THE ROOTS OF EXTREMISM IN YOUR BRAIN
I. Am. Very. Excited to be here for, a piano that I hope will be interesting. Provocative, not, provoking, and. We have some amazing panelists, for you today our. First participant, is, an associate, professor of psychology, at, an neuroscience. At New York University, and he, conducts research on how group identities, moral, values and political, beliefs, shaped the mind and brain please. Welcome jovan Babel. Our. Next, participant is a clinical, psychologist, at the Bellevue, NYU program, for survivors of torture where. She provides clinical care to individuals and families who have survived torture, and refugee, trauma, please, welcome, Catherine. Porterfield's. And. Our final guest today is a social psychologist, also at New York University's, Stern School of Business whose, research, examines, the intuitive, foundations. Of morality and how, morality varies, across cultural, and political divides, please. Welcome Jonathan hi. Thank. You guys all for being here today, I think. We are in for a, fascinating. Conversation. And. I wanted to begin by, kind of setting the parameters, of the discussion, so, in, your, mind and I'd like all three of you to address this. What. Is extremism, you know what when, you say extremism, when you think of extremism in your work what, does it mean to you maybe we can start with J yeah I would just say it means to me that someone has a very rigid dogmatic. Belief system and they've. Started to see the world in black and white and lost. Any sense of shades of gray okay. Okay. Yeah I mean I think we probably all anchor, to our own thing. That we do in the world and so I work, a lot with people who have been subject, to, extremist. Acts or themselves have attempted to or done extremists so I think of it as sort of, you. Know enacting, or thinking about enacting. Behavior. That reflects, very rigid. Black and white viewpoints, and I do tend, to usually think it it that veers toward, ideas, about violence, or at least oppressing.
The Rights of others. John. So, as a social psychologist, might my, test for what social psychology studies is I like to start with Homo, economicus imagine. A person who only, does things that are in his or her self-interest. And, then everything, about what we people actually, do that is beyond that that's social psychology, and to. The extent that sometimes we do things that seem possibly. Incredibly, self-destructive. People, are willing to face, arrest. People, are willing to. Face. Violence. People are willing to sometimes. Even blow themselves up, those, are acts so far beyond our self-interest, we tend to label those as extremism, just, building onto Jays definition, I would just caution that we can't identify just, the patterns, of thought because. We all feel passionate, about certain things so extreme isn't to some extent is what your enemies do where we ourselves are never extremists, I. Think. That's I think that's a really interesting point. Jay. Would would your work actually back some of that up because I know you've, done some work on what we ourselves see, ourselves as yeah so. To. John's point I have a paper on the. Psychology of hate which, there's, a lot of different theories floating around that are several, thousands, of years old date, back to Aristotle and, very little research on the psychology of hate in part because it's hard to put, it in a bottle and study it in the lab and. So. One thing we did is we ran some experiments, trying to figure out how people think about hate differently from other forms of dislike that are extreme and it. Seems like it's more negative. For, sure there's a difference of degree but there's also a difference of kind and the additional ingredient, John is, morality and. So. To take that to the real world and this might address where Kate's, interests are we analyze, the content, on hate websites, from. 50 different hate groups and, those. Of you on the panel might know this, some. Of the very first groups to take advantage of the internet or hate groups and so, if you look at the content, of their language on their websites. It is, moralized. That's, one thing that makes it truly different from other types of complaint, forums or negative types of websites and if, you actually read it carefully it's not just that it has moral content they, see themselves as, Jewish defenders, of some set of values and so, these are the people that we think of as the most reprehensible, members of our society, but, they certainly don't see themselves that, way, so. One of my favorite metaphors, for understanding, weird things in society is the, the headline I think it actually appeared in a British newspaper. Fog. In channel continent. Cut off and. You. Know cuz obviously Britain. To say that the continent was cut off that's looking, at from their perspective, okay maybe you didn't find it fun guys. But. But it's a it's a good metaphor for a lot of things because here, we are in this extraordinary. Advanced. Western secular, civilization. Which you know really just sort of came, up in the last you know 100 200, years however you want to count it and, we're talking about what those extremists, do when actually, I think the better way to look at this to flip the lens around and say as, a species human, beings for, as long as we have, any anti archaeological. Record human, beings have painted their skins danced, around a campfire worship, various, animate, objects, engaged in violent. Intergroup, competition. And lived, a very very, intense, ritual, Rupesh life that's what we do that's who we are now what we need to explain is why would that stop why. Did that stop for us for our cultural, ancestors, and there's a wonderful book by barbara ehrenreich the woman who wrote nickel and dimed just this fantastic book I don't hear people talk about called dancing, in the streets a history, of collective, joy and. She starts from reading. All the explore like the European explores when they went out all around the world despite. All the variety, of civilizations.
They Went to pretty, much everyone, everywhere. They danced around the campfire to rhythmic music they had all kinds of rites and rituals and, this, stuff started, a lot of the great sociologists, like Durkheim, and Weber and others this, is what we do and then for, some reason and, a lot of it has to do with an advanced commercial society, which were all focused on making money and trade that, dampens, down the. Extremism. You might say that makes us secular, creatures more Homo economicus really. Focused on advancing our self-interest, and so, sometimes, we, lose that and we go back to our normal extremists, that's the way that I would reframe this. Almost. Right now going back to some of our roots yes absolutely. Yeah and so. This actually makes, me wonder kind, of if we look at extra over, time not. Just kind of ebbs and flows but also the definitions, of what is an isn't seen as extreme, is there also kind of a component of that that, because society, evolves that. We actually start, seeing different behaviors, as extreme, or is it something that's always you know this, has always been extreme, in any society, I. Think, that some of it might be a little bit more context. Determined. What. Would you guys say about that, yeah. I would say that, culture and context play a huge role in what. We define is appropriate, or inappropriate so. One. Example in our lifetimes, a moral issue that's changed a lot is attitudes. Towards homosexuality same-sex. Marriage gay, rights LGBT, rights. In. The. Last decade. They've completely reversed, in terms of approval versus disapproval, and so what. Was objectionable. In fact illegal not, that long ago is. Legal. And celebrated, and, New. York's gonna be having a huge Pride Parade in the near future and so, what, was considered an extreme, event. So it's always a. It's. A minority of the population who. Is gay, so. It's always been outside. Of the majority but what how we've defined it and acceptance. Of those types of behaviors has changed dramatically, and this is something that is highly, moralized, has. Historically, for a lot of people and so things, change pretty quickly about what. Is a legal behavior and, unethical, behavior, or immoral behavior, to. Something that is accepted. And embraced and, celebrated okay, that's okay I just have it the flip side of it unfortunately. Too though is that like if you look after 9/11, we're sort. Of normal, practice, of Islam. Became. Very, frequently. Labeled, extremists. By a lot of regular, Americans, who got scared and reacted, to a lot of the. Rhetoric and so the flip side I think is that what's called extremists, now is actually sometimes. Of, pathologizing. Of normal. You know faith-based practice, or you, know wearing. Hijab or, you know whatever and so now that's been labeled extremists, whereas you, sort of look at white supremacy, which has always been always, been it's always been that white supremacist, have been looked at as extremists.
