In today’s episode I talk to Juliana Schroeder, PhD candidate at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, about our brain’s evolved ability to read the minds of others. This mind-reading ability of ours is what makes social interaction possible. For example, it’s how we figure out if someone is angry at us even if they don’t explicitly say they’re steamed. Her research with Nicholas Epley, author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want, has uncovered some fascinating insights about the human mind. Juliana and I discuss some of those insights today.
- How we’re evolved to read the minds of others
- How we still make mistakes and cognitive errors when trying to read the minds of others
- How increased status makes us dehumanize or see others as mindless boobs (and how we can prevent increased status from turning us into jerks)
- Why we pretend like a person standing right next to us in a subway train isn’t really there (and why we should actually try striking up a conversation with that person)
- Why “walk a mile in the shoes of another” to understand someone else’s perspective is actually terrible advice
- How we’re terrible at reading our own minds
- And much more!
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Everyone Brett McKay here and welcome back to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Today’s podcast I am talking to Juliana Schroeder, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business where she is specializing in social cognition, decision and judgment and she is a research assistant for a guy named Nicholas Epley who wrote a book called “Mindwise” which is a truly fascinating book and it’s all about how our brains are evolved to read the minds of others. We will get into what that means reading minds of others, but in a nutshell it means something we do every day.
Whenever someone says something, that might be sort of a touché night, not very explicit, our brains try to figure out what that person really means either through looking at body language, looking at where they look, the context, a whole bunch of things to figure out what the other person is thinking. The research suggests that our brains are evolved for this sort of mind reading. And in the research for this book Juliana and Nicholas uncovered a lot of cool insights about social cognition and how our brain works whenever we try to read the minds of others. We are going to talk about that today, I think there are a lot of great practical takeaways you take away from this research. So for example we are going to talk about how whenever you gain status in some way either through position or through money there is a tendency to dehumanize others where you think they are like not really a person, so you kind of treat them not that great.
We are going to talk about what you can do to avoid that. we are going to talk about how men and women mind read differently and how they also do it very similarly. We are also going to talk about the benefits that we get from engaging with the minds of others through small talk. There is really lot of cool stuff, I think you are really going to enjoy this podcast. I will give you a headsup, Skype was kind of acting funky this day when we did the podcast so there is some parts that are pretty choppy, I apologize that in advance. I am trying to work out a better solution to the podcast interview setup, so hopefully that won’t be a problem anymore.
Alright, so let’s do this Mindwise with Juliana Schroeder.
Alright Juliana Schroeder, welcome to the show.
Juliana Schroeder: Thanks for having me.
Brett: Ok, so you are a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, School of Business and behavioral science, correct?
Juliana: That’s right, I am actually doing a joint degree program in behavioral science and social psychology.
Brett: Ok, and you have been working under Nicholas Epley?
Juliana: That’s right, he is my primary advisor.
Brett: Ok, so he wrote this book, it is really interesting called “Mindwise” and from what you told me, you have helped him with it. You did a lot of the research, lot of the ground work on this and–.
Juliana: Well I helped a little bit but you know it’s all his writing and he is sort of actually the brain behind a lot of things in the book. He gives me more credit than I am due probably.
Brett: Well that’s very kind, I am sure you did a lot more than you think you did. We will talk about that actually, because that is kind of–.
Juliana: Yeah, actually that’s a good segue into some of the research.
Brett: So Mindwise, he makes the case in the book that we as human beings we are evolved to be mind readers and that’s our sixth sense. What does he mean by that? How are we mind readers?
Juliana: So what he means by that is that you know humans are social animals and so every single day we are interacting with other people. There is almost nothing that we do that doesn’t involve at least a presence of other people if not physically interacting with them. He is sort of big goal that we want to be able to fulfill or going to involve having others in some way. And so in that sense we are constantly interacting with other people and we need to coordinate with them. So some actual researchers have suggested that one of the reasons that we develop language is in order to coordinate socially, to sort of express what’s on our minds. So there is a reason why Nick calls it our sixth sense because sort of every single day we have to think about what is going on in other people’s minds. We have to be able to coordinate with them, we have to be able to try to predict that and intuite that and even though we have actually no direct access into their mind, language might be one of the closest way, sort of the most direct way to impact. And we can tell what’s going on in someone’s mind because they say explicitly, verbally tell us. Then you also look at the non verbal cues as well because often not quite as informative and so we have to sort of try to read the minds of others by using a number of different strategies.
Brett: Is this the same as theory of mind?
Juliana: Theory of mind is essentially an umbrella term that describes the theories essentially that we have about other people’s minds. And so being able to read a mind, a more specific intentiation of that would be being able to–, for example I might have a theory that you are complacent, stealing and liar and what’s different ways but I might not be able to specifically intuitive exactly what it is I was thinking in the moment that we are having this conversation. So I think they are very similar to that terms but my reading is a little bit more specific in the way that Nick was referring to it.
Brett: Ok, examples of mind reading would be like just figuring out what people think about you when you are having a conversation like am I coming off to this person, does that example of mine read me.
