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All Hands on Deck!

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Ethology has allowed us to understand that many animal species are capable of what was previously thought to be exclusive to humans:

-  Several animal species, including fish and bats (not exactly top of the smart animals list) are capable of understanding game theory - check out these cool experiments here

- Baboons, Chimps, and Gorillas make, use, and teach young ones about tools. 

- Chimps are capable of organised warfare, and even genocide. 

- Dogs, Whales, Dolphins and Chimps understand and demonstrate empathy, even towards other species. 
- Primates have theory of mind (something that humans develop between ages 3 to 5): this is the understanding that other creatures will have a different perspective of the world because they have access to a different set of information. 

However, only a human 

Nature, Disney, and Chanel know what you like better than you do.  

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Looks like 2 different animals huh? The fox on the left - wild, fierce, aggressive, feral; the fox on the right - cute, friendly, shy even. 
Surely most of us will prefer the one on the right. And guess what, nature knows this.

In 1958,  
Dmitri Belyaev and his intern Lyudmila Trut travelled to fur farms from Siberia to Moscow to Estonia, and selected 130 foxes (100 vixens and 30 male) who were friendlier, more docile around humans to be first generation parents for a breeding experiment. 

 

When their cubs from these 130 foxes were born, Belyaev and Trut introduced human interaction, hand-feeding and petting them (these foxes would normally have no human interaction). Cubs which continued to show aggression, even after significant human contact, were discarded (i.e. slaughtered and made into fur coats). The 10% of the second generation that were tamest were used as parents for the third generation, and the 10% were then bred as parents for the fourth generation and so on. 
 

By intense selective breeding, an evolutionary process that might have otherwise unfolded over several millennia was compressed into a few decades.  Within 4 generations, the cubs began to behave more like dogs. They wagged their tails and eagerly sought contact with humans. After 40 generations, almost all the foxes were playful, friendly and behaved like domestic dogs. The foxes could "read" human cues and respond correctly to gestures or glances. Their vocalisations became different from wild foxes. And most incredibly, their appearance changed dramatically - legs and snout shortened, the jaw and skull grew wider, their tails, just like domesticated dogs and pigs, grew curlier. And most remarkably, their fur had changed to a lighter, friendlier colour. In short, they grew cute. 

Isn't it odd that foxes evolved in appearance, when they were bred for particular behavioural traits. And how is it that they evolved to become exactly how we would wan them to be - cuter?

It turns out that this 


 

              

How quickly can we change our world views?

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Our mind thinks in categories. What does this mean? Let's start with 2 simple examples:

1.  Can you estimate how long 30cm is? 

2. Can you picture in your mind an Opera Singer?
 

When you estimated the 30cm length, did you.... imagine a ruler?

Did you picture a male with formidable facial hair (resembling Pavarotti) when you thought of the opera singer? Well, pause for a second and Google Image "Opera Singer" - are they 

Conforming to Authority - the Miligram experiment 

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You might have heard of the Miligram Experiment. 

The Asch Experiment

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Many of you will be familiar with the Asch experiment.  Which of the lines are the same as line X (on the left, in the picture above)? The obvious answer is B. It is unambiguous. No one could have gotten this wrong.

Er, but what if you were in a room and everyone else said C? Would you still be convinced that the answer is B?

The Asch experiment puts participants with a room of 5 other people - actors planted by the experimenter to give the wrong answer. The experimenter then asks a series of 12 questions, similar to the one above, with obvious, indisputable answers. What result did Asch find?

 

  • 50% of people gave the same wrong answer as the others on more than half of the trials.

  • 76% of participants denied their own senses at least once, following the blatantly false judgement on at least one of the 12 trials.

  • 5% always conformed with the majority incorrect opinion (I presume we all have someone like this in our lives)

 

Remember the ringing bell in the clinic experiment earlier? 
Copying others comes naturally to us. As babies, we learnt by copying. We minimised decision-making by copying: for example, we all brush our teeth when we wake up, and we brush our teeth in a similar manner. When the iPhone first came out, people from different cultures all over the world wanted one, even though most never went beyond the basic functions which many other smart phones provide. Copying others and conforming to norms are not necessarily bad.

But We all know that humans are natural born conformers – we copy each other’s dress sense, ways of talking and attitudes, often without a second thought. But exactly how far does this conformity go? Do you think it is possible you would deny unambiguous information from your own senses just to conform with other people? 

