In philosophy, there is something called "The Liar's Paradox." Basically, it involves a sYou can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian!
In philosophy, there is something called "The Liar's Paradox." Basically, it involves a statement that is doomed to be incorrect no matter how you look at it. If a man says, "I am lying," he is either telling the truth, or he is lying. If he is telling the truth, then the statement is false. If he is not telling the truth, then the statement is still false. Paradox, either way, ad infinitum.
While reading Confessions of a Sociopath, the Liar's Paradox kept returning to mind, because sociopaths are by definition manipulative, charming, conscienceless liars by nature. So whenever Ms. Thomas seemed to be making a point to have me warm up to her, either with insecurities or abusive home environments, I could never get past the fact that it was probably a calculated attempt on her part to appear less harmful than she actually was: as if she was consciously thinking, "There, this will show people that sociopaths aren't so bad."
And who knows, maybe she was.
There were parts of this memoir that were engrossing, others that I found utterly repulsive. I was irritated by her attempts to rationalize her behavior through religion and economics. Her repeated claims that the sociopath brain might, in fact, be better than the so-called empath brain had me rolling my eyes. It was quite clear, from her narrative, that she was missing something crucial. As the creepy cover shows all too viscerally, the face looks human but the soul is gone.
While I was posting status updates about this book, I received some interesting comments and took part in some intelligent debate with some people on my friends list about psychopathy and sociopathy. It's a very tricky diagnosis, for the exact reasons that make the sociopath so dangerous: they are adept liars. Therapy doesn't work, because if you send a sociopath off to therapy they tailor their responses to what the therapist wants to hear, and became that much better at faking chagrin or remorse. As of today, there is no successful rehabilitation for sociopaths; quite the contrary: they tend to repeat the same crimes over and over because they have no sense for consequences and learn nothing from punishment.
I feel like this flat, distant way of looking at the world really showed in the narrative. It was chilling, and creepy, and downright unnatural: it was as if I was being followed by one of those portraits with the moving eyes, like in Scooby Doo. The detached curiosity or annoyance by emotional displays, the utter bewilderment by unwritten social codes and mores--it was very alien.
Ironically, while sociopaths may be good at manipulating and faking at being empaths, I think empaths are actually better at projecting themselves into the minds of sociopaths. Because that's the nature of empathy, being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Thomas sees emotions as weaknesses, but then why would so many people have empathy if it was an evolutionary disadvantage?
The thing about psychology books is, there's a lot of overlap. We only have so many studiYou can read more reviews on my blog, The Armchair Librarian!
The thing about psychology books is, there's a lot of overlap. We only have so many studies to choose from, and a lot of the really interesting ones, like Asch's Obedience Study, Milgram's Deference to Authority Study, and Zimbardo's Prison Experiment were later deemed unethical because of the psychological turmoil caused.
I know right? And to think, we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling humanists.
I was familiar with about 95% of the studies in this book, so that came as a bit of a disappointment to me because when I read psychology books I like it when the author has a fresh, new, interesting perspective to offer instead of a reworded rehash of more of the same.
Blind Spot reads like a light textbook, something a professor might assign in addition to a dryer text--for supplementary reading.
A lot of the studies in here reference the Implicit Awareness Test (IAT), which studies unconscious biases. You can actually take the test here: implicit.harvard.edu. I had to do it for school assignments back in college and it was pretty fun, though I'd prepare yourself for unpleasant surprises and cognitive dissonance. Some people actually flipped out because they were like, "I'm not racist, dammit! This test is wrong!"
It's like, really? It's just a test. Not like there's a group of PC-Police who are gonna haul your ass away because you have a slight bias against African Americans or gays. And really, wouldn't you want to know? That way you can actually do something about it! For example, I found out I was slightly biased against pretty much everyone but Asians and gays, which is weird. But then again, considering all the flack white people get in psychology classrooms, that's not entirely surprising.
Here are some takeaway messages from Blind Spot:
☑ Stereotypes can be self-defeating when activated. Women who are exposed to the stereotype that "women are bad at math" will perform more poorly on standardized tests.
☑ Knowing something to be true and endorsing it as truth are different things. Hence, why people might say they're not racist, and yet still not let their children have their black friend over at their house.
☑ People are predisposed to prefer those of their own ethnic group, and better at recognizing individuals of their own ethnic group. It's a simple point of fact, but not not an excuse for racism.
☑ The "all _____ people look the same" stereotype is called the outgroup homogeneity effect. The effects of this can range from embarrassing (mistakenly greeting a stranger because you thought they were your Asian classmate) to catastrophic (a white witness falsely identifying an innocent Latino man as a criminal).
☑ Words associated with power are generally linked to men, rather than women. Men and women prefer male bosses over female bosses, are more likely to attribute leadership skills to men, and are quicker to associate high-paying, prestigious professions like "surgeon" to men.
Being aware of these biases might give you an icky feeling inside, but that's good. Because we're not the perfect, 100% tolerant people we might want to be. If we accept these biases, and work to improve them, we come closer to achieving not just tolerance, but also acceptance.
One of the most fascinating things about the human mind is the fact that it works. I mean, You can read my reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.
One of the most fascinating things about the human mind is the fact that it works. I mean, think about it. The brain is so complicated that it puzzles scientists with Ivy League Degrees, it contains billions and billions of neural networks, it's squishy.
And yet, it generally gets the job done.
But sometimes things go wrong, and Stuff is a collection of case studies about people who take their love of collecting and owning things too far.
