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February 7th daryl j. bem, social psychologist emeritus joins robert bloomfield

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February 7th daryl j. bem, social psychologist emeritus joins robert bloomfield

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Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield welcomes a fellow Cornell professor who has written extensively on subjects that could be deemed official topics of virtual worlds conversations. Daryl J. Bem obtained a degree in Physics from Reed College in 1960 and continued with graduate studies at MIT. But the shift in attitudes towards desegregation in the American South brought on by the Civil Rights movement proved so intriguing that he completed a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan (1964) and embarked upon a teaching career at several top American universities.

Click here to watch video
http://www.metanomics.net/show/ESP_Show/

Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield welcomes a fellow Cornell professor who has written extensively on subjects that could be deemed official topics of virtual worlds conversations. Daryl J. Bem obtained a degree in Physics from Reed College in 1960 and continued with graduate studies at MIT. But the shift in attitudes towards desegregation in the American South brought on by the Civil Rights movement proved so intriguing that he completed a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan (1964) and embarked upon a teaching career at several top American universities.

Click here to watch video
http://www.metanomics.net/show/ESP_Show/

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February 7th daryl j. bem, social psychologist emeritus joins robert bloomfield

  1. 1. METANOMICS: INTERVIEW: DARYL J. BEM FEBRUARY 7, 2011 ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan Writer's Metaverse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics. ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Welcome. This is Metanomics. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. This is Robert Bloomfield, from Cornell University, and I am delighted today to be able to introduce our guest, Daryl Bem, one of my colleagues at Cornell University and one of the preeminent social psychologists of the last many decades. Daryl, welcome to Metanomics. DARYL BEM: Thank you very much, good to be here.
  2. 2. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You've been doing research in social psychology for a long time, but now in 2011 you've really hit the big time. You got invited to speak about your research on the Colbert Report. So congratulations for that. DARYL BEM: A nickel of my professional life. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think many people would view it that way these days. What has gotten you on the front page of the newspapers is some research on what I know you call Psy and other people call ESP. Your paper in one of the top peer-review journals is called Feeling the Future, and so I thought we'd start by talking a little about that. But, I want to make sure that we're not only talking about this one paper, which is really a very small part of the contributions you've made to social psychology, I want to make sure that we talk about what I see as one of your biggest contributions, which is getting people to think differently about how we perceive ourselves. But let's start with what's in the news. Can you just talk briefly about what you see as the key contribution of your paper Feeling the Future? DARYL BEM: Okay. First of all, I'm not the first one to do serious laboratory work on this. I mean I'm enjoying the attention, but it's also sort of slighting an enormous literature that's behind it, so I'm just one of many researchers. The reason I'm getting the attention I am is because it happens to be published in a mainstream journal, and that's my major talent over the other ESP researchers is that I've established a reputation as a mainstream psychologist. So I have about 15 minutes as my reputation plummets, while I can still get it in. So the article contains nine experiments that I've done over the last few years that test what the public knows as precognition or premonitions. And what I do is take well-known
  3. 3. psychological effects, so to take a very obvious one, we know that people will try to seek out positive images if you give them a choice and to avoid negative images. So the very first experiment I did, and this is why Colbert Report thought it was so terrific, is we used erotic images. Shall I just describe the first experiment? Would that be useful? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that'd be great. DARYL BEM: Okay. The participant sits in front of a computer. The whole thing is run by computer and takes about 20 minutes. They see an image on the computer screen of two curtains side by side, and they are told that behind one of the curtains is a picture and behind the other one is just a blank wall. And their job is, on each trial, there are 36 tries that they get, is to pick out the curtain, to click the mouse on the curtain that they think conceals the picture. We've warned them that some of the pictures are erotic. And, in fact, before they sign up for the experiment, they have to know that as part of the ethical obligations, but it turns out college students are very happy to watch erotic pictures. So then they click on one of the two curtains, and whichever curtain they click on opens, and they see either a blank wall, or they see a picture. And, if they see a picture, it's either a picture of kittens or puppy dogs or skiers or something like that, or it's an erotic picture. What we do is count the number of trials that they are able to select the picture rather than the blank wall. Now, what we don't tell them, although they could know, there's no reason not to tell them, but we tell them at the end that there actually is no picture behind either curtain at the time that they make their judgment because what we want to test is their ability to anticipate a future event. So actually when they're selecting one of the curtains, there's nothing behind either curtain.