Have a look at the figure below. Compare the line on the left with the three lines on the right: A, B & C. Which of these three lines is the same length as the lonesome line on the left?

It’s obviously C. And yet in a classic psychology experiment conducted in the 1950s, 76% of people denied their own senses at least once, choosing either A or B. What kind of strong-arm psychological pressure tactics made them do this?

The fascinating thing about this experiment was that its creator, renowned psychologist Solomon Asch, set out to prove the exact opposite. A previous experiment by Muzafer Sherif (see his well-known Robbers Cave experiment) had found that when people were faced with making a judgement on an ambiguous test, they used other people’s judgements as a reference point.

This makes perfect sense. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll check with someone else. But this is only when I’m not sure. The situation is quite different when I have unambiguous information, such as when I can clearly see the answer myself. Other people’s judgement should then have no effect – or at least that’s what Asch thought.

The experiment

To test his theory he brought male undergraduates, one at a time, into a room with eight other people who were passed off as fellow participants (Asch, 1951). They were then shown three lines with another for comparison, similar to the figure above. Participants were asked to call out which line – A, B or C – was the same length as the reference line. This procedure was repeated 12 times with participants viewing variations of the above figure.

What the participants didn’t realise was that all the other people sat around the table were in on the game. They were all confederates who had been told by the experimenter to give the wrong answer. On half of the trials they called out the line that was too short, and on the other half the line that was too long.

The real experimental participant, who knew nothing of this, was actually the sixth to call out their answer after five other confederates of the experimenter had given the wrong answer.

  •  
  • Over all the trials the average conformity rate was 33%.

Intrigued as to why participants had gone along with the majority, Asch interviewed them after the experiment. Their answers are probably very familiar to all of us:

  • All felt anxious, feared disapproval from others and became self-conscious.

  • Most explained they saw the lines differently to the group but then felt the group was correct.

  • Some said they went along with the group to avoid standing out, although they knew the group was wrong.

  • A small number of people actually said they saw the lines in the same way as the group.

The findings of this study were so startling they inspired many psychologists to investigate further. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Asch himself found that if the participant only had to write down their answer (while others called theirs out) conformity was reduced to 12.5%.

  • Deutsch and Gerard (1955) still found conformity rates of 23% even in conditions of high anonymity and high certainty about the answer.

  • Those who are ‘conformers’ typically have high levels of anxiety, low status, high need for approval and often authoritarian personalities.

  • Cultural differences are important in conformity. People from cultures which view conformity more favourably – typically Eastern societies – are more likely to conform.

Nature, Disney, and Chanel know what you like better than you do.  

foxes.jpg

Looks like 2 different animals huh? The fox on the left - wild, fierce, aggressive, feral; the fox on the right - cute, friendly, shy even. 
Surely most of us will prefer the one on the right.

 

And guess what, nature is able to adapt to our preferences. 

In 1958,  
Dmitri Belyaev and his intern Lyudmila Trut travelled to fur farms from Siberia to Moscow to Estonia, and selected 130 foxes (100 vixens and 30 male) who were friendlier and more docile around humans, to be first-generation parents for a breeding experiment. 

 

When the cubs from these 130 foxes were born, Belyaev and Trut introduced human interaction, hand-feeding and petting (foxes would normally have no human interaction). Cubs which continued to show aggression, even after significant human contact, were discarded (i.e. sadly slaughtered and made into fur coats). The 10% of the second generation that was tamest were used as parents for the third generation; the tamest 10% of the third generation were then bred as parents for the fourth generation, and so on. 
 

By intense selective breeding, an evolutionary process that might have otherwise require several millennia to unfold was compressed into a few decades.  Within 4 generations, the cubs began to behave more like dogs. They wagged their tails and eagerly sought contact with humans. After 40 generations, the foxes were playful, friendly and behaved just like domesticated dogs. The foxes could "read" human cues and respond correctly to gestures or glances. Their vocalisations became different from wild foxes. And most incredibly, their appearance changed dramatically - legs and snout shortened, the jaw and skull grew wider, their tails, just like domesticated dogs and pigs, grew curlier. Remarkably, even they're fur had changed to a lighter, friendlier colour, instead of the more menacing and aggressive black and grey.

 

In short, they grew cute. 

