Cameron Brick is an Assistant Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the psychological aspects of climate change. In this conversation, we talk about climate change, the psychological aspects behind it, the difficulty of defining pro-environmental behaviour, and his recent article on Illusory Essences in psychological (and neuroscientific) research.
BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.).
0:00:04: How Cameron started working on the psychology of climate change
0:06:24: What is the actual problem of climate change? And what can we do about it?
0:21:47: What actually is "pro-environmental behaviour" and how can we measure it?
0:32:35: What kind of person is pro-environemtnal, and why?
0:38:54: Start discussing Illusory Essences
0:45:20: Formal models in psychology
0:47:23: Are the Big-5 in personality an illusory essence?
1:01:17: How to solve the problem of illusory essences
Brick, Hood, Ekroll & De-Wit (2022). Illusory essences: A bias holding back theorizing in psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Brick & van der Linden (2018). Yawning at the Apocalypse. The
Brick, Sherman & Kim (2017). “Green to be seen” and “brown to keep down”: Visibility moderates the effect of identity on pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Brick & Lewis (2016). Unearthing the “green” personality: Core traits predict environmentally friendly behavior. Environment and Behavior.
Smaldino (2017). Models are stupid, and we need more of them. Computational social psychology.
Spence, Poortinga & Pidgeon (2012). The psychological distance of climate change. Risk Analysis: An International Journal.
Srivastava (2010). The five-factor model describes the structure of social perceptions. Psychological Inquiry.
Updegraff, Brick, Emanuel, Mintzer & Sherman (2015). Message framing for health: moderation by perceived susceptibility and motivational orientation in a diverse sample of Americans. Health Psychology.
Wittgenstein (1953). Philosophical investigations.
Background on why I laughed at Cameron mentioning Brian Wansick: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemlee/brian-wansink-cornell-p-hacking
Where I learnt to floss by doing only 1 tooth per day: Fogg, B. J. (2019). Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything.
Borges's short story about maps: https://genius.com/Jorge-luis-borges-on-exactitude-in-science-annotated
(This is an automated transcript that will contain many errors)
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] I'm always curious how people got into the research they're doing. And, uh, I mean, for you that's is it fair to say psychology of climate change? Is that a good, uh,
Cameron Brick: that's my
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: brief summary
Cameron Brick: my main thing.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and, yeah, so I was wondering about that, but then I saw your article yawning at the apocalypse with Sander van der Linden, uh, and at the bottom it had like a very brief paragraph, uh, that like something that each person said, and you all said, I see climate change as the defining problem of our era and graduate school.
I became aware that many barriers to sustainability are more social and psychological than technical or technological. And I think a robust science of decision-making and collective behavior is necessary to overcome our challenges. Um, so I'm, yeah, I'm curious, because I also saw you had some initial research on sleep and I think our language or something like that.
So how did, when did you make that realization that you, this was the thing that.
Cameron Brick: Before I went to graduate school and started publishing at all. I was doing other [00:01:00] things. And so returning to do graduate school in psychology. Yeah. I had been working at a hospital for some years, which explained some of the health psych focus of the work in that Hara, I guess I was just following what seemed cool.
Um, and I was pretty excited about all the Brian Wansink style, a disappearing soup and things that, uh,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.
Cameron Brick: be unbelievable, but that had led me into a certain set of work. And then it was in this interesting time in graduate school, which for me, is in Santa Barbara with my PhD mentor Sherman, where I was losing some interest in the work we were doing. Um, I was working predominantly for a couple of years on brushing and flossing behaviors. And while they are important Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay.
Cameron Brick: they're plenty important. Um, I don't know. There was something about filming videos of people, flossing, and then communicating that in gain [00:02:00] and loss frame messages and running big studies, and then finding pretty small effects for matching.
We did find some matching effects that, you know, if you find someone is more worried about losing their teeth, you should show them a persuasive message that's about potentially losing your teeth as opposed to having a great smile, which is a more gain frame message. Anyway, we did this kind of work. I was, I was losing momentum and then, it was right then that, uh, S uh, actually two key friends of mine that were both doing master's degrees in environmental, um, environmental science and management, and a different school started talking to me about climate change.
And really, I thought it can't possibly be this bad. Like you must be wrong because the people in charge would be handling it. If it is as bad as you said,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So when was this?
Cameron Brick: 20. And, uh, it was that bad and they people in charge weren't handling it. And I, I had this nice pivot, um, with my mentor was very responsible for helping me.[00:03:00]
I'm grateful to him. Aligning my personal interests, which were growing around environment with my professional skills. realized, oh, actually this persuasion, this messaging, this behavior change this understanding of motivation. This all tracks pretty well into environment. And it took me some years to build up momentum, but that was how I pivoted from what was a classic sort of hardcore, theoretical social psych program into working on what other people consider applied topics.
Although we could pause and talk about the difference between basic and applied research too, if you want.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, I just had one on a thought that I have to say about the flossing, your teeth, just because I never used to do it. And then I heard this thing about, just do one tooth a day. That's all you have to do. And that actually got me to do it because it actually, yeah, you just start with one, the easiest one you have, and then you get the technique down.
And then I actually, now I've lost every day,
Cameron Brick: Oh,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: for a year, for a year, half a year, didn't have a mirror and it, um, it sounded [00:04:00] like a city idea when I heard it, but actually just tell you stuff to floss one tooth,
Cameron Brick: brilliant.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: then usually you in the beginning I did. And then over time I actually ended up doing.
Cameron Brick: That's like the thesis writing advice. Open it And write a, you know, for two minutes is better than living in close for a week. Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And often you under, especially in the beginning, you might actually do that, but then after you get into it, you actually would have it.
Cameron Brick: goals. Good. Good, good.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, the, I guess the idea there is also the, the, a goal that's so small you'd feel really stupid not to do it. They might say, well, how your day went, you can always do that.
Cameron Brick: That's the rubber Cialdini approach famously called to foot in the door. You make someone an offer that.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yup.
Cameron Brick: They can't reasonably refuse. Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yup. Yup. Uh, anyway, that was just briefing him that, um, but I was curious about first, like, were you already into, I mean, I guess it sounds like you weren't actually particularly like a environmental activist or anything like that at the time, it seems like you were also fairly, not naive, but you had a, like [00:05:00] generic kind of knowledge about it.
If your friends kind of told you all this stuff or.
Cameron Brick: Pretty generic, pretty uninformed. I was like, I had been aware of those own layer issues in the Montreal protocol, but I guess I just had a, yeah, pretty broad just concern that environmental issues were worsening, but not really any particular knowledge about it. I had grown up in an area in California that was fairy nature. Focused, I guess, culturally. So we were kind of hippie environmentalists by default, but I didn't have an academic connection to it.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: One of the few things I hear that kind of for new years, all the fires. Does that kind of bring it closer to you? I mean, there's this whole idea about the, the distance of climate change to you?
Cameron Brick: Yeah. We
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, and California seems like it's a place that has, that brings it actually quite close, right? If you're off you're places burning every year.
