Five tips for your first year of college from The Righteous Mind

Happy Labor Day everyone.

As we sit here on the eve of the school year, I wanted to highlight five things from The Righteous Mind which I think might be helpful as you start your college career.

5. College is an opportunity to broaden the palate (p. 141).

To use Haidt’s example of the taste of sweet beverages, just because an Eskimo tribe might lack a sweet beverage like apple juice or Coca-Cola, it doesn’t mean they lack the sweetness receptor. It more likely just means they have had no access to fruit to make the beverage. College allows us a number of new, similar opportunities. Maybe enroll in a course you’d never even thought of before just because it sounds cool, or try out a new sport like ultimate frisbee. (OK I might be biased with that last one).

4. Winning arguments requires a gentle hand (p. 56).

Haidt uses this analogy: “Just like you can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail, you cannot change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.” Another way to think of it might be changing the direction a moving car. Just like the mind’s elephant, a moving car has a lot of momentum. Which of these will be more effective at getting a car to alter its direction?


As an alternative to trying to stop a car’s momentum all at once, Haidt quotes ‘elephant-whisperer’ Dale Carnegie and his book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Begin in a friendly way, smile, be a good listener, and never say ‘you’re wrong.'”

3. It’s not all about war (p. 252).

To quote Haidt, “Group selection does not require war or violence… In general, groupishness is focused on improving the welfare of the in-group, not on harming an out-group.” As you meet different people and make new friends, try not to be the type who comments negatively about others in an effort to be part of a group. We are not in high school anymore.

2. Some problems really can be solved by regulation (p. 348).

I guarantee that sometime this year there will be a university or class rule which you do not fully agree with or understand. This happened to me when I was in college and it happens to me even today. Over time, however, I’ve come to agree with the point Haidt makes here that the inefficiencies and hassles of rules are often balanced by their positive consequences and intended effects. Feel free to ask about anything you don’t understand, though. Professors and administrators are usually happy to explain to students the intent of their policies.

Speaking of which,

1. Our campus community is part of a shared intentionality (p. 238).

Haidt quotes Tomasello, who describes the difference between humans and other primates: “At some point in the last million years, a small group of our ancestors developed the ability to share mental representations of tasks that two or more of them were pursuing together. For example, while foraging, one person pulls down a branch while the other plucks the fruit, and they both share the meal.”

When I was in college, I remember feeling nervous to visit my professors’ office hours with questions. I felt like maybe they had more important things to do and I didn’t want to bother them. Now that I am the professor, I know how silly that way of thinking was. We chose this line of work because we enjoy it, sometimes at a big pay cut compared to alternative careers. Students and professors are part of a shared intentionality. Your education is our goal, and we enjoy teaching and helping you learn.

Comments? Disagreements? Again, these are my own tips, so feel free to use or ignore as you wish. Either way, I hope you have a great first year here at UMass-Dartmouth!

Beyoncé and Collective Effervescence

Hey guys! I’d just like to discuss more about the Hive Switch because it connects so much to what we do as people. I just think it’s super cool. So I watched the VMAs on Sunday and mostly everyone I knew was watching just for Beyoncé. There were hashtags like #BeyMAs and #QueenBeyonce on Twitter. Everyone was anticipating her performance. At some point during her performance she had the crowd sing back to her and it was like the whole stadium was singing. The audience sang as one. You might have been one of the many at home singing along as well. It reminded me of when Haidt talks about collective effervescence and how it relates to the Hive Switch. He quotes Emile Durkheim and says:
    The very act of congregating is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation (262).
This moment has happened to me at church as well. During the worship service sometimes, the atmosphere just changes. I know that sounds weird if you aren’t familiar with going to church or practicing a religion. But it’s an incredible experience. Everyone just forgets about themselves and become one in their worship. We worship together and you can feel it. It’s something that I can’t really explain, you’d have to experience it yourself. It’s what Durkheim calls the realm of the sacred, where the self disappears and the collective interests predominate (262).
You don’t always have these experiences at church, people can have them whenever a group gathers together. You could have had that same experience at a concert, a camping trip, or just hanging out with your friends this summer. This is what Haidt means when he meant that there are many other ways to flip the hive switch (269). Now that you guys are preparing to go to college, there are going to be many opportunities to get involved in clubs and activities. Even go to some parties or concerts. Maybe you’re not into that and would just like to hang out with friends. Either way, you’ll be apart of a group. You might even get to experience collective effervescence and turn on that Hive Switch. What do you guys think? Do you think there’s some things about the Hive Switch that are true? Are there some parts that you think are a little out there and don’t really make sense?Do you think something really changes when people gather together? Think about times where you’ve been at an event or you were just with a group of friends and try to connect to what Haidt mentions.

