Arquivo da tag: Psicologia

Hoarding and herding during the COVID-19 pandemic (Science Daily)

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered some interesting and unusual changes in our buying behavior

Date: September 10, 2020

Source: University of Technology Sydney

Summary: Understanding the psychology behind economic decision-making, and how and why a pandemic might trigger responses such as hoarding, is the focus of a new paper.

Rushing to stock up on toilet paper before it vanished from the supermarket isle, stashing cash under the mattress, purchasing a puppy or perhaps planting a vegetable patch — the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered some interesting and unusual changes in our behavior.

Understanding the psychology behind economic decision-making, and how and why a pandemic might trigger responses such as hoarding, is the focus of a new paper published in the Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy.

‘Hoarding in the age of COVID-19’ by behavioral economist Professor Michelle Baddeley, Deputy Dean of Research at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School, examines a range of cross-disciplinary explanations for hoarding and other behavior changes observed during the pandemic.

“Understanding these economic, social and psychological responses to COVID-19 can help governments and policymakers adapt their policies to limit negative impacts, and nudge us towards better health and economic outcomes,” says Professor Baddeley.

Governments around the world have implemented behavioral insights units to help guide public policy, and influence public decision-making and compliance.

Hoarding behavior, where people collect or accumulate things such as money or food in excess of their immediate needs, can lead to shortages, or in the case of hoarding cash, have negative impacts on the economy.

“In economics, hoarding is often explored in the context of savings. When consumer confidence is down, spending drops and households increase their savings if they can, because they expect bad times ahead,” explains Professor Baddeley.

“Fear and anxiety also have an impact on financial markets. The VIX ‘fear’ index of financial market volatility saw a dramatic 564% increase between November 2019 and March 2020, as investors rushed to move their money into ‘safe haven’ investments such as bonds.”

While shifts in savings and investments in the face of a pandemic might make economic sense, the hoarding of toilet paper, which also occurred across the globe, is more difficult to explain in traditional economic terms, says Professor Baddeley.

Behavioural economics reveals that our decisions are not always rational or in our long term interest, and can be influenced by a wide range of psychological factors and unconscious biases, particularly in times of uncertainty.

“Evolved instincts dominate in stressful situations, as a response to panic and anxiety. During times of stress and deprivation, not only people but also many animals show a propensity to hoard.”

Another instinct that can come to the fore, particularly in times of stress, is the desire to follow the herd, says Professor Baddeley, whose book ‘Copycats and Contrarians’ explores the concept of herding in greater detail.

“Our propensity to follow others is complex. Some of our reasons for herding are well-reasoned. Herding can be a type of heuristic: a decision-making short-cut that saves us time and cognitive effort,” she says.

“When other people’s choices might be a useful source of information, we use a herding heuristic and follow them because we believe they have good reasons for their actions. We might choose to eat at a busy restaurant because we assume the other diners know it is a good place to eat.

“However numerous experiments from social psychology also show that we can be blindly susceptible to the influence of others. So when we see others rushing to the shops to buy toilet paper, we fear of missing out and follow the herd. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

Behavioral economics also highlights the importance of social conventions and norms in our decision-making processes, and this is where rules can serve an important purpose, says Professor Baddeley.

“Most people are generally law abiding but they might not wear a mask if they think it makes them look like a bit of a nerd, or overanxious. If there is a rule saying you have to wear a mask, this gives people guidance and clarity, and it stops them worrying about what others think.

“So the normative power of rules is very important. Behavioral insights and nudges can then support these rules and policies, to help governments and business prepare for second waves, future pandemics or other global crises.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Technology Sydney. Original written by Leilah Schubert. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michelle Baddeley. Hoarding in the age of COVID-19. Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy, 2020; 4(S): 69-75 [abstract]

‘Wild West’ mentality lingers in modern populations of US mountain regions (

by University of Cambridge. September 7, 2020

mountainous territory
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

When historian Frederick Jackson Turner presented his famous thesis on the US frontier in 1893, he described the “coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness” it had forged in the American character.

Now, well into the 21st century, researchers led by the University of Cambridge have detected remnants of the pioneer personality in US populations of once inhospitable mountainous territory, particularly in the Midwest.

A team of scientists algorithmically investigated how landscape shapes psychology. They analyzed links between the anonymised results of an online personality test completed by over 3.3 million Americans, and the “topography” of 37,227 US postal—or ZIP—codes.

The researchers found that living at both a higher altitude and an elevation relative to the surrounding region—indicating “hilliness”—is associated with a distinct blend of personality traits that fits with “frontier settlement theory”.

“The harsh and remote environment of mountainous frontier regions historically attracted nonconformist settlers strongly motivated by a sense of freedom,” said researcher Friedrich Götz, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

“Such rugged terrain likely favored those who closely guarded their resources and distrusted strangers, as well as those who engaged in risky explorations to secure food and territory.”

“These traits may have distilled over time into an individualism characterized by toughness and self-reliance that lies at the heart of the American frontier ethos” said Götz, lead author of the study.

“When we look at personality across the whole United States, we find that mountainous residents are more likely to have psychological characteristics indicative of this frontier mentality.”

Götz worked with colleagues from the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences, Austria, the University of Texas, US, the University of Melbourne in Australia, and his Cambridge supervisor Dr. Jason Rentfrow. The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research uses the “Big Five” personality model, standard in social psychology, with simple online tests providing high-to-low scores for five fundamental personality traits of millions of Americans.

The mix of characteristics uncovered by study’s authors consists of low levels of “agreeableness”, suggesting mountainous residents are less trusting and forgiving—traits that benefit “territorial, self-focused survival strategies”.

Low levels of “extraversion” reflect the introverted self-reliance required to thrive in secluded areas, and a low level of “conscientiousness” lends itself to rebelliousness and indifference to rules, say researchers.

“Neuroticism” is also lower, suggesting an emotional stability and assertiveness suited to frontier living. However, “openness to experience” is much higher, and the most pronounced personality trait in mountain dwellers.

“Openness is a strong predictor of residential mobility,” said Götz. “A willingness to move your life in pursuit of goals such as economic affluence and personal freedom drove many original North American frontier settlers.”

“Taken together, this psychological fingerprint for mountainous areas may be an echo of the personality types that sought new lives in unknown territories.”

The researchers wanted to distinguish between the direct effects of physical environment and the “sociocultural influence” of growing up where frontier values and identities still hold sway.

To do this, they looked at whether mountainous personality patterns applied to people born and raised in these regions that had since moved away.

The findings suggest some “initial enculturation” say researchers, as those who left their early mountain home are still consistently less agreeable, conscientious and extravert, although no such effects were observed for neuroticism and openness.

The scientists also divided the country at the edge of St. Louis—”gateway to the West”—to see if there is a personality difference between those in mountains that made up the historic frontier, such as the Rockies, and eastern ranges e.g. the Appalachians.

While mountains continue to be a “meaningful predictor” of personality type on both sides of this divide, key differences emerged. Those in the east are more agreeable and outgoing, while western ranges are a closer fit for frontier settlement theory.

In fact, the mountainous effect on high levels of “openness to experience” is ten times as strong in residents of the old western frontier as in those of the eastern ranges.

The findings suggest that, while ecological effects are important, it is the lingering sociocultural effects—the stories, attitudes and education—in the former “Wild West” that are most powerful in shaping mountainous personality, according to scientists.

They describe the effect of mountain areas on personality as “small but robust”, but argue that complex psychological phenomena are influenced by many hundreds of factors, so small effects are to be expected.

“Small effects can make a big difference at scale,” said Götz. “An increase of one standard deviation in mountainousness is associated with a change of around 1% in personality.”

“Over hundreds of thousands of people, such an increase would translate into highly consequential political, economic, social and health outcomes.”

More information: Physical topography is associated with human personality, Nature Human Behaviour (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-020-0930-x ,

Citation: ‘Wild West’ mentality lingers in modern populations of US mountain regions (2020, September 7) retrieved 8 September 2020 from

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Higher-class individuals are worse at reading emotions and assuming the perspectives of others, study finds (PsyPost)

Eric W. Dolan – September 4, 2020

New research provides evidence that people from higher social classes are worse at understanding the minds of others compared to those from lower social classes. The study has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“My co-author and I set out to examine a question that we deemed important given the trend of rising economic inequality in American society today: How does access to resources (e.g., money, education) influence the way we process information about other human beings?” said study author Pia Dietze, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine.

“We tried to answer this question by examining two essential components within the human repertoire to understand each other’s minds: the way in which we read emotional states from other people’s faces and how inclined we are to take the visual perspective of another person.”

For their study, the researchers recruited 300 U.S. individuals from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform and another 452 U.S. individuals from the Prolific Academic platform. The participants completed a test of cognitive empathy called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which assesses the ability to recognize or infer someone else’s state of mind from looking only at their eyes and surrounding areas.

The researchers also had 138 undergraduates at New York University complete a test of visual perspective-taking known as the Director Task, in which they were required to move objects on a computer screen based on the perspective of a virtual avatar.

The researchers found that lower-class people tended to perform better on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and Director Task than their higher-class counterparts.

“We find that individuals from lower social class backgrounds are better at identifying emotions from other people’s faces and are more likely to spontaneously take another person’s visual perspective. This is in line with a large body of work documenting a tendency for lower-class people to be more socially attuned to others. In addition, our research shows that this can happen at a very basic level; within seconds or milliseconds of encountering a new face or person,” Dietze told PsyPost.

But like all research, the new study includes some limitations.

“This research is based on correlational data. As such, we need to see this research as part of a larger body work to answer the question of causality. However, the insights gained from our study allows us to speculate about how and why we think these tendencies develop,” Dietze explained.

“We theorize that social class can influence social information processing (i.e., the processing of information about other people) at such a basic level because social classes can be conceptualized as a form of culture. As such, social class cultures (like other forms of culture, for example, national cultures), have a pervasive psychological influence that impact many aspects of life, at times even at spontaneous levels.”

The study, “Social Class Predicts Emotion Perception and Perspective-Taking Performance in Adults“, was authored by Pia Dietze and Eric D. Knowles.

You’re facing a lot of choices amid the pandemic. Cut yourself slack: It’s called decision fatigue (USA Today)

Grace Hauck | USA TODAY | 08.30.2020

Is it safe to go to the grocery store? Can my kids have a play date? Will the other child wear a mask? Can I send them back to school? When my boss asks me to come back to the office, should I?

Shayla Bell lies awake at night racking her brain for answers and preparing for another day of unprecedented choices. 

“There’s all these little, small decisions all the time,” said Bell, a suburban Chicago retail professional with two kids. “I find myself being my own devil’s advocate so often to try to reach the best conclusion. And I’m tired.”

Six months since the United States declared the coronavirus pandemic a state of emergency, millions of isolated Americans are at their wits’ end, exhausted from making a seemingly endless series of health and safety decisions for themselves and their loved ones. There’s a name for this phenomenon, and researchers call it decision fatigue.

“It’s a state of low willpower that results from having invested effort into making choices,” said Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University who coined the term in 2010. “It leads to putting less effort into making further choices, so either choices are avoided or they are made in a very superficial way.”

Like a mental gas tank, the human brain has a limited capacity of energy, and as you make decisions throughout the day, you deplete that resource. As you become fatigued, you may be inclined to avoid additional decisions, stick to the status quo or base a decision on a single criteria, Baumeister said. 

When we’re able to maintain daily routines, the brain can automate decisions and rely on heuristics – or mental shortcuts – to avoid fatigue. But the pandemic has disrupted many of our routines, forcing us to allocate more mental energy to decision-making.

The effects of decision fatigue have serious implications for people in positions of authority. Jonathan Levav, who studies behavioral decision theory at Stanford University, found that judges serving on parole boards in Israel were more likely to give favorable rulings at the very beginning of the workday or after a food break than later in a sequence of cases, after the judges had made more decisions.

“If you make a lot of decisions repeatedly, that has an effect on subsequent decisions,” Levav said. “As people make more decisions, they’re more likely to simplify whatever subsequent decisions they’re dealing with.”

Similar studies have found that people making decisions on behalf of loved ones in intensive care units or nurses working telemedicine shifts, experience decision fatigue over time, which can impair their ability to make informed decisions for the patient or provide efficient recommendations, respectively.

We’re not just making a greater number of daily decisions. We’re also making high-stakes, moral decisions, said Elizabeth Yuko, a writer and staff member at the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education.

“It’s fatigue with making decisions that have consequences we’ve never had to deal with before,” Yuko said. “These things come with such a moral weight on them, it comes with even more stress.”

For parents and guardians, in particular, the stakes are high. Erin Scarpa, a mother of two who works at a bank in New Jersey, said she temporarily relocated her family to North Carolina specifically to avoid making decisions about socializing with neighbors. Scarpa said she’s particularly concerned about reports of patients suffering lasting damage from COVID-19.

“You’re talking about decisions that could limit your child’s life forever,” Scarpa said. “That’s a whole other concept.”

Sneha Dave, a recent college graduate living with an inflammatory bowel disease and unidentified respiratory condition, said she struggled with crippling decision fatigue at the beginning of the pandemic.

“There’s been so many times where I go to the grocery store where I turn around because there are too many cars there. I spend a lot of time deciding what the right time to go to the grocery store is or whether I should go in,” she said.

Dave said she’s still grappling with a big decision – whether or not to pursue a round of treatment for her bowel disease, which would severely weaken her immune system – but she’s slowly learned how to cope with her decision fatigue.

“The chronic illness community has been able to adapt significantly better and make these decisions a little easier because these are decisions we’ve made our whole lives,” Dave said.

How statewide COVID-19 policies affect decision fatigue

Streamlined state and nationwide policies on COVID-19 have the potential to alleviate decision fatigue, some researchers said, but the notion of greater regulation carries contentious political implications.

“The more that requirements are in place, such as mask mandates, the less it’s a personal choice about what to do. And it makes it easier to make other, related decisions,” said Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota who studies self-control. “You don’t have to agonize about whether it’s safe to go to the grocery store when you know that others will have masks on.”

Mandates may also cause people to feel depleted if they find it difficult to comply with a policy, researchers said. Others may be making such specific, preferential decisions that statewide policies wouldn’t be enough to alleviate decision fatigue.

Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia Business School professor and author studying the psychology and economics of choice, is gathering data on how Americans feel about statewide COVID-19 policies.

Contrary to classical economic theory, Iyengar’s work has found that, in some contexts, people may prefer to have their choices limited or entirely removed. For example, people are more likely to purchase jams or chocolates – or to undertake optional class essay assignments – when offered a limited rather than extensive array of choices. Study participants reported greater satisfaction with their selections when their options had been limited.

A similar trend may be playing out when it comes to COVID-19 policies, Iyengar said. Her preliminary findings suggest that people living in states with face mask policies reported being “happier” than those in states without mask mandates. The findings may simply be driven by political preferences, Iyengar said.

“There’s a naturally occurring experiment, although that experiment falls along political lines,” she said.

Tips for avoiding decision fatigue

There are some simple strategies for avoiding decision fatigue, researchers said. Many center on general health and well-being, such as maintaining a nutritious diet, getting a full night’s sleep and exercising regularly. Others focus on timing your decisions and developing routines to cut out unnecessary choices.

“Willpower diminishes and decision fatigue increases over the course of the day, so if you have important decisions to make, make them in the morning after a full night’s sleep and a good breakfast,” Baumeister said. “Be aware this is affecting you.”

Plan out tomorrow’s schedule the day before, said Dovid Spinka, a staff clinician at the Center for Anxiety in New York City. Prep or plan your meals for the week. Lay out your clothes in the evening, or – like Steve Jobs – develop a uniform.

If you begin to fade during the day, take a short break, go for a walk or practice mindfulness or breathing exercises, Spinka said. Prioritize your decisions, and try to focus on one at a time. If you’re facing a big decision but feel drained, take a nap or grab a snack. Write down your initial thoughts, but don’t make the decision yet. Come back to it when you’re feeling refreshed, or proactively delay the decision to a set date.

Especially in highly emotional times, people who tend to suppress their emotions may be more prone to experience decision fatigue, said Grant Pignatiello, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University. It’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and talk to others about it.

“We are all going through a collective trauma of this pandemic, so it’s important that we cut ourselves a little slack. If we need to take a nap at the end of the day, watch Netflix or go for a walk, it’s OK,” Pignatiello said.

