Hugo Mercier’s blog

Hugo writes mainly about cognitive psychology – in particular reasoning – with the occasional foray into cultural phenomena.

Blatant bias and blood libel

Biases are, arguably, experimental psychology’s best export. Many a psychologist has built a successful career exploring, cataloguing, and attempting to explain the myriad biases supposed to plague human cognition (for a taste, see this Wikipedia list).

This is not a healthy development. It has helped spread a reign of error in psychology, fed by ‘gotcha experiments’ suggesting that humans are broadly irrational and quite a bit dumber than, say, rats. On the contrary, human cognition is extraordinarily efficient and adaptive—not to pat ourselves in the back too much, but, cognitively, we’re pretty dope. With a keen sense of irony, Gerg Gigenrenzer, one of the stalwarts of human rationality, has decried a bias bias that mistakes adaptive heuristics for biases.

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Blind imitation or a matter of taste?

For some varieties of cassava, complete detoxification is an effortful, complex, unintuitive process. Joe Henrich famously argued that the practice could only spread through blind, conformist imitation. But what if cassava just tastes better that way?

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[This post was co-written by Hugo Mercier and Olivier Morin]

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Cultural variation in the mitigation of moral judgments

A few weeks back, Clark Barrett and his colleagues published a fascinating piece in PNAS in cultural variations in moral judgments. They found wide cultural variation in the factors people take into

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The origin of fairy tales

Over at The Atlantic, Ed Young has a very good write up of some work done by Sara Graça da Silva and Jamie Tehrani on the origins of folktales. The researchers have used

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Relationship Thinking

Nick Enfield -- ethnolinguist at the Max Planck institute for psycholinguistics (and contributor to ICCI) -- has published a new book, Relationship Thinking. Here's the blurb from Oxford

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This year’s Edge question

The new The Edge annual question, and the answers, are now online. The question was: "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?" Here are some answers that could be relevant to

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The spread of medical innovations

Atul Gawande has an interesting article in the New Yorker about the spread of medical innovations. He points out some striking disparities in the speed at which medical innovations spread -- mere

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Bourgeois Dignity: what doesn’t explain the industrial revolution

Deirdre McCloskey is a very unorthodox economist. Even though she did a lot of classical work on the history of the industrial revolution in England, she is best known for her critical examinat

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Where good ideas come from

Following up on the news of a few days earlier about the role of different network structures in the spread of new ideas, it's worth mentioning the new Steven Johnson book on a related topic:

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Paul Rozin on what psychologists should study

Paul Rozin, one of the founding fathers of cognition-and-culture studies, is a psychologist with a rich set of interests. Even though he’s often known for his work on food, and disgust in

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Communication, punishment and common pool resources

Economic games have been discussed several times on this blog. Their extreme simplicity makes them attractive tools for an experimental approach, but it also makes them all too perfect examples of

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The social rationality of footballers

Are footballers rational? It all depends on what their goals are (no pun intended). We will not be talking here about behavior outside the field, as it's not entirely clear what norms of ration

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Can you tell who will win the election in another society just by looking at the faces of the candid

Our face tells a lot about us. Well, at least this is what other people seem to think: having seen our face for a few seconds-or even a few milliseconds-they will think that we are more or less

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Experimental epidemiology: The work of Chip Heath

The aim of the post is to bring to the attention of experimentally minded anthropologists the work of Chip Heath and his collaborators. A professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Heath

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“I read Playboy for the articles”

Zoe Chance and Michael Norton have a delightful book chapter on the very creative ways in which people justify their questionable decisions. They report an experiment in which male participants

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Outbreak!

Hilary Evans and Robert Bartholomew have compiled and "Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior". This is quite an impressive endeavour that can be used for scholarly purposes (it is

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The compromise effect or, cross-cultural psychology is messy

Among the many ‘irrational' effects unearthed by decision making researchers, one has been the focus of a relative wealth of cross-cultural work: the compromise effect. Strictly speaking,

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The Evolution of God?

Robert Wright has written a new book, much in the tradition of his previous, and famous, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny : The Evolution of God . His main goal is to argue that as religious

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Cross-cultural differences in argumentation

Richard Nisbett and his collaborators have carried out an extensive program of experimental cross-cultural psychology, mostly aimed at establishing differences between the ways of thinking of

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An update on the Pirahã

The Pirahã are a tribe of Amazonian Indian who have become famous among linguists and psychologists because it has been claimed that they lack a number system (not even  a word for one),

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Cross-cultural differences in risk taking

The study of our way of dealing with risky situations (situations that involve potential losses) is one of the cornerstones of the judgment and decision making literature. It is generally taken for

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The Wisdom of Whores

I realize it may be a bit late, but I'm just discovering the wonderful 'The Wisdom of Whores’ by Elizabeth Pisani (and this is her blog). She's an epidemiologist working on AIDS and

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Cutting and breaking across languages

A nice cross-cultural (or cross-linguistic) study appeared in the last Cognition. Asifa Majid, James Boster, and Melissa Bowerman have studied the variations in the use of words for "cutting and

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Cold and warm relationships: A universal metaphor?

Two papers have recently come out on the relationship between physical and interpersonal warmth. Pedersen's illustration of Andersen's tale "The Little Match Girl" The first, by

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