Saturday, July 02, 2011

Michio Kaku - The Paradox of Multiple Goldilocks Zones or "Did the Universe Know We Were Coming?"

This post has also been hanging around in my tabs for a while, but it's an interesting look at the idea inherent in intelligent design that the universe was designed to support human life. Kaku is working toward an advanced version of string theory, so this is not his perspective - he promises a continuation of this post . . . .

Like Kaku, I am not a fan of the Anthropic Principle . . . it lacks any ability to be predictive or to be tested.


In second grade, my teacher made a statement that literally shocked me to the core. I have not forgotten it after all these years. She said, "God so loved the Earth that he put the Earth just right from the Sun -- Not too far or the oceans would freeze over and not too close or the oceans would boil." This was an epiphany for me. I thought "That's right - The Earth IS just right from the Sun!" This was an amazing observation, my first exposure to an astronomical argument. I could see that there was some truth in her statement, since Mars is a frozen desert, and Venus is scorching hot. So the earth is in the Goldilocks Zone region of space, the right distance from the sun, just right for life.

But today, I can view my second grade teacher's statement from a different point of view. Today, astronomers have identified over 500 planets orbiting other stars, and they are all too close or too far from their mother star. Most of them, we think, cannot support life as we know it. So it is unnecessary to invoke God.

But now, cosmologists are facing this paradox again, but from a cosmic perspective. It turns out that the fundamental parameters of the universe appear to be perfectly "fine-tuned." For example, if the nuclear force were any stronger, the sun would have simply burned out billions of years ago, and if it were any weaker the sun wouldn't have ignited to begin with. The Nuclear Force is tuned Just Right. Similarly, if gravity were any stronger, the Universe would have most likely collapsed in on itself in a big crunch; and if it were any weaker, everything would have simply frozen over in a big freeze. The Gravitational Force is Just Right.

This begs the question of how many of the Goldilocks zones there actually are. If you begin to count them, you will soon realize that there are so many of these instances, it simply boggles the mind. The chance that our universe would be randomly placed in so many Goldilocks zones has been compared to a jet airliner being torn apart by a tornado and then suddenly reassembling itself by chance.

The paradox is: why does our universe reside in so many of these Goldilocks zones? Is it because God loved the universe so much that he chose to place it precisely in all these zones? Some theologians think so. They cannot believe that our universe is an accident. It almost appears as if the universe knew we were coming.

However, there is another interpretation. In the same way that astronomers have discovered over 500 (dead) solar systems, perhaps there are billions of parallel universes, most of them unsuitable for life. Our universe is special, only in the sense that it makes life possible for human beings who can contemplate this question. In many of these other universes, there is no intelligent life to ask this question. In these parallel universes, the nuclear force, the gravitational force, etc. are either too strong or too weak to allow for life. So it is a matter of luck that we happen to live in a universe compatible with life.

There are two philosophies that you can consider that are consistent with everything that we currently know and understand about the universe we live in. The first is the Copernican principle and the other is the Anthropic principle. The Copernican principle says that there really isn't anything special about humans or our place in the universe. There is nothing special about our existence in that we exist amongst billions of stars and perhaps millions of planets. We are puny and insignificant. The Anthropic principle is exactly the opposite in stating that we are indeed special, so special that we are among only a handful of universes that have intelligent life.

It turns out that all these philosophical questions have relevance today in the debate over string theory. String theory is supposed to be a theory of everything which can unify all physical laws. But the weakness of string theory is that it has many possible solutions, perhaps an infinite number of them. Since string theory is a theory of universes, it means that there are perhaps an infinite number of parallel universes. If so, then which one do we live in? It seems that string theory cannot predict which universe we occupy, since there is no principle to distinguish between them.

For example, the amount of dark energy in the universe is huge, making up 73% of all matter/energy in the universe. String theory can easily generate dark energy. But it can generate an infinite number of possible universes with different amounts of dark energy. So which universe is ours?

There is one school of thought that says that string theory, plus a version of the Anthropic Principle, can predict the properties of the universe, so everything is okay. This makes some scientists uneasy (since the Anthropic principle does not appear to be typical scientific principle, since it seems to have no predictive power.) However, this might be the ultimate resolution of the problem. String theory predicts an infinite number of universes, but we need some Anthropic principle to determine our universe.

(My own point of view, however, is that string theory is not in its final form. It has been evolving ever since it was discovered by accident in 1968. What we need, I think, is a higher version of the theory. This is what I am working on now. To be continued...)

Peter Russell - Does Our Brain Really Create Consciousness?

This article has been hanging around in my tabs for a while - it's a topic that I find important in terms of how we understand not only consciousness, but mental health and mental illness. If we see consciousness as only a byproduct of the brain, then we treat mental illness with drugs. If we see consciousness as arising from the brain but being shaped and molded by relationships and experience, then we take a whole other approach to maintaining mental health and healing mental illness.

I'm not sure that I go along with his conclusion that consciousness is an inherent property of life - I would amend that to suggest that consciousness is an emergent property when life reaches a certain threshold of complexity.

Does Our Brain Really Create Consciousness?

Peter Russell - Physicist, Author

Western science has had remarkable success in explaining the functioning of the material world, but when it comes to the inner world of the mind, it has very little to say. And when it comes to consciousness itself, science falls curiously silent. There is nothing in physics, chemistry, biology, or any other science that can account for our having an interior world. In a strange way, scientists would be much happier if minds did not exist. Yet without minds there would be no science.

This ever-present paradox may be pushing Western science into what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm shift--a fundamental change in worldview.

This process begins when the prevalent paradigm encounters an anomaly -- an observation that the current worldview can't explain. As far as the today's scientific paradigm is concerned, consciousness is certainly one big anomaly. It is the most obvious fact of life: the fact that we are aware and experience an internal world of images, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Yet there is nothing more difficult to explain. It is easier to explain how the universe evolved from the Big Bang to human beings than it is to explain why any of us should ever have a single inner experience. How does all that electro-chemical activity in the physical matter of the brain ever give rise to conscious experience? Why doesn't it all just go on in the dark?

The initial response to an anomaly is often simply to ignore it. This is indeed how the scientific world has responded to the anomaly of consciousness. And for seemingly sound reasons.
First, consciousness cannot be observed in the way that material objects can. It cannot be weighed, measured, or otherwise pinned down. Second, science has sought to arrive at universal objective truths that are independent of any particular observer's viewpoint or state of mind. To this end they have deliberately avoided subjective considerations. And third, there seemed no need to consider it; the functioning of the universe could be explained without having to explore the troublesome subject of consciousness.