But. But, you do yeah. Well I mean okay. The. Klan was not an extremist organization when it was founded it was but, okay no no IIIi, good, point I sort of meant in the last like maybe I was, you're. Not in our line okay well that's, probably anyway, but you're look at last year, we're then sort. Of that groups. Behavior. Got normalized, a bit and less and and sort of viewed less as extremists and brought into the mainstream so it's it's, definitely culturally. What's. The word sort of normed by what cultural, responses, are yeah so I think just the very word extremist I mean in the word itself it, tells. Us that it's a statistical. Term it's, so it's just relative to what most people are doing that's extremist, so I think we need to keep in mind that by definition there's always extremes, and then we can also as, a separate, or related conversation, we can talk about the willingness to use violence. And force to get your way that, is something that can be defined more objectively, in some, societies that's the norm and. In. American society for, the in the post-war years that was very much not the norm we had a burst of it in the 60s and we're getting a little bit more of it in the last couple years on campus not a lot but so so I would urge this to maybe even focus on that because, that's really what's a problem for society it's not that there are people far away it's. That there are people willing to use violence and force to get their way and, do, you think, that that's do, you think that we need to differentiate between, kind. Of that definition in different, domains so like you, know we have obviously. Religious. Extremism, but there's also political extremism which you just alluded to there's cultural extremism, and you. Know we have all of these different kind, of domain specific, areas, and. In some of them you might say you have very negative and, pernicious social, effects without any violence, like. If the extremism is something about First Amendment for instance so. That's that can be a extremism. But, without violence, so do, we are we talking does it always have to be physical, violence does it depend on domain, you, know is there differences, you know in in the work that you've done with. These sorts of different types, of extremism I'm, just curious to hear all of your all your thoughts on one, kind of that I tend. To focus on process, I think the miracle, of our modern secular, society, says that we develop processes I often, say thank God we were settled by the British rather than the Spanish my. Friends in Latin America say that to me too if only we were settled by the British the British give us really good institutions, the Spanish had colonial, institutions, of extraction, terrible. For setting up a secular, liberal democracy, so, the British did a fantastic job, giving, institutions, you see this in many former British colonies, but. Then sometimes those process, the willingness to abide by process, and rule of law sometimes. People, violate that because, that's. Not really who we are as a species or basic nature is much more prone to to. Saying the ends justify the means and if I'm sure that my side is right and the courts have ruled that I'm wrong to hell with the courts, that's, normal, human psychology and if. We have certain, parameters we end up following the rules we have procedural, justice we don't have violent, extremism and what's breaking down now that we have a falling.
Off A cliff, support. For democratic, norms and faith and democracy, falling, off a cliff with each new generation. Is. That there's me a lot less willingness to respect democratic, process it's gonna get a lot worse the next couple decades is my prediction I guess I feel like the only place I've sort of counted out a bit though is in, my experience working with people who really have gone over to the fringe of being. Willing to enact violence, so whether you know planning an attack or engaging. In something or trying to fly, to a place where they could do that I, guess. To. A to a person, that these are all been people who've suffered really, extreme. Trauma, and marginalization, in their lives and so. Systems. Are not something that they were raised to, experience. As you know beneficent, you. Know life-giving nurturing, you know fill in the blanks so to them the system is a joke, and it's it's not unlike I think what you see sometimes in gang membership which is another kind of extremism we haven't really talked about but so, the idea I think there's a lot of people who when they get raised in, you. Know good, enough home, with enough. Resources, and a decent enough community in school they, follow, the rules and they you know they abide by stuff and they believe in the system you know I mean when I get a traffic ticket I get annoyed but. I usually pay it or if I dispute, it and that I lose I'm annoyed even more but I still say okay well in other words you know I accept, that that is the system and that's probably because I had a decent, enough life growing up that I believe in systems you see what I mean you know I I do and I'm sure that there are there. Are people that maybe especially, with white supremacy groups, there are people if there's a guy who's yeah piccoli, no patchouli no there's a guy was a book now out now he was a neo-nazi and he left yeah but there certainly, are ways in which people are sort of part of the underclass, under culture, on, the margins legally, in drugs, and petty crime and then they move on to other things so, that, would be the process you're talking about but there's been a huge amount of research on terrorist.