  4. 4. After they make their selection, the computer that doesn't cheat by looking to see what they did, what the computer does is flip a coin and decides which curtain will have a picture behind it, and it flips another coin to decide is this going to be an erotic picture or a non-erotic picture. So if they get it right, that means they actually anticipated, assuming it's not just by chance, they get it right, they will see the picture, and that will count toward their score. And then, at the end, they're told what percentage of erotic pictures they managed to identify the location of and what percentage of the non-erotic pictures they were able to pick out. And what we find is that since there are two possibilities, it's the left curtain or the right curtain, by chance you'd expect people to get it 50 percent of the time. It's exactly like a coin flip. What we do then is see whether their score is significantly higher than 50 percent. And, by significantly, we use what psychologists always use in these kinds of things, we actually do a statistical analysis, to make sure that the results we report couldn't just have come out by chance. So even if you don't believe that ESP exists or that that's what the experiment showed, the first thing we try to show is, well, it couldn't have happened by coincidence. And you do that by running enough trials and enough participants, to make sure it wasn't just chance. And the results of that particular experiment is that, on erotic trials, that is on trials that use an erotic picture, they hit 53 percent. People always say, "But that's so small. Of what use is that?" And it turns out that it isn't really all that small. And, as I mentioned on the Colbert Report, the 53 percent is exactly the advantage that a casino has over you at the roulette table, at the roulette wheel. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I'll say speaking as someone who studies the financial markets, if you could actually do this in financial markets, 53 percent would make you a god.
  5. 5. So I guess I'm not surprised at the effect size. We'll get to it in a minute. I'm surprised you get anything at all, but I'm not concerned that 53 percent is so tiny. And let me just say I thought, to me, statistically some of the most compelling results were not just that people can guess right. And, as you mentioned, you just described one study, but you have nine of them. What really struck me was not just that, on average, people are doing better than the 50-50 chance, but that you make predictions that, for example, erotic images will be more effective than blander images because of prior research that has been done in related areas that suggest that powerful images should be--again, to the extent people have any ability, it ought to be stronger for powerful images. You do find that, and you find that people who are more, what is it, sensation-seeking also seem to do better. So those types of interactions, to me, statistically are compelling because they're just that much harder to explain. DARYL BEM: People who are stimulus-seeking, in fact it's 57 percent on this particular study. So they're doing quite well. Also, you know Obama did not mind getting 53 percent of the vote in 2008 either. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No, that's right. Now you mentioned, sort of humbly saying, "Look, I'm not the first one to do this. Lots of people have done this type of research, but this made it in a mainstream journal." And it made it in, but it was interesting to see that the editors--my understanding is, this went through a more grueling review process than most papers do in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that the editors wrote a note basically saying, "Don't hit us for doing this, but it went through the review process, and it seemed to be of the same quality that we expect, sort of the rigor and validity." And then they also published a rebuttal in the same journal. Could you just give us a little insight into
  6. 6. what it took to get this paper published and why this paper got into the JPSP and others on similar topics don't? DARYL BEM: Okay. Let me just say a little bit about the process. JPSP is one of many journals that does masked review, that is, my name is removed from the paper before it is sent out to the reviewers. So unless they know I'm working on ESP, and I don't know most of the reviewers, they wouldn't know who wrote it. So the idea here is to get reviewers who are not swayed by the fact of what I've done before, my reputation or the fact that I am at this magnificent university called Cornell. And so, in that sense, we try to keep the process relatively unbiased. This went to four different reviewers. Three of them chose to identify themselves in their comments to me. I won't make their names public here, but they don't usually. Usually reviewers remain anonymous. And there were two editors. There's an overall editor to the Journal and then an associate editor for this particular section of the Journal. This journal rejects 82 percent of all articles sent to it so it has a high threshold. And what I was pleased about is that they didn't reject it because they don't believe the conclusions, and they make the clear in the editorial. They're still skeptical about ESP, which is perfectly fine when there are good reasons to be skeptical. But what I was really pleased about in this case was both the editors and the reviewers said, "Look, it's not our job to tell people what they're supposed to believe. It's our job to make sure the studies were done well and that the statistics are, in fact, valid." So I was pleased that they understand what the scientific process is about and don't try to prejudge whether or not the results are startling or hard to believe or humdrum. So that was one reason.
