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March 3rd, 2016: Wired for Hate: The Cognitive Psychology of Xenophobia


"Xenophobia is depressingly common, yet few among us would admit to being xenophobes.  The recent public refusal of many U.S. leaders to accept Syrian refugees is only the latest resurgence of a human tendency to marginalize or oppress foreign peoples out of fear.  Historically, this behavior is rationalized through appeals to public safety, but such appeals consistently lack statistical support.  Xenophobia is irrational, and history always judges it so.  Why, then, is it so common, and so difficult to detect in oneself?  Why are we so resistant to the suggestion that we might be part of the problem?   Are xenophobes crazy, or somehow intellectually inferior to the enlightened folk who will attend this talk?  I attempt to answer these questions from the perspective of cognitive science.  I argue that xenophobic attitudes do not result from defective psychology but rather from the proper functioning of unconscious cognitive mechanisms operating in unusual environmental conditions.  I identify these mechanisms and suggest ways to override them.  In short, we are all potential xenophobes. The good news is that we may not have to be."


Dr. Derek Jones received an MA in Philosophy from the University of Houston in 2008 and a PhD in Philosophy from Indiana University in 2013. He teaches courses in philosophy and cognitive science at UE and directs the Cognitive Science program. Derek has published and presented work on such topics as scientific explanation, self-knowledge, skilled behavior, and free will. His work is organized around the project of understanding cognition and action as essentially embodied, biological processes. His forthcoming book, The Biological Foundations of Agency, is slated for publication in June 2016.

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