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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