Cameron Brick: especially lately. So I don't remember those kinds of fires when I was young. I don't think they were happening in that region or not at that intensity. [00:06:00] It's different now, but yeah, when I was growing up, what kinds of environmental issues were approximate to me? Litter, probably that might be about it. I didn't, you know, like they weren't waterways that I was trying to swim in or anything.
The air seemed okay.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Good, maybe to ask a very, very large and also maybe very naive question, which is what exactly is the problem of climate change. So, I mean, there's, there's one which is.
Cameron Brick: Oh, it's a simple problem. If the problem is.
that we pollute our atmosphere with heat trapping gases, and can't burn any more of this carbon that we're taking out of the ground. We have to stop doing that. That's pretty much it.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So that's the, I would say, so there's like kind of two problems in the sentence, right? One is that the kind of like how, how it works on a very basic level and the others? How do we actually do that? And I [00:07:00] guess that's where the psychological, I guess it's kind of what I introduced with the, with your quotation, right?
Cameron Brick: Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, the, the problem is not really technological, but more psychological. So maybe to, to, I mean, you address this in the morning at the apocalypse article, kind of what are some reasons why? Yeah, we haven't done more about this and that this remains.
Cameron Brick: Well, you mentioned psychological distance before. I think that's a nice sort of basket term, although not assume that it means so single thing, but I like the idea that if you think about what are people trying to do functionally in every moment of their day in almost none of those moments where you find some goal about what the temperature is going to be in Pakistan, you know, years from now, that's just not what we evolved to do.
So I want to resist the that we didn't evolve to solve this problem. I think we also evolved very unique [00:08:00] cooperation abilities. Allow us to even potentially do this, talk about it like you and I are talking about it. It's not that we can't do it with our ancient brains, but it is useful to recognize that we, we evolved for a set of functional challenges leading to adaptations that have nothing to do with timescales like that uncertainties like that distributed collective action problems like that.
So it is a very unique, a uniquely difficult problem in the sense that we don't, we already don't appear to care through our behavior about things that are a lot closer to us and affect us quite personally. So why would we care about this? I mean, or even if we said, yeah, I care about it. Why would that translate into
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, you mentioned something that we don't really care about stuff that's much closer to us. One kind of analogy I thought of that I'm assuming is not original at all, is that, [00:09:00] you know, most people are overweight and that's, to some extent there's some paradigms, right? It's, I mean, this is happening to you directly, but it's something that, you know, it's going to happen in the future.
Um, so there's this, this trade off between short term and long-term thinking and all this kind of stuff. So I was just wondering, especially with your health background or that you had some interest in these kinds of questions, I'm curious, is there anything that we can learn from that kind of stuff to inform how to think about changing people's behavior and climate?
Cameron Brick: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. The first thing I'll say, and I'm a, a couple of years out of date on this, but I know that about five or seven years ago, the best summary of the literature in health psychology on sustained, you know, keep it off. Weight loss was people basically. Like, there's no amount of, uh, expert advice, plus packages, plus calorie tracking like it basically on average doesn't work. some [00:10:00] people can lose weight and keep it off. Of course the world is a big place, that's the first point. The second point is that, uh, it's a really wonderful comparison because there's so many things that determine our weight that are not about our conscious intentional motives and desires and concerns, and basically the whole psychological level.
A lot of it has to do with like a structural features of the, of the environment, uh, the proximity, availability, and price of fruits and vegetables. For example, whether we grew up eating them, um, you know, our cultural background, our current socioeconomic status, that is to say lots of things that are basically outside of immediate psychological control. So I think of that way in the carbon footprint as well. So it's a, it's a nice comparison.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So does the conclusion then also mean that we can't do anything about climate change? I collectively long term,
Cameron Brick: No, no, no. The, you said the
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I'm gonna have a CA.
Cameron Brick: You said the [00:11:00] key word, which is collective. if you want it to change, you know, the weight of the nation, should you become a inspirational motivational speaker and tell people that they really contain the power and that they can decide tomorrow to be a better, or maybe we could organize collectively to affect the public health of our neighbors things that actually work, which we know, know, through this kind of research, that thing.
So the same, I feel for climate, which is that we should be focusing on the highest impact behaviors addressing them multiple levels, not just as a consumer, but as, uh, a person who has roles in our organization. And people who also engage in the public sphere, whether that's politics or activism, uh, of all stripes.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So what are some, uh, let's uh, actually don't know what the answer is, um, because I'm, I'm fairly uninformed about. [00:12:00] Environmentalism and that kind of stuff. So what are kind of some of the, the, what are the biggest contributors and what are something that you can actually do as a, you know, as a person who's not maybe president of a country or something,
Cameron Brick: Well, I mean, I think
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: which I'm assuming most of my listeners are.
Cameron Brick: it's, it's actually kind of the same question as why would we ever vote? Aye, let's say in the U S right now there's all this, um, frustration and, uh, and also jubilation about the change in abortion access. And people might think, you know, I'm not on the Supreme court, so I have no power, that's not really how politics work.
You have to think about the fact that. All of these institutions only exist because people legitimize them and participate in ways that sustain them or destroy them. And we have different institutions over time. So all of these levels of participation, engagement conversation, et cetera, are absolutely effective.
They're what turns everything. [00:13:00] And we could talk about money as well, because it's not just a bunch of well-meaning people in town halls, but you asked also what is most impactful. And I would return, I would return to the fossil fuel extraction projects. So all over the world, governments are.
permitting new places to drill for oil and gas tar sands and whatever else. we should be pressuring them not to do those things. That seems very a.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So kind of what's going on right now where the at least, well, I don't know, actually internationally, but in Germany, at least the green party is really, um, they're getting right now, I think often like almost a quote, a quarter of the vote or something, whereas before it was maybe like 10, 15% or something like that.
So they almost like doubled, um, how many people voted is that then basically the best thing people can do, uh, it was that, you know, because it feels like once every two years or four years or whatever, making across some way, isn't exactly, it doesn't feel [00:14:00] like as a huge action towards fighting one of the biggest problems out there.
Cameron Brick: No. And I mean, I think there's particular gripe with the greens in Germany actually, because they seem from the outside kind of co-opted into the standard way of doing things like with small adjustment, rather than creating a radically different, uh, way like complete electrification or let's just take a simple question in Germany, like the maximum speed on the most. It turns out that going really fast in your car, emits way more emissions than going normal speeds. And like,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.
Cameron Brick: no one is coming to take away everyone's car, but the idea of a maximum speed in Germany is so toxic that green Swan even touch it. It seems so. I don't know. It seems very
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, you can't take that away from the Germans. We love our speed. We love our going up 180 kilometers down the motorway.
Cameron Brick: I want them to realize their lives will be better if they, uh, if they organize it themselves, but Hey, whatever. So I think, uh, [00:15:00] I think we used to think of activists as radicals. so unique about the climate crisis is that it is actually in everyone's best interest participate what looks like radical action.
That is actually quite mainstream. If you look at the expected harms and benefits of their base, Like compare that with some other issue like abortion. If I was on here saying we look up uh, I don't know, the right to life for a fetus is so important. We should mass in the streets tomorrow. That's a, that's an opinion I've put my values on to others and suggested that they follow me. But with climate change, I don't have to put my values on others. He like, if you understood the harms and benefits of our different pathways, I guarantee they would be wanting change as well. So there's a lack of information, but there's not a value gap at all, because what we're looking at is a society with better air quality, [00:16:00] walkability, better health, better integration, like more intentional, preservation of wild spaces.
