Tag Archives: Adam K. Fetterman

Michele Bachmann gets God’s help for election

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Associated Press

Making appeals to religion is nothing new for American politics. Nearly every candidate makes statements such as “God bless America” or claims that their candidacy is a calling from God. However, on the other end of the spectrum, claiming atheism, or a lack of belief, appears to be political suicide. This, in fact, speaks to the pervasiveness of appeals to religion in American politics. Michele Bachmann, an always controversial conservative figure, is certainly no exception. In fact, some have claimed her to be supportive of a theocratic political environment. She invokes religion in nearly every context of her political ideology, which is no surprise given her background. Not only does she do this explicitly, but she also appears to be doing it implicitly. As Michelle Goldberg writes, at the debate in which she announced her candidacy for president, Bachmann did not speak as much about her religion. Goldberg attributes this to Bachmann’s attempt at trying to reach a larger swath of constituents (such as individuals who did not want to hear preaching). Even so, she was still able to make implicit references to the bible. One may ask, why so many appeals to religion?

It is effective! According to research by Bethany Albertson (2011), religious appeals influence voters without their awareness. Using implicit attitude measures, Albertson found that religious appeals not only affect implicit attitudes toward politics, but also behaviors. Furthermore, it also works on those who have previously self-identified as Christian. Given the religious history of America, this finding is not surprising. However, it should be alarming given that our country was intended to keep religion distinct from political mechanisms. Blurring this line is a clear tactic being employed by Michele Bachmann and, as we have seen, it may work. The question is, how much religion is too much?

“Bachmann’s Unrivaled Extremism” By, Michelle Goldberg – The Daily Beast

“God Help the Atheist Politician” By, Jon Rice – Watch Blog

“Bachmann, Santorum Pledge Allegiance to Theocracy in America” – By, Kevin Gosztola

“Dominionist Battle Cry ‘We are the Head and Not the Tail’ Used by Bachmann in Debate” By, Rachel Tabachnick

Albertson, B. (2011). Religious appeals and implicit attitudes. Political Psychology, 32, 109-130

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Religion as a weapon: Time to disarm

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the burning of a Koran in Florida, violent protests erupted in Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people, and it continues. As humans, we look for causes for such violence. As P.Z. Myers indicates, there is no shade of gray when it comes to the taking of another human life. What is it that makes people feel that it is acceptable to take someone’s life? Even when resulting from self-defense, it is a rare occasion that murder is the appropriate response. Regardless, there is no self-defense required in response to burning a book. Therefore, we look elsewhere for the cause or justification. One thing that is getting difficult to ignore, particularly in the current example, is religion. Many people, myself included, have had a hard time blaming religion for violence, because we want to be tolerant and accepting. There must be underlying factors beyond religion that drive these behaviors, right? There almost certainly are, but this recent eruption of violence over a book indicates that religion is playing a larger role than we typically credit. It appears that religion is a weapon.

Violent ideological groups tend to foster a number of justification techniques to substantiate acts of violence (Angie et al., 2011). For example, they foster feelings of moral superiority and righteousness, which makes them feel justified (Mumferd et al., 2008). As Angie and colleagues (2011) cite, this moral superiority is compounded by feelings of victimization and injustice. There is a clear connection between these findings and what we see in response to the Koran burning. Further findings implicate religion in these acts, such as the increasing of aggression when violent acts are sanctioned by a god (Bushman et al., 2007).

It can be hard to blame a whole religion for the acts of a few. To do so may even seem xenophobic. However, it continues to grow difficult to give religion a free pass, as Jerry Coyne points out quite eloquently. We see that religion gives individuals the justification needed to act in a violent matter. Even if the religion is not the root cause, it appears to be a powerful weapon. If so, it is time to put down the weapons and work things out like rational humans.

“Afghans Protest for Fifth Straight Day Over Florida Koran Burning” – FoxNews.com

“Shades of Gray”- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula.

“What Does it Take to Blame Religion?” – Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True.

