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name anything that's important in society right now and it's a coin toss whether it's an illusion [Music] hello and welcome to the psychology
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podcast today is part two of my two two-part series with todd rose todd is the co-founder and president of populous a non-profit think tank that works to find solutions to redistribute opportunity so all people have the
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chance to live fulfilling lives in a thriving society prior to populist todd was a faculty member at harvard university where he founded the laboratory for the science of individuality and he directed the mind brain and education program todd is the
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best-selling author of dark horse and the end of average and his most recent book which is the topic of this second part for the podcast is called collective illusions for this part of the interview i talked to todd rose about this notion of collective
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illusions you know humans are a tribal species prone to conformity and in a lot of instances we act according to what our in-group wants rather than what we want as individuals ironically todd's research shows that we make poor
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inferences about the majority consensus and that failing to recognize collective illusions can have negative consequences on our identities relationships values and society to avoid falling into conformity traps todd encourages us to
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live congruent private and public lives that adhere to our personal convictions absolutely love this episode love this chat with todd just as much as i liked part one which was about intelligence i really like this notion of congruency
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which is a topic that the humanistic psychologist carl rogers talked about a lot and as you all know i'm a humanistic psychologist so this really tickled my humanistic psychology side so without
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further ado i bring you todd rose hey todd i wanted to talk to you about your new book collective illusions as well i know we had this amazing chat about intelligence but i really want to cover this new idea why why do you decide to write this book
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you know look it's interesting um you know at my think tank populace we do a lot of what's called private opinion research right getting around the effects of social distortion trying to get at what people really think um and you know
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i had known about this phenomenon which we call collective illusions historically has been called things like pluralistic ignorance um the illusion of universality things like this and because we'd known about it uh we
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started asking people not only what they thought about certain issues but what they thought most people thought right and what was so shocking it was that actually the first time we ever did it was in like 2015 and it was
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almost like a throwaway question and we weren't even sure what we'd get and what we found over and over again since is that it almost doesn't matter what topic we ask about if it's socially important it's like a coin toss whether we're
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wrong about what the majority really believes and so we're living in this time when these collective illusions may actually be one of the defining features of modern society and as we can talk about they have such
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like damaging consequences for the individual and the group and i felt like this could no longer just be an academic conversation like we need to have a conversation with the general public about this issue so what
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is a collective illusion then right so like what's the definition simply they simply stated right collective illusions are situations where the majority in a group ends up going along with something that they
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don't privately agree with simply because they incorrectly think that most other people in the group agree with it and and as a result entire groups can end up doing things that almost nobody really wanted yeah you say here's a
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quote from you you say when individuals conform to what they think the group wants they can end up doing what nobody wants that is the collective illusions dark magic i actually really like that quote yeah yeah it's exactly uh wow there are
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some deeply ingrained things in our human psyche of tribalism that that that pull us in that direction right like what can you explain the psychological mechanisms why that draw is so powerful yeah so look
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it's funny because you'd imagine if you accept that this is pretty widespread and we we can talk about all the evidence for that the question is then why like how why are we so susceptible to being spectacularly wrong about the
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group and then end up like making something true that never was true and it's really like two underlying mechanisms right so the first is this conformity bias which that's not very novel like we know we've known for a
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long time that is a species humans are a conforming species right like and so as i write about in the book i mean study after study shows like it's not just a choice like you are
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hardwired to all else equal prefer to be with your group not against it it doesn't mean it doesn't mean you can't overcome it but we we definitely have that preference right um in in the in the book i i talked about one study
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which is my favorite ones where you know even something like who you think is good looking right which i i kind of love because i i always like to think about like how did people get funding for certain kinds of studies like
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like scanning people's brains and asking them showing them pictures of people and asking them to rate them in terms of facial attractiveness felt like one that was hot or not right like only it was okay because on a five-point scale instead of
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a binary but um you know in that one it was like they manipulated they showed people images and you'd rate them like this with one to five and then they would then say oh here's what the gr the average of the
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group of people who have done this before how they rate bigger that's not even a group you would care why would you care right and yet like systematically varying that so whenever your school individual score was
