Posts Tagged ‘immigrants’

Your Brain is Leading You Astray

August 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Professor Abigail Marsh in the 7 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. She is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University.

In reality, most people die of diseases of old age, such as heart disease and cancer. However, more than half of news coverage is devoted to homicides and terrorism, which account for less than 1% of actual deaths. People disproportionately buy, click on and share scary stories about people killing other people. Professor Marsh says we can blame this fact on our brain. She writes, “Your brain’s most important job is to take information about the messy, confusing world we inhabit, find patterns embedded in the noise and use them to make predictions about the future. Brains particularly like actionable intelligence—and the most useful information pertains to threats that can be avoided, thus increasing your odds of survival.”

She continues, “Heart disease and strokes don’t provide much fodder for this prediction machine. We know why they happen: because we get old. Talk about unactionable intelligence. The best you can do is to stave them off for a while by doing things we already know are healthy: Eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke. You can almost hear your brain yawning.”

She proceeds, “Now consider a gunman mowing down a crowd of innocents. Acts like this are rare, vivid and unexpected. The combination sets your brain whirring, whirring, generating a red-alert signal called a ‘prediction error,‘ a surge of activity deep in the brain’s emotional core. A prediction error signal screams: ‘Look for a cause! Prevent this next time!’ This leaves you craving even more information about such attacks, in the vain hope you can predict the next one.”

The article notes that we are not good at intuiting the minds of others, even those we know well. There is no way of intuiting the mind of a mass murderer. Most people would never commit an act like this. Prof. Marsh has spent more than a decade conducting research on rare populations such as altruistic kidney donors and psychopathic teenagers. She has come away convinced of two things. First, we are all not the same. and some people have much more (or less) capacity for compassion than average. And second: The average person is really pretty nice. Study after study bears her out. Most people return lost wallets, share resources, donate to charity and help strangers as a default response. She writes if people weren’t, on average, pretty compassionate, we wouldn’t need a label like “psychopath” for the small group of people who aren’t. She concludes,”Thus, the average person is totally unable to understand or predict why anyone would want to kill innocent people. And so the brain’s prediction machine draws the worse possible conclusion: If we can’t predict who among us is capable of heinous violence, it’s best to assume anyone could be. From there, it’s just one step further to conclude: Everyone could be. Translation: Trust no one.

She writes that up to 1 in 5 of us is genuinely paranoid. HM would consider the percentage of people who are Trump supporters. Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear. He claimed that there are many thousands of immigrants trying to enter the United States to sell drugs and commit crimes. Although one cannot argue that there are a few immigrants that do this; they constitute a distinct minority. The majority of these immigrants are leaving homes they no longer regard as safe, to go to that former safe harbor for immigrants, the United States. Most of our forebears came by this same route. Moreover, Trump supporters raise no objections about separating children from their parents and of forcing people to live in inhumane conditions. All this is the result of unfounded fear.

Fortunately, Prof. Marsh does no imply that we are victims of our brains. We can think and correct what our brain initially tells us. She concludes, “People who are trusting have more money and more friends. They are also happier, perhaps because their social lives are more rewarding. Trust also makes the world a better place—it’s the basis of all cooperations and social capital.”

In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, we must use our System 2 processes to override unwarranted fears from our System 1 processes.

Fundamental Attribution Error

August 26, 2018

For many years, HM thought that psychology was best taught at colleges and universities. He has since come to the opinion that it needs to be taught in the schools. Topics should be introduced as soon as students are old enough to learn about them. One topic that can and should be taught in elementary school is the fundamental attribution error.

The fundamental attribution error refers to whom or what, the error should be attributed. So when we make a mistake the initial inclination is to blame it on circumstances. For example, I was tired, there was insufficient information, it was out of my skill area, and so forth. However, when another party makes an error, the tendency is to blame it on them. They were careless, stupid, of too low an IQ, and so forth.

For example, conservatives tend to be critical of welfare. There are “welfare queens,” loafers, liars, and so forth. Although there is some truth to this, the vast majority of people on welfare are people in need.

Consider the white man who feels victimized, and discriminated against. To many, this appears to be a ridiculous claim, but their feelings are genuine. And the reason why they are real is the fundamental attribution error. For these white men it is much easier to blame immigrants than to blame themselves. They do not ask themselves, why did I not go back to school, why did I not try to learn needed skills, or why did I not try to start my own business. No, it is these lousy immigrants, these foreigners, that are to blame. Worse yet, these people are of different colors and different religions. It can be argued that Trump owes his presidency to the fundamental attribution error, or more accurately, in how to exploit the fundamental attribution error.

This discrimination against immigrants is not new. Immigrants have always been regarded as a threat to jobs. But immigrants are always the source of needed skills, new ideas and businesses. Immigration has always been the main source of U.S. strength, and immigration needs to continue and to grow.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could a Trump Triumph? — Part One

February 6, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD. There needs to be multiple parts to this post.