For Bell, that means granting herself some grace.

“I feel like we’re all – even the coolest cucumbers – we’re all at a higher stress level now,” she said. “So try to have some grace for yourself and others, and understand that we’re all doing the best we think we can.”

Newly Identified Social Trait Could Explain Why Some People Are Particularly Tribal (Science Alert)


Having strong, biased opinions may say more about your own individual way of behaving in group situations than it does about your level of identification with the values or ideals of any particular group, new research suggests.

This behavioural trait – which researchers call ‘groupiness’ – could mean that individuals will consistently demonstrate ‘groupy’ behaviour across different kinds of social situations, with their thoughts and actions influenced by simply being in a group setting, whereas ‘non-groupy’ people aren’t affected in the same way.

“It’s not the political group that matters, it’s whether an individual just generally seems to like being in a group,” says economist and lead researcher Rachel Kranton from Duke University.

“Some people are ‘groupy’ – they join a political party, for example. And if you put those people in any arbitrary setting, they’ll act in a more biased way than somebody who has the same political opinions, but doesn’t join a political party.”

In an experiment with 141 people, participants were surveyed on their political affiliations, which identified them as self-declared Democrats or Republicans, or as subjects who leaned more Democrat or Republican in terms of their political beliefs (called Independents, for the purposes of the study).

They also took part in a survey that asked them a number of seemingly neutral questions about their aesthetic preferences in relation to a series of artworks, choosing favourites among similar-looking paintings or different lines of poetry.

After these exercises, the participants took part in tests where they were placed in groups –  either based around political affiliations (Democrats or Republicans), or more neutral categorisations reflecting their answers about which artworks they preferred. In a third test, the groups were random.

While in these groups, the participants ran through an income allocation exercise, in which they could choose to allocate various amounts of money to themselves, to fellow group members, or to members of the other group.

The researchers expected to find bias in terms of these income allocations based around political mindsets, with people giving themselves more money, along with people who shared their political persuasion. But they also found something else.

“We compare Democrats with D-Independents and find that party members do show more in-group bias; on average, their choices led to higher income for in-group participants,” the authors explain in their study.

“Yet, these party-member participants also show more in-group bias in a second nonpolitical setting. Hence, identification with the group is not necessarily the driver of in-group bias, and the analysis reveals a set of subjects who consistently shows in-group bias, while another does not.”

According to the data, there exists a subpopulation of ‘groupy’ people and a subpopulation of ‘non-groupy’ people – actions of the former type are influenced by being in group settings, in which case they are more likely to demonstrate bias against others outside their group.

By contrast, the latter type, non-groupy individuals, don’t display this kind of tendency, and are more likely to act the same way, regardless of whether or not they’re in a group setting. These non-groupy individuals also seem to make faster decisions than groupy people, the team found.

“We don’t know if non-groupy people are faster generally,” Kranton says.

“It could be they’re making decisions faster because they’re not paying attention to whether somebody is in their group or not each time they have to make a decision.”

Of course, as illuminating as the discovery of this apparent trait is, we need a lot more research to be sure we’ve identified something discrete here.

After all, this is a pretty small study all told, and the researchers acknowledge the need to conduct the same kind of experiments with participants in several settings, to support the foundations of their groupiness concept, and to try to identify what it is that predisposes people to this kind of groupy or non-groupy mindset.

“There’s some feature of a person that causes them to be sensitive to these group divisions and use them in their behaviour across at least two very different contexts,” one of the team, Duke University psychologist Scott Huettel, explains.

“We didn’t test every possible way in which people differentiate themselves; we can’t show you that all group-minded identities behave this way. But this is a compelling first step.”

The findings are reported in PNAS.

When you’re smiling, the whole world really does smile with you (Science Daily)

Date: August 13, 2020

Source: University of South Australia

Summary: From Sinatra to Katy Perry, celebrities have long sung about the power of a smile — how it picks you up, changes your outlook, and generally makes you feel better. But is it all smoke and mirrors, or is there a scientific backing to the claim? Groundbreaking research confirms that the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive, simply by moving your facial muscles.

Smiling friends (stock | Credit: © fizkes /

Smiling friends (stock image). Credit: © fizkes /

From Sinatra to Katy Perry, celebrities have long sung about the power of a smile — how it picks you up, changes your outlook, and generally makes you feel better. But is it all smoke and mirrors, or is there a scientific backing to the claim?

Groundbreaking research from the University of South Australia confirms that the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive, simply by moving your facial muscles.

With the world in crisis amid COVID-19, and alarming rises of anxiety and depression in Australia and around the world, the findings could not be more timely.

The study, published in Experimental Psychology, evaluated the impact of a covert smile on perception of face and body expressions. In both scenarios, a smile was induced by participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to replicate the movement of a smile.

The research found that facial muscular activity not only alters the recognition of facial expressions but also body expressions, with both generating more positive emotions.

Lead researcher and human and artificial cognition expert, UniSA’s Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos says the finding has important insights for mental health.

“When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world around you in a positive way,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.

“In our research we found that when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala — the emotional centre of the brain — which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.

“For mental health, this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as ‘happy’, then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health.”

The study replicated findings from the ‘covert’ smile experiment by evaluating how people interpret a range of facial expressions (spanning frowns to smiles) using the pen-in-teeth mechanism; it then extended this using point-light motion images (spanning sad walking videos to happy walking videos) as the visual stimuli.

Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says there is a strong link between action and perception.

“In a nutshell, perceptual and motor systems are intertwined when we emotionally process stimuli,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.

“A ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of South Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, Aiko Murata, Kyoshiro Sasaki, Yuki Yamada, Ayumi Ikeda, José A. Hinojosa, Katsumi Watanabe, Michal Parzuchowski, Carlos Tirado, Raydonal Ospina. Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile. Experimental Psychology, 2020; 67 (1): 14 DOI: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000470

How a Famous Harvard Professor Became a Target Over His Tweets (New York Times)

By Michael Powell, July 15, 2020

The outcry over free speech and race takes aim at Steven Pinker, the best-selling author and well-known scholar.

Professor Steven Pinker, in his office in Cambridge, Mass., in 2018. He has been accused of racial insensitivity by people he describes as “speech police.”
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Steven Pinker occupies a role that is rare in American life: the celebrity intellectual. The Harvard professor pops up on outlets from PBS to the Joe Rogan podcast, translating dense subjects into accessible ideas with enthusiasm. Bill Gates called his most recent book “my new favorite book of all time.”

So when more than 550 academics recently signed a letter seeking to remove him from the list of “distinguished fellows” of the Linguistic Society of America, it drew attention to their provocative charge: that Professor Pinker minimizes racial injustices and drowns out the voices of those who suffer sexist and racist indignities.

But the letter was striking for another reason: It took aim not at Professor Pinker’s scholarly work but at six of his tweets dating back to 2014, and at a two-word phrase he used in a 2011 book about a centuries-long decline in violence.

“Dr. Pinker has a history of speaking over genuine grievances and downplaying injustices, frequently by misrepresenting facts, and at the exact moments when Black and Brown people are mobilizing against systemic racism and for crucial changes,” their letter stated.

The linguists demanded that the society revoke Professor Pinker’s status as a “distinguished fellow” and strike his name from its list of media experts. The society’s executive committee declined to do so last week, stating: “It is not the mission of the society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.”

But a charge of racial insensitivity carries power in the current climate, and the letter sounded another shot in the fraught cultural battles now erupting in academia and publishing.

Also this month, 153 intellectuals and writers — many of them political liberals — signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that criticized the current intellectual climate as “constricted” and “intolerant.” That led to a fiery response from opposing liberal and leftist writers, who accused the Harper’s letter writers of elitism and hypocrisy.

In an era of polarizing ideologies, Professor Pinker, a linguist and social psychologist, is tough to pin down. He is a big supporter of Democrats, and donated heavily to former President Barack Obama, but he has denounced what he sees as the close-mindedness of heavily liberal American universities. He likes to publicly entertain ideas outside the academic mainstream, including the question of innate differences between the sexes and among different ethnic and racial groups. And he has suggested that the political left’s insistence that certain subjects are off limits contributed to the rise of the alt-right.

Reached at his home on Cape Cod, Professor Pinker, 65, noted that as a tenured faculty member and established author, he could weather the campaign against him. But he said it could chill junior faculty who hold views counter to prevailing intellectual currents.

“I have a mind-set that the world is a complex place we are trying to understand,” he said. “There is an inherent value to free speech, because no one knows the solution to problems a priori.”

He described his critics as “speech police” who “have trolled through my writings to find offensive lines and adjectives.”

The letter against him focuses mainly on his activity on Twitter, where he has some 600,000 followers. It points to his 2015 tweet of an article from The Upshot, the data and analysis-focused team at The New York Times, which suggested that the high number of police shootings of Black people may not have been caused by racial bias of individual police officers, but rather by the larger structural and economic realities that result in the police having disproportionately high numbers of encounters with Black residents.

“Data: Police don’t shoot blacks disproportionately,” Professor Pinker tweeted with a link to the article. “Problem: Not race, but too many police shootings.”

The linguists’ letter noted that the article made plain that police killings are a racial problem, and accused Professor Pinker of making “dishonest claims in order to obfuscate the role of systemic racism in police violence.”

But the article also suggested that, because every encounter with the police carries danger of escalation, any racial group interacting with the police frequently risked becoming victims of police violence, due to poorly trained officers, armed suspects or overreaction. That appeared to be the point of Professor Pinker’s tweet.

The linguists’ letter also accused the professor of engaging in racial dog whistles when he used the words “urban crime” and “urban violence” in other tweets.

But in those tweets, Professor Pinker had linked to the work of scholars who are widely described as experts on urban crime and urban violence and its decline.

“‘Urban’ appears to be a usual terminological choice in work in sociology, political science, law and criminology,” wrote Jason Merchant, vice provost and a linguistics professor at the University of Chicago, who defended Professor Pinker.

Another issue, Professor Pinker’s critics say, is contained in his 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” In a wide-ranging description of crime and urban decay and its effect on the culture of the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote that “Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car.”

The linguists’ letter took strong issue with the words “mild-mannered,” noting that a neighbor later said that Goetz had spoken in racist terms of Latinos and Black people. He was not “mild-mannered” but rather intent on confrontation, they said.

The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.

Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.

The linguists’ letter touched only lightly on questions that have proved storm-tossed for Professor Pinker in the past. In the debate over whether nature or nurture shapes human behavior, he has leaned toward nature, arguing that characteristics like psychological traits and intelligence are to some degree heritable.

He has also suggested that underrepresentation in the sciences could be rooted in part in biological differences between men and women. (He defended Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president who in 2005 speculated that innate differences between the sexes might in part explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Mr. Summers’s remark infuriated some female scientists and was among several controversies that led to his resignation the following year.)

And Professor Pinker has made high-profile blunders, such as when he provided his expertise on language for the 2007 defense of the financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges. He has said he did so free of charge and at the request of a friend, the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, and regrets it.

The clash may also reflect the fact that Professor Pinker’s rosy outlook — he argues that the world is becoming a better place, by almost any measure, from poverty to literacy — sounds discordant during this painful moment of national reckoning with the still-ugly scars of racism and inequality.

The linguists’ society, like many academic and nonprofit organizations, recently released a wide-ranging statement calling for greater diversity in the field. It also urged linguists to confront how their research “might reproduce or work against racism.”

John McWhorter, a Columbia University professor of English and linguistics, cast the Pinker controversy within a moment when, he said, progressives look suspiciously at anyone who does not embrace the politics of racial and cultural identity.

“Steve is too big for this kerfuffle to affect him,” Professor McWhorter said. “But it’s depressing that an erudite and reasonable scholar is seen by a lot of intelligent people as an undercover monster.”

Because this is a fight involving linguists, it features some expected elements: intense arguments about imprecise wording and sly intellectual put-downs. Professor Pinker may have inflamed matters when he suggested in response to the letter that its signers lacked stature. “I recognize only one name among the signatories,’’ he tweeted. Such an argument, Byron T. Ahn, a linguistics professor at Princeton, wrote in a tweet of his own, amounted to “a kind of indirect ad hominem attack.”

The linguists insisted they were not attempting to censor Professor Pinker. Rather, they were intent on showing that he had been deceitful and used racial dog whistles, and thus, was a disreputable representative for linguistics.

“Any resulting action from this letter may make it clear to Black scholars that the L.S.A. is sensitive to the impact that tweets of this sort have on maintaining structures that we should be attempting to dismantle,” wrote Professor David Adger of Queen Mary University of London on his website.

That line of argument left Professor McWhorter, a signer of the letter in Harper’s, exasperated.

“We’re in this moment that’s like a collective mic drop, and civility and common sense go out the window,” he said. “It’s enough to cry racism or sexism, and that’s that.”

Life-hack: Rituals spell anxiety relief (Science Daily)

Date: June 30, 2020

Source: University of Connecticut

Summary: Researchers are examining the important roles rituals play in reducing our anxiety levels.

With graduation ceremonies, weddings, funeral, annual parades, and many other gatherings called off, it is apparent that our lives are filled with rituals. UConn Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dimitris Xygalatas studies rituals and how they impact our health. In research published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Xygalatas and collaborators from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, including former UConn student Martin Lang, examine the important roles rituals play in reducing our anxiety levels.

“In the current context of the pandemic, if you were a completely rational being — perhaps an extraterrestrial who’s never met any actual humans — you would expect that given the current situation people wouldn’t bother doing things that do not seem crucial to their survival. Maybe they wouldn’t care so much about art, sports, or ritual, and they would focus on other things,” says Xygalatas. “If you were to think that, it would show you didn’t know much about human nature, because humans care deeply about those things.”

Further, Xygalatas says, rituals play an important role in people’s lives, helping them cope with anxiety and functioning as mechanisms of resilience.

This research started years ago, says Xygalatas. He explains that to study something as complex as human behavior, it is important to approach the question from multiple angles to collect converging evidence. First, in a laboratory study, they found that inducing anxiety made people’s behavior more ritualized, that is, more repetitive and structured. So the next step was to take this research out to real-life situations, where they examined whether performing cultural rituals in their natural context indeed helps practitioners cope with anxiety.

“This approach also goes to show the limitations of any study. One study can only tell us a tiny bit about anything, but by using a variety of methods like my team and I are doing, and by going between the highly controlled space of the lab and the culturally relevant place that is real life we are able to get a more holistic perspective.”

The experiment reported in their current publication took place in Mauritius, where the researchers induced anxiety by asking participants to prepare a plan for dealing with a natural disaster that would be evaluated by government experts. This was stressful, as floods and cyclones are very pertinent threats in that context. Following this stress-inducing task, one half of the group performed a familiar religious ritual at the local temple while the other half were asked to sit and relax in a non-religious space.

The researchers found that the speech was successful in inducing stress for both groups but those who performed the religious ritual experienced a greater reduction in both psychological and physiological stress, which was assessed by using wearable technology to measure heart rate variability.

Stress itself is important, says Xygalatas, “Stress acts as a motivation that helps us focus on our goals and rise to meet our challenges, whether those involve studying for an exam, flying a fighter jet, or scoring that game-winning goal. The problem is that beyond a certain threshold, stress ceases to be useful. In fact, it can even be dangerous. Over time, its effects can add up and take a toll on your health, impairing cognitive function, weakening the immune system, and leading to hypertension or cardiovascular disease. This type of stress can be devastating to our normal functioning, health, and well-being.”

This is where Xygalatas and his team believe ritual plays an important role in managing stress.

“The mechanism that we think is operating here is that ritual helps reduce anxiety by providing the brain with a sense of structure, regularity, and predictability.”

Xygalatas explains that in recent decades we have begun to realize the brain is not a passive computer but an active predictive machine, registering information and making predictions to help us survive.

“We come to expect certain things — our brain fills in the missing information for the blind spot in our vision, and prompts us to anticipate the next word in a sentence — all of these things are due to this effect because our brain makes active predictions about the state of the world.”

Well-practiced rituals, like the one included in the study, are repetitive and predictable and therefore the researchers believe they give our brains the sense of control and structure that we crave, and those feelings help alleviate stress. This stress reducing impact of rituals could be a way to cope with chronic anxiety.

