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John Bargh: “Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do” | Talks at Google

John Bargh: “Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] DAVID: So I’m really pleased
to introduce Dr. John Bargh. He’s a professor of
psychology at Yale University. He’s been doing research in this
field for over 25 years– well, much longer than that even– with a focus on the unconscious. He’s distilled key
findings from his research in the field in
general into the book that he’s here to
talk about today– “Before You Know
It, the Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do.” Please join me in giving
him a warm welcome. [APPLAUSE] – Thank you, David. Thank you all for coming. I know you have an option
during your lunch hour. And you don’t have to be here. So I appreciate it. So the book is not about
the Freudian unconscious. It’s about the
last 30 or 40 years of actual systematic,
scientific research on average, normal
people randomly assigned to conditions, not the case
studies of mentally ill people from which Freud generated
his entire theory. It’s also– you’ll see, the
talk is structured this way. But it’s only 30 minutes. And actually, if
you’d like, I’ll try to speed it up and
make it shorter than that. It’s also not– what
we found is that– logically, you probably
would figure this out– it’s not a separate mind. Unconscious is not some
kind of separate part of the brain with its own rules
and with its own operating system, and it’s locked
away, and you can’t see it. You remember that
movie “Inside Out” with the little emotions
running the control room, that animation movie. One of the little emotions
did something wrong. It got thrown into
this unconscious cave. And the door was locked, and
you never saw them again, never heard from them again. And that’s not what
we’re talking about. It’s a very different
kind of thing. It’s one brain. The research showing the effects
of increasing or decreasing incentives during tasks– this
is out of University College London– shows that the same
brain regions are used, become active in either case. When a motivational
state is a conscious one or it’s an unconscious one,
it’s the same brain region. And that’s pretty much
true of everything. Whatever the kind
of thing you’re looking at– emotion,
motivation, language, behavior– it’s the same part
of the brain that’s operating, and whether it’s in conscious
or unconscious mode. But it’s a single unified brain. The unconscious influences
are generally helpful. They survived natural selection. They survived evolution. They’re not some kind of
destructive evil twin lurking inside your skull. So that’s the difference
between what a lot of people hear in the word “unconscious,”
and that’s what they think of, of course. Well, there’s a
disconnect though. And this is why I
organized the book, but also organized
this talk today in terms of the past,
present, and future. Because we’re focused almost
always on the present. We’re focused on what’s around,
what’s going on in front of us, what we’re aware of. Right? What else could we be aware
of but what we’re aware of? And so we understand the
reasons for how we feel and our decisions and so forth
based on what’s available to us right now in front of us. The mind is on all three
time zones at the same time. You’ve got influences from
the evolutionary past, very strong ones. You’ve got influences
from your early childhood you have no memory for anymore,
from your first three or four years of life that carry
over the rest of your life, influences of your
recent past, what just happened that carry over. Like for my case,
for a long time, my work life would just
segue right into my home life and carry over to my
understanding of what was going on at home, which was wrong. But also your future– your motivations, your
goals, your aspirations, things you’re trying to attain,
whether it’s a long-term life goal– have a family, have
a successful career, be happy, that kind of thing– or even just, I got to get
something done tomorrow. Your mind is often
in the future. And your goals and
motives influence how you see the present. In other words, what’s
good for your goal is what’s good for you. And you like and dislike
things as a function of whether they’re good
for your current goal, which can be a disconnect
from your long-term values and your long-term beliefs. And I’ll show you
some examples of that. So that’s how it’s organized. And we’ll jump right in to
the distant past, evolutionary past. And these basic needs,
these very important needs that we have and motivations
that we have, so basic– to be safe, to survive, not
to die, to avoid disease, to avoid germs,
protect ourselves against disease, and of course,
reproduction and mating, sex, and cooperation. These are the basic ones. But they’re the basic physical
motivations that we have. And yet, as you’ll see,
they’re influencing a lot more than that. So for example, this is topical
because this is October. It seems like every
October, we’re told to go out and
get a flu shot. There’s this horrible new
strain of flu virus out there that’s a killer
and very dangerous. Can’t read this very well. I’ll tell you the study though. There’s a metaphor that’s
being used in our country. And it’s actually a metaphor
that’s been used in the past, by arch conservative
leaders in the past, that is tapping into this
very strong motivation that we have without
realizing it, that immigrants into a country
are like viruses into a body, like germs into a physical
body or bacteria into a body. We need to protect ourselves
and be safe from these germs and bacteria. We have to expel them
and get rid of them if they’re in our body already. We have to build walls or
build structures to keep them out and protect ourselves from
the invasion of these germs and bacteria into our body. And so if you think about
immigration that way, you can see there’s a strong
connection between the metaphor or analogy of immigration into
a country and germs or bacteria or viruses into a body. Not said explicitly,
although people and arch conservative
leaders in the past have said that explicitly
about despised minority groups in their society. And it was an excuse or a
justification for eradication of those groups. Well, what do we do? At this time of year,
a few years ago, we reminded the people in
our study of the flu virus and the threat of the flu. And then we had them
complete an attitude survey about immigration, attitudes
towards immigration. After that, we asked them– and
after they’d already completed that survey– whether they’d had
a flu shot or not. So the people who we
raised this threat, but already knew
they had a flu shot felt safe because
here’s the threat, but they’ve already taken
steps to protect themselves against it. They should feel safe
from the flu virus. It turns out they had more
positive than average attitudes towards immigration because
you raised the flu threat. But for the people we raised
the flu threat to, but had not had the flu shot, their
attitudes towards immigration became significantly
more negative. They were more
against immigration compared to a control group. So we’re moving around their
attitudes towards immigration by raising and lowering the
threat of the flu virus, which is that connection
I’m talking about. And there’s more. There’s a long-standing