  7. 7. The other reason is, I should brag that I'm a good writer and that people underestimate the degree to which good writing is more likely to get published. I mean I was an associate editor myself, of this journal, and I would say that the difference between the 18 percent that we accepted and the next 18 percent that got rejected was the difference between really good writing and okay writing. So that's another reason. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes. And let me just encourage any young scholars, doctoral students, untenured professors, that's excellent advice, and take that to heart. DARYL BEM: And the other thing is, interestingly on a personal note, my very first article that ever got published was published in this journal 50 years ago. And so they're sort of bookends, the two--book ends. This particular journal has the largest circulation of all the journals that the American Psychological Association publishes, I believe. The last time I looked anyway. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That sounds about right to me. DARYL BEM: Yeah. And it's also the case that I've never yet had an article ultimately rejected by a journal to which I submitted it. They're often, "Please revise this," or, "We can't accept this until it's revised." But ultimately all my articles that I've submitted have been published in the journals to which I've submitted them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can we co-author together?
  8. 8. DARYL BEM: What? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can we co-author together then? I'd like to at least touch you at some point. Let me ask. So the Journal also published what is essentially a rebuttal, and we can talk about the substance of that in a minute. First, the rebuttal emphasizes a Bayesian perspective, and, for those who are not stats wonks, the basic idea is that, before you see some research data, you have your beliefs. Then you get the new data, and you update your beliefs about the phenomenon in response to that data. And so if someone starts believing that this sort of precognition is just so unlikely before they read the article, they can still believe it's very, very unlikely after reading the article. And so I guess I'd like to ask you, in light of this evidence, in light of all the other evidence that you have seen, and I know you have a paper as early as 1996 on a similar topic, do you actually believe this? Do you actually believe that people have the ability to predict the future? DARYL BEM: Yes. In a word, yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And the theory, I mean I think you briefly mentioned, on the Colbert Report, quantum theory, and I assume you're thinking of things like the weird time inconsistencies that we see with, what is it, Bell's Theorem and stuff I studied in undergrad. That's what you think the mechanism is, a quantum mechanism? DARYL BEM: I think that's the most promising one. At the moment, to say quantum mechanics makes physicists grit their teeth and roll their eyes when applied to ESP.
  9. 9. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I understand that. DARYL BEM: At the moment, it's more a metaphor. But physicists are actually more accustomed or other scientists at living in a world that is very different from the one we experience in daily life. So Richard Feynman, a physicist who was the most prominent one in the twentieth century, won the Nobel Prize, and taught at Cornell for a while, says, "Stop agonizing over the question, 'How can this be'" He's talking about quantum mechanics, "because nobody knows how it an be." And another way of putting that is quantum mechanics describes a world in which there are phenomena that are just as mind-boggling as ESP, it's just that because it requires more technical backgrounds to understand them, the public doesn't know about them. But physicists know about them and have to admit that they don't understand the mechanism. The one that you mentioned, Bell's theorem for example, is what's called quantum entanglement, and it refers to the fact that, at the micro level, two particles that have ever been in contact or interacted with each other remain part of a single system. And so even if they're infinitely far apart, whatever you decide to measure on one of those particles affects what will be measured at the other one. And Einstein didn't believe this was possible. He called it spooky action at a distance. But, after Einstein died actually, they actually proved it empirically. So quantum mechanics has what's called quantum entanglement, and that describes a world that most would fit the kind of things we see in ESP research, including the ability to predict the future. The other thing physicists agree upon and that is that all the equations of motion, all the
  10. 10. equations in physics, both classical and quantum physics, are what they call time symmetric. That is, the math itself does not distinguish the fact that time goes from the past into the future. There's going to be a second conference. There's been a conference between ESP researchers and physicists about what they call retro-causation because there are things in physics that suggest that you can get events to move backwards or information to move backwards in time. So physicists are less boggled, in some ways, by this than psychologists who cling to the notion that we live in a Newtonian world, and only a Newtonian world can exist. It's only a metaphor at the moment. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I share some of the discomfort of the skeptics here, and so I've a couple questions, just to press on this. One of them is, as I think it's Jag Nishi, one of our Second Life guests here in the audience, mentions that James Randi and his foundation have offered a million dollars cash to anyone who can establish convincing evidence of this sort of paranormal phenomenon. Are you applying for the award? DARYL BEM: No, we don't apply for that award because Randi is a fraud, and it is true that he's offering a million dollars, but he moves the goalposts any time you propose--he defines very carefully what he'll accept as evidence. And the Randi offer and the Randi shtick is pretty good at finding people who are frauds, who claim spectacular things. But Randi has a lot of restrictions around what he will accept in terms of laboratory evidence. And he insists that he controls all the communication about it, all the announcements about what happened and everything. And looking at the criteria he often has invoked, it would cost you more than a million dollars to run as many subjects as you would need, given the kinds of effect sizes we see in the laboratory. So it's not really a genuine offer, I don't believe.
