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Human Nature Flaw #1 – Our Fear

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Christian Jarrett. His next, on personality change, will be published in Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. Edited by Pam Weintraub. Or are we, deep down, wired to be bad, blinkered, idle, vain, vengeful and selfish?

On Human Nature

We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human. One striking example of this blatant dehumanisation came from a brain-scan study that found a small group of students exhibited less neural activity associated with thinking about people when they looked at pictures of the homeless or of drug addicts, as compared with higher-status individuals. Another study showed that people who are opposed to Arab immigration tended to rate Arabs and Muslims as literally less evolved than average.

That sense is heightened if the child perceives that the person deserves the distress. A more recent study found that, by age six, children will pay to watch an antisocial puppet being hit, rather than spending the money on stickers. We believe in karma — assuming that the downtrodden of the world deserve their fate. The unfortunate consequences of such beliefs were first demonstrated in the now classic research from by the American psychologists Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons.

In their experiment, in which a female learner was punished with electric shocks for wrong answers, women participants subsequently rated her as less likeable and admirable when they heard that they would be seeing her suffer again, and especially if they felt powerless to minimise this suffering. Since then, research has shown our willingness to blame the poor, rape victims, AIDS patients and others for their fate, so as to preserve our belief in a just world.

By extension, the same or similar processes are likely responsible for our subconscious rose-tinted view of rich people. We are blinkered and dogmatic.

Human nature: Six things we all do | New Scientist

However a classic study from showed the futility of this approach — participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems to occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. We would rather electrocute ourselves than spend time in our own thoughts. This was demonstrated in a controversial study in which 67 per cent of male participants and 25 per cent of female participants opted to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks rather than spend 15 minutes in peaceful contemplation.

We are vain and overconfident. USA minutes Adam Bolt.

click Cure disease? Alter the environment? Produce designer children? Explore the possibilities, and the debate, in this doc.


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Free our genes of sickle-cell anemia or cancer? Re-engineer the environment to resist climate change? Produce designer babies? Resurrect a herd of woolly mammoths?

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Drawing on an impressive lineup of leading researchers and ethicists and conveying technically complex explanations through clear, accessible visuals, Bolt situates us at a moment of dramatic transition.