Angie, A. D., et al. (2011). Studying Ideological Groups Online: Identification and Assessment of Risk Factors for Violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 627-657

Mumford, M. D. et al. (2008). Violence in Ideological and Non-Ideological Groups: A Quantitative Analysis of Qualitative Data. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 1521-1561

Bushman, B. J., et al.  (2007). When God sanctions killing: Effect of scriptural violence on aggression. Psychological Science, 18, 204-207.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

“Why didn’t anyone stop this? It seems so obvious!”

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After an act of extreme violence, it is normal for people to want answers. The shooting of Arizona officials a couple weeks ago is no exception. Briefly, a disturbed man opened fire on public officials killing six and leaving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in critical condition. Many accusations were thrown about to explain the man’s extreme behavior. For example, mental health was pointed out in an article on TheHill.com. While there is all this blame thrown around, many question why no one had noticed his erratic behavior and stopped it. According to The Hill article, polls have been conducted and many blame the mental health system for failing to identify dangerous individuals. It also notes that many people have the same feelings regarding other shootings. It seems so obvious to those around these shooters that these people are unstable. Unfortunately, they only notice after the fact.

Part of the reason that people only notice mentally unstable shooters after fact is because of a psychological effect called “Hindsight Bias” (Fischhoff, 1975). Hindsight bias occurs when one misjudges the predictability of an event after the event occurs. According to Campbell and Tesser (1983), one motive for this bias is that people have a need for predictability. Particularly in the case of these shooters, we have a strong motivation to believe that these events are predictable, and not random. Therefore, it is easy to blame an institution or individuals for not recognizing the instability beforehand and “do something” to prevent these atrocities, because we have all the evidence after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe the events are quite a bit more predictive than they really are, because it makes us feel safe. However, in reality, these events are fairly random. With this in mind, perhaps we should hold back on finding out who is to blame for not stopping these things from happening.

Poll: Mental health linked to Arizona shooting. By Jason Millman from TheHill.com

Campbell, J. D. and Tesser, A. (1983), Motivational interpretations of hindsight bias: An individual difference analysis. Journal of Personality, 51: 605–620.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Your evidence is wrong, because I disagree!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the Senate passed a bill to repeal the unpopular “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), it was up to President Obama to sign the bill. He did so on December 22, 2010. This was one of his many campaign promises that he has either completed or attempted to complete. For quite some time, it was uncertain whether this bill would be passed. While many found the DADT policy unjust and prevented dedicated individuals from serving their country, many others opposed repealing it for many reasons. For some it was just plain ignorance and prejudice. Others still thought that it would reduce morale in the military and would be dangerous for those LGBT individuals serving. Presidential candidate John McCain was one of those opposed to the repeal. However, he gave the impression that his mind could be changed by a study showing that a majority of those in the military approved of or saw little problems with the repeal. Indeed, a Pentagon study found just that. McCain rejected the study stating that it was flawed. This seems to happen quite often, but why?

According to research by Munro (2010), when presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence, individuals tend to disbelieve the efficacy of the research. That is, when presented with evidence to the contrary of one’s opinions or beliefs, many individuals will reject the evidence. This is what Munro refers to as the scientific impotence discounting hypothesis. Individuals want to believe that they are correct and therefore need to find a reason to discount disconfirming evidence. An easy way to do that is to reject the evidence. This is particularly easy to do when it comes to scientific evidence, as most people do not fully understand scientific methods. This appears to be what happened with the study conducted by the Pentagon. McCain had an opinion and many of his supporters agreed with his opinion. Therefore, it was probably pretty beneficial and easy for McCain to reject the evidence so that he could maintain his opinion. The question becomes, then, could anything change his or others’ opinions on this and other issues? How about in more controversial issues, such as reconciling science evidence with one’s religion?

Obama signs historic bill ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – David Jackson and John Bacon, USA Today

John McCain: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal study flawed. – Anne Flaherty, Huffington Post.