This was extremely uncomfortable to read. Not just because it made me eyeball my messy room and go, "Oh God, I'm a hoarder!" (it did), but because I felt the subject was handled very badly. Stuff is voyeuristic; it's the book equivalent of those nineteenth century trips to the mental asylums to point and laugh at the crazy people.
In the tradition of the TV show, Hoarders, Frost visits several clients with hoarding problems. Their houses are absolutely disgusting. They are having marital problems, financial problems, and experience large amounts of stress, guilt, and self-loathing.
And yet, the subject was treated without sympathy.
It was condescending.
Why this book has such a high rating is beyond me. I suppose it taps into those same mental pathways that make people watch shows like Nanny 911 and Nip Tuck.
Plus, hoarding is tied to underlying psychological trauma? What? Psychology isn't "cut and dry." People can have problems without underlying psychoanalysis-friendly reasons. I wonder now if that Southpark episode about Mr. Mackey and Stan's hoarding problems was making fun of this book.
A hazard of the field of psychology is that you're never entirely sure whether you're being punked or not. When I was a junior in college I took a socA hazard of the field of psychology is that you're never entirely sure whether you're being punked or not. When I was a junior in college I took a social psychology class. There were about five hundred students in the class (it was in a giant lecture hall) but the professor knew my name because I sat in front and was always raising my hand (yes, yes, just like Hermione Granger). He was the stereotypical professor emeritus, with the tweed suit and white beard and bifocals and everything, and also somewhat gruff. For a while, I thought he thought I was annoying but no--apparently he actually liked me quite a bit. ANYWAY.
One day we got one of our tests back and I happened to notice that I got a B. I don't usually get B's (feel free to hate me at this point), so I was like, "What the heck is going on here?" It turns out I somehow missed the back page of questions, so ten of the answers were missing. I knew I would have gotten an A if I'd answered those questions, so I went to his office hours with my scantron and begged for mercy.
The professor rolled his eyes and hemmed and hawed a bit, but then installed me in a room with the test questions and told me to get him when I'd finished. I started to mark the answers on my scantron, when I realized something horrible. The answers were marked ON the scantron sheet, because they'd been fed through one of those autocorrect graders. I sat there for several minutes, panicking, because (1) I didn't want a B but (2) I also didn't want to cheat, and (3) my university had a zero-tolerance approach to cheating OF ANY KIND.
Finally, resigned, I went to my professor's office and informed him that I couldn't take the test. "Oh?" he said. I pointed to the answers on the scantron, and said it would be difficult to take the test honestly with the answers right there. The professor took my quiz and then rattled off a few random questions. I answered them perfectly. He informed me that I did, indeed, seem to know my stuff, and that I'd get credit for all the answers I missed. Did I get punked? I'm still not sure.
Honesty is just one of the topics discussed in Predictably Irrational. Ariely discusses everything from why it is literally not possible to buy love, why "family" companies with iron conviction don't work, why it's easier to steal resources than currency, and why we will do anything to keep our options open--even if those other options are shitty. It's because people are weird little bundles of crossed wires, dichotomies, idiosyncrasies, and quirks. Well, no, that's not the only reason, but if you want the specifics you'll have to read the book for yourself.
A normal, happy, healthy woman with a cool job and the perfect boyfriend loses her mind after getting what appear to be two bedbug bites on one of herA normal, happy, healthy woman with a cool job and the perfect boyfriend loses her mind after getting what appear to be two bedbug bites on one of her arms. It sounds like a real-life episode of House M.D., and that's exactly what it is.
Susannah Cahalan flummoxed some of the best neurosurgeons in the country with her deteriorating autonomic system, seizures, and symptoms of psychosis, receiving diagnoses ranging from schizoeffective to bipolar. Especially when neurological tests, blood tests, and EEGs and MRIs all continued to say that she was fine. She wasn't.
Enter a pioneering neurosurgeon from Syria, who started out as a child ridiculed for his poor intellect only to graduate from med school at the top of his class. With a single cognitive test, he is able to determine the cause of Cahalan's perplexing symptoms.
This one: [image error]
Remember this from psychology? The clock drawing test? I bet you sneered. Yeah, don't bother to deny it. We all sneered a little.
Well, this simple, easy-peasy test saved this woman's life, and kept her from being confined into a psychiatric ward.
Susannah Cahalan had a rare, and only recently discovered autoimmune disorder that affects the NDMA receptors in the brain (which are basically involved in thinking and moving). Due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors that still aren't that clear, white blood cells begin targeting and attacking the host organ they should be defending:
In this case, the brain.
Normally I steer away from memoirs about psychological disorders because so many of them are so completely unsympathetic. There are only so many stories I can read about well-adjusted upper-middle-class mothers flushing their pills down the toilet and then drinking away their bourgeois sorrows. Um, yeah. No.
But the concept behind this memoir really intrigued me. I have a love for medical case-studies and had just read a book about prions (The Family That Couldn't Sleep--AMAZING BOOK) so I was in the mood for another book about mysterious brain disorders. When I did a check on the author, I found out that she was a writer for the New York Post.
It shows. Her writing style is beautiful, descriptive without being overwhelming, informative, and elegantly concise. She includes pictures of her journal entries, her drawing of the clock, some photographs, and even some scans of her brain! She inspired pathos without bemoaning her situation at all, and oh my god--her family. What a wonderful, supportive family. Especially her boyfriend and father. Class acts. I wanted to hug everyone in the book by the time I'd finished it.
Especially the writer.
