One in ten French people still believe the earth may be flat;
One-quarter of Australians think that cavemen and dinosaurs existed at the same time;
One in nine Brits think the 9/11 attacks were a US government conspiracy;
15 per cent of Americans believe that the media or government adds secret mind-controlling signals to television transmissions.
Our main interest is not niche stupidity or minority belief in conspiracies, but much more general and widespread misperceptions about individual, social and political realities.
Do you eat too much sugar?
Is violence in the world increasing or decreasing?
What proportion of your country are Muslim?
What does it cost to raise a child?
How much do we need to save for retirement?
How much tax do the rich pay?
When we estimate the answers to these fundamental questions that directly affect our lives, we tend to be vastly wrong, irrespective of how educated we are.
Today’s book – informed by over ten exclusive major polling studies by IPSOS across 40 countries – asks why in the age of the internet, where information should be more accessible than ever, we remain so poorly informed.
It is a pleasure to welcome the author of The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy, welcome to the show.
Full transcript below:
Sat, 6/4 11:36AM • 1:48:17
book, people, reality, information, types, vaccines, view, perception, bobby, thought, organisations, pandemic, important, misperceptions, point, biases, system, interesting, countries, great
Steve Jobs, Aidan McCullen, Bobby Duffy
Steve Jobs 00:00
Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Aidan McCullen 00:03
Today is a good day. We are in our new studio here in the iconic offices in Dublin. And I am delighted to bring you a brand new series this time called brains beliefs and biases and we’re going to kick off with a book by Bobby Duffy called the perils of perception. Before we do want to thank our sponsors Zai, who’s enabled us to upgrade the show the equipment, the camera that I’m recording on a little too HD for my own liking the microphone, the sound, hopefully everything’s getting a bit better. And I want to thank them, they are boldly transforming the future of financial services with a suite of embedded products and services, empowering businesses, to move funds with ease and enable multiple payment workflows. You can check out Zai at Hellozai.com. For now, let’s get into Part One of Brains, Beliefs and Biases with Bobby Duffy on Perils of Perception One in 10 French people still believe the Earth may be flat. One quarter of Australians think that caveman and dinosaurs existed at the same time. One in nine Brits think the 911 attacks were a US government conspiracy. 15% of Americans believed that the media or government ads secret mind controlling signals to television transmissions. Our main interest in today’s book is not niche stupidity, or minority belief in conspiracies, but much more general and widespread misperceptions about individual social and political realities. Today’s book informed by 10 exclusive major polling studies by Ipsos across 40 countries asks why in the age of the internet, where information should be more accessible than ever before we remain so poorly informed. It is a pleasure to welcome the author of that book, the perils of perception, why we’re wrong about nearly everything. Bobby Duffy, welcome to the show. Thanks,
Bobby Duffy 02:05
Aidan. Great to be here.
Aidan McCullen 02:07
It’s great to have you on the show, Bobby, I’ve been a long time waiting to share this brilliant book that’s here behind me. And I highly recommend it to our audience, I was telling him before I came on air, it’s so essential reading for anybody who’s making decisions, whether that’s for a big organisation, or transformation agent, or in your own life itself. It’s so fascinating. And we’ll get into it in a second. But I’d love to hear about the origins of the book, because you share in the book that throughout your life, you’ve had a lingering sensitivity to psychological tricks. And you’ve spent the last 20 years at opinion research firm, Ipsos MORI, designing and dissecting research from around the world to help understand what people think and do and why. For over a decade, you’ve run hundreds of surveys on public misperceptions. And this is what you call the perils of perception. I’d love you to share the origin story of how this all came about.
Bobby Duffy 03:04
Well, I guess, for these studies, in particular, it started with work we were doing in the UK, for number 10, on how people felt about crime and crime rate. So it’s because it was a lot of there’s a lot of focus on reducing crime. At that time. This was sort of early in Tony Blair government in the UK. A lot focus on reducing crime, a lot of focus, a lot more investment going into the police, all of those types of things. But when you ask people in surveys, where the crime was going up or down, and how safe they felt, everything the public perception was everything was getting worse on crime, even though all the stats were showing it was getting better. And all the investment was was going in. And so that sort of that kind of piqued my interest in perceptions of realities, measurable realities, things are not like opinions and not things that are in doubt, but things you can actually measure pretty well. And what does the public think of those realities? Do they do they get them right or wrong? And the reason being not like a test is not about intelligence, or to prove people right or wrong on particular things, but to try to understand when they’re wrong, what does that signify? Because that’s I guess, that’s the kernel of the book is that these perceptions of reality is a really rich when particularly when people are wrong, because there’s all sorts of reasons that we get them wrong. And that’s that’s where the social psychology comes into it is this this is not an IQ test. This is about how we see the world and how we see the world is, is basically a function of two big buckets of things, what we’re told and how we think. And that’s what I that’s what I really enjoyed unpicking is the interaction between those two things, the information that we see and things that we experience, but then how we process that, then then what that tells us about ourselves.
Aidan McCullen 05:12
It’s absolutely fascinating. And you know, it’s something that’s always been on my mind as well with how being a parent is to be very careful what I say to my children, because you absolutely colour their perceptions of the world, even comments about the neighbour, the pesky neighbour and everything, and then maybe they become more against neighbours, etc, all those type of things are in my mind, but you really add the science on the surveys behind it. But I told Bobby, we’d start with a big question you asked at the start of the book. And I’ll ask that question, perhaps to our audience, and then let you unpack how it unfolded for you. Because this one is remarkable. I tried tested this out during the week where people, and I’d like our audience to think about this themselves for a moment before you unpack it and answer it, which is, is the Great Wall of China visible from outer space. And think about that for a second, as an audience member, people watching this or listening to us, and think about what you truly think about that. And then Bobby will unpack what he is found through surveys and through his research, it’s such
Bobby Duffy 06:15
a simple question, but it illustrates in different ways, the kind of some of the main themes of the book. So the reality is that it’s not visible from outer space, from all the best research that I can find on it, after quite a lot of digging to do a lot of looking around on this. But when you’re asking surveys, so and then probably among your audience, certainly whenever I present this at different conferences, about 50% believe it is. And that’s that’s pretty consistent. Actually, I’ve done a very different audiences in the surveys have been running very wide range of different countries, and it’s always about half of people think it is, which is really interesting when you’ve got a reality that is pretty well known and measured. But half of publics and populations think you’ve got the wrong answer. And when you think about it, when you sort of pause, you do think actually, it’s a bit weird that you would think it’s visible from outer space because it and its widest, it’s only nine metres wide, which is about the same size as a regular house to eat is incredibly large. But it’s its length that gives it that property is one of the largest still one of the largest manmade structures on on Earth, but it’s its length that could and that’s not going to make it visible from outer space, something being very long. So this, I break this down a bit into this four or five different things that this shows, first of all shows what Daniel Kahneman would talk about as fast thinking where he splits into system one and system two thinking Daniel Kahneman being, you know, godfather of social psychology, and behavioural science kind of knowledge that we’ve got today. And that fast thinking system one, thinking, as you probably didn’t think about this question very much, you just sort of reacted to it, you’re not really searching and then considering length versus width, and then scale in order to work it out. We do also mix scales as the second one where we do think of length as being important, the sheer size of this the number of bricks that are in the Great Wall of China being one of the things that we would think of. But we also have a third one is that we also have this illusory truth bias it’s called, which is where you hear something, the more you hear something, the more you’re likely to believe it’s true, even if there’s no real evidence for that. So the second time and third time you hear a lie or mystery, the more likely you are to believe it now shown in lots of different experiments. And that’s certainly the case with the Great Wall of China, because that has it was even the incorrect answer on a trivial pursuit question that it was visible from outer space. But then there’s a couple of other points and maybe the most important from the books point of view, we sort of want it to be true. We can have a really interesting fact that the that we could build, and particularly you know, that many centuries ago, people could build something that’s visible from outer space is really interesting. And it’s more emotional than we think it is. It’s kind of we’re attached to that interesting fact. And we sort of want it to be true. So that’s one of the key themes of the book is that our emotions, and identities on other issues are tied up in our views of reality. And that’s really important. But there is a fifth and final point that I think is really important on this, which is that people do change their minds in all DMC when I ask this question and then answer it with people, people kind of usually believe me, when I tell them that it’s not true. There’s a lot of googling sometimes in, in the audiences just to double check, when people change their minds. And this is, again, a really important theme within the book is that while our view of reality is tied up with our identity, and emotions, and all sorts of things, it doesn’t mean that people are completely set on that vision of reality. And you can change people’s minds, because that’s one of the one of the things that sometimes can people can really worry about is we’ve got these misperceptions of reality, and we’re kind of stuck with them. And there’s no convincing people that they’re that this is a different and more correct view of those realities. So yeah, so it’s a very simple question. But it kind of covers and illustrates a whole range of different effects that are going on that we see in other measures, who may be more apt, well, definitely more important measures, not the sort of trivial pursuit type questions.
