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Subliminal 5: Reading People


How we communicate without speaking. . . how to know who’s the boss by watching her eyes

This chapter looks at the unconscious social cues that human beings make, starting with some scientific anecdotes about clever Hans and biased experiments where students favor rats they think are smarter, thus affecting the results of the experiment without even knowing it. Another anecdote describes students subconsciously affecting the ratings of faces as successful or unsuccessful. What’s a little strange is that no one has yet identified what these subconscious cues are. Some has been found to be in the voice, but most of the rest remains a mystery. In other words, someone looking for scientific misconduct would find nothing wrong if they just looked at the way the students ran the experiments. This is a little troubling.

Pretty strong cases for double blinding experiments, as well as pretty much any experimental control possible to reduce bias that can sneak in the most unnoticeable of ways. Sort of makes alt med proponents who think that the standards of science don’t apply to their alternative beliefs look ridiculous. Bias can come from many, many places. If we want reliable results, we need to rule out things like the above, not lower our standards so we can get the results we want or expect.

Kindle Notes:

Called “theory of mind,” or “ToM,” this ability gives humans a remarkable power to make sense of other people’s past behavior and to predict how their behavior will unfold given their present or future circumstances (1455).

Our tendency to automatically infer mental states is so powerful that we apply it not only to other people but to animals and even, as the six-month-olds did in the wooden disk study I described above, to inanimate geometrical shapes (1460).

one line of research he showed that teachers’ expectations greatly affect their students’ academic performance, even when the teachers try to treat them impartially (1925).

Note: Big implications for race, especially when paired with implicit biases.

among those who’d been singled out as brilliant, he obtained a different result: about 80 percent had an increase of at least 10 points. What’s more, about 20 percent of the “gifted” group gained 30 or more IQ points, while only 5 percent of the other children gained that many. Labeling children as gifted had proved to be a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy (1935).

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