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consistent with the group you would get that sort of dopamine reward response in their brain they actually looked at the dopamine did they look at the dopamine flow not the flow unfortunately they're not as smart as you scott but that'll be the
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follow-up but what was also interesting is when you were told that your score deviated significantly from the group um it would trigger an error signal right which is the sort of reinforcement learning mechanism that hey your
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behavior is wrong and change it um so like this happens all the time now great okay so we're a conforming species that's again not not new um what i think
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is interesting is and what's more relevant here is for conformity to work whether you like it or not you have to know what the group actually thinks right because otherwise what would you be conforming to and this is the rub so
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like as you know the human brain is an energy hog like and you can learn a lot about a lot of our uh biases and problems from the kinds of shortcuts that the brain takes
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in the name of energy conservation well it looks like estimating group consensus is one of those shortcuts right because all it's equal your brain tends to assume that the loudest voices repeated
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the most are the majority and and i think about that i think wow that doesn't seem like a good a good shortcut at all but i guess if you go back and f through evolution and when most of our time was spent and like
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seeing like the dumbar number kind of you know groups it probably it obviously had to work well enough right to just be here with us but now when you think about with social media
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and these massive imaginary communities like nations where you're never going to meet more than a tiny tiny percentage of the people in your group that shortcut becomes problematic um and
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we can talk about it like i mean social media in particular makes it very very easy to distort perceived group consensus yeah and i think about instagram and how everyone appears to be wanting to be famous
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but this study that you found that you reported on and kind of blew my mind said people think america there wants to be fans but actually in reality americans do not care about being famous they think it's the north star for everyone else but them that blew my mind
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honestly we actually did that research so we used these private opinion methods that you just can't fake so and we were looking at not just straight questions like do you want fame
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because people know you're not supposed to say yes to that right like um but you looked at trade-off priorities across 76 different attributes uh for what success could mean in a life and and the method
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just because i'm on the right podcast here so i can i can we can sure can you convert out yeah we brought it it's called conjoin and it's widely used in business so like here i have an iphone right i'm not just plugging that but you know
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yeah i'll be stalking out and you know when you have to figure out what kind of combination of features and price point to put in a phone you need to understand trade-off priorities right so not just what people want but what will they sacrifice for it
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so we use that method looking at public opinion right like in this case privately what do people what are trade-off priorities for a good life and what's so interesting like
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everything um okay with this method rather than just asking a point blank it's kind of cool what we do is say out of those 76 items you would get a question and it would say okay here's person a and it would be six
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randomly grabbed attributes from that list of 76 or person b with another random six and say which which of these two people is closer to your view of a successful life
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you're like i don't know a and you do it again and you do it again and again and again and over time you're trading off every attribute against every other attribute but you don't know it right okay so that's the that part of it with
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conjoint so what we did was we did we'd ask what do you think and then the same exact thing what do you think most people would say what would they choose and what was fascinating in the aggregate this idea of being famous
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shook out as the number one perceived priority for people and it was not even close like it it was by far the most dominant attribute we think for other people in private it was dead last
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number 76. now illusions don't get much bigger than that and and that research has important implications because one of the really really serious consequences of collective illusions is
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that this generation's illusions unless you do something about them tend to become next generation's private opinion and here's here's what i mean by that with respect to fame um you know some of our colleagues
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at ucla have been studying the effects of media on middle school kids for for years this kind of understanding what values are they internalizing as their own and up until a few years ago
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whenever they looked the dominant things that they were internalizing tend to be character related and kind of what you'd hope right i want to be a good person i want to be honest i want to have friends a few years ago it changed and it hasn't
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changed back every year now the dominant theme is i want to be famous i want to be a youtube star like i remember one of the in the qualitative interviews they did one of the kids said i want to have a million followers and they said at what it
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doesn't matter it doesn't matter it doesn't matter right and you know it's it's pretty sad right because it's like it would be one thing if they were internalizing the actual values of
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society but we've all learned the hard way that most of what constitutes that sort of wealth status power is it's really not a very fulfilling certainly not a self-actualized life right um and
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our children are now internalizing that empty view of success as their own all because we've allowed this illusion to propagate throughout society yeah this is so important i'm so glad we're having this chat i do want to ask you you know you said that it turned out it was