In today’s stressful context, we see ritual taking different forms, from people gathering to applaud healthcare workers, to virtual choirs singing across the internet. Xygalatas also notes a recent study that tracked the increase in people typing ‘prayer’ in Google searches. In this unpredictable time, people are continuing to find relief in ritual.

“One thing I like to tell my students is that we as human beings are not as smart as we’d like to think. But thankfully, we are at least smart enough to be able to outsmart ourselves. We have many ways of doing this, for instance when we look at ourselves in the mirror before an interview and tell ourselves, ‘Ok I can do this’. Or when we take deep breaths to calm down. We have all of these hacks that we can use on our very brain. We could rationalize it and tell ourselves ‘Ok I’m going to lower my heartbeat now’. Well that doesn’t work. Ritual is one of those mental technologies that we can use to trick ourselves into doing that. That is what these rituals do — they act like life hacks for us.”

Going forward, Xygalatas points out that he and his colleagues intend to do more work on the exact mechanisms underlying these effects of ritual.

“Of course it is a combination of factors, and that is why ritual is so powerful: because it combines a number of mechanisms that have to do both with the behavior itself, the physical movements, and with the cultural context, the symbolism, and the expectations that go into that behavior. To be able to disentangle those things is what we are trying to do next: we are examining these factors one at a time. Those rituals have gone through a process of cultural selection and they are still with us because they fulfil specific functions. They are life hacks that have been with and have served us well since the dawn of our kind.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Connecticut. Original written by Elaina Hancock. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. Lang, J. Krátký, D. Xygalatas. The role of ritual behaviour in anxiety reduction: an investigation of Marathi religious practices in Mauritius. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2020; 375 (1805): 20190431 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0431

Book Review: Why Science Denialism Persists (Undark)


Two new books explore what motivates people to reject science — and why it’s so hard to shake deep-seated beliefs.

By Elizabeth Svoboda – 05.22.2020

To hear some experts tell it, science denial is mostly a contemporary phenomenon, with climate change deniers and vaccine skeptics at the vanguard. Yet the story of Galileo Galilei reveals just how far back denial’s lineage stretches.

BOOK REVIEW “Galileo and the Science Deniers,” by Mario Livio (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages).

Years of astronomical sightings and calculations had convinced Galileo that the Earth, rather than sitting at the center of things, revolved around a larger body, the sun. But when he laid out his findings in widely shared texts, as astrophysicist Mario Livio writes in “Galileo and the Science Deniers,” the ossified Catholic Church leadership — heavily invested in older Earth-centric theories — aimed its ire in his direction.

Rather than revise their own maps of reality to include his discoveries, clerics labeled him a heretic and banned his writings. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest, hemmed in by his own insistence on the expansiveness of the cosmos.

Nearly 400 years later, the legacy of denial remains intact in some respects. Scientists who publish research about climate change or the safety of genetically modified crops still encounter the same kind of pushback from deniers that Galileo did. Yet denialism has also sprouted some distinctly modern features: As Alan Levinovitz points out in “Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science,” sometimes we ourselves can become unwitting purveyors of denial, falling prey to flawed or false beliefs we may not realize we’re holding.

Levinovitz passionately protests the common assumption that natural things are inherently better than unnatural ones. Not only do people automatically tend to conclude organic foods are healthier, many choose “natural” or “alternative” methods of cancer treatment over proven chemotherapy regimens. Medication-free childbirth, meanwhile, is now considered the gold standard in many societies, despite mixed evidence of its health benefits for mothers and babies.

BOOK REVIEW “Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science,” by Alan Levinovitz (Beacon Press, 264 pages).

“What someone calls ‘natural’ may be good,” writes Levinovitz, a religion professor at James Madison University, “but the association is by no means necessary, or even likely.” Weaving real-life examples with vivid retellings of ancient myths about nature’s power, he demonstrates that our pro-natural bias is so pervasive that we often lose the ability to see it — or to admit the legitimacy of science that contradicts it.

From this perspective, science denial starts to look like a stunted outgrowth of what we typically consider common sense. In Galileo’s time, people thought it perfectly sensible that the planet they inhabited was at the center of everything. Today, it might seem equally sensible that it’s always better to choose natural products over artificial ones, or that a plant burger ingredient called “soy leghemoglobin” is suspect because it’s genetically engineered and can’t be sourced in the wild. Yet in these cases, what we think of as common sense turns out to be humbug.

In exploring the past and present of anti-science bias, Livio and Levinovitz show how deniers’ basic toolbox has not changed much through the centuries. Practitioners marshal arguments that appeal to our tendency to think in dichotomies: wrong or right, saved or damned, pure or tainted. Food is either nourishing manna from the earth or processed, artificial junk. The Catholic Church touted its own supreme authority while casting Galileo as an unregenerate apostate.

In the realm of denialism, Levinovitz writes, “simplicity and homogeneity take precedence over diversity, complexity, and change. Righteous laws and rituals are universal. Disobedience is sacrilege.”

The very language of pro-nature, anti-science arguments, Levinovitz argues, is structured to play up this us-versus-them credo. Monikers like Frankenfood — often used to describe genetically-modified (GM) crops — frame the entire GM food industry as monstrous, a deviation from the supposed order of things. And in some circles, he writes, the word “unnatural” has come to be almost a synonym for “moral deficiency.” Not only is such black-and-white rhetoric seductive, it can give deniers the heady sense that they occupy the moral high ground.

Both pro-natural bias and the Church’s crusade against Galileo reflect the human penchant to fit new information into an existing framework. Rather than scrapping or changing that framework, we try to jerry-rig it to make it function. Some of the jerry-rigging examples the authors describe are more toxic than others: Opting for so-called natural foods despite dubious science on their benefits, for instance, is less harmful than denying evidence of a human-caused climate crisis.

What’s more, many people actually tend to cling harder to their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. Studies confirm that facts and reality aren’t likely to sway most people’s pre-existing views. This is as true now as it was at the close of the Renaissance, as shown by some extremists’ stubborn denial that the Covid-19 virus is dangerous.

In the realm of denialism, “simplicity and homogeneity take precedence over diversity, complexity, and change.”

In one of his book’s most compelling chapters, Livio takes us inside a panel of theologians that convened in 1616 to rule on whether the sun was at the center of things. None of Galileo’s incisive arguments swayed their thinking one iota. “This proposition is foolish and absurd in philosophy,” the theologians wrote, “and formally heretical, since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Cardinal Bellarmino warned Galileo that if he did not renounce his heliocentric views, he could be thrown into prison.

Galileo’s discoveries threatened to topple a superstructure that the Church had spent hundreds of years buttressing. In making their case against him, his critics liked to cite a passage from Psalm 93: “The world also is established that it cannot be moved.”

Galileo refused to cave. In his 1632 book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,” he did give the views of Pope Urban VIII an airing: He repeated Urban’s statement that no human could ever hope to decode the workings of the universe. But Livio slyly points out that Galileo put these words in the mouth of a ridiculous character named Simplicio. It was a slight Urban would not forgive. “May God forgive Signor Galilei,” he intoned, “for having meddled with these subjects.”

At the close of his 1633 Inquisition trial, Galileo was forced to declare that he abandoned any belief that the Earth revolved around the sun. “I abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies.” He swore that he would never again say “anything which might cause a similar suspicion about me.” Yet as he left the courtroom, legend goes, he muttered to himself “E pur si muove” (And yet it moves).

In the face of science denial, Livio observes, people have taken up “And yet it moves” as a rallying cry: a reminder that no matter how strong our prejudices or presuppositions, the facts always remain the same. But in today’s “post-truth era,” as political theorist John Keane calls it, with little agreement on what defines a reliable source, even the idea of an inescapable what is seems to have receded from view.

Levinovitz’s own evolution in writing “Natural” reveals how hard it can be to elevate facts above all, even for avowed anti-deniers. When he began his research, he picked off instances of pro-natural bias as if they were clay pigeons, confident in the rigor of his approach. “Confronted with a false faith, I had resolved that it was wholly evil,” he reflects.

Yet he later concedes that a favoritism toward nature is logical in domains like sports, which celebrate the potential of the human body in its unaltered form. He also accepts one expert’s point that it makes sense to buy organic if the pesticides used are less dangerous to farm workers than conventional ones. By the end of the book, he finds himself in a more nuanced place: “The art of celebrating humanity and nature,” he concludes, depends on “having the courage to embrace paradox.” His quest to puncture the myth of the natural turns out to have been dogmatic in its own way.

In acknowledging this, Levinovitz hits on something important. When deniers take up arms, it’s tempting to follow their lead: to use science to build an open-and-shut case that strikes with the finality of a courtroom witness pointing out a killer.

But as Galileo knew — and as Levinovitz ultimately concedes — science, in its endlessly unspooling grandeur, tends to resist any conclusion that smacks of the absolute. “What only science can promise,” Livio writes, “is a continuous, midcourse self-correction, as additional experimental and observational evidence accumulates, and new theoretical ideas emerge.”

In their skepticism of pat answers, these books bolster the case that science’s strength is in its flexibility — its willingness to leave room for iteration, for correction, for innovation. Science is an imperfect vehicle, as any truth-seeking discipline must be. And yet, as Galileo would have noted, it moves.

Elizabeth Svoboda is a science writer based in San Jose, California. Her most recent book for children is “The Life Heroic.”


Opinion: The Roots of Modern Medical Denialism

Acute stress may slow down the spread of fears (Science Daily)

Date: May 12, 2020

Source: University of Konstanz

Summary: Psychologists find that we are less likely to amplify fears in social exchange if we are stressed.

New psychology research from the University of Konstanz reveals that stress changes the way we deal with risky information — results that shed light on how stressful events, such as a global crisis, can influence how information and misinformation about health risks spreads in social networks.

“The global coronavirus crisis, and the pandemic of misinformation that has spread in its wake, underscores the importance of understanding how people process and share information about health risks under stressful times,” says Professor Wolfgang Gaissmaier, Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Konstanz, and senior author on the study. “Our results uncovered a complex web in which various strands of endocrine stress, subjective stress, risk perception, and the sharing of information are interwoven.”

The study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, brings together psychologists from the DFG Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz: Gaissmaier, an expert in risk dynamics, and Professor Jens Pruessner, who studies the effects of stress on the brain. The study also includes Nathalie Popovic, first author on the study and a former graduate student at the University of Konstanz, Ulrike Bentele, also a Konstanz graduate student, and Mehdi Moussaïd from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

In our hyper-connected world, information flows rapidly from person to person. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how risk information — such as about dangers to our health — can spread through social networks and influence people’s perception of the threat, with severe repercussions on public health efforts. However, whether or not stress influences this has never been studied.

“Since we are often under acute stress even in normal times and particularly so during the current health pandemic, it seems highly relevant not only to understand how sober minds process this kind of information and share it in their social networks, but also how stressed minds do,” says Pruessner, a Professor in Clinical Neuropsychology working at the Reichenau Centre of Psychiatry, which is also an academic teaching hospital of the University of Konstanz.

To do this, researchers had participants read articles about a controversial chemical substance, then report their risk perception of the substance before and after reading the articles, and say what information they would pass on to others. Just prior to this task, half of the group was exposed to acute social stress, which involved public speaking and mental arithmetic in front of an audience, while the other half completed a control task.

The results showed that experiencing a stressful event drastically changes how we process and share risk information. Stressed participants were less influenced by the articles and chose to share concerning information to a significantly smaller degree. Notably, this dampened amplification of risk was a direct function of elevated cortisol levels indicative of an endocrine-level stress response. In contrast, participants who reported subjective feelings of stress did show higher concern and more alarming risk communication.

“On the one hand, the endocrine stress reaction may thus contribute to underestimating risks when risk information is exchanged in social contexts, whereas feeling stressed may contribute to overestimating risks, and both effects can be harmful,” says Popovic. “Underestimating risks can increase incautious actions such as risky driving or practising unsafe sex. Overestimating risks can lead to unnecessary anxieties and dangerous behaviours, such as not getting vaccinated.”

By revealing the differential effects of stress on the social dynamics of risk perception, the Konstanz study shines light on the relevance of such work not only from an individual, but also from a policy perspective. “Coming back to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it highlights that we do not only need to understand its virology and epidemiology, but also the psychological mechanisms that determine how we feel and think about the virus, and how we spread those feelings and thoughts in our social networks,” says Gaissmaier.

Se os adultos não estragarem as coisas, o COVID-19 pode ter efeito positivo na vida política do Brasil

Renzo Taddei – 25 de março de 2020

Hoje, pela manhã, em conversa por WhatsApp com parentes quarentenados, ao falarmos sobre o pronunciamento do Bolsonaro da noite de ontem, um adolescente da família postou um emoticon de careta e disparou: “qual o problema desse cara?” Mais tarde, encontrei nas redes sociais vídeo postado por um grande amigo argentino, Hugo Partucci, em que ele toca, ao violão, canção composta por seu grupo artístico há alguns anos, e que fala de um adulto que, vivendo a perseguição política da ditadura argentina, coloca uma criança para dormir e deseja a ela que tenha bons sonhos. De repente, numa dessas associações de ideias que aparecem de forma espontânea na mente, ocorreu-me que, se nós, adultos, não estragarmos as coisas, o COVID-19 pode melhorar tremendamente a vida política do Brasil.

A ideia, algo contra intuitiva, reconheço, é a seguinte: as pessoas da minha geração (tenho 47), com margem de variação de menos ou mais quinze anos, viram as coisas darem mais ou menos certo da forma bastante errada na política brasileira, e com isso desenvolveram uma atitude cínica com relação ao processo político, de maneira geral. Este cinismo se manifesta, de forma explícita ou nas profundezas do subconsciente, no pensamento algo recorrente que diz que eleições não servem pra nada, que são um imenso teatro para manter as mesmas elites de sempre no poder. Com o Bolsonaro no Planalto, se a juventude entender o que está acontecendo sem herdar nossos vícios de pensamento e nossas emoções apodrecidas, as coisas podem mudar. Que criança ou jovem que tenha memória, no futuro, do que está acontecendo agora vai pensar que as eleições não são importantes? Ocorre, no entanto, que podemos estragar tudo se não tivermos cuidado.

Quando digo que as coisas deram certo da forma errada, refiro-me especificamente ao fato de que no Brasil, desde o fim da ditadura, as coisas caminham mas nunca segundo as aspirações da população. O país se redemocratizou, mas o movimentos Diretas Já não teve sucesso; posteriormente, o processo democrático se estruturou de forma lenta e insegura, com Sarney, Collor, Itamar e FHC, sem que as elites que defendem políticas excludentes tivessem arredado pé do governo por um segundo sequer. O consolo vinha sempre na forma do mantra “O Brasil é uma democracia jovem”. Com o PT no governo, as ânsias e desejos do passado se reascenderam; houve um período de êxtase na juventude progressista, enquanto o Lula distribuía o excedente do dinheiro do pré-sal, associava-se aos banqueiros e não fazia as reformas necessárias nem uma distribuição de renda estrutural e efetiva. Quando a coisa toda desmoronou, veio junto o que restava de esperança naquela geração de jovens no processo político. Sobrou desesperança e amargura, mesmo que em um país mais rico, mais educado e menos desigual do que há 30 anos.

Tenho amigos e parentes que, antilulisticamente, ajudaram a colocar o Bolsonaro no poder. A grande maioria parou de dizer “ah, mais no tempo do PT…” quando o governo Bolsonaro começou a patinar no seu tratamento da epidemia. Depois do pronunciamento de ontem, praticamente todos eles estão gritando “impeachment” nas redes sociais. E o que está fazendo a maioria dos que sempre foram mais politicamente alinhados comigo? Está postando mensagens de ódio, do tipo “deixa eu avisar que eu lembro de cada pessoa da minha lista de contatos que votou no Bolsonaro”, ou inserindo a expressão “eu avisei” nos seus nomes, em seus perfis de redes sociais. Até ontem, isso não me espantava. Hoje de manhã ocorreu-me que podemos estrar estragando a única oportunidade que nos resta de ver o processo político melhorar.