Apparently, her book has saved the lives of many misdiagnosed people suffering from similarly perplexing autoimmune disorders. So kudos to her for not succumbing to the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and sharing her story with the world instead of brushing it under the carpet.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. This in no way biased or shaped my reading or opinion of the book. ...more
there is a rare disorder called achromatopsia in which an individual is born without functional cones. in a healthywhat if you couldn't see in color?
there is a rare disorder called achromatopsia in which an individual is born without functional cones. in a healthy eye, cones are used for color/daytime vision and rods are used for grayscale/night vision. individuals afflicted with achromatopsia only have rods. there are many other problems associated with achromatopsia as well, such as eye twitching, poor visual acuity, and extreme sensitivity to sunlight. luckily, this disorder affects only 1/30,000 people.
in ordinary populations, that is. in the island of the colorblind, sacks discusses a micronesian island called pingelap where the incidence of full colorblindness is 1/12. that's right, you read that correctly. one in twelve.
i was soooooo excited when my mom brought me this book as a surprise gift because i've found vision extremely fascinating. i took a lot of neuroscience and perception classes in college even though i had a social emphasis because it was just so interesting. for my intro to neuroscience course i wrote a ten page paper on blue cone monochromancy with, like, five sources and totally went to town on it, because i'm a huge geek and i really like learning about how the body/brain work. i guess my enthusiasm showed because the professor, who was like a cranky version of robin williams, gave me a perfect score and wrote 'fantastic!' on it with a smiley face. yay, me!
so yeah, having that background made this book a real treat for me because the whole time i was giddily turning the page and thinking 'i remember that!' 'oooh! i remember that, too!' and pestering my family and friends with facts that began with 'did you know...?' i learned a lot of new things, too. it was really interesting to see how the native people explained these afflictions (a zeus-like god of the night who passes on the 'curse' by having his way with the pingelapese women; 'blinding' the fetus by walking around in the sun too much when you're pregnant). i also thought it was really cool (and lucky!) that sacks managed to find and convince one of his colleagues (also afflicted with achromatopsia) to come along with him to the islands and bond with the native people and assuage their fears. that was really sweet; it seemed like that reassurance was extremely valuable to them.
the second part of the book wasn't quite as interesting. this portion takes place in guam and is about a mysterious illness called lytico-bodig that causes catatonia, tremors, spasms, joint-locking, and a myriad of other symptoms that mimic parkinson's disease and seems to be caused by some external environmental factor.
a lot of scientists think said factor are the cycad family of plants that grow on guam. cycads are an ancient plant genus and look a lot like palm trees. the chamarros, a minority on guam who show a high incidence of this disease, grind up the seeds to use as flour since it is one of the few renewable food sources on the island (besides fish, obviously). when prepared, they aren't as toxic but, as sacks' friend pointed out with the fugu - sometimes the chefs can make a mistake. and left to their own devices, cycads are very toxic indeed, from seeds to sap.
there was a lot of back-and-forthing on this subject though, and i got the feeling that the plant biology was getting a little out of sacks' depth. which is unfortunate because he did a lot of work with people who had parkinson's by his insights with l-dopa. the dissociation from the previous topic and the lack of scientific conviction made me not like this section as much. in fact, i was very tempted to give this book a three-star rating because of it.
but because i am not (very) petty, and in fact, am a very magnanimous individual, i gave this book four stars instead because of how completely fascinated i was by that first section about genetic drift and color-blindness. honestly, i've found sacks' books on the senses (seeing voices, the mind's eye) to be the most fascinating. they're the only subjects he really treats with that level of esteem and respect. when he goes into neurological/crazy people stuff, he tends to get a little pedantic and i don't like that.
overall, though, this was a great read. four (yellow!) stars given! and if they don't look yellow to you, you're probably color-blind! :)...more
think about what you know about deaf people. anything? nothing?
ha, ha. very funny.
when we think of the 1800s, we generally like to think that we've cothink about what you know about deaf people. anything? nothing?
ha, ha. very funny.
when we think of the 1800s, we generally like to think that we've come a long way since then. women's rights. civil rights. health care. clean food facilities and preparation. and in many ways, we have improved. but in seeing voices by oliver sacks, sacks points out a way that we have actually backtracked as a society: how we teaching the deaf/hearing impaired. sacks points out that in 1850s, half the deaf people were educated by deaf teachers, who taught them how to sign. they grew on to be very educated and successful, respected by their peers, who thought of them as a man or woman who was a teacher/farmer/fisherman who just so happened to be deaf and not as a deaf person who just so happened to be a teacher/farmer/fisherman.
nowadays, many deaf children are taught by hearing teachers. they are not taught the sign, but english-based sign which is derived from the phonemes and morphemes that make up the syllables, letters, and basic vocabulary of english. many students find this incredibly frustrating as it doubles the amount of cognitive power deaf children have to use - and also damages their inability to learn sign (whereas there is no proof that sign damages deaf children's ability to learn english sign and/or regular english). plus, many of the abstract properties of language are lost.
i took several courses on language and cognition when i was in college because i found the process of language acquisition fascinating. when a child is not exposed to language at that crucial window where the mind is at its most receptive state, so much of the child's innate potential for language and its many depths and layers is permanently lost. sacks describes several heart-breaking cases where deaf children were left isolated from language in its entirety: they had minds but were unable to communicate. it was as if they were locked up, enchained in their own bodies. what makes it worse is that they know that they are missing out. they just don't know how to fix it.
