Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Friday, June 30, 2006

Blink III (The final post)

Although Malcolm Gladwell left off at this point and did not really go into more ways in which we can use the power of "thin-slicing" as he calls the quick, unconscious analysis that often proves more accurate than conscious analytic thought, I continued thinking about it. If reading about Martin Luther King before taking a Race IAT has an effect, how many other things we do have an effect (positive or negative)? I thought about how the idea of "Experience Building" activities form our unconscious and how in this regard every piece of information we see and read and absorb is just like the old adage of "you are what you eat" except it would be what you see, or do, or experience...And thinking that perhaps we should be that much more careful about what we're feeding ourselves.

Obviously I'm not out reading vicious hateful things, but what AM I reading? And I'm not out purposefully looking to experience the type of things that would make me think poorly of other races, religions, or groups of people or doing things to promote prejudice & bias. But what experiences, and what books, and what things am I doing that counteract all of the things I inadvertently experience, and see, and hear, and learn that might be counter to what my conscious mind would believe?

Other "Blink" studies showed how thinking of being a professor for 10 minutes before an academic test actually improved scores, and for African American students answering questions about race reduced them. Many studies have shown that "thinking smart" and being in the right mood or mindset can effect behavior and abilities: just like how priming a student to be patient had them waiting 10 minutes for test results How could I put myself in the right "mindset" everyday while counteracting negative or false biases set in my subconscious?


So in thinking about these things I came to an idea...not a conclusion, or necessarily a course of action...just an idea. I came to think about the many discussions I have had with many people over the course of many years about religion: organized religion, disorganized religion, belief in God, belief in Spirituality, and Atheism. Although most the atheists I've known have simply said they don't believe in religion because they don't believe in God, every other conversation has had to do with why people believe what they believe and why they DON'T believe in something else.

But this is my idea: based on all the evidence shown in "Blink" about Priming, thin-slicing, and rapid cognition, there is value to religion or at least religious activities whether you believe in the Prophet's social teachings or not. Most religions are based on simple, basic, and often universal spiritual laws which encompass living an "ethical" or "moral" life. The core value of "do unto others..." is present in almost all religions, as are beliefs about living a virtuous, humble, loving, kind, and generous life. Most religions believe in daily prayer, meditation, and reading of the holy book of that religion as well as outside activities to promote a better society. IF you then apply the concept of priming and of "experience building", you would figure that a person who daily reads (priming) about virtue and morals and treating others kindly and spends time acting on those beliefs (experience building) while involved in their religion's community, they would be led to act and behave in a way that is more in tune with their conscious ethics & beliefs. They would have had more experiences of the behaviors associated with the positive beliefs, and would have more primed bias towards thinking in a loving, kind, humble and generous manner after reading their religious writings each day than someone with the same basic ethical beliefs but without the daily ritual practice of these beliefs.

Just a thought....a very long thought, but it was quite interesting to me.

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Blink II

This brings me to the second set of studies I found interesting: Priming....
Priming refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes. An example of this occurs in Spain where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease

Gladwell introduces this section by having you form 4 word sentences out of sets of 5 words at a time.

Something like this:

1-him was worried she was always

2-from our florida oranges temperature

3-ball the throw toss silently

4-shoes give replace old the

5-he observes occasionally people watches

6-be will slept lonely they

7-sky the seamless grey is

8-should now withdrawl forgetful we

9-us bingo sing play let

10-sunlight makes temperature wrinkle laziness

And he says that after completing this test that you would, leaving the testing area, walk down the hall slower than if you had not taken the test. This is because although your conscious mind is taking a language test, your unconscious mind picks up on the words "grey", "old", "bingo", "wrinkle" and "Florida" and relates it to old age. If there were too many of these words and you were aware you were being primed, it would not work.

In the book, Gladwell sites a study in which two groups of students are given a series of tests. One interspersed with words like "polite" and "patiently" "yield" "courteous" and the other with words like "aggressively" "rude" "infringe" "bold" "bother" "intrude". After taking the five minute scrambled sentence test the students were asked to walk down the hall to get the results of the test and their next assignment. However when they got to the office, someone would be blocking the doorway, engaged in conversation with the experimenter. They wanted to find out how long it would take for the primed subjects to interrupt and get their results. The experimenters expected a difference in milliseconds between the groups. The University approving the experiment had made them promise to stop the experiment after 10 minutes and they laughed at the restriction, as they could not believe that any student would actually wait that long. But when they ran the experiment they found the assertively primed students interrupted on average around the 5 minute mark, but the polite primed students...or at least 82% of them NEVER interrupted in the length of the 10 minute conversation.