Em que contexto político um grupo vê o rival mudar para o seu lado, e ao invés de congratular-se, reage com ódio? Nossa geração está destruindo o pouco que sobrou da política – com ajuda dos algoritmos das redes sociais, sem dúvida. Em algum momento paramos de fazer política, aquela estruturada ao redor da ideia de que os outros têm direito de pensar diferente e a melhor forma de lidar com isso é exatamente que eles venham dizer isso na nossa cara, e escutem o que temos a dizer a respeito. O processo político virou a válvula de escape de nossas frustrações e da nossa raiva. No processo eleitoral, parecia que os antipestistas eram os que estavam votando com o sistema digestivo. Depois das eleições, aparentemente todo o país passou a viver a política de forma gástrica, e nada mais. A reação mais natural, por ser espontânea e porque já a naturalizamos, é insultar o Bolsonaro quando temos que mencionar o seu nome.

Ocorre, no entanto, que isso pode ter consequências terríveis a longo prazo. Mudemos um pouco a perspectiva da cena: saia dos teus olhos e entre nos da criança que te observa, enquanto você, aos brados, diz que o presidente é um jumento, um palhaço, um imbecil, um retardado, uma pilha de esterco, um psicopata, um monstro, um assassino, um genocida. O que você acha que está acontecendo no pensamento desta criança?

Se há lições a serem aprendidas com o COVID-19, acredito que uma das mais importantes não seja para a nossa geração, mas para a das crianças e jovens. Se eles entenderem que o que causou isso, de forma mais imediata, foi o voto, e que é pelo voto que isso pode ser evitado, jamais terão atitude cínica como a nossa. O processo democrático no futuro será mais maduro e verdadeiro.

Só não vai acontecer se contaminarmos a percepção que os jovens têm da política, com tanto refluxo verbal, de modo que eles não sejam capazes de perceber que o momento atual mostra, com clareza que minha geração nunca teve, o valor que o voto tem. É preciso que admitamos, então, nossas limitações, para que possamos ajudar as crianças e jovens a construírem realidade melhor do que a nossa.

Para tanto, é preciso tratar dos sentimentos que temos dentro de nós, sobre o governo, sobre o papel que o estado-nação tem em nossas vidas, sobre a forma como nos fizemos dependentes e vulneráveis a coisas que não controlamos; precisamos tentar aprender com quem vive de forma mais autônoma, livre e em paz, e precisamos trabalhar para que a relação entre o estado e as pessoas seja mais saudável no futuro. É possível que não sejamos mais capazes de consertar isso; o que estou argumentando aqui é que talvez nossos filhos o sejam, e não devemos atrapalhá-los com nossas limitações. O elemento mais inconveniente do fato de que nossa reação às ações do Bolsonaro é gastrointestinal é não conseguirmos fazer efetivamente nada que mude as coisas com isso. Há, inclusive, a possibilidade de que isso seja estratégia bolsonarista. Quem consegue pensar de forma politicamente estratégica, hoje, não está dando chilique.

Isso tudo passa, a meu ver, por não alienar os jovens do que está acontecendo, no sentido de “protegê-los”. Quando fazemos isso, estamos apenas materializando o pensamento de que eles não poderão ser melhores do que somos e fomos. Quem pensa assim não está colocando a devida atenção em quem são as crianças e jovens de hoje. Ao invés de pautar sua compreensão da realidade pelo programa do Datena ou do Ratinho, olhe ao seu redor, escute as conversas das crianças e jovens, e compare com o que éramos a três ou quatro décadas. Tenho a impressão forte de que muita gente nesta geração nova é mais capaz de empatia, de colaboração, de amor e de perdão do que éramos (e somos).

É preciso encontrar formas de fazer os jovens entenderem o que está acontecendo sem repetir neles nossas limitações emocionais, nossa incapacidade de manter a serenidade, nossos traumas. Por isso, antes de falar aos jovens sobre o que deveria estar acontecendo e não está, tomemos o tempo de tentar analisar o que se passa com nossas emoções, com nossa necessidade de descarregar as emoções negativas através da política (o que aniquila a capacidade da política ser tudo o que poderia). E trata-se mais de postura afetiva do que de ação: podemos e devemos bater panela, assinar petições pedindo o impeachment, participar de manifestações de rua quando o perigo do COVID-19 estiver controlado, e estarmos preparados para a desobediência civil. Mas agindo com a cabeça, e não com os intestinos. Crianças e jovens são imensamente capazes de perceber o que nos move, e isso pode deixar neles marca profunda, positiva ou negativa.

Se fizermos isso tudo – o que vai tomar algum tempo e não vai ser fácil -, podemos pelo menos contribuir para a formação de uma nova geração que será imensamente mais capaz de viver em comunidade e resolver seus problemas de forma pacífica e colaborativa. O ponto central do meu pensamento, entenda-se bem, não é transferir aos jovens a responsabilidade de resolver algo que não fomos capazes. É apenas aproveitar a intervenção drástica e em escala planetária do COVID-19 para que tratemos nossas feridas politico-emocionais, e sejamos capazes de deixar que a crise seja uma lição de crescimento civilizacional para crianças e jovens. Se isso vai ser amargo ou sereno para eles, depende muito de como nossas emoções embotadas afetarão a mensagem.

Quarentena: porque você deveria ignorar toda a pressão para ser produtivo agora (Medium)

Uma pesquisadora com experiência em ambientes adversos dá conselhos aos acadêmicos ansiosos com a quebra de rotina causada pelo coronavírus

Por Aisha S. Ahmad, no Chronicle of Higher Education.
Tradução de Renato Pincelli.

O QUE TENHO OBSERVADO entre meus colegas e amigos acadêmicos é uma resposta comum à contínua crise da COVID-19. Eles estão lutando bravamente para manter um senso de normalidade — correndo para os cursos online, mantendo rigorosos cronogramas de escrita e criando escolinhas Montessori nas mesas de cozinha. A expectativa deles é apertar os cintos por um breve período, até que as coisas voltem ao normal. Para qualquer um que segue esse caminho, desejo muita saúde e boa sorte.

Entretanto, como alguém que tem experiência com diversas crises ao redor do mundo, o que eu vejo por trás dessa busca pela produtividade é uma suposição perigosa. A resposta para a pergunta que todo mundo está se fazendo — “Quando isso vai acabar?” — é simples é óbvia, mas difícil de engolir. A resposta é nunca.

Catástrofes globais mudam o mundo e esta pandemia é muito semelhante a uma grande guerra. Mesmo que a crise do coronavírus seja contida dentro de alguns meses, o legado dessa pandemia vai viver conosco por anos, talvez décadas. Isso vai mudar o modo como nos movemos, como construímos, como aprendemos e nos conectamos. É simplesmente impossível voltar à vida como se nada disso tivesse acontecido. Assim, embora possa parecer bom por enquanto, é tolice mergulhar num frenesi de atividade ou ficar obcecado com sua produtividade acadêmica neste momento. Isso é negação e auto-ilusão. A resposta emocional e espiritualmente saudável seria se preparar para ser mudado para sempre.

O resto deste artigo é um conselho. Fui constantemente procurada por meus colegas ao redor do mundo para compartilhar minhas experiências de adaptação às condições de crise. Claro que sou apenas uma humana, lutando como todo mundo para se ajustar à pandemia. Entretanto, já trabalhei e vivi sob condições de guerra, conflitos violentos, pobreza e desastres em muitos lugares do mundo. Passei por racionamento de comida e surtos de doenças, bem como prolongados períodos de isolamento social, restrição de movimento e confinamento. Conduzi pesquisas premiadas sob condições físicas e psicológicas extremamente difíceis — e tenho orgulho de minha produtividade e desempenho na minha carreira de pesquisadora.

Deixo aqui os seguintes pensamentos durante esse momento difícil na esperança de que eles ajudem outros acadêmicos a se adaptar a essas condições duras. Pegue o que precisa e deixe o resto.

Primeiro Estágio: Segurança

SEUS PRIMEIROS dias ou suas primeiras semanas numa crise são cruciais e você deveria ter um amplo espaço para fazer um ajuste mental. É perfeitamente normal e aceitável sentir-se mal ou perdido durante essa transição inicial. Considere positivo que não esteja em negação e que está se permitindo trabalhar apesar da ansiedade. Nenhuma pessoa sã sente-se bem durante um desastre global, então agradeça pelo desconforto que sente. Neste estágio, eu diria para focar em alimentação, família, amigos e talvez exercícios físicos — mas você não vai virar um atleta olímpico em quinze dias, então baixe sua bola.

Em seguida, ignore todo mundo que está postando a pornografia da produtividade nas mídias sociais. Está bem se você continua acordado às 3 da manhã. Está bem esquecer de almoçar ou não conseguir fazer uma teleaula de ioga. Está bem se faz três semanas que você nem toca naquele artigo-que-só-falta-revisar-e-submeter.

Ignore tanto as pessoas que dizem estar escrevendo papers quanto as que reclamam de não conseguir escrever. Cada qual está em sua jornada. Corte esse ruído.

Saiba que você não está fracassando. Livre-se das ideias profundamente toscas que você tem a respeito do que deveria estar fazendo agora. Em vez disso, seu foco deve se voltar prioritariamente para sua segurança física e mental. Neste começo de crise, sua prioridade deveria ser a segurança da sua casa. Adquira itens essenciais para sua dispensa, limpe seu lar e faça um plano de coordenação com sua família. Tenha conversas razoáveis sobre preparos de emergência com seus entes queridos. Se você é próximo de alguém que trabalha nos serviços de emergência ou num ramo essencial, redirecione suas energias e faça do apoio a essa pessoa uma prioridade. Identifique e cubra as necessidades dessas pessoas.

Não importa como é o perfil da sua família: vocês vão ter que ser um time nas próximas semanas ou meses. Monte uma estratégia para manter conexões sociais com um pequeno grupo de familiares, amigos e/ou vizinhos, mas mantenha o distanciamento físico de acordo com as orientações de saúde pública. Identifique os vulneráveis e garanta que eles estejam incluídos e protegidos.

A melhor maneira de construir um time é ser um bom companheiro de equipe, então tome alguma iniciativa para não ficar sozinho. Se você não montar essa infra-estrutura psicológica, o desafio das medidas de distanciamento social necessárias pode ser esmagador. Crie uma rede sustentável de apoio social — agora.

Segundo Estágio: Modificação Mental

ASSIM QUE estiver seguro junto com seu time, você vai começar a se sentir mais estável e seu corpo e sua mente vão se adaptar, fazendo-o buscar desafios mais exigentes. Depois de um tempo seu cérebro pode e vai reiniciar sob condições de crise e você vai reaver sua capacidade de trabalhar em alto nível.

Essa modificação mental permitirá que você volte a ser um pesquisador de alta performance, mesmo sob condições extremas. No entanto, você não deve tentar forçar sua modificação mental, especialmente se você nunca passou por um desastre. Um dos posts mais relevantes que vi no Twitter (do escritor Troy Johnson) dizia: “Dia 1 da Quarentena — vou meditar e fazer treinamento físico. Dia 4 — ah, vamos misturar logo o sorvete com o macarrão”. Pode parecer engraçado, mas diz muito sobre o problema.

Mais do que nunca, precisamos abandonar o performativo e abraçar o autêntico. Modificar nossas essências mentais exige humildade e paciência. Mantenha o foco nessa mudança interna. Essas transformações humanas vão ser sinceras, cruas, feias, esperançosas, frustrantes, lindas e divinas — e serão mais lentas do que os acadêmicos atarefados estão acostumados. Seja lento. Permita-se ficar distraído. Deixe que isso mude o modo como você pensa e como você vê o mundo. Porque o nosso trabalho é o mundo. Que essa tragédia, enfim, nos faça derrubar todas as nossas suposições falhas e nos dê coragem para ter novas ideias.

Terceiro Estágio: Abrace o Novo Normal

Do outro lado dessa mudança, seu cérebro maravilhoso, criativo e resiliente estará te esperando. Quando suas fundações estiverem sólidas, faça uma agenda semanal priorizando a segurança do seu time doméstico e depois reserve blocos de tempo para as diferentes categorias do seu trabalho: ensino, administração e pesquisa. Faça primeiro as tarefas simples e vá abrindo caminho até os pesos-pesados. Acorde cedo. Aquela aula online de ioga ou crossfit vai ser mais fácil nesse estágio.

A essa altura, as coisas começam a parecer mais naturais. O trabalho também vai fazer mais sentido e você estará mais confortável para mudar ou desfazer o que estava fazendo. Vão surgir ideias novas, que nunca lhe passariam pela cabeça se você tivesse ficado em negação. Continue abraçando sua modificação mental, tenha fé no processo e dê apoio ao seu time.

Lembre-se que isso é uma maratona: se você disparar na largada, vai vomitar nos seus pés até o fim do mês. Esteja emocionalmente preparado para uma crise que vai durar 12 ou 18 meses, seguida de uma recuperação lenta. Se terminar antes, será uma surpresa agradável. Neste momento, trabalhe para estabelecer sua serenidade, sua produtividade e seu bem-estar sob condições prolongadas de desastre.

Nenhum de nós sabe quanto tempo essa crise vai durar. Gostaríamos de receber nossas tropas de volta ao lar antes do Natal. Essa incerteza nos enlouquece.

Porém, virá o dia em que a pandemia estará acabada. Vamos abraçar nossos vizinhos e amigos. Vamos retornar às nossas salas de aula e cantinhos do café. Nossas fronteiras voltarão a se abrir para o livre movimento. Nossas economias, um dia, estarão recuperadas das recessões por vir.

Só que, agora, estamos no começo desta jornada. Muita gente ainda não entendeu o fato de que o mundo já mudou. Alguns membros da faculdade sentem-se distraídos ou culpados por não conseguir escrever muito ou dar aulas online apropriadas. Outros usam todo seu tempo em casa para escrever e relatam um surto de produtividade. Tudo isso é ruído — negação e ilusão. Neste momento, essa negação só serve para atrasar o processo fundamental da aceitação, que permite que a gente possa se reinventar nessa nova realidade.

Do outro lado desta jornada de aceitação estão a esperança e a resiliência. Nós sabemos que podemos passar por isso, mesmo que dure anos. Nós seremos criativos e responsivos; vamos lutar em todas as brechas e recantos possíveis. Vamos aprender novas receitas e fazer amizades desconhecidas. Faremos projetos que nem podemos imaginar hoje e vamos inspirar estudantes que ainda estamos para conhecer. E vamos nos ajudar mutuamente. Não importa o que vier depois: juntos, estaremos preparados e fortalecidos.

Por fim, gostaria de agradecer aos colegas e amigos que vivem em lugares difíceis, que sentem na própria pele essa sensação de desastre. Nos últimos anos, rimos ao trocar lembranças sobre as dores da infância e exultamos sobre nossas tribulações. Agradecemos à resiliência que veio com nossas velhas feridas de guerra. Obrigado a vocês por serem os guerreiros da luz e por partilhar de sua sabedoria nascida do sofrimento — porque a calamidade é uma grande professora.

AISHA AHMAD é professora-assistente de Ciências Políticas na Universidade de Toronto, no Canadá, onde também dá cursos avançados sobre Segurança Internacional. Fruto de pesquisas feitas no Afeganistão, Paquistão, Somália, Mali e Líbano, seu livro “Jihad & Co: Black Markets and Islamist Power” (2017) explora as motivações econômicas por trás dos conflitos no mundo islâmico. Este artigo com conselhos sobre produtividade acadêmica em condições adversas foi publicado originalmente no “Chronicle of Higher Education” em 27/03/20.

O efeito Dunning-Kruger, ou por que os ignorantes acham que são especialistas (Universo Racionalista)

[A ironia do autor parece indicar que ele não entendeu muito bem o assunto de que trata. Há frases inconsistentes, como “o efeito Dunning-Kruger não é uma falha humana; é simplesmente um produto da nossa compreensão subjetiva do mundo”, por exemplo. RT]

Por Julio Batista – fev 20, 2020

Imagem via Pxhere.

Artigo original em português

Traduzido por Julio Batista
Original de Alexandru Micu no ZME Science

O efeito Dunning-Kruger é um viés cognitivo que foi descrito pela primeira vez no trabalho de David Dunning e Justin Kruger no (agora famoso) estudo de 1999 Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.

O estudo nasceu baseado em um caso criminal de um rapaz chamado McArthur Wheeler que, em plena luz do dia de 19 de abril de 1995, decidiu roubar dois bancos em Pittsburg, Estados Unidos. Wheeler portava uma arma, mas não uma máscara. Câmeras de vigilância o registraram em flagrante, e a polícia divulgou sua foto nas notícias locais, recebendo várias denúncias de onde ele estava quase que imediatamente.

