Saturday, November 19, 2016

Psychology of groups

Post-election commentary has focused on group psychology, particularly as the Left tries to explain to itself how Trump won. There are useful parallels to Mesomania.

For example, I read this on Vox: "When we’re part of a group, our brains like to see that group in a positive light. In lab experiments, when researchers randomly assign people to teams, almost immediately participants will start to like their teammates better than the other guys. It’s almost instinctual, unthinking. It’s thought that group identities quickly become part of our individual identities. That's why ... when a fact is hostile to our group, we’re keen to avoid it."

There are many examples of this in the LDS scholarly community. We're talking about a small group; around a dozen people constitute the entire genesis of the Mesoamerican theory. It's a cohesive group, mostly educated at BYU and closely affiliated with the university, either as faculty or through social networks. I've referred to the citation cartel, and I realize some take offense to that term, but it's a serious problem because the participants don't seem to recognize their own Groupthink.

Group identity is not inherently good or bad: it just is. Human nature almost requires it. Some scientists like to say it's a product of evolution, on the theory people needed to band together to survive, like many species do. But it's also a pragmatic strategy in a complex world.

One thing group identity is not designed to do: pursue truth.

For this reason, we need to be cognizant of group psychology. We can't avoid it, because as the quotation says, it is instinctual and unthinking, but if we recognize it, we can take action to offset the natural tendency to avoid hostile facts.

A specific example is the "Council of Springville" that was convened some time ago to interpret the "difficult passages" of the Book of Mormon. I compared this to the Council of Nicea which was convened for a similar purpose. To this day, some Christian churches have congregations recite, aloud, the Nicene Creed. The creed has become more important than the scriptures, a phenomenon I've observed among advocates for non-New York Cumorahs.

The group psychology is particularly acute in the LDS community because these LDS scholars feel surrounded by multiple threats. There is a long history of apologetics aimed at critics outside the Church. FARMS was a good example of how a group that started with a well-intentioned pursuit of truth devolved into a confrontational, cynical defender of a particular viewpoint. The current iteration of that type of group dynamic is The Interpreter. Other LDS scholarly publications are not quite so strident and paranoid, but the defensiveness and confirmation bias orientation typical of group psychology is pretty obvious. What starts as an effort to support LDS doctrine against outside critics degenerates into an effort to support a particular interpretation of LDS doctrine against alternative interpretations. The anti-New York Cumorah movement is the example I've been focusing on lately, but there are others we'll get to eventually.

I propose that everyone involved with this issue look around and see if your "group" includes only like-minded people. If so, you're probably going to be more concerned with defending the Groupthink than with pursuing the truth wherever it leads.

The Vox article made two other useful points. You will see the relevance to Book of Mormon geography studies:

2) We seek to confirm our preconceived conclusions and are dismissive of the facts that threaten our worldviews.

Our number one bias is to make ourselves feel good. It just feels bad to be wrong, to lose. So we avoid it at the cost of reckoning with the truth. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias” — we seek facts to support the ideas we already believe to be true. “Most Americans are not paying attention to data, and even people who should be tend to discount it when it doesn’t fit their expectations,” Ingrid Haas, a political psychologist at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, explains in an email.

When people do pay attention, they’re more and more likely to seek out news sources that conform to their worldview. (Cable news and Facebook have made this easier than ever.)

3) Emotions resonate more strongly than facts

Evidence continues to mount that political sensibilities are, in part, determined by biology. These inborn sensibilities create our "moral foundations." It's the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview.  

1 comment:

  1. Good point, something I haven't really thought about. But now that I recognize group think behavior among members of the "citation cartel" I can't stop thinking about it. :-)