Duck – Rabbit: what drives our polarised culture?

Hosted by the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science

Online public event


Dr Lasana Harris

Dr Lasana Harris

Professor Anil Seth

Professor Anil Seth

Dr Jennifer Sheehy Skeffington

Dr Jennifer Sheehy Skeffington

Dr Tiffany Watt Smith

Dr Tiffany Watt Smith


Professor Simon Hix

Professor Simon Hix


Professor Simon Hix

Professor Paul Dolan

Join Paul Dolan and his guests to launch the latest series of his podcast, Duck - Rabbit, with a discussion of the neuroscience and social science behind our polarisation problem. Why do we respond to the world in one way and not another? What makes us want to be, or feel, part of a group? What drives our judgements, choices and assumptions?

Think of this: you’re shown a picture, it's black and white and sort of blurry, and you are asked what animal you see. You look closely and you see that it’s a duck. But if you’re told it’s a rabbit? Well, you can see for a second how someone could think that but it’s definitely a duck. That’s true of life isn’t it?  Think Brexit, climate change, marmite, and even Covid – once we’ve chosen our tribe, we rarely change our minds and see the other side. 

Meet our speakers and chair

Lasana Harris (@lasana_harris) is Associate Professor in Experimental Psychology at University College London, having previously held positions at New York University, USA, Duke University, USA, and Leiden University, the Netherlands. A social neuroscientist who takes an interdisciplinary approach to understand human behaviour, his research explores the neural correlates of person perception, prejudice, dehumanization, anthropomorphism, social learning, social emotions, empathy, and punishment.

Anil Seth (@anilkseth) is Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex and Founding Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. In his work, he seeks to understand the biological basis of consciousness by bringing together research across neuroscience, mathematics, artificial intelligence, computer science, psychology, philosophy and psychiatry. His new book - Being You: A New Science of Consciousness - will be published in autumn 2021.

Jennifer Sheehy Skeffington (@jsskeffington) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE, researching the interface between psychology and society. One stream of research examines how socioeconomic status and inequality shape basic decision-making processes. Another reveals the psychological underpinnings of ideology, and what this means for intergroup conflict and political polarisation.

Tiffany Watt Smith (@drtiffwattsmith) is Reader in Cultural History at Queen Mary University of London, where she is also Director of the Centre for the History of Emotions. Her books include: Schadenfreude (2019), The Book of Human Emotions (2015), and On Flinching (2015). In 2019 she was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize, and her research has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, the British Academy and the AHRC. In 2015 she was named a BBC New Generation Thinker and her TED talk The History of Human Emotions has been viewed more than 4 million times. 

Paul Dolan (@profpauldolan) is Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is author of the Sunday Times best-selling book Happiness by Design, and Happy Ever After. He is host of the Duck – Rabbit podcast, in which he discusses the polarisation problem with members of the public, academics, commentators, politicians and activists to try to understand why we can’t be more understanding of each other. Episodes currently available discuss marriage and monogamy; security and liberty; freedom of speech; lifestyle choices; and class. This event marks the release of two new episodes.

Simon Hix (@simonjhix) is the Pro-Director for Research and the Harold Laski Professor of Political Science at LSE. An LSE alumnus, he is one of the leading researchers, teachers, and commentators on European and comparative politics in the UK. Simon has recently been appointed Stein Rokkan Chair in Comparative Politics at the European University Institute in Florence and will take up his new post in September.

More about this event

The Department of Psychological & Behavioural Science (@LSE_PBS) is a growing community of researchers, intellectuals, and students who investigate the human mind and behaviour in a societal context. Our department conducts cutting-edge psychological and behavioural research that is both based in and applied to the real world.

This event forms part of LSE’s Shaping the Post-COVID World initiative, a series of debates about the direction the world could and should be taking after the crisis.

Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSECOVID19

Featured image (used in source code with watermark added): Kaninchen und Ente by unknown artist (1892) (public domain).

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