Um gráfico mostrando o efeito Dunning-Kruger. Imagem adaptada do Wikimedia.

Quando eles foram o prender, o Sr. Wheeler estava visivelmente confuso.

“Mas eu estava coberto de suco”, ele disse, antes que os oficiais o levassem.

Não existe “métodos infalíveis”

Em algum momento de sua vida, Wheeler aprendeu de alguém que o suco de limão poderia ser usado como uma ‘tinta invisível’. Se algo fosse escrito em um pedaço de papel usando suco de limão, você não veria nada – a não ser que você aquecesse o suco, o que tornaria os rabiscos visíveis. Então, naturalmente, ele cobriu seu rosto de suco de limão e foi assaltar um banco, confiante de que sua identidade permaneceria secreta para as câmeras, desde que ele não chegasse perto de nenhuma fonte de calor.

Ainda assim, devemos dar créditos pro sujeito: Wheeler não apostou cegamente. Ele realmente testou sua teoria tirando uma selfie com uma câmera polaroid (existe um cientista dentro de todos nós). Por alguma razão ou outra, talvez porque o filme estava com defeito, não sabemos exatamente o porquê, a câmera revelou uma imagem em branco.

As notícias circularam pelo mundo, todo mundo deu uma boa risada, e o Sr. Wheeler foi levado para a cadeia. A polícia concluiu que ele não era louco, nem usava drogas, ele realmente acreditava que seu plano funcionaria. “Durante sua interação com a polícia, ele ficou incrédulo sobre como sua ignorância havia falhado com ele”, escreveu Anupum Pant para a Awesci.

David Dunning estava trabalhando como psicólogo na Universidade Cornell na época, e a história bizarra chamou sua atenção. Com a ajuda de Justin Kruger, um de seus alunos de pós-graduação, ele começou a entender como o Sr. Wheeler podia estar tão confiante em um plano que era claramente estúpido. A teoria que eles desenvolveram é que quase todos nós consideramos nossas habilidades em determinadas áreas acima da média e que a maioria provavelmente avalia as próprias habilidades como muito melhores do que elas são objetivamente – uma “ilusão de confiança” que sustenta o efeito Dunning-Kruger.

Sejamos todos sem noção

“Cuidado com o vão”… entre como você se vê e como realmente é. Imagem via Pxfuel.

“Se você é incompetente, você não pode saber que é incompetente”, escreveu Dunning no seu livro Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

“As habilidades necessárias para produzir uma resposta certa são exatamente as habilidades necessárias para reconhecer o que é uma resposta certa”.

No estudo de 1999 (o primeiro realizado sobre o tópico), a dupla fez uma série de perguntas aos alunos de Cornell sobre gramática, lógica e humor (usadas para medir as habilidades reais dos alunos) e, em seguida, pediu que cada um avaliasse a pontuação geral que eles alcançariam e como suas pontuações se relacionariam às pontuações dos outros participantes. Eles descobriram que os estudantes com a pontuação mais baixa, superestimaram consistente e substancialmente suas próprias capacidades. Os alunos do quartil inferior (25% mais baixos por nota) pensaram que atavam acima de dois terços em média dos outros estudantes (ou seja, que ficaram entre os 33% melhores por pontuação).

Um estudo relacionado realizado pelos mesmo autores em um clube de tiro esportivo mostrou resultados semelhantes. Dunning e Kruger usaram uma metodologia semelhante, fazendo perguntas aos aficionados sobre segurança de armas, visando que estes estimassem a si próprios sobre seus desempenhos no teste. Aqueles que responderam o menor número de perguntas de forma correta também superestimaram demasiadamente seu domínio do conhecimento sobre armas de fogo.

Não é específico apenas às habilidades técnicas, pois afeta todas as esferas da existência humana por igual. Um estudo descobriu que 80% dos motoristas se classificam como acima da média, o que é literalmente impossível, porque não é assim que as médias funcionam. Tendemos a avaliar nossa popularidade relativa da mesma maneira.

Também não se limita a pessoas com habilidades baixas ou inexistentes em um determinado assunto – funciona em praticamente todos nós. Em seu primeiro estudo, Dunning e Kruger também descobriram que os alunos que pontuavam no quartil superior (25%) subestimavam rotineiramente sua própria competência.

Uma definição mais completa do efeito Dunning-Kruger seria que ele representa um viés na estimativa de nossa própria capacidade decorrente de nossa perspectiva limitada. Quando temos uma compreensão ruim ou inexistente sobre um tópico, sabemos literalmente muito pouco para entender o quão pouco sabemos. Aqueles que de fato possuem o conhecimento ou habilidades, no entanto, têm uma ideia muito melhor que as outras pessoas com quem andam. Mas eles também pensam que, se uma tarefa é clara e simples para eles, também deve ser assim para todos os outros.

Uma pessoa no primeiro grupo e uma no segundo grupo são igualmente suscetíveis de usar sua própria experiência como base e tendem a dar como certo que todos estão próximos dessa “base”. Ambos tem “ilusão de confiança” – em um, essa confiança eles tem em si mesmos, e no outro, eles tem em todos as outras pessoas.

Mas talvez não sejamos igualmente sem noção

Errar é humano. Mas, persistir com confiança no erro é hilário.

Dunning e Kruger pareciam encontrar uma saída para o efeito que ajudaram a documentar. Embora todos pareçamos ter a mesma probabilidade de nos iludir, há uma diferença importante entre aqueles que são confiantes, mas incapazes, e aqueles que são capazes e não têm confiança: a forma que lidam e absorvem o feedback ao próprio comportamento.

O Sr. Wheeler tentou verificar sua teoria. No entanto, ele olhou para uma polaroid em branco de uma foto que ele tinha acabado de tirar – um dos grandes motivos que sinalizava que algo não deu muito certo na sua teoria – e não viu motivo para se preocupar; a única explicação que ele aceitou foi que seu plano funcionava. Mais tarde, ele recebeu um feedback da polícia, mas nem isso conseguiu diminuir sua certeza; ele estava “incrédulo em como sua ignorância havia falhado com ele”, mesmo quando ele tinha absoluta confirmação (estando na prisão) de que isso falhou.

Durante sua pesquisa, Dunning e Kruger descobriram que bons alunos previam melhor seu desempenho em exames futuros quando recebessem feedback preciso sobre a pontuação que alcançaram atualmente e sobre sua classificação relativa entre a turma. Os alunos com pior desempenho não mudariam suas expectativas, mesmo após um feedback claro e repetido de que estavam tendo um desempenho ruim. Eles simplesmente insistiram que suas suposições estavam corretas.

Brincadeiras à parte, o efeito Dunning-Kruger não é uma falha humana; é simplesmente um produto da nossa compreensão subjetiva do mundo. Na verdade, serve como uma precaução contra supor que estamos sempre certos e serve pra destacar a importância de manter uma mente aberta e uma visão crítica de nossa própria capacidade.

Mas se você tem medo de ser incompetente, verifique como o feedback afeta sua visão sobre seu próprio trabalho, conhecimento, habilidades e como isso se relaciona com outras pessoas ao seu redor. Se você realmente é um incompetente, não vai mudar de ideia e esse processo é basicamente uma perda de tempo, mas não se preocupe – alguém lhe dirá que você é incompetente.

E você não vai acreditar neles.

Esse desconforto que você está sentindo é luto (HBR/Medium)

Por Scott Berinato, da Harvard Business Review. Traduzido por Ana Marcela Sarria (aqui); revisado por Renzo Taddei.

Texto original em inglês

HBR Staff/d3sign/Getty Images

Parte da equipe da HBR se reuniu virtualmente outro dia — uma tela cheia de rostos, numa cena que está se tornando cada vez mais comum por todos lados. Falamos sobre o conteúdo que estamos produzindo nestes tempos angustiantes e como podemos ajudar as pessoas. Mas também falamos sobre como estamos nos sentindo. Uma colega mencionou que o que ela sentia era luto. Cabeças acenaram em concordância na tela.

Se podemos nomeá-lo, talvez possamos lidar com ele. Conversamos com David Kessler sobre ideias de como fazer isso. Kessler é um grande especialista em luto. Ele co-escreveu, com Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, o livro On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. Seu novo livro adiciona outro estágio no processo, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler também trabalhou por uma década no sistema hospitalar de Los Angeles. Ele participou da equipe de risco biológico. Seu trabalho voluntário inclui ser membro da Reserva de Especialistas da polícia de Los Angeles para eventos traumáticos, assim como ter servido na equipe de serviços em situação de desastre da Cruz Vermelha. Ele é o fundador do, que tem mais de 5 milhões de visitas anuais advindas de 167 países.

Kessler compartilhou seus pensamentos sobre por que é importante reconhecer o luto que você pode estar sentindo, como controlá-lo, e por que ele acredita que vamos encontrar um sentido nele. A conversa está levemente editada para garantir maior clareza.

HBR: As pessoas estão sentindo muitas coisas agora. Écorreto chamar algumas das coisas que elas estão sentindo de luto?

Kessler: Sim, e estamos sentindo vários lutos diferentes. Estamos sentindo que o mundo mudou, e ele mudou mesmo. Sabemos que é temporário, mas não sentimos que seja, e compreendemos que as coisas vão ser diferentes. Assim como ir ao aeroporto mudou para sempre depois do 11 de setembro, as coisas vão mudar e este é o ponto no qual mudaram. A perda da normalidade; o medo do estrago econômico; a perda de conexão. Estamos sendo afetados por essas coisas, e estamos em luto. Não estamos acostumados a este tipo de luto coletivo no ar.

Você disse que estamos sentindo mais de um tipo de luto?

Sim, estamos sentindo, também, luto antecipado. Luto antecipado é esse sentimento que temos sobre o que o futuro nos reserva quando estamos incertos a respeito. Normalmente se centra na morte. Sentimos isso quando alguém tem um diagnóstico ruim, ou quando pensamos a respeito do fato de que vamos perder nosso pais em algum momento. Luto antecipado é também, mais maneira mais geral, sobre futuros imaginados. Tem uma tempestade chegando. Tem algo ruim lá fora. Com um vírus, este tipo de luto é muito confuso para as pessoas. Nossa cognição sabe que algo ruim está acontecendo, mas não podemos vê-lo. Isso rompe nosso sentido de segurança. Estamos sentindo a perda da segurança. Eu acho que jamais havíamos perdido coletivamente nosso senso geral de segurança desta forma. Indivíduos ou grupos específicos passaram por isso, mas isso é inédito em escala planetária. Estamos em luto nos níveis micro e macro.

O quê podemos fazer para lidar com o luto?

Entender os estágios do luto é um começo. Mas sempre que falo sobre os estágios do luto, eu lembro as pessoas de que os estágios não são lineares e podem não acontecer nessa ordem. Não é um mapa, mas nos fornece uma plataforma para acessar este mundo desconhecido. Existe a negação, que acontece bastante no início: “este vírus não vai nos afetar”. Existe a raiva: “vocês estão nos fazendo ficar em casa e tirando nossos trabalhos”. Existe a barganha: “ok, se estabelecemos o distanciamento social por duas semanas, tudo vai melhorar, certo?”. Existe a tristeza: “eu não sei quando isto vai terminar”. E, finalmente, a aceitação: “isto está acontecendo; eu tenho que descobrir como seguir adiante”.

A aceitação, como você pode imaginar, é onde está nosso poder. Encontramos o controle quando chegamos na fase da aceitação. “Eu posso lavar minhas mãos. Eu posso manter uma distância segura. Eu posso aprender a trabalhar virtualmente.”

Quando estamos sentindo luto, existe uma dor física. E a mente acelerada. Existem técnicas para lidar com isso e fazer com que seja menos intenso?

Vamos voltar para o luto antecipado. Luto antecipado não-saudável é, na verdade, ansiedade; esse é o sentimento sobre o qual você está falando. Nossa mente começa a nos mostrar imagens. Meus pais ficando doentes. Vemos os piores cenários. Essa é nossa mente sendo protetiva. Nosso objetivo é não ignorar essas imagens ou tentar fazê-las ir embora — sua mente não vai deixar você fazer isso e pode ser doloroso se você forçar. O objetivo é encontrar o equilíbrio nas coisas que você está pensando. Se você sente que imagens ruins estão tomando forma, mude o seu pensamento para imagens positivas. Todos nós ficamos doentes e o mundo segue adiante. Nem todo mundo que eu amo morre. Talvez não morram porque estamos todos fazendo as coisas certas. Nenhum cenário deve ser ignorado, mas nenhum deve dominar também.

Luto antecipado é a mente projetando-se para o futuro e imaginando o pior. Para se acalmar, você quer voltar para o presente. Este conselho vai soar familiar para qualquer pessoa que já meditou ou praticou mindfulness, mas as pessoas podem sempre se surpreender com o quão simples isto pode ser. Você pode nomear cinco coisas que estão na sala onde você está. Existe um computador, uma cadeira, uma foto de um cachorro, um tapete velho e uma xícara de café. É simples assim. Respire. Perceba que, no momento presente, nada do que você tinha antecipado aconteceu. Neste momento, você está bem. Você tem comida. Você não está doente. Use seus sentidos e pense sobre o que eles sentem. A mesa é dura. O cobertor é macio. Eu consigo sentir o ar entrando em minhas narinas. Isto efetivamente funciona para reduzir a dor.

Você também pode pensar sobre como abrir mão do que você não tem controle. O que seu vizinho está fazendo está fora do seu controle. O que está no seu controle é ficar a um metro de distância dele, e lavar suas mãos. Foque nisso.

Finalmente, é um bom momento para multiplicar a compaixão. As pessoas vão ter níveis diferentes de medo e luto e isso se manifesta de formas diferentes. Uma pessoa com quem trabalho ficou muito rude comigo outro dia e eu pensei: “não parece a mesma pessoa; essa é a forma como a pessoa está lidando com a situação. Estou vendo seu medo e ansiedade”. Então seja paciente. Pense sobre como as pessoas geralmente são e não quem elas parecem ser neste momento.

Um aspecto particularmente perturbador nesta pandemia é não saber quando ela acaba.

Isto é um estado temporário. Ajuda falar sobre isso. Eu trabalhei 10 anos no sistema hospitalar. Eu fui treinado para situações como esta. Eu também estudei a pandemia da gripe de 1918. As precauções que estamos tomando são corretas. A história nos conta isso. Isto se chama sobrevivência. Vamos sobreviver. Este é um tempo de se superproteger, mas não se reagir de forma desmedida.

E acredito que vamos encontrar sentido nisto. Eu fiquei honrado que a família de Elisabeth Kübler-Ross me deu permissão para acrescentar um sexto estado ao luto: significado. Eu tinha falado bastante com Elisabeth sobre o que viria depois da aceitação. Eu não quis parar na aceitação quando experimentei o luto pessoal. Eu quis significado naquelas horas mais difíceis. E efetivamente acredito que encontramos iluminação nestes momentos. Agora mesmo as pessoas estão percebendo que elas podem se conectar através da tecnologia. Elas não estão tão distantes quanto imaginavam. Elas estão percebendo que podem usar seus telefones para conversas longas. Estão apreciando caminhadas. Eu acredito que vamos continuar encontrando significado agora e quando isso tiver acabado.

O que você diria para alguém que lê tudo isto e ainda assim se sente sobrecarregado com o luto?

Continue tentando. Há algo poderoso em nomear o luto. Isso nos ajuda a sentir o que está dentro de nós. Tantas pessoas me disseram na última semana: “estou dizendo para meus colegas de trabalho que estou tendo dificuldades” ou “chorei na noite passada”. Quando você nomeia o luto, você é mais capaz de senti-lo e ele se move através de você. Emoções precisam de movimento. É importante que entendamos o que estamos passando. Um produto infeliz do movimento de autoajuda é que somos a primeira geração que tem emoções sobre suas emoções. Falamos para nós mesmos: “estou me sentindo triste, mas não deveria sentir isso; outras pessoas se sentem pior”. Nós podemos — devemos — parar no primeiro sentimento. “Eu me sinto triste. Vou me deixar sentir triste, por cinco minutos”. Seu objetivo nesse momento é sentir sua tristeza e medo e raiva, independente do que estejam sentindo as demais pessoas. Lutar contra isso não ajuda porque seu corpo está produzindo o sentimento. Se permitimos que os sentimentos aconteçam, eles vão acontecer de uma maneira ordenada, e nos empoderar. Então não seremos vítimas.

