Who do You Trust? Beware of Your Brain – Linda Rising
Are you prejudiced? No? Do you believe that some programming languages are slower than others? How do you know? Did you measure it or is it a … gut feeling?
Let’s face it, we’re all prejudiced. It’s human nature because survival is more important than getting along.
The better question is: What influences this process? Solomon Asch did a couple of very interesting experiments on that. It seems that if a trusted peer group is wrong, we tend to tag along anyway. So if everyone in the team believes that Groovy is slow or .NET is bad, we just suck it up, even if we happen to know better. The interesting part is why we do it.
Of course, we want to believe that we consider all options, carefully evaluate the impact of confronting the group, things like that. Yeah, that does happen – if you have enough time. Under pressure, your brain will just twist your view of the world until it fits. This means MRI showed that test subjects of the Asch conformity experiments actually “saw” other line lengths than were actually on paper.
But there is good news, too: If one person objects, this illusion breaks. This explains how a group of experts can be utterly wrong about something. Since groups tend to think of anyone else as them, an outsider can’t sway their belief but an insider can. So next time your team is doing something obviously stupid, speak up!
The talk also included reasons for social loafing (why a team doesn’t get stronger if you add more than three persons). Or how it was possible that soldiers in the First World War made peace with the enemy while entrenched: They inadvertently formed a team with the ultimate goal of survival.
A very interesting and frightening aspect is that our view of others doesn’t influence us alone but it also influences the way other behave. Women get the same results in mathematical tests as men if they don’t have to tick a gender box on the test. If you think a team member is an asshole, he will be, even if he hates you. Subconsciously, you’ll send the necessary signals and he’ll comply to them. Conversely, if you know that, you can turn an asshole into a normal person just by treating them better.
Very good, important talk. If you have a chance to meet/see her, go for it.
- “Who Do You Trust?” (infoQ article)
- Robbers Cave Experiment (about prejudice in children and how to control/abuse it)
- Linda Rising (homepage)
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