However, developments in several fields are now showing that consciousness cannot be so easily sidelined. Quantum physics suggests that, at the atomic level, the act of observation affects the reality that is observed. In medicine, a person's state of mind can have significant effects on the body's ability to heal itself. And as neurophysiologists deepen their understanding of brain function questions about the nature of consciousness naturally raise their head.

When the anomaly can no longer be ignored, the common reaction is to attempt to explain it within the current paradigm. Some believe that a deeper understanding of brain chemistry will provide the answers; perhaps consciousness resides in the action of neuropeptides. Others look to quantum physics; the minute microtubules found inside nerve cells could create quantum effects that might somehow contribute to consciousness. Some explore computing theory and believe that consciousness emerges from the complexity of the brain's processing. Others find sources of hope in chaos theory.

Yet whatever ideas are put forward, one thorny question remains: How can something as immaterial as consciousness ever arise from something as unconscious as matter?

If the anomaly persists, despite all attempts to explain it, then maybe the fundamental assumptions of the prevailing worldview need to be questioned. This is what Copernicus did when confronted with the perplexing motion of the planets. He challenged the geocentric worldview, showing that if the sun, not the earth, was at the center, then the movements of the planets began to make sense. But people don't easily let go of cherished assumptions. Even when, 70 years later, the discoveries of Galileo and Kepler confirmed Copernicus's proposal, the establishment was loath to accept the new model. Only when Newton formulated his laws of motion, providing a mathematical explanation of the planets' paths, did the new paradigm start gaining wider acceptance.

The continued failure of our attempts to account for consciousness suggests that we too should question our basic assumptions. The current scientific worldview holds that the material world--the world of space, time and matter -- is the primary reality. It is therefore assumed that the internal world of mind must somehow emerge from the world of matter. But if this assumption is getting us nowhere, perhaps we should consider alternatives.

One alternative that is gaining increasing attention is the view that the capacity for experience is not itself a product of the brain. This is not to say that the brain is not responsible for what we experience -- there is ample evidence for a strong correlation between what goes on in the brain and what goes on in the mind -- only that the brain is not responsible for experience itself. Instead, the capacity for consciousness is an inherent quality of life itself.

In this model, consciousness is like the light in a film projector. The film needs the light in order for an image to appear, but it does not create the light. In a similar way, the brain creates the images, thoughts, feelings and other experiences of which we are aware, but awareness itself is already present.

All that we have discovered about the correlations between the brain and experience still holds true. This is usually the case with a paradigm shift; the new includes the old. But it also resolves the anomaly that the old could not explain. In this case, we no longer need scratch our heads wondering how the brain generates the capacity for experience.

This proposal is so contrary to the current paradigm, that die-hard materialists easily ridicule and dismiss it. But we should not forget the bishops of Galileo's time who refused to look through his telescope because they knew his discovery was impossible.

This Blogger's Books:

Waking Up In Time: Finding Inner Peace In Times of Accelerating Change

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) - An Ego State Psychotherapy for Healing Childhood Wounds

One of the new therapies I have been learning as an intern at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) is called The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) - An Ego State Psychotherapy for Healing Childhood Wounds. This feels like a useful addition to the parts work models that currently exist - I like that it is more embodied (with the bilateral stimulation), although it feels more rigid to me in some ways.

Some of this also sounds a little woo - even the art is very off-putting to me, but they have been putting this model to the test, with two published papers so far, and I think there are more in the works.

Here is a brief introduction from the main page of their website:
The DNMS is an ego state therapy designed to treat a wide range of clients, symptoms, and issues. This includes adults with complex trauma wounds, such as those inflicted by verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; and with attachment wounds, such as those inflicted by parental rejection, neglect, and enmeshment. The DNMS is based on the assumption that the degree to which developmental needs were not adequately met is the degree to which a client is stuck in childhood. It starts by guiding clients to establish three internal Resources: a Nurturing Adult Self, a Protective Adult Self, and a Spiritual Core Self. Together these Resources gently help wounded child ego states get unstuck from the past by meeting their unmet developmental needs, helping them process through painful emotions, and by establishing an emotional bond. Alternating bilateral stimulation (made popular by EMDR therapy) is applied at key points in the process. The DNMS focuses special attention on healing maladaptive introjects (ego states that mimic abusive, neglectful, or dysfunctional caregivers). Since these wounded ego states cause the most trouble for clients, their healing results in a significant benefit. As introjects heal, clients report unwanted behaviors, beliefs, and emotions diminish.
You can watch a pretty in-depth slide show introduction to the basics of the model by clicking this link: The DNMS Slide Show.

There is also a longer introduction to the model (which can be downloaded as a PDF) that offers a good overview. Here is the beginning of that introduction.

The DNMS: What It Is and How It Works

Click here for a seven-page printable PDF version of this document.


The DNMS was developed by Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, LPC, a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. It is a therapeutic approach based on what is known about how a child’s brain develops within a healthy family. It was designed to treat present-day problems that originated with unmet childhood needs. The DNMS has been found helpful for treating depression, anxiety, panic disorder, social phobias, substance abuse, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship problems, obsessions/compulsions, sexual abuse, eating disorders, dissociative disorders, borderline personality disorder, sexual addiction, self-injurious behavior and complicated grief. It has also been used to resolve memories of painful physical, emotional, or sexual traumas that were inflicted by a person. A brief explanation of this therapy, its specialized terminology, and the concepts it is built on are presented here.

Getting Stuck in Childhood

Children grow and develop in stages. Each developmental stage involves a set of needs that should be met by parents or caregivers. The degree to which developmental needs were not adequately met is the degree to which a person may be stuck in childhood. Being stuck means that behaviors, beliefs, or emotions connected to unresolved childhood experiences can still be triggered today. For example, a person who feel confident one minute may, after something upsetting happens, suddenly see the world through the eyes of a sad, angry, or fearful child. This may explain why people have behaviors, beliefs, or emotions that they do not like or want, but which they cannot stop.

A person may become stuck in childhood after experiencing:

  • verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse;
  • physical and/or emotional neglect;
  • unmet developmental needs; and/or
  • unskillful or inadequate parenting.