Numa maneira ordenada?

Sim. às vezes tentamos não sentir o que estamos sentindo porque temos essa imagem de um “bando de emoções”. Se eu me sentir triste e acolher a tristeza, ela não irá embora. O bando de emoções ruins vai me dominar. A verdade é que uma emoção se move através de nós. Não existe um bando de emoções que vai nos pegar. É absurdo pensar que não deveríamos sentir luto agora. Permita-se sentir o luto e siga adiante.

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief (HBR)

Scott Berinato

March 23, 2020

HBR Staff/d3sign/Getty Images

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Some of the HBR edit staff met virtually the other day — a screen full of faces in a scene becoming more common everywhere. We talked about the content we’re commissioning in this harrowing time of a pandemic and how we can help people. But we also talked about how we were feeling. One colleague mentioned that what she felt was grief. Heads nodded in all the panes.

If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler also has worked for a decade in a three-hospital system in Los Angeles. He served on their biohazards team. His volunteer work includes being an LAPD Specialist Reserve for traumatic events as well as having served on the Red Cross’s disaster services team. He is the founder of, which has over 5 million visits yearly from 167 countries.

Kessler shared his thoughts on why it’s important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it, and how he believes we will find meaning in it. The conversation is lightly edited for clarity.

HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?

Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?

Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

What can individuals do to manage all this grief?

Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?

Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.

Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.

You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.

Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A coworker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, That’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this. I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.

One particularly troubling aspect of this pandemic is the open-endedness of it.

This is a temporary state. It helps to say it. I worked for 10 years in the hospital system. I’ve been trained for situations like this. I’ve also studied the 1918 flu pandemic. The precautions we’re taking are the right ones. History tells us that. This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.

And, I believe we will find meaning in it. I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realizing they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.

What do you say to someone who’s read all this and is still feeling overwhelmed with grief?

Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.

In an orderly way?

Yes. Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings.” If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.

Original post

Conspiracy theories: how belief is rooted in evolution – not ignorance (The Conversation)

December 13, 2019 9.33am EST – original article

Mikael Klintman PhD, Professor, Lund University

Despite creative efforts to tackle it, belief in conspiracy theories, alternative facts and fake news show no sign of abating. This is clearly a huge problem, as seen when it comes to climate change, vaccines and expertise in general – with anti-scientific attitudes increasingly influencing politics.

So why can’t we stop such views from spreading? My opinion is that we have failed to understand their root causes, often assuming it is down to ignorance. But new research, published in my book, Knowledge Resistance: How We Avoid Insight from Others, shows that the capacity to ignore valid facts has most likely had adaptive value throughout human evolution. Therefore, this capacity is in our genes today. Ultimately, realising this is our best bet to tackle the problem.

So far, public intellectuals have roughly made two core arguments about our post-truth world. The physician Hans Rosling and the psychologist Steven Pinker argue it has come about due to deficits in facts and reasoned thinking – and can therefore be sufficiently tackled with education.

Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler and other behavioural economists have shown how the mere provision of more and better facts often lead already polarised groups to become even more polarised in their beliefs.

Tyler Merbler/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The conclusion of Thaler is that humans are deeply irrational, operating with harmful biases. The best way to tackle it is therefore nudging – tricking our irrational brains – for instance by changing measles vaccination from an opt-in to a less burdensome opt-out choice.

Such arguments have often resonated well with frustrated climate scientists, public health experts and agri-scientists (complaining about GMO-opposers). Still, their solutions clearly remain insufficient for dealing with a fact-resisting, polarised society.

Evolutionary pressures

In my comprehensive study, I interviewed numerous eminent academics at the University of Oxford, London School of Economics and King’s College London, about their views. They were experts on social, economic and evolutionary sciences. I analysed their comments in the context of the latest findings on topics raging from the origin of humanity, climate change and vaccination to religion and gender differences.

It became evident that much of knowledge resistance is better understood as a manifestation of social rationality. Essentially, humans are social animals; fitting into a group is what’s most important to us. Often, objective knowledge-seeking can help strengthen group bonding – such as when you prepare a well-researched action plan for your colleagues at work.

But when knowledge and group bonding don’t converge, we often prioritise fitting in over pursuing the most valid knowledge. In one large experiment, it turned out that both liberals and conservatives actively avoided having conversations with people of the other side on issues of drug policy, death penalty and gun ownership. This was the case even when they were offered a chance of winning money if they discussed with the other group. Avoiding the insights from opposing groups helped people dodge having to criticise the view of their own community.

Similarly, if your community strongly opposes what an overwhelming part of science concludes about vaccination or climate change, you often unconsciously prioritise avoiding getting into conflicts about it.

This is further backed up by research showing that the climate deniers who score the highest on scientific literacy tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change isn’t happening – despite the evidence showing this is the case. And those among the climate concerned who score the highest on the same tests are more confident than the average in that group that climate change is happening.

This logic of prioritising the means that get us accepted and secured in a group we respect is deep. Those among the earliest humans who weren’t prepared to share the beliefs of their community ran the risk of being distrusted and even excluded.

And social exclusion was an enormous increased threat against survival – making them vulnerable to being killed by other groups, animals or by having no one to cooperate with. These early humans therefore had much lower chances of reproducing. It therefore seems fair to conclude that being prepared to resist knowledge and facts is an evolutionary, genetic adaptation of humans to the socially challenging life in hunter-gatherer societies.

Today, we are part of many groups and internet networks, to be sure, and can in some sense “shop around” for new alliances if our old groups don’t like us. Still, humanity today shares the same binary mindset and strong drive to avoid being socially excluded as our ancestors who only knew about a few groups. The groups we are part of also help shape our identity, which can make it hard to change groups. Individuals who change groups and opinions constantly may also be less trusted, even among their new peers.

In my research, I show how this matters when it comes to dealing with fact resistance. Ultimately, we need to take social aspects into account when communicating facts and arguments with various groups. This could be through using role models, new ways of framing problems, new rules and routines in our organisations and new types of scientific narratives that resonate with the intuitions and interests of more groups than our own.

There are no quick fixes, of course. But if climate change were reframed from the liberal/leftist moral perspective of the need for global fairness to conservative perspectives of respect for the authority of the father land, the sacredness of God’s creation and the individual’s right not to have their life project jeopardised by climate change, this might resonate better with conservatives.

If we take social factors into account, this would help us create new and more powerful ways to fight belief in conspiracy theories and fake news. I hope my approach will stimulate joint efforts of moving beyond disputes disguised as controversies over facts and into conversations about what often matters more deeply to us as social beings.

Why did humans evolve such large brains? Because smarter people have more friends (The Conversation)

June 19, 2017 10.01am EDT

Humans are the only ultrasocial creature on the planet. We have outcompeted, interbred or even killed off all other hominin species. We cohabit in cities of tens of millions of people and, despite what the media tell us, violence between individuals is extremely rare. This is because we have an extremely large, flexible and complex “social brain”.

To truly understand how the brain maintains our human intellect, we would need to know about the state of all 86 billion neurons and their 100 trillion interconnections, as well as the varying strengths with which they are connected, and the state of more than 1,000 proteins that exist at each connection point. Neurobiologist Steven Rose suggests that even this is not enough – we would still need know how these connections have evolved over a person’s lifetime and even the social context in which they had occurred. It may take centuries just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity.

Many people assume that our brain operates like a powerful computer. But Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology, says this is just shoddy thinking and is holding back our understanding of the human brain. Because, while humans start with senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms, we are not born with any of the information, rules, algorithms or other key design elements that allow computers to behave somewhat intelligently. For instance, computers store exact copies of data that persist for long periods of time, even when the power is switched off. Our brains, meanwhile, are capable of creating false data or false memories, and they only maintain our intellect as long as we remain alive.

We are organisms, not computers

Of course, we can see many advantages in having a large brain. In my recent book on human evolution I suggest it firstly allows humans to exist in a group size of about 150. This builds resilience to environmental changes by increasing and diversifying food production and sharing.


As our ancestors got smarter, they became capable of living in larger and larger groups. Mark Maslin, Author provided

A social brain also allows specialisation of skills so individuals can concentrate on supporting childbirth, tool-making, fire setting, hunting or resource allocation. Humans have no natural weapons, but working in large groups and having tools allowed us to become the apex predator, hunting animals as large as mammoths to extinction.

Our social groups are large and complex, but this creates high stress levels for individuals because the rewards in terms of food, safety and reproduction are so great. Hence, Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar argues our huge brain is primarily developed to keep track of rapidly changing relationships. It takes a huge amount of cognitive ability to exist in large social groups, and if you fall out of the group you lose access to food and mates and are unlikely to reproduce and pass on your genes.


Great. But what about your soap opera knowledge? ronstik / shutterstock

My undergraduates come to university thinking they are extremely smart as they can do differential equations and understand the use of split infinitives. But I point out to them that almost anyone walking down the street has the capacity to hold the moral and ethical dilemmas of at least five soap operas in their head at any one time. And that is what being smart really means. It is the detailed knowledge of society and the need to track and control the ever changing relationship between people around us that has created our huge complex brain.

It seems our brains could be even more flexible that we previously thought. Recent genetic evidence suggests the modern human brain is more malleable and is modelled more by the surrounding environment than that of chimpanzees. The anatomy of the chimpanzee brain is strongly controlled by their genes, whereas the modern human brain is extensively shaped by the environment, no matter what the genetics.

This means the human brain is pre-programmed to be extremely flexible; its cerebral organisation is adjusted by the environment and society in which it is raised. So each new generation’s brain structure can adapt to the new environmental and social challenges without the need to physically evolve.


Evolution at work. OtmarW / shutterstock

This may also explain why we all complain that we do not understand the next generation as their brains are wired differently, having grown up in a different physical and social environment. An example of this is the ease with which the latest generation interacts with technology almost if they had co-evolved with it.

So next time you turn on a computer just remember how big and complex your brain is – to keep a track of your friends and enemies.

Groups are often smarter without ‘opinion leaders’ (Futurity)


Equality may counteract the tendency toward groupthink, research suggests.

The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. So, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting, and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

“On average, opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

That is true—as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

But Damon Centola, an associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite.

When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter, report Centola, PhD candidate Joshua Becker, and recent PhD graduate Devon Brackbill in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Equal influence

“The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” says Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

“In egalitarian networks,” he says, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgments. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

“On average,” he says, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

Gut responses

The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who went into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

“Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola says, “only for being accurate.”

Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

“In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola says, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

“Thus,” Centola says, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

“The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

Engineers and doctors

These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making, and organizational design.

For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola says it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

“It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he says. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

Partial support for the work came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Sente com as entranhas? Seu corpo tem um segundo cérebro dentro da barriga (UOL Saúde)


Tem um segundo cérebro dentro da sua barriga

Tem um segundo cérebro dentro da sua barriga. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sabe esse seu cérebro aí na cabeça? Ele não é tão único assim não como a gente imagina e conta com uma grande ajuda de um parceiro para controlar nossas emoções, nosso humor e nosso comportamento. Isso porque o corpo humano tem o que muitos chamam de um “segundo cérebro”. E em um lugar bem especial: na nossa barriga.

O “segundo cérebro”, como é chamado informalmente, está situado bem ao longo dos nove metros de seu intestino e reúne milhões de neurônios. Na verdade, faz parte de algo com uma nomenclatura um pouquinho mais complicada: o Sistema Nervoso Entérico.

Getty Images

Dentro do nosso intestino há entre 200 e 600 milhões de neurônios

Funções que até o cérebro duvida

Uma das razões principais para ele ser considerado um cérebro é a grande e complexa rede de neurônios existentes nesse sistema. Para se ter uma ideia, nós temos ali entre 200 milhões e 600 milhões de neurônios, de acordo com pesquisadores da Universidade de Melbourne, na Austrália, que trabalham em conjunto com o cérebro principal.

É como se tivéssemos o cérebro de um gato na nossa barriga. Ele tem 20 diferentes tipos de neurônios, a mesma diversidade encontrada no nosso cérebro grande, onde temos 100 bilhões de neurônios”

Heribert Watzke, cientista alimentar durante em uma palestra na TED Talks

As funções desse cérebro são várias e ocorrem de forma autônoma e integrada ao grande cérebro. Antes, imaginava-se que o cérebro maior enviava sinais para comandar esse outro cérebro, Mas, na verdade, é o contrário: o cérebro em nosso intestino envia sinais por meio de uma grande “rodovia” de neurônios para a cabeça, que pode aceitar ou não as indicações.

“O cérebro de cima pode interferir nesses sinais, modificando-os ou inibindo-os. Há sinais de fome, que nosso estômago vazio envia para o cérebro. Tem sinais que mandam a gente parar de comer quando estamos cheios. Se o sinal da fome é ignorado, pode gerar a doença anorexia, por exemplo. O mais comum é o de continuar comendo, mesmo depois que nossos sinais do estômago dizem ‘ok, pare, transferimos energia suficiente'”, complementa Watzke.

A quantidade de neurônios assusta, mas faz sentido se pensarmos nos perigos da alimentação. Assim como a pele, o intestino tem que parar imediatamente potenciais invasores perigosos em nosso organismo, como bactérias e vírus.

Esse segundo cérebro pode ativar uma diarreia ou alertar o seu “superior”, que pode decidir por acionar vômitos. É um trabalho em grupo e de vital importância.


Muito além da digestão

É claro que uma das funções principais tem a ver com a nossa digestão e excreção – como se o cérebro maior não quisesse “sujar as mãos”, né? Ele inclusive controla contrações musculares, liberação de substâncias químicas e afins. O segundo cérebro não é usado em funções como pensamentos, religião, filosofia ou poesia, mas está ligado ao nosso humor.

O sistema entérico nervoso nos ajuda a “sentir” nosso mundo interior e seu conteúdo. Segundo a revista Scientific American, é provável que boa parte das nossas emoções sejam influenciadas por causa dos neurônios em nosso intestino.

Já ouviu a expressão “borboletas no estômago”? A sensação é um exemplo disso, como uma resposta a um estresse psicológico.

É por conta disso que algumas pesquisas tentam até tratamento de depressão atuando nos neurônios do intestino. O sistema nervoso entérico tem 95% de nossa serotonina (substância conhecida como uma das responsáveis pela felicidade). Ele pode até ter um papel no autismo.

Há ainda relatos de outras doenças que possam ter a ver com esse segundo cérebro. Um estudo da Nature em 2010 apontou que modificações no funcionamento do sistema podem evitar a osteoporose.

Getty Images

Vida nas entranhas

O “segundo cérebro” tem como uma de suas principais funções a defesa do nosso corpo, já que é um dos grandes responsáveis por controlar nossos anticorpos. Um estudo de 2016 com apoio da Fapesp mostrou como os neurônios se comunicam com as células de defesa no intestino. Há até uma “conversa” com micróbios, já que o sistema nervoso ajuda a ditar quais deles podem habitar o intestino.

Pesquisas apontam que a importância do segundo cérebro é realmente enorme. Em uma delas, foi percebido que ratos recém-nascidos cujos estômagos foram expostos a um químico irritante são mais depressivos e ansiosos do que outros ratos, com os sintomas prosseguindo por um bom tempo depois do dano físico. O mesmo não ocorreu com outros danos, como uma irritação na pele.

Com tudo isso em vista, tenho certeza que você vai olhar para suas vísceras de uma maneira diferente agora, né? Pensa bem: na próxima vez que você estiver estressado ou triste e for comer aquela comida bem gorda para confortar, pode não ser culpa só da sua cabeça.

Nobody understands what consciousness is or how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics either. Could that be more than coincidence? (BBC)

What is going on in our brains? (Credit: Mehau Kulyk/Science Photo Library)

What is going on in our brains? (Credit: Mehau Kulyk/Science Photo Library)

Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have for describing the world at the nuts-and-bolts level of atoms and subatomic particles. Perhaps the most renowned of its mysteries is the fact that the outcome of a quantum experiment can change depending on whether or not we choose to measure some property of the particles involved.

When this “observer effect” was first noticed by the early pioneers of quantum theory, they were deeply troubled. It seemed to undermine the basic assumption behind all science: that there is an objective world out there, irrespective of us. If the way the world behaves depends on how – or if – we look at it, what can “reality” really mean?