Aidan McCullen 11:04
It’s so interesting for people in change roles to transformation roles, which we cover a lot in the show where you don’t change the business model until you change the mental model, you don’t change what people do until they change how they think. And that part, you mentioned there is very encouraging, because the book I find is really encouraging that you can change people’s perceptions. But one of the things I thought we’d put right up front, and you’ve inspired me to do this now is you mentioned Daniel Kahneman. And there’s a really interesting interview that you quote in the book where you say, Daniel Kahneman, who has been studying this for 45 years goes, I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I haven’t got any better. And that seems quite pessimistic in a way. But then the interview expands and you say, because you because he understands system one and system two. And if we all do, and this is one of the inspirations behind this show, this particular episode, but in general in the show, the more information you have, we’ll get into Dunning Kruger later, that’s a whole different. But the more information you have, the more you can spot yourself in the midst of the bias, and I think that’s really important is to train that muscle to go, Aiden, you know, you’re kind of biassed about this, because of your upbringing, your background, your parenting, whatever it might have been, but you need to be aware of that when you go to make the decision. I’d love you to unpack that. Because that understanding that system one the fastest is emotional, we can’t really control that that’s in breath that’s baked in what system two, we have some control over at least we have some awareness over.
Bobby Duffy 12:39
Yeah, no, no, you said it really? Well. I think there anything that’s the system one is very useful, because you can’t think about all these things all the time. And sort of what Kahneman went on to say in this is yes, I can’t change that at all. But I can, with effort, make system to kick in more, that is what we should be aiming in the right situations, you don’t want it to be kicking in all the time, because it’d be exhausting. And you can live like that. But it is about spotting those times. And trying to make a good it’s not just about emotion is about the biases and heuristics that, that we have the shortcuts and mental shortcuts that we have to take through life in order to live it. But but you can equally have similar sorts of heuristics to help you not fall into your biases. And you know, we will probably cover this in more of the discussion. But in the book, it is just worth being aware of we do have these tendencies to think things are going downhill, when they’re not necessarily going down that everything’s getting worse. And we’ve got to be mindful of that, particularly if you’re, if you’re working in transformation. We tend to focus on negative information. And just knowing these types of they exist in our in our mindset as humans, is really useful, because it does give you pause to think, am I thinking? Am I looking at the evidence here? Or am I just falling into those sorts of traps? And there’s like half a dozen of those mental little ticks that you can take to say, am I am I being misled by myself here on what what I’m saying?
Aidan McCullen 14:24
Let’s build on that. And as soon as you mentioned that, one of the things I thought was interesting was when you think about people in transformation roles, particularly in legacy organisations, large organisations where they’ll hark back to the good old days and you talk about this rosy retro retrospection that we all are, are capable of are susceptible to. And I thought it was really interesting when you talked about these trust surveys that are on the centre and the crisis of trust. And it’s as if things were better in the old days and you unpack this to show us that wasn’t quite the case, this is interesting. And I’m jumping right to the end here just to build on to the point that you made.
Bobby Duffy 15:06
Yeah, no reason. retrospection is very powerful. And it’s, it was a there’s a, there’s a very interesting set of experiments by an academic called Terrence Mitchell who tried to explore this in in a quite prosaic way where he had him and his team interviewed people before they went on their holidays for their vacation, during it and then after it and and everyone went in the same sort of cycle of excited anticipation before you go, then the you get there and on your holiday, and it never quite goes completely as planned the reality of minor niggles kind of set in, and you return with a sense of mild disappointment, when you come back, not just about being back, but about the experience itself. And that wasn’t the point of experiment, they kept interviewing people for a long time afterwards. And what they found is that the memory grows fonder, the further away we get from it, you kind of forget the bad bits, the kids being sick in the car, or lost luggage, all of those type things in you remember, the walks on the beach, and the sunsets and whatever else. And so we do have this tendency to edit out the bad from the past. And that’s quite a useful thing and sense of helps us let go of bad things from the past, you don’t want to dwell on them, necessarily. But it has this negative side effect of making us think the past was better than it was. So you think that present and the future are worse than they are. Because you’ve got this rosy view of the past, and everything’s going downhill. And we see that in all sorts of ways in. In, in research, so when you ask people about the murder rate in countries, you know, for internal up to half, depending on the country, think that the murder rate is going up. And in most countries, it’s going down and across all the countries that we looked at, it’s down nearly 30%. It’s not a small percentage drop, it’s quite a big drop over the past 20 years. But that’s not the perception for intending kits gone up more had about the same, I think it’s about the same, and only about 15% of people think it’s gone down correctly. So we got this sense of decline, which is like is one of the most important things to bear in mind, because it is a general trend that cuts across these types of things and lots of other things. And it’s the sort of work that Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling focused on a lot is that this sense of the sense of worldwide decline is, is problematic. Not because you want everyone to think that everything is great, but the risk and this is the one that I focus on more in my book, the risk is if people think everything is in decline, like they have less faith in the system, and they’re more likely to listen to people who say we need to tear it up and start again. And that’s, that’s where you get into sympathy for more authoritarian or populist kind of movements and in politics, and that, that’s a worry. But in a kind of, even in our day to day lives and in our business lives, that sense of decline is really important, because you’ve got a really important fight against because, again, it can mislead us into thinking we need to tear it up and start again, when actually there could be more value in it than we’re thinking.
Aidan McCullen 18:46
And that’s really interesting. And hopefully, we’ll have a bit of time to talk about that the political implications of this when there’s fear people that are less more likely to go system one, they’re more likely to say, go to more drastic measures, and you’re more likely to have holocausts in those type of mindsets as well. But you mentioned Steven Pinker there, there’s a couple of things you mentioned. First, Steven Pinker magnificent writer and thinker, he wrote a magnificent endorsement for your book, he said, mandatory reading the mind, this mind altering book shows how most of us are badly deluded about the state of the world. I thought that was just to say that, that that’s how much he respects this piece of work. So congrats to you. The other thing is, some people will be thinking, as you said that about the delusional view of the world that oh, well, that’s educational, or that’s different countries. It does, we’ll get into that as well. So don’t worry, Bobby covers all of that as well and in a big way, but I thought it was interesting to jump back to the narrative of the book and the flow of the book, one of the interesting ones and we’ve talked about this because we cover trends a lot on the show, we’ve covered population trends, etc. But one of the ones we talked about as well is this the The grey or the silver Euro, or pound or dollar, the changes in perceptions there. Another question you ask and I Alaska refuses to think about this is, how many of your population, whatever country you’re in, do you think are 65? And older? Think about that for a second. And again, Bobby, I’d love for you to unpack that over to you.
Bobby Duffy 20:22
And really interesting one, as well, it’s kind of it varies a lot across the world, the reality varies a lot across the world, you’ve got a big range of ageing societies and younger societies, we’re obviously in more developing countries. But the pattern on estimations is the same as that we go way too high in terms of the age of our, the average age, or the, what proportion of our population are our older. So this is this is one of the examples where we’ve kind of heard about the ageing population. And we have this overblown sense, or we think it’s something to worry about, we know that we know that we’ve got a concern about ageing populations, and it’s going to be more difficult in the future. And it’s a challenge on our health services and having enough working age people to support older people and all of those types of things. So this is a classic example of one of the key themes of the book, which is emotional, and numeracy, which is another of the key concepts in this. And that basically says that when you’re estimating something, and you overestimate it, for example, that cause and effect are working in both directions. So we don’t just worry, overestimate what we worry about that we we worry about what we overestimate as well, so it goes in both directions. It’s not when we got when we think something is a concern, or it’s bad. It inflates in our minds, it takes up more of our thinking. So we think it’s bigger than it really is. And we this we see the same sort of thing with crime rates, we see the same sort of thing with immigration levels in some countries where there is concern about immigration. And we see the same with on this with ageing population. We know it’s a worry, we know it’s a concern or a challenge for society. So we inflate it and we think we’ve got many more older people in our countries than we actually have.
Aidan McCullen 22:30
One of the ideas that is interested in is I often when I was reading your book, I thought of the movie The Truman Show, and how they is scripted reality really, but Truman doesn’t know that this is the case, which is played by Jim Carrey, and that how the information that we see can absolutely flavour our perception of the world and become our reality because perception is reality for many people. And you say in the book that post truth is the idea that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. And in 2016, the word post truth was named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries, to tell us further that technological shifts are particularly terrifying in their effect on our accurate view of the world, or key issues. Because the quantum leap in our ability to choose, and others to push individual realities at us plays to some of our deepest biases in preferring our existing worldview, and avoiding conflicting information, really important factor for disruption and innovation, this one, but that’s exactly the point you were making here. If we only focus on what’s out there, what we’re told, we’ll miss a key element of the problem, which is, as you say, it’s partly how we think not just what we think what information we received, that causes so much of the misperceptions that we have of the world. I thought this was such a key point, because you mentioned the innumeracy that we have the difficulty with numbers. But when it comes to exponential numbers, and changes in technology and a world that’s unfolding, before our eyes at a really rapid pace, we can really struggle.
