Illusions of superiority

  • April 25, 2013
Illusions of superiority

Next week's internal symposium will cover subjects ranging from measuring metal nanoparticles, building a faster Internet, understanding the impact of internal borders to creating global economic growth post-BRICs and the way we see ourselves.

Do we overestimate our abilities and only see what we want to see? Scientific research suggests that we do and that in fact depressed people probably have a more accurate idea of themselves than others.

Our ‘illusions of superiority’ is just one of a diverse range of talks at next week’s Internal Symposium. Other subjects include measuring metal nanoparticles, building a faster Internet, understanding the impact of internal borders and creating global economic growth post-BRICs.

The symposium takes place on Tuesday 30 April from 7-9pm in the Gates Cambridge Scholars Common Room. Scholars and their guests are welcome.

The speakers are:

Noham Wolpe [2010], who is doing a PhD in Clinical Neurosciences, says we tend to overestimate our abilities relative to those around us. For example, most people rate their intelligence and driving ability as above average. These ‘illusions of superiority’, says Noham, have been studied by psychologists for many years and research shows individuals with depression have a more accurate and negative impression of their own abilities. However, adds Noham, it is unclear why people normally maintain a positively biased image of themselves.

His talk will outline the results of a test designed to answer this question from the perspective of neuroscience. He says: “We developed a computer-game task, in which participants were asked to hit a target with a moving ball. After each trial, they were asked to estimate where they actually hit in the screen. We examined the differences between individuals’ perception of the consequence of their own action when they performed the task themselves, compared to when they observed it.

“Data collected revealed that the brain internally represents exaggerated expectations of success. As a consequence, people consistently underestimate their own errors while more accurately perceiving the errors of observed actions,” says Noham. “Such a neuroscience account suggests that our brain is wired to make us see what we want to see.”

Sean Collins [2012] is doing a PhD in Materials Science. He will talk about how nanoparticles of certain metals like gold and silver stand out because of the unique ways they manipulate light on very small length scales. He says the particular shape and size of gold and silver nanoparticles can change their apparent colour to anything from red to blue. He adds that nano-sized wires of gold and silver can also move around light, and consequently information, at length scales of a computer chip.

“Because of the small size of these particles, only a few techniques are available to measure their electromagnetic response and simultaneously correlate it with features of the particle shape, such as edges or corners.”

He says electron microscopy easily resolves this structural information, but an electron beam can also excite and record data on how nanoparticles interact with light. In substituting an electron beam for light, some of the underlying physics are altered.

Sean will talk about progress in bridging the gap between measurements in the electron microscope and light-scattering behaviour of metal nanoparticles.

Zhen Yang is doing a PhD in Engineering. He will talk about the demand for a super fast internet at speeds of beyond gigabits per second for apps such as Youtube, Facebook, Google map, cloud services and 4G communications. He says one main challenge for internet speed is the so-called ‘last mile problem’, as the speed of local networks, for example, WiFi, is lagging behind ‘backbone’ connections. His PhD focuses on developing a high speed wireless transmitter which could potentially increase the wireless speed to gigabits.

Hanna Baumann [2012], who is doing a PhD in History and Theory of Architecture, will talk about what happens when state borders move from the periphery to the heart of the territory and specifically about the Palestinian experience. She says: “In cities in the occupied Palestinian territory, walls and concrete road blocks, earth mounds and barbed wire, border terminals and flying checkpoints control the movement of the local population. In such a setting, where restrictions of mobility dictate all aspects of daily life, even the smallest acts can become politicised.”

Her talk focuses on how Palestinians navigate fragmented urban spaces and how this shows that “conflicts are not only fought out with F-16s and Molotov cocktails, but also with such mundane means as building codes and taxi cabs”.

Andrew Asten [2012], who is doing an MPhil in International Relations, will examine why we must look beyond China, India, Brazil and Russia for a better global economic future. He will argue that the BRICs have disproportionately supported economic growth in countries which were well positioned with trading relationships or were in possession of assets of strategic interest to the BRICs.

He says: “It now seems unlikely that the BRICs will substantially increase their contribution to global economic growth beyond current levels, and in fact they primarily represent a downside risk for the global economy. In short, the world needs to start looking to a broader set of emerging economies to provide a better economic future for us all.”

Picture credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net and Stuart Miles.

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