Here’s Why Automaticity Is Real Actually

Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten:

“Literal Banana” on Carcinization writes Against Automaticity, which they describe as:

An explanation of why tricks like priming, nudge, the placebo effect, social contagion, the “emotional inception” model of advertising, most “cognitive biases,” and any field with “behavioral” in its name are not real.

My summary (as always, read the real thing to keep me honest): for a lot of the ‘90s and ‘00s, social scientists were engaged in the project of proving “automaticity”, the claim that most human decisions are unconscious/unreasoned/automatic and therefore bad. Cognitive biases, social priming, advertising science, social contagion research, “nudges”, etc, were all part of this grand agenda.

For example, consider John Bargh’s famous (and now debunked) social priming studies: an experimenter would make subjects solve word games related to elderly people (eg WRINKLE, OLD, CANE). These subjects would then walk out of the laboratory more slowly than control subjects, because they’d been “primed” with the thought of old people, who move slowly. Again, this has since been debunked.

More here.