Bobby Duffy 24:15
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s understanding it from both of those directions of what we’re told and how we think, and how what we’re told is changing is really important. And I think I mean, at the heart of that challenge with how different groups and tribal identities see reality that is, confirmation bias, or just confirmation bias is a group of effects that are probably best thought of as directionally motivated reasoning or just motivated reasoning where you’ve got one of our deepest biases is to look for and believe information It fits with already held views. And to avoid or denigrate information that goes against those views, it’s kind of it’s quite psychologically painful for us to change our minds about things or to think that we were wrong. So we tried not to do it as much as we can, you kind of you need to reach this tipping point where the evidence and information outweighs the cost of changing your view. So if you, it creates this cognitive dissonance in us where our own views are not fitting with a reality, and it reaches a tipping point where it’s actually less painful to change your view than hold on to a view that is clearly wrong. To say this, this is very powerful, but it’s also it’s like right at the heart of our information system, the technological information system. And in a very, very important way, this is not this is not just about people creating their own echo chambers, or filter bubbles of, of who they are looking at in the little groups they’re in. It’s also the unseen algorithms that push information towards those that that the platform’s and others think we all like. And they do that, because these are massive advertising systems that are basically selling your presence on, on their pages. And they know and we know that, you know, in their own experiments, the platform that the platforms have done, when they’ve tried to mix up the information that they show people to come from different perspectives, they know that people click away faster, that you stay on longer, if you’re seeing stuff you already agree with, or fix your worldview. So it’s kind of built in to the system where, you know, the internet is, is built on surveillance. And confirmation bias is a type of currency that it’s got, whereas, you know, that’s what it kind of trades in is giving us what we already want to see. So yeah, it’s really important to see this as systemic that it’s not. It’s not just one side of it. It’s not just evil platforms, or evil groups pushing out particular views. And it’s not just as being, you know, very tribal, or, or wanting to just see what we like is the interaction between those two things at scale, at scale that we’ve not been able to do previously. That’s the shift. And that’s, that’s the, that’s one of the key words for our views of reality in our discourse more than public discourse more generally.
Aidan McCullen 27:48
And Bobby shares very generously at the end of the book 10 principles where we can actually take action about this and actually work on system to at least at least, practice that muscle and work that muscle abyss, including the filter bubbles, and we’ll talk about filter bubbles in a moment. Again, Bobby, I’m reacting to things you say and jumping around the book. So to clarify things for our audience as well. One of the things you mentioned, there is an extremely important term. And we had the great pleasure of having an episode with Elliot Aronson, who is now 9091. Amazing man, excellent. Who worked as you know, with Leon Festinger, trained under Leon Festinger, and Festinger, of course, is the man who brought us the concept of cognitive dissonance. This is extremely important. You mentioned about the pain of changing our mind, literally, it’s painful for the brain. But also it is possible for many, many leaders in organisations know, for example, there’s a melting iceberg, they know the platform is burning, but cognitive dissonance helps them ignore it, even though it’s happening in the background.
Bobby Duffy 28:53
All of that great work. The United that goes back decades now, and has been shown in many, many different contexts, shows just how tightly we can hold on to we want to hold on to that existing worldview. And it’s, it is a bite in the bucket run throughout the book in lots of different ways. And the kind of tips and tricks that you show are actually it’s kind of the modern environment has given us some exemplars of how people can get a get around that can avoid falling into the worst of that trap. And it was a really interesting experiment on by in the US on testing professors and PhD students against fact checkers on how they actually saw reality. See from fake news online they were given these tasks to do. And one of the things that I think is a really useful principle, or more generally is what if, in the end, the fact checkers were much better than the Ivy League professors and PhD students are sorting fact from fiction on this. And the reason was that the PhD, and professors, PhDs and professors went really deep, they went deep into an individual source, looking down instead of a cross, and what fact checkers tended to do was just have very, in a very sort of, pragmatic, practical way, they had dozens of tabs open, they looked across, they looked for verification by going to other sources and opening following trails that go wide rather than deep. And that’s a really interesting skill set and approach in in our modern environment, where you do tend to get pulled down into rabbit holes, where you’re going deeper and deeper into things, which are just, you know, reconfirming, what you’ve already thought rather than going against it. Whereas what the fact checkers do is look widely across. And if you’re thinking of that, in a cognitive dissonance frame, what they’re doing there is really, you know, because they’re coming to it with their own biases, they’re not automatons themselves, what they’re doing there is you’re building an evidence base that cuts across to help you change your mind, you may have a view on something that is that you come to it with or you have, you’ve established early on in the process that you think this is the reality. But they verify, check and verify across rather than ploughing on with that, that one particular thought. And that’s where I think that’s very relevant to that cognitive dissonance point is you’re looking to reach that tipping point of changing of changing your mind. And you can do that much better. By cutting across then going deep. Is is the lesson that I take from that.
Aidan McCullen 32:11
Yeah, and I have a mental model for probably that I call crosswalk crossing swim lanes. So you need to swim across the swim lanes rather than actually are in the whole pool or explore outside other pools. Exactly. Your point. And as you know, well, it’s one of the big challenges we have with the big challenges for the planet is that there’s so many experts, but they’re not collaborating or diversifying their neuro diversity. Key. And it’s also a point for neurodiversity and organisations, the more diverse the mindsets, the better the solutions from people as well. So it’s a key point, there was a, there was a really interesting part of the fasting or work that you you mentioned in the book, which is, yes, it’s possible to change minds. Yes, it’s possible to change what people think. But sometimes people will cling to realities, even when they’ve been proven wrong. And this is the work of the Festinger on you mentioned that the apocalyptic hold. This is fascinating.
Bobby Duffy 33:12
Yeah, no, this is it’s like a clarion being seen in lots of different environments since then, that it’s, it’s that even when you’re apocalyptic prediction, if you’ve got a cult that thinks the world is going to end on a particular day, and it doesn’t end on that day, the steps that people will go through in order to still hold on to that cult belief is incredible in terms of rewriting what the prediction was to be was just slightly out. So it’s going to be in the zone you’ve been in, it’s in the Simpsons isn’t the Simpsons, always in The Simpsons, Homer has done the same, exactly the same sort of thing is he got the calculation, slightly wrong. So you’ll go back. And then there’s all these trick tricks and mental gymnastics that you can do to hold on to the belief and then again, I mean, the cults are a niche concern. But the same, the reason it’s important is it kind of points to how some of us think what the hell a lot of us get pulled into thinking about our political identities or not connection to particular political parties, because it’s quite, it’s quite clear that in some circumstances, your political identities become so strong, that almost anything is acceptable from the side that you support. And this is one of my big concerns in my day job at King’s College London and as being in the Policy Institute now is the extent to which these tribal identities outwait good decision making, in politics or in any other sphere of life. And so that’s, that’s where all that Festinger work and lots of other great work on cult is not just about understanding the cult is about how those tendencies to really hold on to those strong once those once those identities get really strong among people really hold on to them, despite all the evidence against and despite those, those identities leading to actions, we wouldn’t normally accept that that is the real problem here. And I kind of that’s where we get into culture wars, and the tribal identities that culture wars tends to invoke. And in some countries, and I’m, yeah, they’re the kind of things that I’m, you worry about in, in its impact on wider society. Not that we’ll all join cults, but that some of those behaviours leak into more mainstream political impact.
Aidan McCullen 35:57
And if you look at any of the history of any type of genocide, or any type of tragedy, it always started with a small group of people who had this reality and then built on it and built on it and fed other people. And then in times of fear, were able to manipulate and influence others. And I find it really fascinating that you wrote the book before the pandemic, it must have been fascinating for you to see the pandemic unfold and in line with things like and by the way, I’m thinking here, I was trying, I was gonna avoid saying these two words, because I know, when I put this episode out on YouTube, it will be downplayed in the filter bubble, because I am going to say, Trump and Brexit, which you do focus on in the book. Yeah, that’s, that’s us gonna limit our views, by the way on YouTube, because you get actually limited. If you mentioned things like that are political. So and but there’s a key before we get into that. And before we get into inoculation, because you do go right back to the polio, inoculation and vaccines. I think that’s really important for people to know that what we saw unfold during the pandemic and the conspiracy theories, etc, is not uncommon. This is this is actually common. This has happened before in the past, there’s been rejections, etc. We’ll get into that in a sec. But there’s a key paragraph that I’d love to quote. And maybe you’ll riff on this one. Bobby, you said, these days, information technology and social media presents even more challenges to our perception of facts, given the extent to which we can filter and tailor what we see online, and how it is increasingly done without us even noticing or knowing it. filter bubbles and echo chambers incubate our misperceptions, beautifully said, unseen algorithms, and our own selection biases helped create our own individual realities. The pace of technological progress that is allowing this splintering is frightening, but also so apparently complex and unstoppable, that it’s nomming. A very few years ago, the suggestion that we would be, each of us be experiencing our own individual realities online, would seem like something out of black mirror. But now it’s accepted with a shrug. That is dangerous, because it plays to some of our deepest psychological quirks, our desire to have our already held views validated on our instinctive avoidance of anything that challenges them. Now, I know you’ve built on that a little bit, but maybe you’ll want to riff on that a beautifully, beautifully written paragraph.