Let’s begin with the campaign theme, “Make America Great Again.” The implicit assumption here is that America is no longer great. However, by all indications America was great having been brought back from an economic crisis by President Obama. When he became president, we were on the verge of a depression. He rescued us from that fate where all objective indicators indicated that the United States was already great again, if, indeed, it had ever fallen from greatness. The free nations of the world admired the United States and looked to it for leadership. However, dictatorial oligarchies like Russia, looked at the United States as a rival that needed to be defeated.

It is true that some people were unhappy. But HM would argue that in democracies, people are usually unhappy. This is true even when one’s favored party is in power. It is unlikely that they’re doing everything individuals want. There are also shortfalls due to the economy and what the government can deliver. HM has been unhappy his entire voting life regardless of which party was in power. All other advanced countries are way ahead of us with respect to medical care, many advanced countries offer less costly educational opportunities, and yet other advanced countries offer more freedoms. The term “American Exceptionalism” is frequently invoked to explain why we are different. HM argues that “Stupidity” can be readily and more accurately substituted for “Exceptionalism.”

It is true that since 1970 real wages in the United States have declined. When HM was in elementary school it was unusual for women with children to work. Now working spouses have become the norm. The question here is why have so many married women joined the workforce. Do they have to or do they want to? After all, there are still women who prefer to be full time mothers. But a very large number would be extremely unhappy if they were denied careers.

Middle-aged whites without a college degree (Trump’s most solid base) feel that a they are worse off then their parents. When they think that African-Americans and Latinos are somewhat better than they are, they become angry. So an ethnic factor exacerbates the problem. And, indeed, election time presents an opportunity to correct the situation. But it appears that whites who are not college educated do not widely read, if, indeed, they read at all. Otherwise, they would have realized that Trump’s solution was faulty. The loss of jobs was attributable primarily to automation. Other industries like coal were going out of fashion. Moreover, breaking trade agreements will likely have an adverse effect on the economy. So Trump will likely make the jobs problem worse, not better. Time will tell.

The preceding accounts were from the text. But more recent research questions the belief that job or income losses led to Trumpism. A 2016 study of 125,000 American adults by Gallup’s Pablo Diego-Rosell found that Trump voters had slightly higher incomes than others and were no more likely to be unemployed or exposed to competition from trade and immigration.

Terrorism is a factor exploited by Trump. Since 9/11, an average of only 9 people a year in the United States died from terrorist acts by radical Islamists; while each year more than 250,000 die from medical mistakes, 50,000 from drug overdoses, 37,000 from car accidents, and 33,000 from guns (not wielded by terrorists). Nevertheless, people are worried about terrorists. HM was in high school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He remembers saying good-bye to his classmates at the end of a school day wondering, along with his classmates, whether we would ever see each other again. In those days, nuclear annihilation was a distinct possibility. At worst, terrorism is a minor nuisance. Even the detonation of a dirty bomb pales in comparison to nuclear annihilation. However, whenever people see a terrorist event on television, they feel threatened. Moreover, most mass killings are the result of the number of guns readily available, and not Islamists. Nevertheless, Trump capitalized greatly on these fears. He went beyond terrorists to immigrants in general.

The world is changing rapidly, and many people have difficulty coping with this change. It’s almost like stop the world, I want to get off. So the campaigning on the theme of “Making the World Great Again” promises a return to the quieter, good old days, if they, indeed, ever truly existed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

False Beliefs

September 8, 2017

Belief: Crime is rising. Every recent year, 7 in 10 Americans have told Gallup that there is more crime “than there was a year ago.” Donald Trump said in early 2017 that “The murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” And the Attorney General said that “rising crime is a dangerous and permanent trend.”
Fact: For several decades, both violent and property crime rates have been falling. In 2015, the FBI-aggregated violent crime was less than half the 1990 rate—a downward trend confirmed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics crime-victimization surveys.
HM Comment: Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the prevalence of police and crime shows on television. These shows frequently involve firearms. In point of fact, the majority of police officers retire without ever having fired their weapons (apart from training). A ratio of only 1 in 20 officers having fired their weapons according to “Blue Bloods,” HM remembers.

Belief: Many immigrants are criminals. Horrific true incidents, as in the endlessly retold story of a Mexican national killing a young woman in San Francisco, feed this narrative. Trump’s words epitomize this perception: “When Mexico sends its people…They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Fact: Poor immigrants may fit our image of criminals, yet some studies report that, compared with native-born Americans, immigrants commit less violent crime.
HM Comment: Never rely on anecdotes, whether or not they are true. Always rely on statistics correctly collected and analyzed.

Belief: Under Obama, unemployment rose and the stock market fell. At the end of 2016, 67% of Trump voters told Public Policy Polling that unemployment increased during the Obama years, and only 41% said the stock market had risen.
Fact: At the end of 2016, the 4.7% US unemployment rate was about half the 2009 rate, while the stock market had more than doubled.

Belief: At the end of the Reagan presidency, more than half of strong Democrats believed inflation had worsened under Reagan.
Fact: In actuality,it had plummeted from 13% to 4%.

This post is based on an article by David G. Myers titled “Misinformation, Misconceptions, and our Teaching Mission” in the Association for Psychological Science publication “Observer”, September 2017.