YANSS Podcast 032 – Seeing willpower as powered by a battery that must be recharged

The Topic: Ego Depletion

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Stains the dog abstains from cupcakes on "It's Me or The Dog" on Animal Planet

Stains the dog abstains from cupcakes on “It’s Me or The Dog” on Animal Planet

One of my favorite tropes in fiction is the idea of the perfect thinker – the person who has shed all the baggage of being an emotional human being and could enjoy the freedom and glory of pure logic, if only he or she could feel joy.

Spock, Data, Seven of Nine, Sherlock Holmes, Mordin Solus, Austin James, The T-1000 – there are so many variations of the idea. In each fictional world, these beings accomplish amazing feats thanks to possessing cold reason devoid of all those squishy feelings. Not being very good at telling jokes or hanging out at parties are among their only weaknesses.

It’s a nice fantasy, to imagine without emotions one could become super-rational and thus achieve things other people could not. It suggests that we often see emotion as a weakness, that many people wish they could be more Spockish. But the work of neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio suggests that such a thing would be a nightmare. In his book, “Decarte’s Error” he describes patients who, because of an accident or a disorder, are no longer able to feel silly or annoyed or hateful or anything else. If they can, those feelings just graze them, never taking hold. Damasio explains that these patients, emotionally barren, are rendered powerless to choose a path in life. They can’t ascribe value to anything. Their world is flat. Despite remaining very intelligent and able to carry on conversations, they no longer make good decisions. Former business owners will lose all their money on bad investments. People who used to work from home will become lost in constantly reorganizing their shelves. Not only are their decisions flawed, but reaching conclusions becomes an excruciating process. When Damasio handed one of these patients two pens, one red and one blue, and asked him to fill out a questionnaire, the man was lost. To choose red over blue using logic alone took about half an hour. Every pro and con was listed, every branching possibility of future outcomes considered. Damasio wrote that “when emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions.” Judgments and decisions corrupted by bias and passion are the only way we ever get anything done.

Choosing a blue pen instead of a red pen takes most people only a moment because the decision is driven by emotion alone. Try it now. Ask yourself which color ink you would prefer to use for the rest of this year. Why did you pick that color? The research suggests you feel your answer first, before you even know you’ve chosen, and then begin the work of rationally explaining yourself to yourself.

Psychology over the last 40 years or so has developed a model of the human mind in which our older and mostly unconscious system of emotions and hunches stands apart from our newer and mostly conscious system of rational, deliberate contemplation. Daniel Kahneman calls them system one and system two, fast and slow. Jonathan Haidt calls them the elephant and rider, and sometimes the master and the servant. Walter Mischel calls the interplay of these two complexes the hot/cool system. Every psychologist who supports the model has a favorite way of describing the two major branches of our minds – intuition and reason.

Not only have psychologists reframed how we see the collaboration of reason and intuition, but they’ve learned that the part of us that deliberates and contemplates, the part of us that Freud would have called the ego, can become exhausted. There is a body of evidence that reveals the conscious and rational system – the slow one, the rider of the elephant – gets tired very easily and eventually goes passive. Every deliberate act seems to weaken the ability to perform another. Eventually, you begin to give up earlier, to rush to conclusions sooner, and to eat things that you shouldn’t. You watch movies on cable that you already own, censored and full of commercials, even though you could watch your own copy with minimal effort. You do things that seem very un-Spock-like.

If you think of these two systems as id and ego, the work of psychologist Roy Baumeister suggests that the ego sort of runs on an internal battery, one that can be drained after heavy use, but recharges after rest and reward. If you don’t recharge it, you will find it difficult to keep your hand out of the cookie jar. He says that all sorts of things can lead to ego depletion, a state of mind in which your ego leaves its post and takes a nap, allowing the id and its emotions to take over. Depleted, you have poor willpower, self-control, volition, prosocial behavior, etc. Judges will even be less likely to grant parole until they’ve taken a break and eaten a sandwich.

In this episode we explore ego depletion and all the things that can cause it from feeling rejection to holding back tears to avoiding the temptation of cookies. Speaking of cookies…we also explore in this episode how psychologists have used cookies in novel ways to uncover the secrets of our minds. We examine the importance of cookies in psychological research from the work of Mischel to recent experiments that can cause normal people to steal confections and munch them like Cookie Monster in front of strangers.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Jenne Bergstrom who submitted a recipe for Meyrick Cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

MeyRick

LINKS

DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

The Boss Study

Clean Smells

SOURCES

Banja, John D. Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004. Print.

Baumeister, Roy, and John Tierney. “The Authors of Willpower Answer Your Questions.” Interview. Freakonomics. Freakonomics, LLC., 22 Sept. 2011. Web. Apr. 2012.

Baumeister, Roy F., and John Tierney. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

Baumeister, Roy F., C. Nathan DeWall, Natalie J. Ciarocco, and Jean M. Twenge. “Social Exclusion Impairs Self-Regulation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88.4 (2005): 589-604. Print.

Baumeister, Roy F., Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne M. Tice. “Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74.5 (1998): 1252-265. Print.