Isn't it wondrous these foxes that were specifically bred for human interaction evolved not just in behaviour - sure we can imagine that animals can be trained to trust humans and become playful.  But it was more than that - they evolved in appearance for no apparent functional purpose, except to be more attractive to humans.

 

How does nature know what is attractive to us? 

How could foxes, genetically different, become so much like dogs?

The answer lies in the field of epigenetics - how we can become very different not because of the genes themselves, but because of how genes are expressed based on interaction with the environment. 

You can read more about epigenetics here

You can also read more about the transformation of Mickey Mouse here. While these foxes changes naturally, Mickey Mouse changed by design 

              

Who is us and who is them? How quickly and how drastically can we change our views?

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Christmas Eve, December 1914
World War 1 has raged for several months. It will go on for another 3 years.

At the front-line, German and British soldiers greeted each other daily with bullets and grenades. But with no end to the war in sight, the generals on both sides called for a temporary ceasefire, where men on both sides could collect the bodies of the deceased.


And then something amazing happened. In certain areas, the men who had been trying to kill each other just hours before began to mingle. Even though they spoke different languages, they exchanged greetings, food, and small gifts. That night, they held joint burial ceremonies of their comrades killed by the men beside them, singing Christmas carols in different languages. By the next day, one of the most memorable images of the war emerged - the men from both sides were playing football with one another. They even shared addresses with one another so that they could write or even visit each other after the war, provided they hadn't been killed by the other party. 

This truce only ended because the generals on both sides realised that part of their armies had become too friendly with one another, and cracked down on discipline to get their sides back to fighting each other. In 1915, there were fewer occurrences of ceasefires - with leaders on both sides wary of what happened in 1914. By 1916, soldiers no longer had any desire to mingle - the war had gotten increasingly bitter with devastating losses to both sides,

 

Categorisng people based on obvious heuristics is another one of our brain's unconscious preferences (think back on the last 10 people you met, or try observing how you categorise automatically for the new people you will meet).  This categorisation is necessary to help us make sense of the many people we would meet in life, without being overwhelmed by information. One of these categories is "us" vs "them", which explains why you tend to be more wary of people who are a different skin colour, a different religion, wearing the baseball cap of a different team than the one you support - your amygdala lights up, telling you that there is a potential threat of a "them".

 

But as this example shows, the categorisation of who is "us" and "them" tends to be done very quickly, at the expense of accuracy. Why should this other person be a "them"? Once we consciously review our categorisation, we will realise that for many cases, we had over-generalised. For example, after getting to know friends from a different race, we might realise that they have more in common with us then others who are the same race as us.  

 

In this case, even in the most brutal of circumstances,  "them" can turn so quickly into "us", with the realisation that even while trying to kill each other, soldiers have a lot in common. They fight for the same cause. They follow orders. They risk their lives for what they believe. 

What is also interesting is our natural adherence to authority. Is there a point in the war, if Germans and Brits can come together in singing and soccer, to learn each other's language, and to enjoy each other's company? Yet soldiers, even having redefined "us" and "them", reversed their definition and went back into killing each other.

There are 

.

Alcoholics Anonymous is based on a set of 12 rules written by Bill Wilson in 45 minutes sitting on his bed before going to sleep. Yet it has proven to be more successful than any psychological treatment for alcoholism. 

You are more likely to be a Dentist if your name is Dennis or Denyse?

 

Why are some people universally considered good looking?

Why are you the only person not to be able to tickle yourself?

Why do you cry when you feel sad? Do you have to tell yourself to cry when you are sad? Did you ever learn how to react to 

Think of the 3 most beautiful people you know. Why do you find them beautiful? Did you learn consciously what beauty is?

eauty of women’s faces, they found the women with dilated eyes more attractive, because dilated eyes signal sexual interest. But the men had no conscious access to their decision-making processes.

Briefly glimpsed people are more beautiful. In other words, if you catch a glimpse of someone rounding a corner or driving past quickly, your perceptual system will tell you they are more beautiful than you would otherwise judge them to be. The answer pivots on the demands of reproduction. If you believe a briefly glimpsed unattractive person is beautiful, it requires only a double take to correct the mistake—not much of a cost. On the other hand, if you mistake an attractive mate for an unattractive one, you can say sayonara to a potentially rosy genetic future all your conscious brain knows is that you just passed an incredible beauty driving the other way in traffic; you have no access to the neural machinery nor to the evolutionary pressures that manufactured the belief for you.