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actually fame was actually like 71 or so like what what was number one like what do people actually care about here's what's great so first of all you might not be terribly surprised given our last conversation um that at the individual
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level the trade-off priorities are unbelievably individual like it just there's no average you're saying yeah there's no like when you looked at the average like no individual actually
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holds that exact profile that's on brand for you todd i i felt pretty good about that it's like but but what's interesting is you look at the the things that cluster up top they were things like um
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relationships uh character related things um and then like education but not from i want to go to the most elite school possible just i want to they want to get they want to get training to do things that matter to
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them right they wanted purposeful lives and they want to be good people and let me give you one specific example so in the aggregate the number three most important trade-off priority for people this was this was just in the united
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states was to be viewed as trustworthy [Music] like and yet they don't think anybody else really cares about it it's the third most important thing to
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them and yet they don't think that it's like they think people would prioritize it very very low now think about the problem right i want to be trusted i believe i'm trustworthy but i don't think anybody else really cares and i don't really
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think they're trustworthy how does how does a democracy function if we really don't think not only are people untrustworthy but that they don't even care about it and it's just not true so this is the kind of damage that illusions do to
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societies i hear you i mean these implications are deep you said we have found that collective illusions flourish in just about every important area of social life in america i mean that's that's
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incredible that's incredible i mean once you start going down that rabbit hole do you kind of like just see it everywhere now todd do you just like can you like not unsee what you see i i think i i had to uh course correct a little because yeah we found it so often
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that you just start assuming everything's an illusion but not everything is everything is that what you're saying no it's like a big matrix moment no we um i i think that the thing i feel safe is saying is
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name anything that's important in society right now and it's a coin toss whether it's an illusion it's incredible i well let's talk politics is obviously very important on a lot of people's minds you say in california and i was surprised why you had to write in
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california because this seems to apply probably everywhere both democrats and republicans assume the other side holds more extreme views than they actually do creating a self-fulfilling misperception of political polarization you found that that was especially prominent in
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california in that case uh that was the best research that i had found when i was writing was it had just been done i didn't like some of the methods in some of the other research i like whenever we like especially when you're
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writing a book as you know it's like yeah you want the things that have been replicated you want some good methods but that was rock solid we've since actually confirmed that nationally it's interesting right now um in the book i
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tried to stay away from politics mainly because what i found was if you don't understand the concept of collective illusion if your first introduction to it is something very polarizing that issue tends to just be the all the thing you
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can think about right so it's like you want your head around the actual concept but what's interesting from the political standpoint is not surprisingly our national politics are driving a lot of these illusions and it's happening on
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both sides um but it's it's really leading to both both seeing the other side as very extreme when it's not really true but most importantly and even more damaging
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we're seeing within any one political party the misunderstanding of our own party oh my gosh i mean i can just so clearly now see how this dovetails so nicely with your work on intelligence and there's no such thing as averages right to even
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just having that recognition that within your in-group there's no such thing as the average view even in itself right i mean there's the thread here is so obvious once you start unpacking this but between your prior work and this work right yeah but it's
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it's interesting too because it's like no matter what we've looked at so we've studied everything from you know again what you mean by a successful life uh your our aspirations for the future of the country um
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what how do we want to treat one another uh what do you want out of our key institutions like education and the workplace criminal justice these things and it's just like we've got so much more in common i know it's so easy to say right and people try
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to say across all demographics we share a lot in common what i think collective illusions help us understand is why doesn't it feel like that and i think this is important because
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you know there's an old in social psychology there's a thomas theorem right which is if it's real in our imaginations it becomes real in its consequences so it doesn't matter that we actually share so
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much common ground if we believe we are divided then our behavior will act accordingly right and the consequences become self-fulfilling so i think this is a critical time for us to understand a concept like collective illusions
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because not only does it mean perhaps there's actually some common ground for us to build a free and and flourishing society together but that the way we would deal with some of our problems is different like if we
