Jul 7, 2021
Public opinion can sometimes shift dramatically over time. Beliefs that were widely held a few decades ago may now seem antiquated or even repugnant. But what’s driving these shifts? Is it individual people changing their minds? Or is it just folks with old-fashioned worldviews dying out and being replaced?
My guest on today’s show is Dr. Stephen Vaisey. He’s a Professor of Sociology and Political Science at Duke University and co-director of the compellingly named Worldview Lab. In a recent paper, Steve and his co-author Kevin Kiley sought to better understand whether people every really update their beliefs. We’re talking about beliefs about gender, race, the environment, the role of government, and a bunch of other central issues. The answer Steve and Kevin arrived at may surprise you: while people do sometimes change their minds—particularly at certain life stages and particularly around certain kinds of issues—more often they don’t. People’s beliefs tend to be pretty settled.
So I’ll admit, sheepishly, that it was really only pretty recently that I realized that sociologists and political scientists think a lot about minds. That they’re often grappling with the same questions that exercise psychologists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, and others. Questions about how beliefs are formed, about the dynamics of culture, about how minds change over the course of the lifespan, about how our social forces shape our thinking. As you’ll hear, Steve’s been thinking deeply about these questions for awhile now, and he’s innovating new ways to address them. He’s also just a super affable guide to this whole terrain.
Hope you enjoy this one folks. Without further ado, my conversation with Dr. Steve Vaisey!
A transcript of this episode is available here.
Notes and links
2:30 – The Worldview Lab at Duke University is co-directed by Steve and Christopher Johnston.
8:30 – The General Social Survey—as Dr. Vaisey describes it, the Hubble Telescope of sociology.
10:30 – A paper by Omar Lizardo elaborating the notion of personal culture.
12:15 – The webpage of Steve’s co-author, Kevin Kiley.
20:45 – A 2010 paper by Steve and Omar Lizardo asking related questions.
37:45 – For more on issues with generalizing from WEIRD samples, see our past episode.
For more on these topics, Dr. Vaisey recommends checking out the work of:
You can find Dr. Vaisey on Twitter (@vaiseys).
Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (https://disi.org), which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Isabelle Laumer. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd (https://www.mayhilldesigns.co.uk/). Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (https://sarahdopierala.wordpress.com/).
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