Juliana: Exactly, it’s I mean right now we are in this difficult situation where we are having a phone conversation, I can’t see your face but I can hear the words you are speaking and I am trying to answer to your question but it’s like ah of course I have had some extra help because he sent me some of the questions, but also trying to gather what it is that you are thinking as it is as I am talking. That’s a somewhat difficult task but I am doing it intuitively and innately online. I am thinking what you are thinking as I speak and it is difficult to break it down but in fact this is something that we are used to doing all the time and we have to do all the time, every time that we communicate with someone.
Brett: Interesting, so also like for example when I talk to my wife and then I say something and then I am trying to figure out did she respond well to what I said, like you are trying to read that body language, that’s mind reading again right there?
Juliana: Yeah. Nick actually has a great story where he gave a gift to his wife and she started crying and he thought that he was very very upset about the gift when in fact she was crying because she was so happy, she loved it so much. Sometimes when you are focusing on specific normal cue it can be a little misleading. In particular people really seem to have the sense that they can read other people’s cues pretty accurately and they tend to overestimate the extent to which they are actually able to do that. I think all the other tell what you are feeling and what you are thinking just based on reading your face but in fact that is actually very, very difficult to do. People tend to break that up.
Brett: Ok, yeah we will talk a little bit about that. Because while we are evolved for it, we mind read all the time without really thinking about it and we are actually pretty good at it. We do make a lot of mistakes and one of the way that we fail to successfully read the mind of others is when we dehumanize them. I guess this is an area that you specialize in, you have been doing a lot of research on that, is that correct?
Juliana: Sort of, the dehumanization is one of more extreme consequences of not being able to read someone’s minds and so as opposed to simply mispredicting the those ailments so maybe he is not happy and the last thing that you said and so I think you are really extremely happy but in fact you aren’t so happy. So I might just make a misprediction and like that, dehumanization is more like I can fully overlook fundamental aspect of your mind either the ability to think or the ability to just feel. This kind of happens in one of two ways, one is like I am interested of just overlooking it. So lots of –, leads us to fail to see what’s going on in other people’s minds, even just egotistical… I have seen inside my own head and leading me to overlook what’s going on other people’s heads. That kind of dehumanization is something that we have recently termed dehumanization by omission. So just overlooking in what’s going on in someone else’s mind for a number of possible reason the truth can talk about.
Then there is a second kind which is what people tend to think of when we use the term dehumanization and we call this dehumanization by comission which is more of the overt, proactive in the cases of groups that are enemies that have historical conflicts, but dehumanization which is really antagonistic.
I have some research on Palestinians and Israelis and how they perceive each other and ways to overcome that and so that could be dehumanization by comission not really part of dehumanization. So there are these two pathways and people can play with them a lot and they lead to same outcome interestingly enough. You might think that seeing aggressive and antagonistic towards someone would lead to really different outcomes than just merely being apathetic and overlooking … but in fact the outcomes are kind of similar which is interesting.
Brett: Interesting, so I mean basically what dehumanization does is that you look at the person you think they are mindless, they don’t have a mind right, so it’s not worth even trying to read.
Juliana: Yeah essentially, yeah you basically either think they don’t have much competence or you don’t understand or see their agency or that aside of it is not being able to see that they have the ability to feel those feelings, that they are emotionless and unfeeling.
Brett: Got you, so I guess would this be an example of the dehumanization by omission? There has been some research lately said that rich people or people in positions of authority or power are less sympathetic than the–.
Brett: How does that, why is this, so is it just because you think–, what I mean by positions of powers are even doctors right, might look at their patients as a mindless person, they dehumanize in a way. I don’t think they do it purposely but they do, can you just talk about that a little bit?
Juliana: Yeah absolutely. There is a couple of different points of research that you are referring to, so one of them is the idea that when people have the resources and you can think of that as power or money or status, even high status that sort of frees them from having to worry about others as much or having to think about others as much and so that causes them to become more self centered and more narcissistic. So actually the entire research that shows that just making people feel like they have more power causes them to look in the mirror more of themselves when they have the opportunity to do so. And also it causes them to show less compassion for others. So one that I really liked, they looked at it’s a field study where basically the researchers just stood at pedestrian cross walks and they had some confederate standing at the cross walk trying to cross the street. They basically looked at the cars that were willing to stop for the person and let them go and cars that would not stop and cut the person off. And the car that cut the person off tended to be cars that more rich people would buy. So the more expensive cars were the ones that were more likely to cut people off. So you can sort of imagine all sorts of reasons why this might be the case but essentially what a lot of research suggests is that people, there is something called the social distance theory. People who have more resources can be more distant from others because they are more independent. They don’t need others as much and so therefore they just simply don’t have a sense of motivation to think about them. And power operates in much the same way, if you are in a high power position you may use other people like as an employee, you might use employees as … so you might not be focused on the machine and/or people. You don’t have to do so because you are in high power and so you are not fundamentally connected back to them in such a way that you would need to probably pay any attention to them.
Brett: And this happens with doctors too, because like sometimes feel when I go to the doctor I feel like my doctor doesn’t listen to me?
