Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘sociology’

05 NOVEMBER, 2010

5 Essential Books and Talks on the Psychology of Choice

By:

The psychology of spaghetti sauce and why too many jams make you lose your appetite.

Why are you reading this? How did you decide to click the link, load the page and stay? How do we decide to do anything at all and, out of the myriad choices we face each day, what makes one option more preferable over another? This is one of the most fundamental questions of the social sciences, from consumer psychology to economic theory to behavioral science.

Today, at the risk of meta-irony, we look at not one but five fantastic books and talks that explore the subject. Take your pick(s) — if you can, that is.

BARRY SCHWARTZ THE PARADOX OF CHOICE

Barry Schwartz studies the relationship between economics and psychology. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, he debunks one of the great myths of modern civilization: That abundance makes us happier and greater choice equals greater good. Through solid behavioral economics, cognitive psychology and neuroscience, Schwartz makes a compelling case that abundance exhausts the human psyche, sprouts unreasonable expectations and ultimately makes us feel unfulfilled. Alongside the research, he offers simple yet effective strategies for curbing the disappointment consumerism has set us up for and living lives that feel more complete.

MALCOLM GLADWELL BLINK

We may have had our public disagreements with the king of pop psychology, but Malcolm Gladwell does have a penchant for synthesizing diverse research, connecting the dots, and distilling the gist for the laymen of the land. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, he does just that, translating research on snap judgements into captivating storytelling about our “adaptive unconscious” — the always-on mental system the processes danger and reacts to new information. From assessing a stranger’s trustworthiness to choosing a mate during speed-dating to orchestrating military maneuvers, the book explores the deeper science of what’s commonly known as “first impressions,” kindling a new level of awareness of our own behavior and that of others.

JONAH LEHRER HOW WE DECIDE

Among other things, Jonah Lehrer writes the excellent Frontal Cortex blog for Wired, one of our favorites. He is the Malcolm Gladwell of science writing — only with better hair and more meticulous fact-checking — distilling for the common man the complexities and fascinations of university labs and obscure research papers. In his latest book, How We Decide, Lehrer explores how the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience can help us make better everyday decisions.

Amazon has a nice Q&A with Lehrer on the book page, in which he addresses everything from neuroscience to how he handles the cereal aisle.

DAN ARIELY PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has dedicated his career to expoloring the curious ways in which people make choices through odd, unorthodox and often amusing experiments. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions is a densely insightful yet entertaining read, recounting Ariely’s ingenious experiments in how irrational impulses drive our economic behavior and substantiating them with additional evidence for what we all suspect but don’t want to hear: We’re emotional beings swayed by the winds of irrationality even as we attempt to make the most logical and rational of chocies. Intelligent and accessible, the book will change the way you think of yourself and the world around you.

The book’s sequel, The Upside of Irrationality, is also a fascinating read and highly recommended.

SHEENA IYENGAR THE ART OF CHOOSING

Columbia Business School social psychologist Sheena Iyengar. The Art of Choosing begins with the story of a man who survived stranded in the middle of the ocean for 76 days because he chose to live, just as Iyengar herself has chosen not to let her blindness prevent her from being a fierce researcher and acclaimed academic. This fascinating piece of pop-psychology offers a fascinating journey into the web of consumerism, woven out of our biological need for choice and control, drawing on everything from the pensées of Albert Camus to The Matrix.

In this compelling BigThink interview, Iyengar reveals how she came to study choice and how her own biological limits affect the way she makes choices.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

13 AUGUST, 2010

On Words

By:

A modern-day Helen Keller moment, or why the currency of communication is more complex than we think.

Words matter. They shape how we relate to one another and the world at large, they frame what matters and why. They can break your heart (“My feelings for you have changed…”), tickle your mind (“The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know…”) and enlighten your soul (“I have a dream…”). They can steer entire ideologies and even spark the extinction of species.

Words, a fantastic new episode of WNYC’s always-excellent Radiolab, examines the importance of words by imagining a world without them. From a look at Shakespeare’s linguistic chemistry to a first-hand account of what it’s like to have the language center of your brain wiped out by a stroke (yep, we’re talking about Jill Bolte Taylor of blockbuster TED Talk fame) to a woman who taught a 27-year-old man the first words of his life and revealed the worldview-changing insight that everything has a name, the hour-long program offers a profound perspective shift in this currency of our day-to-day that we take for granted.

What is it that happens in human beings when we get symbols and we start trading symbols? It changes our thinking, it changes our ideas.” ~ Susan Shaller

The episode is available as a free mp3 download and we highly recommend you subscribe to the full series podcast in iTunes, also free.

For further reading, these four books referenced in Words are absolutely fascinating and paint a rich, comprehensive portrait of the layered significance of language in culture and human psychology.

Also of note and highly recommended, a trio of books by Steven Pinker, whom we consider one of the sharpest thinkers on language today:

via Open Culture

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 AUGUST, 2010

What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets

By:

From Bangladesh to Brazil, or what photojournalism can reveal about food and cultural context.

In case you ever wondered, the most popular Brain Pickings post to date is our review of photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s Hungry Planet — a grounding portrait of what the world eats, from the $376.45 an Australian family spends on food per week to the $1.23 weekly budget of a same-sized family in Chad’s poorest refugee camp. This week, Menzel and D’Alusio are back with their much-anticipated new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets — a fascinating project telling the global story of our relationship to food through portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day.

I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology. And make better decisions for themselves.” ~ Peter Menzel on NPR

38-year-old Maasai herder, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 calories. Food staples: Maize meal and milk.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

40-year-old Egyptian camel broker, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 165 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,200 calories. Some food staples: Eggs with butter, fava beans, country bread, potato chips, feta cheese, soup, rice, black tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

From a Japanese sumo wrestler to an American competitive eater to a Massai herdswoman, the book offers an exploration of demography through photography, contextualized by compelling essays from some of today’s leading food activists and thinkers, including indispensible voices on the issue like Brain Pickings favorite Michael Pollan.

20-year-old US Army soldier, 6 feet 5 inches tall, 195 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,000 calories. Food staples: Mostly instant ready-to-eat meals.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

36-year-old Latvian vocal teacher and composer, 6 feet tall, 183 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,900 calories. Some food staples: Egg, rye bread with ham, cheese and butter, chicken, potato with mayonnaise, cookies.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Alongside each of Menzel’s photographs, text by D’Alusio outlines the specifics of the daily diet depicted and places it in a cultural context that explains why, for instance, a Brazilian fisherman of average build can consume 5,200 calories per day and an American truck driver who consumes a comparable amount is clinically obese. Ultimately, the project aims to illuminate the relationship between food and where we are, in life and in the world.

16-year-old Chinese acrobat, 5 feet 2 inches tall, 99 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 1,700 calories. Some food staples: Yogurt, pork ribs, noodles, eggs, broth, green tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

45-year-old Tibetan head monk, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 158 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,900 calories. Some food staples: Butter tea, dried cheese curds, barley flour cake, noodle soup with potato.

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Part Food, Inc., part FridgeWatcher, the project is a potent antidote to Neil Burgess’s recent rant about the death of photojournalism — What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets is a bundle of storytelling and humanity that unravels itself before your eyes, leaving you hungry to better understand the correlation between food, environment and quality of life.

via NPR

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.