  11. 11. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Interesting. The critics who wrote the rebuttal in the JPSP, just to summarize it very generally, they're saying the experiments include some fishing expeditions. You don't clearly specify your alternative hypotheses which cause some statistical problems. And, in conclusion, and I thought this was really interesting, it's not that they're saying that your study fails to meet the usual statistical and scientific standards of the top journals in social psychology. They close by saying, and I'll quote a couple sentences, "Although the Bem experiments themselves do not provide evidence for precognition, they do suggest that our academic standards of evidence may currently be set at a level that is too low. We hope the Bem article will become a signpost for change or writing on the wall, 'Psychologists much change the way they analyze their data.'" So I'm asking for two types of responses here. Partly it's how do you reply to their statistical criticisms, without saying the word Bayesian too many times? And then also, what do you think of the standards of scientific rigor and statistical rigor in psychology? DARYL BEM: Twenty-five years ago, a well-known Bayesian statistician at Stanford wrote an article in the American Statistician, urging all scientists, not just psychologists, to use a combination of both Bayesian and the more common statistics we've come to know and love. And the problem is, no one picked up on that, and that's because the ability to compute the necessary figures just weren't around because that was 25 years ago. We now have software that allows you to do this so now it's a suggestion we need to take seriously. We have prepared a reply, and it's been submitted to JPSP. Unfortunately, it can't make it in time because the actual printed article and this critique will come out in the March issue, and
  12. 12. that's too soon for our article to get in. And it's not just my article, I've written it with two Bayesian statisticians who've written textbooks on Bayesian statistics. And there are two parts to their criticism of my work. One, that I was on a fishing expedition and didn't state them clearly. And I just simply deny that. I think they've mischaracterized the paper. And, in our reply, I go through every single hypothesis and show how it follows exactly from what I say it does, the previous research, and that it's a very clear, unambiguous prediction in every case, and that there was no exploration at all. So I simply think they've mischaracterized it. But secondly, we redo a Bayesian analysis and show that they have made an assumption about what the effect should look like, that really diminishes the evidence in their eyes. And we do an alternative one that uses a more reasonable set of assumptions and shows that the evidence used from a Bayesian analysis is just as strong as the evidence that I presented. So I don't think the usual techniques of statistics do overestimate. I think, if you do the Bayesian analysis correctly, you'll get the same results. And anyone, who has enough background to understand this argument, can go to my website, and I have a copy up there, even though it's still under editorial review, have a copy of our refutation of that article. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have another question asking whether other researchers have replicated your results, using the typical double-blind procedures and so on. I recall seeing in an article somewhere that you have made it possible for people to download the software and exactly replicate what you do. Do I have that right?