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really are divided so be it right there are ways to bridge honest differences and still get somewhere but if it is a collective illusion then what we do next is different and sometimes leaning into an illusion as if it's
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private opinion can literally make the illusion stronger [Music] yeah i i would rather people have a kind of best self bias and the other person like see the best in them and be biased
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and be wrong than the other way or that other kind of error because you you're you're so right it's true that when you actually lead with the bias of we're divided you take ambiguous stimuli and you're
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more likely to view negativity in that it's like why why are you angry at me and it's like no i actually just have a neutral face right now you know like do you know you're hitting on a really important point right which is
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despite what most people think most situations are pretty pretty ambiguous right like and so we are projecting a lot of assumptions in interactions and so if i am coming into it thinking all out
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sequel someone i'm just meeting probably disagrees with me on really important things and in fact i might not even think their their view might be i might think is even immoral or whatever i am i am the way i'm engaging with them
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is likely to produce the very outcome that i didn't want and so it matters that we get this right and you know i think what's so unfortunate and we can talk more about this but like it's really dangerous when you know
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two-thirds of americans admit to self-silencing right now and you know i know kato had done that research we've we've replicated that it's it's it's a thing and it cuts across all demographics it's just like
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we're we're just not being honest with each other about what we think in part because we believe most people don't agree with us right like and so if we can get back to just having conversations treating one another with respect i think we'll be shocked at the
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common ground that we find when we have those conversations i completely agree and i was wondering if you've come up with a like a chart like that just shows what people actually want and think i mean i feel like disseminating that information would be really valuable you
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know some kind of like white paper of like what people actually think or a cool infographic infographic have you thought about doing the infographic you know so here's what's interesting i agree with you and this is going to be an important step and we've published research and stuff like that
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what we find and what we have found and partly why i wrote the book is the trick with illusions is your brain is certain it knows what the group thinks so if just being told it with data that it's not true it the number of times people
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say man i i wish it were true but i know it's not and you're like so what we found our strategy we felt like is when the more that people came to understand
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the phenomenon of collective illusion the more likely it is that they were willing to take new data and say okay wait now that i know that this is possible and i know that like i can't really trust my brain to tell me what the group thinks they
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were open to good data where otherwise it just seemed like the data itself like and if you think about it like how many other organizations have shown us like look how much common ground we have and yet it doesn't seem to move the need so our bet is to socialize the concept of
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collective illusions get people to understand this and then hopefully we can now start to have the conversation with data about who we really are as a people i mean like to me it's it's it's incumbent on us to actually meet people
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where they are and and i think this is an important concept so it's on me to try to communicate in a way that people understand and can relate to yeah no i i think that's a that's really sensible
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um yeah there's some other findings here that blew my mind uh so why is the moment you ask someone is a woman as electable as a man how come the moment you ask that everything changes yeah this is this was one of those really remarkable we didn't do this
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research so i can brag about it right right it's regina bateson this is really fantastic research looking at gender bias in politics right because it's unbelievable
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like women are so underrepresented in intellectual politics it's just you can't it's but like here's the thing like it's important to understand what's driving that and and for sure let's just be clear just straight up sexism
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certainly is involved sometimes like that that's certainly the case but what what uh dr bateson found what i think was really fascinating is that given our winner-take-all um like sort of two-party system
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so much is dependent on what the gatekeepers think who who because now like if we were doing something like ranked choice voting it doesn't really matter i don't have to care what i think anybody else thinks right but in a winner-take-all system i
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have to do a little bit of guessing about who do i think most people are going to vote for right because otherwise my vote is quote unquote wasted right if i take a flyer on that so what was interesting is if you look at how women perform when they are
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nominated in general elections women win at the same rate as white men it's just so i suggest obviously it's not a general election problem and what what she found was that it was like
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party leaders especially donors right they're like well wait a minute i'm not sexist but i think most people in the party are so i don't think you're going to be able to win and so they don't get the support they don't get the the
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resources and it becomes self-fulfilling it's so clear when you put it that way how that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy but there there is so much pressure within certain groups to say this the the dominant ideology and just
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like don't like if you can't it's like a cult right because like the second you question maybe you're like what does the evidence actually show they're like you're out you're not being loyal um wow