unlike his earlier book, the man who mistook his wife for a hat, sacks treats each of these case studies with grace and respect. he talks about the beauty of asl and how it's so much more expressive and concrete than spoken languages. we use words as symbols to describe our emotions, but the 3d representations of sign allow people to project their emotions into their "words" in a way that hearing people cannot do. asl also allows multiple dimensions and facets of meaning: exaggerated movements and gestures, as well as facial and body movements, can change the "tone" of the signed "words," making them ironic, or humorous, or show special emphasis.
sacks makes it sound like sign is fairly easy to learn. honestly, i'm not surprised. humans naturally move their hands when they talk - in fact studies show that people who "talk with their hands" actually have higher rates of comprehension from their audiences than people who talk with their hands at their sides - so it seems to make sense that a language entirely gesture-based would come as a second-nature. in fact, i wouldn't be surprised if the first forms of communication among humans and humanoids were grunts paired with complex hand gestures.
i think the most interesting part of this book was the study sacks talked about with stroke victims suffering from impairments in the visuospatial cortex. despite losing their topographic abilities (mental placements of objections/awareness of their positions in space), they retain all of their language spatial abilities for signing. sacks makes a compelling argument for the plasticity of the brain when he says that the unused auditory parts of the temporal cortex (normally associated with auditory functions) might be shanghaied by other areas of the brain, in which case, nearby areas, such as the visuospatial area, might create new syntheses of abilities like "language space."
the mind's eye is still my favorite book by oliver sacks so far because i found it the easiest to relate to, however seeing voices is definitely at a close second. i've always been a little shy about deaf people because of the communication barrier - i cannot sign, and the best i can do is try to guess what they are trying to say and then, very clearly so they can read my lips, repeat what i *think* they just asked me and wait for confirmation before asking the question. i hate doing this because i feel like i'm being condescending (many deaf people are believed to be dumb or retarded because of their different ways of communicating/processing information) and i don't like giving that impression. i feel like this book allows me to better understand a community that, by and large, remains largely isolated from us hearing folks. i really enjoyed this.
The Gift of Fear is a fantastic tool that every college student - especially women - should possess. Here, Mr. de Becker shows several valuable techniThe Gift of Fear is a fantastic tool that every college student - especially women - should possess. Here, Mr. de Becker shows several valuable techniques to evaluate risk in potentially dangerous situations. He also shows many of the fallacies in our culture, and mentions why they should be avoided. These include but are not limited to: victim blaming, allowing the perpetrator to escalate the situation, and assuming that men are the default when it comes to assessing victim demographic (women make up the vast majority of the victims, and statistically speaking, very few of the actual perpetrators).
It was difficult to read this book, because he provides real-life case studies from his own career and sometimes they did not end happily. The pain and despair these people felt were real and it's hard to imagine that the conscienceless killers and relentless stalkers described herein truly exist. But they do, and so you've got to be cautious (but not paranoid - because this could be setting yourself up for disaster, like slapping a victim sticker on your forehead).
One thing in this book that did made me raise an eyebrow, though, was his remark that in relationships, if the man breaks it off, he rarely becomes a stalker. In my experience, this only works if the woman seems upset. If she's blase about it, the man sometimes decides that she had ulterior motives for accepting this decision and stalks to investigate, or bombards her with proposals that they get back together because it was all "just a big mistake." I think it's because this ties in with the wounded pride thing he was talking about: if you break up with someone, you're not happy with the relationship - and certain types of people probably want to see to it that you're not happy either. They want a reaction. If you play it cool, you piss them off. Sad but true.
I've had experiences with stalkerish exes. One in particular, during my first year of college, was fairly bad. He wasn't abusive, just very clingy and annoying.
-One day out of the blue he just came up to me and hugged me. Then he said, "Thanks. I needed that. I was having a bad day." Then, every other time he saw me, he would hug me. And I didn't even know his name.
-He would excuse himself to go to the bathroom during class and then call me. I'd say, "Aren't you supposed to be in class right now?" And he'd say, "I just missed the sound of your voice so much I wanted to call you and say hi."
-He would tell me lists of his own personal flaws and then instruct me not to judge him, with long lists of reasons explaining or rationalizing said flaws. Usually, I hadn't even noticed the aforementioned but, of course, once he mentioned them, it was impossible not to.
-He'd constantly accuse me of wanting to cheat on him/finding him physically inadequate.
-Towards the end of our relationship, he said, "I don't think I spend enough time with you," when I saw him every other day at least not to mention the countless e-mails, phone calls, and texts. I felt a bolt of horror and decided then and there that this had to stop. Especially because:
-Our anniversary was coming up and he planned to spend a scary amount of money on it, since technically speaking, we hadn't been going out that long. I didn't want to break up with him after, because I knew it would make me look bad and he would pounce on that (rightfully) as being callous.
So I broke it off.
-It took about a year and six months before it finally got through his head that we were over. And this was in spite of the fact that I returned all the gifts he ever gave me, did not answer his calls, and when forced to interact with him in public, ignored him or said nothing more than the situation required.
-He sent me messages accusing me of being a judgmental bitch (not in those exact words, but that's what I read out of it), or saying things like that he knew my friends and family were lying to him when they said I wasn't home, etc. etc. and that I just needed to give him "one more chance."
The thing with relationships is, when it's over, it's over. One more chance is almost never enough to "fix" whatever went wrong. Because when relationships "snap" it's for the same reasons people "snap": a chain of events that just make the situation worse and worse.
I was nice, though. Polite. Because, as Mr. de Becker points out, you shouldn't be mean to people like this. They have serious insecurity issues. Lord knows I've taken some break-ups badly myself. It always looks different when you feel like you're the justified victim with your heart dragged through the dirt. I try to tell myself that whenever someone breaks up with me, because it's the advice my mother gave me when I was a confused teenager who took everything as a personal affront. You have to put yourself in these people's shoes, while not agreeing with them or allowing yourself to be dragged down to their level.
