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!