Organizations. That generally, finds they're educated, middle-class people so, there's a lot of psychological research on the baader-meinhof, gang and, yeah Germany in West Germany a lot of research on the night the background of 9/11 terrorists these were middle class college-educated people there, was no psychopathology. And so. The general route, that social psychologists, have taken here I'm talking about especially Clark McAuley and Scott a trainer to ones that I know I know their work what. They both came to the conclusion, is this has nothing to do with psychopathology. These, are people, who get in because, of small groups and attachment, to groups it's it's a it's a real if patrons, work shows that especially. The Islamic. Terrorists, or the or al-qaeda, in particular recruited. Through soccer groups in Europe so if you have immigrants. From Muslim, country in Spain, they'll. Be in a soccer league and it's a team it's it's the men of a team they're the ones who get radicalized by one guy and before you know it they're going to different places for training so it's you have to look at the small groups I would say as a social psychologist, yeah and JE some of your work actually talks, about that do you want to address yeah so so I'm nodding. With. From John's perspective in, that group. Identity, and the psychology, behind that is, I think like the first ingredient, when I think of these. Types of issues in society and then I think the second ingredient is. Maybe. Competition, with another group or that clear enemy so then you get an us-versus-them, and then, the third ingredient and, this cuts, to a trans work and yours, is morality once. It becomes a sacred domain and you're fighting, over land, or, some ideology. Then. You have the kind of to me the three ingredients that, lead to people, being willing to engage. In violent behavior so if you Anker on that definition I think, you got to put in there though I mean. I'm always. The, clinical. Unit. Of one which is like for me there's always a sense of self like you you you know again I have a small and I haven't researched, stuff but you know I've I've seen a fair, number of people who've done things or tried to do things and you. Know for me that the pathology. As, it were has, usually rested, in sense of self and sense. Of meaning making about other people and yeah, and let me push on that and I think that maybe there's a way for us to blend, our ideas together so this also connects to a trans work with terrorists, if you, measure. Their, overlap. With their group so, some people have a very distinct, sense of self that's, different from the groups they belong to and so they're non overlapping circles, people. In terrorist groups from, his research anyways finds that those circles are perfectly overlapping well. He calls it identity fusion yeah their sense, of self isn't a group and that's why it's easy to engage in things like self-sacrifice. Yeah, I'd like to build on that the idea of identity fusion, so it may start with it could start from an individual pathology, it could start from a small group but what you often get when people work together is you get a complete loss of the sense of self and what really clued me into this is a is. A wonderful book I read by men. And William McNeil who. Wrote a book called keeping together in time and it, starts where he, he. Goes, to basic training in Texas this is 1940. Or 41 just, before the war starts the u.s. is gearing up and it's. Very under, equipped they don't have real guns so they just march up and down all day in the hot Texas Sun with like sticks and it, seems stupid but by two or three days of marching he has these self transcendent experiences, and he describes what is it like when, the men get it when you are moving as a unit, thrilling, you lose yourself and so. He wrote he quotes all these other books I read all these other wonderful books and I took a quote from one of them that. Really describes the loss of self that men feel in battle, and, that, is a anyway. We have a video I've hired some people make a video we have like a 90 second video this, is from a book by Jesse Glenn gray called, men and war I think it was anyway it's it so this is a quote from grey describing, interviews he did with men and.
Many. Veterans will admit that the experience, of communal, effort, in battle has, been the high point of their lives I. Passes. Insensibly, into a week my. Becomes, our, an. Individual, faith loses, its central, importance, I. Believe. That it is nothing less than the assurance, of immortality. That. Makes self-sacrifice. At these moments so relatively, easy I. May. Fall but I, do not die. For. That which is real and me goes forward. And lives. On in the comrades, for whom I gave up my life so the. The, conclusion I came to in writing my book the righteous mind is that. Human beings are products, of multi-level, selection, which. Is probably. Setting off alarms and some of you who read Richard Dawkins and believed that written almost level selection that's a heresy that's totally wrong our. Human nature is overwhelmingly, the product of individual, level selection our ancestors, were good at competing, with other people in their group that's. Individual, level selection makes us largely selfish, we're generous to the extent that it ends up helping us in the long run but, but. I believe we have a period of several hundred thousand years in human, evolution, from anywhere from a million years ago to to, the present in which there was a lot of group versus group violence. Or just competition and all, of us in this room are descended, from the groups that didn't, get wiped out by other groups the groups that had combinations. Of genetic and especially cultural, adaptations. Especially. Religion that, bound them together made them work as a unit, made them fierce in war made them able to cooperate to in bad, times so. I believe that the phrase, I use in the book is that human beings are 90% chimp, and 10%. B, it's, not that our ancestors had sex with a B it's that they, went through a little. Bit of a process of group, level selection which gave us this tribal of group ish overlay and that's what I'm trying to illustrate in that video and Jay, you've actually done some work on tribalism, and kind of what, happens and how that develops do you want to talk a little yeah I'll. Say yeah this. Is one of the things that fascinates, me and. John. I think you call this the hive, switch. And so, there's classic research in psychology that I've followed. Up on where basically you flip a coin if I was a flip a coin and decide that this, group was going to be in one group and this side of the room is going to be another group so that's gonna be the red team and the blue team, we. Could ask each other by the end of this session how much you like and identify through group versus. Other group and I do this in my classes all the time and just, without exception, people, start to say they like members of their own group more even if they don't interact with them in. These studies they find that they like their own group members more even if they don't see them or. Know who they are and humans. Are distinct among primates in that we, will be pro-social. And cooperate, with in-group members who. Are anonymous we've never met no other primate, will do that and, so, there's, something about. The, human mind that allows, us to shift into this sense of identity. And draw these boundaries with, other groups and what we found is in. The scanner so we bring people in and measure. Their brain activation, and you start to see differences. Emerge within a few minutes after you, do this in people's brains even. Very low, level automatic, responses, in their brain and their amygdala. Which. Is basically detecting, things that are important start to shift from. Ways of chunking up the world that were used to like black and white to. In-group, and out-group on the basis of how we flipped a coin the. Other thing we found in a recent paper is the. Same patterns, of activation in the brain when you flip this coin and create these groups. Predict. How, you're seeing the world politically so when we think of Democrats and Republicans we think well, they have very different policies, and platforms. And we've thought about the world and several decades thinking about our politics and certainly, that plays a role but.
