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February 7th daryl j. bem, social psychologist emeritus joins robert bloomfield

Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield welcomes a fellow Cornell professor who has written extensively on subjects that could be deemed official topics of virtual worlds conversations. Daryl J. Bem obtained a degree in Physics from Reed College in 1960 and continued with graduate studies at MIT. But the shift in attitudes towards desegregation in the American South brought on by the Civil Rights movement proved so intriguing that he completed a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan (1964) and embarked upon a teaching career at several top American universities.

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February 7th daryl j. bem, social psychologist emeritus joins robert bloomfield

  1. 1. METANOMICS: INTERVIEW: DARYL J. BEM FEBRUARY 7, 2011ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan WritersMetaverse.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. Im Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell UniversitysJohnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds inthe larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussionabout Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics.ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios inSecond Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcomediscussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show.Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at CornellUniversity. Welcome. This is Metanomics.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. This is Robert Bloomfield, from CornellUniversity, and I am delighted today to be able to introduce our guest, Daryl Bem, one of mycolleagues at Cornell University and one of the preeminent social psychologists of the lastmany decades. Daryl, welcome to Metanomics.DARYL BEM: Thank you very much, good to be here.
  2. 2. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Youve been doing research in social psychology for a long time,but now in 2011 youve really hit the big time. You got invited to speak about your researchon the Colbert Report. So congratulations for that.DARYL BEM: A nickel of my professional life.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think many people would view it that way these days. What hasgotten you on the front page of the newspapers is some research on what I know you callPsy and other people call ESP. Your paper in one of the top peer-review journals is calledFeeling the Future, and so I thought wed start by talking a little about that. But, I want tomake sure that were not only talking about this one paper, which is really a very small partof the contributions youve made to social psychology, I want to make sure that we talkabout what I see as one of your biggest contributions, which is getting people to thinkdifferently about how we perceive ourselves. But lets start with whats in the news. Can youjust talk briefly about what you see as the key contribution of your paper Feeling the Future?DARYL BEM: Okay. First of all, Im not the first one to do serious laboratory work on this. Imean Im enjoying the attention, but its also sort of slighting an enormous literature thatsbehind it, so Im just one of many researchers. The reason Im getting the attention I am isbecause it happens to be published in a mainstream journal, and thats my major talent overthe other ESP researchers is that Ive established a reputation as a mainstreampsychologist. So I have about 15 minutes as my reputation plummets, while I can still get itin. So the article contains nine experiments that Ive done over the last few years that testwhat the public knows as precognition or premonitions. And what I do is take well-known
  3. 3. psychological effects, so to take a very obvious one, we know that people will try to seek outpositive images if you give them a choice and to avoid negative images. So the very firstexperiment I did, and this is why Colbert Report thought it was so terrific, is we used eroticimages. Shall I just describe the first experiment? Would that be useful?ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, thatd be great.DARYL BEM: Okay. The participant sits in front of a computer. The whole thing is run bycomputer and takes about 20 minutes. They see an image on the computer screen of twocurtains side by side, and they are told that behind one of the curtains is a picture andbehind the other one is just a blank wall. And their job is, on each trial, there are 36 tries thatthey get, is to pick out the curtain, to click the mouse on the curtain that they think concealsthe picture. Weve warned them that some of the pictures are erotic. And, in fact, before theysign up for the experiment, they have to know that as part of the ethical obligations, but itturns out college students are very happy to watch erotic pictures. So then they click on oneof the two curtains, and whichever curtain they click on opens, and they see either a blankwall, or they see a picture. And, if they see a picture, its either a picture of kittens or puppydogs or skiers or something like that, or its an erotic picture.What we do is count the number of trials that they are able to select the picture rather thanthe blank wall. Now, what we dont tell them, although they could know, theres no reasonnot to tell them, but we tell them at the end that there actually is no picture behind eithercurtain at the time that they make their judgment because what we want to test is theirability to anticipate a future event. So actually when theyre selecting one of the curtains,theres nothing behind either curtain.