Juliana: Yes, so we think there is actually something a little bit different going on with physicians. As it is some physicians are high status and often high power, so there could be play the idea they have resources but there is other specific aspects that pertain to the physicians which is that a patient to them is a couple of things. One is that a patient is represents a health problem that needs to be fixed and so in that sense patients often become a goal that need to be satisfied. So they become what their health problem is and they are construed as such. You might often hear a physician who talks about a patient not in terms of their name like this is my patient Juliana but in terms of her problem like she has thyroid cancer and so I was thinking about how to solve the cancer.
Another thing particularly physicians is that there has been some research that suggest that if they get too involved with their patients and if they really feel their patients, all their emotions and their pain and really empathize with them that can actually lead to burn out which can actually be negative for both parties in the interaction. So in fact it’s been shows that through medical school when medical students start school they do show more compassion but they actually learn to reduce that over time. And that can actually be adapted for them because it can be less burn out. People who are best able to stay detached from their patients are often the ones who don’t burn out as quickly.
Brett: I have a friend from high school, he is a medical student, I guess he is done now. But when he went into it, he was like he did for all the right reasons, very idealistic and then I remember talking to him. I was in New York City, went for a business trip and he was doing his residency at Jamaica Queens which is just like, all the stuff there is lot of churn going on there in the ER and he had become really jaded in a lot of ways. It was really surprising because he kind of became detached a little bit I think. But he has done well, he’s survived. He talked about this, like if I don’t he’d just get burned out when you try to just be empathetic all the time with these patients. That’s really interesting.
Juliana: Yeah I mean you can imagine there is some sort of self protection that need to happen in order for you to survive the day to day duties of seeing people die and witnessing that and not getting really involved in that. But at the same your patients clearly see since they want their physicians to show them empathy that they really look for those patient focus emotion in their physician. And so as a physician you kind of have to balance between those two.
Brett: So here’s a question, how do you avoid that dehumanization as you gain in status whether you become more affluent than your friends or those around you or you gain power in some way? How do you avoid that dehumanization where you don’t think about others and treat others like they don’t have a mind?
Juliana: Yeah, it’s a great question. So because this tends to fall into the category of what we call the dehumanization by omission where it is not that people are consciously trying to dehumanize others. It’s more just that they are no longer motivated and no longer need to really care a lot about other people’s mental state. If you can motivate them they are able to notice everyone’s mental phase. So one study for example, they made people enter the role of just one experiment. They made people participants in the role of manager or an employee and they ahd the managers focusing on product oriented goals. So they gave the manager all these goals of produced end products, a line of workers who are in a factory set up. In that case the managers afterwards they couldn’t remember the workers names. They didn’t know much about the workers mental states at all, they did not notice the workers that much, they were just really concerned about producing the products.
And then in the second condition is the exact same setup but they told the manager that it would be people oriented instead of product oriented. They said, “You are the manager, your job is to watch out for the workers, make sure that they are motivated are enjoying their jobs and you want to really focus on developing the people relationships.
In that case the managers were like how to motivate, focus on the workers and then they really noticed everything going on with the workers and they could remember their names afterwards just fine. And so it is a matter of motivating them differently.
I mean one thing as you for example as you were to gain status or power it’s simply they just consciously try to remember, try to motivate yourself to think about others, to continually think about them and you can even like change aspects of your environment to try to sort of cajole and provoke that. So you might try to go to lunch every day with the person in your environment or a worker that’s with you in the firm for example. And then that will force you to actually focus on them for some set amount of time, any context that’s in the line of the work context. They will make you think about their mind more broadly as opposed to what they can do for you. You can try to setup those co-ops within your environment situation to remind yourself to focus on others.
Brett: Interesting, so you have to just be more intentional and self aware I guess about yourself. I think a problem that a lot of Americans might have is that we like to pretend that we don’t have differences in status. We are all very democratic so I think some people who become affluent they are like, “Oh, I am just like everyone else.” but they are not.
Juliana: And sort of deceiving themselves in that sense.
Brett: Yeah, so you have to kind of self aware. And I guess we are going to talk about that later on in the podcast because we are not very good sometimes at reading the minds of others, we are also not very good at reading our own mind sometimes, which is really surprising. But let’s get back to this dehumanization because I think there is a really interesting article I guess in the New York Times about talking to strangers. I guess this is sort of dehumanization by omission, sort of a mild form of it. But the research, Nick talked about in this article was we get in the subways or into train cars and like we are just crammed like we’re touching people. But we act like they’re not there and we just pretend like they are these sort of bodies and they don’t have minds. We don’t talk to them the entire time even though we are so physically and intimately close to them, I mean physically why do we do that? Why is it that we can like be touching a stranger but we just like won’t even talk to them, or look them in the eye?
Juliana: This one was great research but Nick and I, we just published a paper on it. Essentially what we find is that when people are strangers in these environments like public transportation and we have looked at trains, buses, even cabs with a cab driver and we have been in situations like waiting rooms and grocery stores you know you are surrounded by strangers and you don’t think of them as being social agents. You don’t think of them as being someone that you could have a conversation with. It’s more just this person is sort of an obstacle, in the case of public transportation they are sort of part of the seat if it happens to be someone in the seat, it’s not really you think of them more as object than as actual people. And part of the reason why this occurs is because social norms that are in place. So especially in trains there are now sort of silent cars where you are not even allowed to have conversations and so no one talks and this is the norm that people tend not to have conversations in trains and subways.