There's Also this just foundation of group business and. That the same patterns of the brain that respond to red, team and blue team based on a coin flip are active. When you're thinking of red team and blue team in terms of Democrats, and Republicans, and so kind. Of a core. Root, of. Political. Divides and divides and, all kinds of other group which domains nationality. Soccer. Teams. Religious. Differences have, are grounded, in this kind of basic psychology the, willingness. To do violence, part of the group, psychology, becomes, like for me I'm it just it often, I think roots. Into individual. Development, through childhood and so you know for instance if we divide the group up and then said okay now start fighting each other probably. A couple you would refrain, you, know right most of you wouldn't do violence, because of this group yeah but so the willingness to do that for. Me starts, going back to that developmental. Experience. That that kid had you know what was what what did other people mean to that kid you know were they a source of fear were they a source of degradation and humiliation because, then what you're starting to do is wire in to, that kid's brain a sense that other people are dangerous and other people are a source of humiliation. And then meanings, about that are much easier, attached. On to that kid sort of how I think of the kids I've seen who've gotten into extreme stuff it's like you, know as, they start reading it's like barnacles they can just attach onto them easier you know I've got teenagers who have, all kinds of you know crazy ideas, but I don't think you could convince them you know that that, they should go out and kill people because, I hope you, know they've had a good, enough upbringing, but, that doesn't attach to meanings, that, they feel in their body and in their mind from having been degraded been marginalized, been humiliated, so I just, feel like I always have to pull towards that individual, psychology, part you know I'll defer to John and then I have a comment about that okay the. Question is given what you just said about Red Team Blue Team how quickly we, divide up this minimal groups research I'd, like to ask your opinion of what, we're doing in high schools and colleges, as we teach kids identity. Identity. Politics, how, we encourage, them for much of the 20th century we're headed, towards a regime, of minimizing. Racial, identity, and maximizing. The sense of shared identity and and trying, to get beyond racial divisions, and the, last few years there's been a huge surge in programming. And efforts, to directly teach various. Theories. And it's a lot of initiate a lot of orientation. And university is now and. A lot of high school programs are encouraging. Kids to be more identified, and. To see each other in terms of their category membership what, do you think of this so. I don't know the specifics of this program and and this is going to be a whole minefield I'll walk into now I've. Been happier that I work in the prisons both. Okay. So I'm. Not familiar with how this is happening in high school so I'm just gonna express. Ignorance about that what. I would say is this. So I've studied, this many times in the context of race if you create mixed race teams people. Start to show. Positive attitudes, to whoever, is in their team whether, they're black or white and so that's a positive benefit, of these support and identities and that's. Been shown over and over again by many other labs and research teams other than than my own so that's, a robust finding and a really positive element. Of group business and identity that we could it has, this dark side but also has a bright side that we can come together to, accomplish right, the more we emphasizes, superordinate. Identities, and common, goals the, more you can get past any kind of reasons yeah and, so that but then there's one qualification, of that in the literature. Which. Is that when minority, groups are expected to, subsume, into the majority group. That. Can cause tension say feel like they're, having to adopt all the values of the majority group and, so. It turns out it works best for them if they can retain. Their. Identity and celebrate their identity so this is I'm Canadian, and so this is part of multi, cultures in mccanna de which is that you have a broader, Canadian, identity when.
The Olympics are on everybody's turn for the Canadian hockey teams but. At the same time that you celebrate the. Subordinate. Identities that you have and that we celebrate difference, and so if you, can I think that it works best there's a couple labs who found this it works best if you can do both well but, I think if you're just focusing on the lower order identities, without. Nourishing. The high order one that, would be a direction. I wouldn't recommend that's, right and that's the direction we're heading that's one of the reasons I think things can get a lot worse in this country yeah but I think if you can do both and I've, got leaders in the country can promote both and I think that that the, research would suggest that's a better pathway to success, I agree well it's not unlike what we did when I mean when you have a kid in front of you when, when, I do that I'm working with who's thought about going. And joining an extreme organization, and doing something violent. I mean the way I work. Usually, with a team towards, helping him, or her think, about another option, is not to try to talk him or her out of his their beliefs you know yeah don't think that that's not the way your you know your faith really wants you that never works but, what we usually do is work to build relationships. Build true, engagement on. Kinds of you know what we call plurality, right so so, thinking, about the world as a world that's better with multiple, points of view by. Showing it and living it with the kid with you, know by showing them that hey I'm a you know I'm a Brooklyn, New York you know mom of three kids and I really care about hearing, about your ideas, and your thoughts let's. Engage that that's, sort, of more a way towards I think breaking. That the the in-group rigidity, to you know so it's interesting parallel, yeah I wonder if we can segue. Do we have an image of the two echo chambers online so this is a study that I ran with Billy Brady and Julian wills and John Jost in, my lab here, at NYU we analyzed over half a million tweets, of. Regular. People, discussing. Hot-button. Political issues, like the ones were talking about here same-sex, marriage climate, change, gun, control, online. And what we found is when they were using, moral. Emotional, words like. Anger. Hate disgust. In. Their tweets for, every additional moral emotional word, in. A tweet it was about fifteen to twenty percent more likely to be retweeted so, that's how things get contagious, online at. Least what we found in our data and, the. Other thing though so that's a positive you ever want to like have a successful, social, media campaign. You. Can find, some moral emotional language about the poker table excellent.