  4. 4. After they make their selection, the computer that doesnt cheat by looking to see what theydid, what the computer does is flip a coin and decides which curtain will have a picturebehind it, and it flips another coin to decide is this going to be an erotic picture or anon-erotic picture. So if they get it right, that means they actually anticipated, assuming itsnot just by chance, they get it right, they will see the picture, and that will count toward theirscore. And then, at the end, theyre told what percentage of erotic pictures they managed toidentify the location of and what percentage of the non-erotic pictures they were able to pickout. And what we find is that since there are two possibilities, its the left curtain or the rightcurtain, by chance youd expect people to get it 50 percent of the time. Its exactly like a coinflip. What we do then is see whether their score is significantly higher than 50 percent. And,by significantly, we use what psychologists always use in these kinds of things, we actuallydo a statistical analysis, to make sure that the results we report couldnt just have come outby chance. So even if you dont believe that ESP exists or that thats what the experimentshowed, the first thing we try to show is, well, it couldnt have happened by coincidence. Andyou do that by running enough trials and enough participants, to make sure it wasnt justchance. And the results of that particular experiment is that, on erotic trials, that is on trialsthat use an erotic picture, they hit 53 percent. People always say, "But thats so small. Ofwhat use is that?" And it turns out that it isnt really all that small. And, as I mentioned on theColbert Report, the 53 percent is exactly the advantage that a casino has over you at theroulette table, at the roulette wheel.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, Ill say speaking as someone who studies the financialmarkets, if you could actually do this in financial markets, 53 percent would make you a god.
  5. 5. So I guess Im not surprised at the effect size. Well get to it in a minute. Im surprised youget anything at all, but Im not concerned that 53 percent is so tiny. And let me just say Ithought, to me, statistically some of the most compelling results were not just that peoplecan guess right. And, as you mentioned, you just described one study, but you have nine ofthem. What really struck me was not just that, on average, people are doing better than the50-50 chance, but that you make predictions that, for example, erotic images will be moreeffective than blander images because of prior research that has been done in related areasthat suggest that powerful images should be--again, to the extent people have any ability, itought to be stronger for powerful images. You do find that, and you find that people who aremore, what is it, sensation-seeking also seem to do better. So those types of interactions, tome, statistically are compelling because theyre just that much harder to explain.DARYL BEM: People who are stimulus-seeking, in fact its 57 percent on this particularstudy. So theyre doing quite well. Also, you know Obama did not mind getting 53 percent ofthe vote in 2008 either.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: No, thats right. Now you mentioned, sort of humbly saying,"Look, Im not the first one to do this. Lots of people have done this type of research, but thismade it in a mainstream journal." And it made it in, but it was interesting to see that theeditors--my understanding is, this went through a more grueling review process than mostpapers do in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that the editors wrote a notebasically saying, "Dont hit us for doing this, but it went through the review process, and itseemed to be of the same quality that we expect, sort of the rigor and validity." And thenthey also published a rebuttal in the same journal. Could you just give us a little insight into
  6. 6. what it took to get this paper published and why this paper got into the JPSP and others onsimilar topics dont?DARYL BEM: Okay. Let me just say a little bit about the process. JPSP is one of manyjournals that does masked review, that is, my name is removed from the paper before it issent out to the reviewers. So unless they know Im working on ESP, and I dont know mostof the reviewers, they wouldnt know who wrote it. So the idea here is to get reviewers whoare not swayed by the fact of what Ive done before, my reputation or the fact that I am atthis magnificent university called Cornell. And so, in that sense, we try to keep the processrelatively unbiased. This went to four different reviewers. Three of them chose to identifythemselves in their comments to me. I wont make their names public here, but they dontusually. Usually reviewers remain anonymous. And there were two editors. Theres anoverall editor to the Journal and then an associate editor for this particular section of theJournal.This journal rejects 82 percent of all articles sent to it so it has a high threshold. And what Iwas pleased about is that they didnt reject it because they dont believe the conclusions,and they make the clear in the editorial. Theyre still skeptical about ESP, which is perfectlyfine when there are good reasons to be skeptical. But what I was really pleased about in thiscase was both the editors and the reviewers said, "Look, its not our job to tell people whattheyre supposed to believe. Its our job to make sure the studies were done well and thatthe statistics are, in fact, valid." So I was pleased that they understand what the scientificprocess is about and dont try to prejudge whether or not the results are startling or hard tobelieve or humdrum. So that was one reason.
