Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is Your Opinion on These Beliefs?

What follows is a list of statements that I wrote and attributed to intellectuals that could be best alligned with them. They were all positions that I found interesting and wanted to know more about. I wanted to know what other people thought of these statements as well. For my dissertation, I hoped to expose people to these statements and rate their personal "belief strength" in each using a Likert scale from 0-10. I was interested in seeing the averages, standard deviations and demographic predictors of these ratings. I also had an experiment that I wanted to do that is detailed below in the form of an excerpt from an abandoned dissertation proposal.

Belief Statements:

Sigmund Freud: Our actions, behaviors and beliefs and guided largely by subconscious processes in the brain that operate “silently” and are hard to recognize consciously.

Burrhus Skinner: Human behavior and thought can be reduced (or explained down) to the level of reflex, instinct and very simple associative learning.

Charles Darwin: All life on Earth is a product of evolution and the process of natural selection.

René Descartes: Unlike humans, no animals have the capacity for true consciousness.

Charles Spearman: People vary in their intelligence and genetics plays a role in this.

Jane Goodall: The recent findings that chimpanzees and other animals can make a variety of sophisticated tools challenges the notion that their mental lives are too dull to meaningfully compare them to humans.

Pierre-Simon La Place: Free will is an illusion and the behavior of all systems, involving people or objects, are actually governed by the laws of physics.

Richard Dawkins: The bodies of all life forms, from bacteria to plants to animals, are simply “survival machines” designed to make sure that they pass their genes on into the future.

Niccolò Machiavelli: The best way to ensure success is to be cunning, this includes lying and taking advantage of others, when need be.

Mary Baker Eddy: Instantaneous healing can take place due to prayer, mindstate or religious conviction.

Virginia Woolf: Honesty, thoughtfulness and morality are important social tools that reliably create positive outcomes.

Edward Wilson: With a few exceptions, animals only help one another when it will benefit them or when they are helping a family member.

Ludwig Feuerbach: God is a human invention and religious activities are misguided.

Noam Chomsky: The human ability for language is so advanced that, like a burrowing insect’s ability to dig, humans are genetically programmed or optimized to be able to learn and speak a language.

Thomas Aquinas: In order to be happy one must be kind.

Ayn Rand: The world wouldn’t need morality if everyone just took care of themselves.

If you would like to take this survey, go to the following link:

"In order to build on the current knowledge and our past findings we designed a questionnaire-based experiment to assess to what extent people will alter an existing belief based on the reported views of scientists or average Americans. This experiment will build on our previous research conceptually but will employ an empirical methodology with random assignment to groups and manipulation of variables. Our questionnaire will expose participants to one of four treatments. One half will be exposed to the beliefs of scientists on a variety of topics and the other will be exposed to the beliefs of average Americans. The experiment actually involves frank deception and we will mislead our participants into thinking that they are viewing averages taken from polls of either scientists or Americans on the beliefs in question. One half of the group exposed to the supposed belief of scientists will see ratings extremely cynical/deterministic ratings and the other half will see the opposite, naive/humanistic ratings. We hypothesize that participants will change their certainty strength to be in line with the stances taken by scientists but not with the stances taken by average Americans. We expect that this difference will persist even when the belief strengths for scientists and Americans are reversed (meaning that people will tend to agree with scientists no matter what the stance on the position is).

The second part of the experiment will focus on three of the previous beliefs and manipulate the evidence for and against each belief to see if the weight of evidence has a bearing on certainty strength. Participants will be asked to read short essays that either support or repudiated the belief. Participants will actually be split each of three ways, for a total of 3 treatment groups. The three variations will be groups where people are exposed to 1) convincing evidence in support of the belief, 2) convincing evidence that contradicts the belief and 3) a balance of supporting and contradicting evidence. We expect to find that belief strength can be manipulated by the weight of evidence offered."

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