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


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.

Game theory and interpersonal relations

Game theory uses models to understand how people interact under predetermined conditions or rules.

The end result of any particular model is called its “equilibrium.” Equilibrium implies no one will change their input if external conditions remain the same.

One way to make a game theory model is to reason backwards from the equilibrium you want. To keep it simple, there are two players.

Let’s say we want an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life. Here is a hypothesis: an equilibrium like that should also result in psychological optimization, psychological well-being for both players.

To achieve that equilibrium, my game model will be based on the following rules:

  1. communication will be as honest as possible
  2. communication will be as clear as possible
  3. all acts of communication (within reason) will be subject to clarification, revision, correction, and explication to the point (within reason) that there is no misunderstanding and whatever ambiguity remains is reduced to its lowest practical level

To do this, players will:

  1. focus on the smallest practical units of communication because error and ambiguity (which often leads to error) frequently begin at this level; this level includes: words, phrases, gestures, tone of voice, expressions, gasps, laughter, grunts, and so on; anything that communicates; all pertinent semiotics
  2. correcting error at the above level, which we will call the micro-level, ensures that small mistakes do not lead to large mistakes; it also teaches players how to correct errors at meso and macro levels of communication
  3. since human minds are limited in what they know and can communicate, and if players are diligent in following the above rules, players will steadily become more familiar with each other; how they speak, hear, think, what their references are, their values, beliefs, and so on
  4. if they continue to maintain these practices, they will build on their mutual familiarity, eventually achieving an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life

I have played this game with my partner for over ten years and can attest that it has worked even better than we had hoped.

Not only have we achieved an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life, but also what we hypothesized has come to pass: this equilibrium has also resulted in what feels to us to be psychological optimization and psychological well-being for both of us.

The rules to our game can be found here: FIML.

Note that initially FIML will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium, whatever that may be. It cannot be otherwise. Note also that the rules of FIML will help you find or create a much better equilibrium.

If FIML is undertaken in a spirit of exploration, creativity, and fun, it will tend to self-generate or self-catalyze many new insights into your psychologies and how you interact with each other.

The ultimate FIML equilibrium is a dynamic one that keeps both partners open to the dynamic reality of life. With little or no “content” of its own, FIML rules allow partners to adapt to or create any “reality” they want.

Once understood, FIML is pretty much only difficult in the very beginning because in the beginning it will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium. By doing FIML, you are choosing to change your normal equilibrium to a more efficient one.

More science supporting mindfulness

A small study on meditation has confirmed what is pretty well-known already.

“…Mindfulness can be used by almost anyone and learnt online, so could be applied across society. In particular, it has been demonstrated to be effective at improving both mental health and academic performance in schools.” (Experienced meditators display an altered pattern of brain activity during a test of attention and self-control)

Also found was confirmation that the first and second skandhas (form and sensation) “fire” or arise before there is conscious awareness.

…“Unexpectedly, the meditators also showed more activity in their right parietal lobe between 0 and 50 ms after the images were presented on the computer screen. This time period is before the information from the images even reaches the occipital lobe, where vision is processed.” (Ibid)

Mindfulness has many definitions and interpretations. Here is one of my favorites from the Buddha himself:

And what, monks, is the faculty of mindfulness? Herein, monks, a noble disciple is mindful and is endowed with the highest prudence in mindfulness; he is one who remembers and recollects even what is done or said long ago. This, monks, is called the faculty of mindfulness. — S V 197 (Source)

I tend to think that mindfulness is best applied to closely observing the workings of our minds and being honest with ourselves about what we see.

When we communicate information from this side of ourselves to another person, close attention to what we say and how we say it as well as how we hear what they are saying in response can be a very important aspect of Buddhist practice.

Mindfully sharing mindfulness can be a very significant addition to meditative mindfulness.

The study is here: Mindfulness meditators show altered distributions of early and late neural activity markers of attention in a response inhibition task

Word and phrase valence as keys to understanding human psychology

Since virtually everything we do, think, and feel has some linguistic component it follows that our perceived valences of words and phrases will be reliable indicators of our psychological makeup.

This is especially true if our perceptions of these valences is “captured” in fraught contexts in real-world, real-time situations.

To be even clearer and more precise, it is fair to say that it is only possible to capture actual real valences in real-world, real-time situations.

When we do not work with real-world, real-time situations, we are capable only of working with the idea of them, a theory of them, a memory of them. And none of that can possibly capture the actual valence as it actually functions in real-life.

The theory, memory, or idea of a psychological valence associated with words and phrases occurs at a different level of abstraction or cognition from the valence itself.

Theories, memories, and ideas of psychological valences can be very interesting and are worth pursuing, but they are not the thing itself and as such have only a weak capacity to grasp the psychology exposed by actual valences in action in the real-world.

In a post yesterday—Words and word groups mapped in the brain—I discussed the following video, which is well-worth viewing again if you missed it the first time.

Yesterday, I said:

From these maps we can see that word groups have idiosyncratic arrangements, associations, and emphases.

And from this we can understand how analysis of interpersonal communication details can lead to beneficial changes in word group arrangements and thus also human psychology.

The video is very helpful for visualizing how words and word groups are organized in the brain. And this illustrates how and why FIML works as well as it does.

By “capturing” actual verbal psychological valences in real-time, real-world situations, partners gain immense insight into how their psychologies actually function in the real-world, how they actually deal with real life.

Focusing on very brief real-life valences has another very large benefit: though the valences are as real as they come, they are also very small, comprising nothing more than part of the working memory load at the time.

This is a bigger deal than it might seem. Virtually all of us have been trained by years of theorizing about our psychologies to see even very small incidents of real psychological valence as aspects of some theory or story about them.

No, no, no. Don’t do that. Just see each one for what it is—a brief valences that appeared briefly in working memory; and that has been “frozen” by the FIML technique as a small snapshot to be identified and understood as it is.

First get the evidence, get the data. Those valence snapshots are the data. Get plenty of them and you may find that you do not even need any theory about what they are or what caused them.

They just are. Indeed, theorizing about them makes them different, bigger, or worse while simultaneously hiding their real nature.

Most of us do not know how to think about real-world, real-time valences because we tend to always fit them into into an a priori format, a format we already believe in. That could be a theory of psychology or a take on what our personality is or what the other person’s personality is.

In the maps shown in the video, that would constitute a whole brain response to a small valence that appeared only briefly.

By using the FIML technique, you will find it is much easier and much more beneficial to reorganize small parts of the verbal map one piece at a time than to reorganize the entire map all at once based on some idea.

In practice, FIML deals with more than just words and phrases, but the whole practice can be largely understood by seeing how it works with language. FIML treats gestures, tone of voice, expressions, and so on in the same way as language—by isolating brief incidents and analyzing them for what they really are.