  7. 7. The other reason is, I should brag that Im a good writer and that people underestimate thedegree to which good writing is more likely to get published. I mean I was an associateeditor myself, of this journal, and I would say that the difference between the 18 percent thatwe accepted and the next 18 percent that got rejected was the difference between reallygood writing and okay writing. So thats another reason.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes. And let me just encourage any young scholars, doctoralstudents, untenured professors, thats excellent advice, and take that to heart.DARYL BEM: And the other thing is, interestingly on a personal note, my very first articlethat ever got published was published in this journal 50 years ago. And so theyre sort ofbookends, the two--book ends. This particular journal has the largest circulation of all thejournals that the American Psychological Association publishes, I believe. The last time Ilooked anyway.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That sounds about right to me.DARYL BEM: Yeah. And its also the case that Ive never yet had an article ultimatelyrejected by a journal to which I submitted it. Theyre often, "Please revise this," or, "We cantaccept this until its revised." But ultimately all my articles that Ive submitted have beenpublished in the journals to which Ive submitted them.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can we co-author together?
  8. 8. DARYL BEM: What?ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can we co-author together then? Id like to at least touch you atsome point. Let me ask. So the Journal also published what is essentially a rebuttal, and wecan talk about the substance of that in a minute. First, the rebuttal emphasizes a Bayesianperspective, and, for those who are not stats wonks, the basic idea is that, before you seesome research data, you have your beliefs. Then you get the new data, and you updateyour beliefs about the phenomenon in response to that data. And so if someone startsbelieving that this sort of precognition is just so unlikely before they read the article, they canstill believe its very, very unlikely after reading the article. And so I guess Id like to ask you,in light of this evidence, in light of all the other evidence that you have seen, and I know youhave a paper as early as 1996 on a similar topic, do you actually believe this? Do youactually believe that people have the ability to predict the future?DARYL BEM: Yes. In a word, yes.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And the theory, I mean I think you briefly mentioned, on theColbert Report, quantum theory, and I assume youre thinking of things like the weird timeinconsistencies that we see with, what is it, Bells Theorem and stuff I studied in undergrad.Thats what you think the mechanism is, a quantum mechanism?DARYL BEM: I think thats the most promising one. At the moment, to say quantummechanics makes physicists grit their teeth and roll their eyes when applied to ESP.
  9. 9. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I understand that.DARYL BEM: At the moment, its more a metaphor. But physicists are actually moreaccustomed or other scientists at living in a world that is very different from the one weexperience in daily life. So Richard Feynman, a physicist who was the most prominent onein the twentieth century, won the Nobel Prize, and taught at Cornell for a while, says, "Stopagonizing over the question, How can this be" Hes talking about quantum mechanics,"because nobody knows how it an be." And another way of putting that is quantummechanics describes a world in which there are phenomena that are just as mind-bogglingas ESP, its just that because it requires more technical backgrounds to understand them,the public doesnt know about them. But physicists know about them and have to admit thatthey dont understand the mechanism.The one that you mentioned, Bells theorem for example, is whats called quantumentanglement, and it refers to the fact that, at the micro level, two particles that have everbeen in contact or interacted with each other remain part of a single system. And so even iftheyre infinitely far apart, whatever you decide to measure on one of those particles affectswhat will be measured at the other one. And Einstein didnt believe this was possible. Hecalled it spooky action at a distance. But, after Einstein died actually, they actually proved itempirically. So quantum mechanics has whats called quantum entanglement, and thatdescribes a world that most would fit the kind of things we see in ESP research, includingthe ability to predict the future.The other thing physicists agree upon and that is that all the equations of motion, all the
  10. 10. equations in physics, both classical and quantum physics, are what they call timesymmetric. That is, the math itself does not distinguish the fact that time goes from the pastinto the future. Theres going to be a second conference. Theres been a conferencebetween ESP researchers and physicists about what they call retro-causation becausethere are things in physics that suggest that you can get events to move backwards orinformation to move backwards in time. So physicists are less boggled, in some ways, bythis than psychologists who cling to the notion that we live in a Newtonian world, and only aNewtonian world can exist. Its only a metaphor at the moment.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. I share some of the discomfort of the skeptics here, and soIve a couple questions, just to press on this. One of them is, as I think its Jag Nishi, one ofour Second Life guests here in the audience, mentions that James Randi and his foundationhave offered a million dollars cash to anyone who can establish convincing evidence of thissort of paranormal phenomenon. Are you applying for the award?DARYL BEM: No, we dont apply for that award because Randi is a fraud, and it is true thathes offering a million dollars, but he moves the goalposts any time you propose--he definesvery carefully what hell accept as evidence. And the Randi offer and the Randi shtick ispretty good at finding people who are frauds, who claim spectacular things. But Randi has alot of restrictions around what he will accept in terms of laboratory evidence. And he insiststhat he controls all the communication about it, all the announcements about whathappened and everything. And looking at the criteria he often has invoked, it would cost youmore than a million dollars to run as many subjects as you would need, given the kinds ofeffect sizes we see in the laboratory. So its not really a genuine offer, I dont believe.
