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Posts published in “talk psych”

Are We Fearing the Right Things?

I am fascinated by the human tendency to fear the wrong things. We routinely display probability neglect by fretting about vividly publicized remote possibilities while ignoring higher probabilities. Dramatic catastrophes make us gasp, while probabilities we barely grasp.   Thus,…

The Trolley Problem Meets COVID-19

A classic moral psychology dilemma invites us to contemplate a runaway trolley headed for five people who are tied to the tracks and destined for death—unless you pull a lever that diverts the trolley to a side track where it…

Pandemic Political Psychology

“If public health officials recommended that everyone stay at home for a month because of a serious outbreak of coronavirus in your community, how likely are you to stay home for a month?”   When Gallup recently put this question…

Human Behavior Amid the COVID Crisis

For you and psychology teachers everywhere—most with students confined to their homes—the COVID-19 pandemic is an unexpected challenge and stress. Even so, perhaps its dark clouds can come with a small silver lining: some teachable moments. In so many ways,…

Donald Trump’s Memory—and Ours

“Memory is insubstantial. Things keep replacing it.” ~Annie Dillard, “To Fashion a Text,” 1988   Often in life we do not expect something to happen until it does, whereupon—seeing the forces that produced the event—we feel unsurprised. We call this…

Psychology’s Zombie Ideas

Paul Krugman’s Arguing with Zombies (2020) identifies “zombie ideas”—repeatedly refuted ideas that refuse to die. He offers economic zombie ideas that survive to continue eating people’s brains: “Tax cuts pay for themselves.” “The budget deficit is our biggest economic problem.”…

Mitt Romney and the Social Psychology of Dissent

In a long-ago experiment by Columbia University social psychologist Stanley Schachter, groups discussed how to deal with fictional juvenile delinquent “Johnny Rocco.” One “modal” group member (actually Schachter’s accomplice) concurred with the others in arguing for leniency and became well…

Cognitive Dissonance Rides Again: How We Justify Our Own—and Our Nation’s—Acts

Cognitive dissonance theory—one of social psychology’s gifts to human self-understanding—offers several intriguing predictions, including this: When we act in ways inconsistent with our attitudes or beliefs, we often resolve that dissonance by changing our thinking. Attitudes follow behavior.   That…

Disabilities We Seldom Notice

If you have watched a 2019 Democratic Party debate, you perhaps have taken note: While Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker glide smoothly through their spoken words, Joe Biden sometimes hesitates, stammers, and stumbles. Is he just less mentally…

The Illusion of Understanding

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.”   This wisdom, often attributed to American historian Daniel Boorstin, suggests a sister aphorism: The great enemy of democracy is not ill will, but the illusion of…

“Can You Repeat the Question?” Was Robert Mueller Exhibiting Age-Related Cognitive Decline—or Hearing Loss?

On 48 occasions during his recent testimony regarding Russian election interference, former special counsel Robert Mueller—seeming “confused,” “uncertain,” and “forgetful”—asked to have questions repeated. Was Mueller, who turns 75 this week, exhibiting, as so many pundits surmised, “cognitive aging” or…