Time pressure encourages socially acceptable speech

An interesting study shows that:

Prosociality increases when decisions are made under time pressure.

and that:

These results of socially desirable behavior under time pressure do not reflect people’s deep-down good selves but, rather, their desire to present themselves favorably to other people. (Rushing to Appear Virtuous: Time Pressure Increases Socially Desirable Responding)

Lead author, John Protzko says of the results:

“The method of ‘answer quickly and without thinking’, a long staple in psychological research, may be doing many things, but one thing it does is make people lie to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. This may mean we have to revisit the interpretation of a lot of research findings that use the ‘answer quickly’ technique. (Under Time Pressure, People Tell Us What We Want to Hear)

The cutoff for “time pressure” was 11 seconds; that is, a yes or no answer was required within 11 seconds to be considered pressured.

Most conversational speech comes well within 11 seconds after a person has been addressed. While being addressed is not the same as being questioned, it does usually imply a response is needed fully as much as a direct question.

If this extrapolation is true, the experiment may also show one important reason people fairly often say what they don’t really mean and/or would rephrase on further reflection.

Beyond that, it may also show why many people are uncomfortable in group settings or with speaking at all. Pressure—time or otherwise—forces us into a shallow “agreeable” mode that regurgitates whatever we think others want to hear or that seems most socially acceptable to us.

I know I have done that many times. And when I buck that tendency, I know I sometimes hit it out of the park and sometimes cause myself embarrassment.

Either way, no matter the result, quick speech is fraught with danger, even among close friends. And this is probably a major reason we legitimately cling to personas, egos, or roles as means to standardize our responses across a wide variety of conditions.

From a Buddhist point o view, a great deal of delusion starts right there.

Public language has problems similar to private language

Private language—what we say to ourselves, how we cogitate while alone—is greatly dependent on public language, that which is readily understood by many.

In fact, private language is so dependent on public language, it can be argued that a private language completely divorced from public language cannot exist.

It is obvious that anyone wanting to influence or control large numbers of people will address them in public language.

It is less obvious, that those same people frequently will also seek to change the public language itself.

Sometimes this language changing is a good thing as that is how civilizations adapt and grow. It is probably best, or usually best, when civilizational changes arise organically from the whole society or from important parts of society that are behaving honestly.

Sometimes, however, the changing of public language is done dishonestly by small numbers of people who have seized positions of power precisely for that purpose.

They change public language to further their positions, ideas, or programs; to seize control of public topics; to seize or secure power over the public.

It is not as easy to parse this as it may seem. Who is restricting honest organic input into public language? Or when is organic input into public language itself but a ruse to falsely commandeer that language?

After Lenin and Stalin seized control of the public languages of the Soviet Union, we can see a clear-cut example of bad actors creating a basis for indoctrination. Before they seized power, we can see an example of a dishonest “organic” group seeking to commandeer control of public language.

And how do we see that today, through the lens of “history”?

Firstly, whose history? The same problem with public language arises.

Secondly, maybe we can never know. Maybe only societal laws or rules of governance can help us determine what’s right or best. But then the same problem arises.

Whose laws, whose rules?

In this sense both public and private languages have enormous problems basing themselves on anything.

Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

first posted 12/05/18

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Note 10/10/19: I think the above sheds light on false confessions and pretty much all self-abnegating lying on the spectrum trending down from a false confession with legal consequences.

Abusers work these ill-defined and difficult to grasp areas to dominate, entrap, and manipulate others. Narcissists and other “strong” or “clever” dark personality types use our fundamental willingness to cooperate against us.

Gas lighting greatly relies on people’s willingness to ignore truths and accept falsities about themselves. If there is more than one gas lighter at work, victims may even accept blame for things they know with certainty are not true.

As with so much in this world, immoral people put time and energy into fooling those who have not put time or energy into the dark arts.

Buddhists all know about wise compassion. We also need wise understanding of the world and wise cautiousness about the full scope of human motivations.

Our tendencies to go along with falsity can be seen in every part of life, from small corners of our own lives to the great expanses of entire societies.

Morality

Morality is a quality of consciousness.

It is the basis of enlightenment and the nexus of ultimate and relative realities.

The Buddha spoke of enlightenment only by saying what it is not.

Even when we consider moral acts with great care, we can never be entirely certain of our judgement because there is always more that we do not and cannot understand or know.

We can be cautiously certain only that we have tried or are trying to act morally.

Do we act as if in a role? Or do we act as if in a mind stream, a stream of karma?

God’s Will implies we have a role to play. What does a karmic mind stream imply? Are we attracted to the Tathāgata or not?

I think it’s best to consider all points of view.

Private and public language

Private language depends on public language and vice versa.

Private language works with public language and vice versa.

A public language with no private languages feeding into it does not exist.

A private language with no input from public language cannot exist except in very rare & unusual circumstances.

Any individual’s private language must seek expression in public language through communication with others, at least one other, at the very least an imaginary other, including an imaginary self.

A public language is dead without private speakers.

What limits speech? In a word: Fear

If we consider speech with only one listener and look firstly at the micro level, we find it is fear of wrong word choice, wrong gesture, expression, demeanor, or tone of voice that limits our speech because a misstep with any one of these may transgress interpersonal limits.

At the meso level, it is either fear of offending or embarrassing (our understanding of) the “personality” of our listener or the fear of an actual flareup from our listener.

At the macro level, it is the fear of introducing a largish idea with sociological or career implications that might disturb, embarrass, or anger our one listener.

With more than one listener, the analysis is much the same though the numbers of people make it more complex, until we get to so many people we are speaking to an audience. Then it becomes simpler in some ways because the micro and meso levels will be less prominent due to distance between speaker and audience and there being no clear single target of our tone of voice or phraseology.

On the other hand, an audience’s response can be more complex and problematic because more than one person can become angry at us.

Human beings thus are stuck in a game that is controlled by how most of us listen most of the time.

Stated differently, human beings have magnificent speech and communicative capabilities, but rarely get to use them to their full, best effect because one or more of the many speech limits outlined above will cause us either to hold our tongues or else risk creating a disruption in the mind(s) of our listeners.

This seems like a Big Problem to me. I do not want to spend my life constrained by those rules. FIML can help us overcome this problem but even FIML cannot do it all.

We must also recognize that our very comprehension of meaning itself is grounded in fear.