  11. 11. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Interesting. The critics who wrote the rebuttal in the JPSP,just to summarize it very generally, theyre saying the experiments include some fishingexpeditions. You dont clearly specify your alternative hypotheses which cause somestatistical problems. And, in conclusion, and I thought this was really interesting, its not thattheyre saying that your study fails to meet the usual statistical and scientific standards ofthe top journals in social psychology. They close by saying, and Ill quote a couplesentences, "Although the Bem experiments themselves do not provide evidence forprecognition, they do suggest that our academic standards of evidence may currently be setat a level that is too low. We hope the Bem article will become a signpost for change orwriting on the wall, Psychologists much change the way they analyze their data."So Im asking for two types of responses here. Partly its how do you reply to their statisticalcriticisms, without saying the word Bayesian too many times? And then also, what do youthink of the standards of scientific rigor and statistical rigor in psychology?DARYL BEM: Twenty-five years ago, a well-known Bayesian statistician at Stanford wrotean article in the American Statistician, urging all scientists, not just psychologists, to use acombination of both Bayesian and the more common statistics weve come to know andlove. And the problem is, no one picked up on that, and thats because the ability tocompute the necessary figures just werent around because that was 25 years ago. We nowhave software that allows you to do this so now its a suggestion we need to take seriously.We have prepared a reply, and its been submitted to JPSP. Unfortunately, it cant make it intime because the actual printed article and this critique will come out in the March issue, and
  12. 12. thats too soon for our article to get in. And its not just my article, Ive written it with twoBayesian statisticians whove written textbooks on Bayesian statistics.And there are two parts to their criticism of my work. One, that I was on a fishing expeditionand didnt state them clearly. And I just simply deny that. I think theyve mischaracterized thepaper. And, in our reply, I go through every single hypothesis and show how it followsexactly from what I say it does, the previous research, and that its a very clear,unambiguous prediction in every case, and that there was no exploration at all. So I simplythink theyve mischaracterized it.But secondly, we redo a Bayesian analysis and show that they have made an assumptionabout what the effect should look like, that really diminishes the evidence in their eyes. Andwe do an alternative one that uses a more reasonable set of assumptions and shows thatthe evidence used from a Bayesian analysis is just as strong as the evidence that Ipresented. So I dont think the usual techniques of statistics do overestimate. I think, if youdo the Bayesian analysis correctly, youll get the same results. And anyone, who hasenough background to understand this argument, can go to my website, and I have a copyup there, even though its still under editorial review, have a copy of our refutation of thatarticle.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have another question asking whether other researchershave replicated your results, using the typical double-blind procedures and so on. I recallseeing in an article somewhere that you have made it possible for people to download thesoftware and exactly replicate what you do. Do I have that right?
  13. 13. DARYL BEM: Yes.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And has anyone reported replication?DARYL BEM: My entire strategy in doing these experiments was to try to encourage otherlaboratory psychologists to repeat them because thats ultimately the goal is to havereplicatable experiments. No single researcher should have the weight of carrying theburden of proof until its been replicated. And so I designed the experiments from the veryfirst to be as simple as possible, as direct as possible, to require as little intervention by theexperimenter as possible so theyre run by a computer, to require virtually noinstrumentation so theres no physiological measurements required or anything. So all youreally need is even a laptop computer, and I purposely used statistics that were as simple aspossible because psychologists know how to use those. So I purposely didnt do a Bayesiananalysis because, when you use a statistical analysis that people dont understand, theyremore likely to be suspicious of the results because you might be hiding something in thestatistics, so I used bare-naked statistics that every graduate student would understand.And the other thing I wanted to do was make available everything they would need to run it.So I have what are called replication packets, and they sit in a hidden folder on my website.Someone who writes me and asks if they can replicate one of the experiments, I give themthe folder name. At the moment, theres only one of the experiments ready to go. It has an11-page instruction manual. It has the compiled software. It also has the source code so youcan make sure--
  14. 14. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Verify.DARYL BEM: --if you got a resource code that the computer programs not cheating. Andwe also have the consent forms that we use. We have the announcement that we use onthe signup sheets. We also provide the software that does the data analysis, although youcan always download the raw data from that to do your own Excel analysis if you want. Andso my plan was to have all nine experiments up and doing that, but my article hasnt evenappeared in print yet. So I was completely taken aback. I thought I would haveapproximately eight months to prepare these. Well, then a blogger for Psychology Todayhappened to hear from one of my previous graduate students, about these experiments, ata convention. And so she wrote a summary of them in Psychology Today. I was totallyblindsided by that. I didnt know she was going to do that, and Ive now discovered whatgoing viral means, with modern media, because that was picked up instantly, and itappeared on the New York Times. It appeared in New Sciences. And Ive gotten all thispublicity, and I wasnt even ready yet. So at the moment I have one experiment ready to go,and its the one that most of the people were most excited about. But now because of theColbert presentation, he made the center of it that Im showing pornography in theseexperiments. And so thatll probably be the [CROSSTALK]ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But he spelled your name right.DARYL BEM: He spelled my name right. Oh, I loved it. I actually thought the interview onColbert was more informative and more clearly stated by the people who did their graphicsthan all the media interviews Ive done up to now, and that includes even Al Jazeera.
