Nobody knows when to stop talking

You’d think that conversations would end when one or both people want them to, right? Turns out that they don’t. This research is currently in prep, but here’s a short preview and a poster I’m presenting this weekend at the Society for Judgment and Decision Making.

  • Only 15% of people in our study left their conversations when they wanted to.

  • Half the time, conversation partners didn’t want the same thing. For instance, one wanted to leave sooner, and the other never wanted to leave.

  • People had no idea when their partners wanted to leave. They were off by 61% of the length of their conversation.

  • People thought they wanted to go at roughly the same time. In fact, there were on average 13 minutes between when partners wanted to leave.

The Sound of Liberty now live

My longtime creative partner Jake Robertson and I have a new podcast! Part mystery, part absurdist satire, The Sound of Liberty follows two estranged brothers trying to unravel the mystery of their missing grandfather, and the only clues lie in the old tapes of a Cold War-era American propaganda radio show. The meat of the show feels like an old-timey radio drama with modern jokes. It's got heart and laughs and a horse who can do math, and I think it makes for a real nice listen. All nine episodes are on iTunes and SoundCloud.

The "gender-equality paradox" is not a paradox

Scientific American just published the article Dakota McCoy and I wrote arguing against a misinterpretation of some surprising data. (We included some re-analysis of the data, too.)

Short version: there are more women in STEM in countries with low gender equality (like Jordan) than there are in countries with high gender equality (like Sweden). Some people call it the "gender-equality paradox" and claim it exists because women are naturally less interested in science, so when you let them choose freely, they freely choose other things. We think that's wrong. Tons of research shows that gendered expectations and experiences push young girls away from STEM paths, even in supposedly gender-egalitarian places.

What gender-equality paradox research really shows is that the same gender bias that keeps women out of government/business/etc. is not the same gender bias that keeps them out of physics departments. That's because bias isn't one big boogeyman who causes every bad thing; it's a nasty rat nest of implicit and explicit attitudes that can form and change independently of each other.

I think the broader point is even more important. Some people––who fortunately are a tiny minority––think we've done away with all bias and discrimination, so group differences that remain must be due to innate differences in abilities or interests. That's wrong, and believing it risks making those differences acceptable and permanent. And that's bad for everybody, not just the folks we traditionally think of as disadvantaged. For instance, did you know that girls have gotten better grades than boys for over 100 years? If we assume that's because girls are just smarter than boys, then we start expecting boys to perform worse, and eventually our expectations *cause* boys to perform worse. And that's bad, just like gender disparities in STEM are bad.

(Okay not exactly the short version! But this is complicated.)