May 10, 2012

Smiles and other Lies

I'm reading a book right now on gender misconceptions (Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine).  The book itself deserves a review, but I'm holding off on a broader commentary until I'm finished with it.  (I'm about a third of the way into it).

Part of Fine's goal is to debunk the myth of super intuitive women, that are keyed into others' thoughts and feelings.  As part of the debunking process (as with all pop-psych books), she walks us through several laboratory psych studies that show how accuracy in guessing other's feelings can be manipulated by 'priming' stimuli and incentives.

The experiment works as follows: pairs of participants are asked to wait in a room for five minutes, while the lab proctor goes to find a replacement bulb for the projector.  After the five minutes are up, test subjects are told about the experiment, and then asked to do two things: 1) watch a video of their own actions and identify what they were thinking or feeling at that moment.  2) Watch a video of the other participant, and identify how they were thinking or feeling... you get the picture.  This allows researchers to, in real time, gauge a person's ability to accurately judge another's thoughts and feelings.

I would conjecture that most people assume they know what others think, or are feeling.  Or if they don't know, they ask to find out.  (Perhaps another way of saying this is that when it comes to light that they don't know what's going on, they ask.  But until proof appears that was other than what was expected, they assume that they know what they're talking about).

A friend, while tripping out on acid, once told me, "you know, to other people, I appear almost exactly the same now as when I'm completely sober".  Debatable, but if correct, it undermines the importance of understanding exactly what others are thinking or feeling.  Not to discount empathy, and the ability to connect with others, but I've noticed that my interpretation of other's smiles or interactions largely is based on my own state of mind at the moment.

This needs more explication.  To be continued...

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