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How action shapes thought

Podcast host Barton Friedland and Jarno Kartela | Podcast guest Barbara Tversky
November 09, 2022 | 54 min 20 sec

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Brief summary

Conveying the right type of information for a group so that they can make accurate decisions can be challenging. Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology at Stanford University and Professor of Psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University, alongside our take-over hosts, Barton Friedland and Jarno Kartela, uncover how people think about the physical and digital spaces they inhabit and how those are used to think, to communicate, to create, and of course, to decide. If you are a business leader, wanting better tools for understanding context and meaning in your teams, this is the podcast for you.

Episode highlights:


  • Using our hands and our bodies promotes thinking, for ourselves and when we explain things to other people. In a study in which we described the actions of complex machines to other people, we used gestures to describe the actions, and people understood the actions much more deeply.


  • The very language we use to talk about ideas is the language of action (eg fallen into a depression), and that is another way of showing how embodied our thinking is, that those action words are almost irreplaceable when talking about abstract concepts and emotions.


  • If people go into a situation with a preconception or an assumption, even if there is no gain from that assumption, they will actively resist the new information that may change their mind about their assumption. There is this tendency to see information that supports- to seek out information that supports your point of view and to reject, dismiss, or not even find information that doesn't.


  • There are so many times when we have to act against instinct. I mean, there are times when we're angry and would like to lash out or hit out and we stop ourselves and we learn to stop ourselves. By being aware of biases, we can have counter-training and we can say, I need to listen.


  • Respect goes a great deal, and honoring and recognizing someone else's point of view, not getting emotionally involved, all of these things work on human disputes, and the same techniques that seem to work for couples or parents and children getting along, seem to work for business teams, may work for politicians and countries. 


  • One of the tools is perspective taking, is trying very hard to see and see somebody else's perspective. As you point out, you have to make your perspective comprehensible to somebody who doesn't have that. Even when there's no dispute, you still have that set of issues of understanding what's important to another group, what they need, what they can do without.


  • With AI-augmented, we collect both qualitative and quantitative data about people's perspectives and their assumptions. We build them into models that are parametrics so that the stakeholders can adjust the dial on the simulation and they can see how their ideas might play out. Then the whole point of it is so that the people can have conversations.


  • Language, like counting words, language can have an effect on how you think about space and how you use special concepts. 
  • Distinguishing spatial and visual is something a number of people have problems with. Spatial is whatever you don't need vision for in the visual-spatial because spatial is fed by many modalities, not just vision. Blind children gesture. They've never seen gesture. They don't know that other people are seeing it and using it.
  • People with high spatial are able to tolerate more complexity both of the amount of information and the relations, which may or may not be causal among them, and people with low spatial find it more difficult.
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