Members in the Media
From: Scientific American

People Have Very Different Understandings of Even the Simplest Words

In 2017Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist who directs the Climate Action Unit at University College London, ran the opening session of a conference on decision-making under uncertainty for an audience of scientists, finance professionals and policy makers. He divided them into groups of six and gave them questions and activities centered on their personal and professional experiences of risk. After a while, some hands went up. “They said, ‘We just realized we cannot agree on the definitions of risk and uncertainty,’” De Meyer says. “Even within those small groups, they ran into irreconcilable differences.”

De Meyer works to improve communication about climate change, and it quickly struck him that a major problem was how often professionals who were involved simply misunderstood one another. This, he says, is because people differ in the concepts they have even for basic terms, so what someone thinks they are saying is often not what others understand. This, he claims, explains why climate scientists struggle to get their messages across and why big financial organizations underestimate the threats of climate change. Recent psychology research shows that conceptual differences of this sort turn up everywhere and that people are usually oblivious to these disparities. Neuroscience studies demonstrate that they are underpinned by differences in how the brain represents concepts, a process influenced by politics, emotion and character. Differences in thinking that have been shaped by lifetimes of experience, practice or beliefs can be almost impossible to shift. But two steps offer a way forward: making people become aware of their differences and encouraging them to choose new language that is free of conceptual baggage.

Read the whole story (subscription may be required): Scientific American

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