What that actually ends up causing is what we call pluralistic ignorance in which essentially I notice that other people are not talking. I am very aware of that and I am making an assumption about what they want based on their behavior. So if I see all these people who aren’t talking, I assume that means they don’t want to talk. It seems like a pretty reasonable assumption, so they are not talking and that must mean they don’t want to be bothered, they don’t want to talk. But when we actually ask people what they want, they say they are actually bored on a one hour long commute into the city in the morning and sometimes they do want to talk. But you might say yeah I would be relatively interested in having a conversation with someone if we ask them on a scale of 1 through 7, they might be kind of 4. And then we ask them well what do you think other people would want, would other people want that as well and in fact they think other people want it less so other people on a scale of 1 to 7, would people want like a 2 or 3. In fact this happens for everyone though because everyone that’s sort of 4 and they always under estimate what the others are at and that’s because of pluralistic ignorance.
They assume that because other people aren’t talking they don’t want to talk. The reason why no one’s talking in the first place is because of the norm. So it basically becomes really within environment which is that nobody is talking and that’s a norm, everyone will continue not talking and yet I sort of wants to talk a little bit but no one ever learns that that’s what other people want because no one starts talking. So it’s like a continual negative cycle. So like in the environment you never learn that other people might want to talk, only way to learn will be of course to break the norm and have a conversation that’s not something people typically do. Some people do this and we force people to do this in a series of experiments and they actually found out that it was relatively pleasant to have a conversation even with a stranger because this was not something people would have predicted. So people will predict it would be terrible to talk with a stranger, in any of these domains that we have looked at except with the one exception being cab drivers because of mixed. I can talk about that in more detail but people have mixed predictions of what that experience will be like and partially that’s because some people know what it will be like because they do talk to their cab drivers. But in most of these cases people don’t have any experience with talking, they think it will be a bad experience. It makes sense because they don’t do it, if anything it will be awkward and–.
Brett: The person will say no.
Juliana: Right, right. So it’s interesting what it is specifically that stops… and people sort of think that there are idiosyncratic words about different things. So some people worried about starting a conversation. Like you mentioned like they worry that they will be socially rejected. And in fact in all of our experiments, we have done so many of these, dozens of these experiments either there are some cases in which someone’s like wearing headphones or something and may not respond right away but in all the cases that we ask someone to talk and they reported back to us they always said the other person responded. You can imagine that in your mind you are thinking what if the other person doesn’t know you are worried about rejection but if you are actually in that situation you just said hI to someone, how hard would it be not to say hI back.
Once you say hi then the other person pretty much has to respond back to you. That’s not something you think of immediately but it comes back. When you are in that situation you are seeing someone on the bus, you say hi, the other person is going to respond.
Brett: Yeah, yeah that is a social norm which you do.
Juliana: Exactly and so in that sense the social norms are working as an injection in your favor. And then another sort of little idiosyncratic concern people have is how to get out of the conversation. So we think of these as barriers to entrance and barriers to exit. Some people are like how what if it’s a bad conversation, I can’t end it. If you are stuck and particularly if you are on an airplane people really have this intuition with airplanes like what if I am on a 12 hour flight and I can’t end the conversation. But in fact I think that it also is easier than people felt, so you pull a magazine out and start reading or you put on your headphones and that’s like the clearest thing to sort of conversation to end in that way. I think people really build this up in their mind more so than it would exist in reality, which is understood.
Brett: The only person that’s making this awkward is you basically.
Juliana: Right you are making it awkward in your own hypothetical scenario that you created in your mind.
Brett: So talking about the taxicab drivers, why was that people had mixed reactions on what it would be like, what it wouldn’t be like?
Juliana: Yeah so the taxicabs are really interesting because it’s a less of a wicked environment. So I imagine this idea of Robert Hobart coined this term called “Wicked Environment” in which people never learn because the environment is set up such that the norms are never to begin to have the experience and so you will never learn what the experience will be like. But cabs are nice because it is a sort of private environment so you are not so worried about disturbing other people. Also you have to talk to your driver at least a little bit in order to sort of give then direction of where to go. That’s sort of an easy ice breaker conversation starter in that sense.
Actually when we went to the Midway International airport in Chicago and sure the travelers were catching cabs home, about half of them said that they regularly did talk to their cab drivers which means the environment is set up as such but it would be easier to have that conversation if you wanted to.
Half these people had the experience with what that is like and then the other half did not have any experience, they said they have never talked to cab drivers and wouldn’t want to do that. And these people make opposite predictions about what the experience would be like. The people that have talked they are it will be a great experience. The people that have never talked they say it will be terrible experience, which once again makes perfect sense that’s probably why they talk ad don’t talk.
But what’s really interesting is when we then randomly assigned people into condition and in one of the condition asked them to have a conversation. These are both people who normally talk and also people who normally don’t talk, even the people that normally don’t talk, can you for the purpose of this study have a conversation with your cab driver today and they agreed. And we gave them candy to incentivize them [laughing]. They agreed to do it. Then when they did it and they told us how it was, turns out they were wrong. It was pleasant for them, in fact it was actually even a little bit more pleasant for them than it was for the people who normally talk and have that conversation. But it was at least as pleasant other than experience.