lot of research showing that people with
conservative ideologies or conservative attitudes
are generally more concerned with physical
threat and physical safety than other people are. A lot of research on that. For example, the size
of the human amygdala, which is the part
of the brain that reacts to fear and
strong emotions, is actually larger in
conservatives than in liberals. Brain imaging studies
have shown that. Four-year-olds who
are more fearful tend to have more conservative
attitudes at age 23. That’s a study out of Berkeley. So there’s lots of
studies on this. And in general,
given this, there’s been a easy trick that
political psychologists have used in the past,
that you can turn a liberal into a conservative
basically by threatening them, making them feel afraid. They then have more
conservative attitudes. And remember Franklin
Delano Roosevelt saying, we have nothing to
fear but fear itself. And former president Obama
talks a lot these days against the politics
of fear because fear makes people more conservative. Well, people have always been
very successful at turning liberals into conservatives. But no one has ever turned a
conservative into a liberal until we did that by, as you
probably could figure out how, having them feel
physically safe. We have them imagine
that they were given a superpower by a genie. And they have some rich
imagination exercise, and they really are trying to
really imagine this happening. In the control condition, the
superpower they were given was to be able to fly. That’s actually the
most popular superpower people want of all the
ones that are possible. That’s a control condition. The others were
given the superpower of being invulnerable to
physical harm, like Superman. Bullets would bounce off you. If you fell, nothing
would happen. Nothing would cut you,
those kinds of things. And they imagined that. And then we looked
at their attitudes on standard social issues
that classically define and divide conservatives
and liberals, like same sex marriage,
marijuana legalization, and so forth– the standard ones where
you get the difference. And you see on the left,
the flying condition, you get the standard difference. Conservatives were more
conservative than liberal. But the fly thing didn’t
matter at all as a super power. But the people who were made
to feel invulnerable to harm, the conservatives moved much
more close to liberal attitudes as a result of feeling
physically safe temporarily. Another study on
the actual defining quality of being
conservative, which is resistance to
social change– that’s what FDR was talking
about in that speech about fear and fear itself. He was talking
about the New Deal. That wasn’t about World War II. That was 1933, his first
State of the Union Address during the Depression. On that issue, you actually
cause conservatives and liberals to be identical. If anything, then, you’ve taken
conservatives and turned them into liberals by at
least temporarily making them feel totally physically
safe, just like you can take liberals
and make them more conservative in their attitudes
by making them feel afraid. So these deep underlying
evolved needs bubble up to influence abstract
social attitudes and political attitudes
that you think are just a product of reasoning
and some reasoned position. But you can raise or lower those
conservative liberal attitudes on the top of the boiling
water by the underlying flame underneath of feeling
physically safe or feeling physically afraid. Another one– there’s been a
lot of research on this one– physical warmth and coldness– over the last 10 years or so. We did a study 10 years
ago published in “Science,” where essentially, we
gave everybody the same– at Yale and other places– the same description
of a person to read. And they formed an impression,
whether they liked the person or not. We gave everybody the same one. But for some of
them, while they were coming into the experiment–
actually in the elevator, coming up to the lab,
we had a lot of papers, like the questionnaire they
were supposed to fill out. And we had in our hand–
oh, here, we even have one– a couple of either iced coffee
or hot coffee, iced coffee or warm coffee. This is the iced
coffee condition. We said, could you hold
that for me for a second so I can get your
papers for you? And they held it. And oh, here’s the papers. And they took it right back. So it was a matter of
two or three seconds they might have held the
warm or the iced coffee. If they held the
warm coffee, they formed a significantly
more positive impression of the person they read about. If they had held the iced
coffee, significantly more negative impression of the
person they read about. Remember, everybody read
about the same person. So feeling physically
warm or cold actually changed their feeling
of a person being socially warm or socially cold. And since then,
the last 10 years, there’s been a lot of
neuroscience on this, mainly at UCLA, where they
show the same little part of the human insula, which is a
walnut-shaped part of the brain in the middle of the brain. The same little
part becomes active when you hold something warm and
when you’re texting your family and friends and when you’re
thinking about the people close to you. And also the same little
part becomes active when you hold
something cold and when you’re thinking about
people who have betrayed you or who are your enemies. They’re connected. They’re wired together. There’s a channel between
feeling physical warmth and feeling trust and positive
things towards other people, and the same kind of
channel conversely with feeling physically cold. We’ll get back to
that in a second. Much more other
research has been showing that a person’s
actual body temperature goes up and down along with their
feelings of how close they feel to their family and friends. So people in the hospital,
their temperature is taken, oral temperature
every hour for six hours. And they also ask
them how close they feel to the close
ones in their life. And it tracks. Their body temperature
raises and lowers. When people are rejected in
some way in a little game, when people don’t throw the
ball to you anymore, in some computer
game, the avatars are tossing the ball around, but
they stop throwing it to you, you feel a little rejected,
your body temperature actually decreases about
0.4 Fahrenheit of a degree. You’re actually feeling
physically– your body is actually physically
colder after a socially cold experience. There’s another kind of past,
maybe even more opaque to us because the things that happened
to us in the first three, four years of life, we don’t
have much memory for. A lot of things happened
to us back then as infants. This is my daughter,
who is now 11. But when she was one,
two, three years old, she was a huge fan
of the movie “Cars.” And she loved Lightning McQueen. And she drove around the house
in a little Lightning car, sat in a Lightning chair,
had a Lightning blanket. And we watched that movie
together 50 or 60 times, at least 50 or 60 times. She was obsessed with
Lightning McQueen. Thought Lightning McQueen lived
nearby in Durham, Connecticut because she saw a red
Corvette in that town next to where we lived. Well, then she became five. And one night, she
wanted to watch a movie. And I said, OK, well, why
don’t we watch “Cars”? We haven’t seen that for