Bobby Duffy 38:29
Thank you. Yeah. No, I think I mean, look, this, this is constantly moving. And the challenge is, that the technology outpacing our abilities to regulate or think about what we’re actually designing, it just sort of happened. And there’s you know, there’s been an awful lot of people that have been involved in creating those types of online worlds who’ve had a lot of MIA culpa moment afterwards. And Akash I wish I hadn’t quite done that, in terms of putting in the capabilities without thinking how it interacts with our human biases. And I think that’s one of the themes of how that that online environment has grown as we we actually saw, I think we I think it was lots and lots of people who did genuinely think that this is just going to make things better, because you’re opening up information and, and, and opportunities for people to connect in ways that just weren’t possible before. So there’s lots and lots of upsides. And those updates are true, but we just didn’t also think that we’ve got these human biases and we’re going to pull it towards those biases of wanting to be in an in group against an outgroup confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance points that focus on negative and emotional information that you know, we know that emotional information in common clip this paste information travels further and faster in these meetings, social media environment. So it creates a sense of division that isn’t doesn’t reflect the reality. A lot of my work since the book has been on sort of polarisation of societies, and it is built into these platforms that that more negative and more emotional and more conflict based language will travel further and faster. Online, more reasoned debate. So we’ve got to retrain this image of a very divided world that is at odds with each other, that doesn’t really reflect the reality. Outside of that, when you actually see people in, in real life, and but the point about the technology is it just keeps changing. And I was writing of the book, we’re very worried about deep fakes and deep fakes being used in political settings, deep fakes, being you know, proper, where you can just have anyone, say type in anything that you want someone to say in the video will look like they are saying it. And that is worrying in all sorts of environments. But now you got, if you’re looking forward, you have got the metaverse type proper, proper virtual reality, strands coming. And you know, that that will be people creating their own realities and living in their own realities as it as it as it develops. So, yeah, these these and the problems are really difficult to regulate against, or control those types of technologies, because it’s just moves so fast. And the regulation moves so slow. So we, we need to come up with better ways of thinking about what do we want to achieve through this? Because there is this sense that there’s nothing you can do, then it’s just happening. And we have to accept it. And there’s some encouraging signs more encouraging signs that people are governments and organisations like the European Commission are starting to think more seriously about how do you, we can actually impose some sort of audit on this and try to improve the environment. So I think we should be more encouraging signs, but incredibly difficult to do and incredibly difficult to control this and lots of downsides and trying to control it, because you don’t really want state sponsored truth. Either you do you how you intervene, in order to avoid the worst of these sorts of environments, while not giving control over the environments to state authorities or other regulators is a really, really tough line to tread.
Aidan McCullen 43:02
And then you think about you’re talking about state truths there. I mean, the, if you think about the BBC, or any type of national broadcaster, their role should be for content bullsh, when they have a commercial intent or in commercial responsibility. They compete against these organisations who don’t really care, they want to get us get first get the information out there. And that’s no disrespect to those organisations, but speed. And if it bleeds, it leads are so important in those realms. But then they may miss the boat with the content and maybe later, maybe slower. And I know there’s some, some entities out there that have slower news on purpose, but it’s more fact checked, etc. But a lot of the cases people don’t care because they’re consuming on social media. They’re just consuming the headline in many cases. And as you say, that feeds their realities, they believe that’s realities as well. But we won’t go into there. We’ve covered that before. And there’s a lot of that’s, that’s a show in itself that we won’t go into. But I wanted to add something else. That’s also a difficulty. So when I played a 10 year career, as a rugby player, Bobby played over in London in London, Irish, and I was I wasn’t the most talented player, but I was really disciplined. And I looked for any kind of edge that I could guess including diet, so diet or training. And this was pre show this pre training my age here, pre YouTube pre internet at the way we know it today. So content was difficult to find information was difficult to find. And I used to think, Oh, if only I had the information then but today, the amount of information is actually causing a totally different issue. One is you find conflicting information for everything. And that means people don’t know where to look like I’ve looked at this for everything from ADHD, for people with autism for any type of for For even the pandemic for, is the vaccine causing heart attacks? Is it not all this type of different things? And this is really difficult for people because it’s not only the filter bubble, it’s an overload of information, TMI too much information?
Bobby Duffy 45:15
Absolutely, yes. And it is, it is. It is a problem. And it’s it’s the, it’s related to that. All the great work on the paradox of choice that were actually giving people lots of choice makes it really difficult for them to make a choice. Because you can’t, you can have too much. And it’s the same. It’s the same sort of thing with this information about how to who to believe and it’s kind of, and the we kind of, we’ve made some mistakes in this, as well as in society and media organisations, because it was big discussions at the BBC, and other media outlets about balanced reporting, where he would often see, you know, reports on, say, vaccine safety or climate change and human human made climate change, and you would say, you would want the understanding of balanced reporting was was you’d have 80 or 90%, the programme or segment would be, yes, everyone agrees, vaccines that safe or that humans have had a role in climate change. But there’s these couple of people who think that that’s not the case of vaccines are unsafe or climate isn’t. Climate change isn’t human driven. And the trouble with that is that people hear they hear and hold on to that exception, rather than the reality of this. And we’ve got actually I’ve got a survey, a big study coming out across Europe hasn’t been released yet, but it should we asked people in in that about their perceptions of what percentage of climate scientists do you think, agree that climate change is human driven. And the reality according to lots of studies of something like 99.7, or 99.3, or whatever it is, is really, incredibly high among climate scientists. And the average guess is people think that about 70% of climate scientists agree that is so human, that climate change is human driven. So with much, much lower perception, they say, that’s the average get people to think even lower, and people will think about high. So you got this, yeah, that people think that the 30% of climate scientists don’t think it is. And that’s because partly, because how people do these sorts of estimates. But it is also because they see these exceptions, and they take up more space than the reality is, and you also kind of drawn to exceptions when you think when you are presented with information. So that that is a real, that’s a real challenge, not just the volume of information. It’s also how our brain works in processing that where we’re a bit drawn to those exceptions. And they’re given more weight, even though in they don’t reflect they’re not weighed in reality, so yes, it’s a real problem.
Aidan McCullen 48:22
We’ve talked about that. We talked about the challenges, and we’ll get into the solutions, your 10 kind of principles, at the end of the show would love to delve a little bit deeper into some of the surveys out and what they unveiled. And I’m really interested in the next topic, we covered a bit on the show, because we’re interested in healthy body. Also, because it’s good for a healthy mind and actually helps you make more decisions helps you consume more content if you’re going to be working, and it helps you attend better. And you tell us on identifying misperceptions about health is really, really important for us. Doing so forces us to look at the realities of how we take care of ourselves. And in many cases, the actual health statistics are absolutely shocking. And you won’t cover so many of these in the book. And this is especially true when it comes to our weight and diet. I’d love you to share this with our audience. This stuff was absolutely shocking to me.
Bobby Duffy 49:17
Ya know, we have a terrible misperception of our own national level healthiness so we we just massively underestimate how many of us are overweight or obese. And it was a shock to me. I mean, the realities are a shock. First of all, I mean, is is one of those when you collect all the data and you find that two thirds of people are overweight or obese in the US and it’s not much better here in the UK and Ireland’s not similar as that so it’s all these realities are incurred. credibly high. But the estimates are really quite low as well. So you’ve got big gaps here where you’ve got people down at some of the countries, it’s like people estimating foreign 10 or, or three in 10 people. So half in some and you know, in some countries like Saudi Arabia, just incredible state of denial about the extent to which they have a weight problem as a as a nation. So yeah, so you’ve got these incredible gaps. And the the worry about that is it shows that we’re not worried enough, if you see what I mean, because it’s kind of we know that when people are concerned about something, they tend to inflate it in their mind. And this shows that we’re even with all the evidence and all the discussion on these types of things, we still don’t quite get how bad it is. And that that is a bit that’s a lot related to our sort of social set, and how we compare ourselves with others and all those problems, because we think it’s we think the people that we’re not to overweight ourselves, and the people around us look similar to as and that creates this sense of it’s all okay, when it’s actually not at all. So yeah, no, so it’s one of the ones it’s quite unusual in the in the scope of the book, where we tend to be too worried about things on some of these personal health ones, we’re not worried enough, then that’s that chain that affects how we react, because if you’re, if you think it’s okay, you’re less likely to take action. And that’s the that is a worry on our health.