So That spreads, information. It's more likely to be Reshard, by others but, we can figure out what, your political leaning is based on who you follow and who follows you so if you follow Barack, Obama and Hillary Clinton we can infer that you're probably pretty liberal if you follow Donald Trump and George, Bush you're more likely to be conservative and so you can plot people based on their political beliefs and what you find is when they're using this moral emotional language this. Is what you see is that it's. Going, viral but only within these echo chambers. And. So you get people, just talking to themselves and, you. Get what looks like a division, and so we don't know if this, is the. More emotional language is causing, this or or, what that's one thing you don't get from social media, but. It's kind of the exact, pathology. That we're talking about and so in another, study I ran with with Mena Jakara, she. The first author we, actually showed people social. Networks that look like the one you just saw and then. Measured their empathy for in-group members and out-group members and if, they saw that the two groups look like that they suddenly showed very little empathy, for the out-group if you, show them a social network that looks integrated, and overlapping their, empathy suddenly, increases, for the out-group and, this was not in a political context this is with flipping a coin and creating two teams but. I feel. Kind of bad because that image that I just showed you actually went viral and we publishes paper but, if anything that perpetuates, the problem because people start to see the group's is more divided than they then, they maybe really are and. That. It makes, them less likely to, empathize, with other groups they start to think we're not connected in any way we don't have shared social networks or friends and so, it's. Kind of we're in maybe, this is why John thinks is getting worse I would. Love to be in a virtuous cycle but, we're in a negative, spiral and, it's just mutually, reinforcing, now. That's I think this is a really nice connection, back, to the point about. About. Process. If you think about a democratic, society and this amazing thing we've done of building. A ethnically. And religiously and, racially diverse democratic, society, that was the envy of the world for much of the 20th century. And. Yeah. This really complex system and then you you reach in you change a couple of the parameters, it's. So it's sort of like imagine like the whole universe, is it held together and there's 25 constants, and physics, and you know and it match if you reached in and you suddenly just like you took the gravitational, constant and you just multiplied it by a thousand, like what would happen a universe like I don't know find out, well. You know. What. Are we connected everybody, that's gonna everybody, everyone, can talk to everyone back, and but just you know multiply they don't increase the constant. Of relations by a thousandfold, what could what could go wrong I don't let's find out.
But, So, the plots can go right select Facebook I mean they're very idealistic, and there's a lot of good that happens so I think but I think they didn't because they had this very optimistic, view with what if we just you know connect everybody and if only there was no you know there were no nations and no religions, to and you know. So. But, yeah I think that, because. Human nature is prone to this violent. Tribalism. I think social media on net has been a huge negative we don't know not confident, that judgment but I fear that it has been a huge they were just amplify, mean cuz I hey this is what I hear all the time when I'm talking to these kids and they're telling me how they became you. Know interested. And you know radicalized. Essentially, and it's just so sad. I mean because what they talk about is sitting in their room and these are kids with emotional, problems they've you know they have usually as I said had childhood trauma they have trouble with empathy they have trouble feeling good about themselves and, so they sit in their room and they, have a constant. Feed of. Language. That enhances. Their sense of grievance and that. The failures, that they have are related to a larger, mission and. They. Are alienated, then from, from. A group that, might say yes there's grievance yes there's things, that have been wrong but let's let's do something to fight let's do something to fix it let's you know they get alienated from that and they become you, know echo chamber into. This very, very. Malignant. Language, and it's and, ultimately. It you know it fuels a lot of what they decide to do and, it's really destroy and then they actually have contact with real people it's not just websites, and you know videos which are very very, disturbing. But they there's people out there who will communicate. And say yeah yeah do stuff right so I think we're probably a psychologist. I think we'll all agree that a really, important thing in everyone's life and especially adolescents is, prestige, is what people think of you in your peer group and there's. A really useful concept, called a an. Externality, in a kind of socking externality, is where you, know if I buy something but. I don't pay the full cost I'm actually every time I buy I'm actually imposing costs on others and so pollution, is like that's also things will invent well, social media has set up vast. Vast, externalities. In which, in my group I want. To get prestige, and I, can get prestige by saying hateful things about her and I don't know her I don't care about her but let's just all attack her and whoever, can attack from most viciousness creatively. With the most nasty memes, that, person gets more prestige and. None of us care what happens to her and so. This I think is what most alarms me about in social media is that it used to be that a lot of our conversations were. To the person that we were talking to but. A whole generation is being raised online where.
They're Not really talking to each other they're talking to display to others, and their, talk has all kinds of bad effects, but, they're not possible, for that so there's a gigantic market failure in this sort of the social communication market, one thing I'll tell teenagers, who I work with is including. My own children is if you're having a strong emotion, about a person or about yourself and you're looking at a screen you need to get up and walk away from the screen and deal with another human because a strong, emotion, and screens, are rarely, a good combination I'm not talking about watching a movie and you feel something I'm talking about you're feeling rage or you're feeling humiliated, and, small, and, you. Just keep at it you stay in that loop that's never a good thing especially for teenagers they're not developed, their frontal lobe is not there yet in the mmm, maybe this is not the worst you. Know the worst moment of my life and I should go do you know maybe there's actually gonna be someone here my, daughter is eight and last month it was a crazy, thing that happened, she was sitting on the sofa and she said daddy, can you come take my iPad away I can't, take my eyes off. So. This actually reminds me of some of the work you've done Jay, on depersonalization. You, out-groups, can, you talk a little bit about that and about how kind, of those, two areas of your research might actually end up overlapping, and amplifying it yeah so thanks Maria um so one thing as I'm hearing these conversations, one. Reason I love to have these debates in person on a panel like this is because. You can contextualize. What you're saying with. Richer, language but also with your body language and smiling, and nodding and so you can agree with somebody in as we've been doing in a, comfortable, way that you move the conversation forward and you identify, where you share reality. And where you disagree, whereas, online, I hate debating, people on Twitter and I'm on Twitter a lot and I like sharing stuff, and having signed to vendors has been very gracious like your, Twitter you should be following him was it J van babe what is yeah babe, oh he's he's, a great science, tweeter oh good but, I will not debate, people on Twitter and here's why, because. You lose all the context, there's not enough characters, to add nuance and to say well I agree with you on this part John but I disagree here there's just not the space for it the other thing is it's, happening, in public and. So reputation. Management and status is on, the line in a way that is especially, in view if you think of thousands of or if something gets taken if context and retweeted, by a lot of people, it's. Horrifying, if it's happened you and it's happened to me I'm sure that's happened to you and, I've, had lots of friends and they're just horrified and they want to unplug or they shut down their account after and.