a while, several years. And you loved that movie. It was your favorite movie. And she looked at me like
I was nuts, like, no, I’ve never heard of that movie. I’ve never seen it before. And she really had no memory
of ever seeing it before. She’s telling me this sitting
in that same Lightning McQueen chair that she’s never
heard of this movie. And we watched it. And it was like she was
watching it for the first time. She was surprised at
all the plot twists. She was laughing
at the right places as if she’d never
seen the movie before. And she thought I
was crazy because I said that– she had
just no memory at all of those years of her life. Well, why is that important? Because there’s a
lot of things that do happen early in our life that do
matter to the rest of our life. And we have no idea that
they’re influencing us. And for one thing,
research out of Minnesota has tracked these people
who are now in their 20s. But when they were one year
old, they came into the lab with their mother. And they took what’s
called the strange test. The strange test is a way
to measure how attached the child is to the parent. And usually, back in the day,
it was always the mother, but now it’s both parents. And there are kids
who are attached. Mother leaves the room. They’re not bothered
because they know if there’s any problem,
Mother will be right back. They can count on that. Mother has their back. But others, they
don’t know that. And so when the mother
leaves, they’re a mess. They cry. They’re hysterical
because they know the mother may not be
coming back very soon, or may not come in if they’re
yelling and crying for them. So they can’t trust that. So it was a matter
of bonding and trust. Is it there at age one or not? Then they look at
these people aged six, seven, in elementary
school, high school, then in their 20s. If they’re securely
attached, they have more friends
in grade school. They’re happier and have
better grades in high school. And they have relationships
that do not break up very often in their 20s. The opposite is
true of the people who have insecure relationships
at age one with their mother. So it’s something
that’s happening early in your life that’s affecting
your relationships with people. Can you trust people? Do you break up with them easily
or not the rest of your life? And they’re tracking
these people now. They will continue to track them
as they go through their life. But that’s totally
opaque to you because you have no memory of any of that. So there’s things that happen
in the present too that go beyond what’s really out there. For example, we really think
we know people from their face. We really think that
their face is diagnostic. Somehow, we really
know that person. You know, Grumpy Cat, right? It’s a cat. It’s a cat. That’s not really grumpy, right? I mean, it’s not grumpy. It looks grumpy. You think it’s grumpy. No, it’s a cat. It’s not really grumpy. Boy, it looks grumpy. Right? And that’s Old Man
Marley from “Home Alone.” Probably before your time. But this was a
1990s movie, right? Old Man Marley was like an
ax murderer in the basement. It was bodies in the
basement next door, according to the kids
in the neighborhood. But he turned out to
be this sweet old guy. There’s that scene at
the end of Christmas, and he reunites with
his granddaughter. And it’s all wonderful. But he’s a sweet old guy. He just looks like
some ax murderer. But we really feel
so sure of ourself when we see a person’s
face, like we really know the personality. Turns out that’s not diagnostic. People are elected as
senators and governors who have the most trustworthy face. People rate those faces,
not knowing who they are. And turns out the
one that was rated more trustworthy
and competent tends to win these elections
70% of the time. So certainly, the
people voting are thinking they know this person
is competent or trustworthy. And the face by itself
is not diagnostic. What is diagnostic is if you
see the person in action. If you see a person
even for 15 seconds, 30 seconds interacting with
other people, that does predict very well
their outcomes. Are they a good therapist? Are they a good teacher? Are they a good whatever? But not photographs,
and not just seeing a person for the first time
without any kind of interaction or seeing them in action at all. Here’s another way we go beyond. We have herds of
antelopes, schools of fish, flocks of birds, all doing
the same thing, same time. You know, Fred
bird is not looking around seeing Susie bird
go one way, and say, I think I’ll do the same thing. It’s not a matter of
making decisions here. It’s just an automatic
kind of response to do the same thing as the
conspecifics around you. And cats, I’m not so sure. I mean, this needs
to be replicated. But we do. People do. People definitely do this. Little kids really
imitate, especially around age two, age three. They’re learning
what is right to do. They don’t know. And so they’re really
watching everybody to see. And they’ll do
what you’re doing. And they’ll do it over
and over and over again. So we’ve studied this and
shown that effect in the lab with college students,
physical behaviors like holding your ear,
protecting your ear, or shaking your foot,
that kind of thing. You’re more likely to do it
when you’re with a person doing the same thing. And you switch
people, and you do– so it’s like a chameleon
changing the spots to match the environment, the
social environment they’re in. OK. But this has consequences. This is a Dutch field study
showing that anti-social behavior– mild
littering, graffiti, taking a shopping cart three
blocks to your car instead of leaving it in
the parking lot– those kinds of mild
anti-social behaviors are contagious in that in an
area that has no graffiti, these leaflets that are put
on the handlebars of the bike by rubber bands
are not littered as much as they are on the right. They put these on. And if there’s graffiti
and that kind of thing, there’s much more
littering, throwing them on the ground, instead
of throwing them away, and the various demonstrations. This paper came out in
“Science” about 10 years ago. There is social network
analysis, Nick Christakis and Jim Fowler looking
at social networks like alumni associations or
work groups, credit union members, this kind of thing. And in that network,
who knows who, things like obesity, depression,
cooperation, happiness, and other things spread
so that if there’s a person two or three
people removed from you, and you don’t even know them,
but they know somebody you know and that kind of
thing, you’re much more likely to have the same
characteristics as they are. So things like that spread. Behavior spreads. Moods spread. Behavior types like
cooperation spread. That’s contagion. You’ve probably heard of
this one, the Facebook study from 2014, where
700,000 users had their news feed deliberately
manipulated as an experiment to be 20% more positive or
20% more negative than usual. And then they looked to see that
user’s own posts up to three or four days later to
see if they were also more positive or more negative. And they were. So you manipulate the
news feed, it actually caused the person themselves to
have a more positive or a more negative mood in their posts. That’s another
obviously social network to get this kind of spread. What you see is what
you do, unfortunately, is used by advertisers. This is a epidemiological
