Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

The Guardian
Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’
Decca Aitkenhead
8 December 2017

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.

As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.

You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.

The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.

“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”

The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.

“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”

Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.

“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”

Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”

In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”

This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.

Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.

He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”

Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.

“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”

Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.

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Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, returning candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC at GE2015, boldly said in the PAP rally at Commonwealth on 7 September 2015: “I have just one message to send to the SDP: in the PAP, we do not have the tradition of backstabbing our mentors.” This prompted The Online Citizen to produce the following video.

Vivian Balakrishnan kept talking about how Lee Kuan Yew is the PAP. Well, if so, backstabbing mentors and comrades is the PAP way. Here we see how the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made his entire career out of backstabbing his mentors and comrades.

John Laycock

In 1950, LKY returned to Singapore from the UK and Laycock gave LKY a job at his law firm where he was a senior partner. Laycock not only take LKY as his personal pupil but paid him $500 a month, which at that time was five times the median salary. He then also gave LKY’s wife a job there. In 1951, Laycock asked LKY to be his election agent for the General Elections and LKY agreed. Laycock later allowed LKY to take on cases for the trade union ― the cases which would make LKY’s name. He let LKY use his admin staff for political activities. Laycock also made LKY a partner in his firm.

In return, LKY did not support Laycock in the 1955 elections, but started his own political party (PAP) and in his campaign speeches he openly attacked the European establishment and criticized them heavily. A few months later, Laycock asked LKY to leave his company.

Devan Nair

Devan Nair was one of the founding members of the PAP but LKY saw him as a threat. In the 1955 elections, LKY sabotaged Nair’s campaign. Nair was supposed to get his help for ferrying his supporters to the polls but LKY’s wife denied the use of those cars to Nair, causing Nair to lose Farrer Park by a tiny margin. In his autobiography, LKY wrote: “Devan Nair lost and I was greatly relieved.” All this when Nair was a fellow party member and comrade to him.

Despite everything, Nair stood by LKY through thick and thin, turning back on his old comrades to stand by LKY. He was a true friend to LKY. In 1985, Nair was forced to resign from the Presidency under unclear circumstances. LKY could have left it at that. He could’ve let Nair go off quietly into the sunset. But LKY alleged that Nair was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a wife-beater, that he was mentally-impaired, using information that could only have come from Nair’s personal private medical records. LKY put all this on a white paper in Parliament in 1988.

Nair later wrote an open letter to LKY, angrily attacking this: “Disgusting concoction of misinterpreted truths, half truths, and untruths. Not to speak of gaping omissions.” He said: “I have been a victim of a total smear. A furious attempt at utter demolition.”

Lim Chin Siong

Lim Chin Siong was Assemblyman for Bukit Timah and one of the three PAP members of the Legislative Assembly. LKY also saw Lim Chin Siong as his rival in PAP. In 1956, the Lim Yew Hock government accused Lim Chin Siong of saying “beat the police” in a speech that preceded a riot. LKY was sitting on that stage behind Lim Chin Siong at that speech. He knew that Lim Chin Siong had specifically told the crowd NOT to beat the police. But in the Assembly, when Minister Chew Swee Kee announced that Lim Chin Siong had been detained without trial for saying “beat the police”, LKY neither corrected Chew nor condemned the arrest.

Other fellow PAP members

Before the 1959 Elections, LKY had promised to release all political detainees from prison if PAP won the elections. But a month before the elections, LKY met the British colonial governor William Good. To Good’s atonishment, LKY told him that his intention was to release only six of the detainees. He had no obligation to the rest of his party members who were in prison because they were his rivals within the party. He had no intention of releasing any others.

Tunku Abdul Rahman

From 1961 to 1963, LKY was working with Tunku Abdul Rahman to create Malaysia. But Tunku kept complaining to the British that LKY kept trying to stab him in the back. As it became clear that LKY was manipulating the merger to save his own political career by destroying his political opponents in Singapore, Tunku got angrier and angrier. At one point, Tunku was “highly offended by LKY’s deceit”. He derided LKY as spineless. He declared, “I can never trust that man again.” He also described LKY as a thoroughly untrustworthy man.

Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee was LKY’s Economics tutor in Raffles College and after 1959 was his Finance Minister. In November 1962, LKY was about to arrest all his important political opponents and detain them without trial. But LKY was worried that this would make him really unpopular. So LKY actually suggested to the British that before the arrests, he would resign as Prime Minister, leaving Goh Keng Swee who would succeed him as Prime Minister to take the blame for the arrest, thus allowing himself to escape blame and return later as PAP’s and Singapore’s saviour.

