What the Brains Are Saying

BRAIN HUE Collection by Emilio Garcia

  • Criminals who are physically attractive are twice as likely to be acquitted for violent crimes.
  • Judges are more likely to deny parole to inmates right before they eat lunch, when they are hungry.
  • A first impression of a politician’s “likabilty,” before they ever state their views, is an accurate predictor of whether they will win a given election.
  • Charging parents $5 if they are late to pick their children up from daycare makes them more likely to be late than if they are charged nothing.
  • People on diets are statistically more likely to cheat on their spouses.

What does it all mean? I’ve spent the last few years in pursuit of that question. At some point that I can’t identify I became obsessed with human behavior, human interaction, and the human brain. I make no claims to be an expert, just an enthusiastic amateur. I’ve read a number of books on the subject, and I’ll put the rough reading list at the end of this post.

These issues have been studied from many different directions, and some of the findings are little understood or contradictory. However, the evidence mounts up for certain conclusion. One in particular has changed the way I look at the world, and my own functionality within it. It is the following:

Human actions and decisions are determined by a combination of character—encompassing qualities such as personality, temperament, beliefs, and morality—and external circumstances. Of the two, external circumstances are by far the larger factor.

In other words, we do have free well—or at least the compatibilist version of it—but it has much less influence on what we do and what we become than factors outside of ourselves of which we are unaware and over which we have little control. This truth cuts down to the deepest level, from how successful you are at your career to what you had for lunch this afternoon.

Society, it seems, has some serious thinking to do.

Reading List:

The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy and John List
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Switch, How to Change When Change is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton
Brain Rules by John Medina


2 thoughts on “What the Brains Are Saying

  1. Have you heard of Dan Ariely? He’s a professor at Duke. There is a free on-line course by him on http://www.coursera.org on Irrational Behavior. He’s quite fascinating and very productive in the field of observing the extend of irrationality of human behavior.

    • I have Predictably Irrational on my reading list, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I didn’t know he had a course available on Coursera! I love Coursera and I’ll definitely check that out, thanks!

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