study coming out of Northeastern University just
published last year about 1,000 under age drinkers
13 to 19 years old. The more alcohol ads
they watched on TV, the more they drank. You see these a lot. Parents often watch NFL football
games or other sporting events. You see beer ads. You see Captain Morgan. You see alcohol ads a lot. The more of these ads
the kids were exposed to, the more they drank. And this goes from an
average of 10 drinks a month to 30 drinks a month for
those who watched a lot of ads. This is the direct
effect of the ad content. We’ve done studies just
looking at five-minute comedy clips of the old show
“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” with Drew Carey. We have a food ad in
there in the break or a non-food ad in
there in the break. We have a bowl of Goldfish
crackers next to them. And the people who saw the
food ad– it wasn’t even about that kind of food–
ate 45% more of the Goldfish crackers. The food ads are trying to get
you to eat at home when you’re watching TV so that you’ll eat
more then and have to buy more the next day at the store. They’re trying to get
you to consume more. Here, they’re trying to
get you to drink more. Or at least that is the
outcome, whether or not they are deliberately
trying to do that. And the effect happens
to teenage drinkers too. Nice thing about this
mimicry is that it actually causes bonding, liking and
feeling that the interaction went more smoothly. You know, we have these things
where people do the same thing at the same time, and in our
culture, religious rituals where you stand, you
kneel, you sing hymns, you all do it at the same time. Military, you march in step. You say things
together in unison. This actually does
produce greater bonding and liking for the group
and the group effort. These are field studies. This is a Dutch restaurant. And all the waitress
or waiter did in this study was to repeat
back the customers’ orders right afterwards. So I would like a
hamburger, milkshake, and some fries please. And then the waitress
would say, you’d like a hamburger,
milkshake, and fries. Just repeat back
the order or not. If she repeated back the order,
the tips were on the right there, significantly more tips
at the end than otherwise. This is a French department
store, the electronics part of a French department store, a
large French department store. And mp3 players
here, the same thing. They repeated back what the
customer said when they– I’d like to look at an mp3
player for my grandson. He’s turning 13 next week. Oh, you’d like an MP3
player for your grandson. He’s turning 13 next week. Or not, right? Or just, oh, OK here’s
the MP3 players. Sales went from 63% to 87%
in the mimicry condition. And customer satisfaction
with the store and the clerk was markedly higher. They went out to the parking
lot and asked those kinds of questions afterwards. So real life consequences. Now the other thing
about the present is the context changes you. You can be a different person
at home as you are at work. My sister was actually at the
talk I gave in San Francisco the other day. And we were looking
at each other like, this is not
our mother, is it? No. Yeah, it is. This is our mother. So you can be a different person
in different places, right? Well, Ernst Fehr, who’s
a professor of economics at the University of Zurich,
has actually been tipped to win a Nobel Prize in
economics one day soon– you might hear his name again– has done studies looking
at investment bankers. Big thing in Zurich, right? So investment bankers might
be different people at work than they are at home. What he did was to get
them at home on a weekend. And he had them play
a coin toss game where every heads
that they tossed, they’d get 20 Swiss francs. So I think there
were 20 coin flips. So you can win up to 400 if
you get magically all 20 heads. You were the one who
reported what you got. So no one would know. You’re at home. You can say you’ve got 20 if
you know that no one would know the difference. Right? But on average, you’re going
to get 10 out of 20 heads, on the average. What he did in this study
was to get them at home. But for some of them, he had
them describe their workplace, what their office was like. So he got them thinking
about their office right before this game. On the other condition,
they did not do that. So the same people
randomly assigned to be the office or
the home condition. And you probably can’t see this. But on the left, these
are the home people. They were not asked to
think about their office. And you get pretty much
the binomial distribution, which means this is what
you’d expect by chance. You get some people
on the low end. You get some people
on the high end. But most people are
right there, four, five or six in the middle, or
whatever it is, the average. The people on the right
are the people who thought about their workplace. It’s shifted significantly
to the right. You even get this
guy saying, oh, yeah, I got, like, all heads. You got a lot of
heads over there. And you know, they’re greedier. They’re less moral. They’re less honest, the same
people, randomly assigned, if they just thought about
their office in this mundane way before the task. And he’s talking about
situated identities, that you might be a
different person at home, different values and
different behaviors, than you are at your workplace. And unfortunately, this
actually affects kids. This is a study that, at
the time, was shocking. It came out of Harvard
about 2004 or 2005. The Asian-American
girls, and they had them color in a cartoon with
crayons that either emphasized their Asian identity
or their female, their girl identity,
with Asian themes or with girls
playing with dolls. Now, the stereotype
of the culture is Asian-Americans are
better at math and science than everybody else,
than the average person, but girls are not. Girls are worse at math and
science than everybody else. So if they had colored
in the Asian themes, then they took a math
test, their math test was significantly higher than
the average of the group. If they had just colored
in the girl ones, their average was
significantly lower than average of the group. Now remember, they’re
randomly assigned. These are the same
kids randomly assigned to be in the Asian or
the girl condition. The stereotypes of a
culture, about the qualities or the capabilities
of groups, has already gotten into their
head at age five and influencing their actual
performance on a math test. They are a different
person depending on which aspect
of their identity has been made presently salient. So to wrap up, the future, your
goals change what you think are good or bad things,
the health risks you’re willing to
take, who you consider to be your best friends,
and so forth and so on. There’s lots of stuff. I mean, for me, the
feeling of a goal and a motive is strong when I’m
playing these dumb game apps on my phone like “Candy Crush.” And I’m, like, trying to
beat this level for weeks. And I can’t– I’m just almost there. And you know, the
in-app purchase. Right? These games are free. But the in-app purchase. Right? Oh, for $5, you can
get five extra moves. Like, yeah, yeah, five
extra moves, yeah, yeah. So you beat this level,
yay, and you move on. And then, of course,
you get the bill. Apple, whatever,
$5.99 duh-duh-duh. It’s like, oh, my god. And it was like, what? This is a stupid
game on my phone. Who cares? No one is going to know. There’s no trophy given
out in recognition of winning “Candy Crush.” I mean, what am I– But at the time, the
goal is so close. And you almost are there. And the feeling is very
strong if you really are into this game,
and are trying to beat all the levels,
that kind of thing. So your goal changes
what you think is good or bad thing to do. In a more important way, these
are, again, the Dutch grocery store, reminded at the
beginning with a recipe flyer with words related to
healthy eating or dieting. And these are obese shoppers
or non-obese shoppers. For the non-obese
shoppers, these primes in the recipe flyers do
not make any difference on their purchases. But for the people
who are presumably are more likely
to have a dieting goal, an eating healthy goal,
these words and recipe flyers actually change how much
unhealthy snack food they buy from 4 in 20 euros
to 1 in 80 euros. And they have no memory of the
recipe flyer, what was in it, didn’t have any idea that
that influenced them at all. What they did is
activate the goal they had for diet
and healthy eating and actually changed
their purchases when they looked at the
receipts at the end. Same thing. This is a University
of Minnesota study with
undergraduate women who say they don’t think diet
pills and tanning salons are a good idea. They are health risks,
and they’re dangerous. But if they just looked in
Tinder and other kind of dating sites and were asked to rate
the attractiveness of both men and women on the
site, activating you want to call it the mating
goal or the idea of finding a mate and partner or sex,
whatever you want to call it, now they do these
ratings, and then suddenly, they’re fine with
tanning salons and diet pills and don’t think
they’re risky at all. They don’t think they’d
hurt them at all. And so the same people
are changed by the fact they’ve got this goal. Being attractive is
good for that goal. It may not be good for you. And it may not reflect your
chronic or long-term values. But temporarily, you
think it’s a good idea. So it’s changed you. As I said, these things
operate in the background. They can work on
problems that you have and you maybe even
forgot about what it was. You’re trying to
remember something. You know you know it. But you can’t remember it. And you just try, try,
try to remember it. And later on, you’re doing
something completely different three or four hours
later, and the answer pops into your head
out of the blue. But it was because
unconsciously, you were still trying to solve
that problem in the background. You have a goal to solve. You really want to solve it. And you’re trying to
figure out that answer. And you get it later when you’re
thinking about something else. Sherlock Holmes did
this all the time. I’ve read all the novels and
the complete short stories over and over again. When Sherlock Holmes
comes to a impasse and can’t make progress on some
crime or something he’s trying to solve, he takes a break. He plays the violin. He takes cocaine. He does something else. And he comes back. His mind’s refreshed. And he has insights, and
he has breakthroughs. Right? He thinks he’s
refreshed his mind. What’s really going on is
while his conscious mind has been elsewhere,
unconscious processes continued to work
on that problem and sometimes can do a better
job than we can do consciously for reasons explained
in the book, but reasons for unconscious
kinds of processes being better at processing
information in parallel and better for complex
decisions and complex problems sometimes than more limited,
focused conscious thinking. Sometimes they come
to you when you’re doing something else, like
eureka in the bathtub, running naked. This is the G-rated version. But he actually was
naked, according to historians at the time. Ran naked through the
streets of Syracuse after discovering the principle
that he was working on in a public bath. And there have been dreams,
the benzene ring theory. Kekulé came up with the
benzene ring theory in a dream of snakes eating each
other’s tails in a fiery kind of circle. I had my own alligator dream
as described in the book. But it’s the same
kind of experience, where you know the answer. You’ve been working on something
for five or 10 years and it comes to you in this
kind of dreamwork, which is actually another way
of this problem is being worked on when you’re not actually
consciously thinking about, it if it’s a very
important problem, as it was to both
Kekulé and myself. So people have worried
about these things in terms of mind control
and whether people can use these kinds of
influences on people to get them to do
things that they maybe didn’t want to do on their own. [LAUGHTER] And so we do need to think about
and talk about that because it is something that is
legitimate to worry about. But just briefly– and that’s
where I’m going to wrap up– “Economist” magazine
worries about mind control, has issues about that. In the past, there have
been books like “Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles.” This is actually a book
that came out in 1970 or so, that the Beatles were trying
to hypnotize us and make us Communists through
their evil beat. You can get these on eBay,
aluminum foil deflector beanies that prevent
aliens from outer space from sending rays that
influence your mind. And of course, the sex
and the ice cube stuff. There are still books on the
subliminal seduction that had this kind of worry
that that’s what’s going on in these kind of ads. And this is actually
a subliminal ad that was played widely during
the Bush-Gore campaign in 2000. This is an actual ad
from the Bush campaign that it was discovered
actually subliminally put the word “rats” right before
the word “Democrats” appeared in September of 2000,
trying to emphasize the “rats” part of Democrats. And they denied that
they meant to do this and this kind of stuff. And George W., Bush 43,
kept denying this for weeks afterwards, saying
they don’t engage in this “subliminable”
advertising over and over again. But they were. So you know, those
things you don’t really have to worry about. These on the left
are really true. They really are influencing
us outside of our awareness. And they are influences
that, if we know about them, we can do something about them. And we can actually use
them to our advantage. We can turn them
around and have them help us to get done
what we want and help us do the right thing
that we want to do and that kind of thing,
once we know all about them. But some people are
insisting that they’re the captain of their soul and
the captain of their ship, and none of those things ever– everything that influences
me, I’m aware of and I intend. And nothing else
really influences me. But the really
good ship captains are the ones who take
the current and the wind into account. They don’t just aim their
ship at the port and say, that’s all that matters. The current and the winds
don’t matter at all. Because if they do
that, this happens. You get crashed in the
rocks or carried out to sea. You can play golf that way. You can aim right at
the hole, and the wind doesn’t matter and
whatever, and this is what happens to you then. So it’s your choice. Everyone has the ability to
make that choice on their own. But really, the point