Reaction

Shortly after Balakrishnan’s speech about PAP not having a history of backstabbing, an image of him with the quote was posted on his Facebook page. But a few hours later, it was gone. Also, the video of that particular Balakrishnan’s speech rally had been deleted from the PAP’s Youtube channel. Clearly he recognizes that he has made a mistake. He once said in Parliament: “Always be honest and upfront with your people. All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so. But don’t cover up.”

The video can be downloaded from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXcJL7f0Mw8

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #sgpolitics #GE2015 #LeeKuanYew #VivianBalakrishnan

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan

Thread of Events:
• No Free Trade Without Freedom
• Free The Singapore Media

Summary: SDP’s Secretary-General Dr. Chee Soon Juan had published in The Huffington Post two opinion pieces, “Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade” and “Free The Singapore Media And Let The People Go“, on November 13 and December 11 last year, respectively, that were critical of the Singapore Government. In his letter to The Huffington Post, Minister for Social and Family Development Mr. Chan Chun Sing of the PAP took issue with the publication for giving Dr. Chee “considerable but undeserved attention and space“.

The following Mothership posting supposes the reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing poked at Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

Mothership
5 reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing decided to poke Chee Soon Juan via Huffington Post
Martino Tan
16 January 2015

To many, Mr. Chan’s reaction might appear unprecedented as he came off strongly to skewer Dr. Chee and going on the offensive. After all, Mr. Chan did not appear to have any beef with Dr. Chee publicly on previous occasions. However, if we looked beyond the theatrics, we can examine how this might just be the most calculated move in Mr. Chan’s political career thus far. Here are five reasons why Mr. Chan may have decided to have a go at Dr. Chee:

1. Mr. Chan is the Minister at Tanjong Pagar GRC, a seat likely to be contested by Dr. Chee.

At the launch of the SDP’s General Election campaign on January 10, Dr. Chee said that the party could contest at Tanjong Pagar GRC. He had earlier shared that SDP had begun ground work in Tanjong Pagar since 2011.

Although Tanjong Pagar GRC is widely known as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s stronghold, Mr. Chan is the only cabinet Minister in the GRC. Therefore, it was left to him to fire the first salvo.

2. Mr. Chan is troll baiting Dr. Chee, so that Dr. Chee can commit himself at Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Tanjong Pagar GRC was the only GRC that experienced a walkover in GE2011. This means that Tanjong Pagar will be up for grabs among the opposition parties.

Between the stronger WP and the weaker SDP, it is a no-brainer that Mr. Chan wants to get Dr. Chee to commit to contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC. If WP wishes to contest there, SDP’s involvement will split the opposition votes. And it is much safer for the PAP to go toe-to-toe with SDP than WP.

3. Mr. Chan wants to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. 

Over the past few years, Dr. Chee has done a good job in rehabilitating his image as the elder statesman of opposition politics. He sounded reasonable when he urged bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui to apologise after they were accused by many to have heckled the special needs children at Hong Lim park.

At the risk of looking and sounding rather petty, Mr. Chan chose to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. Perhaps Mr. Chan was concerned that Dr. Chee’s track record would not be closely examined during the GE campaign, since the focus would be on WP.

In the letter, Mr. Chan reminded Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s dismal electoral records, his ungentlemanly conduct in ousting gentleman Mr. Chiam See Tong, his dismissal from the National University of Singapore, and him being sued for defamation by both PAP and the opposition.

4. Criticising Dr. Chee is a rite of passage for PAP politicians.

In 1992, then PM Goh Chok Tong proved his personal popularity as a Prime Minister by thrashing Dr. Chee in Mr. Goh’s only by-election and Dr. Chee’s maiden election. Mr. Goh garnered 72.9% of the votes, while Dr. Chee received 24.5% of the votes.

Dr. Chee was Mr. Matthias Yao’s whipping boy in the 1997 General Election. After Mr. Yao defeated Dr. Chee by 12,546 votes (65.1%) to 6,713 (34.9%) in the GE, Mr. Yao was promoted from Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of State.

Therefore, it appears that any PAP stalwart who wants to prove his calibre must go through the rite of passage of hammering Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

5. As one of the fourth generation PAP leaders, Mr. Chan has to lead by example. 

In the 2013 PAP convention, Mr. Chan said that the PAP must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up, because if it does not, then others will occupy the space and make them irrelevant.

“We must not concede the space – physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers – to fight to get our message across at every corner – every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.”

Since Huffington Post is a space that is dominated by Dr. Chee, Mr. Chan felt the need to reclaim the space from Dr. Chee.

Read all the comments to the full article at http://mothership.sg/2015/01/5-reasons-why-minister-chan-chun-sing-decided-to-poke-chee-soon-juan-via-huffington-post/

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #LeeKuanYew #LeeHsienLoong #CheeSoonJuan

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan