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You? A guru effect victim?

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From From Neurobonkers at BigThink:

Four years ago a paper by Dan Sperber published in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology coined the term: The Guru Effect – the tendency for people to “judge profound what they have failed to grasp.” The paper examines how self-professed Gurus have a knack for inspiring devotion through speaking in a way that confers profound understanding but in reality fails to deliver anything of actual substance.

As in “You doubt my idea because just don’t understand evolution”? Maybe one fails to grasp the idea because, stripped down to its essentials, it isn’t there.

Unnecessary use of obfuscating language is certainly not the preserve of complete charlatans. Academics are often guilty of inadvertently introducing new levels of obscurity to what they are communicating, through the use of language that is impenetrable to someone working outside their field. Last year Professor of Social Sciences Michael Billig, (most well-known for his involvement in the minimal group experiments) published Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences, a blistering critique of some of the pillars of his own field.

Billig contrasts Milgram’s obedience work with the more recent, but similarly shocking findings in the field of behavioural priming, findings which have been described as “Milgram on steroids”. Billig looked at findings that apparently showed people primed with rude words would interrupt the experimenter’s conversation if given the opportunity and that people primed with words associated with old age would walk more slowly down a hall way. The findings were the centre of the recent failed replication furore which shook the field of social psychology. Billig reverse engineered a sample of priming data taken from the rude words experiment, noting “it is only because something went wrong in one of the experiments that we are able to come close to getting a glimpse of the frequencies”. When Billig exposes the estimated frequency data, the priming findings suddenly become decidedly less spectacular – according to Billig’s estimate only three out of thirteen participants were actually affected by the variable – information that is completely unavailable in the published paper … More

It gets better.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose


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