty-something already and only just recently the same exact thought dawned on me -- since I moved to Sub-Saharan Africa about six months ago. You cannot live here and not come to the conclusion that IQ matters: you give simple instructions here and it takes about 10 tries before they get it, if they ever do.

I was so taken aback about this that I had to study the phenomenon. And when I started reading, a whole new worldview started opening up me. Then you look back, you look at the way things are around the world and, with this new perspective, things finally start making more sense! I have been reading all the works of Richard Lynn's I can get my hands on, the last of which is "Intelligence: a Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences". The style is horrendous -- very difficult to get through the dry text -- but in an interview he says he writes like that on purpose. It doesn't matter, for the substance is what counts. And the word you use is appropriate: it is a SHOCK to find out about these things.

In Angola, for example, with a population of 18 million and average IQ of 70, how many people would have an IQ above 115 (3 SD or 0,13%)? Only 2,340!!! For comparison, the Jewish population in the US, of 6,5 million -- whose average IQ some have put as high as 115 -- would have about 3,25 million individuals with an IQ above 115. This is just mind-boggling. I could be wrong about these calculations -- I've never studied statistics, but I'm thinking of taking it up just to understand a bit more.

Question: how could I have gone through all the educational system in the US, including college, and never ever have heard about this?

Friday, 21 September, 2012  
Blogger Cinnamon Vogue said...

I don't think IQ has anything to do with this. While I accept that some people really have very low IQ's and some countries may have lower IQ's because of a food deficiency, it is not brains that really matter but nutrition, conditioning, experiences and manipulation. For example taking Ceylon Cinnamon oil is well known to improve cognitive development. You can take a young African and give them the best of everything in the US and they will do much better. But even they can be manipulated. I have clients who never read anything and will sign anything and can be deceived into anything. As magicians will tell you given sufficient skills you an manipulate and get people to do anything. Is that an IQ deficiency. I think not. Brains matter but not to extent you suggest.

Friday, 21 September, 2012  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

So, what do you think of the current special education fad of mainstreaming all of the special ed kids into regular ed classes and expecting them to learn better this way? The politicians have mandated that low IQ kids are to be achieving at the same level as the other kids.

Saturday, 22 September, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Every child is different. There should be as many different learning tracks as there are children.

Saturday, 22 September, 2012  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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