  15. 15. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Interesting.DARYL BEM: I have something in common with bin Laden.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the things that I think a lot of researchers worry about isthat they toil away in a basement somewhere, and their stuff is read by a handful of fellowacademics, and then they do one thing that gets them in the mainstream media, and thatbecomes their identity. I have sort of an agenda for this episode, which is not only to learnmore about this most recent work of yours, but to make sure that people have a chance toknow some of the work that really made your name in the academic community. I think a lotof it is also quite relevant to part of our core audience which is virtual and watches the showthrough Second Life, and thats the research that youve done on self-perception theory. Solets change gears for a minute and talk about something new or really something old.Ill introduce the topic by starting with a quote thats very old. Its Robert Burns who wrote, "Owad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!" Based on work in the60s that you did, you wrote a review article in 1972 on a theory of self-perception, whichhas been quite influential. Correct me if I have this wrong, your theory of self-perception isactually that we do see ourselves as others see us, which is, in fact, rather poorly. And,primarily by observing our own actions, we draw inferences about who we are and what ouridentity or our personality is.I read a couple of your experiments, just reread them just recently, one showing that peoplewho experienced pain, who perceived themselves--I saw videos of them getting shocks and
  16. 16. either escaping or not escaping from them, used their action of whether to escape or notescape as a way of inferring how much it must have actually hurt. And you had somethingsimilar with people making true and false statements. So did I summarize that pain studyaccurately?DARYL BEM: Yeah. Thats accurate. Its probably a little hard to understand in that, andperhaps a little bit more background. So I could give you a little bit more background.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, I think thatd be useful.DARYL BEM: Okay. I have a degree in physics from Reed College, and I was at MIT doinggraduate work in physics, and the Civil Rights Movement was just starting. So I, just for fun,took a course over at Harvard--they have an exchange agreement with MIT--in thepsychology of race relations, and this was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.There was a very puzzling phenomenon that contradicted the sort of conventional wisdom,the conventional wisdom being that you cant change peoples behavior until youvechanged their hearts and minds, their attitudes. That was actually behind a defense ofsegregation way back in 1890, that you cannot change folk ways with state ways is the waythe Supreme Court put it.But what we found empirically when you watch attitude change in the South during the CivilRights Movement was actually the fastest way to change peoples attitudes was to changetheir behavior. So as soon as a legal step was taken toward desegregation, when you wentback and measured attitudes six weeks later, there was much more attitude change than we
  17. 17. would have predicted given how long these patterns had been observed. So that fascinatedme, that puzzle. I went to the teacher of that course and said, "What kind of psychologist areyou?" And he said, "Im a social psychologist." I said, "Thats what I want to be when I growup." So I switched fields at that point and went to Michigan to get my degree in socialpsychology.It was that that got me started thinking, when someone says, "Im for this," or, "Im againstthis," how do they know? We always assume that we somehow have internal knowledge ofour inner states. That got me to thinking that Im not sure we do. I actually think that a lack ofwhat we think about ourselves, our inner states, is an inference from observing our ownbehavior. So let me give you just an anecdotal example that people are familiar with.Suppose I ask you how hungry you are, and you say, "Im not very hungry." But then you sitdown, and you say to yourself, "Well, this is my second sandwich. I guess I was hungrierthan I thought." Now notice what that is a statement of. Its that I made an estimate of myinternal state of hunger, in this case, and now I observe that Ive eaten two sandwiches, Iguess I was wrong about my inner state.Another example is, you might say to yourself, "Gee, something must be bugging me. Ivebeen biting my fingernails all day." Now notice what again you have decided that somethingmust be bugging you, something internal must be troubling you, because you observeyourself biting your fingernails. And it occurred to me that thats exactly what your roommatemight say, if youre a college student, "Hey, something must be bugging you. Youve beenbiting your nails all day." So notice that the external person and your self are using the samekinds of evidence when theres ever any ambiguity about what your internal state is.