This is definitely a great read, if you can stomach it, because it gives some truly wonderful advice. I particularly recommend it to college-age women, psychology majors, or anyone who is/was concerned about their own safety/safety of their loved ones....more
I was really afraid that this book would be pedagogical and self-congratulatory, but it really wasn't! Even though it's in epistolary form, LtaYT provI was really afraid that this book would be pedagogical and self-congratulatory, but it really wasn't! Even though it's in epistolary form, LtaYT provides a broad and sweeping look at therapy -- its flaws and its strengths, her life and experiences, and how interlinked life is with everything else. It's very existential, and very profound. This woman really comes across as genuine and sweet. I can see why she has become such a successful therapist, and why her student would want to correspond with her in this way. I'm surprised that I'm saying this, because I NEVER say this, but I actually wish her book was LONGER. At under 200 pages, Ms. Pipher really knows how to leave the reader wanting more....more
THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT was published in the 1980s—and it shows. I am a psychology major, and one thing my professors have impressed upTHE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT was published in the 1980s—and it shows. I am a psychology major, and one thing my professors have impressed upon me (many, many times) is the fact that we are the “baby” of the sciences, the newest, and as such, are constantly developing. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that. In the 1980s, our knowledge of the brain and its functions was still quite limited. Partly, this was because of technology. As we developed better apparatuses for measuring the brain, our data became more specific, and more concrete. One thing that struck me about this book was the fact that Oliver Sacks used many terms that are now obsolete—and even considered insensitive. For example, using the term “idiot savant,” or using “psychopath” interchangeably with “autistic.” It also shocked me how insensitive and even disparaging the medical staff members were towards their patients; we've come a long way.
Overall, I enjoyed reading about all the different case studies. I have always found agnosias (deficits in cognition, particularly the verbal aspects) particularly fascinating. Prosopagnosia, the inability to “see” faces, always struck me as a very unfortunate and sad agnosia to have. I can't imagine what it must be like to not be able to recognize the people you hold nearest and dearest to your heart. I was very admiring of how cheerful Dr. P. remained, even in the face of his unfortunate affliction. In fact, most of the patients seemed to recoup incredibly well. I guess that just goes to show the strength and durability of the human spirit. But anyway, prosopagnosia—here, there were many things that really showed how “dated” the book was. For example, all this talk about how the causes are a “mystery.” Well, no, not anymore. If you're at all curious, prosopagnosia tends to result from lesions to a part of the brain known as the fusiform gyrus (also known as the fusiform face area, or FFA); a part of the brain that selectively responds to faces.
If you are a psychology major, I think you will enjoy TMWMHWFAH (even the abbreviation for the book is long! Yeesh). If you are not a psychology major, but enjoy reading about bizarre medical case studies, I think you will also enjoy this book. However, it is not really written for people who don't have at least some background of rudimentary medical terminology, so if you're just an Average Joe who feels like reading something a bit weird, you're probably better off picking up a copy of Ripley's Believe It or Nots (and I'm not being condescending, I love that book, too).
I think Mr. Sacks' newest book, THE MIND'S EYE, is so much better. Not only because it's better tailored to fit the modern database of psychology knowledge, and more accessible to the Average Joes (and Josies) out there, but also because it shows how he's grown as a human being. Gone is the litany of pretentious medical terminology. Gone is the condescending attitude towards his patients, and the sense of his own self-importance. Instead, he is remarkably sympathetic and helpful toward his patients. I feel like he is better able to relate to them in this book, too, as Mr. Sacks had the misfortune to develop a melanomic tumor near his fovea (the part of the eye with the highest visual acuity, or the clearest vision). He includes excerpts from his own journal about how the tumor affected his vision. It's quite frightening. His recovery went well, though; I believe the tumor was removed, and the cancer went into remission.
Generally I feel like my rating suffices to explain my sentiments on all dimensions of the book, but not for this one. So... let me break it down.
Stories of the patients: *****-stars. Oliver Sacks' narrative: *½-stars. Accuracy of terminology: **½-stars. The drawings and diagrams: ****-stars....more
Investigative journalism is one of those things that can go horribly wrong in the hands of the wrong people. One of the best things about The PsychopaInvestigative journalism is one of those things that can go horribly wrong in the hands of the wrong people. One of the best things about The Psychopath Test is Jon Ronson's voice. He has a great voice. His writing is well-researched but easy to digest, entertaining, concise and spare, with gentle humor that manages not to be (too) offensive.
And then there's the content, because who doesn't like a true-life medical/crime thriller that makes you feel smart while you're reading it?
The Psychopath Test isn't so much about the "madness industry" as a whole as it is about the sociopaths who live and walk amongst us. Ronson interviews a very broad cast of people, ranging from serial killers to cold-blooded CEOs to reality TV executives to political radicals. The results are rather startling.
I found this very well-written, well researched, and an all-around delight to read. Definitely a worthy addition to anyone's nonfiction library.
Blink is all about how we should rely on our first impressions -- except when we shouldn't. And how we should definitely trust our hunches or emotionsBlink is all about how we should rely on our first impressions -- except when we shouldn't. And how we should definitely trust our hunches or emotions when it comes to split-second decision-making -- again, except when we shouldn't. I can see why this give-take, give-take route of explaining pissed some people off and made them feel slightly cheated, but as a psychology major, this flip-flopping is pretty routine for me. After all, when you consider the sheer variability of humankind as a whole, it's probably not a good idea to commit yourself to one set-in-stone generalization. If you want concrete theories that work nearly 99.9% of the time, take physics.