Another series of tests, called the IAT or Implicit Association Test tests the power of unconscious association. It measures the amount of time used to categorize words & pictures into two different columns. It may start with pictures of people who are thin and those who are fat and ask you to hit either the left button for "thin" or the right button for "fat" while showing you photos of the faces. It may then give you a series of words like "glory" "nasty" "awful" "happy" and ask you to categorize them between "good" and "bad" and then it combines the two tests and asks you to put the displayed items in categories of either "Good or Thin" or "Bad or Fat". These tests show that it takes longer for people to associate some things than others. The results show that almost all American participants had a harder time pairing pictures of African Americans with "good" and Caucasians with "bad" than when paired the other way around. The results could be measured with tests pairing Gender & Career or Family and other unconscious biases. (see some of the test options here)

After the test is complete the data will tell if the subject has a "slight", "moderate" or "strong" preference, or "little to no preference"

Malcolm Gladwell said that he himself took the IAT and despite knowing how it worked and the outcome he wanted he found he still came out as moderately preferential towards whites over blacks. Being half black the outcome disturbed him. In fact, 50,000 African Americans have taken the test and a startling 50% of them have stronger preference towards whites than blacks.This is despite their conscious belief systems. Gladwell took the test four more times and still had the same results. Even if you take the test everyday, you probably will be unable to consciously overcome your results.

BUT...if you were to look over some pictures or read an article about Martin Luther King, or Colin Powell, or Nelson Mandela, and then took the Race IAT, you would find yourself more capable of associating Positive things with Black people... and your results would change. There was a student who took the test every single day just to collect the data, but one day he got a positive association with Blacks for the first time. Thinking it over, he realized that he had spent the morning watching the Olympic Track & Field competitions where black athletes could be said to have represented the honor and pride of the American competitors.

Although our unconscious biases and "gut feelings" are influenced by what we have experienced, and seen and read, and absorbed from our surroundings, we can effect those unconscious thoughts by WHAT we experience. It is not enough to simply believe in equality, or elimination of prejudice. If we want to overcome the unconscious bias that we have built up through experience and our surroundings, we need to change our experience and our surroundings. If we want to be able to treat a minority as our equal and eliminate the unconscious bias, we must surround ourselves with all the best of their culture and become accustomed to seeing them associated with good things.

So I think all these thoughts are interesting and started thinking about what implications this has in MY life, and how usable this information is to me...that's up next...

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Thoughts on "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

I listened to the audiotape of "Blink" this week at work, as read by the author. It was a fascinating book and brought up a lot of novel ideas. It did have the feeling of an academic piece and, as such, I got to about half-way through the book and began wondering why Gladwell was still defending his main point and negating counter-arguments when I was already convinced. Additionally the presentation of information did little to offer any sort of practical application. But then maybe I've just read too many self help books and watched too many American "happy ending" movies and believe things should have a point AND a purpose.

But I did come away from "Blink" with some theories of my own and ideas of how the concepts presented can be combined with others to become "useful"

First let me review some of the things I found most interesting in "Blink"--the basic idea of the book is that rapid cognition, or the quick, unconscious thinking that goes on in the first second we see, hear, or think about something is far more important than we realize and is often more important than the long, drawn out thought process. He points to many examples of how this process works and how it can have positive or negative effects.

I found a couple of the psychological studies he referenced as particularly interesting. The first was one in which people were asked to categorize things by looking at words. For instance words like: Jane, Tom, Jerry, Amy, JoAnne were to be put into the two categories for Man and Woman. Then categories were combined, having Woman or Family as one category and Man or Career as another and participants were asked to put a series of words into the proper categories. The pairings were then switched and the test repeated. Their answers were timed down to a fraction of a second, and it was found (unsurprisingly to me at least) that people had an easier and quicker time putting Man & Career and Woman & Family together than when Man&Family and Woman&Career were paired. This study showed a bias towards males and careers and towards women & families.