And yeah, our whole global economy around food depends on like 10 or 12 species of, know, like corn, for example, we probably shouldn't disrupt these cycles. You know, or we'll be in deep trouble, that kind of thing. Everyone agrees with that already.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, not everyone. Right? Otherwise all the parties would be doing this, or, I mean, I'm guess I'm curious, like I'm very non, politically informed and not particularly interested in them. So don't want to turn this into like a political thing. But, um, I guess the question I have is like take, if everyone knows this, do the politicians think that they won't get elected if they do this or that they're afraid of like the short term job consequences?
Or do they not actually know that? I don't know.
Cameron Brick: the politician level, let's just distinguish between what I was saying is that we have the same values. We want to be healthy. We want to live in comfortable communities. We want to be able to travel easily. [00:17:00] Uh, we want our, our liberties protected. And for me, Liberty means like I want to live a healthy, safe life What speed am I doing? But I D I would never say that everyone agrees about like the policy prescriptions. So as soon as you start talking about any specific change that we should make yeah. You lose people. Absolutely. Mo we spend a lot of time talking about climate deniers or people who shout on Twitter.
Really? The, the people who are, you know.
who in the nineties were saying, it's not happening. Who in the two thousands were saying, it's happening. And it's not that bad. It's going to be fine. Who in the 2010s were saying, it's happening. It's bad. We're causing it. And now there's nothing we can do about it. Basically. This is a tiny little slice of loud people, and we shouldn't be thinking about them so much. I think we should talk about the big mushy, middle of people that are concerned, but maybe not taking, [00:18:00] like, what's the one tooth move for them. That's the group that I'm working.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah. Once, uh, once saw a meme or a tweet or whatever, I can't remember what it was exactly a saying that something like the, the most environmentally friendly people are probably the lonely game is to sit at home all day and just play video games. Like, no, one's talking about how great they are for the environment.
Um, but yeah, I mean, I guess just like as a, as an individual, what, what is something you can do? I mean, there's right now you hear about, you know, not flying so much or not eating so much meat. Is, is that the,
Cameron Brick: you
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: the, the, the biggest leavers you.
Cameron Brick: vegan, it's not going to solve the climate crisis. So I don't think that's the best way to think about it. Actually. It's clear that beef is a big problem, so, okay. Reducing beef is a good idea I mean also for one's health that processed red meat seem to be, um, a particular food group.
That's dangerous for us. Flying is interesting because [00:19:00] it's only for a certain subset of. Like, if you could communicate something to everyone on earth, it wouldn't be flying because only a tiny proportion of people fly, but
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but if that has a disproportionate effect, then
Cameron Brick: the people listening to you are probably largely among the kind of group that would fly.
I fly myself, my family family's back in California. I'm not a purist. I just fly a little bit less than I used to.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you don't row a boat.
Cameron Brick: I am going to take the train to a, to Spain in a bit. And that's, that's
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh yeah. I saw your tweet about going from Paris to Barcelona and how difficult.
Cameron Brick: I'm like, come on guys. It was better connected. 20 years ago, there was a night train between Paris and, uh, and Madrid 20 years ago.
There's not any more.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I have to go to Copenhagen soon. That's not going to be fun by training either.
Cameron Brick: are terrible even from here. Yeah. And I go through Hamburg and it takes forever anyway. Uh, the, but flying, Yeah.
flying is pretty big. could, you know, be, uh, you could adjust your diet [00:20:00] radically and your local travel. And you're the heating in your house and you can do all this stuff and you take a couple long flights and it's blown out your budget for the entire year, but I don't want us to think about that as the of the changes that need to happen, I like it's this, isn't the kind of thing that we can solve in private this scale.
Like maybe in the eighties, if we had all radically changed our lifestyles and quietly lobbied for local changes to how utilities are run, maybe we would have had a different trajectory, but it's so late in the process. Now we are so close to the edge of the waterfall that it's not ever going to be enough to do it that way.
So we have to in the public, you know, civic spaces where there's regulation and legislation and prices as well. We could talk about big prices are. Psychology is not even really the best tool for this. I mean, I would much rather just, you know, [00:21:00] rather than someone going to the store and saying, okay, which of these items have a high carbon footprint?
And let me think about this and add 10 minutes to my trip. So I could make a good decision that we make 17%. Like this is already way too difficult. They should just not have as easy access to really damaging products. This is the same reason why you can't go to the store and buy led paint. It's not, should I buy it?
It's dangerous for my kids. It's like, it's just not available. it costs a lot or there's you need to train and safety equipment when you use it or whatever. Like our whole society is built around this, but long-term issues are harder for us to bring externalities into the.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yes. I mean, it will move more towards a soon talking about your actual papers. Um, and it kind of one question that, um, I guess we kind of asking a bit in that. Going to be rid of it for that, is this question of like, what actually is pro-environmental environmental behavior, because when you study this in your, in your studies, um, [00:22:00] studies necessarily says great speech.
Um, but when you do that, um, you know, you have to define who are the people who are pro environmental and these kinds of things and how, what kind of tasks can we use to, uh, yeah. Just see how environmental people friendly people behave. So kind of, how do you define that on a, um, very specific experimental kind of basis?
Cameron Brick: Yeah, that was a, I guess that was a heavy political segment we just did. So let's talk about some methodology is like a very safe space for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about. You know, the, what I, what I, let me explain how I started with this in graduate school. I was looking for a measure what kinds of behaviors people were doing that were affecting the environment. And then I was going to call it pro-environmental behavior some are high and some are low. We talked about me too and transportation and that sort of thing. Okay. Those are all on the scale that I developed, but I needed the [00:23:00] scale to have certain properties for me to be able to use it. needed, for example, it to yield of roughly normal distribution. I needed to aggregate across all of the behaviors. I mean, ideally equally then I wouldn't have to weight them and I needed the behaviors to happen frequently. A real suit also wouldn't be normal. So what I ended up with a set of judgements that are not really very much about impact. They're more like how often do you do this?
Sometimes is the. It's rarely very, very hard to translate that into some kind of impact measure, but is in line with some fun something someone can comfortably remember and report to you. And that yields the kind of psychometric features that makes it useful for modeling in our studies. So forward and a bunch of papers on this.
And, um, I'm still interested in that, but I have come to believe that what we were measuring isn't [00:24:00] isn't the behavior. We thought it isn't the impactful behaviors that they're exercising on the environment. I like to think of it more closely to intentions. Now it's kind of what they were imagining that they were doing their aspirational relationship to the environment. So it's closer to an intentions measure. And that is part of the reason why it's so well connected with all the psychological features. So I didn't mention before, but one of the reasons over time, we still have. Reject scales is because of the linear relationships we can find with other scales. So turns out way I pose this.
It, it correlates quite well with someone's environmental identity, with their concern about climate change with their, don't know what other variables where you wouldn't find those kinds of relationships necessarily with, uh, like a, let's say a linear measure of how many liters of water you use less month, is probably best predicted by income.