I was really excited about Blink because so many of my favorite psychologists were featured in it: John Gottman, Paul Ekman, Sheena Iyengar (a truly brilliant lady -- she has a book published, too, and I strongly suggest checking it out). Also mentioned are the IAT (Implicit Attitudes Test, a standard technique for measuring subconscious levels of prejudice and stereotypes), the travesty of New Coke, and the effects of visual capture and its complete and utter domination on the rest of our senses. Would you think that changing the color of a Mountain Dew bottle would make the drink taste more lemon-y, or more lime-y? That the gender of an instrumentalist would change how good you perceive them as sounding? That the look of a chair may belie comfort? All of these are true statements.
Malcolm Gladwell refers to these underlying principles as "thin-slicing." We are busy creatures. We don't have time to think out every decision that we make in full detail. Instead, we use heuristics: a quick snap-decision based on our available database of similar situations and how they impacted us, what our observations of them were, and the overall effects and signature characteristics of these situations. Were they good for us or bad for us? How did we react last time? Was it successful? What were the peripheral and focal details of the event?
Using thin-slicing, it is possible to look at a fifteen-minute argument between couples and predict with 85% accuracy (the book said 90%, my professor said 85%. I'm trusting the man with the PhD) whether or not they will stay together within five years. Contempt, as it turns out, is the biggest predictor, and the presence of contempt in marital arguments is linked with failing health of the wife, and increased rate of divorce with the husband. Contempt blocks, or shuts out, incoming sensory data. It closes the person off and, more than that, says that they're scum, not worthy of your time or attention. It's no small wonder that it rips through couples like a hot knife through butter. Contempt is downright vitriolic.
But what about emotions? As it turns out, Ekman has pinpointed most of the major emotions (happiness, disgust, anger, sadness, fear, surprise) using action units -- distinctive muscle movements of the face that tend to be a signature of a particular emotion. When you're surprised, your mouth tends to open, your jaw drops, your eyes open wide and your eyebrows go up. When you're angry, your eyebrows knit together forming distinctive lines in your forehead, your lips tighten. When you're happy, your lips part in a smile, your face relaxes, the lines around your eyes crinkle forming the Duchenne smile. Sometimes the emotions begat the expression -- but sometimes the expression begat the emotion. Research seems to suggest that the process is a two-way street and, that with training, it is possible to glimpse and read emotions that can completely undermine whatever a given individual is trying to present of their current mindset.
And then there is the importance of context. New Coke failed dismally in the market even though it was a success in taste-tests because it was too sweet. The first taste always tastes the best, but if you're going to have to drink a whole can or bottle of something by yourself, subtlety beats out sweetness every time. It's the same reason why, when you purchase a new CD, there are some songs that you like as soon as you hear them (usually the "hits"), but there are other songs you're not sure about. The style is somewhat of a departure from the band's usual style, you're not sure about them, and therefore don't put them on your iPod. But what USUALLY happens (at least for me) is that the "hits" that were so catchy with their guitar hooks and upbeat rhythms start to grate on your nerves. Those songs you weren't sure about, upon a second or third listening, start to sound better than you thought, and have complex rhythms and deep lyrics you wonder how you missed. Moral of the story? Catchy is great... until it becomes epidemic.
So what are the caveats? We all "thin-slice" but some of us are better at it than others. Experts win out over the laymen every time. Why? Because they have the knowledge and experience to say why they made the choices that they made and be right about it. I am probably better than a lot of you at describing psychological phenomena that I have observed and interpreting my own actions and behaviors. Why? I have lab experience, and it has been drilled into me, over and over and over and over, what to look for. I know when I lash out at someone it's probably not necessarily something they did, but could have been caused by that low test grade I received earlier. I'm therefore less likely to attribute my rage to something that the person did. Why? Because I know it's not. I know the name of the process at work here (fundamental attribution bias), and I know that it's situationally-caused, and not some intrinsic factor of the recipient of my rage.
We also do worse when we're on a time-crunch. This is because when we have time, we can use algorithms. We can weigh the information, discount irrelevant data, and look at things that don't match up. Taking a few extra seconds to relax and BREATHE lets us take a step back from the situation and analyze what's really going on. It lets us notice data that doesn't fit -- that the catchy song really is starting to get annoying, that the ergonomic chair really is comfortable, that the object the black man is pulling out of his pocket is the wrong shape to be a gun. Unfortunately, most of the time we don't have this luxury which forces us to rely on stereotype-comprised heuristics. Sometimes they work, but sometimes they don't, and it's these latter that end up getting us into trouble.
If you want to know how your mind works, this is a great book to pick up and read. Malcolm Gladwell knows how to pick and choose among case studies and psychological studies to find the ones that will appeal to non-experts. This can sometimes be annoying, as it can cause people (namely my father) to parrot studies back at me that I already know about, usually botching the facts/findings. If you do read this book, know that the results of these studies aren't going to apply to everyone. There are always going to be exceptions. And that, by reading this book, you are biasing yourself, reshaping the lens with which you view the world.
Many people gain twenty or thirty pounds in a year and are at a loss as to where that mysterious weight gain came from. In his book, Mindless Eating,Many people gain twenty or thirty pounds in a year and are at a loss as to where that mysterious weight gain came from. In his book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink describes experiments he runs at his food lab in Cornell, and how various cognitive and physiological process contribute to the overeating epidemic. The biggest surprise? A lot of it is unconscious, leading to food amnesia -- and those phantom pounds.
I've been trying to lose weight myself. It's a plight many people are probably sympathetic to. I realized I'd gained a lot of weight from eating in the dorms (curse you, freshman fifteen), as well as a lot of other things I hadn't taken into account. Things like snacking from opaque containers (you eat more if you don't see how much you're consuming), or eating while reading, or making junk foods more accessible than healthy foods (apples and carrots all the way). The biggest problem, though, was eating when I wasn't hungry. This book is all about how we unconsciously eat, and about our dependence on external cues to tell us how much and when to eat. A lot of us have forgotten to listen to our bodies to tell us when we're hungry or not -- or we're mistaking a "mouth" hunger (psychological) for a "stomach hunger" (physiological). Over the summer, I lost over ten pounds by altering a couple habits. A lot of my techniques were in this book -- which I'd learned about in a course on social cognition -- but there were a lot more that I had no idea about, and what amazed me was how SIMPLE so many of them were.
-If we are presented with bigger portions, we will eat more. If we eat out of bigger containers, we will eat more. If we serve with bigger silverware, we will eat more. If we are presented with more options, we will also eat more. The reverse is also true. Taking less means eating less.
-If a product says "low fat," or "reduced fat," we will eat more of it, mistakenly assuming that "low fat" is synonymous with low calorie -- it isn't, and oftentimes, the amount of fat that's been reduced is as low as 25% or less. And since you're eating more of it, you're actually consuming more calories.
-It takes about twenty minutes after eating for your brain to send your stomach a signal that you're full. If you eat quickly, that's enough time for a second or third helping, causing you to eat 2x or 3x more than you really need.
-Denying yourself food is a great way to lose weight in the short term but a lot of people quickly gain it back -- and then some. Rather than cutting out everything but ice cubes or sunflower seeds, you might just make it a bit more effortful to eat those sinful snacks or switch to a healthier version that tastes just as good. (Personal example A: I switched from Starbucks to Jamba Juice because a smoothie feels more like a meal than a frappuccino does (which feels like a snack to me). Even though the large sizes are about the same amount of calories for both drinks, the smoothie is more nutritious and I think of it as a meal, so it makes me more full and I'm less likely to eat later. I only go once a week, and I make myself walk across town and back to get one. On the rare instances I do get coffee, I get a latte, not a frappuccino).
-Your body will notice if you eat 2,000 calories one day and only 1,000 the next (and it will NOT be pleased with you), but is virtually oblivious to a difference of 100-300 calories. Cutting out your daily candybar/soda intake or replacing them with ice water and carrots can cause you to lose 10-20 pounds over the course of the year. As an added bonus, drinking your water with ice actually causes your body to burn calories, since your body has to expend energy to heat up that icy cold water (Personal example B: I'm a college student which means that I spend long stretches of time on campus. I found myself getting hungry/thirsty and allowing myself to buy things like coffee or soda. Now, I have a thermos, which I dutifully fill with ice water every morning. I already have a drink which keeps me sated, so I don't have to think about my cravings and ward off the evil temptation of an ice-cold coca-cola. This saves money, too!).
-Children are very sensitive to parental cues. So if you grimace every time you eat a salad but moan explicitly into your triple-chocolate fudge banana sundae, your kid is gonna turn up his nose at arugala in favor of a trip to Baskin Robins. Also, if you're pregnant, what you eat in the third trimester apparently affects your baby's tastes.
I finished this in one afternoon. Wansink's writing style is humorous and engaging, and his experiments on the psychology of food and eating are fascinating. Even if you're not a psychology major or a nutritionist, you'll find him pretty accessible. I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to lose weight, or help their family lose weight, or just wants to be more informed....more
I don't think there was anything "heartbreaking" about this story. I actually found the author to be pretty repulsive. It's pretty clear that her mothI don't think there was anything "heartbreaking" about this story. I actually found the author to be pretty repulsive. It's pretty clear that her mother had OCD, and that her parents' separation likely resulted from her mother's odd whims--a grim foreshadowing of her own future relationship problems.
Not that I'm insensitive. As a Psychology major, I've been well-instructed in the devastating impacts that all mental disorders can have on every day life. OCD, in particular, can have a huge impact, making even the most tedious minutiae as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest. Ms. Colas appears to be a checker, calling up companies to trace the materials they used in their products, checking and double-checking with people to make sure their injuries didn't result from the cutlery she's going to use for dining, throwing out her children's toys(!) because she doesn't like the glitter and pieces they shed.
I think what irritated me most was the fact that she landed a very sensitive husband and then manipulated him into becoming an enabler. Her prose struck me as derisive and very self-absorbed, as if she didn't think he humored her enough, while simultaneously being like, "You think I do weird shit? You do weird shit, too. And unlike me, you can actually help yourself! Who's crazier? Me or you? Hello pot, I'm kettle. Black much?" I found it very hard to sympathize with her. She seemed like just another middle-class woman hopping on the mental illness memoirs trend of the 90's.