is, you actually do have, we all have, control
over these things because they’re really
not secret anymore. And once you know about
them, it’s up to you what you want to do with them. But I want to thank you all for
coming and for listening today. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: But how could we
apply some of these techniques if I’m trying to lose weight? How could we apply some
of these techniques to that, for example? JOHN BARGH: So this is really
recent stuff, the last five or six years. It’s not my area. But I read the research. And every researcher now– five, six, seven of the
major researchers in the area of self-control and
self-regulation, right– are saying that people
who are effective self-regulators, who score
high on those scales, people who are good self-control
people and self-regulators make more money
than the rest of us. They are happier. They have better relationships. They’re healthier. All those good things
comes with these people who are high in the ability to
self-regulate and self-control. How did they do it? Well, the old model
is by acts of will. They have such a strong will. And the rest of us are just
weak-willed little wimps. And we can’t do the things they
can do with their strong will. It’s actually the
opposite of that. They don’t use willpower. Willpower is hard to do
and is always a struggle. What they do is they
set up their world to make it easy for them to
do the things they want to do. They set up their
environment in a way that they don’t have the
tempting things that they could eat or drink at home. They don’t buy those
things in the first place. They set up the good
things they want to do. They make good
habits out of them and make routines out of them. They start by saying,
OK, I want to exercise. I want to go running. They come home. They get out of
their work clothes. And they immediately put
on their running shorts and running shoes. Because what else
are you going to do after you put on your running
shoes and your running stuff but go run? And they make that so that they
do it without even thinking. They come home,
they change, they put that on, and without having
to use any willpower at all. So the effective self-control
and self-regulator people are making use of the
unconscious kinds of influences of habit and routine and
setting up their world. If they want to be
kinder and helpful, they’ll put a
photograph of the people they want to be kind and
help to in their life, like their grandmother. They always are kind and
helpful to their grandmother. They might have a picture
of her on their desk as a reminder without thinking
about it to be that way. Or whatever it is, high
achievement, whatever it is. You make your world to
have those cues come in from the outside that trigger
these tendencies that you want to support and
build your world so that the outside world
supports it instead of tears those things down. And that’s what they do. So that would apply
to losing weight. It would apply to exercising. It would apply to pretty
much anything you want to do. AUDIENCE: Thanks for the talk. So should our final
goal be really to tame and undecipher
unconsciousness as much as we can so that we
can cope with unconsciousness better? Or is there some
level in which having some level of unconsciousness
is actually a healthy thing, and we should just
let it be in the end? JOHN BARGH: Yeah,
the hardest chapter of this book to write
for me was a chapter called “When Can
You Trust Your Gut?” Because in the past,
we’ve had books like “Blink,” right, bestsellers
that say, trust your gut, and other books like “Thinking
Fast and Slow” that say, don’t trust your gut. And they’re both sitting there
in paperback in the stores right next to each other. Right? And they say the opposite thing. So it’s a little more
nuanced than that. It’s a little more difficult
question than that. You pretty much
can trust your gut. And you can trust
unconscious influences in certain situations
and not in others. One rule is, if it’s your
preference and kinds of things you like or dislike, your first
reactions usually are the best. And you can overthink
your feelings and get something
different because of that and not be as happy with that
choice if you overthink it. You can trust your
gut about other people that you’re meeting, as long
as you see them in action. If you see just the face
or their characteristics, like skin color or
age and so forth, then you can be very wrong. But if you see them in
action, usually we’re pretty good about that. So the rule for other people is
to always give people a chance. Don’t judge them just on the
way they look or what you think. Because it’s very powerful. Studies in courtrooms,
for example, have found that
baby-faced individuals, have more of a childlike
face, get lower sentences, are less likely to be found
guilty for the same crimes as people who aren’t baby-faced. And unfortunately, people of
color, the darker the color, the longer the sentence
they get for the same crime. And this is going on right now. This isn’t something
in the past. So these things really
matter to real outcomes. And unfortunately, people
like judges and people in legal systems deny
this stuff happens. They go, oh, no, that’s
not an influence. I just tell my jury not to be
influenced by those things. Really, that’s what
actual trial judges say to people who point
out this kind of evidence. So they just say, you know– So when can you
trust unconscious? I’ll tell you one thing
I heard from somebody– well, anyway– other people
say the same kind of thing. I was in the Channel 5
morning show this morning. And somebody in the
audience said the same thing that I’m going to say now. I would give myself
assignments basically. I wrote this book basically
last year in six months. I had been trying to
write it for four years. But it finally clicked, and I
finally was able, amazingly– almost a chapter a week. It just was coming out of me. And what was going on,
after I finished a chapter, you think, oh, good. I finished a chapter. You know, relax,
have fun for a while, and then start the
next one tomorrow. But before I would do that,
I’d always get the next chapter in my head. I’d always take the next day’s
stuff and start looking at it and getting it all
up here, and then go have fun, and then go
relax, be with my daughter, go shopping, do the chores,
whatever I needed to do. But I’d always get the
next thing in my head first so I’d be working on
it without– unconsciously basically. And boy, it was great. You’d come back the next day. And I’d have ideas about how
to organize it and put it all together and get
going right away. Much better than if
you leave it and start cold the next morning. So those are the
things you kind of use. One other thing. This is my favorite little tip–
like life hack kind of thing out of this– is this thing about
bonding and imitation. You can use that. It’s so easy. Because we naturally
imitate and mimic each other without trying to. You don’t want to try to. All you need to do is
look at the other person. So if you’re meeting somebody,
a new colleague, a new worker, somebody, a new
neighbor just moved in, a new friend,
anything like that, just look at them while you’re
interacting for the first time. You will naturally, because
you’re just looking at them, imitate what they do. That will naturally
cause them to bond and like with you more than