How Do Writers Write?

I have two very different questions to ask in this post. One asks you to consider the responsibilities of a good writer. And the other develops Haidt’s ideas for a cultural critique. Please feel free to respond to one or both.
In my previous post, I asked you to think about Haidt’s intended readers and to reflect on yourselves as readers of this particular text. Your responses ranged from relatability to appreciating his ideas to critiquing his approach. Certainly, some of the concerns about the book being scattered also has to do with being able to process and synthesize a large amount of information about a topic that you are not very familiar with. Believe me, I had to re-read certain sections because I am not familiar with social sciences either. But as students about to go to college, being able to read and understand texts from different disciplines is necessary for your development as a scholar. Moreover, I would recommend looking at an earlier blog post about organization of the book where your peers are discussing how Haidt structures his argument.
I will pick on some points from what you said earlier though to start a discussion about writing. You will be expected to write in college and you will have to think about how to convince and persuade your readers about what you are saying. You will have to figure out your audience, figure out a way to make your ideas relatable and persuasive to them, and you will have to be very aware of your own biases as well.

Would you, in your writing, be like the elephant and find reasons to support what you believe? And if you do so, do you think you will be able to convince your reader?
Or will you take a step back and think about what you are doing and then analyze your own biases?
Some of you commented on Haidt making clear what his biases are. That is indeed one of the ways to get your readers to trust you. If, however, the author is not aware of his/her own biases and the reader is able to see through them, then that writer loses credibility. For example, as a reader, I quickly lose faith in a writer that is not self-aware about his or her own partialities.
On page 81, Haidt makes a distinction between two kinds of responses based on an experiment done by Paxton and Greene: one that is immediate and the other where the subjects were made to wait a few minutes before they could respond. He uses the metaphor of the elephant and the rider here to say that in those few minutes the rider (that is, reasoning), gained the upper hand. The rider got the time to think about the supporting arguments and then develops the judgment in this case. The judgment gets altered as a result of that thinking. So what kind of a writer are you?
Would you just let your point remain at the level of opinion (I like this; I didn’t like this)
Would you provide evidence but after having made up your mind already?
Or would you use the evidence to rationally figure out situations and then develop your point?
For example, how are you responding to this post? What approach are you taking?
Secondly, will your answer change depending on the kind of writing you have to do – is it a diary entry or a Facebook post or a paper for a class?

Secondly (and this is connected to thinking about your readers/audiences), Haidt mentions the taste receptors. Instead of politics and voters though, I would like to insert writing and readers. A good piece of writing should be able to appeal to all the taste receptors of the readers in order to be successful. What qualities do you think such writing might have to appeal and to persuade your readers to give you your vote (as in to believe you and your ideas)?

On another note, I would like to raise another question that seems to be relevant even though it goes beyond what Haidt is discussing in his book
Haidt argues that conservatives appeal to a larger base of people than liberals
And he presents two kinds of bumper stickers to prove how the conservatives are able to appeal to all the taste receptors as opposed to the liberals who are perhaps only able to appeal to two. He gives multiple examples and one of those is bumper stickers by liberals and conservatives.
The liberal sticker says things like: “Save Darfur” and “Stop Genocide”
The conservative one says: “Support Our Wounded”
Both are examples of “Care.” Haidt uses this to argue that conservative caring is more local, and blended with loyalty (158-159). My question is loyalty to whom…??? Both seem to be loyal to me.

Secondly, it seems to me that the local-ness of the conservative caring is actually at the national level (which I believe is too huge to be considered local).

The two bumper stickers are saying something completely different. The Darfur one clearly encourages the reader to connect with the people who are being victimized. It seeks to make people think beyond the self and an idea of the nation to empathize at a human level.
The conservative one also asks to empathize but with “our wounded.” The “our” here clearly indicates Americans.

Then later on, in the chapter, “Why Are We So Groupish,” he uses the example of the American flag to talk about a sense of loyalty and indeed a sense of self which is connected with the nation.
So here I want to use Haidt’s ideas to go beyond and to discuss the ramifications of both kinds of appeals made by the two parties. He uses the example of 9/11 to talk about it and that is what made me think about how complicated the mobilization of nation was in its aftermath. So my question is if it is worth it to try and appeal to these senses if they include constructions that might be problematic.
For example, the idea of the nation can be so problematic because, while it does many good things, it can also disallow a human empathetic connection with those who are considered as competition.
Connected with this sense of national loyalty can also be hatred of others who don’t look American (read: brown and most people of color in the immediate post 9/11 US). The media played a huge role in this paranoia building as well.
Suheir Hammad’s Def jam poetry was a response to the atrocities inflicted on many Americans that were brown ( Please hear the entire thing if you are listening to it.

This is just one example – the conversation that I want to have is NOT about 9/11 but about constructions of self in terms of nationality, class, or race, etc.
We can apply a similar sense of loyalty to a lot of other things. Again, Haidt uses the example of distribution of wealth. In sticking with the self (to the exploitation of others not as privileged in terms of class), the conservatives appeal to morals about everyone earning what they are due. It creates a world view where the poor deserve to be poor and where the poor are considered as not hard-working and allows for the rich to not feel any guilt (never mind that a factory laborer labors way more than a capitalist who probably got access to education and wealth that allowed for his or her advancement and riches).
This is not to say that there aren’t people who don’t resist this kind of thinking or raise questions about unfair treatments. They clearly do as is evident by the Occupy movement, by Suheir Hammad’s poetry, as well as by all the protests in the Ferguson case. And these are just a few examples. It will also be very wrong to think that these problems are particular to the US. They exist in a very similar way in most countries.
The question, however, is about how the taste receptors might themselves need to be questioned. In fact, these receptors differ across the various lines of region (state to state), class, race, etc.
So how does one go ahead – if the party needs to appeal to all the receptors of their voters, then how does it go against its own principles if they refuse some of the problematic local alliances that are needed? This is indeed a paradox.
For this second post, please go ahead if you have similar responses where you use Haidt to interrogate some social issues if not this one.

Is Haidt a secret Freudian?

Well, not much response to my first post.  So let me entice you further along toward my questions as I read Haidt’s book.  I left off with the broad question of how could you tell which of two theories was true and asked for an alternative.  No one bit, so let me offer you one:  Freudian theory:

Sigmund Freud is not considered the father of psychology, but he definitely popularized new science through his writings and provocative theories.  Some of Freud’s theories have borne fruit – virtually all schools of psychology acknowledge some form of transference and attachment theory has its origins in addressing a Freudian question about why children love their mothers.   Many of Freud’s theories were dismissed as ridiculous, and others were dismissed as untestable – though untestable doesn’t mean they are not true or partially true. 

Freud was a big thinker, attempting to develop a theory that explained the entire gambit of human behavior and motivation – including theories about morality and social interaction.  Freud posited a dynamic system of ongoing tension within an individual between three personality structures – the id, the ego, and the superego.  The id was a ball of primal desire, wordless and driven by the pleasure principle.  The ego had to manage the desires of the id with the social and physical reality of the world – it was driven by the reality principle.  Finally, the superego was the incorporation of societal rules and roles from culture into the personality and thinking of the individual.

So what about this formulation:

The largely unthinking elephant that follows its emotions = id.

Rider on top of the elephant trying to use reason to guide the elephant = ego.

Feel free to read more about Freud to consider the overlap – but don’t look in Haidt’s book:   Freud only gets three citations, two of which are in the footnotes.   Was Freud right about in this aspect of his theory all along?  Did science finally get around to testing some of Freud’s theories.  Why should we believe Haidt’s theory more – or is Haidt’s theory just a logical extension of Freuds?

P.S.  Freud is the ultimate straw man.  You should know your job now. 

How do Readers Read?

Hi Everyone
I am Gohar and I teach composition, literature, and film. My primary goal in the classroom is critical analysis by examining a text as an object of study while keeping in mind its contexts of production and reception.
Haidt’s examples kept making me think of the TV show Dexter and I kept wanting to apply what he was saying to the show but for now I am going to curb my impulse and focus on reflecting on readers of a text and on ourselves as readers.
So, how about we think about the readers to whom Haidt is writing as well as HOW he writes in order to persuade them about his argument. I (as a self-conscious reader) approached it in two ways and I would want to know your thoughts about your reading experiences as well.

I. I will use myself as an example of ‘a’ reader. I grew up in India but have been living in the US for more than a decade now so I thought I would be able to relate to the book. But, as I started reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, I immediately realized that I am not the target reader for this book. The reason for that, however, is more than the given intention of the book where Haidt is clearly invested in US political leanings towards the left or the right. I relate to the book quite differently than, say, a proponent of American liberalism or someone who is affiliated with the conservative party in the US. My distanced point of view provides me with a critical approach that is perhaps different from each of you. Or perhaps you see overlaps where you also relate differently.
For example, when Haidt uses the example of an experiment done in Orissa to talk about moral and social conventions, he gives the example of a widow eating fish. Asking the same questions from American children elicits responses of reason whereas the children in Orissa all agree that it is morally bad. At one level, this is just one more international example in a line of many that Haidt provides to prove culturally constructed values. At another level, this construction of Orissa as the place where children see nothing wrong in women being punished ends up constructing America and the West in a certain favorable light. His examples of non-Western cultures seem to come up as ‘others’ from which the American readers learn about cultural differences. So my point of entry into the text was particularly of not being able to relate even though I did immediately pick up on the example from India. I wondered why he did not analyze that more to provide the wider diverse cultural context instead of letting one example stand for the state and the country. Perhaps I was overthinking it. Still, the point remains that I engaged with it at the level of critical thinking by focusing on what was not there because I could not relate.

Your experiences might be completely different so I am interetsed in knowing how you relate or do not relate to this text as readers? Who would you think Haidt is addressing in his book? Are there multiple intended readers for his book? We all know that the author tries to speak to as many kinds of groups in his or her work there might still be some core groups towards whom it might be pitched. Would you have picked this book up in a bookstore to read? If you were not its intended reader, would you relate to it differently? Different readers will occupy different positions vis-à-vis a text. You may want to find your points of entry, be they certain examples Haidt uses or his metaphors or the theories he analyzes to develop his arguments and convince you (his readers) about trusting in his conclusions. So how do you place yourself as a reader of this book? Feel free to engage with any or all of these questions and feel free to use these as a guide and add more here. Your critical analysis of the experience would be an added plus!

II. And then there is another level of thinking about ourselves as critical readers. Haidt does what any good writer does – he provides proof (through data or interviews) and then analyzes that to reach his conclusions. I will give an extensive example here.

He titles his second chapter “The Intuitive Dog and His Rational Tail” as a metaphor for his argument, which is that moral reasoning is “mostly just a post hoc search for reasons to justify the judgments people had already made” (47). The funny, quite memorable, image of the intuitive dog and his rational tail sets up a progression where intuition leads and rationality follows. The experiment used a story about incest where subjects were asked if it was wrong for a brother and his sister to have sex if they were adults and had used protection to avoid any possible chances of conception. Haidt then lists the answers of one particular subject as an example of how people try to find reason to justify their gut instinctual response. He then uses these answers as further proof that even if the subject cannot find a rational reason for their moral outrage, they will not change their answer. The subject in this case was looking for a reason. He/she mentioned the danger of a deformed kid in case the girl got pregnant. When the interviewer debunks that by saying that the couple used protection, the subject asks a question about their age and finds out that age cannot really be used as a reason because both are adults. The subject is frustrated because he/she cannot explain rationally why incest is wrong but the absence of a reason does not make his/her abandon his/her belief. So they come back to the same question of why it is wrong. Here is an extract from the end of interview after the subject ran out of logical reasons:

EXPERIMENTER: Was it wrong for them to have sex?
SUBJECT: Yeah, I think it’s wrong.
EXPERIMENTER: And I’m trying to find out why, what you think is wrong with it.

SUBJECT: I don’t know, I just…it’s not something you’re brought up to do. It’s just not—well, I mean I wasn’t. I assume most people aren’t [laughs]. I just think that you shouldn’t—I don’t—I guess my reason is, um…just that, um…you’re not brought up to it. You don’t see it. It’s not, um—I don’t think it’s accepted. That is pretty much it.
EXPERIMENTER: You wouldn’t say anything you’re not brought up to see is wrong, would you? For example, if you’re not brought up to see women working outside the home, would you say that makes it wrong for women to work? (47)

Haidt analyzes this example to prove that:

a. the subject had no reasons for his/her response and that their response was that of immediate judgment, a result of instinct or gut feeling,
b. the subject kept trying to find reasons to justify his/her instinctual moral response that incest was wrong,

Would you agree with Haidt? Would you disagree with him maybe partially? I think he does have a point. This is not one example he has used but one among many interviews that yielded similar results. The subject certainly seemed to be at a loss for words and kept trying to find reasons to convince Haidt why his response is the correct one.

But I am also interested in seeing how we can push his analysis further.

When the subject says, “I was brought up to it” as a response, does that need more scrutiny? What If we think of being “brought up to it” as not just an effect of what family or parents teach but everything that surrounds us and shapes our thinking (school, family, friends, TV, social media, etc.). Can our morality and disgust be shaped by cultural conditioning?

And then, what about the comparison of incest with allowing women to work outside the home? In some ways the comparison does its job. It is meant to convince the readers that simply being “brought up to” certain ways of thinking is not enough. But then Haidt uses an example that the subject already knows is wrong. Would the subject have responded the same way had Haidt used a different example? Or would the subject have responded differently if he/she could actually imagine living in a world that believed that women should not be allowed to work outside the home? I mean, we don’t have to go very far in history to know about women’s movements and their fight for equality, for work, for equal wages, etc…. Right?

And let’s go back to the example we started with. The study done in Orissa revealed that children there thought it was acceptable for a man to beat up his wife because she defied him (and I know for a fact that this is not true for the whole country or even the whole of Orissa but just the small community in which these children were raised – perhaps not all of that either). But still, doesn’t that example sort of suggest that yes, moral instincts can be learned…?

These are just some thoughts that model a certain kinf of critical approach. What do you think about Haidt’s examples and his conclusions? As a reader, how do you relate to Haidt’s book? Haidt uses several intriguing examples and metaphors, which he then analyzes. Which ones convince you or persuade you to agree with him? Where are the points of disagreement? Why do you agree or disagree?

What Causes Us to be Groupish?

I’m sure some of us can remember where we were when the Boston Marathon Bombing happened. I was in my room at UMASS and I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw someone tweet about it. Someone had just set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I didn’t want to believe it at first but then more and more people kept posting about it. Soon it was everywhere. It was all over the place, you could not turn on your TV or go on social media without seeing it.