I should just say like actual impact is heavily constrained [00:25:00] by someone's access to resources and those people who have lots of access, those people who are rich, count myself among them, like are going to use more resources. That's why I live in a house of this size. And if I didn't have enough money for this house, I would live in a smaller house. And So, nothing, just nothing about my environmentalist identity, that determined that I rent a of this size.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So, I mean, I guess, is that a bit of a conflict between, I mean, in part also what people know about how environmentally friendly certain behaviors are.
Cameron Brick: sure.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: thing about fixed the input act, turning off the light. Yeah, that's something I think, especially my parents' generation was already told. I think it doesn't make a huge difference if you have led light bulbs and they didn't really use any energy anyway.
Cameron Brick: difference back then, but way, way smaller difference now. Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So, but so you, so what you're trying to measure with those things is just how much people care is that kind of it, even if they might not do [00:26:00] the right things, kind of.
Cameron Brick: I mean, I guess it's a bit of a dig at a lot of the work that I used to do and that others have prioritized over a long time, which is this kind of boxes and arrows modeling of.
planned behavior or value belief norms, or any of these of causal style models, which is to say, if you're looking for strong effects between these levels, you're going to measure the variables in a way such as. Ended up having really high shared measurement variance and are constructed in a way that yields nice normal distributions. And you're going to get farther and farther away from impact. That's okay. If we just knew that the end thing was say intentions and not actual, you know, behaviors. I mean, they are behaviors, like reporting it in a scale is a behavior which is worth studying by the way. uh, but like, I think I fooled myself that it meant something else for awhile. So that has led me into [00:27:00] couple of different areas of working on, um, resolving this sort of over-reliance on, uh, yeah. Or know. Over-interpreting self-report you asked what is pro-environmental behavior? And I would say it is not one thing.
It is a basket of issues that we collectively realize affect the environment to some degree. And some people would include how many children you have and some wouldn't. And all would include the light bulb thing cause it was banged on about for decades. Um, but we would probably leave out some pretty large ones like in the UK, the way that homes are insulated and weatherized is just
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, yeah.
Cameron Brick: and they don't realize like how massive that is in reference to other more visible issues, like carrying your bags to the grocery store or what kind of car you drive or like that. So all of this, we can say form a different, [00:28:00] different types of behaviors. Some of them are curtailment do less of something. Some of them are, do more of something like engage with your local government or write your politicians or, consume something you think is eco groovy and very, very California from my. I'm stoked to use such a word with you. So, uh, yeah. Uh, there's no reason to think in psychological terms that all of these behaviors form a single category in any given brain that is to say, we can, we can decide that there's some sort of cluster, you know, of, of how someone relates to the environment that we might call it something environmental concern, let's say. And maybe we ask about it in lots of different ways. And then we combine them and we get some aggregate kind of like we would sample a personality space. So let's call it a trait. But the behaviors aren't like [00:29:00] that, because like you said, a moment ago, there might be a very important behavior that is not even on their radar.
They don't know that it's a pro-environmental behavior. So how would you then find it? It's not related to the other things in the. And the behaviors differ a lot in impact and they mean different things over time. And so behaviors aren't really clusteral in this way. And one of the things we've done in our group is and move towards looking at fewer of them at a time or one even.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, it's, it's funny. Like, I mean, w in the beginning you mentioned that littering or something like that would, would have been one of the things you maybe grew up with. And I just realized what we're talking about it, like in preparing, um, this interview, I realized whenever I thought about pro environmental stuff, I never even thought about that.
It was always about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and that kind of stuff. I never actually considered all the other parts that go into making life habitable. And that sets like not throwing around your rubbish.
Cameron Brick: Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, it's funny, I guess how recently that's, at least in [00:30:00] my mind been kind of shifted from like one thing or the focus has become much more on the, uh, making sure that the plant doesn't heat up too much to.
Cameron Brick: Well, that's a really great point. You've just made, because if I asked a bunch of people, you know, how much do you think of yourself as an environmentalist? Not at all to very much. some people had in mind, okay, this is littering and air quality and water quality, and, uh, ocean temperature and acidification and corals and layer, whatever.
And other people were just thinking about global warming or they were just thinking about littering or whatever. Now they're going to give me a whole range of responses. I didn't realize they were answering different questions because I never asked them what that meant to them. These are among the challenges of using words, where we think we're saying the same thing that they hear.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: There is a simple question. Like how much do you care about the environment almost best then, because then whatever people have in their own definition and knowledge sets and all that kind of [00:31:00] stuff, it just encapsulates all of that.
Cameron Brick: unfortunately. I mean, you use to clarify that to me, like the word knowledge also depends on my knowledge sets. And if we were to drill this down, eventually we would be in the place of the positivists who were trying to create a kind of a mathematics of language of rhetoric. And they failed because it's just too messy. Like there's no way to reduce this conversation to a series of propositions that are that.
testable, but we've settled into a kind of a functionalism where we can communicate good enough, like let's pay attention to the gaps and the places where. Follow And I learned this language that we're speaking together in different contexts. So there are certain words that are more than other ones or, you know, and we can pay attention to it and just try and bridge it in, in our case, maybe we should be often asking people, what does this word mean to you?
And then testing it back against our mental models. When we develop [00:32:00] the questions, they're never going to match up perfectly, but maybe they tell us a whole category of things we weren't thinking of.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So maybe as a, I guess I want to just spend a little more time with this, but I guess otherwise if we do that, it's gonna take forever. So maybe as a, can you, um, briefly summarize who is provide mental, uh, that kind of what person is, it seems to be a lot of your research is about this, right? Like kind of relating that,
Cameron Brick: Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that kind of behavior to other constructs we have.
So, yeah, who's environmental and why
Cameron Brick: If you follow the literature, most, the modal sort of a prototypical environmentalist appears to be female young, high education, politically left, and more often in a kind of a rich Western context.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: everyone who takes spots in a psychology study.
Cameron Brick: Yeah. Actually they are overrepresented. That's true. [00:33:00] Except for the income thing, because of, um, you know, they're often students, but they, they have maybe hive family wealth relative to the globe. Certainly this group is very high in intentional sort of conscious, reflective environmental ism, where they've learned something about ecological systems about psych, you know, psychological distance and and time just since then, they've thought, well, actually I do care about this and I'd like to. Do better. all true. And I don't want to minimize that when I say maybe that's not the thing we're most interested in. people think of themselves as environmentalist, if you were to classify it like impact, the best environmentalist's among us are those who are just using the least resources and taking up the least space. And, you know, it's, I saw the other day that, uh, Elon Musk made, uh, a seven minute flight from somewhere in central California to somewhere else in central California. [00:34:00] And I thought, yeah, that's, that's absurd. Uh, it's easy to point at that and say that's absurd. And it would also be easy to point at someone living in a hut in extreme circumstances and say, I would like you to have a refrigerator and be a little bit more comfortable and maybe have access to medical care. You know, uh, it's this in between space where we have to negotiate what to do. Who is an environmentalist. There's not I've not at all interested in policing this group or defining it or whatever. I think the, the most useful frame is just to imagine we can all do a little bit better and there will be benefits way beyond the environment.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And I guess I was asking about you. Um, so you have quite a lot on research on identity. How kind of, I mean, that's gonna going back to the political stuff you mentioned earlier, how basically. Yeah. If you see yourself as this kind of person, then you'll [00:35:00] act in a certain way. Um, I mean, for example, I mean the, the, the Altec I'm thinking right now in which I have open in front of me is your, um, green to be seen a brown to keep down, um, article, um, I guess, which kind of roughly says that, uh, if I'm correct me, if I'm wrong here, um, that if you have a high visibility behavior, so something that is quite clearly signals and identity, then you know, your identity around, uh, if I mentioned isn't is going to hugely impact whether you do that or not, and to the benefit or detriment of, uh, or independent of, um, the, the effect of the environment of that behavior on the.
Cameron Brick: That's right. And let's make it a little bit less abstract. So take a behavior like carrying reusable bags to the grocery store. Basically they, everyone knows that other people can see them doing this and that this behavior has social, meaning it implies certain kinds of group memberships and identities, and maybe someone does or doesn't want to have that identity. So if you're [00:36:00] a young, progressive left woman in an urban setting, maybe you're like, yeah, I like that identity. That's fine. I'll do that. And maybe if you're a rural. Uh, I don't know, guy who works in the fossil fuel industry and not in a city and a little bit older. Maybe you don't want to be carrying a canvas tote bag that says, I love the earth on the side of it, because it represents identities that you just don't want to hold. And what we showed was that the identity, course, people who want to think of themselves as environmentalists are reporting more of these behaviors across the board. Yeah. the visibility seems to matter. So that highly visible behaviors identity matters more. for the.
low visible behaviors, like how much water are you using in your home? It's less important because other people can't see.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Right. Yeah. So once you're talking about urgency and just because you mentioned Elon Musk idea, um, I guess one thing, is it fair to say that one thing he did that really helped the [00:37:00] environment is make electricals cool rather than, so basically now suddenly if you are someone who, um, doesn't think of themselves as an environmentalist, um, they might before not have bought a Tesla because they, or any electric car, because they thought, oh, that's just for the weirdos who, you know, are hippies or whatever.
That's because now Tesla is such a cool company. Suddenly everyone wants the car.
Cameron Brick: that's
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that kind of his biggest contribution?
Cameron Brick: Uh,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: more than I ended know where the biggest contribution, but yeah, I guess I've just realized that was you kind of.
Cameron Brick: of his other ventures don't seem very connected to climate issues, like in a helpful way to me like space exploration, I'm for it. I think it's interesting, but like colonizing Mars, while we have a burning fire in our backyard, doesn't make a lot of sense. Like we should probably solve our local issues and then we can call and other planets. So I feel like his net effect is probably quite negative in terms of focus in terms of public opinion in terms [00:38:00] of culture shift. But yeah, I'll give him that. When is that? Um, it's great that, uh, you know, young people who, or old, whatever, anyone who wants to be cool and not at all thinking about climate might end up with a fully electric vehicle, even though there's just zero environment, part of it in their motivation, end up there because it's a, it accelerates faster because it looks cool because it's the thing, whatever.
Yeah, that's great. That's all positive. And it's a good example of the kind of.
behavior shift we need. we do not need to do is make everything into an eco groovy tote bag and convince everyone to have different values, no bullshit, and also way too hard. What we need to do is show the ways which are already true in which the transition. Uh, like serves everyone's existing interests.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I guess the kind of last article of yours I'd like to talk about is the illusory essences article from this year, actually, I guess now has maybe a late time to [00:39:00] say to anyone new to the podcast, I put references into the description. So you don't have to check like search for the papers or anything.
Yeah. Maybe we can go through this very classically first, maybe what are essences and what makes them illusory?
Cameron Brick: Yeah, got into this project, um, because we saw that certain words were being used across psychological science and, the social sciences more broadly a lot of, oh, um, credulity about what it was that they meant. So we touched on this a little bit earlier, but fine in some disciplines for some purposes to use a word and maybe not know exactly what your receiver hears when they hear the. So, for example, let's say in theater, I may not need for the performance to be successful for, uh, the audience to understand the intended meaning of the phrase, but science at different [00:40:00] enterprise, we do need for reproducibility to really understand what was meant and make sure that there's correspondence between the design and the yeah.
The intended meaning and the heard meaning. turns out that a particular problem with familiar words. I mean, I think, I think of this back to childhood and arguing with people about a word like soul, whether there is one, there's basically no winning this argument on either side, because you don't even agree about what it means and all the words you would use to define what it means.
Let's say after life, all themselves are also undefinable and difficult, all sort of all the way down. And this was fit Stein's main, uh, observation about philosophy. And we're kind of just extending that to specific cases within psychology and social science and saying, we also don't know what we're talking about.
We use words in a functional way to accomplish [00:41:00] aims, to get things done, if we really want to make sure we're carving nature at the joints going to be a little bit harder and here are suggestions. So it turned out there was more work on this than I thought when we were first writing this paper, as we dug in and the review process was actually quite helpful.
Although very effortful discovered a bunch more consistent work with this, which yeah, it was great. So there's all this work on essentially sizing, which is the, you know, the process by which hear some term, it let's say motivated. And then it activates a bunch of other related concepts for us.
And we may have a sense, that we know what it is. Even if you drill all the way down and you ask the very, very highest experts, what is motivation? They might say it's not a single coherent thing, but someone on the street would hear that word and think, oh, that is a thing like it's [00:42:00] unitary. We can use it in our causal models.
It can predict things and cause things the same for everyone. All of these assumptions are violated. And so we stepped through a number of Um, and what was really fun for me in this project was that it wasn't social psychology. spent very little time in my discipline. We spend a lot of time in other areas like clinical and, uh, bio-psychology visual neuroscience stepping through questions.
Like are edges being detected by cells in V1? What is attention. What is a, a psychiatric diagnosis and showing that the same sort of assumptions that come to bear. When we say, you know, someone is autistic as saying that a cell in V1 is an edge detector, that is there's certain circularity issues.
And in obfuscation of mechanisms that is coming up all the way across psychological science, it wasn't the first time someone had made this [00:43:00] argument, but it was my first time learning about it through writing the paper. And I really.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, in some sense, it seems to be that this is, I mean, is this almost a central. Almost unique problem to psychology that we are dealing with topics and themes that everyone kind of knows the words of at, it seems to me that there's a specific kind of problem that you have, if everyone on the street, more or less things, they have an idea of what you're talking about versus, I mean, I guess lots of people have think they know what quantum theory is or whatever, but at least I think I'm assuming comes from a very specific definition, which is kind of new and outside of what people talk about everyday.
Cameron Brick: That's exactly right. exactly right. And even with quantum stuff, you know, if you get into it and you say, okay, there's up charm and there's top charm and like very quickly people realize they've no idea what, they, they have heard the label, but that doesn't mean anything functional. [00:44:00]
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I have, for example, no idea. Yeah, for me, it's just like an example from yeah. Physics basically.
Cameron Brick: is like, there is no intuitive understanding of that. basically.
you can master the equations and then you can operate on it as a, as a unit, uh, in some sense, but it, it, it doesn't even need to exist. I mean, as like a, as the kind of a centralized or what is sometimes called Ray ified feature of nature, like here it is, here's the chunk and you're so right that we, uh, are especially vulnerable to this because of how verbal are sciences. Now, there are psychologists and others working on formalizing, and they're like through computational models, for example. And I think that one of the resolutions that we need, but we'll find, I think using those kinds of models that we lose a lot of the, what the questions we started with. So, for. Um, we might think that a well-formed research [00:45:00] question is motivates people to do something about climate change, but it turns out if you want to answer this research question as phrased, you also need to know what motivation is.
And it's not a thing. I mean, it's not one thing. And so, uh, we, we can pose well-formed research questions and solve them computationally. But right now they're not generally the questions we wanted.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So, how do, I mean, I'm in general, you know, I come from psychology, but also did a master's in neuroscience and in a way I'm kind of stuck in between thinking, I guess, formal models other way, but also not quite having the skills to actually do it. Um,
Cameron Brick: I don't
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and yeah, I mean, I am like slowly working at it and, you know, that's one of the reasons, one of my, one of the first people actually contacted for the podcast who, I didn't know, personally was Paul's Medina because of his article.
Um, I mean a few of those articles, but one of them, um, why formal models are stupid and we need more [00:46:00] of them whenever it's something like that. So I'm just, I'm just saying like, I'm in a way, like very much like stuck in between kind of this, uh, these two approaches and almost, and I'm just curious, like, what do you mean by, uh, like you changed the question you were asking, or you can't ask certain questions with a formal model versus available.
Cameron Brick: Um, I'm probably getting a little bit too far outside of my expertise here, a speculative, but let me explain what I meant, which is that, um, this is the same sort of issue with the logical positivism I brought up earlier, but basically you want to work only with formal units, then you have the constraints, the types of questions you ask, because you can only ask about things that you can. And so if there's something that you know the word for, but you don't know how to model it, it can't go in. And that's most of the questions social psychologists ask.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess, especially because we care about very complex things and have very little mathematical training that the [00:47:00] combination of the cheese, probably not a good, good.
Cameron Brick: I think that's fair. And it's not that these questions are all illusory, rather they are so difficult and individual thoughts, interactions. Yeah. That it is defeating our current approaches. Let's say
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So, um, I like to maybe talk about, to kind of flesh out what exactly illusionary essences are to flesh out some examples. Um, I don't know, is there any one from the article that you would like to talk about? Otherwise we could, um, go through some yeah, like personality ones that I, um, prepared or, yeah.
Cameron Brick: let's go to your personality.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So, uh, I mean you've so in one of your studies, let's see which one is it? It's the brick and Lewis from 2006.
Cameron Brick: Unearthing the green personality, which was his idea.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And, uh, so there, for example, one of your main findings is that, uh, specific behaviors are more related to [00:48:00] certain, um, of the big five personality traits. So now kind of my question is in a very simple way, are the, is the, is the big five, one of these illusionary essences you're talking about? Or is that an actual thing or, yeah.
How do we think about that in context of this paper?
Cameron Brick: a tough question. I do think it is a useful model and I do think it's defensible in certain with certain criteria, but maybe we shouldn't go as so far as to saying it exists. It's it's like a, it's a carving of space. So.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, there's sorry, I guess one thing to, maybe to clarify, I guess there is a difference between the big five and each of the individual factors. Um, yeah, I'm not sure which one, I mean,
Cameron Brick: But even, even if you took a five factor model or a four factor model or a 10 or whatever, like you're going to leave out some things and you're going to highlight some things. And none of those decisions are resolvable. I mean, in a, [00:49:00] in a of classic permanent way, they're all just gradations of different criteria. Let me, let me read a couple of quotes for you.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: This from, from what?
Cameron Brick: I'll mention. Yeah. Sanjay. Srivastava one of the, one of the leading, um, you know, originators of the big five models that we're using these days recently wrote models of personality structure are not correct or incorrect instead they are either useful or not.
For some purpose. As a result of researchers, choice of a model will depend on their prior. Priorities include maximizing variance, accounted for parsimony, cross language, generalize ability, to theory, to synthesize across studies. And so whether the HEXACO or any other model is best we'll depending would depend on the value of researcher, places on these and other criteria. And I really liked that quote, because look at the connection back to VidCon Stein, it's functional again, like not just the words we use, but also the models we [00:50:00] select. We select them because they make sense to other people because we can appear to do things with them. because they are the end answer to how nature is carved at its joints.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, this is also. Raising of the box quote right. Or models are wrong, but some are useful. It seems to be saying more or less the same thing. Right?
Cameron Brick: Yes. I think that was a different point, which is about simplification, but I, it is actually the same Yeah. That's interesting.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I don't know the context of that quote. I just know the, I just quoted
Cameron Brick: about this sort of like, um, Borges, uh, I don't know if you know this writer famous short story where they have a kingdom
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you mean the,
Cameron Brick: who create a map, the size of the
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah.
Cameron Brick: to one, the whole point is like models. Can't be, one-to-one like the models are wrong because they're simplified.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.
Cameron Brick: Anyway, Sanjay in another paper, he said, uh, This is about the trait level. Now, thus, if we want to know what [00:51:00] extroversion is or any trait or factor really is, and why it's in the five factor model we should be asking what good does inferring someone's level of extroversion do for the perceiver? What can perceivers do with their perceptions? And that's a weird way to think about it because we want extroversion to kind of exist in this essentially way separate from the perceiver. I, it may not, not, not in the way that comes to us into.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: This actually relates really closely to something I wrote down, um, which is this kind of weird interaction between, so if you're, I mean, I wrote it down, but it's not a super well-defined sentence. Uh, it's more like an idea. Uh, the general idea I had is that basically, because you are, because we are. Um, trying to understand humans and humans have these biases.
Um, if a researcher has a bias about how human behavior works and it's shared with humans in general, then it's maybe not so [00:52:00] much of a problem because, you know, if, if I guess the extroversion is a good example, if people think extroversion is a thing and use that to reason about how other people might behave, then even if it is a kind of a human bias in the, in the model, in the census also, correct.
Because you're modeling something with a bias kind of if you know what I mean.
Cameron Brick: Yes. Yes. I think that's true of many, many issues of the scientific process. Like all the way down. Cultural questions. And when they overlap nicely between you and the participants, you don't notice them.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. And so it's, it seems to me, yeah. I guess if I understood it correctly, it's with extroversion, it's kind of similar. If people actually have this essence in their mind of what extroversion is, then it actually sensible to use it.
Cameron Brick: And I think it is sensible. And, and you going back to the paper, we found that what predicted these self-reported sort of more intentions, style behaviors for it.
to help the environment more than anything was [00:53:00] openness to new experiences. And that kind of makes sense, because in terms of, uh, how innovations get diffused through a population, there's going to be a small group of people who are looking outside of the routine. You know, not, not a current Tesla driver, like a Tesla driver 10 years ago, or however many years ago. I don't know how many. Yeah. So there are early adopters of pro-environmental behaviors as well. And these people tend to be high in openness.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Hm. So do you think your results will change if you test this in like 20.
Cameron Brick: Absolutely. They could. Absolutely, because there's nothing fundamental about openness and, uh, doing something that's pro environmental per se. I mean, we made some arguments in the paper for why that might be, but they might be overwhelmed by other things. So one of the components of openness is counterculture, like acting a little bit outside of the normal.
If the normal we're prone environmental than the counter-culture high openness people are going to be anti environmental or whatever higher [00:54:00] impact. So yeah, totally could change. And it's already going to be different between.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Just as like, um, personal thing, like, does that bother you potentially that the research you do could change like the results from your doing could change so quickly? Like, one thing I always think is about is like, I'm really interested in psychology, but I think like, uh, as a scientist, I'm I kind of want to have like universal principles that seem to hold between species or whatever.
Cameron Brick: I bet I dream of that. I aspire to that. It doesn't just, it just doesn't seem to be possible. This is just not the messy place I live, but
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: these kinds of questions or topics you interested in or
Cameron Brick: yeah. I mean, social psychology broadly speaking, it's just almost none of it has that cleanliness, but even psychology broadly, seem to only have two things that we call laws. That's pretty few.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: wait, what are they?
Cameron Brick: yeah. What
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I feel like I should know.
Cameron Brick: Um, your, the Yerkes Dodson law then there's, uh, the law of, of the, the [00:55:00] law of, of. You know, where you dove double a stimulus a and a it, but it's not perceived in linear. It's perceived exponential.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: things like the, the 19th century psychophysics experiments basically. Yeah. Okay.
Cameron Brick: best place we found really nice tight, uh, you know,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. 150 years ago. Nothing has happened since. Yeah.
Cameron Brick: body radiation style graphs that we can really predict exactly where things are going to land. Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And I guess the other one is, uh, one thing that always replicates and always works is the Stroop effect. I think that's something that's just always a super struggle effect,
Cameron Brick: It
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: matter where with whom or
Cameron Brick: you can reliably push it around, but yeah, it's very, very, um, it's very much there and almost always detectable.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. But so you don't mind
Cameron Brick: I mean, I mind, I mind it bothers me, but it doesn't bother me as much as saying, well, let's just forget it and let the climate be whatever it is. And, uh, or yeah, [00:56:00] frigging environmental issues, even just as an intellectual, who's interested in psychology and human behavior. no way out, but through, and we're in a kind of a prodo scientific phase here, a kind of a pre Darwinian phase.
That's fine. Let's do our best.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and I guess it also doesn't have maybe one change in us.
Cameron Brick: Uh, yeah. I
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Right. I mean, this is, we're just assuming. Yeah.
Cameron Brick: Change could be stable.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, yeah, it's just like, it's also one of those thoughts that had kind of when, when reading, like, okay, so there's this openness consciousness, an extroversion where related to emissions, reducing behaviors.
Like what does that mean?
Cameron Brick: does that mean?
But imagine that we had run this study again and it was all about. It was all about, say tons of carbon equivalent emissions released over a year, then what would predict it? And actually, I don't know, we haven't, we haven't done that, but I don't think it would be the same pattern. I suspect conscientiousness would still be in there because it is associated with dutiful sort of paying attention to things and [00:57:00] following through.
And those people are the people who are going to compost and everything else.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess apart from extroversion, I guess openness conscientious do right now seemed like very sensible. Yeah. Anyway, so I guess it's your answer then? Kind of to weather. So yeah, I guess the idea is then. They are not necessarily illusionary essences there's traits for the big five. I mean, this is becoming a bit second now, but if they measure something interested in.
Cameron Brick: Yeah. I think it all depends much essentially sizing we do. Depends on how we're using and hearing the term. So another, another scholar towel yard. Let me redo a brief quote. See if it answers your question. He said practice, when people ask questions, like how many dimensions, how many personality dimensions, they're really asking it, whether or not they realize it is something narrower.
Namely, how many roughly orthogonal dimensions can we measure in.
a small time while capturing a non-negligible fraction of observed [00:58:00] intra individual differences in personality? Because, you know, it's, they didn't imagine there Now this is me again. They didn't imagine their question. How many dimensions included those constraints, but you drill down, of course they do.
They don't mean watch someone for 10 years and then construct a personality model of them. So, it, it just means that we have to be careful about words we use, but it doesn't mean we can't use them. And by the way, another issue like attention. There is no attention. It's that it's probably not just a unitary simplistic thing that we can refer to with one word. Maybe we should be breaking it out into a couple of different core dimension, something like that. And we've just fractionated more and more. That's what sciences do. And that's normal and healthy. And you get to some unit that's maybe not divisible, and then you stop. That's fine.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I guess you kind of [00:59:00] also write about this a bit in the article then is the analogy here, this, you know, what is life and the Alon Vita and that kind of stuff. And then going like actually, you know, all this thing that's what's life and you know, this kind of stuff, to some extent, bows down to genes replicating,
Cameron Brick: Yes.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or whatever it might be.
Cameron Brick: I mean, we could talk about consciousness as a defining feature. That seems really weird about living versus nonliving matter, I think on a functional level, once you see how genes certain structures. Combine and reproduce, then you don't need these other, uh, Elon Vittol kinds of essences.
You can let them go. I think that will happen in psychology as well.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So at some point, I, well, I don't know what the attention literature is, but let's say it isn't at that point. Then at some point it's going to be like, there's no thing as extension, but suddenly people start talking about this other process thing. That's much more clearly defined and.
Cameron Brick: Yeah. And I mean, and there may be that may [01:00:00] not be simple answers to that either. Maybe it turns out to be other complex thing and.
we need, can't always go more complex. We have to stay parsimonious and conciser elsewhere are going to have trouble communicating and understanding what we're doing.
So it's a, it's a balance between them.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But I guess that's, that's one of the beautiful thing about evolution by natural selection. And this gene view of life is that it is pretty straightforward.
Cameron Brick: is.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: This isn't like some super complicated thing. Um it's
Cameron Brick: most people's favorite, favorite theory in all of science, because it's just extraordinary, the kind of complexity that it explains.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, yeah, yeah. It's, it's one of those things that occasionally for whatever reason, I would think about natural selection. I mean, I don't really read much about it, but occasionally I'll be thinking about the thing. Like this is such a crazy concept once you, once you, think about it,
Cameron Brick: once you start to be a psychologist in your own life and say, you know, I like this couch, or I don't like this couch or this person, or I'm in traffic. And I got angry and think about it,
from that lens. It gets [01:01:00] very confusing. What feelings are, you know, hours or those sorts of layers of identity ownership for me become.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: No. Um, maybe we already alluded to a bit earlier to how to solve or like how to solve some of the problems that come from this, um, these illusory essences, I mean, we were dimensioned formal formal models as one potential solution with its obvious drawbacks. Um, yeah, I mean, you mentioned four, four strategies in the article.
Um, do you maybe want to briefly summarize what those are?
Cameron Brick: Let me just take, let me take one of them. As an example, we were talking about pro-environmental behavior earlier. If you take a kind of an illusory, essence has lens to this, of assuming that it's a thing, a unitary thing, and then measuring it and then predicting it from some other variable, like concern, we might want to start by treating the single unit [01:02:00] first.
So that would be like, okay. Wha, what affects, how much water people use in their home. In what context are people using water? What appliances, when do they make the actual physical behaviors that determine that what kind of leakage is leading to usage that they're not even doing with their hands and what, or what's going on around all of these behaviors, including the non psychological parts, like the price and, uh, the regulations around the size of the home.
And I don't know whatever else is going on, then you can say, okay, I understand the behavioral system around water use. And the voluntary part of it seems to be this big, or you can say is even what they could do if they wanted to. It's not the whole thing. We can't treat psychology. Like it's the only tool the toolbox. Then if you really understand the behavior, then you can start to descriptively, invest. What kinds of factors that psychologists might work with are most relevant [01:03:00] here and compare things like demographics, to thoughts, behaviors, feelings, motivations, efficacy, whatever, our favorite, favorite flavors and see which ones seem most relevant.
Then when you have that and you do it across populations and contexts, you say, oh, actually we had this whole science about water use, but it turns out it only applies to suburban homeowners in the American west. Maybe we should study some people who live in apartments. Uh, yeah, that seems obvious when you say it like that, but in the literature, you'll often find that you haven't done this exploring of an effect or by different contexts. Exactly. Because it really screws everything up. Like it, it, it now adds a ton of variance to whatever you were studying. It makes it confusing. It makes effects hard to detect. But you, you can't just skip that step. So one of the basic, uh, things is don't assume that it's one thing, look descriptively to see how it varies across contexts. [01:04:00] And we make the point that that's exactly what a Darwin did when formulating favorite theory of natural selection looked at beak sizes across different islands. were no T tests. was no SCM model. Like it was look at the descriptive variants. So nice.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And I guess if you could address it in all the other strategies or anything else, then they can read the auditors.
Cameron Brick: We have one more strategy. That's fun. So I'll mention it. And it's the use of unfamiliar unfamiliar labels when we're talking about concepts. So let's say I really wanted to study, motivate. I shouldn't say necessarily the word motivation, because it activates all of these concepts for you. And you might be confident that you know what I'm talking about, but if I call it a org instead, and then I tell you, it has these features, it has these predictors and outcomes, whatever might be less likely to assume.
It's one thing I know what I'm talking about. I've measured it. Well, validly, reliably I've looked at it across different [01:05:00] populations. Like basically bring all the appropriate scientific skepticism to an unfamiliar term. when scientists are staking out areas or concepts, whether they're personality traits or anything else, You know, one of the suggestions is that we call things by unfamiliar names.
It's going to make the science harder to communicate and harder to get onto talk shows and right to, you know, popular books about you. Don't end up with, uh, uh, thinking fast and slow kind of book. If you call those difficult words rather than system one
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You get the science of .
Cameron Brick: Yeah.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.
Cameron Brick: But, um, but it, it is probably more careful, incremental, um, reproducible, you know, like, uh, appropriately skeptical science that would lead to a better cumulative result. I should say, by the way, Conaman has said system one and system two don't exist, but you could really fool people who have read that book and [01:06:00] think that they exist. I mean, the whole thing is kind of to use them as a tool, but it's so easy to essentially use that and think that you could go into the brain and find
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.
Cameron Brick: somewhere.
It's not there.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I know what you mean to be fair. I can't remember. It's been so long since I've read the book, but I remember once hearing and do within where you also mentioned, like these aren't things, don't look for the corridor to system one assistant too, but after a bit, I think until I, if I remember correctly, if I end today, listen to that interview, I wasn't fully aware of that.
He didn't really mean it as an actual thing.
Cameron Brick: I think it's really hard to hold both of those concepts in mind simultaneously.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. But I mean, so one, I, I agree, actually, I quite liked that point too. And I thought like, this is actually a really nice way to kind of buy by just making up a word it's that you become aware that you're starting with zero and you have to fill in the knowledge, um, that you, that you came from, like stuff you found out.
Um, but like one of the immediate criticism that I thought it was like, doesn't, isn't this [01:07:00] kind of the criticism that people make up jogging and that kind of stuff, or that it just over-complicates things. Because then I have to learn your words and all this kind of stuff.
Cameron Brick: Yes, that's a very fair thing. And, um, we, uh, we have, yeah, constantly an issue of communication effectiveness. I guess the thing about jargon is that is often used to signal of different types of people or scholars. Like if I say intersectionality, you hear certain types of researchers, as well as what I actually meant by the term.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I hear something I'm not entirely sure what it is and where it comes from yet.
Cameron Brick: I mean, it, it is meant to not reduce the complexity actually. I mean, if you ask them to sort of define, are you saying that. Interactive moderation, such that, uh, you're high in this and you're high in that. And then there's a nonlinear and they're like, we don't want to define it like that because the point is it's complex.
And I, that's my experience of talking to sociologists and others who like this term, [01:08:00] a lot of times jargon is for these signaling between groups, even among scholars. But sometimes it's also to prevent someone from understanding what you wrote. So anyone who reads some, uh, like, uh, I don't know, Heidegger in particular is an absolute beast.
Uh, it was very difficult to understand. some of that is, is like, it looks pretty intentional. Like it's just really, if you load your sentences with 10 prepositions and a bunch of undefined terms, no one can tell what the hell you're talking about. kind of jargon should always be avoided. if you make an argument, which has only one new word in it and you construct it and you say, we don't know what this is, here's how we're going about trying to understand. Yeah. See what you think then that doesn't sound like jargon to me. That sounds good.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I definitely see what you mean. I mean, is this something, I mean, also, is this something that you're actually doing papers or is this something more, I mean, first of all, do you actually do this or was it more like, do you use this strategy?[01:09:00]
Cameron Brick: use this metaphorically right now. I haven't actually done it. Um, partially because I don't believe that I'm discovering you know, Terra incognita, there's some jargon for you. I don't think I'm,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But I, yeah, but I thought the point was not to use it for new things, but rather let's say you're starting promo, mentalism you just say, okay, I'm not going to use that word anymore because no one knows that means I'm going to use this thing. I thought you mentioned also in this way.
Cameron Brick: practice, I guess I haven't been introducing new terms, but instead I don't know what this is, this is how we're going about trying to look at something smaller. So it's kind of consistent with this, but, uh, without using the new term,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, I guess I'm, I'm looking forward to some of the times you come up with,
Cameron Brick: Me too. Me too.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh, uh, I guess I've run through my questions unless you have anything else. I just stopped recording now.
Cameron Brick: I would
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um,
Cameron Brick: to say to everyone made it this long. Well done. And also, uh,
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah,
Cameron Brick: there's no, [01:10:00] purism about, uh, the right kind of environmental actions to take. It's more like, uh, everyone's welcome. And uh, we're going to be able to do it together.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but like the open science thing, like every little helps do your best,
Cameron Brick: Come get a
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: not a kind of.
Cameron Brick: If, uh, if anyone wants to hear more about our work, you can find email@example.com.
Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I will link that. So I always have like website Twitter, Google's got a, in the description and yeah. References for the papers we use.