if you hadn’t done that. And the trick is
just to look at them. And turns out that on
empathy scales, people who have a personality as higher
empathic than other people, they also are the people who
look more and perceive more at the other person while
they’re interacting. And it’s a real
easy thing to do. And it has all these
potentially good benefits. And you’re just letting
this unconscious mechanism operate on its own naturally. AUDIENCE: When you say that
things like cooperation and obesity can have
effects two or three degrees from your social network,
how do you know what’s caused it’s what’s a factor? How do you know
it’s not the case that, say, obese people tend to
be more friends with each other than otherwise? JOHN BARGH: You can’t. These are correlational studies. The social network analysis
in sociology is correlational. The Facebook study was
actually experimental because they manipulated
the news feed and showed. But even the earlier Facebook
studies showing contagion were correlational. That’s why Cramer did
this second study. The first one showed
the contagion. But said, well– the objection
was just what you said. And then say, OK, you
experimentally manipulate it. It was very controversial
because you’re playing around with people’s moods. Right? And it’s in the
user end agreement. What do you call those things? It’s, like, on page 5,004
that it’s OK to do that. And no one ever reads those. Right? So they said it was OK
because people using Facebook agreed to this because
it’s in the agreement. But then they did the
experimental version and showed the same effect. So you’re absolutely right,
in the sociological social network. The reason I put
that up there, it’s a new method that shows
it actually happening. It does not give a conclusive
answer about the cause. The other studies like ours,
when we manipulate what people do and show the same
effect, that helps make you feel better about
the causal nature of it. You have to do both though. You have to do both
kinds of studies. AUDIENCE: So is the mimicry
why everyone likes parrots as a pet bird? JOHN BARGH: I’ve got
a good parrot joke. AUDIENCE: My real question
is, so at Google, we have a lot of training
programs around trying to tackle unconscious biases. And in fact, in the promotion
committee processes, everyone’s required to go
through the unconscious bias training prior to
actually serving on a promotion committee. I was just wondering,
in the broader industry in other corporations,
other organization settings, have you looked into research
around unconscious bias training and trying
to steer the effects that these biases have among– JOHN BARGH: No, that is
a cottage industry that’s outside of academia basically. I remember there was– I look at Tumblr sometimes. I have a little dumb nature
picture thing on Tumblr with three followers. And since I’m on there,
like, a few Fridays ago, maybe three or four
Fridays ago, it was an open question-and-answer
on unconscious bias. And those people who were
answering the questions, I don’t know any of them. And I haven’t heard. But they’re all in
the private sector. They’re in industry. So I don’t really know
what the kind of training. I know that they do talk about
the Harvard implicit, IAT kinds of tests that you can take to
detect the fact that you might have some unconscious bias. It’s a much simpler version
than what I’m talking about in the book because the
unconscious bias they measure is just good or bad. It’s just do you have a
positive or negative association with these groups. And that can be misattributed. So the idea– this would
fall into the present section of the book– that you have a negative
feeling towards a member of a different social group. And that negative
feeling, you don’t know the real source of it
because it’s this unconscious kind of source. And then you attribute
it to something that makes plausible sense. Oh, they didn’t have such good
letters of recommendation, or they didn’t come
from a very good school. Or you somehow explain
it in terms of something that may be plausible. So that’s a real danger
is that even well-meaning and well-intentioned
people, egalitarian people, fall prey to this
misattribution effect because they have a
negative feeling not knowing what the source is, and then
apply it to something that is plausible that they can say,
oh, I didn’t like this or that. It makes sense. It’s not their skin color. It’s not their gender. You know? But there are so
many demonstrations. I mean, in the book, I talk
about this new Italian study, which is horrible. This is a 11,000
job applications, actual job postings in Italy. And what they did
was they made up an identical set of resumes, so
the identical qualifications, education. Everything is identical. They either made it a male or
a female applicant by the name. And they put either an
attractive or an unattractive photograph along
with the application. And they sent all four to
all the 11,000 jobs in Italy. And these were actual jobs. They wanted to see who got
called back for an interview. Among the women, 57%
of the attractive women got called in for an interview. 7% of the unattractive women
got called in for an interview. Now, you may say, well, they’re
just intentionally trying to hire the attractive women. And you talk to the people. No, that’s not what
we’re trying to do. That would be illegal. They don’t want to do that. They say they don’t. And yet, they have
this bias called the beauty premium that’s huge. I mean, 57% to 7%. For men, it’s 47% to 25%. I mean, it’s bad for men too. But for women, it’s gigantic. And these are people
who are not given the same economic
opportunities because of these kinds of biases. So in real life right
now, not back in the past, these things really
are a problem. And they have to do with biases
that people aren’t aware of. But now, we should know
more about these biases. And we should be able to
take steps to stop them, like not having photographs
on applications for one thing, right? And I know in orchestras, the
tryouts are behind a curtain. You don’t know the age. You don’t know the gender. You don’t know the race,
the ethnicity, whatever you want to call it, of the
person behind the curtain. You can only hear the music. If we could do that– and that’s
easy to do for orchestras, right? It’s not as easy to
do in other areas. But removing those kinds of
cues that the culture gives us that says this group
can do this, this group can’t do that, we
get from the culture. And it soaks into all of us. Even if we are well-meaning
and well-intentioned and egalitarian people,
it’s still in our heads. If we get rid of those cues,
we’d be a lot better off. We could do a lot more. Now, I don’t know if
that’s what they do. See, I don’t know the training
and what they’re about. But that would be my
answer or my solution, or what I would suggest
based on the research. AUDIENCE: What we do
here is, it depends on if you’re taking the
online version of the training or if you’re doing the
in-person training sessions. But the in-person
training sessions try to really focus on trying
to incite these biases, trigger these biases
that someone might not realize that they have. And so then you can reflect
on realizing that you had the bias that you didn’t know. JOHN BARGH: Because
I so strongly– I mean, this is why I