  13. 13. DARYL BEM: Yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And has anyone reported replication? DARYL BEM: My entire strategy in doing these experiments was to try to encourage other laboratory psychologists to repeat them because that's ultimately the goal is to have replicatable experiments. No single researcher should have the weight of carrying the burden of proof until it's been replicated. And so I designed the experiments from the very first to be as simple as possible, as direct as possible, to require as little intervention by the experimenter as possible so they're run by a computer, to require virtually no instrumentation so there's no physiological measurements required or anything. So all you really need is even a laptop computer, and I purposely used statistics that were as simple as possible because psychologists know how to use those. So I purposely didn't do a Bayesian analysis because, when you use a statistical analysis that people don't understand, they're more likely to be suspicious of the results because you might be hiding something in the statistics, so I used bare-naked statistics that every graduate student would understand. And the other thing I wanted to do was make available everything they would need to run it. So I have what are called replication packets, and they sit in a hidden folder on my website. Someone who writes me and asks if they can replicate one of the experiments, I give them the folder name. At the moment, there's only one of the experiments ready to go. It has an 11-page instruction manual. It has the compiled software. It also has the source code so you can make sure--
  14. 14. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Verify. DARYL BEM: --if you got a resource code that the computer program's not cheating. And we also have the consent forms that we use. We have the announcement that we use on the signup sheets. We also provide the software that does the data analysis, although you can always download the raw data from that to do your own Excel analysis if you want. And so my plan was to have all nine experiments up and doing that, but my article hasn't even appeared in print yet. So I was completely taken aback. I thought I would have approximately eight months to prepare these. Well, then a blogger for Psychology Today happened to hear from one of my previous graduate students, about these experiments, at a convention. And so she wrote a summary of them in Psychology Today. I was totally blindsided by that. I didn't know she was going to do that, and I've now discovered what going viral means, with modern media, because that was picked up instantly, and it appeared on the New York Times. It appeared in New Sciences. And I've gotten all this publicity, and I wasn't even ready yet. So at the moment I have one experiment ready to go, and it's the one that most of the people were most excited about. But now because of the Colbert presentation, he made the center of it that I'm showing pornography in these experiments. And so that'll probably be the [CROSSTALK] ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But he spelled your name right. DARYL BEM: He spelled my name right. Oh, I loved it. I actually thought the interview on Colbert was more informative and more clearly stated by the people who did their graphics than all the media interviews I've done up to now, and that includes even Al Jazeera.
  15. 15. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Interesting. DARYL BEM: I have something in common with bin Laden. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the things that I think a lot of researchers worry about is that they toil away in a basement somewhere, and their stuff is read by a handful of fellow academics, and then they do one thing that gets them in the mainstream media, and that becomes their identity. I have sort of an agenda for this episode, which is not only to learn more about this most recent work of yours, but to make sure that people have a chance to know some of the work that really made your name in the academic community. I think a lot of it is also quite relevant to part of our core audience which is virtual and watches the show through Second Life, and that's the research that you've done on self-perception theory. So let's change gears for a minute and talk about something new or really something old. I'll introduce the topic by starting with a quote that's very old. It's Robert Burns who wrote, "O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!" Based on work in the '60s that you did, you wrote a review article in 1972 on a theory of self-perception, which has been quite influential. Correct me if I have this wrong, your theory of self-perception is actually that we do see ourselves as others see us, which is, in fact, rather poorly. And, primarily by observing our own actions, we draw inferences about who we are and what our identity or our personality is. I read a couple of your experiments, just reread them just recently, one showing that people who experienced pain, who perceived themselves--I saw videos of them getting shocks and
  16. 16. either escaping or not escaping from them, used their action of whether to escape or not escape as a way of inferring how much it must have actually hurt. And you had something similar with people making true and false statements. So did I summarize that pain study accurately? DARYL BEM: Yeah. That's accurate. It's probably a little hard to understand in that, and perhaps a little bit more background. So I could give you a little bit more background. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I think that'd be useful. DARYL BEM: Okay. I have a degree in physics from Reed College, and I was at MIT doing graduate work in physics, and the Civil Rights Movement was just starting. So I, just for fun, took a course over at Harvard--they have an exchange agreement with MIT--in the psychology of race relations, and this was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. There was a very puzzling phenomenon that contradicted the sort of conventional wisdom, the conventional wisdom being that you can't change people's behavior until you've changed their hearts and minds, their attitudes. That was actually behind a defense of segregation way back in 1890, that you cannot change folk ways with state ways is the way the Supreme Court put it. But what we found empirically when you watch attitude change in the South during the Civil Rights Movement was actually the fastest way to change people's attitudes was to change their behavior. So as soon as a legal step was taken toward desegregation, when you went back and measured attitudes six weeks later, there was much more attitude change than we
  17. 17. would have predicted given how long these patterns had been observed. So that fascinated me, that puzzle. I went to the teacher of that course and said, "What kind of psychologist are you?" And he said, "I'm a social psychologist." I said, "That's what I want to be when I grow up." So I switched fields at that point and went to Michigan to get my degree in social psychology. It was that that got me started thinking, when someone says, "I'm for this," or, "I'm against this," how do they know? We always assume that we somehow have internal knowledge of our inner states. That got me to thinking that I'm not sure we do. I actually think that a lack of what we think about ourselves, our inner states, is an inference from observing our own behavior. So let me give you just an anecdotal example that people are familiar with. Suppose I ask you how hungry you are, and you say, "I'm not very hungry." But then you sit down, and you say to yourself, "Well, this is my second sandwich. I guess I was hungrier than I thought." Now notice what that is a statement of. It's that I made an estimate of my internal state of hunger, in this case, and now I observe that I've eaten two sandwiches, I guess I was wrong about my inner state. Another example is, you might say to yourself, "Gee, something must be bugging me. I've been biting my fingernails all day." Now notice what again you have decided that something must be bugging you, something internal must be troubling you, because you observe yourself biting your fingernails. And it occurred to me that that's exactly what your roommate might say, if you're a college student, "Hey, something must be bugging you. You've been biting your nails all day." So notice that the external person and your self are using the same kinds of evidence when there's ever any ambiguity about what your internal state is.