Aidan McCullen 51:47
Now, I’d like to come back to one of the key principles of all that, which is where you were saying about climate change. And we’re doing this magnificent series, we’re in the midst of it with Jeffrey west of the Santa Fe Institute on climate change and the planet, essentially. And I told him when I was reading your book, and I’m gonna mention to him, one of the things that you say is that, it’s almost because there’s so much content out there, that that actually has sometimes a detrimental effect about the alarming changes that we’re experiencing, that we kind of go towards a new meme. And we think, Oh, well, somebody else is on us, because we’re we’ve got covered because it’s so much in the price, etc. And that can actually have a backfire effect for many things. And I thought that was really interesting, both with the health issues, but also with the planet as well.
Bobby Duffy 52:37
Yeah, no, that’s right. I mean, I do think there’s, it’s really interesting about how what’s the right level of worry, and concern that you should have to change it to encourage change on an issue. It’s a really fascinating area that campaigners are struggling with all the time about what’s the line of getting people worried and concerned enough, but not think that it’s hopeless, and all done. And so there’s no point in doing anything about it. And it’s this really interesting interaction between concern, but also a sense of efficacy, that we can actually affect change. And this again, it’s a important thing for leaders in organisations, particularly ones that need transformation is, is that extensive getting, then you recognise it in your own kind of running of organisations is getting the sense of burning platform. But without that, it’s just going to burn down and there’s nothing you can you can do about it. And I am. And that is very much the case in things like climate, about, how do you how do you get people take it seriously enough, because it’s more of a future risk than very current in day to day experience. But we need to act now. But it’s huge, and relies on other people acting. And all of those things make it really difficult to get people at the right level of concern. And there was lots of there was lots of angst around a book by David Wallace wells, which was about uninhabitable Earth, which some climate campaigners were saying is worse than climate denial because what what he did was bring together all the worst case scenarios and say, What would happen if all of these things happened? And it made it for some people the argument was it made it sound hopeless, so in that put people off, making change, and then other people would push back and say, No, that’s not the case. You need these sorts of books incredibly popular book that is There’s no doubt open some people’s eyes to the problems involved. So it’s kind of it’s a really complex area about correct level of concern to promote change. Without either too much complacency or too much fatalism that nothing can be done, nothing can be done. I find that really fascinating and really useful thing to think about in your day to day problems.
Aidan McCullen 55:28
And there’s a lovely red thread to later on in the book, where you introduce a section called one versus many. And here you tell us about the work of Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, who has studied what he termed a beautiful term psychic knowing for decades, which is where the scale of tragedies or need for help drive us to inaction which is tied to what you said there. But I thought this was particularly fascinating with the Ukraine crisis at the moment, because he states, most of us are caring and will exert great effort to rescue the one whose plight comes from that to their attention. But these same people often become normally indifferent to the plight of the one who is one of many now, much greater problem. Why do good people ignore mass murder and genocide you ask? Specifically, it is our inability, or inability to comprehend numbers, again, that a numeracy problem and relate to that to mass human tragedy that stifles our ability to act, I thought that, again, was fascinating. And again, linking that to transformation efforts, you need to keep it in the right level of attainment. So can I can I do it? Is it possible? Or is the task just too big? Yeah.
Bobby Duffy 56:49
Yeah, no, I agree. And there’s one sort of example from slavish and others work that I really liked. Which was when he when he runs these experiments about how much would you donate to different causes with people and the one of them was about providing safe water in to a refugee camp, I think it was and, and he played with the scales that you would use. So one was to both were saving 100,000 people, if you did, if you gave this donation, you would ensure that 100,000 People got this safe water. But I’m one of the examples, it was a camp that was 100,000 people, then you would save everyone, and the other was 100,000, you would be able to get 200,000 people out of 300,000 people that were in this camp. And people were much more willing to give money to the 100 1000s camp. So where everyone was given access to safe water, even though it was the same number of people in the 300,000 camp that would get the safe water in under his scenario. And that’s just really interesting. And it shows that we like solutions to but we like to think if I do this, then that’s that thing solved. And I can tick it off. Not that I’m helping towards this, in this case to the same scale, I’m helping towards a bigger problem at the same scale. So that’s really interesting when you think it’s a complexity of human emotions, and particularly if you’re doing transformation work, or you’re working in businesses, more generally, that sense of completion, or I am sorting this properly, is really important to us. Rather than just I am making progress. And that’s really useful to think about that when you’re when you’re communicating and trying to inspire teams.
Aidan McCullen 59:00
There’s so many elements in there that you have to gain. And I’m very wary as well with the show of giving too much information, but also giving almost like breadcrumbs towards the ability to make the change happen. And that it’s not it’s not unattainable. But there’s a really fascinating thing that is linked to this. And I’m also always reminded of Leo Tolstoy is quote here, he said everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself or herself. And this is linked to your section on herd behaviour. Because you say we have to be so cognizant of the dangers of our herding instinct as a as a species. And the quote that I picked here is, it seems we may be in denial on our personal consumption of sugar. And we’re definitely under estimating how far we are, as we’ve discovered, but there remains the key question of whether it’s better communicating the huge scale over health challenges to people actually help shift behaviour to what you were talking about, it seems obvious that knowing the truth is an important first step to acting on it, but is it you ask, and you go on to say, our focus should instead be on the individual behaviour, and overcoming personal barriers to healthier choices, rather than on a societal epidemic, where it’s all too easy to just go along, doing the same things as everyone else, again, as you said, seeing people around you. And I thought, again, this is interesting to those changemakers, who listen to the show, because we try to boil the ocean, rather than actually start with the willing those people who are willing to make the change, get some small wins, and then build on those successes. I’d love you to give your view on that, Bobby.
Bobby Duffy 1:00:48
Yeah, I mean, it’s very connected to that, that point of hope and hopelessness that people can have in this and it is, it is, particularly, you know, around health type behaviours, we know that it’s not particularly helpful to just bang on about a obesity epidemic. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t motivate people doesn’t, doesn’t personalise it for them. And it can give the sense of hopelessness that, you know, this is this is beyond our control, as well as a sense that this is the norm. And like one of one of the, the linking to your point about the herding, we are incredibly social creatures, were what our perception of the norm is, is really important in our own behaviour. And there was a great experiment on this in research on this in Princeton University in in 1960s, or 70s, where they had a very strong drinking culture. And new new vice chancellor comes in and is worried about this, and what wants to ban keg parties, where he got lots of beer, and got lots of pushback from people about doing that. So they did some research on it. And what they found was that there was a whole stack of people who actually didn’t really like that drinking culture, but they thought it was the culture. So they were all protesting for something were quite a lot of them didn’t actually want it to continue, because they thought it was the norm. And this was what they thought that everyone else loved it, when actually, there was a big chunk of them if they’d be more honest about what they were thinking actually didn’t love it. But they wouldn’t express that because they felt they’d be out of line with the norm. And, and that that is, that’s one of the key, again, these lines that you’ve got to tread where you want to honour like an obesity crisis, where you want to say we’ve got a real problem with this. And it’s very widespread. Without turning, it’s very difficult then not to turn it into a norm, as in if you’re telling telling people this is a really widespread outcome for lots of people, who also makes it feel like that is the social norm, and we will follow the social norms rather than fight against them. So it’s a really tricky one, and where, wherein you will see you, you’ll have seen increasingly in communications or health communications on that tend not to get those big messages of crisis, or this is widespread. From health bodies, that much more tailored, much more specific, and much more what we can do type messages rather than just describing a widespread problem. And that’s, that’s, that’s not because there’s a denial of the it is an issue. It’s just because actually, it’s not very effective and quite risky to just bang on about the scale of the problem.
Aidan McCullen 1:04:12
It reminds me of an Emerson quote that to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement and the reason I say that is they’re hurting instinct i i played rugby and as you know, rugby has a certain ethos, it’s it’s changed a lot in professional rugby, but I wasn’t ever much of a drinker. And it was always a challenge for me, like I used to leave the game, go home, do my recovery sessions, because as I say, I wasn’t not talented. So I had to do those, those little bit extra. So I usually wouldn’t drink very much because I knew how detrimental it was to recovery. But I and I incurred a huge wrath for that going against the herd mentality and even now, and my career essentially as a gig economy worker is unusual for people and they can’t get their head around it. And it’s, it can be challenging. And, you know, I say all that say, think of our children, because one of the great benefits of of trying to play sport at that age at a young age was it brought you into a different type of community that was somewhat interested in its health, you know, so you had a game at the weekend, therefore, you didn’t. You never dabbled in drugs or anything like that, because it just wasn’t in your consciousness. And it makes me always think about my children, again, is that it’s so important, who they’re surrounded by their friends, their teachers, their communities are so important, because that probably has a bigger influence than the parent alone, because they’re constantly around those people.
Bobby Duffy 1:05:44
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that our environments are incredibly important. And let’s like, particularly on health, and I kind of in our, you know, wider work. The, the model of the social determinants of health is incredibly well explored now, and really, you know, great work by a whole series of people. But Michael Marmot is probably most associated with it in from a UK perspective is just looking at the whole panoply of effects on people’s health, that is all to do with a lot to do with family, genetic, you know, that goes from genetics family to, and it goes in these concentric circles of different types of effects, but where, who you are around who you see, as well as the health services and systems that support you, it’s kind of this complex interplay from from different directions, but where your environment has a huge effect on you. And not just it’s not just about individual characteristics, or willpower, or genetics, or all those types of things, it is, it is very much a socially determined outcome, health and you got to keep that in mind.