  18. 18. So self-perception theory is an elaboration of that theme, namely that there was a lot ofexisting literature under what was called cognitive dissonance theory, that showed if you getpeople to do things that they ordinarily wouldnt do, like write an essay against one of theirbeliefs, they come to believe it. And cognitive dissonance theory had an explanation for that.The thing that made me rich and famous was that my theory came along and challengedcognitive dissonance theory and sort of re-explained many of their experiments. And sincecognitive dissonance theory was sort of king of the hill in the 1960s, thats why my name gotknown.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right.DARYL BEM: You quoted Robert Burns. Actually, Ive had a Jewish student come up andtell me that the Talmud says exactly the same thing, that the Talmud invented theself-perception theory because, in Christianity, the emphasis is often on faith that will leadyou to do good works. And the Talmud says dont worry about faith. Do good works, thefaith will follow.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That rings true to me. The other name that floats around here andtheory is B.F. Skinner and behaviorism. He was famous for, as I understand it, basicallydenying the existence or at least the relevance of internal states in humans and animals.Does one have to buy in to the strict behaviorist view that behavior is all that matters, inorder to buy in to your theory of self-perception?
  19. 19. DARYL BEM: No. I started out with Skinner because my mentor at Michigan happened tobe a Skinnerian. So I started out with that, and my very first article, my dissertation isvirtually unreadable because its so filled with the behaviorist jargon. And it was very nicethat social psychology just about then was starting to think about attributions, that is how dowe attribute causes of behavior that other people are doing. And my theory got saved by thesocial psychologists, by saying, "Hey, Bems theory of self-perception is actually just asubset of what weve already learned about interpersonal perception. And so far from beingdismayed, I was delighted because it took my theory out of the context of just cognitivedissonance theory and out of the context of behaviorism, and it now became part ofmainstream social psychology. And so that too was just sort of an accident of timing on that.Theres a funny anecdote about this. My dissertation advisor who saw my thesis asessentially an indication of Skinners view on this, in a book he wrote, called VerbalBehavior, sent it to Skinner, whom I didnt know at the time. And then someone told me thatSkinner was giving a talk, and someone asked him a question about cognitive dissonancetheory, and Skinner said, "Oh, Bem has disproved that. Its all just behavior." I thought thatwas interesting reading [CROSSTALK]ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, would you interpret it that way?DARYL BEM: Not at all. I dont interpret it that way. I do think thinking in Skinnerian termsmakes you think more clearly in many ways, but, no, I think internal states are important. SoI have a caveat on my self-perception theory. It starts out by saying, in those cases whereyour internal stimuli are weak and ambiguous or uninterpretable, thats when you use your
  20. 20. behavior as a guide. So I have that in there. That removes me from behaviorism.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I thought itd be useful to think about how this theory has stoodthe test of time, and two dimensions of that interest me. The first is, just purely from anacademic perspective, has self-perception theory proved to have legs? Are people in theacademic communities still relying on it and still using it as a way to generate predictions?DARYL BEM: Yes. I mean it isnt so much that theres now new original research on it, but ifyou look at any social psychology textbook, including the one we use here at Cornell, byTom Gilovich, theres still a large section devoted to self-perception theory, and its oftenapproached as a contrast to cognitive dissonance theory. So both theories have sort offaded more into the background, but its just part now of the fabric of social psychologicalknowledge that is taught to the students. And the dispute between the two theories prettymuch got settled by saying there are certain phenomena that are better described bycognitive dissonance theory, and then there are some phenomena that self-perceptiontheory can describe and cognitive dissonance theory cannot. So it had legs in that sense,yes.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And then the second dimension is, Ive been thinking abouttechnological change, in particular the virtual life and especially in Virtual Worlds, gamesand Second Life, where people can reinvent themselves. So I think a lot of people know thefamous New Yorker cartoon that shows a dog at a computer and says, "On the internet, noone knows youre a dog." We have a lot of people who are very anonymous on the internet,whether theyre commenting on blogs, or theyre interacting in a Virtual World like Second
