Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Next book: Social Perception and Social Reality by Lee Jussim

The next book that I'll be blogging is Social Perception and Social Reality by Lee Jussim.  The thing that's most attractive to me about the book is that it is contrarian, and something of a corrective to the pop psychology that gets the most circulation in educated circles.  Spend any significant time among academics and you'll hear about famous studies of bias (not just about socially and morally significant topics like race and gender, also about prior assumptions on smaller matters), fooling yourself, false perceptions, etc.  Academics collect tidbits about bias in the same way that geeks collect Star Wars paraphernalia.  All of these things are real, all of them need to be kept in mind, and having the humility to recognize that you don't always perceive accurately is an important thing for personal growth.  Moreover, from a scholarly perspective, finding the mismatches between perspective and reality is surely essential to understanding the human mind (one of the fundamental goals of psychological science).

Jussim's point is that focusing solely on misperception and ignoring accurate perception would be like medical researchers who only study disease and never study how a healthy body works.  It isn't good for the science, and it wouldn't be good for society if all we ever heard reported from the medical journals was "There are millions of different ways that you can get sick" and never "Exercise is healthy."

My own annoyance is that the narrative on bias, misperception, etc. is almost a bias of its own.  What gets the most circulation in nerdy, educated circles is umpteen different studies on how wrong you are, followed by a suggested "life hack" or quick fix to correct it.  My prior is that if we are prone to fooling ourselves, and if bias and delusion are everywhere, surely the embrace of quick fixes is itself a delusion.  We probably get a lot of things right, and I suspect that fixing the things that we often get wrong is a bit harder than just doing This One Thing From An Article.

Anyway, enough of my rant.  Let's dive into the book.

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