It's. The worst possible context, and you also don't get the human emotion you can't see their face see if they're joking or being sarcastic or trying. To attack you whereas. You can sense that in person and bridge, the gap much easier and so as, we've moved our human, interactions, around hot-button, issues like politics, and morality online. You've, gotten, rid of all the things that help us deescalate conflict, and have civility, or. Most, of them I think and. Then the other thing I want to speak to and this is my, main concern of social media is. If, you go to the Wall Street Journal they have this great page called red feed blue feed you, can pick a topic like immigration, or, gun control and it will show you what's being seen by somebody on the extreme left or the extreme right in. This country and it's horrific all the, feeds and how different they are but also the, types of news they're drawing from are not the Associated Press it's. From obscure, news sites that are hyper partisan, and. And. Part, of it is because there's an incentive structure built into the, money that social media companies make which, is you get a lot of clicks for things that are extreme and people are more glued to their screen like, your poor child if, you feed them back stuff that fits with their belief system ideology, and so. My, hope actually and I think that this is there's. More research going on and I'm hoping that they find a solution is for. Companies. Like Facebook to update their algorithms, in ways that feed people quality, information, and. Deescalate, the. Partitioning. Of society. Into these extreme. Chambers. Really, well for Pepsi when they tried to create healthier, foods okay. Didn't last long they had a stop I'm an optimist, so yeah. Well. I was also thinking about your work which. Which, is very, scary to me that when, we see someone as an out-group member, we. Don't see them as having in mind and. Can. You talk a little bit about how we actually and, because I'm, what I'm worried about hearing, what you guys are saying about social. This might actually amplify. Some of those propensity. To, not see the other as even human okay so do we have the video or the image for this of the morphing, between a human and a doll so this was a study that I ran in my lab Lior hackle was the first author and, we got all these great morphs from Christine, Lucero a colleague of ours and she had found dolls or.
That, Looked like human, and matched them up and then used computer, software to morph them across, the spectrum from a hundred percent human, to, represent. Human a hundred percent doll and you could, go from one hundred percent human to ninety percent human eighty percent human along the spectrum and, what, we found is at the moment people are part of a team or a group again, you can flip a coin, and create groups. That. The, point at which they start to see a face look human takes, more humaneness, and. So if it's an out-group member you start to see the person looking human around 60% humaneness. But. If they're an in-group member it's like fifty five percent so. In other words it takes less humaneness to see somebody as having a mind if they're, an in-group member and we found this also with NYU students, and this is really only among the the students who are highly identified, so, if they don't care about their group and at NYU you have some students who could, care less about NYU, there's here because they want to be in New York. So. For them they don't show this effect but the moment you start to identify your group the effect actually looks quite big and. So what, we think is happening as part of this broader, literature, on dehumanization. Which has been in the news a lot lately about how we talk about other groups if you don't see another, group as having, you. Know experience. Or emotions. That's. Tends. To be if you look at really horrible, experiences. In human history like the, genocide, in Rwanda or, Nazi, Germany what, you see is propaganda, that tells you this group is is rats. Or this room is cockroaches, and. What that is doing is dehumanizing. People, and that allows, you to harm somebody and this goes to a point I just want to bridge you made earlier Kate which is that a lot of people we flip a coin here we can create groups there's God could not going to be any violence you're totally right violence. Is really hard and so in World, War one when they looked at the weapons in trench warfare that. Were fired very few people actually fired, their gun they stood there over the trench and made, it look like they were shooting but they were staring at somebody across the, the trenches. And when, you see somebody's face it's very hard for normal humans to pull the trigger and harm somebody so our military's got really good at training people to, to, shoot to kill people but. It took a lot of work because it does not come naturally to most people and so, if you have some existing pathology. Or background, of trauma you're, gonna be the subset of people who are likely to absolutely, use these cues to, then do, something bad but. This is part of when you see propaganda, in these things it's setting, the stage if you were to dehumanize, a group to. Allow you to be more comfortable harming, them yeah yeah, I mean the the the other, psychological. Concept. That links up for me regarding, the, kids and young people I've worked with who tended to make these terrible decisions, is. A. Sense. Of what we call in clinical, psych we call emotional, dysregulation and, that is sort of not being able to deal, with your feelings not being able to recognize them not being able to name them not being able to process them not being able to then recognize them in others so now obviously we're you know the emotional, dysregulation leads, very clearly into, empathy.
Issues And so the idea of kids, who are. Raised. In a if you raise a kid you know abusing, them humiliating, them and I mean I'm talking about kids who've watched you know their their father's just viciously, brutalize, their mothers in the home and. This little kid is cowering, literally, in the corner so he's he's being traumatized, by the most you know the closest people in his life his parents especially, the father you know that kid develops, an emotional, regulation problem, most likely I mean the the, the couple, kids I'm thinking of as I put that example together uh, you, know what they develop what he develops is an inability to handle, his feelings, and therefore. Feelings become very very overwhelming and frightening to him and so when he has a feeling he's, going to be less likely to be able to deal with it and so then again put him in that echo chamber where. The kinds of things that are being stoked are anger. And rage and you, know we're being humiliated, you know us white people us whoever fill in the blanks and you, have then a kid who doesn't have anything to do with it it's confusing, it's upsetting you know so, to, me that emotional, dysregulation that, comes out of a bad childhood, is a really, critical piece usually to understanding, kids who grow, up and are willing to do violence. Yeah for sure for sure so. So. Right now we're kind of talking. About a lot of the the negative issues, here when oj said he was an optimist. Well. Let's. Try to let's try to harness some of that optimism John you, you seem the most pessimistic. So, can you kind. Of elaborate, a little bit on that sorry guys but also then, kind. Of challenge, yourself and say is there any reason, for optimism, right now or are we or are we actually being stupid if we're being optimistic. But there are reasons for optimism, in that if you just read Steve Pinker's, book. Johan. Norberg has, another book ron bailey has written about this and the, long-term trends, for human history are amazingly, positive and getting, better very very fast, and, so. If, I were you know looking at the human race or things. For Humanity in general it's incredibly. Good how quickly. Things are getting better and war is dropping violence is dropping, so. There's a lot of reasons for optimism. Many, of the big indicators, about the United States obviously violence's, is way down a lot of other things are good. Furthermore. If I if you ask me a hundred years from now are things gonna be better or worse for people, in the, United States I would say better hundred, years now they're almost certain to be better probably a lot better but. If you ask me about the helps of our political system, and what, are the odds that they will still be a single country called the United States with the same 50 states in the same US Constitution. Revised, only through an amendment process, three. Years ago I would have said 99, point something percent I mean 50 years Mel's gonna be the same country and now I would say maybe 80%, 70% like, I would bet that will still be here but it's quite conceivable that we won't because things can go bad very quickly and. What I mean by that is, you. Know it is if, you accept the picture I gave of human, nature that, we evolved to be small group tribalists. And that's, the, way we evolved, we're, able to live in different ways we're able to live in a large multi-ethnic. Secular, democracy we, know that because we did it but, it. May be that, the margin of error for that, might be very small and, there. Was a nobody. Is old enough now to remember. But for the, 1940s. Rather, than late 30s but. The, post-war, world in America had, a huge, surplus, of centripetal. Forces, things binding us together it was historically, unprecedented I mean even the media that. We've never had a media environment that really pulled us all on to the paint same page except for the post-war several, decades. We, reduced. Immigration, and the 20s immigration as many good things for the economy but it makes it harder to have a shared. Set of norms so everything. Was lined up for maximum, centripetal, force, for about 40 years after the war and then, gradually those things started drifting. Away and so, when I look at the when I look at how much young, people trust, trust. Democratic, institutions trust. The government trust, each other when, look at what they think about America, is it a good country is it something they're proud of when I look at all these things it's, quite possible, that the, founding fathers fear. That this whole thing could blow up like every previous democracy, had that, the founding fathers fears, if you read the Federalist Papers in Federalist 10 that. Those fears I think we're quite warranted, and it's possible, that we're now operating, outside of, the parameters.