This test could be repeated with many pairings and it was; in the tests that paired African American, White, Good, and Bad it was found that almost all the people tested of many racial backgrounds had a bias towards white/good, black/bad. These tests could be repeated over and over again and even when trying to purposefully bias the test towards the opposite, one would get the same results over and over again. The author said he knew several people who would take it everyday and only ONCE had he heard of someone changing their results; the student said the only thing he could think of that could have made his results change was that he had spent the morning watching Olympic track & field events (where generally the bias is towards blacks doing better).

This brings me to the second set of studies I found interesting: Priming.... more later

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Library Audio Book Player



The library now has these cool little audio book players that play a single book. You can even change the speed and set bookmarks. All you need are headphones and your library card! ROCK ON!


Monday, June 26, 2006


A couple of the images of the Fox River as seen from our canoe.

We also saw 4 rainbows over the weekend. I stepped on one.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Animals love me...for food

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I believe I can fly

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance Part II

Cognitive Dissonance...the more, now that it's later:

I've been thinking over this theory because it not only makes so much sense to me, but it explains certain things that I think about a lot.

To begin with, I feel I need to explain a bit about what I think, and how I think...

I've always been able to do exceptionally well on aptitude and intelligence tests, to cram for exams and to know and remember a multitude of facts that most people would forget completely, but am often at a loss to remember what I ate for lunch or the names of good friends when trying to recall them. Information and trivia get stuck in my mind while things that I cannot categorize do not. I am in no way trying to assert my intellectual superiority over anyone here, I've actually always felt that this has just been "given" to me, and I've never had to work at it and have felt really weird about that. I never thought it was fair that I could remember things and perform well in things so easily while other people were truly working HARD and diligently and following the rules, as I slacked and accomplished the same results. Even though I was on the easier side of the equation, it always made me feel bad for not working harder.

But this is where the "HOW" of my thinking comes into play, and also where Cognitive Dissonance has a role in that play.

I've believed for quite some time now that the reason I do better than others in a large number of things does not have anything to do with how HARD I work, but rather with my ability to creatively solve problems so that the work is not as hard. I used to say that I learned all the paths in my college campus by which had the fewest stairs, which had the shortest path, where all the pop machines and bathrooms were and which had the most time spent indoors as a means of being "lazy"....Hold on, hold on, we're not to the Cognitive Dissonance part yet...My point is that I analyzed all the options to find the option that provided the best or most enjoyable experience. If it was cold out, I spent more time indoors, if I was carrying a project I avoided stairs, and so on.

I've said it before: I analyze everything. I just do. I don't know why. If it's part of my life, I analyze it. Whether it's the best papertowel for the money, or what career I should choose, I've analyzed it. And in doing so, I believe I've come up with better answers. Maybe not better for others, but better for me. This analysis extends to include my beliefs. What I believe and how that relates to what I DO is part of my "regular maintenance" thinking-->Hence all the previous "ranting" posts on feminism, vegetarianism and my religion.

So the ideas and theories behind cognitive dissonance hold that we try to come up with new encompassing theories or beliefs when we hold two opposing beliefs to be true at the same time and are unable to hold them without some internal conflict or some resolution. It seems to me as if everything I have come to believe has come about through this struggle, and the balancing acts and resolutions that ensue.

I believe that this process has been part of what has built the creative problem solving skills that allows me to acquire knowledge and education so much more easily and efficiently than other people do. I think the average person finds a straight path in their mind between a starting point and the destination point and my mind instead balances out all the information surrounding each point and determines the best, or most interesting, or most efficient, or most inclusive path of all of them in order to reach the destination point. I think this ability to connect sometimes seemingly unrelated things allows me to creatively solve problems better than the next guy and remember details that otherwise are lost in most people's minds.

I've read that the synapses (sp?)in our mind act as the points along the path that allows a thought to be processed and that as we age the paths that are unused are (and I'm using a bit of poetic license here) "overgrown" and lost. I've also read that older people who do puzzles, riddles, and games help keep their minds active and creatively thinking are less likely to experience dementia and some of the effects of memory loss. These games and puzzles are the sort of activity that a creative problem solver enjoys as the key is usually thinking in a "different or unexpected" way to come up with a non-obvious solution. Those with less ability and desire to think creatively would likely enjoy less and be less able to solve puzzles and games. It makes me think that those who question and analyze their lives and go through the struggles of cognitive dissonance are more likely to develop stronger, more adept and agile minds.