A child may become stuck even if loving, well-meaning caregivers fail to parent well enough, because:

  • a child’s needs are particularly complex or obscure,
  • a caregiver has unresolved emotional issues,
  • a caregiver is under extreme stress, and/or
  • there are hardships which make it impossible for a caregiver to meet needs he/she would otherwise be able to meet (e.g. financial problems, health problems, natural disasters, war).

Children get confused when their needs are ignored, misunderstood, or trivialized – intentionally or unintentionally. When this happens often enough, a child will get stuck in those experiences. When there is a good match between a child’s needs and a caregiver’s parenting skill, the child will grow up feeling secure. When such a match is not so good, a child may grow up feeling wounded.

Parts of Self

Everyone has parts of self. Perhaps you have experienced ambivalence, where one part of you wants to eat cake while another part wants to diet. You may have noticed that you have different states of mind for different roles – perhaps you have a professional work self, which is different from a playful parent self, which is different from a romantic spouse self.

Some parts of self form when positive experiences happen. These are healthy parts of self that live in the present. Likewise some parts of self form when upsetting experiences happen, such as parental abuse, rejection, or neglect. These wounded parts of self are stuck in the past. Parts of self that are stuck in the past can have competing agendas, which lead to internal conflicts. These conflicts can generate unwanted behaviors, beliefs, and emotions. The DNMS aims to calm such internal conflicts by getting wounded parts of self unstuck.

DNMS Resource Parts of Self

In the DNMS, special guided meditations are used to help a client connect to three Resource parts of self: a Spiritual Core Self (or Core Self), a Nurturing Adult Self, and a Protective Adult Self.

The Spiritual Core Self: This Resource is considered the core of one’s being. It is the part of self experienced during meditation, prayer, yoga, peak spiritual experiences, enlightening near-death experiences, and profound connections with nature. Some people believe this is a part of self that existed before the body arrived and will exist after the body dies. The following qualities, commonly experienced during deep prayer or meditation, are characteristic of the Spiritual Core Self.

- Sense of interconnectedness to all beings
- Sense of completeness and wholeness
- Sense of safety and invulnerability
- No ego, no struggles
- Non-judgmental, non-critical
- All things and events are equally special
- No desires or aversions
- Unconditional, effortless happiness
- Unconditional, effortless acceptance
- Unconditional, effortless loving kindness, compassion
- Timeless, cosmic wisdom and understanding
- Timelessness; present moment is precious and full

For those of faith, this Resource would be the part of self that resonates with divine love from a higher power. Connecting to this Resource does not require a belief in God or spirituality. Clients averse to notions of faith are guided to connect to a Core Self.

The Nurturing and Protective Adult Self: Most people have all the skills needed to be a good enough care giver, whether they are aware of it or not. A caregiver skill that was applied just once in the past can be applied again in the future. The DNMS uses two guided meditations to heighten awareness of these skills. One meditation strengthens a Nurturing Adult Self (a part of self that can competently nurture a loved one), the other strengthens a Protective Adult Self (a part of self that can competently protect a loved one). The process is anchored in a personal memory of a meaningful relationship – current or past – a favorite time when all or most of the skills on a list of 24 caregiver skills and traits (e.g. empathy, understanding, patience, compassion, courage)were naturally, effortlessly, and appropriately applied.

The Healing Circle: Once a client has established each Resource, all three are invited to come together as a team, to form a Healing Circle. Later, wounded child parts will be invited inside the Circle where the Resources will provide the emotional repair necessary to help them get totally unstuck.

Reactive Parts of Self

Child parts that form in reaction to wounding caregivers are called reactive parts. Some reactive parts hold raw emotions, like anxiety, terror, anger, sadness, hopelessness, grief, despair, and shame. Some hold details of traumatic experiences. Some reactive parts engage in “coping” behaviors such as overeating, starving, complying, intimidating, overachieving, drinking, withdrawing, etc. All reactive parts have good intentions, no matter how problematic their behavior may be. Clients notice the problems created by reactive parts. These are the problems they want therapy to fix, such as: depression, withdrawing, perfectionism, eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, anger, and trauma memories.

Maladaptive Introjects

It is normal for a child to be curious, engaged, and eager to observe and learn from caregivers. Children automatically and unconsciously form mental representations that mirror the caregivers they observe. These mental representations are called introjects. When children mirror caregivers who are supportive, loving, and kind, they thrive. But when children mimic caregivers who are unkind, neglectful, abusive, rejecting, or unable to meet developmental needs, they suffer.

Child parts that mirror wounding caregivers are called maladaptive introjects. These introjects can act out the same abuse, neglect, or dysfunction on other people and/or reactive parts. This is like a child wearing a costume he/she does not like but cannot take off; or playing a role he/she does not like but cannot stop playing. The costume’s message does not match the child’s true nature – to be in respectful harmony with self and others. Maladaptive introjects are very wounded and stuck in the past. Newly discovered mirror neurons appear to explain how this happens. It is not a choice; it is a biological reflex.

In childhood, many unwanted behaviors, beliefs, and emotions get generated by reactive parts in reaction to wounding caregivers. These same behaviors, beliefs, and emotions can be perpetuated by maladaptive introjects – both in childhood while the caregivers are still around, and in adulthood, long after the caregivers are gone.

When stressful experiences happen in adulthood, the maladaptive introjects that formed in childhood can get activated, and deliver a caregiver’s wounding message to reactive parts. This keeps the reactive parts overreacting.

Getting Unstuck

The DNMS focuses a lot of attention on getting maladaptive introjects totally unstuck by guiding the Resources to provide them the emotional repair they need to heal. This repair work involves meeting needs, processing through painful emotions, and establishing an emotional bond. As the Resources provide for these needs, the introjects begin to feel safe, wanted, and loved. As they heal, they stop mirroring the wounding caregiver and begin to express their own good true nature instead. Because their good true nature does not evoke internal conflicts, it does not aggravate reactive parts. As maladaptive introjects heal, they transform into parts of self that are loving and supportive. As they get totally unstuck, the associated reactive parts experience great relief, and their unwanted behaviors, beliefs, and emotions abate.

Clients are then better prepared to respond to adulthood stressors without wounded child parts overreacting. Clients can simply respond to their world from their most adult self.

There's more - go read the rest. For those who are interested, there is also a book, a home study course, and trainings.

Anthony Eldridge-Rogers - The Nature of the Connection

Nice post from Anthony Eldridge-Rogers at RSA. The author is a coach who specializes in recovery - he contends there are three components to human connection: 1) A method or structure of communication; 2) A chosen language (the code); and 3) the nature of the whole connection itself.

The Nature of the Connection

Understanding the nature of connection that lies at the heart of all communication and partnership, takes time and effort. Anthony Eldridge-Rogers FRSA believes that Fellows’ activities would benefit from such an investment.

I was sitting down to write this piece when the phone rang. A gentleman (let’s call him John, and sorry to all the Johns out there), who I think was calling from overseas, tried very hard in the opening 30 seconds of the call, to verify my name, postcode, marital status, and interest me in sorting out the problem he was certain I had with my laptop.

Miracle of miracles, John said they somehow knew that my laptop was in dire need and on the verge of total collapse, complete data loss and endless viral attacks; all of which could be averted by signing up for their amazingly low priced maintenance contract! I kind of nearly shouted something rude down the phone then just said ‘Ciao’ and put the phone down on John. How rude of me. Ruffled I sat down to restart this piece and realised that this was a perfect example of what I am about to write about. Bear with me.

Connection is a buzzword. Get connected! Let’s connect! We connected last night! It is used in all kinds of contexts and covers as many types of situations as can be imagined.

From my perch as a coach there are three components to human connection. First there must be a method or structure of communication; think phone, TV, email, newspaper, blog, mutually agreed appointment to which you both turn up, even carrier pigeon and so on. (John used the landline). Then there is the chosen language, the written or spoken word, the sound, music, the code if you like (John used a base of English with some quirky colloquial bits and pieces). Finally and most importantly there is the nature of the whole connection itself.

This third component is the bedrock of the coaching relationship; underlying each connection are the core beliefs that the parties about to communicate hold about each other. These colour the whole relationship. If you think a person is incompetent then no matter how much you try to mask that belief it percolates as a subtle energy through the relationship, informing the feeling and nature of how you connect with the person. If you hold a person as creative, resourceful and whole (as I do in the coach/client relationship) then this also impacts on the energy of the relationship.

John made many assumptions in his approach to me. That I had spare time. That I had the inclination to speak to him; was stupid, malleable, ignorant about computers, fearful and weak willed. Perhaps most insulting of all, he assumed I was daft enough to not back up my data. Ok I have not done so for a few weeks but all the same… really! These assumptions are a product of what is underneath them: how John was considering me as a fellow human being. Clearly he was not seeing me as creative, resourceful and whole.

So, whether in the doctor’s surgery with the receptionist, at work with your manager or in the corner shop or with the guy who tries to flog you a maintenance contract for your laptop, the nature of the connection is what defines our feelings and responses to all these interactions. This is regardless of the actual ability of the doctor, the skills of your manager or the quality of the goods in the shop (maybe John does offer a good service; we’ll never know).

I attended the RSA Whole Person Recovery project seminar in Peterborough a few weeks ago as I specialise in recovery coaching. In the main those attending were managing, developing and supplying various services to the community focussed around recovery from substance use and addiction. You could say that the focus of the speakers and the break out groups was centred on consideration of the structure and language of the connection to their service users. Important and valuable work. I would have liked to have been able to spend a lot more time exploring the nature of the way all these services and service users were connected, for it is in the nature of the connection where the real power and impact of these services can be accessed for service users.

This is where the real power of understanding and working with the nature of the connection lies. Often we already have valuable and well financed services and resources and this may not be perceived by those who use those services. This perception is fundamentally shaped by the nature of the connection between those responsible for running and delivering those services with each other and then with the community they serve.

The nature of the connection is the foundation on which we build a coaching relationship. Once created it provides a launch pad for real achievement, personal transformation and fulfilment. Given what the RSA stands for, I hope to create a RSA Coaching Network, which lies at the heart of the Fellowship and supports people in the activities they are embarking on. If we give enough time, thought and attention to the nature of how we are connected, I believe this can be the foundation of creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness needed to underpin the greater positive changes we want to make.

I am sorry I have given John such a hard time. My wife says he is just trying to make a living. If he calls back I might just offer him a few coaching sessions!

Anthony Eldridge-Rogers (FRSA) is a coach, (recovery, business, leadership) coach trainer and social entrepreneur. Please connect with or

The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway? (Timothy D. Wilson)

Excellent article/conversation with Dr. Wilson on the field of social psychology from Edge - the series of posts touches on Wilson's new book, Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, but in general they are concerned with the larger issues of social psychology.

The post contains responses from three well-known figures - Dan Gilbert, Steven Pinker, and Hugo Mercier - click on the + at the end of each "comment" to read the whole response. At the bottom there is a video/audio to check out.

The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

A Conversation With Timothy D. Wilson [6.7.11] SLIDE SHOW

There has been a question lurking in the back of my mind for all those years, which is how can we take this basic knowledge and use it to solve problems of today? I grew up in the turbulent 1960s, in an era where it seemed like the whole world was changing, and that we could have a hand in changing it. Part of my reason for studying psychology in the first place was because I felt that this was something that could help solve social problems. In graduate school and beyond I fell in love with basic research, which is still my first love. It is thrilling to investigate basic questions of self-knowledge and consciousness and unconsciousness. But those other, more applied questions have continued to rattle around and recently come to the fore, the more I realized how much social psychology has to offer.

One of the basic assumptions of the field is that it's not the objective environment that influences people, but their constructs of the world. You have to get inside people's heads and see the world the way they do. You have to look at the kinds of narratives and stories people tell themselves as to why they're doing what they're doing. What can get people into trouble sometimes in their personal lives, or for more societal problems, is that these stories go wrong. People end up with narratives that are dysfunctional in some way.

We know from cognitive behavioral therapy and clinical psychology that one way to change people's narratives is through fairly intensive psychotherapy. But social psychologists have suggested that, for less severe problems, there are ways to redirect narratives more easily that can have... [+]

Steven Pinker :

In his defense of social psychology as it is currently practiced, Timothy Wilson repeats the canard that evolutionary explanations of traits are exercises in "storytelling" which can "explain anything." He boasts, for example, that he can make up a story in which the redness of blood is an adaptation:

"What if in our very early mammalian history, blood was more brown, but there was a mutation that made it more red, and that turned out to have survival value because if an animals were bleeding, those with red blood would be more likely to notice it, and then they'd lick it. Because licking has healing properties, this conveyed a survival advantage, and so red blood was selected for, and blood became red. Am I right? Or is Steve [Pinker] right, that the color of blood is... [+]

Daniel Gilbert :

Surely the lesson in this debate is that experts in one area should probably not make rash generalizations about other areas. When my friend and collaborator, Tim Wilson, suggests that evolutionary psychology is merely a set of "just-so stories," he repeats an old canard that was laid to rest long ago. My friend and colleague, Steve Pinker, properly takes him to task and shows why his claim is...well, just not so.