Own In which this is a stable democracy I'm not saying that we are just saying it's really possible that we are. Small. Countries, if you have a small country where. People have a sense of shared fate and there, but for the grace of God go I and, if. You need help I'll help you because if I need help you'll help me well, that's why Scandinavian, countries are able to have these amazing welfare, states so. Small there's just an article New York Times this week Neil, gross about is is are big countries harder to, have democracies, in and I agree, with him the answer is yes, so, if you have a very large very diverse. Country. What. Holds it together what leads people to accept, the, process, what leads people to accept that, oh the other side won the election okay let's, go you know rule, a law let's go with it and, now we still we're still holding it together there was a while after Trump election where you know that looked as though things could that many people might not accept it so. There. Are a lot of ways that things could go bad if the economy were to tanked if there were to be any, sort of a. Nuclear exchange or, even just a grid going down if things got really bad. There are a lot of ways in which things, might be more fragile than we think yeah. Okay, what about you from an individual, level I'm. Doing, pretty darn, pessimistic. Sorry. Okay. Are negative, chairs here but, my problem I mean I I really, toil in the world of human, cruelty I mean that's kind of what I do and, because. I work at a clinic for people, who are fleeing war, zones and fleeing you know situations, of Frank torture and so, I spend, a lot of time. Looking. At the cost of really. Incredible dehumanization. And cruelty. Let, me save one optimistic thing so you don't all go running screaming out of them I mean I I have. Great, faith in us as beings. I think humans are amazing I also think that that I, actually think that recovery. From. You. Know virulent, extremism, and virulent hate is possible, I mean I've seen it I've worked with with guys who have turned it around and changed, and it's a beautiful thing when you see a person link, their. Hate-filled, ideas, that they used to have when you see them understand, that that came from their hurt it really is an amazing thing because you watch the person kind of break. It down and say you, know I don't, want to be this way why did this why'd this happen to me so that's the good stuff but but my problem, is that I, do believe, that the, connectivity, of the human race is is a, problem, and, that there, was there was something better when you couldn't be 24, hours a day having. Contact, with strangers. All over the world and anything. Goes I think that really is bad for the human psyche because, there are dark corners of the psyche that are, best left either to oneself, or maybe whoever. Your people are or maybe hopefully your shrink but. Now there's no dark corner, that you can't find, a mirror to on on the, Internet and then and as one of you guys are saying it starts amplifying, and so, for, my work you know these are kids who would have been, the. Kids who I work with often are young, that I say kids they're often young people in their 20s but who, you know they probably would have not, done great in life and, me if there was an internet and maybe you know not had a great career and maybe used drugs and alcohol and but they wouldn't have been able to glom, on to something, so toxic, that then ruined their lives, essentially if there hadn't been internet, I'm not talking about canceling the internet but I'm just saying that for me the human connectivity.
It's. I I think it's too much for. For, the psyche when there's so much vulnerability. And cruelty out there so I'm not too optimistic myself. Okay. I'm. Just. Positionally, optimistic, I'm also. Canadian. Everyone say, that. That's. A larger country than the United States and they have a functioning, liberal democracy. There's. Obviously some important differences but. We. Just had the Prime Minister here a couple days ago giving a talk at our graduation. And. He, was encouraging. Debate and discourse and. Civil. Discussion between people who disagree, and I. Feel, like, that is part. Of it can be part of the norm in in, countries. That care to preserve it and. That. It's actually, been fascinating, to watch I've been studying fake news and, and this. Kind of weird, echo chambers and the belief systems that are. Impervious. To logic and. An argument, in. The last year. A couple years and, I. I. Agree. That those are part of human nature and that we've inherited those from our ancestors in part because they serve solve, certain problems that allowed them to survive and so, we we carried that around with us but I also. Wonder, if, our. Pessimism. Comes. From observing a small number of extreme, people who get a lot of attention so those are the people you see on that problem at your clinic yeah and those are the people that john sees, who. Respond, to you in social media or we observe talking. About to work we're constantly holding, up people who have the most extreme attitudes. Rather. Than looking at where the. Median. Is and what the consensus, is and what the distribution is we don't see the people in the middle even though that's 60. To 70 percent of the population what, we see the people on the extreme is making the most noise, or. Engaging, in the most outrageous behavior and we point to them as examples of what the other side is all like but. The other side is not actually that homogeneous, and, so, I. Do. Believe that we, might, have a missed, Sep ssin of, what. The consensus, belief is on a lot of these types of issues that are divisive. And, so. I end up finding the data from Pinker fairly. Compelling, that we're on a good trajectory and, we built stronger institutions, and I know like the people at Facebook are hard at work like right now trying to fix their algorithms, to, promote, better interactions, and two, point three two point three four billion people are on social, media now and, and and Molly Crockett has this great research showing most of us get our moral outrage from social media now so we're that's true as, opposed to the real world so almost, a third to almost half of the world's on social media and that's where they're getting outraged, so, that's happening but.