The most famous intrusion of the mind into quantum mechanics comes in the “double-slit experiment”

Some of those researchers felt forced to conclude that objectivity was an illusion, and that consciousness has to be allowed an active role in quantum theory. To others, that did not make sense. Surely, Albert Einstein once complained, the Moon does not exist only when we look at it!

Today some physicists suspect that, whether or not consciousness influences quantum mechanics, it might in fact arise because of it. They think that quantum theory might be needed to fully understand how the brain works.

Might it be that, just as quantum objects can apparently be in two places at once, so a quantum brain can hold onto two mutually-exclusive ideas at the same time?

These ideas are speculative, and it may turn out that quantum physics has no fundamental role either for or in the workings of the mind. But if nothing else, these possibilities show just how strangely quantum theory forces us to think.

The famous double-slit experiment (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

The famous double-slit experiment (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

The most famous intrusion of the mind into quantum mechanics comes in the “double-slit experiment”. Imagine shining a beam of light at a screen that contains two closely-spaced parallel slits. Some of the light passes through the slits, whereupon it strikes another screen.

Light can be thought of as a kind of wave, and when waves emerge from two slits like this they can interfere with each other. If their peaks coincide, they reinforce each other, whereas if a peak and a trough coincide, they cancel out. This wave interference is called diffraction, and it produces a series of alternating bright and dark stripes on the back screen, where the light waves are either reinforced or cancelled out.

The implication seems to be that each particle passes simultaneously through both slits

This experiment was understood to be a characteristic of wave behaviour over 200 years ago, well before quantum theory existed.

The double slit experiment can also be performed with quantum particles like electrons; tiny charged particles that are components of atoms. In a counter-intuitive twist, these particles can behave like waves. That means they can undergo diffraction when a stream of them passes through the two slits, producing an interference pattern.

Now suppose that the quantum particles are sent through the slits one by one, and their arrival at the screen is likewise seen one by one. Now there is apparently nothing for each particle to interfere with along its route – yet nevertheless the pattern of particle impacts that builds up over time reveals interference bands.

The implication seems to be that each particle passes simultaneously through both slits and interferes with itself. This combination of “both paths at once” is known as a superposition state.

But here is the really odd thing.

The double-slit experiment (Credit: GIPhotoStock/Science Photo Library)

The double-slit experiment (Credit: GIPhotoStock/Science Photo Library)

If we place a detector inside or just behind one slit, we can find out whether any given particle goes through it or not. In that case, however, the interference vanishes. Simply by observing a particle’s path – even if that observation should not disturb the particle’s motion – we change the outcome.

The physicist Pascual Jordan, who worked with quantum guru Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in the 1920s, put it like this: “observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it… We compel [a quantum particle] to assume a definite position.” In other words, Jordan said, “we ourselves produce the results of measurements.”

If that is so, objective reality seems to go out of the window.

And it gets even stranger.

Particles can be in two states (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

Particles can be in two states (Credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library)

If nature seems to be changing its behaviour depending on whether we “look” or not, we could try to trick it into showing its hand. To do so, we could measure which path a particle took through the double slits, but only after it has passed through them. By then, it ought to have “decided” whether to take one path or both.

The sheer act of noticing, rather than any physical disturbance caused by measuring, can cause the collapse

An experiment for doing this was proposed in the 1970s by the American physicist John Wheeler, and this “delayed choice” experiment was performed in the following decade. It uses clever techniques to make measurements on the paths of quantum particles (generally, particles of light, called photons) after they should have chosen whether to take one path or a superposition of two.

It turns out that, just as Bohr confidently predicted, it makes no difference whether we delay the measurement or not. As long as we measure the photon’s path before its arrival at a detector is finally registered, we lose all interference.

It is as if nature “knows” not just if we are looking, but if we are planning to look.

(Credit: Emilio Segre Visual Archives/American Institute Physics/Science Photo Library)

Eugene Wigner (Credit: Emilio Segre Visual Archives/American Institute of Physics/Science Photo Library)

Whenever, in these experiments, we discover the path of a quantum particle, its cloud of possible routes “collapses” into a single well-defined state. What’s more, the delayed-choice experiment implies that the sheer act of noticing, rather than any physical disturbance caused by measuring, can cause the collapse. But does this mean that true collapse has only happened when the result of a measurement impinges on our consciousness?

It is hard to avoid the implication that consciousness and quantum mechanics are somehow linked

That possibility was admitted in the 1930s by the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner. “It follows that the quantum description of objects is influenced by impressions entering my consciousness,” he wrote. “Solipsism may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.”

Wheeler even entertained the thought that the presence of living beings, which are capable of “noticing”, has transformed what was previously a multitude of possible quantum pasts into one concrete history. In this sense, Wheeler said, we become participants in the evolution of the Universe since its very beginning. In his words, we live in a “participatory universe.”

To this day, physicists do not agree on the best way to interpret these quantum experiments, and to some extent what you make of them is (at the moment) up to you. But one way or another, it is hard to avoid the implication that consciousness and quantum mechanics are somehow linked.

Beginning in the 1980s, the British physicist Roger Penrosesuggested that the link might work in the other direction. Whether or not consciousness can affect quantum mechanics, he said, perhaps quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness.

Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose (Credit: Max Alexander/Science Photo Library)

Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose (Credit: Max Alexander/Science Photo Library)

What if, Penrose asked, there are molecular structures in our brains that are able to alter their state in response to a single quantum event. Could not these structures then adopt a superposition state, just like the particles in the double slit experiment? And might those quantum superpositions then show up in the ways neurons are triggered to communicate via electrical signals?

Maybe, says Penrose, our ability to sustain seemingly incompatible mental states is no quirk of perception, but a real quantum effect.

Perhaps quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness

After all, the human brain seems able to handle cognitive processes that still far exceed the capabilities of digital computers. Perhaps we can even carry out computational tasks that are impossible on ordinary computers, which use classical digital logic.

Penrose first proposed that quantum effects feature in human cognition in his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind. The idea is called Orch-OR, which is short for “orchestrated objective reduction”. The phrase “objective reduction” means that, as Penrose believes, the collapse of quantum interference and superposition is a real, physical process, like the bursting of a bubble.

Orch-OR draws on Penrose’s suggestion that gravity is responsible for the fact that everyday objects, such as chairs and planets, do not display quantum effects. Penrose believes that quantum superpositions become impossible for objects much larger than atoms, because their gravitational effects would then force two incompatible versions of space-time to coexist.

Penrose developed this idea further with American physician Stuart Hameroff. In his 1994 book Shadows of the Mind, he suggested that the structures involved in this quantum cognition might be protein strands called microtubules. These are found in most of our cells, including the neurons in our brains. Penrose and Hameroff argue that vibrations of microtubules can adopt a quantum superposition.

But there is no evidence that such a thing is remotely feasible.

Microtubules inside a cell (Credit: Dennis Kunkel Microscopy/Science Photo Library)

Microtubules inside a cell (Credit: Dennis Kunkel Microscopy/Science Photo Library)

It has been suggested that the idea of quantum superpositions in microtubules is supported by experiments described in 2013, but in fact those studies made no mention of quantum effects.

Besides, most researchers think that the Orch-OR idea was ruled out by a study published in 2000. Physicist Max Tegmark calculated that quantum superpositions of the molecules involved in neural signaling could not survive for even a fraction of the time needed for such a signal to get anywhere.

Other researchers have found evidence for quantum effects in living beings

Quantum effects such as superposition are easily destroyed, because of a process called decoherence. This is caused by the interactions of a quantum object with its surrounding environment, through which the “quantumness” leaks away.

Decoherence is expected to be extremely rapid in warm and wet environments like living cells.

Nerve signals are electrical pulses, caused by the passage of electrically-charged atoms across the walls of nerve cells. If one of these atoms was in a superposition and then collided with a neuron, Tegmark showed that the superposition should decay in less than one billion billionth of a second. It takes at least ten thousand trillion times as long for a neuron to discharge a signal.

As a result, ideas about quantum effects in the brain are viewed with great skepticism.

However, Penrose is unmoved by those arguments and stands by the Orch-OR hypothesis. And despite Tegmark’s prediction of ultra-fast decoherence in cells, other researchers have found evidence for quantum effects in living beings. Some argue that quantum mechanics is harnessed by migratory birds that use magnetic navigation, and by green plants when they use sunlight to make sugars in photosynthesis.

Besides, the idea that the brain might employ quantum tricks shows no sign of going away. For there is now another, quite different argument for it.

Could phosphorus sustain a quantum state? (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

Could phosphorus sustain a quantum state? (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

In a study published in 2015, physicist Matthew Fisher of the University of California at Santa Barbara argued that the brain might contain molecules capable of sustaining more robust quantum superpositions. Specifically, he thinks that the nuclei of phosphorus atoms may have this ability.

Phosphorus atoms are everywhere in living cells. They often take the form of phosphate ions, in which one phosphorus atom joins up with four oxygen atoms.

Such ions are the basic unit of energy within cells. Much of the cell’s energy is stored in molecules called ATP, which contain a string of three phosphate groups joined to an organic molecule. When one of the phosphates is cut free, energy is released for the cell to use.

Cells have molecular machinery for assembling phosphate ions into groups and cleaving them off again. Fisher suggested a scheme in which two phosphate ions might be placed in a special kind of superposition called an “entangled state”.

Phosphorus spins could resist decoherence for a day or so, even in living cells

The phosphorus nuclei have a quantum property called spin, which makes them rather like little magnets with poles pointing in particular directions. In an entangled state, the spin of one phosphorus nucleus depends on that of the other.

Put another way, entangled states are really superposition states involving more than one quantum particle.

Fisher says that the quantum-mechanical behaviour of these nuclear spins could plausibly resist decoherence on human timescales. He agrees with Tegmark that quantum vibrations, like those postulated by Penrose and Hameroff, will be strongly affected by their surroundings “and will decohere almost immediately”. But nuclear spins do not interact very strongly with their surroundings.

All the same, quantum behaviour in the phosphorus nuclear spins would have to be “protected” from decoherence.

Quantum particles can have different spins (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

Quantum particles can have different spins (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

This might happen, Fisher says, if the phosphorus atoms are incorporated into larger objects called “Posner molecules”. These are clusters of six phosphate ions, combined with nine calcium ions. There is some evidence that they can exist in living cells, though this is currently far from conclusive.

I decided… to explore how on earth the lithium ion could have such a dramatic effect in treating mental conditions

In Posner molecules, Fisher argues, phosphorus spins could resist decoherence for a day or so, even in living cells. That means they could influence how the brain works.

The idea is that Posner molecules can be swallowed up by neurons. Once inside, the Posner molecules could trigger the firing of a signal to another neuron, by falling apart and releasing their calcium ions.

Because of entanglement in Posner molecules, two such signals might thus in turn become entangled: a kind of quantum superposition of a “thought”, you might say. “If quantum processing with nuclear spins is in fact present in the brain, it would be an extremely common occurrence, happening pretty much all the time,” Fisher says.

He first got this idea when he started thinking about mental illness.

A capsule of lithium carbonate (Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo/Science Photo Library)

A capsule of lithium carbonate (Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo/Science Photo Library)

“My entry into the biochemistry of the brain started when I decided three or four years ago to explore how on earth the lithium ion could have such a dramatic effect in treating mental conditions,” Fisher says.

At this point, Fisher’s proposal is no more than an intriguing idea

Lithium drugs are widely used for treating bipolar disorder. They work, but nobody really knows how.

“I wasn’t looking for a quantum explanation,” Fisher says. But then he came across a paper reporting that lithium drugs had different effects on the behaviour of rats, depending on what form – or “isotope” – of lithium was used.

On the face of it, that was extremely puzzling. In chemical terms, different isotopes behave almost identically, so if the lithium worked like a conventional drug the isotopes should all have had the same effect.

Nerve cells are linked at synapses (Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library)

Nerve cells are linked at synapses (Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library)

But Fisher realised that the nuclei of the atoms of different lithium isotopes can have different spins. This quantum property might affect the way lithium drugs act. For example, if lithium substitutes for calcium in Posner molecules, the lithium spins might “feel” and influence those of phosphorus atoms, and so interfere with their entanglement.

We do not even know what consciousness is

If this is true, it would help to explain why lithium can treat bipolar disorder.

At this point, Fisher’s proposal is no more than an intriguing idea. But there are several ways in which its plausibility can be tested, starting with the idea that phosphorus spins in Posner molecules can keep their quantum coherence for long periods. That is what Fisher aims to do next.

All the same, he is wary of being associated with the earlier ideas about “quantum consciousness”, which he sees as highly speculative at best.

Consciousness is a profound mystery (Credit: Sciepro/Science Photo Library)

Consciousness is a profound mystery (Credit: Sciepro/Science Photo Library)

Physicists are not terribly comfortable with finding themselves inside their theories. Most hope that consciousness and the brain can be kept out of quantum theory, and perhaps vice versa. After all, we do not even know what consciousness is, let alone have a theory to describe it.

We all know what red is like, but we have no way to communicate the sensation

It does not help that there is now a New Age cottage industrydevoted to notions of “quantum consciousness“, claiming that quantum mechanics offers plausible rationales for such things as telepathy and telekinesis.

As a result, physicists are often embarrassed to even mention the words “quantum” and “consciousness” in the same sentence.

But setting that aside, the idea has a long history. Ever since the “observer effect” and the mind first insinuated themselves into quantum theory in the early days, it has been devilishly hard to kick them out. A few researchers think we might never manage to do so.

In 2016, Adrian Kent of the University of Cambridge in the UK, one of the most respected “quantum philosophers”, speculated that consciousness might alter the behaviour of quantum systems in subtle but detectable ways.

We do not understand how thoughts work (Credit: Andrzej Wojcicki/Science Photo Library)

We do not understand how thoughts work (Credit: Andrzej Wojcicki/Science Photo Library)

Kent is very cautious about this idea. “There is no compelling reason of principle to believe that quantum theory is the right theory in which to try to formulate a theory of consciousness, or that the problems of quantum theory must have anything to do with the problem of consciousness,” he admits.

Every line of thought on the relationship of consciousness to physics runs into deep trouble

But he says that it is hard to see how a description of consciousness based purely on pre-quantum physics can account for all the features it seems to have.

One particularly puzzling question is how our conscious minds can experience unique sensations, such as the colour red or the smell of frying bacon. With the exception of people with visual impairments, we all know what red is like, but we have no way to communicate the sensation and there is nothing in physics that tells us what it should be like.

Sensations like this are called “qualia”. We perceive them as unified properties of the outside world, but in fact they are products of our consciousness – and that is hard to explain. Indeed, in 1995 philosopher David Chalmers dubbed it “the hard problem” of consciousness.

How does our consciousness work? (Credit: Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library)

How does our consciousness work? (Credit: Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library)

“Every line of thought on the relationship of consciousness to physics runs into deep trouble,” says Kent.

This has prompted him to suggest that “we could make some progress on understanding the problem of the evolution of consciousness if we supposed that consciousnesses alters (albeit perhaps very slightly and subtly) quantum probabilities.”

“Quantum consciousness” is widely derided as mystical woo, but it just will not go away

In other words, the mind could genuinely affect the outcomes of measurements.

It does not, in this view, exactly determine “what is real”. But it might affect the chance that each of the possible actualities permitted by quantum mechanics is the one we do in fact observe, in a way that quantum theory itself cannot predict. Kent says that we might look for such effects experimentally.

He even bravely estimates the chances of finding them. “I would give credence of perhaps 15% that something specifically to do with consciousness causes deviations from quantum theory, with perhaps 3% credence that this will be experimentally detectable within the next 50 years,” he says.

If that happens, it would transform our ideas about both physics and the mind. That seems a chance worth exploring.

Impedir barulho e vaias da torcida é imperialismo cultural, diz sociólogo americano (BBC Brasil)


Mulher grita durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo americano diz que vê legitimidade no comportamento da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Assim como muitos observadores internacionais acompanhando os Jogos Olímpicos do Rio, o sociólogo americano Peter Kaufman ficou espantado com o episódio das vaias ao atleta francês do salto com vara Renaud Lavillenie. No caso do acadêmico, porém, o que pareceu incomodá-lo mais foi a reação contrária ao comportamento da torcida.