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yeah so that's it's actually um in the book i i was looking at what i call these conformity traps like these these three kinds of situations where you are likely to slip into blind conformity and you are quite likely to do that
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under an illusion to begin with and you know this this sort of identity trap where you've got these groups that matter so much to who you are right and and especially when it's just one group that group has cult-like power
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over you right in fact i actually opened a chapter talking about a cult and like people's willingness to even die rather than lose that sense of belonging to the group um and so that can be so powerful and so once somebody gets control of
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that group right or the illusion going you can lead entire groups astray in a hurry oh humans humans right because like this well i don't know if we're worse than
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turtles they can be pretty cheeky but the thing is about humans is that this this stuff generalized the group stuff kind of generalizes from individual relational stuff like it's it's a you look at codependent relationships
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one-on-one you start to see similar dynamics you know like you start to it's just have you thought about it the individual like the individual uh uh illusion level and how those basic first principles have reasoning for
00:24:13
first principles here you know yeah you're upset correct so so it's actually it's like fractal quality to it right so you see illusion in in in just between two people or small groups
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right um you know i i wrote about it in the book but it's even with people that you know really well like one of the it was kind of funny but like i had one with my grandmother who was like my second mom who helped raise me and it's
00:24:39
like like and it was funny um the short version of it is as we talked about previously like my upbringing my family was great my you know i i was a hard kid to raise and uh
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didn't have a lot of friends and so that it was my grandmother was was always there for me as a place i could always go i'd sleep over there once a month um and one time they didn't have very much money i mean they really didn't have a
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lot of money and um i wanted to just be there because i could i didn't have the words for it then but like that was the place i could be myself and like my uh cortisol levels clearly i'm sure dropped like in that
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environment it was like my sanctuary and one time um [Music] we would go and i'd she'd make me a baloney sandwich would play like yahtzee and board games they would watch tv together tie fellas like that and i
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would have done that every time it was amazing one time she we decided i don't even know how um they ended up taking me this place called sizzler which was kind of like a cheese i remember scissors yeah i love it i love scissors
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bacon salad bar right um it was loud and you know it was fine i actually liked it but like i really just wanted to be with my grandparents right we did that like every month for years right so
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a few years ago pre-pandemic uh i got went back and my grandmother was passing away and i got to be by her side and we were talking and reflecting and so i'm telling her about how how important
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she was to me and how important um those sleepovers were and i just wanted to let her know because it really was going to be like the last conversation we had she she she interrupts me as i'm she says todd i
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i i know what you liked best going to sizzler and i was like wait no i like i i didn't real i just wanted to be home so then she goes on to explain that like no kidding she's like
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we didn't really want to go um but we know it meant a lot to you i was i was going and i really want to go because i thought it meant a lot to them and it turned out this is no kidding they didn't have enough money so they
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they hadn't given up their date nights um to get enough money to take me to sizzler once a month so what i learned is i had crashed my grandparents date nights you know for for a few years and it looked i mean it
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was so great we spent time together but for me it's like these kind of illusions can happen in individual relationships even with people who know you the best and if it can happen there it's not terribly
00:27:09
surprising that it happens in a country of like 300 something million incredible todd i just had a revelation do you want to hear my revelation i do i actually didn't really care for sizzler
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either i think i think i felt social pressures to say oh if sizzler did you when you brought it up right yeah i think we just illustrated this point
00:27:37
i don't think i cared much for sizzler to be honest so i'm glad um they're so they're not a sponsor your podcast is what you're saying not anytime soon that you know like i remember the the
00:27:52
salad bar but did i really like the salad bar did i really did i really care for it there was always like something else from a different side a different item in this in in you know like you do you
00:28:04
know what i'm saying like like if it was pasta there'd be like salad remains from someone else's plate in the that's right anyway anyway so how did this play out in the 2020
00:28:18
presidential election yeah so look i mean if you go back all the way to 2016 we know that we we knew about those sort of what they called like the sort of shy trump voters and right or wrong it became
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something that you didn't say out loud right who you were going to vote for and um i think that the media did a good job of kind of framing if you were going to make this choice this is what it means about you right
00:28:42
and um fair enough whatever like like but so then the problem is is like we get to vote in private and so you know we we had all i remember where i was when that when 2016 happened and it was like
00:28:55
who saw that coming right and in fact that was that was the beginning um uh we didn't even do private opinion research uh before then and in part because of the way that turned
00:29:06
out we realized so much of our model for populist depends on accurately understanding what the american public cares about what their values are their priorities are and we said man we can't take for
00:29:18
granted anything at this point um but you know it's interesting i will say on the political side one of the things that we found in our own data right now is
00:29:30
the after effects of 2020 right well you have one candidate who continues to say that it was stolen right and the way the media reports that is so public opinion if you call
00:29:42
republicans just do a traditional poll we just we just did this um we found 57 we'll say oh yeah it was definitely stolen right uh that number in private is closer to
00:29:55
14 wow like it just think about like but they believe that most republicans think it was stolen and the reason they believe it is you've got a very vocal minority
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right and then n of one who is saying it over and over again and like if republicans don't really care much for the media anyway and so if somebody some pollster calls them from gallup and says do you think the
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election is still what are you gonna say you know what you think your group thinks is the right answer right so it's one thing this is important to me because it's like like i'm not trying to paint a rosy
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picture here like the consequence could still be real but but you know especially politicians it's interesting historically um i can't remember who did the research so uh but
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like they found that politicians were especially sensitive to collective illusions even more so because if you think about it all they want to do is get reelected right like that's like the job of a politician is to get reelected so they are exquisitely sensitive to
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what they think their constituents believe right and so it makes them susceptible to this and so like and you probably know this like if i don't know about you but like the number of at the national level the number of
00:31:09
of republican elected officials who will tell me privately of course i know this wasn't rigged right but then they'll tell you but but i think most of my constituents do now they're not going out and lying about it
00:31:21
they'll just say nothing right thinking that their silence isn't causing any harm but in fact it's causing great harm this is so um eye-opening because i'm thinking about other domains now i'm just curious like how many
00:31:34
christians actually believe in an afterlife like if you actually privately ask them like go down the standard beliefs of like christianity or i don't mean to pick on christianity by the way any any any religion any religion
00:31:47
i'm so curious have you done that study i'm curious oh but that's that'd be a great study because here's one of the tricky parts with with group belonging is that you know you think about groups whether especially like political
00:31:59
parties whatever they aggregate a bunch of different dimensions of things right like like if so it's funny like why do i with our two-party system why do i have to be why do i have to hate gay people to believe in free markets
00:32:12
right like it doesn't make any sense but they they so you know groups that that pull together you know a lot of different things um it's almost what we do find is it's the same kind of jagged profile thing we talked about last time
00:32:25
which is we know for sure there's no like average democrat or republican in terms of their own beliefs against the party's stated platform um and so like i would be shocked if that's not the case when it comes to religious
00:32:37
identity right but it's certainly something we could do be good research we'll work on it together scott yeah that'd be it's exciting like to know i want to know what the truth is you know about what people think think about it like
00:32:49
if i'm like well i definitely let's just pretend let's say i identify as a republican and i'm like because i believe in free markets and free people and i'm like well i actually don't mind people should love who they want to love but now i
00:33:02
feel like if i say that i might be ostracized from the thing for which i identify right and so you're going to lead a lot of people to stay silent or lie about what they believe what timber kern calls preference falsification um
00:33:14
just in the name of belonging so i'm always very leery of groups that aggregate that difference right like like why do i need a party that is here's our 20 things that you have to swallow wholesale or you're not a
00:33:26
republican or you're not a democrat to me that's always a sign that someone's trying to manipulate you yeah for sure this goes back right like didn't seneca haven't talked about at the existential menace of collective illusions
00:33:39
it's like that's why i opened the book talking about because i love seneca i love seneca mainly because like he's such a like a ball of contradictions right you know i remember the first time i was
00:33:51
reading him and i didn't know about him and i'm like i imagine this person who rejected all material life and was like living in a cave somewhere right like like some esoteric buddhist monk before
00:34:06
yeah he was the richest person in rome like it's but i liked it because i think you know he was living in a time when when rome became fabulously wealthy and you know now people had
00:34:19
at the same time as you had these crazy emperors right who now suddenly you couldn't say what you thought and he was trying to give people a good advice about how to live a purposeful life in an era of abundance which was a sort
00:34:31
of new phenomenon right at scale and so i find it just endlessly fascinating um his efforts but he did he was always worried about what we would now call collective illusions and the the misread of the group to lead us
00:34:45
astray individually into lives that were purposeless and quite empty will we ever learn i mean why does every generation recreate the same human nature i mean i know the answer why but i'm saying
00:34:58
what can we do to change can we change something some generation yeah i think that the the trick is is that you know we are who we are evolution works on a much longer time scale right than than
00:35:09
any given life and so we need to we rely pretty heavily on helpful social norms right these cultural norms that actually teach us the right way to engage with each other and that can transcend any
00:35:22
one generation um and you know we worked really hard um in the west you know not just i mean this has happened everywhere but it you know we're where we're from um to acquire norms from from that we would
00:35:35
have called you know liberal democracy right that tolerance and respect and and these things and individual rights and you know it you see those things start to erode now and you start to see some of that base
00:35:48
nature taking back over the tribalism and the seeing the other as the enemy um the outgrouping of people and it we know from history it doesn't end well there right like the erosion of these norms
00:36:02
not only will continue to exacerbate collective illusions they i i think they're the biggest threat to free society that we face in a very long time yeah yeah you made a very convincing case for that i mean i once i read your
00:36:13
book i was like wow todd is so spot on there about the urgency and uh and and vastness of this problem um i definitely agree um i have a question um because i'm thinking you know i'm really interested in individual differences but i'm also interested in
00:36:26
like group differences is it like so here's my question are buddhists less likely to have collective illusions that's my question did you have you studied that not buddhist particularly but uh like um
00:36:38
i will say what we do know is that so at an individual level um as you know like say something like conformity or need to conform or need to belong not surprisingly that exists on a
00:36:50
continuum right it's not healthy for anything for us to be lumped into the same exact you know you want difference um if you look at the the need to belong there's a difference but this need for
00:37:02
self-expression it's also on a continuum and so people with high need for self-expression are just less susceptible to illusion in part because the problem with illusion is not not just that you might misread the group it's that your behavior is
00:37:15
affected by the mystery of the group so people with high need for self-expression are just less likely to have the read of the group affect whatever choice they make right and so what's interesting is not all of us are going to have super
00:37:28
high need for self-expression you know most of us are probably like me i'm more of a people pleaser than i would even want to be right you know it's uh i'm pretty sure it's probably from our last episode of conversation that you know about me now
00:37:40
like um i've worked has like tried not to care as much but what's interesting is those social or cultural norms are actually what helped move a lot of people from like essentially
00:37:52
if i want to belong if the norms of my group are be honest about what you believe then a whole bunch of people who would otherwise do whatever else the group wants them to are now being honest about themselves and essentially protected against the biggest downsides
00:38:06
of these illusions and when people either because of their need for self-expression or their adherence to to help the social norms that promote that when we're all being honest and
00:38:17
respectful about what we really think illusions have nowhere to go right like they're really hard to form in the first place wow can i can i bring up something off the record that's cheeky yeah absolutely i
00:38:29
have this idea in my head of what women want and i act that way i'm not as successful than when i tell women what i actually want and then they're more likely to say oh actually i want that too actually you know what i'll keep this in
00:38:42
i'll keep this in todd about it let's just think about this because it works both ways you see what i'm saying yeah yeah let's we we want like we think we have some sense for like what women want or men want um from
00:38:55
the opposite sex or or same-sex and you know you're why would you be any more right about that than you are about other things and the thing is the same mechanisms that are driving illusions and other issues
00:39:08
like are driving them here too right and so like we can all be saying that we want like as men like let's say as heterosexual men i'll say oh there's a certain ideal about women we want so oh yeah yeah that's what we want and then privately we're like not really i
00:39:20
i kind of like a really strong woman and i i like you know these there's a lot like personally right and um but there's some feminine ideal and we might say it out loud but just to your point i mean that that kind of
00:39:33
misunderstanding think about how detrimental that is not only to individual identity but to interpersonal relationships right like i think this kind of stuff holds us back from having like self-actualization
00:39:45
not only for ourselves but in the relationships that we have i completely agree we do we all need to be more honest with each other and have more what you call positive deviance love that i love that phrase um what you
00:39:58
define as deviation from a negative norm in a positive direction so how can we empower people to have more positive deviance in society despite the consequences because sometimes there's consequences for your group yeah there are and look i think
00:40:10
that there's like a there's it's important that when we say we've got to be honest with each other i think sometimes people use that as excuse to be an i agree look we can disagree without being
00:40:22
disagreeable and like i will say one of the one of the most interesting things we found recently we did this american aspirations index looking at the trade-off priorities people want for the future of the country and they were
00:40:36
everything from like being the richest country of a strong military like anything our institutions could do to to our values how we treat one another one of the top priorities across all demographics it was in the top 10 no
00:40:48
matter how you cut the data uh or top 15 was um we need to treat one another with respect despite our differences like this is like an aspiration for people
00:41:01
right except for they thought it was in the bottom quarter of stuff for everybody else so what happens if i'm like i i would like to get back to treating other people's respect but i don't think
00:41:12
they care about that for me back to that ambiguous interactions that we have all the time i'm gonna read disrespect into most everything i see right and so i i think it's really critical like
00:41:25
like i talked about this as like congruence right this need for our private selves and our public selves to be as as closely aligned as possible we've known for a long time that that's that's a critical part of fulfillment
00:41:37
and self-actualization i mean how how do you get there you're the expert on that like how do you how do you get there if you have a divided self like my private self is different than my public self like so we know that at an individual
00:41:48
level but given the the fact of collective illusions i believe this idea of congruence may be the most important thing you can do for other people right because it doesn't help anyone when we misread each
00:42:00
other so profoundly yeah you have this i agree and you have a sentence with a lot of uh like square quotes in it you say taking authentic responsibility for our congruence in the hidden sphere of our private lives um i love that actually
00:42:14
they're probably not just scare quotes they're probably all just quotes but you put you put those things quotes they were quotes because i was trying to attribute like i know because mine's by other smart people that i would i didn't want
00:42:25
to uh i know and i appreciate that but i love those two i love oh i love that phrase authentic responsibility i love it and again it's like you know like we're most people are dying to do
00:42:37
this like there's just something hollow to living someone else's life right and if i could impress anything on listeners or viewers like a lot of reasons why we're doing this
00:42:49
right now to ourselves is because we believe the group is against us but just think how would you behave if you knew that most people in your groups that matter to you we're in agreement with you like
00:43:02
think about what that changes about your behavior and and your your potential for happiness and flourishing and i'm telling you it's just where we are right now in this society and like i think social media has a lot of
00:43:14
upside but with respect to collective illusions it is a fun house of mirrors it is almost a guarantee to distort uh what you think the group consensus really is so we just got to be thoughtful about the ways not just the
00:43:26
ways we engage on online because that's just always going to be there but learning about collective illusions and getting some skill and not letting those distortions affect how we treat one another in real life because that's where it really really
00:43:39
becomes a problem it sounds like a lot of what you're saying is it starts from within making societal changes um you know this idea of congruence was a big notion from one of my favorite psychologist carl rogers the humanistic
00:43:52
psychologist i don't know if you made that link yeah i did and i i got a little bit of a reference to him and it was fun with the publisher because i was like i i feel like rogers doesn't get the credit i
00:44:04
agree in the same way i i think it's like he's one of the most uh under explored um sort of insights but yeah the congruence was central to roger's view of things and like when you like think
00:44:16
about and rogers then swerves right into all the areas that you're the leading expert in and so that's why for me i felt like you would like this which is this congruence part of uh our ability
00:44:28
to get to self-actualization it doesn't guarantee it but i don't know how you live a self-actualized life if you're incongruent i completely agree it's it's essential and i just love the idea of setting an example for others you know
00:44:40
that's that's that's the way out of this trap is you start doing that and then other people in your group start doing it and then all of a sudden your group's the whole illusion breaks down the emperor has no clothes
00:44:53
or the emperor has clothes the effort does have clothes eventually eventually guess what i'm trying to say eventually yeah what's great about illusions is that they're powerful when they're enforced but they're fragile because
00:45:04
they're social lies right like like you don't want it to be true you wish it weren't true and so what you're really looking for is is wait a minute like so for some of us we just need one
00:45:15
other person to speak up to give us the the the strength to do the same other people need more but what you see is once you start getting the crack in the illusion it affects what we call like bandwagon
00:45:28
change right like it'll just swerve quickly and suddenly it looks like almost overnight the group has shifted its view so whenever you see stuff um it's funny in politics they call it momentum there's no such thing as momentum that's not what that is that is
00:45:41
that is that is an illusion where people's private behavior is like oh wait a minute this is like i can now say what i really think right i feel comfortable saying what i really think um so when you see like sort of exponential change
00:45:53
in public opinion like that's usually the that's usually that there's an illusion underneath there um because if people privately believe something it is very hard to change that and so you know doing that is like one off right i have
00:46:05
to change your mind or change someone else's mind and so you'll usually see slow linear growth or change in in public opinion when you see it change really quickly like it did with marriage equality marriage equality the public
00:46:17
approval for that i mean it's unreal since what since 2003 to today it's basically flipped in terms of its its acceptance like that doesn't happen if privately most people were against it it just doesn't
00:46:30
such a good point so much the reason why it's so hard is because like the oxytocin bonding mechanism is run so deep in our dna and our biology and and overriding that is not easy
00:46:42
because once we feel this social trust we we can lie you know we can we'll do anything well i cheat steal for our in group yeah and that's why again um you know i wrote a whole chapter on these like
00:46:56
norms because norms are invisible and we don't realize it but it affects so much of our behavior and when when norms break down when they no longer represent our private values
00:47:09
they become unbelievably destructive right because we think that they represent consensus and they don't but norms at their best are supposed to hold us to our better angels right like you know i'm sure
00:47:21
like you like i i want to live in a fair society but like what okay great let's have norms of fairness that in those moments when i'm tempted out of self-interest to not be fair to other people those norms act as powerful
00:47:34
checking mechanisms on my behavior right and so right now we're not being honest with each other about our values and if that's happening then we cannot form norms you can't design norms they happen
00:47:46
out of human action not human design but they only emerge when there is a real consensus about our shared values and so we've got to get back to that i mean it seems almost like like self-evident and we'll duh but like
00:47:59
if if we're going to continue to self-silence or even lie about our beliefs like the result are going to be collective illusions at scale and whole societies can be taken down by those and listen it
00:48:11
would something like a free society living in a democracy like we take that for granted that is a blip in human history the idea that it can't disappear overnight is silly it can and it will
00:48:23
and it would be one thing if it disappeared because privately we collectively gave up on that experiment right but it's a tragedy if it disappears not because of
00:48:34
private change in values but because of collective illusions and that's that's what for me felt like the urgency to write the book right like that it just felt like things were spinning out of control
00:48:46
and yet we have more data on private opinion in america than probably anybody else i would argue um and i can tell you it's just not true right so i think that's both there's both a dangerous aspect to
00:48:58
illusions but also a hopeful one you know because history has shown us that if you recognize the illusion and you take an effort to dismantle it social change can happen at a scale and pace that would seem unimaginable
00:49:10
otherwise well i can't think of any other way to end in that message so thank you todd so much for this marathon you did with me and two parts thank you we obviously have so much shared values and we're not
00:49:22
as divided as people tell us we are [Laughter] but but now we know why right now we know why it feels that way and if we if we can recognize that we really can no longer trust our brain to accurately
00:49:36
read group consensus then we can get back to this it never really mattered right be who you are learn to be authentic um discover your real self and and work really hard to be congruent between your
00:49:48
private self and your public self the rest takes care of itself carl rogers would have been very proud of this interview i think thanks todd thank you thanks for listening to this episode of
00:50:01
the psychology podcast if you'd like to react in some way to something you heard i encourage you to join in the discussion at thessacologypodcast.com or on our youtube page the psychology podcast we also put up some videos of
00:50:14
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