Munro, G. (2010). The scientific impotence excuse: Discounting belief-threatening scientific abstracts. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 579-600.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

The season for reason

By, Adam K. Fetterman
This Season, Celebrate REASON”, reads an American Atheists billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel. This is another in a long line of billboards and signs reminding people that atheists are out there. The apparent goal of this campaign is to let “closeted” atheists know that they are not alone. This seems particularly necessary during the holiday season as atheists may feel more like they are in the minority than other times of the year. For some, this time of the year requires them to pretend to be religious for fear of social reprisal. Therefore, being reminded (e.g. by billboards) that they are not alone can definitely have positive effects. However, as to be expected, the religious community (mostly Christian) is not responding with acceptance and positivity (though some are). Some have said the billboards are disrespectful and attacking. So, in response, religious organizations are putting up billboards of their own. According to the New York Times, there appears to be a quite interesting sign battle going on in Texas. The atheists’ sign reads “Millions of Americans are Good Without God” on the side of the bus, followed by a truck with a sign reading “I Still Love You – God” and another claiming “2.1 billion Christians are good with God”. While it would be a fairly funny scene to witness, it hits on an old argument about where morality comes from.

For many years, many have assumed that religion is the foundation or source of morality or pro-social behavior. In a recent review, Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez (2010) indicate that religion does not have a monopoly on morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, they indicate that religiosity only predicts moral or pro-social behavior in specific contexts and can actually predict increased anti-social behavior in certain contexts. The authors go on to discuss the differences between religious and supernatural beliefs in regards to moral and pro-social behaviors.

Another researcher arguing that religion is not the ultimate source of morality and pro-social behavior is Sam Harris. He has found (as well as others) quite compelling evidence of naturalistic or evolutionary foundations of morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, I have made arguments about certain motivations that would lead all people to be moral, in previous posts. In the end, it appears to be pretty clear that one can be “Good without God”. With some of the reactions to these billboards (e.g. defacing and anger), it seems apparent that religiosity does automatically make one moral.

More Sacramento-area atheist billboards are vandalized. By, Bill Lindelof, Sacto 9-1-1

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy. By, Laura Dolan, CNN

Atheist bus ads rattle Fort Worth. By, James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times.

Sam Harris’ Website

Preston, J. L, Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574-590.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Belief in the supernatural creates false memories in kids.

By, Adam K. Fetterman
In my previous post I gave a possible explanation of why so called “paranormal researchers” or “ghost hunters” attribute randomness to the paranormal. I also mentioned that I would have an upcoming post on why people are motivated to believe in the paranormal. However, I came across an article about the memories of supernatural experiences in children, so that post will be put on the backburner for now. The reason this article struck me is because I recently have been watching a spin-off (?) of Paranormal State called Psychic Kids. The show employs “psychic” Chip Coffey to help “psychic” children develop and embrace their “psychic abilities” in order to not be afraid anymore. In the episodes of this show, and others such as Paranormal State, the children and adults are quite convinced that what they have seen in the past was real, and paranormal. This is because they probably have created false-memories of these events based on their supernatural beliefs.

According to the research of Principe and Smith (2007), children who hold beliefs of the supernatural are more likely to construct memory errors that comport with their paranormal beliefs. Specifically, they found that children who believe in the tooth fairy were more likely to recall supernatural experiences surrounding the loss of a tooth, than those that do not believe. That is, they have constructed “real” memories, falsely. These findings likely explain why the children and adults from these paranormal shows appear completely convinced that their experiences were real.

It may not seem harmful to believe in the tooth fairy or some paranormal activity in a way that does not affect one’s life or when it is an adult making their own choices. However, it may seem a little more worrisome if the children show some psychological distress as a result. As Skepchick and PZ Myers have pointed out, these shows and psychics, such as Psychic Kids and Chip Coffey, may be preying on children with blatant psychological problems. That is, they seem to be feeding these problems by unscientifically “confirming” these false memories, which could increase their anxiety, fear, and social isolation. All of this for our entertainment(?).

Still coming: Why people are motivated to believe in the paranormal.

A&E’s Psychic Kids website.

Psychic Kids. By, Jen at Skepchick.org

Bad move A&E. By, PZ Myers at Pharyngula

Principe, G. & Smith, E. (2007). The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth: How belief in the Tooth Fairy can engender false memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 625-642

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542