Men were shown words like beer or bean—but the words were flashed too rapidly to be consciously perceived. The men then rated the attractiveness of photographs of women. After being unconsciously primed with the alcohol-related words (like beer), the subjects rated the photographs as more attractive. And the males who more strongly believed that alcohol increases sexual desire showed the strongest effect.

a woman is considered to be most beautiful just at the peak of fertility in her menstrual cycle—about ten days before menses.29 This is true whether she’s judged by men or by women, and it’s not a matter of the way she acts: it is perceived even by those looking at her photographs.
 

More importantly, it drives home the point that the beauty of the maiden (or man) is neurally preordained. We have no conscious access to the programs, and can tease them out only with careful studies. Note that brains are quite good at detecting the subtle cues involved. Returning to the most beautiful person you know, imagine that you measured the distance between his or her eyes, as well as nose length, lip thickness, chin shape, and so on. If you compared these measurements to those of a not-so-attractive person, you would find that the differences are subtle. Our ability to make subtle distinctions is exquisitely fine-grained; our brains are engineered to accomplish the clear-cut tasks of mate selection and pursuit. All of it rides under the surface of conscious awareness—we get to simply enjoy the lovely feelings that bubble up.

ecent study by scientists in New Mexico counted up the tips made by lap dancers at local strip clubs and correlated this with the menstrual cycles of the dancers.31 During peak fertility, dancers raked in an average of $68 an hour. When they were menstruating, they earned only about $35. In between, they averaged $52

Is reality what you see or what you perceive? The curious case of Bambuti Pygmies and the buffalo-insects. 

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in the late 1950s, British-American anthropologist Colin Turnbull spent 3 years living with the Bambuti pygmies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Bambuti pygmies are a tribe of people that lived in the Ituri, a very dense rain-forest. You can see from the picture above that the Bambuti adapted to their environment by being much smaller, allowing them to get around the forest easier, and scale trees. But the dense environment also meant that the Bambuti did not come into contact with certain experiences: for example, with the trees so dense and compact, they had no experience seeing across long spaces. 

Turnbull formed a strong friendship with a young member of the tribe, Kenge, who regularly followed him on expeditions outside the Ituri forest. In Turnbull’s journal article, "Some Observations regarding the Experiences and Behavior of the BaMbuti Pygmies", published in the American Journal of Psychology, he shared a peculiar experience when he took Kenge out of the forest to a vast plain.
 

“As we turned to get back in the car, Kenge looked over the plains and down to where a herd of about a hundred buffalo were grazing some miles away. He asked me what kind of insects they were, and I told him they were buffalo, twice as big as the forest buffalo known to him. He laughed loudly and told me not to tell such stupid stories, and asked me again what kind of insects they were. He then talked to himself, for want of more intelligent company, and tried to liken the buffalo to the various beetles and ants with which he was familiar.
 

He was still doing this when we got into the car and drove down to where the animals were grazing. He watched them getting larger and larger, and though he was as courageous as any Pygmy, he moved over and sat close to me and muttered that it was witchcraft. (Witchcraft, incidentally, is known to the BaMbuti only through association with the Bantu. They have no similar concept of the supernormal.) Finally when he realized that they were real buffalo he was no longer afraid, but what puzzled him still was why they had been so small, and whether they really had been small and had suddenly grown larger, or whether it had been some kind of trickery.

Similarly, when Turnbull and his partners took Kenge to Lake Edward, Kenge again had trouble understanding how several people were able to fit on a boat that was out on water.  Kenge had never seen a large body of water, other than the streams that ran through the forest,  and he could not fathom a boat larger than a small carve-out canoe which could fit at most one or two people. 

 

Most of us have no problems grappling with size constancy - that objects remain the same size, even though distance my make it look perceptually smaller. We seem to be able, even as young children, to make this connection, taking cues from the environment that indicate distance and depth. 

 

The example of the Bambuti Pygmies though, helps us to understand that:

  • size constancy does not come from your vision. Kenge and the Bambuti Pygmies were looking at the same thing as Turnbull and his friends. 

  • yet Kenge's interpretation of what he saw was different. Living in thick rain-forest where everything is densely packed together, Kenge had no prior experience processing space and depth. His visual cortex did not develop the same connections, which makes depth perception seemingly automatic to many of us. 