Basically people that never talked to their cab drivers they were wrong about what that experience will be like. Actually they think it will be bad, they are wrong about that when they talk they find out that it is actually pleasant on average. So they looked just like people on the train and the bus who never talk and they think it will be a bad experience. Then there is also the other half of the people that they do normally talk, they know what that will be like and they are correct. So those are the people that have the experience and they are able to sort of change their environments and have these conversations that are giving them some pleasure, some happiness on a more regular basis because they figured out what that experience would really be like.
Brett: Great, so I guess the takeaway is like talk to strangers, or at least try to talk to strangers because it’ll be a lot more pleasant than you think it’s going to be.
Juliana: I would say that, Nick and I have looked at these environments that generally tend to be fairly negative. Commuting experiences are one of the worst experiences that people have. There is a general study by Daniel Kahneman in which they sampled, they did experience sampling. They had a big sample of women who did all the different things during their day in Texas and they would give them buzzers and they would buzz them every couple of hours and say what are you doing right and how are you feeling. And so you might be working you feel kind of generally happy, you might be sleeping, or you might have just woken up, you might be reading whatever or you might be commuting.
One of the things that all these women were commuting a lot, so out of all the different activities that they did during the day their commuting was the worst. If you buzz someone during their commute and say how are you feeling people would say they are really unhappy. It is not a good time for them generally during the day. so you can imagine, particularly in these, it’s sort of a perfect environment where you are not that happy to begin with or there is not much to do, that’s a really good time that you might want to strike up a conversation with someone because that’s a generally positive thing to have a conversation with someone, even with a stranger and in particular in contrast with the relatively negative experiences. Being on your commute you are by yourself that can make that sort of better.
We are just now trying to look at what would happen if you continually did this. So all we know now is that it provides a brief boost in mood and happiness that could have downstream consequences throughout the day. But we don’t really know what exactly those would be. It might be that if you are good every single day that might lead to more long term consequences. I can only speculate on those right now but absolutely that would be my recommendation — to try to have some more conversation with strangers particularly in these cases when you have much else to do.
Brett: Yeah for one like I tried to do, I think you talk about this in the book is like talking to the checkout person at the grocery store so just sitting there like watching them scan the thing, like actually like talk how is your day, what were you doing this, I did that last night with the guy who was checking me out at the grocery store. We had a pleasant conversation and I felt a little better afterwards.
Juliana: Oh great. There is another study that came out where they had people talking to the Starbucks, Baristas while they were making their coffee. That’s another time we are just standing around waiting, you might as well try couple other conversation and you had people feel happier afterwards and think it also reflected more positively on the brand. It actually sells more positively towards Starbucks as a whole which is great idea for companies to be trying to engage people to build their brand image as well.
Brett: Interesting. So one of the cases, first where we kind of mistake reading the minds of others is we start about like the dehumanization like thinking they don’t have a mind or they have less free will or they are not a social agent. Another one I thought was another mistake we made which I thought was interesting is whenever we start dehumanization, whenever we give something a mind that actually doesn’t have a mind. Can you give some examples of this mistake?
Juliana: Yeah, what we call it anthropomorphizing, attributing a mind to some non-human agent. There are actually products that are designed now to seem sort of life like. You can even think of children with stuffed animal giving their stuffed animal a name. This isn’t just a stuffed bear, this is Mr. Bear, they will talk to it. Also we found that sort of cute things turn to be anthropomorphized I can talk about later.
But here is a great product that come out on the market recently from Chicago alum, it’s called Clocky and you have heard of this. This is an alarm clock that when it goes off in the morning not only does it buzz it rolls around on your bedroom floor in random directions so you have to actually get up and catch it in order to wake up. It is a good idea in terms of making someone or forcing someone to wake up absolutely. But as a stroke of marketing genius not only did they make it it’s not just an alarm clock that moves around, they gave it like a whole personality. So they call it Clocky they put eyes on it and said it look like a little fly and moves in random directions. They say that in all their descriptions on the website they refer to it as a he, like he does this and he does that, this is what will help you when you catch him.
So people get really attached and they have built up like quite a following. It is not just an alarm clock that moves around this is Clocky like my alarm clock. Some people attribute mind to it and get attached.
There are lots of interesting consequences from this so one thing that Nick Epley has recently done some research on Adam Waytz who is a great professor at Callaghan, he is also Adam Waytz who is the one who came up with these names dehumanization by comission, dehumanization by omission along with Nick and I. Actually they have done research lately on driverless cars. General Motors is one company, there could be other ones as well, they are trying to develop these driverless cars and how do we get people to feel comfortable about that because you know strange experience for people the first time. How do we get people to trust their cars, and can anthropomorphizing cars change people’s attitudes towards these driverless cars?
Brett: It’s interesting. I thought that it was interesting that the research that talked about I think it was a car factory where when the machine wasn’t working correctly, all of a sudden it got a personality. The people talked about it, oh he is acting up today and like it had a mind of it, but it didn’t have a mind. It didn’t have a mind, it wasn’t like it was willfully trying to be not work right and make things unpleasant for people. It just wasn’t working but people treated it like it was exerting some sort of will and trying to purposely upset them.
Juliana: Yeah, Nick and Adam have suggested that they are primarily two reasons why we anthropomorphize things. One is wanting to connect with them, so people who are lonely actually tend to anthropomorphize more. That’s also the idea that why we anthropomorphize few things more. The other one sort of why you are afraid to which is trying to understand our environment. So suddenly meeting to make sense of something, and so I [Indiscernible][0:38:14] where like our computers break. We are like what are you thinking, what’s going on, what do you want from me. You sort of start talking to your computer when it breaks as if it’s alive and getting really frustrated and angry at your computer even though that will not help matters at all.
Whereas rest of the time whenever things working as normal, it’s just a machine. There has been many examples of this when something breaks down that time we start to wonder what’s going on with it. Also like I remember I said Clocky moves in sort of random directions and also at random speeds. If something is moving randomly as opposed to just moving constantly in one direction then we are more like we think it has a mind. We see patterns in the randomness.
Brett: Even though it doesn’t.
Juliana: Even though it is programmed to move randomly.
Brett: Because we like to create narratives in our mind, we are story telling machines as well as mind reading machines. If something is happening randomly there has got to be a reason for it even though there is not.
Brett: And that sort of knowing that, we do that I guess reduce like a lot of stress in your life. When something goes wrong instead of getting angry about it and like anthro–, whatever that word is I can’t say it.
Brett: Anthropomorphize, just like ok, it is not trying to purposely make me upset. It’s just something that is happening and to sort of be stoic about it.
Juliana: Yeah I think that might be a strategy that might work in some cases. I hesitate to call anthropomorphism a mistake in some cases, I mean absolutely you are in mind something that has no mind. So in that sense that is incorrect. But unless people actually literally believe that something has a mind which of course research shows that that maybe a case but in fact it can lead to positive outcomes for people. It can be adaptive to think of something as being mindful and so in the case where driving the driverless cars, when people trust their cars more, so the way that they give cars a name, they gave it a voice, things like that. That means people anthropomorphize their cars, they trust the cars more and then we are learning to be interested in buying driverless car, be willing to sit in driverless car and they trust the car more and when there is an accident they are less likely to blame the car.
That can actually be beneficial for people. So they just think that driverless cars will be safer and some humans who are terrible drivers.
Brett: So is that why Google released the concept of what the driverless car look like. It was this cute little animal looking thing, is that kind of what they are–?
Juliana: They are making up that name. Yeah in fact some cars if you look at the grill like if you face them head-on and look at them they look like they are smiling. People actually have a more pleasant association with those cars, which means that car manufacturers are actually doing this purposely because they recognize people have this association.
Brett: A lot of the police cars use the charger which is like really mean looking. It looks like it is angry and they must be doing that purposely.
Brett: It is really funny that that could have an effect on you like that. You mentioned earlier some of the research you have done on Israeli Palestinian relationships. I thought it was really fascinating topic that was brought up in the book was that oftentimes we are told like the common bit of advice is that we want to be better mind readers. We need to try to get into the shoes of the other person. Walk a mile in their shoes and you will understand where they are coming from.
Juliana: Sounds really good in theory.
Brett: Yeah but it can backfire. With the case of the Palestinian Israeli relations that’s where it can really backfire. Can you explain like why getting in the other person’s shoes might not be a good idea sometimes?
Juliana: Nick Epley and Professor here at Booth and a profressor who is a Harvard, they coined a term called the reactive egoism which helps to describe this. Essentially in cases in which you are really distanced from the other person, you simply have a totally different set of life experiences or even when you sort of join the person as being on the other side of an issue from you so they have done this with negotiations, when you are negotiating with someone but also you can really vividly imagine that the case like Palestinians and Israelis where they just have a totally different set of life experiences, you know nothing about them. We researched teenagers and a lot of them had no experiences with the other side except through like checkpoints and that kind of thing. Trying to perspective take and trying to sort of imagine what it will be like to walk in their shoes it’s so boring and so difficult that it can actually backfire.
So you can imagine if you have no clue what it would be like to walk in someone’s shoes just simply saying why don’t you try harder isn’t going to work? And so what you do instead when someone asks you to really try to imagine what that perspective will feel like is you just draw upon some of the stereotypes that you have about that and which tend to be negative stereotype. You sort of build the story that is going to be negative story, you imagine all these terrible things potentially that are not really what it would be like to take the perspective of the other person. It’s a constructed narrative that you are making based on basically no information about that person, based just on previous stereotypes. So then it could actually backfire.
In the negotiation experiments when they ask people to perspective take the opposing party, what their first move would be and how would they approach the negotiation, then it actually turns out that once people thought about that for a while and then it became more aggressive. That they made more aggressive first offers. You can imagine that when they are perspective taking, they are thinking oh, no, what are all the terrible things that this person could do and the negotiation like what are all the hardlines they could take.
So then they are reacting to that and that story which may or may not be true and then they are becoming even more aggressive. That’s one perspective where it can really backfire.
Brett: So what is the alternative to that? In the case of Israeli Palestinian relationships or in the negotiation experiment or situation, instead of perspective taking what should you do instead if you really want to understand where the person is coming from or try to?
Juliana: What Nick refers to this as is perspective getting. So rather than attempting to imagine the other perspective of someone who you have no clue about, you actually would want to meet with them or talk with them, use language and actually try to get their perspective. Actually asking them what it is.
Brett: Of course ask them.
Juliana: Exactly, it sounds obvious when you say it. But yet people often don’t think to reach out to the other side or they don’t have the opportunity to do so. So the research that I am doing for Israelis and Palestinians, we look at teenagers who were brought to a summer camp in the United States. It is a program called “Seeds of Peace”, it is one of the largest Middle East programs and they basically bring the groups into contact for three weeks in the summer camp. The groups have a chance of finally meet the other side, a face from the other side and try to even form friendships which is part of the reason more like it occurred in the US as opposed to be in, which is a relatively mutual territory as opposed to be in the Middle East.
They can … in front of each other and get a totally new perspective on what these people are going through. So by the end of the three week camp experience, attitudes are totally changed from the other side. Furthermore we follow up with them for like nine months to a year after they go back to their home countries and a lot of people maintain that. You can’t say it’s certainly regression, but a lot of the campers maintain that attitude change and in particular the ones who are able to make just at least one strong connection with the other side, the one close friendship or relationship with the other side were able to make that and especially the one who could maintain that relationship were the ones you show the prolonged maintain attitude change and they have the most positive attitude. So you just take one relationship is what we find.
Brett: You mentioned stereotyping is something that gets in the way of mind reading because usually stereotype often in the most negative light in someone. So it is hard to kind of relate to something that is completely foreign from you and the really interesting section in the book I found was how our gender stereotypes can get in the way of men and women communicating. Are we psychological different, like books men are from Mars and women are from Venus, say we are or are we actually more similar than we think we are?
Juliana: No, I did not think we are quite as different as the books portray. Also let me make this clear I don’t think all stereotypes are negative, in fact stereotyping more has to do with general impression formation of groups that we don’t necessarily know that much about. There can be positive stereotypes as well, women are caring so that could be positive stereotype that people might have.
Stereotypes are really interesting and Nick portrays that really, really well in his book because there is a reason why we form stereotypes in the first place. They are cognitively very efficient and there is some degree of accuracy in most stereotypes. The problem is that they are not entirely accurate and of course with any sort of brew book people, a single portrait of that group will not capture everything that’s individual in that group. So they can backfire and interesting instances and that can be very negative that can often lead to other consequences. But particular with males and females there are many, many types about males and females and all these differences and a lot of research highlight what’s the differences are but in fact if you look through the DNA really carefully there are many similarities as well. In fact the differences are not that large and some of them, many of them are actually due to just social norms. Once you sort of eliminate or change some of the norms that people think they are supposed to be behaving, because they are having a stereotype effect how you behave because you think you are supposed to behave in a certain way. Once you make it ok for people being indifferently sometimes a lot of those differences actually disappear entirely.
One example I got of is one of the big differences people talk about is mate preferences. The stereotype is that females prefer a mate that has resources and more so the male would also prefer a mate that is physically attractive. So this is true across many cultures but sort of what that research completely overlooks is yeah on the margin those preferences are slightly reversed, but in fact everyone prefers a mate that is kind and intelligent and competent. So there are lots of other preferences that people have that both sexes share and they are completely identical preferences.
I guess on the margins, 10 steps down yes I think a few of them might prefer resources more than males but in fact if you look at some of the top three, everyone is like kind and intelligent mate. So there is lot of similarity there and there is a little bit of difference but a lot of similarity. So it gets really I think the coverage of that research tends to focus on the differences than the similar.
Brett: We like to find differences that is one of the things when things are the same or when things are going well, like we ignore that. But when things are different we focus in on that. I think it is a perfect example of focus on the differences, yeah they are there but they are not as important as a lot of things we have in common with each other.
Juliana: Absolutely and people did this all the time. They built profile of others within cultures, within races, within genders. They focus on what the differences are but in fact the similarities may outweigh the differences.
Brett: Speaking of men and women, we are going to get into some stereotypes here. It is a common thing that women are stereotypically more intuitive or they are more socially adept than men are. Is there anything to that or are we about the same or there is a difference it is marginal?
Juliana: Yeah they actually done some research on that and it does seem like there is a very small but significant fact that women do tend to be a little bit better in reading minds in certain ways. But I think the reason why that is, is because of motivation. So as soon as you motivate men to focus on other people, then they are just as good as women. It is simply that, and this could be because of norms, because women think they are supposed to be more empathetic or more caring or more focused on others. So maybe because of some of those norms women might pay a little more attention and be a little bit better on average.
But as soon as you motivate men to care and notice others they would be just as good. That is the difference, yes it does show up on average but I think it is really driven by people’s motivation as opposed to their actual ability. So you are saying that women are better than men I would just say that they for want of possible reason they seem to be a little more motivated to know other people.
Juliana: Very interesting, we don’t have much time left but I wanted to get to this. I thought this is one of the more fascinating parts about how we are poor at reading our own mind sometimes. We think we are self aware but we are not. What prevents us from understanding our self and why do we commit the same sort of mind reading mistakes that we do with other with our own mind?
