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Transcript of Tribal Psychology podcast

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Transcript of Tribal Psychology podcast

This is the transcript for episode 122 of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.




In this episode, we spend time with political scientist Lilliana Mason and psychologist Dan Kahan, two researchers exploring how our tribal tendencies are scrambling public discourse and derailing so many of our best efforts at progress — from science communication, to elections, to our ability to converge on the truth and go about the grind of building a better democracy.

Lilliana Mason is professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland where she researches partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and American social polarization.

She is the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, and her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.


Dan Kahan is a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School were he studies risk perception, criminal law, science communication, and the application of decision science to law and policymaking.

Today he is a member of the Cultural Cognition Project, an team of scholars “who use empirical methods to examine the impact of group values on perceptions of risk and related facts.”


David McRaney: In the 1970s, a psychologist named Henri Tajfel develop something called social identity theory which basically said that when we define ourselves, we do so in large part by asserting our loyalty to the groups to which we belong.

Tajfel developed this theory when in his research he discovered it didn’t take very much for humans to organize themselves into groups, and once they did, they immediately began to act like arsholes to people who were in groups that they were not.


Tajfel’s experiments showed that humans can enter into us-versus-them thinking in seconds, and they will do so over just about anything.


Lilliana Mason: “Through a number of experiments and decades of research what he eventually discovered was that first of all the more intense conflict is the more you think of your competitor as outgroup member not as an individual.”

David McRaney: That’s political scientist Lilliana Mason.

Lilliana Mason: I’m Lilliana mason. I am a political scientist in the department of government politics at the University of Maryland College Park, and I specialize in political psychology and American political behavior.

David McRaney: Well you must be very busy then.

Lilliana Mason: Yeah, yeah, I know, some people keep saying, “Isn’t this an exciting time for you?

It must be such an exciting time for you.” And someone recently used the analogy: when there’s an Ebola outbreak and people ask medical doctors, “Wow oh my god what an exciting time for you!”





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