If only Steve had stopped there. Alas, he goes on to make rash generalizations of his own. For instance, he claims that social psychology's "relentless insistence on theoretical shallowness" has given rise to "an ever lengthening list" of biases and errors that describe phenomena but do not explain them. This... [+]

Timothy D. Wilson :

I should have known better, in my Edge interview, than to take on someone as erudite, smart, and broad as Steve Pinker, whose work I admire. He makes many fine points in his rebuttal. As for the example about the color of blood, well, perhaps this was an unwise choice on my part, though for a reason Steve doesn’t mention: It is about a physical trait, when our disagreement is really about the value of evolutionary theory in explaining social behavior. But Steve goes on to express sentiments about the entire field of social psychology that are pretty shocking for someone so smart and widely-read.

To be clear, evolutionary theory is obviously true and has added to our knowledge about social behavior, by suggesting novel hypotheses that could then be tested with the experimental method. But I believe the examples of this are far fewer than... [+]

Hugo Mercier :

In the course of defending the still ‘mainstream’ way of practicing social psychology, Timothy Wilson feels compelled to criticize evolutionary explanations of human behavior. As pointed out by Steven Pinker in his commentary, Wilson’s critique is quite weak. In fact it’s even possible to use Wilson’s own research to demonstrate that evolutionary hypotheses are both satisfying and testable.

One of the major findings unearthed by Wilson and his colleagues is that reasoning can sometimes drive people towards poor decisions. In a series of brilliant experiments, they compared decisions made by participants who were specifically asked to consider reasons for their choice to those of a control group who made more spontaneous decisions. When the... [+]

Steven Pinker :

I thank Dan Gilbert and Tim Wilson for elaborating on these issues, which I look forward to discussing further at our beer summit. I need no convincing that social psychology is a vital field which has made enduring contributions to intellectual life, and regret any choice of words that imply otherwise. But I think the field does itself a disservice if—alone among contemporary sciences—it remains content to stay within its disciplinary boundaries.

I'm aware of the research on the Fundamental Attribution Error that Dan describes, and didn't mean to imply that social psychologists discovered the error and left it at that—on the contrary, it's among the most studied phenomena in the recent history of psychology. But I'm less satisfied than Dan that it can be explained by the rather blunt instrument of the... [+]



The Social Psychological Narrative — Or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

A Conversation With Timothy D. Wilson [6.7.11]

Beyond Edge

Tim Wilson, University of Virginia

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nature Neuroscience - June, 2011 Neuropod Podcast

Some good stuff in this month's podcast from Nature's neuroscience podcast. I was especially interested in the segments on ketamine for depression and on mindwandering.

NeuroPod, June 2011

In this episode:

Here is a little background on Neuropod:

NeuroPod is the neuroscience podcast from Nature, produced in association with the Dana Foundation. Each month, join us as we delve into the latest research on the brain, from its molecular makings to the mysteries of the mind. We'll also be bringing you the latest news from neuroscience conferences around the globe, along with special reports on hot areas in neuroscience.

For complete access to the original papers featured in NeuroPod, subscribe to Nature, Nature Neuroscience, and Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Meet the presenter

Kerri SmithSelf-confessed neurogeek Kerri Smith joined Nature in 2006 after completing an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. She also co-presents the weekly Nature Podcast and is part of the team that produce Nature's other podcasts. Before finding her way to Nature she was at the University of Oxford, where she took a degree in human sciences and an MSc in Neuroscience. Although she spends most of her time podcasting, the news team sometimes let her write stories about neuroscience and other bits of biology. In the past she has been a freelance contributor to various publications including New Scientist and The Times.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Upaya Dharma Podcast - Sensei Beate Genko Stolte on Charlotte Joko Beck, Sesshin, and the Famous Case of Joshu’s Dog

These two dharma talks were recently posted at the Upaya Zen Center site - led by Sensei Beate Genko Stolte.

Beate Stolte: 6-24-11: Weekend Sesshin (Part 1 of 2)

Speaker: Beate Stolte
Recorded: Friday Jun 24, 2011

Sensei Beate Genko Stolte discusses the late Charlotte Joko Beck, the purpose of sesshin, and the famous case of Joshu’s dog.

Sesshin, meaning to gather the heart/mind, is an intensive meditation retreat, done with others that deepens our relationship to our mind and to the world. In sesshin, the mind/body calms and settles, and the mind becomes clear and open. We experience the deep stillness that lies within each of us and the tremendous strength of a community (sangha) practicing together. The retreat is in silence, with sitting and walking meditation, formal silent meals in the zendo (oryoki), chanting services, one hour of work-practice (samu), daily dharma-talks by the teachers, and private interviews (dokusan) with Sensei Beate Genko Stolte.

* * * * * * *

Beate Stolte: 6-25-11: Weekend Sesshin (Part 2 of 2)

Speaker: Beate Stolte

Recorded: Saturday Jun 25, 2011

Sensei Beate Genko Stolte returns to the case of Mu, and explains the value of
perseverance in a sesshin

Sesshin, meaning to gather the heart/mind, is an intensive meditation retreat, done with others that deepens our relationship to our mind and to the world. In sesshin, the mind/body calms and settles, and the mind becomes clear and open. We experience the deep stillness that lies within each of us and the tremendous strength of a community (sangha) practicing together. The retreat is in silence, with sitting and walking meditation, formal silent meals in the zendo (oryoki), chanting services, one hour of work-practice (samu), daily dharma-talks by the teachers, and private interviews (dokusan) with Sensei Beate Genko Stolte.

TED Talks - Daniel Kahneman: The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory

This TED Talk with Daniel Kahneman is from 2010, but I'm pretty sure I never saw it. Maybe many of you have, so to make this visit worth your while, I am including an hour long talk/conversation held at UC Berkeley in 2007.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy -- and our own self-awareness.