Juliana: Yeah that is really a fascinating question. People think that they have strong powers introspection. Obviously because they have some access into my mind I think that I can figure out every thing, aspect of what I’m thinking and feeling and I know exactly why that is occurring. But in fact people tend to be outcome orientated, so if I asked you right now what mood you are in. You said you are happy or something, you know what mood you are in, you have access to that in person at least you can construct that very quickly in the moments that I ask it. But then if I asked you why, you would have to try to piece that together. You have to sort of go back and make some guesses like why is it that I’m happy, because I’m having this conversation or is that because of something that happened earlier in the day.
There are lots of possible reasons and in fact your brain has been doing all this work without your knowledge and coming up with a on line mood in that moment but you don’t really know necessarily how it got there. You are aware of where you arrive at but you don’t necessarily know exactly all the different processes that happened to get you there.
One sort of way this has been shown in the research is through creative problem solving. Researchers gave people puzzles to figure out and their remote associates passed where you have these three words and you have to figure out the 4th word that links them altogether. Blank in mind something else in the answers paper, the answer is one word that links the other words together and it is kind of hard for people and they have to think about a little bit and sometimes people get stomped, went in through there really hard.
What the researchers did is they gave people like a hint. They did something where they changed the environment like they put a stack of paper along with that or something and then suddenly people were able to figure out what the answer was because of the hint that they were subtly given in the environment. Then they asked the participants how did you come up with the answer.
People were aware that they had this moment of epiphany like oh–. They knew that they had it but they couldn’t name the cue in the environment that triggered it. They weren’t clear that there was something in the environment that was triggering it. People couldn’t figure out what that cue was, because it happened outside of their awareness. But they could make up a story, so they come up with a story like oh I had this memory suddenly when I was writing when they came in with the paper.
But in fact it was the subtle cue but they couldn’t name that cue. So people when they are introspecting a lot of times what they are doing is they are doing it from a third person perspective. They are kind of just going back through the memory or through the day like as an observer and just trying to figure out same way anyone else would figure out what it is that made them happy or that made them call for the right answer. But in fact it might not have necessarily been that. It is just people don’t have much of an insight into the processes that happens in the brain.
Brett: Sometimes we are strangers to our own selves.
Juliana: Yeah exactly and oftentimes we can’t predict sort of how we might behave in given situation very well.
Brett: The experiment that one guy, La Pierre did with racism. Can you talk about that? That was one of the most fascinating things I read the book?
Juliana: It was a really, really interesting experiment by Stanford sociologist and essentially he went to a neighborhood in California where they had a policy at the time, it was a long time ago not to serve groups for minorities. I think he went to a bunch of random hotels and was asking if Asian people like Chinese business men could stay in the hotel. And the policy was that they were not allowed to do that, very racist neighborhood environment and so all the hotel people would say, if they were explicitly asked they would say, well you know, no, that is not our policy. But then they would say that but if they were actually approached by someone with a Chinese business man and the person was right there in front of them and they ask for a room, then they would say yes. So they totally would change, so if they were ticked that they would say no and ask them from their knowledge of what the norms are and what they are supposed to say.
But then in reality when faced with a person, the human standing right in front of them, pretty much no one would say no. That’s because part of the reason for that is because it is hard to know how you are going to act when someone is right in front of your face and what that experience is like. It is hard to recreate that experience in your mind and there is a second really strong norm when someone is asking you for something not to be rude. Especially if someone in the service business and hospitality business, it is going to be really, really hard to turn someone down who is right in front of you. So on the phone you can say that is not our policy we will not do that but when faced with someone right in front of you who is a human, it is like hard to say no to that. Hotel men they would say yes and they did not know that. They didn’t have the access until what that experience is going to be like, they mispredict what that is like.
Brett: I think that is the cause of a lot of the Monday morning quarterbacking that you see in sports or in politics or in business. Oh well, if I was in that situation as politician or business person I would have done this, it is like well you don’t really know if that is what you would have done. You think you would but you wouldn’t.
Juliana: You can say anything you want but when you are actually in that moment, in that experience unless you are constructing everything as that experience entire piece, you don’t really know how you would act.
Brett: I guess this whole idea is just have a little bit more humility. It is like Socrates like, “Know that you don’t know all the time can do a lot of wonders for you”. Juliana I wish we could talk some more because there is just so much more fascinating research in this book. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Juliana: It’s been a pleasure thanks for talking with me.
Brett: Our guest there was Juliana Schroeder, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago School of Business where she is specializing in social cognition, judgment and decision making. \She is a research assistant for Nicholas Epley who wrote a book called “Mindwise”. Go pick it up, it’s just a really fascinating book. It’s one of those books you will just read and you will take away a whole bunch of cool insights from it that you can actually apply into your everyday life and see immediate benefit.
Again it’s “Mindwise” you can find it on Amazon.com.
Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. Also did you guys know we had a store, we do. It is a store.artofmanliness.com, we just released some new T-shirts that were designed by the guys at Tank farm, we got a really cool coffee mug. It is pretty damn manly, it’s hefty, you can bludgeon someone with it. We got letter pressed stationery, we are always adding new stuff there, so go check it out, store.artofmanliness.com and your purchases will help to support the podcast. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.