Aidan McCullen 1:07:01
And one of the other things is, as we know, education, so when the parents shows more interested in the kids homework and education, more likely to perform better in school. And then also I read one about reading that when the parent is has books around the house, even just lying around the kids more likely to read. So I think that’s it’s important to know that if if you have the privilege of being a parent, or even as an auntie, or an uncle or something to be encouraging the children in that way, but I wanted to jump to something we mentioned earlier on, not to disappoint your audience. Because I found your book, and this section, almost prophetic, because you wrote it, as I said before the pandemic. And I’ll introduce our own throw this as you do in the book, and the section you call it is inoculating against ignorance. So, here we go. It’s 12th of April 1955 10 years to the day from the death of President Roosevelt, the world’s most famous polio victim. We’re at the University of Michigan waiting to hear the results of Dr. Jonas sulks trial of the polio vaccine. 500 people are in the room including 150 from the media along with 16 television cameras, some relaying the results to 54,000 physicians in cinemas across the country, people are listening to the radio in the US and all around the world. The results are broadcast on department store loudspeakers and judges suspend trial so people can listen. Paul Offit, the vaccine scientist writes, The presentation was nomming. But the results were clear. The vaccine worked inside the auditorium. Americans cheerfully and joyfully embrace church bells were ran across the country’s factories were observing observing moments of silence synagogues, and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. It was as if a war had ended, one observer recalled. So received a gold medal from President Eisenhower and in 1985, President Ronald Ronald Reagan proclaimed that this country should celebrate salt day. So had ensured the impact of his discovery by not painting the vaccine, when asked by an interviewer who owned who owned the paint and where he replied, Well, the people I would say, there is no paint and could you paint in the sun? Fast forward to present day and the contrast between those scenes and how we, and how those currently working on vaccines are viewed by a section of the public could not be starker. You wrote this before the vaccine, I found that absolutely, or before the pandemic. And I found that absolutely fascinating, and maybe you’ll give us a bit of your viewpoint on the polio vaccine and then the change and bearing in mind again, you were talking about the change before the recent pandemic and that has just exasperated even further.
Bobby Duffy 1:09:59
You Ya know, really, really interesting area, because it’s, it was one of the one of the questions that I was most worried about, I suppose one of the results that I was most worried about, even before the pandemic, because what we found was that we asked people whether vaccines, some vaccines cause autism in healthy children or not whether they can they just it wasn’t like a statement of fact, true or false, some vaccines cause autism in healthy children. And and it was really worrying because this was around 3537 countries that we asked this and only four and 10 people said it was definitely false, that that’s the case. And then one in five people said it was definitely true. That does cause some vaccines cause autism. And in healthy children, this was obviously based on the controversy around the MMR vaccines that you will have seen which he come back to. And then it was a lot of people in the middle, you get the rest of them in the middle saying I don’t know, whether it does or not. And that in itself is a worry us not knowing that kind of sense. Sense of sense of doubt. And I’m told that that’s that’s the context, you got only one in five people definitely saying that sorry, one in five people definitely saying that it’s true. And only four and 10. People definitely saying that it’s false, that you’ve got this risk, from vaccines. And that’s, that’s that was a terrible context, going into a pandemic, where vaccines were going to be absolutely crucial elements of arm getting back to normal life and saving people’s lives. And I think that what it’s shown really is that what the experience of the pandemic has shown is that actually, we’ve done pretty well, in coming out of the pandemic and in acceptance of vaccinations across lots of countries, not all because there’s been problems in some countries, but we’ve actually done pretty well, from it. And it’s it’s a, it’s a really good case study, and how do you engage people in these types of information based decisions that they have to take? Because it was it, it really the campaigns in lots of countries applied lots of the learning from previous previous vaccination type studies, there was a there was a lot of work on the behavioural science of this and how to get people to accept it. So modelling behaviours, making sure that people know it’s the norm, really detailed work of getting into communities that have more scepticism about vaccination through using their own leaders, not external people trying to come in and tell them what to do and, and vaccination rates have been pretty high. In it’s, so I think we’ve got take the positives from my experiences that we’ve done. We’ve learned a lot about that. And but then still, what we’re left with is a rump of vaccine. Vaccine sceptics through to conspiracy theorists, who are not insignificant in the population. There are, there are we have new questions around the pandemic, specifically about whether Bill Gates is actually using the vaccine to microchip errs, and then all of those types of things, and you will get, you know, one in 20 up to one and 15 people agreeing with those kind of crazy, crazy ideas. And then you get more people who have got concerns about sceptic scepticism about how quickly it was developed and still fears about side effects. exaggerated in in many ways, so you got kind of a total of about 1515 ish percent of people who have got that kind of rejection ism. So it’s still not it’s still not insignificant as a problem, but it could have been much worse looking at what we were coming from in terms of the bad the bad context that we’d built around vaccine safety and that I think that is a real lesson going back to giving so much up suggest to people like Andrew Wakefield, who was a UK researcher who was given a lot of space on in media discussions of vaccine safety. And even though he was discredited, the research was discredited, it kind of stuck with people and informed debate across the world, including in the US. So we, we need to learn those lessons about setting that sort of context and then build on the good lessons from the pandemic about how do you actually engage people on these types of things to encourage the behaviour. And then I suppose the final point I’d say on this, though, is, the trouble with all of that is it while it’s not big proportions of people who are rejectionists or conspiracy theorists on vaccines, what it has done is reinforced some of those communities, because they’ve been pushed into enclaves on this and sharing their connections on these types of things in there is a, these types of events can increase that connection to those types of groups, and that sense of radicalization among those groups, because what tends to happen is people get pulled into one conspiracy theory, and it’s a bit of a rabbit hole into others and, and conspiracy, conspiracy ism can really lead to radicalization, which can lead to more extreme acts. So there is the, the pandemic has created an environment where for a minority rather than a majority, it can push people into quite dangerous places. And that’s, that’s a worry. And all driven by how people see realities, and how that ties up with their identity, and then how it becomes self reinforcing about being member of a group. And just as the kind of cult theories have shown us.
Aidan McCullen 1:17:01
I found it interesting as well that when I spoke to Elliot Aronson, he said, the more difficult it is to get into a group, the more you will actually obey the rules of that group. And the more you’ll feel kind of grateful to be part of that group. But then I also thought about how social media and the filter bubbles play such a large role in this because I have empathy in a way for many people who are in that world. So if you go to any of those kind of more conspiracy theory, versions of YouTube, if you want to call them that, that people consume content, it’s often the same content over and over and over. And they or else if you do consume it on places like YouTube, again, the filter on the algorithm plays in so they’re only seen one view of the world. And it’s always confirming, as you mentioned, as well. And then when it’s disconfirming, they listen for the little chink in the armour. And they go for that. And I live with that as well. So I thought that was really interesting. And thanks for raising our thanks for clarifying it. And it probably raises a question. And I’m sure lots of people have experienced this. We all know somebody, and maybe a family member, maybe you who don’t agree with the vaccine and don’t agree with what has unfolded. But oftentimes, the question of education comes up, and oh, well, it’s an education thing, or it’s a country by country thing. And you are not wrong, there is a huge influence of education and country, by country, it’s a huge thing Bobby is uncovered in his book, we probably don’t have time to go deep into that. But I thought the education thing I was interested in as well, because I raised it earlier on. And I don’t want to let anyone down who’s interested in that. And one of the ways you uncover this was through, for example, teenage pregnancy rates, and the perception versus the reality, which is starkly different. And I tested this in a few people. And I found again, some people very highly educated people got really, really wrong. And then other people got actually much more accurate. And there was also I found a difference between gender as well, which was interesting as well. So over to you here, because this is a great case study of the overall mindset of misperceptions and perceptions.
