Discover more from Hidden Brain
How “self-essentialism” makes others attractive
Plus, how artificial intelligence changes human communication
“We’ve all had the experience of reading . . . and you get to the bottom of a page and you realize ‘I’ve been thinking about lunch.’” –cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham
I like me, I like you. We’re drawn to people who share our interests, preferences and even personality traits. But we often overestimate how similar others are to us, based on those traits. Psychologists call this “self-essentialism.” Charles Chu of Boston University explains it this way: “To essentialize me is to define who I am by a set of entrenched and unchanging properties, and we all, especially in Western societies, do this to some extent.” For example, if someone shops at Whole Foods, you might also assume their political preferences, then be surprised to learn when they don’t align with the model you had in your mind. “A self-essentialist then would believe that what others can see about us and the way we behave are caused by such an unchanging essence,” Chu continued. In a study, he and colleagues asked people how they felt about various issues, from capital punishment to animal testing. Then, half of the people read about someone else who agreed with their position, while the other half read about someone who disagreed with them. From there, they were surveyed about how much they thought that fictional person shared their general view of the world. The researchers also measured their level of attraction to that person and their self-essentialist beliefs. The results? People who scored high on self-essentialism were more likely to be drawn to the fictitious person who agreed with them. They also assumed that person shared their perception of reality. And this phenomenon wasn’t limited to shared opinions on social issues. The same results happened for other shared attributes. Put simply, when we have something in common with someone else, we tend to overestimate our overall similarities with that person.
Affirmative. People are fascinated with all the latest advancements in artificial intelligence. Will it have consciousness? Will it outsmart us? Will it take over the world? A question asked less often is: how will artificial intelligence change our relationships with each other? A new study looked at this phenomenon and found that using a form of AI — algorithmic responses (such as “smart replies”) —changes how humans communicate with each other, for good and for ill. “More specifically, it increases communication speed, use of positive emotional language, and conversation partners evaluate each other as closer and more cooperative,” the study reported. “However, consistent with common assumptions about the adverse effects of AI, people are evaluated more negatively if they are suspected to be using algorithmic responses.”
Say less. At every stage of life, there are moments when we need buy-in from other people. Yet most of us make a fundamental error when we try to persuade others to see things our way. Listen to learn more.
ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST
April 18: It happens to the best of us: we blank on someone’s name, or forget an important meeting, or bomb a test we thought we’d ace. Today on the show, we talk to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham about the mysteries of memory: how it works, why it fails us, and how to build memories that stick.
ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST
April 19: A young pilot risked her own life to rescue Alan when he was skydiving.
Don’t forget to send us the story of your unsung hero! Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to email@example.com.
Serena and Venus decided to play tennis against each other. They bet one dollar on each game they played. Serena won three bets and Venus won five dollars. How many games did they play?
LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE
There are two monkeys in front of a monkey, two monkeys behind a monkey, and a monkey in the middle. How many monkeys are there?
The answer: Three. Two monkeys are in front of the last monkey; the first monkey has two monkeys behind it; and one monkey is between the other two.
A MOMENT OF JOY
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