  21. 21. Life. You have people creating their own identities, creating avatars. Actually, Im hopingthat Treet can maybe get a close-up of some of the more unusual avatars we have in theaudience. People are really quite creative and expressing themselves in very surprisingways.Im just wondering whether you see applicability of self-perception theory now that peopleare using their anonymity in their ability to create a new identity, to do exactly that. Does thiscause them then to rethink who they must actually be, to the extent that makes sense?DARYL BEM: Yes, that makes sense. Im not familiar with any research specificallyaddressing that, but we just know as an extrapolation of the earlier work, where you getpeople to write essays pretending that they believe something, and then that actuallychanges their attitudes. So I would think having an avatar whos saying particular things or ifyoure on a hookup website even, without being an avatar, but just being anonymous anddescribing what youre like and things like that can affect your own self-perceptions, yes.I have another example of this that is therapy. Often therapists, especially behavioraltherapists interestingly, want to change your perception of what youre afraid of orsomething. And so one of the techniques that such therapists use is to get you to go out androle-play it, pretend youre a nice person. And, lo and behold, you become a nicer person.So I think the modern technology could just accelerate that process.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And the underlying, in a sentence, self-perception theory is alongthe lines of, "Well, I must be a nice person because I did the following nice thing."
  22. 22. DARYL BEM: Yeah. Yes.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thats the reason. Okay. So we are basically out of time. I justhave a few general questions for you, and I guess just harking back to what, for better orworse, is likely to be viewed as one of your signature achievements: publishing a paperabout precognition in JPSP and getting to talk about it on the Colbert Report. Can you makesome predictions about the future psychology, where you see things headed? Whats nextfor you?DARYL BEM: I dont know whats next for me. Ive always described my way of working asepisodic. Once a decade I have a new idea and a new set of things I want to do because Iget bored with the previous ones. But psychology as a whole, I think, is going to be moreopen. If you just read the social psychological journals some of the things that socialpsychologists are doing right now, things known as priming experiments and subliminalkinds of things, would have been rejected 20 years ago from the journals because theyseemed too weird.And there was a whole movement in the 50s and 60s where there was a claim that peoplecould respond to stimuli that are presented below the threshold of recognition. And thateventually was pooh-poohed. And now its come back with a vengeance. Now you open upJPSP, for example, and there are many articles in every issue, in which someone waspresented with stimuli that were presented subliminally and shown to have an effect. One ofmy favorites is an article or an experiment where people are primed with words like old and
  23. 23. feeble and elderly. And then, after the experiment, they secretly measure how fast theperson walks back to the elevator, and people walk more slowly when theyve been exposedto those.One reason for publishing it in JPSP as opposed to, say, some other more experimentaljournal that is non-social is, I think the social psychologists have been softened up some byhaving things that were rejected a few years ago now come back and be demonstrated inmore sophisticated ways. I do think probably, I mean I agree with the critique, the Bayesiancritique of my article insofar as I think the next generation of psychologists should beschooled in how to do Bayesian analyses. I think theyre very useful. I think they have alogical appeal to them. And I do think thats likely to be a wave of the future. So ourrefutation of this critique is not to say no Bayesian statistics are nonsense. Its to say no,theyre valuable, but you have to be very careful how you apply them, or youll draw thewrong conclusions.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Definitely, as they say in diving and gymnastics, its a "highdegree of difficulty maneuver" to try to use Bayesian statistics for hypothesis testing. Okay.Well, we are out of time, but Daryl Bem, thank you so much for joining us at Metanomicsand talking about your most recent research on precognition and your very influentialresearch on self-perception. I should just point out that I think the self-perception work ishaving some very interesting implications in the business community because, as anaccountant, right, we talk about what we can measure and what we can observe. And, itmakes us think about, if you think about business strategy, "Our strategy must be this,"because this is what we measure and what we do.
  24. 24. So anyway, Ill leave people to ponder that thought. Thank you very much for joining us. Ilook forward to talking with you in the future.DARYL BEM: Okay. Thank you. Bye bye.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye bye.Document: cor1094.docTranscribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com