Bobby Duffy 1:19:19
Yeah, I mean, the teenage pregnancy one is fascinating. And I do use that a lot. Because it is that is such a case study of emotional and numeracy in, in the sense so the Yeah, I mean, from your audience’s point of view, it’s good to think about the question, which is what percentage of women and girls aged 15 to 19 in your country, do you think give birth each year? And the answer in let’s just take Britain? It’s kind of it’s not out of line with others is 1.4%. But the average guess is In Britain is 19%, one in five, two, but then in the US, it’s 2%. The reality and the average guests is 24%, a quarter of teenage girls give birth each year. And you know, it’s extraordinary. And obviously, when you think about that for just a second, you would think that’s absurd that one in five people, so you’ve got an all girl class of 30, and six of them are having babies every year is it’s quite extraordinary when you, when you think about it, it’s not realistic when you when you think about it, but it is that what we will be doing is remembering the stories where we’re doing the two big groups of things, we’ll be remembering the stories that we have seen, because they’ll stick in our minds, they’re very, they’re negative, usually framed quite negatively, and the weak negative information sticks, but it’s also quite an emotional story. So that kind of sticks with us. It was, we are also really bad at updating our views over time. Because it was previous pregnancies have haft in the past 30 years, across most countries, it’s kind of a massive drop in teenage pregnancies. But we’re not very good at updating our images, we get kind of stuck on old, old perceptions of problems in particular. So yes, and then we’ve got this. That’s like a great case study. And it is there is related to education levels. And across the studies as a whole, there is an education effect from this where you will tend to find people who’ve got high levels of education tend to be better not on all things. And there’s some lovely complications here that are shown in other experimental work where actually, if you’ve got an issue that is really tightly tied to your identity, like a political issue, say gun control in the US, it’s actually the more numerous people who tend to get things more wrong, because they can torture the data to fit the existing worldview better. And if you’re asking people what’s true or false from different things, and you’re presenting them with information about it, they will do these mental gymnastics or the kind of more educated or more numerous people who do these mental gymnastics to try to work out? Well, how can I keep this in line with my worldviews? There’s not a perfect relationship by any means to education. But there is there is an element of that. What I did find fascinating across the estimates was when we looked across all all the different countries, and one of the studies, we asked lots of different questions that we asked people how confident they were in their guesses. And there was this almost perfect relationship between the more confident the people in the country were with estimates, the more wrong they were, with estimates, across lots of different types of questions. And this is the classic Dunning Kruger effect, where it’s where, where you don’t know about a subject, your very ignorance of that subject makes you overconfident? Because you think you know more than you actually know. So you got this is really important in understanding these these types of studies is that confidence can be inversely related to correctness on on there. So listening to confident people on lots of these issues is no, no guarantee that you’re listening to the truth.
Aidan McCullen 1:24:00
Dunning Kruger is absolutely fascinating. I think it’s really interesting to tell the story of bank robber and the lemon juice, this is really fascinate, because it really it’s an exaggerated version of it. But one of the things I have learned, and I’m sure you know, from the mental research you’ve done, is that I think it was Newton said, what we know is a drop, and the more you learn, the more you learn what you don’t know. And that’s one of the things I find remarkable, really well read and well that researched people often are the most wracked with doubt, because they know so much. And somebody who is more ignorant or less educated on a subject is actually more likely to take action because of their lack of information. And this was the certainly the case with this bank robber.
Bobby Duffy 1:24:48
Yeah, no, it’s a great, great story. And it’s like boil it down to the poor guy. Thought that covering your your face and lemons. He’s meant that you wouldn’t show up on security cameras. And, and obviously that doesn’t work he got caught was incredibly confident about his, his plan. It’s, ya know, is it is a powerful effect. And exactly as you say it is in important. The lesson that I take forever because the danger is sort of you tip into patronising people who are less educated on on things. And it’s not it’s not the point of it, I think as an analysis option, it is. The point about it is is to separate in your mind confidence from correctness, I guess. And I think it’s like, it’s another one of those little mental ticks is we are we are quite drawn to confident people and people who are presenting their views as is as the reality and or very, definitely the thing that you need to do we have, you know, it’s kind of we look for that leadership type things in it, you know, again, that’s, that sees as well in lots of different situations. But I think there is, there is that useful step back and system to type approach of just checking, just checking in verifying that a little bit when we’re, when we are being when we are following someone, or following their recommendations, at least. So yeah, that’s the thing that I take from it more is that he’s to qualify how much weight we give to confidence.
Aidan McCullen 1:26:55
I’ve already triggered the algorithm here, Brexit and Trump. So in that respect, because what happens is it reads the transcript, you see the YouTube reads the transcript in the algorithm knows, and then they can actually go, you can’t say, for example, boost a video to try and reach people. So, Cambridge Analytica, for example. And this is important, because we talked about you mentioned there about the more confidence somebody is overconfident, Trump comes to mind, the mere exposure effect comes to mind because of Trump terrorists, him being on the different TV, all these type of things have an effect. But you cover in depth in the book, we won’t have time to cover it in depth. But because I mentioned it, some people will be annoyed if we don’t cover it. So I’d love you to just give a high level view of both.
Bobby Duffy 1:27:46
Yeah, now, as you can imagine, in a book on misperceptions and realities, or bending realities, Trump featured quite a lot, actually, because he was he was so many stories around how he treats realities, maybe the one that sticks out most with me is just how he talked about murder rates in US cities where he just went around on the campaign trail saying murder rate is the highest it’s ever been been in the US for 40 years. And it just wasn’t true. It was based on a small sliver of truth about murder rates had gone up in some US cities, year on year, but they were still much lower than 30 or 40 years ago, but he just kept saying it six or seven times on the trail. And it was such a good example of illusory truth bias of you just keep saying these things, you know, they’re not true or you kind of know whether you know or not, you just keep ploughing away with it. Because it’s, you know, it will have an effect and set a tone and people will keep hearing it, and then some more people will believe it as a result. So he was that was a key key aspect of his campaigning is just keep saying those types of things, which is, you know, happens in politics, but he’s an extreme example of a just keep saying it. And then Brexit is interesting, because it was, for me, it was it was much more about the tribal identity points, that you in the UK context, you Brexit identities became incredibly strong, much stronger than your party political identity. People strongly identify with whether they were a lever or a Remainer. So when you put to people whether the pledge to spend that we send 350 million pounds per week to the European Union has true or false, massive disparity between levers and remainders on whether they believe that or not, you know, hardly anywhere miners believed that a huge proportion of leavers believed it. And, and that’s, you know, that’s the same reality, but seen entirely differently depending on your political identity, in this case. And so that’s, that’s a real, a real, real live example of our directionally motivated reasoning or confirmation bias, as we people who believe in believing that we’ll be looking for information that reinforces it, and people who don’t believe it will be looking for information that neglected or rejected. So, yeah, so they, they’re kind of Trump and Brexit, we’re Riven with that interplay of views of reality and our identity and, and the leaders on, on all sides. We’re really playing with that and playing on those types of biases.
Aidan McCullen 1:30:58
And if only there was an algorithm where you could actually boost information and target the specific people that you wanted to influence them even more.
Bobby Duffy 1:31:07
Aidan McCullen 1:31:08
So, by the way, I just want to say the book is fascinating and most read and Bobby has another book called generations as well. He wrote over the last couple of years that is just launched as well. I love your Tavi on the future as well on that, Bobby, it’s brilliant work so important for us to make sound decisions as much as we can make, that’s for sure. But also, for anybody interested in immigration is in there. Our sexual lives is in there. Everything is in the book, everything’s covered on these great studies from Ipsos MORI, and Bobby’s work, and we’re King’s College, etc. But I thought we’d finish and we’ve 10 minutes, so 10 and 10. If the challenge is worth you, Bobby, if you will, I will share these 10 ways that we can manage our perceptions. And you set up this section by saying the starting point for most discussions of why we’re so wrong is to view the answer as solely out there in the context, we’re wrong only because we’ve been misled, rather than it is being how we think, the repeated errors that we make. So we can be conscious about this, we can make some changes, we can exercise the muscle, and an impact. In pointing out cognitive traps, you establish that we’re not entirely slaves to them. And you share 10 ideas of how we can form more accurate views of the world. They have broad applications for how we see the world, what we prioritise and how we approach new information. So the 10 are as follows. I’ll read out one, Bobby, you’ll riff on it and give us an overview. The first is things are not as bad as we think. And most things are getting better.
Bobby Duffy 1:32:47
Yes, exactly. I mean, it’s, this relates to the emotional numeracy point that we will change our view of reality, because we’ve got this sense of focus on negative information and sense of decline. So we just starting with that point, but actually knowing that, in particular, knowing that we are at the end of a long evolutionary chain of humans were treating negative information. As urgent and important is built into us, this goes back all the way back to cave people days of how negative information tends to be threat based information. So if you didn’t take notice of it, say that looking Sabre toothed Tiger, it was about to pounce on you than your entity out of the gene pool. So we are kind of we’ve conditioned on a long, long process to focus on the negative and it’s done as well as a species to be quite cautious and to focus on that type thing. But it means that we tend to think things are worse than they are, and the things are getting worse. So yeah, just having that in mind, that it’s not as bad as you think probably not as bad as we think is a is a is a really useful starting point when you’re looking at any of these realities.
Aidan McCullen 1:34:08
And the second again, we touched on this throughout the show was accept the emotion but challenge the thought.
Bobby Duffy 1:34:15
Yeah, now this is a really interesting one. And it’s kind of as almost therapy like that. That actually comes from a therapist, Andrew Marshall, who is written lots of books on relationships and midlife crises in particular. And it’s very similar point to the Kahneman one about system one. And system two, you’ve got to realise you’re going to have an initial emotional reaction to this and you can’t read you can’t stop that. It will happen and and that’s not that it’s not actually healthy for you to try to stop that initial emotional reaction to these types of things. But once that has gone, you can challenge the thought that it leads to and think about is that is that the emotion driving this? Or is that my misperceptions driving this? Or it? Or is it real so in that’s where you’re trying to get system to, to kick in and consider things a bit more carefully.