In this video, Dr. Kahneman talks about the research that won him the 2002 Nobel Prize.
Conversations with History: Daniel Kahneman

"Conversations with History" host Harry Kreisler welcomes Princeton Psychology Professor Daniel Kahneman for a discussion of his Nobel prize winning research on intuition and decision making. [4/2007]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mark Vernon's Series on Carl Jung

On the Guardian's site, Mark Vernon has been posting a series of articles on the life and work of Carl Gustav Jung. Good stuff - I hope he is working out book chapters with this series (I think I read that he is).

Here is one of the articles (on Psychological Types) and links to all the rest of the articles (four more) at the bottom of the page.

Carl Jung, part 5: Psychological types

The Myers-Briggs test is but one offshoot of Jung's attempt to show how radically people's perceptions and instincts can differ

Picture of Mark Vernon

Mark Vernon
Monday 27 June 2011

It is striking how differently individuals can react to precisely the same thing. Some love Marmite and others loathe it. And more seriously, many arguments self-perpetuate aside from whether there is evidence or sound reason to decide the issue, because opposing sides embody different temperaments. Depending upon your outlook, Wimbledon is two weeks of poetry in motion, or two weeks of channel-hogging TV tedium. The internet will save civilisation according to the geek, and scramble your brains according to the Luddite. The heavens tell of the glory of God in the eyes of the saint, and of the troubling meaninglessness of empty space for at least some scientists.

Such oppositions struck Jung after his split with Freud. How was it, he asked, that they could interpret psychological problems so differently? The conclusion he reached was that he and Freud exhibited different personality types. The thought led him to a systematic reflection on temperament that is still widely deployed.

Two types seem especially clear: the introvert and the extravert [sic]. An introvert, as Jung was, is more persuaded by the voice of their inner self. An extravert, as he took Freud to be, finds their interest inexorably drawn to external things. "Since we all swerve rather more towards one side or the other, we naturally tend to understand everything in terms of our own type," he explained in Psychological Types, published in 1921.

There is fun to be had describing types, especially those not your own – though, as a parlour game, be warned: it is hard accurately to ascertain the type of others because your view will be clouded by your own. That said, consider the extravert.

They tend to need to join in, be with it and make a show of themselves. They have a deep capacity not just to endure noise and bustle but actually to enjoy it. They will have wide circles of friends and acquaintances, "none too carefully selected", Jung (the introvert) remarks. Their character is more likely to be optimistic and positive, and they will regard introspection as unsound, best combated by the clarity of verifiable evidence: "all self-communings give him the creeps", Jung explains. When it comes to personal ethics, they will be inclined to voice a concern for others and be content with decisions by vote.

The introvert is not forthcoming and needs regular retreats from the world. When many people are present, too many people are present: crowds are lonely places. The introvert's character may well appear defensive, brusque, pessimistic or glum – to the extravert. He keeps his good qualities hidden and friends might reflect, "it takes time to get to know her". At work, the introvert thrives under their own steam. When it comes to personal ethics, they value safety, trust and intimacy; and popular opinion is more dangerous than persuasive.

The extravert and introvert types describe the individual's default attitude towards the world. To them, Jung added four functional types: sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. They describe how an individual can gain and process information about the world. "Sensation is to establish that something exists, thinking tells us what it means, feeling what its value is, and intuition surmises whence it comes and whither it goes."

Again, people will tend to rely more on one function than another. A sensing type will be a strong empiricist, a thinking type will want to understand, a feeling person will naturally assess rights and wrongs, and someone with a powerful intuitive function will seek the wider story or bigger picture.

The basic categories have withstood investigation, not least following their incorporation into personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Several million people sit these questionnaires each year. "The evidence for the validity of MBTI theory is substantial," explains professor Rowan Bayne. "The questionnaire has been widely researched too, and shows good links between, say, type and shaping a career." What is important is that the results are taken as points of departure, not as readings of a fixed character.

More elaborate, post-Jungian developments of the basic theory are harder to test, though they clearly also speak to many. For example, in the realm of spirituality, it is said that there are, broadly, four spiritual temperaments: Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan and Thomistic. Very roughly, an Ignatian spirituality will appeal to someone with a sense of duty; an Augustinian prioritises meaning; the Franciscan type needs to feel free; and a Thomistic spirituality values rational order and subtlety.

Jung himself was also keen to stress that he was not referring to types of people, but types of consciousness. And the same person can be conscious in different ways in different situations, in extremis like a Jekyll and Hyde. To put it another way, all people possess every function within themselves, it's just that some are not exercised but are buried as the shadow.

This can be troubling, though it allows for personality development, to becoming more whole or individuated, as Jung called it. For example, the extravert who goes on a retreat and manages to last the course is likely to find the experience revelatory. A new source of energy arises insofar as they succeed in activating their shadow inferior functions. Conversely, an extravert who neglects the inner life is likely, sooner or later, to suffer a crisis of meaning – often called the mid-life crisis. Different opportunities and risks arise across the psychological types.

Jung hoped that his presentation of temperaments would not only prove useful for analytical psychology but for human relations in general. Many misunderstandings and much discord might be mitigated if those involved understood that others live in different worlds. The geek may yet learn from the Luddite, the introvert from the extravert, even the scientist from the saint. And vice versa, of course.

~ Mark Vernon is a writer and journalist whose books include The Meaning of Friendship (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Wellbeing (Acumen, 2008), Understand Humanism (Hodder Education, 2008) and Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living (Oneworld). His latest book, How To Be An Agnostic (Palgrave Macmillan), is out now

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Yara Tercero-Parker - Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy

This is a cool article on the failure of empathy between groups - it points to a tendency to feel more empathy for our own in-group and less (or none) for any or all out-groups. Seems to me, however, that this reflects the developmental stage of the subject. What it look like if they included ego development stages in their assessments and broke out the different levels of empathy based on stage? Probably going to look a lot different.

Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy

[Princeton]- APS-A loved one loses a parent to cancer; on television, a football player breaks his leg in a tackle; in the newspaper, a mother on the other side of the world cradles the body of her injured child. How do people react when others are in distress? Much of the time, we feel pain or sadness in response to another’s suffering. A key component of this response is the suite of cognitive and affective capacities called empathy (Batson, 2009): people recognize emotional experiences in others, experience matched sensations and emotions, and are motivated to alleviate those others’ suffering, frequently resulting in helping behaviors.

