In the late 1960s, psychologist Martin Seligman was a graduate student working on an unexplored aspect of behaviorism.
Psychology had already tapped into the power of rewards and punishments to shape behavior, and conditioning as a whole was coming into sharp focus, but Seligman and his colleagues wondered if learning in this way could be sped up through preparation.
You’ve likely seen this idea portrayed in movies. In the Karate Kid, for instance, our hero spends weeks sanding the floors and waxing the car of his sensei thinking it is all some kind of endurance and frustration test to see if is willing to stick around and learn sweet martial arts moves. When Mr. Miyagi finally started teaching him how to block punches and kicks, Daniel-san was able to learn those techniques rapidly because all that boring, repetitive busywork had prepared his body to make similar motions.
Seligman wondered if an animal could be prepared to learn something before it actually experienced the learning process. The hypothesis was that if you prepared an animal ahead of time, it would learn faster than if you had not. To explore this, his team did a sort of Pavlovian exercise in which they played a tone and then shocked dogs with electricity so that those animals would learn to connect the tone to the experience. The idea was that in the future those dogs could be conditioned more easily than dogs that had never been taught to fear electric shocks after hearing a sound. This is, of course, not something that would happen in a modern lab. Psychology is a lot less cruel and creepy now. But be warned, the next stage was even more more cruel and more creepy.
From Dilbert to Fight Club to Joe Versus the Volcano, the world of white-collar drones and managerial ineptitude has long been a goldmine for parody.
The soul-sucking details are so ubiquitous and familiar that in addition to the British and the American versions of The Office, there are also versions in Chile, France, Germany, Israel and Sweden – there’s even a version just for French-Canadians. Each is shades apart, reflecting the differences in culture, but each is also broadly similar in making light of the drudgery and silliness that comes from spending your waking hours hovering near a computer and taking your lunch at your desk.
One of the authors of a study featured prominently in a recent episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast has asked for a retraction after learning his co-author may have falsified most of the survey data included in the research.
What if you could give yourself a superpower – not Hulk-level strength, not telekinesis, but something realistic, something that added a superhuman ability by taking away a normal human limitation?
That’s what Jia Jiang wondered when he began a quest to remove the fear of rejection from his brain.
Can you change a person’s mind on a divisive social issue? For instance, let’s say you meet someone who is very opposed to same-sex marriage and has felt that way for years. In one conversation, could you flip his or her opinion in the other direction?
The latest science says…hold on to your socks…yes. But it will require two things: contact and disclosure.
Public shaming is back, and Jon Ronson has written a book about it.
It’s not a pop-science book. It doesn’t attempt to outline the bio-psycho-social underpinning of our urge to shame. Instead, Ronson spends time with people who’ve been recently ruined, made to suffer by the newfound shaming powers of a web-savvy public.