  18. 18. So self-perception theory is an elaboration of that theme, namely that there was a lot of existing literature under what was called cognitive dissonance theory, that showed if you get people to do things that they ordinarily wouldn't do, like write an essay against one of their beliefs, they come to believe it. And cognitive dissonance theory had an explanation for that. The thing that made me rich and famous was that my theory came along and challenged cognitive dissonance theory and sort of re-explained many of their experiments. And since cognitive dissonance theory was sort of king of the hill in the 1960s, that's why my name got known. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right. DARYL BEM: You quoted Robert Burns. Actually, I've had a Jewish student come up and tell me that the Talmud says exactly the same thing, that the Talmud invented the self-perception theory because, in Christianity, the emphasis is often on faith that will lead you to do good works. And the Talmud says don't worry about faith. Do good works, the faith will follow. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That rings true to me. The other name that floats around here and theory is B.F. Skinner and behaviorism. He was famous for, as I understand it, basically denying the existence or at least the relevance of internal states in humans and animals. Does one have to buy in to the strict behaviorist view that behavior is all that matters, in order to buy in to your theory of self-perception?
  19. 19. DARYL BEM: No. I started out with Skinner because my mentor at Michigan happened to be a Skinnerian. So I started out with that, and my very first article, my dissertation is virtually unreadable because it's so filled with the behaviorist jargon. And it was very nice that social psychology just about then was starting to think about attributions, that is how do we attribute causes of behavior that other people are doing. And my theory got saved by the social psychologists, by saying, "Hey, Bem's theory of self-perception is actually just a subset of what we've already learned about interpersonal perception. And so far from being dismayed, I was delighted because it took my theory out of the context of just cognitive dissonance theory and out of the context of behaviorism, and it now became part of mainstream social psychology. And so that too was just sort of an accident of timing on that. There's a funny anecdote about this. My dissertation advisor who saw my thesis as essentially an indication of Skinner's view on this, in a book he wrote, called Verbal Behavior, sent it to Skinner, whom I didn't know at the time. And then someone told me that Skinner was giving a talk, and someone asked him a question about cognitive dissonance theory, and Skinner said, "Oh, Bem has disproved that. It's all just behavior." I thought that was interesting reading [CROSSTALK] ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, would you interpret it that way? DARYL BEM: Not at all. I don't interpret it that way. I do think thinking in Skinnerian terms makes you think more clearly in many ways, but, no, I think internal states are important. So I have a caveat on my self-perception theory. It starts out by saying, in those cases where your internal stimuli are weak and ambiguous or uninterpretable, that's when you use your
  20. 20. behavior as a guide. So I have that in there. That removes me from behaviorism. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I thought it'd be useful to think about how this theory has stood the test of time, and two dimensions of that interest me. The first is, just purely from an academic perspective, has self-perception theory proved to have legs? Are people in the academic communities still relying on it and still using it as a way to generate predictions? DARYL BEM: Yes. I mean it isn't so much that there's now new original research on it, but if you look at any social psychology textbook, including the one we use here at Cornell, by Tom Gilovich, there's still a large section devoted to self-perception theory, and it's often approached as a contrast to cognitive dissonance theory. So both theories have sort of faded more into the background, but it's just part now of the fabric of social psychological knowledge that is taught to the students. And the dispute between the two theories pretty much got settled by saying there are certain phenomena that are better described by cognitive dissonance theory, and then there are some phenomena that self-perception theory can describe and cognitive dissonance theory cannot. So it had legs in that sense, yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And then the second dimension is, I've been thinking about technological change, in particular the virtual life and especially in Virtual Worlds, games and Second Life, where people can reinvent themselves. So I think a lot of people know the famous New Yorker cartoon that shows a dog at a computer and says, "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog." We have a lot of people who are very anonymous on the internet, whether they're commenting on blogs, or they're interacting in a Virtual World like Second