Often, though, we are likely to feel no pain, no sadness, and no motivation to help. Failures of empathy are especially likely if a sufferer is socially distant—for example, a member of a different social or cultural group. We often fail to detect such outgroup members’ emotional experiences or perceive them in substantially distorted ways, and we are only weakly, if at all, motivated to reduce their suffering. In fact, depending on the victim, we may feel secretly pleased about his or her misfortunes. To examine failures of empathy at the intergroup level is particularly important, because intergroup conflicts engender significantly more aggression than do interpersonal interactions (Meier & Hinsz, 2004). Although interpersonal morality prohibits people from harming others, engaging in violence on behalf of the ingroup is accepted in times of group conflict (Cohen, Montoya, & Insko, 2006). Dampened or absent empathic responses may lead to indifference toward outgroup suffering and may even facilitate further harm against outgrips.

Here we take an interdisciplinary look at intergroup empathic failures—including affective, behavioral, physiological, and neural data. We incorporate recent investigations of the neurobiological mechanisms of dampened and disrupted empathy, because these mechanisms are both a proximate cause of pro- and antisocial behaviors and a potential future target of interventions. In the second section, we consider potential negative alternatives to empathy (i.e., schadenfreude) in the context of intergroup competition. Because feeling pleasure in response to others’ pain is often socially unacceptable, people may feel uncomfortable or be unable to respond naturally in experimental settings. Using indirect measures such as facial electromyography and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) helps to circumvent some of the hurdles associated with measuring socially undesirable emotions and behaviors.

Finally, we discuss some of the recent literature on intergroup- conflict interventions that aim to increase intergroup empathy. While increased empathy can facilitate positive attitudes and prosocial behavior toward outgroups, there are circumstances in which empathy can backfire—making it important to understand when and why intergroup empathy breaks down.

Dampened and Disrupted Empathy for Outgroups

Empathy is generally recognized as a central component of the human condition; because it promotes prosocial behavior, it is an essential aspect of human social life. Beginning in infancy, people are affected by others’ suffering: They ‘‘step into the other person’s shoes,’’ ‘‘feel their pain,’’ and are motivated to help (Batson, 2009). One popular theory suggests that (in the absence of pathology) empathic responses arise out of an automatic, universal mechanism in the human brain that detects another person’s experience and activates a matching experience in the observer (Preston & de Waal, 2002). In this view, shared neural circuits provide a direct functional bridge between first- and second-person experiences (Decety & Ickes, 2009). Seeing another human being in pain, observers feel that other’s pain.

We know, however, that adults with normal empathic capacity also frequently fail to respond to another’s suffering. This may be because people are less likely to detect and attend to another’s suffering when the victim is distant in space, time, or kinship or belongs to a different racial, political, or social group (Batson & Ahmad, 2009). Empathy is even fragile between minimal groups—groups in which the boundary is arbitrary—such that children randomly assigned to groups (e.g., the ‘‘red team’’ or the ‘‘blue team’’) show greater empathy for ingroup members than for outgroup members who are socially rejected (Masten, Gillen-O’Neel, & Brown, 2010).

Recent studies are beginning to unpack the physiological and neural underpinnings of these empathic failures. In general, people show dampened or even absent ‘‘matching’’ neural and physiological responses when witnessing an outgroup member in physical pain. For example, Black and White participants show ‘‘empathic resonance’’ (i.e., sensorimotor contagion, indexed by modulation of motor evoked potentials in matched hand muscles) when watching an ingroup member’s hand (or even an artificially colored, purple hand) being pricked by a pin, but this response is absent when the hand belongs to an outgroup member. Reduced empathic resonance in response to outgroup pain is correlated with higher implicit racial bias (Avenanti, Sirigu, & Aglioti, 2010). Similarly, in White and Asian participants, the shared neural circuit for pain—anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), supplementary motor area (SMA), and insula—is more active when viewing same-race as compared to other-race faces being pricked with a needle (Xu, Zuo, Wang, & Han, 2009).

Future research should extend these paradigms beyond racially defined groups to arbitrary minimal groups (e.g., Masten et al., 2010) and distinguish ‘‘extraordinary’’ empathy for the ingroup from failures of empathy for the outgroup (e.g., Mathur, Harada, Lipke, & Chiao, 2010). Another target variable for future research is asymmetry in power or minority status between groups. Historic differences in power and status are likely to affect the source of intergroup dampening of empathy. For example, Black and White American participants show ‘‘matching’’ responses to pain in White and Black targets (in the ACC and insula), but only Black participants show addi- tional activity in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in response to ingroup suffering (Mathur et al., 2010). Black American participants’ empathy for Black individuals’ suffering is likely affected by their minority status.

Thus, outgroup members—merely by virtue of who they are and not anything they have done—reliably elicit diminished perceptions of suffering and fail to elicit equivalent physiological and affective empathic responses. More concerning is that these dampened empathic responses are related to less helping. For example, people who attributed fewer uniquely human emotions (e.g., anguish, mourning) to opposite-race Hurricane Katrina victims were also less willing to volunteer for relief efforts to help those victims (Cuddy, Rock, & Norton, 2007). In contrast, greater mPFC activity in response to in-group suffering predicts participants’ willingness to donate time and money to help ingroup members (Mathur et al., 2010).
Competition and Schadenfreude

Social identity—‘‘us’’ and ‘‘them’’—is most salient when groups are set in direct competition. Not surprisingly, inter- group competition strongly modulates empathic responding: Distressed ingroup members typically elicit empathy (Batson & Ahmad, 2009), whereas competitive rivals’ pain may even elicit pleasure, sometimes referred to as schadenfreude (Smith, Powell, Combs, & Schurtz, 2009). For male participants, brain regions associated with experiencing ‘‘reward’’ (i.e., left ventral striatum including nucleus accumbens) show positive activation when a competitor receives a painful electric shock (Singer et al., 2006). Both male and female participants exhibit reward-related activation (i.e., bilateral ventral striatum) when a socially competitive target experiences misfortunes (e.g., has rumors spread about him or her; Takahashi et al., 2009). Thus these reward-related regions respond to competitors’ physical and emotional suffering.