  • your brain

 
 

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The Ratty Bureaucrat

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In the 2000 US Presidential Bush presidential campaign was accused of dirty tricks yesterday, after it was discovered that the word "rats" appeared subliminally in a Republican political broadcast targeting Democratic health care proposals.

The offending word, in large white capital letters, flashes against a black background for a thirtieth of a second as a woman narrator criticises Vice President Al Gore's plan for government funding of prescriptions for pensioners.

George W Bush ridiculed as "bizarre and weird" accusations that his campaign was trying to use such underhand techniques to discredit his opponent. Yesterday, however, he announced that the $2.5m (£1.3m) advertising campaign would be withdrawn.

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The Ratty Bureaucrat

Republican Rats TV ad 2000-8x6.jpg

In the 2000 US Presidential Bush presidential campaign was accused of dirty tricks yesterday, after it was discovered that the word "rats" appeared subliminally in a Republican political broadcast targeting Democratic health care proposals.

The offending word, in large white capital letters, flashes against a black background for a thirtieth of a second as a woman narrator criticises Vice President Al Gore's plan for government funding of prescriptions for pensioners.

George W Bush ridiculed as "bizarre and weird" accusations that his campaign was trying to use such underhand techniques to discredit his opponent. Yesterday, however, he announced that the $2.5m (£1.3m) advertising campaign would be withdrawn.

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  • Leave room for luck and serendipitous - Tony Hsieh - you you lucky?

    • Psychology test: rate yourself from lucky to unlucky; then they had people read the front section of the New York Times (30 pages), and are asked to count the number of headlines and photographs you’ve read. If you count the right number, you get 100 bucks. As it turns out, in the 30 pages, there are little pieces of texts that say if you read this, the experiment is over, go to the experimenter and collect an extra $150 bucks. Peple who rated themsleves as unlucky - 1, 2,3: most of the time they got the correct answer of headlines an collected the $100 bucks. Those who rated themselves as lucky - 8,9, 10: 80% o them noticed the little texts and got the extra $150 bucks.

    • It’s not about luck but keeping your mind open. Keeping your peripheral vision open. Because it’s in your peripheral vision that these interesting opportunities show up that you were not expecting.

    • Choice overload: too many choices = no choices.

    • Experiment: you walk in and there is a promoter selling jams ( 6 jams).  30 people stop, and about ⅓ bought. Next week, promoter selling 24 jams. 60 people stopped, 3% bought it. Choice paralysis. So narrow your choices down to Not more than 5-7. And pick one.

    • What if you picked the wrong one? You won’t decide how you feel about the decision till the decision is made. If you pick the wrong one, you will have a feeling in your stomach that you did the wrong thing. You cannot choose well if you only depended on rationality. The wisdom of the emotions is a real thing. Dan goleman Basal Gangla summarises emotional decisions for you. It accumulates all the deicisons you have made and the resulting emotions you got from that. So this is like a knowledge bank of your accumulated experience. But this isnt connected to the prefrontal cortex. It’s conneced to your limbic system and your GI tract, your gut. So it gives information through felt sensations. A gut feeling.

    • Dan gilbert: “Wanting what you get, not getting waht you want”. Experiment: you are asked to rank 5 Monet paintings, from 1 to 5. After ranking, experimenter says he has extra copies of 2 and 3, you can take one if you like. For half the participants, they were told you can’t change once you make up your mind. For the other half, they were told you can come back and pick another one, exchange is ok. Bring everyone back in a week later, and ask them again to rank the 5 Monet paintings. People allowed to change their minds don’t like their choice anymore. In fact they don’t like any of the paintings or the entire process anymore. They don’t want anything else to do with the expeirment. People who picked and couldn’t choose typically went back happy, and ranked the painting they chose as number 1. If you make decisions reversible, your chance of being happy goes down 60-70%.

    • 1) Connect the dots to find meaning through work and life views. 2) stay away from gravity problems because you can’t fix those (but be wary to define gravity problems too simply), or be willing to accept a re-frame. 3) 3 five-year odyssey plans. Always do 3 for ideation for any of the problems we are working on, to make sure we’ve covered not just the ideas we started off with, but consider other ideas as well. 4) prototype your life. 5) choose well:

    • Get curious, talk to people, try stuff.

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