It's Within our power to tweak, the technology, that we've built that's divided, us and. So. I again. I'm optimistic, and I know people who are working on that problem and they're serious about trying to to, fix it and so to, me that's. A problem it's solvable and that's an institution. That, we can construct and, tweak and, build in better ways to promote, interests, that we actually share and values that we all care about one of the things that I'm, hearing, you. Know from all of you is that you know human, nature is not all rosy you know we have yes we we, kind of suck in a lot of ways when, as a lot of where we come from sucks, and these, are forces to be countered, that and that things like social media are almost bringing us back to some of our more, primal moments, in a way even though you, know they bring us together and yet they've also torn us apart by by, kind of doing this so. So. I guess then the question, is and. You've done some work on kind. Of increasing, empathy, among people, you know how do we given, this new landscape you. Know I don't I honestly I'm, not optimistic about, getting you, know the social media companies, to settle me tweak algorithms, because you've, done the work that shows why not you, know they want clicks and they want money and they want they want moral contagion, yeah, it's. Actually good for social media and I don't see you know we live in a capitalist, society I don't see them going against their self-interest in, that way so let's, assume that we can't do that then, what do we what do we do how do we kind of. Acknowledge. This kind of dark side of human nature that's not going anymore and that's kind, of being amplified and how do you then kind. Of start, working on some of the things that you've tried, to find in a lab on creating, empathy and trying to kind. Of counter some of those negative forces yeah so again I think. That we. Instead. Of retreating from technology so you. Wanna your, your the, instinct, that your your kid had it was your daughter John who shut. This down and you're saying maybe it's unplugged. Internet I would, lean, in to those technologies. And think carefully about like how, do we create better discourse, what, are they so, when we think right now so here's the thing that I think that Facebook and, Twitter have done that backfired, the. Only thing you can really do is favorite something or, or.
Like It and, then you can express those specific emotions but even if you express anger people I think assume that you're expressing it in solidarity with them. And so, what that means is if John posts something extreme. He. Gets you know 100 likes but, no dislikes well. Because. That's unavailable, to him but imagine that he post something extreme and he got a hundred likes and 200 dislikes he, probably wouldn't post something along those lines again. But. Were we've obscured, all that information. From John so all he sees is then, when I post something extreme I get it way more like some when I post something very, reasonable, and and tame and so. When. People are getting the reinforcement, signals and and basically learning Klotz classic, reinforcement, learning from. Their interaction, on social media and it's it's social reinforcement which, we care about more cuz it's signal status and bout and being valued in your community. Imagine. If we just added back, in a dislike. And so, you can see when you're doing something that's divisive, you actually, see you it instantaneous. Feedback from everybody your network don't, post any of that stuff again because. You're really obnoxious to, the rest of us and so. I think that would be a disincentive, to post divisive, things right now we don't have that. Well. YouTube has it and if does it encourage okay. Okay. So another thing the audience is homogeneous yeah, so. So YouTube has it yeah but I mean I don't know how that's playing out with people who are posting on YouTube but the comments section is terrible on YouTube all agree, so. So well, who knows if that could work we, will see but, I. I would place my money that that would help at least a little bit it might not solve the problem, another. Thing you could do is they made retweeting, really easy on on, Twitter. So now it's a click and now if, I if, you post something Kate and I'm. Like oh man that gets me so worked up I'm gonna share this it takes me one second, there's, no friction there and also.
What, They've done technologically. Is got, rid of my capacity, for our the, likelihood, that I engage in reasoning, about. What I ought to do in this situation cuz, I'm on my phone I see it it's, a click, it. Used to be harder to retweet, something and so you, had to engage in more effort go through two steps to. Do that and so, it would it would take very little for them to put a friction, back in to, force people to rely, on something less than their kind of intuition, about what to send out or their emotional, automatic. Gut response so those are. The smallest things, but, it would take next to nothing to to. Do those and here's what I would say to do John and maybe this would convince you more is these. Companies can pilot they can pick 10, buttons one out of a hundred people to update, their technology, on see, the effects of it and then, if it works scale, it and so, they, do this stuff all the time with a/b testing and so if, my, ideas my, intuitions, are wrong my hunches are wrong don't, do them but, at least be testing. Out a bunch of different strategies and. When. Something works then then, pilot, pilot it and then scale it so, that's, why I think that these are actually more. Solvable than we think sorry. That's all I got you know I'm I'm all about AM analog, and micro which is like get in a room with people where, there is you, know enormous, hurt, and. Humiliation. And pain and, get, people in front of each other I mean and and start, to find ways to rebuild, trust, and to build empathy I mean it sounds really cornball, but but. You know it's it's it's it's a little bit the if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail I mean a lot of things to me are about. The dehumanization, that we're really able to do very easily in current, times and so I'm, a big believer that you can break you, can rehumanize, or, people. By by putting them in front of each other whether it's across faith or gender or race or sexuality or god. Forbid politics, you know it's, it's, for me one of the one of my only ways I can vision things. Happening, that change because I've seen it happen so, yeah. And. On that note, about the importance, of personalization. Actually would. Like to welcome, someone else on stage so there's someone in the audience today who has an a little, bit too personal. Experience with extremism, we, have a journalist, Jerry, Van Dyke and he was held. Captive by the Taliban, for 45, days in 2008. So, Jerry if you could please join us for. A few minutes -. So. Jerry if you wouldn't mind just starting off by telling us a little bit about your experience, I. Think. It'd be background. Initially, uh in, the early 1980s, I went to Afghanistan as, a reporter for The New York Times and, I, lived with then. Called the Mujahideen, who, are. Toda