Similar effects occur when the sufferer is not a direct competitor but a member of a competitive group. Competitive outgroups may become targets of schadenfreude following failures in intergroup competition, particularly if participants are reminded of their own group’s inferiority prior to the outgroup’s failure (Leach & Spears, 2009). In the context of a real-world sports rivalry, Red Sox and Yankees fans reported feeling pleasure and showed activity in reward-related brain regions (i.e., right ventral striatum including nucleus accumbens) when they watch their rival fail to score against their favored team and also against a less competitive team in the same league (i.e., the Orioles). Attaching positive value to outgroup members’ suffering may provide motivation for inflicting suffering: People who show more reward-related activity when watching the rival team fail also report being more likely to actively harm the rival team’s fans (Cikara, Botvinick, & Fiske, 2011). These findings extend to situations in which the rival fans themselves are in physical pain: Soccer fans exhibited reward-related activity (again, in the right ventral striatum) when watching a rival team’s fan receive a painful electric shock; the magnitude of this activity predicted participants’ later unwillingness to relieve the rival’s pain by receiving half of the electric shock themselves (Hein, Silani, Preuschoff, Batson, & Singer, 2010).

Competitive groups may also become targets of schaden- freude simply by virtue of the stereotypes associated with their group. While people report feeling neutral watching a high- status, competitive stranger (e.g., an investment banker) sit in gum on a park bench, they also smile (i.e., cheek muscle engagement, measured by facial electromyography), indicating the presence of positive affect (i.e., schadenfreude), not just the absence of negative affect (i.e., feeling neutral; Cikara & Fiske, 2011). On a positive note, manipulating status and competition-relevant information can attenuate this reaction: People exhibit a more empathic response when the unfortunate target is perceived as having lower status or as being cooperative (Cikara & Fiske, 2011).

Schadenfreude is thus a powerful and common alternative to empathy, offering positive emotions and self-affirmation in the face of a competitive threat (Leach & Spears, 2009). The lure of schadenfreude can even overpower self-interest: People feel pleasure at rivals’ misfortunes, even when the misfortunes have negative implications for themselves and society more broadly. For example, Democrats, especially those who strongly identified with their political party, reported considerable scha- denfreude after reading an article describing a mild economic downturn that occurred during a Republican administration (Combs, Powell, Schurtz, & Smith, 2009). Schadenfreude may function as a signal of ingroup cohesion in opposition to competitors. Demonstrating pleasure instead of empathy in response to someone’s misfortune is a clear sign to both ingroup and outgroup members that one’s interests are not aligned with those of the victim (Leach & Spears, 2009).

People with the most empathy for members of their ingroup may thus experience the most schadenfreude toward a threatening outgroup. When an outgroup is perceived as antagonistic, people respond less empathically to outgroup members but also more empathically to ingroup members (Dovidio et al., 2010; see, however, Xu et al., 2009 for a positive correlation between ingroup and outgroup empathic resonance). Agent-based simulations suggest that the motivation to help ingroup members and hostility toward people from other ethnic or racial groups may have co-evolved in humans: Group survival is more likely when many members are willing to fight in intergroup wars and even sacrifice themselves to protect others in their group (Choi & Bowles, 2007). The most dramatic incidents of intergroup violence are consistent with these suggestions: Most suicide bombers are not psychopaths but rather may experience particularly high empathy selectively for their own group’s suffering (Ginges & Atran, 2009).


Social distance and group boundaries reduce people’s motiva- tion to alleviate victims’ suffering. Conflict-resolution and prejudice-reduction programs aim to turn this situation around using several procedures to increase empathy: perspective- taking, role playing, simulation, and positive intergroup contact. The general hypothesis of these programs is that increasing empathy for specific outgroup members can increase tolerance and willingness to help (and decrease willingness to harm) other outgroup members (Batson & Ahmad, 2009). For example, in an impressive large-scale field study, a radio drama in Rwanda depicting positive intergroup interac- tions increased empathy of Hutus toward Tutsis (Paluck, 2009). In some cases, positive effects of intergroup contact can occur rapidly: An online video-based interaction between Israelis and Palestinians temporarily increased positive attitudes and empathy toward the outgroup, even after only 20 minutes (Bruneau & Saxe, 2011). In some cases, the positive effects of interaction can be long-lasting: Relative to control groups, Sri Lankan Singhalese participants in a 4-day intergroup workshop expressed enhanced empathy toward Tamils even a year after participating in the program (Malhotra & Liyanage, 2005). Increased empathy can in turn lead to improved attitudes toward and willingness to help outgroups (Batson & Ahmad, 2009). For example, increasing empathy increased donations to an out- group charity (Malhotra & Liyanage, 2005) and forgiveness for past atrocities (Cehajic, Brown, & Castano, 2008).

While success is possible, interventions are not always beneficial: Empathy, positive attitudes, and helpful intentions toward an outgroup can also decrease following perspective taking. For example, metastereotypes—thoughts about how one (as a majority group member) may be evaluated by an out- group member—are activated when individuals empathize with an outgroup member in the context of an intergroup inter- action. These thoughts have the deleterious effect of interrupting other-focused empathic responses that are required for prejudice reduction. Moreover, among relatively high- prejudice participants, empathy induction can elicit overtly negative reactions to a nearby outgroup member (Vorauer & Sasaki, 2009).

A key variable, again, is the historical asymmetries of status and power between groups. For example, intergroup interventions have asymmetric effects for majority/empowered and minority/disempowered group members when the interventions are based on intergroup contact (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), when they involve focused assimilation versus integration (Dovidio et al., 2005), and when they require perspective taking versus ‘‘perspective giving’’ (speaking and being heard by a member of the other group; Bruneau & Saxe, 2011).

Understanding the causes and contexts of intergroup interventions is critical. Unfortunately, well-controlled empirical studies of prejudice-reduction and conflict-resolution programs remain rare, and relevant data are scarce (Paluck & Green, 2009). Since well-intended programs sometimes have no effect or even negative effects, it is particularly important that empirical evaluations of these programs match the pace of their creation.


People often empathize and feel emotional pain in response to the misfortunes of others. Empathy is, however, a highly flexible, context-dependent response. If an individual is a member of an outgroup, they are more likely to fail to arouse our empathy and could even be targets of schadenfreude in competitive contexts. Failures of empathy matter because they are related to diminished helping responses. While people are capable of incredible feats of cooperation and empathy, they are also capable of callousness, finding pleasure in others’ pain; better understanding the social, cognitive, and neural mechanisms underlying empathy and schadenfreude may help to alleviate humanity’s deepest tragedies and facilitate its greatest triumphs.