Para o professor da Universidade Estadual de Nova York, que escreve sobre sociologia do esporte e estudou as reações do público ao comportamento de atletas, houve exagero na condenação das manifestações, sobretudo depois do “pito” público dado nos brasileiros pelo presidente do Comitê Olímpico Internacional (COI), o alemão Thomas Bach.

Após as vaias a Lavillenie no pódio, Bach usou a conta do COI no Twitter para dizer que o comportamento do público foi “chocante” e “inaceitável nas Olimpíadas”.

“O COI certamente tem questões bem mais importantes para lidar do que vaias de torcedores”, disse Kaufman, em conversa com a BBC Brasil, por telefone.

Veja abaixo, trechos da entrevista:

BBC Brasil – O senhor acompanhou a polêmica das vaias no Brasil?

Peter Kaufman – Sim, porque houve um repercussão considerável de alguns incidentes envolvendo o público na Olimpíada do Rio. O comportamento de torcedores é algo interessante, porque estão em jogo fatores culturais.

Cada cultura tem seus próprios valores: em algumas, é apropriado beijar em vez de apertar a mão quando se é apresentado a alguém, por exemplo. Em outras, é muito aceitável vaiar, assim como em certos países aplausos efusivos podem ser vistos como algo rude.

Torcida durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo aponta que vaias podem ter diferentes motivos, inclusive descontentamento com os gastos nos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

BBC Brasil – Por que as pessoas vaiam?

Kaufman – É uma questão de expressão, uma forma de interação social e participação. E isso varia de lugar para lugar. Se um alienígena chegasse aqui hoje e fosse assistir a uma competição esportiva, possivelmente teria outra maneira de se comportar de acordo com sua realidade. E, óbvio, sabemos que não é apenas esporte. As Olimpíadas têm um significado muito maior. O público brasileiro pode estar vaiando em desafio às autoridades, ao governo brasileiro e até mesmo ao dinheiro gasto na Olimpíada.

BBC Brasil – É injusto com os atletas?

Kaufman – Alvos de vaias podem se sentir ofendidos, tristes e até ameaçados por uma torcida mais ruidosas. Não os culpo por pensarem apenas na qualidade de seu desempenho em vez de analisar aspectos culturais ou políticos. É perfeitamente compreensível que o atleta francês tenha ficado bastante chateado com as vaias que recebeu até no pódio. Mas ele estava competindo contra um atleta brasileiro e em casa. Pelo que tenho lido sobre a torcida brasileira, era inevitável que ele fosse alvo dessas manifestações.

BBC Brasil – Renaud Lavillenie não foi a primeira “vítima” e não deverá ser a última, mas o comportamento da torcida no Estádio Olímpico, em especial durante provas em que normalmente o silêncio do público é uma questão de etiqueta, como o tênis e a esgrima, irritou até o presidente do COI, Thomas Bach. Como achar um meio termo?

Brasileiros na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira ficou conhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante os jogos da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Kaufman – Olha, é irônico que sentimentos de nacionalismo e tribalismo surjam na Olimpíada, uma competição concebida em sua forma moderna para promover a paz e a união ente os povos. Mas o esporte é passional e excitante. As pessoas querem vaiar seu adversário para tentar afetar o resultado de uma partida. E, como costuma ser o caso por causa das rivalidades locais, os brasileiros “pegaram no pé dos argentinos”. Também vimos o público vaiando atletas russos por causa da controvérsia envolvendo o doping. As vaias, por sinal, são o menor dos problemas que o COI tem para resolver.

BBC Brasil – Mas Lavillenie não teria razão ao reclamar do barulho durante o momento de seus saltos? Não seria preciso criar uma cultura de torcida mais apropriada para o esporte olímpico?

Kaufman – Isso seria uma atitude de imperialismo cultural. Por que a maneira do brasileiro torcer é errada? A realidade que conhecemos é criada pelo ambiente em que crescemos. Você mencionou o tênis anteriormente: será que não vale a pena discutirmos a razão para o silêncio durante o saque no tênis enquanto no futebol a torcida pode urrar nos ouvidos de um atacante que vai bater um pênalti? A diferença é que o tênis é um esporte muito mais elitizado.

BBC Brasil: O senhor defende o comportamento da torcida, então?

Kaufman: De certa maneira, sim, apesar de que os esportes têm regras para lidar com isso. Acho fascinante o fato de que as normas de comportamento podem ser diferentes. Fica a impressão de que o COI foi pego de surpresa pela passionalidade do torcedor brasileiro. Mas lembremos da Copa do Mundo de 2010, em que as vuvuzelas do torcedor sul-africano criaram um problema até para quem viu os jogos pela TV. Mas ter proibido seu uso teria amputado um componente cultural.

Vaiar é uma expressão de crenças e valores. É tão “errado” quanto torcer.

Quais são os seis tipos de vaias da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira já é reconhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante as competições na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Da esgrima à natação, do basquete ao tênis, atletas foram intensamente vaiados no Rio de Janeiro. E enquanto as vaias são comuns na maioria das Olimpíadas – apesar da ideia de que seja um momento em que o espírito esportivo deve reinar -, já está claro que a Rio 2016 é mais barulhenta que os Jogos mais recentes.

A BBC News fez uma lista com os seis tipos de vaias mais comuns durante a Olimpíada no Brasil, na tentativa de explicar ao público internacional esse fenômeno que vem sendo um dos mais discutidos pela imprensa esportiva:

1. Vaiar por diversão

O público brasileiro tem uma tendência a escolher ” um lado” – torcer por um time, ou um atleta, e vaiar os rivais. Mas eles podem trocar essa lealdade num piscar de olhos.

“Os torcedores brasileiros parecem ser bem igualitários. Eles são capazes de vaiar atletas de muitos países. É muito difícil de identificar o porquê da vaia a um outro atleta”, disse o diretor de comunicação do Comitê Olímpico Internacional, Mark Adams.

A mesma reação foi identificada pelo especialista em Jogos Olímpicos da Universidade de Salford, Andy Miah.

“Eu fiquei surpreso com o quanto eles são verbais e achei uma falta de espírito esportivo toda essa gritaria e vaia. Até eu perceber que era a forma que eles encontraram de se envolver com o drama do evento”, diz.

“Não é malicioso. Eu estava na esgrima ontem e eles estavam vaiando os jogadores e depois torcendo muito e apoiando muito quando eles ganharam. É tudo parte do teatro que é o que eles curtem”.

Ele ainda opina que há diferenças com Londres 2012: “era muito mais quieto, quase nunca tinha gritaria, só aplausos”.

2. Vaiar os favoritos

O público na Rio 2016 demonstrou uma clara preferência pelos azarões. Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, os torcedores apoiaram a Croácia enquanto vaiavam os favoritos – a seleção espanhola. A Espanha então começou a perder e foi derrotada por 72-70.

Esse não é um fenômeno novo.

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, torcedores brasileiros apoiaram a Croácia torcendo pelo time enquanto vaiavam os favoritos, da seleção espanhola. GETTY IMAGES

Durante a Olimpíada de Atenas, em 2004, por exemplo, os torcedores apoiaram a equipe de futebol masculino do Iraque – durante uma semifinal contra o Paraguai – e vaiavam cada vez que os paraguaios ficavam com a bola.

De acordo com o professor de história da mídia da Universidade de Sussex, na Inglaterra, David Hendy, a vaia é “uma tradição nobre” e um lembrete de que o espetáculo é sobretudo para o público, mais do que para os competidores.

“E o público sempre vê tudo em termos dramáticos – um conflito entre heróis e vilões”, explica.

3. Vaiar os russos

Por causa a revelação de um esquema estatal de doping e da decisão do Comitê Olimípico de não suspender todos os atletas, os russos encontraram uma reação particularmente hostil do público no Rio de Janeiro.

As vaias começaram logo na entrada da delegação russa no Maracanã durante a cerimônia de abertura.

“Os russos sempre iriam ser vaiados porque muitos pensam que o COI não deveria ter comprometido os Jogos”, diz Andy Miah.

A nadadora russa Yulia Efimova, que foi banida por 16 meses em 2013 e conquistou o direito de competir novamente no Rio de Janeiro depois de apelar ao Tribunal Arbitral do Esporte, foi vaiada durante toda a competição dos 100 metros peito nas eliminatórias e na final, na qual levou a medalha de prata.

Ela caiu no choro depois que o ouro foi para a americana Lily King, que comentou: “isso só prova que você pode competir limpa e ainda chegar ao topo do pódio”.

Torcida do Brasil em jogo da Alemanha

Torcida brasileira costuma vaiar atletas russos desde o início dos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

O boxeador russo Evgeny Tishchenko demonstrou frustração com a reação negativa do público aos atletas russos.

“É uma pena que o público se comporte dessa forma, apoiando quem quer que esteja contra a Rússia”, disse ele ao jornal Chicago Tribune.

“Estou bastante irritado com isso. É a primeira vez que eu enfrento esse tipo de tratamento. Para falar a verdade, estou um pouco decepcionado”.

4. Vaias políticas

Ao declarar os Jogos Olímpicos abertos na cerimônia de abertura, o presidente interino Michel Temer foi vaiado.

Temer assumiu em maio depois da suspensão de Dilma Rousseff e foi vaiado apesar dito apenas uma frase. Mas as vaias quase se dissiparam em meio aos fogos de artíficio e à música, até porque o nome de Temer não chegou a ser anunciado.

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer, é vaiado na cerimônia de abertura da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Mas essa não é a primeira vez que uma Olimpíada é um catalisador para a insatisfação com a elite política de um país. O ex-chanceler George Osborne e a então ministra do Interior – e atual premiê – Theresa May foram vaiados na entrega de medalhas durante a Paralimpíada de Londres 2012.

“Foi uma resposta visceral e instantânea de um público indignado com as políticas para os deficientes físicos e que se sentiam sem voz”, diz Hendy.

5. Vaias patrióticas

Os fãs brasileiros foram rápidos em demonstrar apoio aos atletas nativos ao vaiarem vigorosamente seus oponentes.

O tenista alemão Dustin Brown foi vaiado até depois de cair e torcer o tornozelo durante uma partida com Thomaz Bellucci, apesar de ter recebido aplausos e apoio quando se levantou para ser levado ao hospital.

O francês Renaud Lavillenie queixou-se publicamente da vaias que ouviu no Engenhão na noite em que perdeu de Thiago Braz no salto com varas. “Dei tudo de mim e não tenho nenhum arrependimento. Uma prova inacreditável! Só estou decepcionado com a total falta de respeito do público. Isso não é digno de um estádio olímpico”, afirmou.

“As Olimpíadas sempre foram sinônimo de respeito internacional. Então as vaias podem distrair e até evitar que os atletas tenham o melhor desempenho”, diz Rhonda Cohen, psicóloga do esporte da Universidade de Middlesex, na Inglaterra.

O boxeador camaronês Hassan N’Dam N’Jijam certamente não ficou feliz ao perder a luta contra o brasileiro Michel Borges depois de muitas vaias pantomímicas. Segundo ele, o barulho pode ter influenciado os juízes.

Os atletas argentinos também foram vaiados durante a cerimônia de abertura só porque são… argentinos – nossos vizinhos e rivais, especialmente no futebol.

E há o caso da goleira da seleção feminina de futebol dos Estados Unidos, Hope Solo, que postou fotos nas redes sociais falando sobre o vírus da Zika e foi vaiada ao coro de “Zika!”durante a partida contra a Nova Zelândia.

Mas os torcedores não reservaram as vaias apenas aos estrangeiros. A performance ruim dos jogadores brasileiros da seleção de futebol também provocou vaias depois das partidas contra a África do Sul e o Iraque.

6. Vaia aos juízes

Até os juízes olímpicos caíram nas vaias do público brasileiro.

Como anfitriões, os brasileiros conquistaram uma vaga na final do salto sincronizado de 10 metros masculino, apesar de os atletas não terem chances na competição. Inevitavelmente, os juízes consistentemente deram notas baixas, gerando vaias nervosas do público.

Mas vale lembrar que nada se compara à final de ginástica masculina em Atenas 2004. O russo Alexei Nemov animou o público com uma rotina de barras arriscada, e, quando os juízes o avaliaram com notas baixas, ouviu vaias por sete minutos ininterruptos.

Paranormal beliefs can increase number of dé jà vu experiences (Science Daily)

April 27, 2016
British Psychological Society (BPS)
A belief in the paranormal can mean an individual experiences more déjà vu moments in their life.

A belief in the paranormal can mean an individual experiences more déjà vu moments in their life.

This is one of the findings of a study by 3rd year undergraduate student Chloe Pickles and Dr Mark Moss, of Northumbria University, who will present their poster today, Thursday 28 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Nottingham. Over 100 participants completed surveys relating to perceived stress, belief in paranormal experiences and beliefs about déjà vu. Analysis of the results showed a strong link between belief in paranormal experiences and the frequency, pleasantness and intensity of déjà vu experiences. Stress was linked significantly to intensity and duration only.

Chloe Pickles said: “Our study calls in to question whether stress increases the number of déjà vu moments for an individual. Previous research had not considered the impact of belief when experiencing the feeling that this moment has happened before. Déjà vu might be a normal experience for those more open to it as well as (or instead of) a consequence of a negative life events.”

Excessive empathy can impair understanding of others (Science Daily)

April 28, 2016
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, JMU
People who empathize easily with others do not necessarily understand them well. To the contrary: Excessive empathy can even impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists has established.

Excessive empathy can impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Leipzig has established. Credit: © ibreakstock / Fotolia

People who empathize easily with others do not necessarily understand them well. To the contrary: Excessive empathy can even impair understanding as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Leipzig has established.

Imagine your best friend tells you that his girlfriend has just proposed “staying friends.” Now you have to accomplish two things: Firstly, you have to grasp that this nice sounding proposition actually means that she wants to break up with him and secondly, you should feel with your friend and comfort him.

Whether empathy and understanding other people’s mental states (mentalising) — i.e. the ability to understand what others know, plan and want — are interrelated has recently been examined by the psychologists Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske, Mathis Trautwein, Franca Parianen-Lesemann and Tania Singer.

Anne Böckler has been a junior professor at the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Psychology since October 2015. Previously, the post-doc had worked in the Department of Social Neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig where she conducted the study together with her co-workers. In the scientific journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the scientists present the results of their work.

“Successful social interaction is based on our ability to feel with others and to understand their thoughts and intentions,” Anne Böckler explains. She says that it had been unclear previously whether and to what extend these two skills were interrelated — that is whether people who empathise easily with others are also capable of grasping their thoughts and intentions. According to the junior professor, the scientists also looked into the question of whether the neuronal networks responsible for these abilities interact.

Answers can be gleaned from the study conducted by Anne Böckler, Philipp Kanske and their colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig within the scope of a large-scale study led by Tania Singer which included some 200 participants. The study enabled the scientists to prove that people who tend to be empathic do not necessarily understand other people well at a cognitive level. Hence, social skills seem to be based on multiple abilities that are rather independent of one another.

The study also delivered new insight as to how the different networks in the brain are orchestrated, revealing that networks crucial for empathy and cognitive perspective-taking interact with one another. In highly emotional moments — for example when somebody talks about the death of a close person — activation of the insula, which forms part of the empathy-relevant network, can have an inhibiting effect in some people on brain areas important for taking someone else’s perspective. And this in turn can cause excessive empathy to impair social understanding.

The participants to the study watched a number of video sequences in which the narrator was more or less emotional. Afterwards, they had to rate how they felt and how much compassion they felt for the person in the film. Then they had to answer questions about the video — for example what the persons could have thought, known or intended. Having thus identified persons with a high level of empathy, the psychologists looked at their portion among the test participants who had had good or poor results in the test about cognitive perspective-taking — and vice versa.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists observed which areas of the brain where active at what time.

The authors believe that the results of this study are important both for neuroscience and clinical applications. For example, they suggest that training aimed at improving social skills, the willingness to empathise and the ability to understand others at the cognitive level and take their perspective should be promoted selectively and separately of one another. The group in the Department of Social Neurosciences in Leipzig is currently working on exactly this topic within the scope of the ReSource project, namely how to specifically train different social skills.

Journal Reference:

  1. Artyom Zinchenko, Philipp Kanske, Christian Obermeier, Erich Schröger, Sonja A. Kotz. Emotion and goal-directed behavior: ERP evidence on cognitive and emotional conflictSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2015; 10 (11): 1577 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv050