Blind faith in blind leaders – blame the savannah?

Two crucial pieces of reading

Chris Mooney’s “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science” is great on the ‘motivated cognition’ we all use to protect our world view (and our view of ourselves as people who don’t distort our world view to protect our view of ourselves).  Bits of it will be familiar to close readers of Dwight Towers, since both Mr Mooney and I are big fans of Dan Kahan and the Cultural Cognition project.

Second up (hat-tip Johnnie Moore) is a report on experimental proof that the charismatic self-confident leaders that we flock to are NOT very good at helping their teams to the ‘right answers’.  Boffins designed experiments that required lots of communication and open-ness and canvassing of opinion.  The leaders rated as ‘best’ (chest-beatingest) were less successful than the more consensual/let’s get the best out of everyone ones.  (This completely gels with some training I underwent about 5 years ago, which still resonates with me – our ‘team’ failed to elicit the relevant info and we failed in our task.  Who was the dickhead ‘in charge’?  Erm, um… Ooh, kittens are nice!!!)

PS Is it cos self-confident and forceful leaders would have most likely/most often been just the sort of person to see off a ‘simple’ threat like a peckish sabre-tooth tiger?  Forgive the crued evolutionary psychology here, but are we suffering a scar of evolution here?  How would you design an experiment to test the hypothesis?


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3 Responses to Blind faith in blind leaders – blame the savannah?

  1. Antonio Dias says:

    “Narcissism can sometimes be useful in a leader, says Nevicka. In a crisis, for instance, people feel that a strong, dominant person will take control and do the right thing, ‘and that may reduce uncertainty and diminish stress.'”

    This statement goes to the reason we have this Narcissistic leader problem. It’s not because it’s true. It’s because we insist that “reducing uncertainty and stress” is more important than having a better outcome.

    That this should hide in plain sight and not elicit comment points to how great a blind-spot this is. Any other creature would find this surprising. Actual results tend to be more highly valued by creatures immersed in evolutionary circumstances. It’s only the civilized version of the Narcissistic Ape that believes otherwise.

    That a scary noise might sometimes scare a leopard and impress the peanut gallery isn’t enough to drive this kind of nonsense!

    • dwighttowers says:

      🙂 But the peanut gallery gets to breed, whereas the ones who sneer at the scarer of leopards are perhaps more likely to get eaten? Is this shonky hypothesis of mine right (or even testable?) Has there been a selection pressure towards conformity/obedience? I should look into it. Anyone want to tell me where?


      (PS Of course, am not sayin that because it’s a selection pressure it’s ok and can’t/shouldn’t be modified/overcome)

      • Antonio Dias says:

        You’re underlining my point. No-one is saying it WAS effective. Only that “people feel… (they) will take control and do the right thing.”

        All you’ve done is add a wish that at some point back in Leopard Hazard Days this might have been true.

        The point is no one cares whether it’s true, only that it makes us feel good.

        That’s what is at the root of the problem, verging on a predicament, IF we are permanently incapable of seeing the distinction between what is effective and what makes us “feel secure.”

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