I mean COME ON. She had a family history. She had several chances to seek out therapy and/or medication. She even had a history of drug abuse that was probably an attempt to self-medicate. Couldn't she see that she had a problem? Ugh. I hope some of the worse stuff in their was fabricated for entertainment value, but somehow, I don't think it was......more
Gave up. Too much speculation, not enough science. This is more of a self-help book, than anything else, which wasn't what I was looking for. That proGave up. Too much speculation, not enough science. This is more of a self-help book, than anything else, which wasn't what I was looking for. That probably means my flow is off-kilter......more
Remember in-groups and out-groups from social psychology? In this book Berreby discusses the us vs. them mentality in excruciating detail, citing numeRemember in-groups and out-groups from social psychology? In this book Berreby discusses the us vs. them mentality in excruciating detail, citing numerous examples and studies that show our tendency, as humans, to be cliquish. I'm taking an evolutionary psychology course at the moment, and it was interesting to see the discussions of xenophobia and kinds come up again. My professor is always saying that we live in a world of strangers; a relatively new cultural phenomenon, because for thousands of years, humans tended to live in more rural settings and knew their neighbors.
I just wish that Berreby had utilized his examples more. Instead of having a ton and then glossing over them, it would have been better if he had examined them in more detail. As it was, Us and Them was very dry, like a textbook, and I was hard-pressed to finish it, which was sad, as he struck me as a very engaging man. I'm sure he gives good lectures, but his prose needs work....more
One thing I really appreciated was how accurate the information in this book was. I've read sooooo many books that incorporate studies which the authoOne thing I really appreciated was how accurate the information in this book was. I've read sooooo many books that incorporate studies which the authors then proceed to spin, so that the data supports whatever the thesis of their book is. That really steams my broccoli, because the golden rule of psychology, and any other science for that matter, is that correlation does NOT mean causation. It is foolhardy to infer causal relationships between two variables that may be totally unrelated--or caused by a third variable! But "maybe" doesn't make money, so I guess that's why so many people are eager to jump on the causation train....
This book is actually scientific, and since it's been published fairly recently, the data is not out-of-date (I remember a book I had as a kid that said the tongue was divided into various sectors, each responsible for detecting a different taste. Even as a kid that sounded fishy, because no matter which part of the tongue I stuck my Oreo to, it always tasted sweet). The anecdotes about his wife and kid are a little annoying, but they're usually relevant to whatever point he's making.
If you're after pop psychology books in the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, this book is probably not for you. At times, the writing can be very dry, and Wallenstein uses a lot of terminology that would probably be unfamiliar to someone who hasn't taken a course in Psychobiology (although if you ARE currently taking a course in Psychobiology/Intro to Neuroscience/Perception, this book would probably make a handy study tool!). If you like nerding out to psychology and want a book that caters to your extensive knowledge, be like me: give your ego a pat on the head, and read this book!...more
Twelve is a publishing company devoted to publishing no more than one book a month, twelve books a year. I was first introduced to Twelve through BoomTwelve is a publishing company devoted to publishing no more than one book a month, twelve books a year. I was first introduced to Twelve through Boomsday by Christopher Buckley (also the author of Thank You for Smoking and Supreme Courtship). Eventually, I got curious and decided to see what other books this elusive publishing company considered worthy of its time and resources and this book, The Art of Choosing, was one of them. It's been sitting on my to-read list for several months now, and I recently discovered that my college library OWNED a copy!! Well, obviously, I had no choice but to check it out.
I've read a lot of pop psychology books--in fact, I make it my business to read as many as possible because I'm nerdy like that--so you know where I'm coming from when I say that this is easily one of the best (if not the best) book in this line of books that I have ever read. Ms. Iyengar, a business professor from Columbia University (if memory serves), has a very fluid, candid style of writing. She doesn't use flowery language, but she doesn't condescend to her readers either. It's a nice balance, and one that isn't easily attained. I also liked the way she opened up the book with a personal anecdote, because I like to know who is writing to me, and where they're coming from. She is a fascinating woman, who grew up in a semi-strict Sikh background. Blind from a young age, she never outright talks about how much of a burden this must have been to her in her career (although she hints at it, from time to time), but she still manages to come off as both strong and highly competent, and her lack of sight really makes you appreciate her knack for conveying visual imagery. Hell, it's hard doing that when you CAN see.
The Art of Choosing incorporates a lot of different topics--collectivistic versus individualistic cultures, making purchases in a supermarket, knowing when to "pull the plug", and arranged versus "romantic" marriages, to name a few--but all boil down to the same thing: Choice. Does it make us happy? And if so, how much do we need? The answers to these questions are often startling, and counterintuitive. Many of us would say that yes, we DO need choice. But in a society where buying groceries could easily take an entire day, one can't help but wonder if maybe too MUCH choice is being foisted upon us, and if these choices are even particularly meaningful (I thought the ex-communist societies brought up a good point about soda being soda...are our "choices" really just illusions that mask our total lack of power?).
After reading this book, and The Paradox of Choice, I've really started to re-evaluate my own behavior, both as a social being and as a consumer. While I still seek opinions in social matters, I try not to fret over what I might have done (which is counterfactual thinking. To all you psych majors out there--holla!) and try to instead focus on what I will do in the future. I also don't fret about getting the "best deal" as much as I used to, because when you think about it, time is money. People make entire careers out of bargain shopping, and since I'm not getting paid for my efforts, I shouldn't be one of those people. To paraphrase Freud (I know...), "Sometimes a cigar really is a cigar." And sometimes, orange juice is just orange juice. And if the generic brand is a whole dollar cheaper than the Tropicana brand, what's so bad about buying it, as long as they haven't pumped it up with a bunch of high fructose corn syrup? Anyway, the moral of this review is that we spend too much time sweating the small things, and put too much emphasis on freedom of choice, when really, choice can actually be just as much of a burden (if not more) as having other people decide for you. Especially for the superficial things. So the next time your mother/SO buys your groceries for you, you should probably thank them, instead of snapping that you can "do it yourself," because chances are, they know your tastes a lot better than you do. :o)...more