It's interesting to me that the people who don't struggle, who are accepting and unquestioningly resolute in their beliefs are in some way KEEPING themselves from expanding their minds from being able to see other side/situation/solutions. And yet, for the most part, they probably consider themselves happier than the Questioner.

So today I am thankful for my struggles and my doubts, for my questions and my self-evaluation, because with their help I'll probably be able to be out-and-about while others are trying to remember where they left their dentures.

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Time moves on....quickly

I was link surfing today and came across in this blog:
You ever get the feeling that someone just doesn’t want to be your friend anymore? Not in any antagonistic way; just in the “I’m moving on and you don’t fit into my life anymore” kind of way?

I was thinking about that, and about an email I haven't answered yet and wondering if I am The Someone...not the blog posters per se, but The Someone who moves on and leaves others without notice or goodbye. There have been a lot of friends in my life that I've wondered what happened to them and when I found out I was content. I did not want to go back and re-connect or re-establish or re-new. I just wanted to know they were well and where they were.

The email I haven't answered yet is from someone I knew 10 years ago, and although I was really excited to hear from them, once I replied and received a second email I found I had little to say in response. I don't know who I was 10 years ago, or what the dynamics of our friendship were, so I feel like even though I still care for the person as a friend, I do not have any connection to them in my current life. The girl I was then is not the woman I am now, and I care for that girl I was the same way I care for all of her friends...from a bit of a distance. And although I believe that any friendships or connections I had in the past could still be there, I don't know that it is worth the effort or time involved.

How do people maintain not just the love and caring, but the actual relationship with old friends?

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance Answers.com gives this definition:

"A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one's beliefs and one's actions"

While Wiki says:
Cognitive dissonance is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, which can be defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Experiments have attempted to quantify this hypothetical drive.

hmm...this sounds familiar....

more later, when I've thought this through a bit.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Me? or just part of me?

I've never thought of myself as secretive. I have, in fact, been known to say that I have no deep/dark secrets and that I think of myself as able to say ANYTHING about myself....And yet, in reading other blogs I have come to realize that I'm not comfortable just putting myself out there like other people are. I don't reveal everything about me, and I certainly don't put out information that would invite others to track me down and meet me. I don't reveal what I eat for breakfast, or where I work, where you can find me on Monday nights, or detail the minutiae of my life on my blogs. I don't think these are necessarily secrets, but they aren't things that I want everyone from strangers in the blogosphere to my mother to read and be able to refer back to for all eternity. Perhaps part of this is that I feel that this would be very boring reading, but the greater part of it is the limit to which I want others to have access to me when I don't have access to them. It's a one way intimacy when one puts oneself "out there" and I would miss the other half.

So then, why do I blog at all?

For the very reason that I'm now thinking of...no, right now...as I type :) I blog because in writing things I verbalize in a way that helps me come to a solid and focused thought or idea in a way I could not do in my head. So when I want to discuss an issue, or decide what exactly my stance or opinion is on it, I write. And if I'm going to write, it helps me to have the feeling that I am having a conversation, that I'm conveying my idea to another or others. So blogging makes sense.

But back to the whole secrets and openness conversation we were having...

The reason that I realized that I may be less open than others is not JUST from reading other blogs, but from conversations I've had with two people over the past few months--in both of them I was accused of "not answering questions". I don't think this is something I had ever really been accused of...at least not directly. As far as I knew, I was very good at being straightforward and answering most anything anyone asked me. I have been called "blunt" and "frank" so many times that I generally TRY to think over answers and restrain myself from saying exactly what is on my mind more than I succeed at it.

So when am I "not answering"?

I've tried narrowing it down. I think there are a few circumstances in which I will not answer:

#1-I believe the questioner has a particular answer they "want" and I am not willing to give it to them...I think of these as a trap and know that there is no way to answer that will make me happy and/or them happy.

#2-I know the answer would embarrass me or the questioner or hurt feelings (please note: I'm hard to embarrass so it's more likely to be the other way around)

#3-I don't know the "right" or any answer. (i.e. "What can I do to make you trust me again?" when I'm not sure I can or "why do/don't you feel this way?" when I can't figure it out myself and making something up is likely to lead to #2)

I think these are probably good places for me to NOT talk, as I'm more likely to cause problems than make things better by talking, and yet I feel less than honest for not being able to respond.

I wonder how other people react, and if it's more or less honest?

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