Aidan McCullen 1:35:19
And then three is cultivate scepticism but not cynicism.
Bobby Duffy 1:35:24
Yeah, it’s a really difficult one, this one, this is another treading the line. One, because what you, you want people to be sceptical to think about the information and not just believe it immediately. But you don’t want people to be utterly cynical and just reject all information or to completely flip flop and believe the last thing they were told without any kind of belief in something because we, as humans, you want to have value system, We have beliefs, we have identities, all of those types of things. So it’s a tricky one. It’s yeah, it’s about us just checking with ourselves. Are we being too cynical about a particular an opposing point of view? We are, what we tend to do is really question the motives of the other side, while assume good motives for people on our side of the debate. So that’s where you tip into this cynicism. That just rejects other other sides. So that that scepticism cynicism line is one really worth having in mind when you are when you’re considering new information.
Aidan McCullen 1:36:43
And another one then number four is other people are not as like us, as we think.
Bobby Duffy 1:36:49
Yeah, this is really, this is really interesting. The some of the biggest errors that you see in the book overall are thinking that our own circle is representative of everything else. There’s a great one in from where we asked about Facebook membership in different countries, and we asked in India, what percentage of Indian people what percentage of Indians you think are on Facebook, and the reality at the time was about 20%, and maybe a bit 100, the average guess from the sample was about 64%. And that was because the samples were done among online Indians, people living in India who had Internet access, because you have to be able to reach them. So that’s not a fault of the methodology that was kind of this very useful bit of the methodology because it what it meant was those those Indian respondents that we had, were all online, more likely to be Facebook users themselves, their friends or their family, or more likely more middle class connected Indian population, which utterly unrepresentative of the rest of India, in in that technological sense. That some of that one of the biggest gaps that we saw throughout and it shows you how powerful our comparison set is to is that we think we are normal. We ask we think we are the norm, but we’re not as normal as we think. And that is a really important thing to bear in mind.
Aidan McCullen 1:38:19
I definitely no, I’m not normal. Yeah. So number number five, then is one that you alluded to earlier, and particularly talking about media and content, our focus on extreme examples also leads us astray.
Bobby Duffy 1:38:33
Yeah, absolutely. And this is so while we, while we’re not entirely normal, and our experiences not utterly representative, the other kind of conflicting tendency is to just be drawn to the most extreme example. And you think of a lot of our say, for example, our image of immigration, certainly in a UK context is we know this from the surveys is about asylum seekers. When you talk about immigrants, people will be thinking about destitute asylum seekers, when actually that is not the norm for immigrants into a country because we’re drawn to those more extreme examples. Partly, we’re drawn to it in the media cover it more, but the media cover it more, because we’re drawn to those types of emotional stories. So again, there’s this system of pushing us towards a focus on the extreme. And we just got to bear that in mind.
Aidan McCullen 1:39:31
And the other one, which we’ve covered before in the show, so you can keep this one short and bear in mind your time as well as on filtering our world. So get nightside those filter bubbles.
Bobby Duffy 1:39:41
Yes, No, exactly. And there’s really, really easy to say very difficult to do. But it just takes focus from us. And there are tools, increasing number of tools to help us try and mix up our feed. But do bear in mind that, you know, a lot of this is unseen algorithms and we weren’t even know that our world is being filtered for us. So it’s not something you need to be actively aware of.
Aidan McCullen 1:40:07
And then the next one is critical statistical and news literacy are going to be difficult to shift. But we can do more.
Bobby Duffy 1:40:15
This is where we, we shift into not so much our personal behaviours as what can government’s and others do to help this. And I think these are really important that we, we have changed our news and information environment. And much quicker than we’ve changed our coaching and teaching of kids and ourselves of how to deal with that environment. And it’s not like this is going to be the Saviour. And we just need to get into the school curriculum, something on critical literacy and news literacy. And that will sort this out, because that’s not so much more complicated than that. But, but it is part of the mix. Our kids, you can’t teach the human out of our kids. So they will still have these biases and heuristics, like like cars, and will fall into these types of traps. But you do feel like we haven’t kept up. And there’s more that we could do to support kids. And then adults too.
Aidan McCullen 1:41:12
And as you say, in the book, the difficulty is actually getting to change the curricula for schools is really big one, and you know, inspired by your book, I was driving my son yesterday. And I asked him rather than going How was your day at school? I said, What did you disagree with about school today? And that was inspired by you. Next one is facts. Still current and facts fact checking is important.
Bobby Duffy 1:41:37
Yeah, so this is the point that people still do change their minds as there can be a tendency in these sorts of books or analysis to make people think, oh, so it doesn’t matter, really the fact it’s all driven by identity and emotions and all those. But that’s not the case. And it can also be the case that people think fact checking in is useless, these kind of fact checking organisations because once the lie is out there, it’s really difficult to get back. And that is true, it is really difficult. But lots of fact, checking organisations trying to build in inoculation, if you like, against the sort of pre checking of things, trying to get it into the system. So it is still again, an important part of the jigsaw here is having people that are verifying things, and that you can trust, particularly going back to your point about having so much choice and so much information, what you actually find is the brand can become more important to people. If it’s a trustworthy source, people are looking for those people are looking for some sense of what’s trustworthy out there. And those fact checking organisations and media organisations that use them, like the BBC, or some of the other big outlets. That’s really important to give people some confidence.
Aidan McCullen 1:42:56
And then number nine is we were storytelling animals. So we also need to tell the story.
Bobby Duffy 1:43:02
Yes, that’s right. I mean, I think the one of the things that I get into a lot of discussions when you’re presenting this at seminars and conferences is none of this focus on facts means that story isn’t important. People often we often think that we got a choice between using facts or story. Actually, the best and most powerful way to do it is combining the two trying to tell the story with the facts woven in to you need the real life, individual level stories in order for people to connect. But you can still connect that to more representative facts. If, if, if you weave it together, well,
Aidan McCullen 1:43:44
you’ve done well keeping it to 10. Yeah, better and deeper engagement is possible.
Bobby Duffy 1:43:51
Yes, no, I think this final point is again, a sort of broader one that I’m quite a fan of deliberative democracy, things like citizens assemblies, which have been important in Ireland and in the UK, and increasingly across Europe, about deciding on difficult issues where you get people together, you present them with lots of evidence and from experts and the opportunity to discuss that themselves between themselves. And it doesn’t change people’s worldviews or their identities, but it does get a more informed opinion from them where you can actually decide on things and has been really important examples of where things have changed around abortion, four approaches to climate change on the basis of these types of deliberative events. I think we have become too disconnected from our politics and in many ways and given more. One of the sort of maybe counterintuitive conclusions of the book is that are misperceptions and struggle with reality doesn’t mean that you should take power away From people, it actually means you should give them more. Because then you’re more incentivized to give them to more informed views. If there’s actually something riding on it, people can do that. So having more confidence in people, not less in the end.
Aidan McCullen 1:45:16
And Bobby, I have a final quote that I pulled from the book that I think just is beautiful and encapsulates everything we’ve talked about. But before I do that, where can people find you find out more about your other books and your work, of course.
Bobby Duffy 1:45:29
Now, I’m director of the policy institute at King’s College London. And that’s, that means all all my, all my details are available, they’re very easy to get in touch.
Aidan McCullen 1:45:41
Awesome. And my final quote is as follows. And maybe I’d love you to give a final word and message to our audience as well. Before we close, that one I have picked is as follows We naturally look for confirming information and discount, discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point, and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we do switch, the dissonance is emotionally unpleasant. And while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling on to them. The message is that we can’t always solve misperceptions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. I absolutely love that as an inspiring close from my perspective, what about you, Bobby? What’s your final message to our audience?
Bobby Duffy 1:46:36
Yeah, I think it is that optimistic message, which seems strange, but something that has shown that we can be very wrong and very tribal and very difficult on these types of subjects. But actually, in the end, it’s a hopeful point about how people are going to change how people can be engaged and how, in some ways, I suppose my final final point is to bear in mind, our own misperceptions of how bad it is out there on these types of things on people’s perceptions of realities and how immovable and tribal they are becoming that is also an overblown sense of division. As the research shows, there’s much much more decency and hope and goodwill out there than is often comes across from how it’s portrayed.
Aidan McCullen 1:47:32
Beautiful, the author of perils of perception, why we’re wrong about nearly everything. Bobby Duffy, thank you for joining us.
Bobby Duffy 1:47:41
Aidan, absolutely great, thank you.
Aidan McCullen 1:47:44
I hope you enjoy that. A lot of information in that show. I know but I could only get Bobby for one episode and I wanted to make sure we got the best out of that episode. We only covered a fraction of what’s in this book. It’s so dense with information. It’s absolutely fantastic. And I want to thank our sponsors Zai boldly transforming the future of financial services with a suite of embedded products and services empowering businesses to create multiple payment workflows, and move funds with ease. You can check out Zai at Hellozai.com See you soon