went into my field partly. And I teach this to my Yale
undergraduates and everything. And I get some students
walking out of the room, talking about these
kinds of things, about privilege and
stuff like that. But here’s what I would say. Because I’ve got you right
now, I’m going to say this. The last chapter of
the book– and I’ll give it to you for
free right now. What I’m saying– it’s
not my own research, but a way to combat these
things that actually works, they’re called
implementation intentions. And not my research. It’s my colleague Peter
Gollwitzer at NYU. The idea is this. When I see a person of
color, I will be fair. And what you’re doing is,
you’re specifying the trigger out there that will cause
the idea of fairness immediately to happen. You link your intention to
the future state of affairs. When I see a person of color,
which is going to happen, I will be fair. And you really have to
commit yourself to that. It’s not a magic trick
that if you don’t really– I don’t really care,
but I’ll say it. You know, magic, magic. It’s not a magic spell. You have to be really
committed in the first place. But you want to do that. You can say that. And actually, it works. And that works for
lots of things. When x happens in a
reliable future event that always happens, I will do y. When x happens, I will do y. And that kind of thing helps
the elderly take medications when they’ve got five
different kinds of pills at different times of day
with food or without food, all this kind of complicated stuff. It helps them do that. Health psychology has used this. Political people have used
this to increase voter turnout in primary elections. Because they say at
10:00 on Tuesday morning, I will take a break from work. I will drive to
the polling place. And you specify the
when, where, and how you’re going to carry out
your intention instead of, I’m just going to vote. You make a concrete plan
when, where, and how I’m going to do it. And that really helps. So if I encounter a person
of color, I will be fair, that simple kind of thing. And they’ve actually
done studies showing that actually does make
people more fair in treatment. So maybe that will work. AUDIENCE: So I’ve been told
I have the honor of asking the last question. And so earlier, you
mentioned the experiment where, if people were exposed
to a warm environment, they were more prone
to social warmth. And if they were exposed to
cold, they did the opposite. Do you know if that is a
function of people using the exact same word “warm”
to refer to these two very different things? Or versus like social warmth
and actual physical warmth as opposed to– JOHN BARGH: Thank
you for asking that. It’s the reason why we use
the word “warm” for both. And there’s lots. Like George Lakoff at
Berkeley has written all about “Metaphors
We Live By,” and all these
different metaphors. We tend to appropriate
physical language terms to talk about our
relationship with people. It’s almost like there’s no
psychology separate language. It’s all physical. So we talk about
a distant father, or a close relationship,
or high status. These are all physical direction
kinds of terms– a warm friend, a cold friend, a cold
boss, something like that. So why are we using all
these physical terms? Because, it turns
out– these are researchers who look at
child language development. It turns out these are the first
experiences that children have. And their direct experiences,
they’re the first concept infants form, and
kids, toddlers form, are these warm, cold, high, low,
close and far kinds of terms– rough, smooth. And so then, as we develop
our understandings of people, we tend to use that vocabulary. And so we talk about a
hard negotiator, or soft on crime, which means
when we’re yielding. It’s a physical
term all the time. And we all know what
each other means too. We can communicate
using these terms. The thing about the warm, I just
want to say, how many of you are parents or are
going to be parents? But this channel of
warmth, of physical warmth, signaling to the infant
that you can trust, that the infant can trust
whoever they’re with is gigantic. It’s been there since
time immemorial. And it’s a way that– my wife used to
work in a hospital. She says, now, they have
the father open the shirt and put the baby on
the father’s chest, not just the mother
breastfeeding because they want the father
to also bond with the child. And they say this is the
skin-on-skin contact. Eh, eh, it may not be
the skin-on-skin as much as the warmth. Because to the baby, who
doesn’t know anything, the feeling of warmth
is an ancient sign that you can be trusted. And it’s this channel that works
all the way through our life. It’s still there as adults. But it’s hugely important
for the infant who doesn’t know who to trust,
is totally helpless, is dependent on everybody around
them to keep them fed and warm and have something
to drink and shelter, protected from predators. And it’s that channel. So I knew this going
in with my daughter. I hugged and hugged and
hugged and hugged and hugged to make sure she was as securely
attached by age one, at least, as possible. I was basically a single parent
raising this little girl, and knowing that it would
affect her the rest of her life. It would affect her
friendships in grade school, how long her relationships
lasted in her 20s. And if I could just
invest, even though it’s so exhausting, with little babies
and toddlers, invest as much of my time to do that
for her early on, it would pay off
for her forever. And we can all do that. But that channel is there. And it can be used. It seems irrational. It seems silly. Why would warm, you know? But to a little know-nothing
baby, it matters everything. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. JOHN BARGH: Thanks
for the question. [APPLAUSE]

15 comments on “John Bargh: “Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do” | Talks at Google

  1. Production failed to show what the speaker is looking at as he speaks. Frustrating to watch when you cannot relate, it might as well have been audio only. Smarter recording is needed and surprised Google produced this.

  2. What an interesting topic. It looks like psychology is going to be completely redesigned in the near future by statistics and big data. OMG

  3. He was talking so fast that I checked to see if the video speed was set to 1.5x or something, but I think it's just because I'm high.

  4. I'm only in 7:13 and Mr. fast talker seems to be saying there is a causal effect relationship that I don't see that he proved. Flu shot = softer on immigration And the lack of a Flu shot means harder on immigration? Did they look into who gets a flu shot and who doesn't. I mean this could be done with a thousand things. Grape soda drinkers are less accepting of LGBT than Diet coke drinkers. So what? so pushing Grape soda = an attack on gays? No, not at all. There is no evidence that there is a causal effect relationship. So far so much horse shit. Either he did the research and does not talk about it (sloppy) or he didn't do it at all (deceitful ).

  5. He first started talking about what it was not. This causes you to form pictures in your mind and Associate them to him and the picture of the brain that he is talking about. Very confusing at the start. Also if I take 1st impression I don't trust him.

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