  21. 21. Life. You have people creating their own identities, creating avatars. Actually, I'm hoping that Treet can maybe get a close-up of some of the more unusual avatars we have in the audience. People are really quite creative and expressing themselves in very surprising ways. I'm just wondering whether you see applicability of self-perception theory now that people are using their anonymity in their ability to create a new identity, to do exactly that. Does this cause them then to rethink who they must actually be, to the extent that makes sense? DARYL BEM: Yes, that makes sense. I'm not familiar with any research specifically addressing that, but we just know as an extrapolation of the earlier work, where you get people to write essays pretending that they believe something, and then that actually changes their attitudes. So I would think having an avatar who's saying particular things or if you're on a hookup website even, without being an avatar, but just being anonymous and describing what you're like and things like that can affect your own self-perceptions, yes. I have another example of this that is therapy. Often therapists, especially behavioral therapists interestingly, want to change your perception of what you're afraid of or something. And so one of the techniques that such therapists use is to get you to go out and role-play it, pretend you're a nice person. And, lo and behold, you become a nicer person. So I think the modern technology could just accelerate that process. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And the underlying, in a sentence, self-perception theory is along the lines of, "Well, I must be a nice person because I did the following nice thing."
  22. 22. DARYL BEM: Yeah. Yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That's the reason. Okay. So we are basically out of time. I just have a few general questions for you, and I guess just harking back to what, for better or worse, is likely to be viewed as one of your signature achievements: publishing a paper about precognition in JPSP and getting to talk about it on the Colbert Report. Can you make some predictions about the future psychology, where you see things headed? What's next for you? DARYL BEM: I don't know what's next for me. I've always described my way of working as episodic. Once a decade I have a new idea and a new set of things I want to do because I get bored with the previous ones. But psychology as a whole, I think, is going to be more open. If you just read the social psychological journals some of the things that social psychologists are doing right now, things known as priming experiments and subliminal kinds of things, would have been rejected 20 years ago from the journals because they seemed too weird. And there was a whole movement in the '50s and '60s where there was a claim that people could respond to stimuli that are presented below the threshold of recognition. And that eventually was pooh-poohed. And now it's come back with a vengeance. Now you open up JPSP, for example, and there are many articles in every issue, in which someone was presented with stimuli that were presented subliminally and shown to have an effect. One of my favorites is an article or an experiment where people are primed with words like old and
  23. 23. feeble and elderly. And then, after the experiment, they secretly measure how fast the person walks back to the elevator, and people walk more slowly when they've been exposed to those. One reason for publishing it in JPSP as opposed to, say, some other more experimental journal that is non-social is, I think the social psychologists have been softened up some by having things that were rejected a few years ago now come back and be demonstrated in more sophisticated ways. I do think probably, I mean I agree with the critique, the Bayesian critique of my article insofar as I think the next generation of psychologists should be schooled in how to do Bayesian analyses. I think they're very useful. I think they have a logical appeal to them. And I do think that's likely to be a wave of the future. So our refutation of this critique is not to say no Bayesian statistics are nonsense. It's to say no, they're valuable, but you have to be very careful how you apply them, or you'll draw the wrong conclusions. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Definitely, as they say in diving and gymnastics, it's a "high degree of difficulty maneuver" to try to use Bayesian statistics for hypothesis testing. Okay. Well, we are out of time, but Daryl Bem, thank you so much for joining us at Metanomics and talking about your most recent research on precognition and your very influential research on self-perception. I should just point out that I think the self-perception work is having some very interesting implications in the business community because, as an accountant, right, we talk about what we can measure and what we can observe. And, it makes us think about, if you think about business strategy, "Our strategy must be this," because this is what we measure and what we do.
  24. 24. So anyway, I'll leave people to ponder that thought. Thank you very much for joining us. I look forward to talking with you in the future. DARYL BEM: Okay. Thank you. Bye bye. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye bye. Document: cor1094.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com

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