Then the Boston Strong slogan came out and it was as if the entire city came together. People had hats, shirts, bracelets, mugs, anything you could put a slogan on that all read “Boston Strong”. There was this pride and strength and sense of community that came from this slogan.This reminded me of how Haidt spoke about how he reacted to 9/11 in chapter . He recalls:
    The 9/11 attacks activated several of these group-related adaptations in my mind. The attacks   turned me into a team player, with a powerful and unexpected urge to display my team’s flag and then do things to support the team, such as giving blood donating money, and yes, supporting the leader (230).
I remember people who weren’t even from Boston were buying Christmas ornaments that said Boston Strong and buying t-shirts and it confused me. I grew up in Boston and lived there for most of my life before moving and I didn’t understand why people who didn’t even care about Boston all of a sudden cared now. I felt like they just wanted to be apart of the hype. Just like Haidt asks, “Were these people acting on selfish motives, or groupish motives?” (230) Do you think people do these things like buying t-shirts and being patriotic as a way to contribute to the group or is it more about them? Can you guys think of any other situations where this happens? (It doesn’t have to be serious events like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings).

Another thing that I think relates to this is the Mike Brown case that has been talked about recently. Michael Brown was an 18 year old boy from St. Louis who was shot and killed by a police officer. He was unarmed and there has been a lot of riots and looting. People have been standing up to the police and the reactions have caused a lot of buzz in the media. I thought about the Hive Switch in Chapter 11 where Haidt says that human beings have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest and lose themselves in something larger than themselves (258). Although the reaction like looting and rioting are negative why do you think this happens? What triggers that part in us to join others in their actions (positive or negative) when something like this happens?

The WEIRD Morality

Hello everyone! My name is Arielle Ais and I am a psychology student here at UMASS. Today I want to talk about some elements of chapter 5 “The WEIRD Morality”. In this chapter, Haidt talks about how we put morality on a scale and the WEIRD morality. One thing I thought was really cool was when he explained what WEIRD stood for: Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (112).  We as Americans tend to think of the world as full of separate objects instead of relationships whereas Eastern Asians think of it as the opposite (113). When Haidt talks about how Americans were most likely to list their internal characteristics compared to East Asians who would list their roles and relationships, it reminded me of a podcast I listened to a few days ago. In the podcast, the question was: What do you want to be when you grow up? The woman on the podcast explained how she went to her son’s preschool class and every kid said that they wanted to be an astronaut, doctor, nurse or even a rockstar. She talked about how they didn’t really answer the question. It wasn’t who do you want to be when you grow up, it was what.
It made me think about WEIRD culture. We live in such an autonomous society that we don’t see the bigger picture. We aren’t asked “When you grow up, what will you do to help your neighbor, country, society, the world?” We are already told to think autonomously when we’re asked the original question: What do you want to be when you grow up? We don’t get asked the other question until we hit college and then we’re confused because our entire lives we’ve been asked the first question. We are in such an “I” mentality that we don’t think about the “we”. Haidt says “The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships” (113). So my questions for this part is: Do you think this is true for you personally? Why do you think we think this way? Is it because we’ve grown up in the WEIRD culture? Do you think it’s the same in other cultures like if children are asked the same question? How would an East Asian respond to this question?

Another thing that stood out to me in this chapter was the scale on moral disgust. Haidt says “[M]oral disgust is felt whenever we see or hear about people whose behavior shows them to be low on this vertical dimension. People feel degraded when they think about such things, just as they feel elevated by hearing about virtuous actions” (121). He then gives us the example of the man who robs a bank versus the man who betrays his parents or who enslaves children for the sex trade. In the first situation he says that we would want to see the bank robber punished but the second guy who sells children into the sex trade triggers us a disgust in us and we see that guy as a monster. It reminds me of what he says about who we think of morality on a vertical scale. At the top is God or moral perfections through angels, humans, other animals, monsters, demons and then the devil, or perfect evil,at the bottom (121). Why is the guy who robs the bank not as “bad” as the second guy? They are both humans who are doing something wrong and both of their crimes involve taking something that is not theirs. The money that the bank robber takes belongs to people in that bank, the children being sold belong to parents. So why are we disgusted by one crime but not the other? Another question is we all start off as humans on the scale, what determines how we become monsters or perfect evil?