Carey, Benedict. “Analyze These.” NY Times. The New York Times Company, 25 Apr. 2006. Web. Apr. 2012.

Danziger, Shai, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso. “Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions.” Ed. Daniel Kahneman. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108.17 (2011): 6889-892. Print.

Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam, 1994. Print.

Floyd, Barbara. From Quackery to Bacteriology: The Emergence of Modern Medicine in 19th Century America. The University of Toledo, Feb. 1995. Web. Apr. 2012.

Gailliot, Matthew T., Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan DeWall, Jon K. Maner, E. Ashby Plant, Dianne M. Tice, Lauren E. Brewer, and Brandon J. Schmeichel. “Self-control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Willpower Is More than a Metaphor.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92.2 (2007): 325-36. Print.

Goodall, J. “Social Rejection, Exclusion, and Shunning among the Gombe Chimpanzees.” Ethology and Sociobiology 7.3-4 (1986): 227-36. Print.

Gorlick, Adam. “Need a Study Break to Refresh? Maybe Not, Say Stanford Researchers.” Stanford News Service. Stanford University, 14 Oct. 2010. Web. Apr. 2012.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon, 2012. Print.

Hagger, Martin S., Chantelle Wood, Chris Stiff, and Nikos L. D. Chatzisarantis. “Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-control: A Meta-analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 136.4 (2010): 495-525. Print.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. Medical Essays, 1842-1882. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and, 1891. Print.

Job, V., C. S. Dweck, and G. M. Walton. “Ego Depletion–Is It All in Your Head?: Implicit Theories About Willpower Affect Self-Regulation.” Psychological Science 21.11 (2010): 1686-693. Print.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Print.

Leher, Jonah. “The Willpower Trick.” Wired Science. Condé Nast, 09 Jan. 2012. Web. Apr. 2012.

Medical Class of 1889. University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. Web. Apr. 2012. http://www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/1800s/1889med/med1889entry.html.

Muraven, Mark, and Owen Flanagan. Lecture. The Mechanisms of Self-Control: Lessons from Addiction. The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford. 13 May 2010. The Science Network. 13 May 2010. Web. Apr. 2012.

Muraven, Mark, and Roy F. Baumeister. “Self-regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-control Resemble a Muscle?” Psychological Bulletin 126.2 (2000): 247-59. Print.

Muraven, Mark, Dianne M. Tice, and Roy F. Baumeister. “Self-control as a Limited Resource: Regulatory Depletion Patterns.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74.3 (1998): 774-89. Print.

Metcalfe, J., & Mischel, W. (n.d.). A hot/cool-system analysis of delay of gratification: Dynamics of willpower. Psychological Review, 3-19.

“Overview: Medicine 1800-1899.” BookRags. Web. Apr. 2012. http://www.bookrags.com/research/overview-medicine-1800-1899-scit-051234.

Tice, Dianne M., Roy F. Baumeister, Dikla Shmueli, and Mark Muraven. “Restoring the Self: Positive Affect Helps Improve Self-regulation following Ego Depletion.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43.3 (2007): 379-84. Print.

Tierney, John. “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” NY Times. The New York Times Company, 21 Aug. 2011. Web. Apr. 2012. A version of this article appeared in print on August 21, 2011, on page MM33 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: “To Choose is to Lose.”

TV Tropes. The Spock. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheSpock

Vohs, Kathleen D., Brian D. Glass,, W. Todd Maddox, and Arthur B. Markman. “Ego Depletion Is Not Just Fatigue : Evidence From a Total Sleep Deprivation Experiment.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 2.2 (2011): 166-73. Print.

Wegner, Daniel M., David J. Schneider, Samuel R. Carter, and Teri L. White. “Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53.1 (1987): 5-13. Print.

Wootton, David. Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

Wrangham, Richard W. Chimpanzee Cultures. Cambridge, MA: Published by Harvard UP in Cooperation with the Chicago Academy of Sciences, 1996. Print.

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YANSS Podcast 030 – How practice changes the brain and exceptions to the 10,000 hour rule with David Epstein

The Topic: Practice

The Guest: David Epstein

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Photo by Glenda S. Lynchard - Source: http://bit.ly/1rmH627

Photo by Glenda S. Lynchard – Source: http://bit.ly/1rmH627

You live in the past.

You don’t know this because your brain lies to you and then covers up the lies, which is a good thing. If your brain didn’t fudge reality, you wouldn’t be able to hit a baseball, drive a car, or even carry on a conversation.

You may have already noticed this through its absence. Sounds that come from very far away don’t get edited. Maybe you’ve been high in the bleachers at a sporting event and saw the crack of a bat or the crunch of a tackle, but the sound seemed to arrive in your head just a tiny bit later than when it should have. Sometimes there is a delay, like reality is out of sync. You can see this in videos too. If you see a big explosion or a gun shot from far away, the sound will arrive after the camera has already recorded the images so that there is gap between seeing the boom and hearing it.

The reason this occurs, of course, is because sound waves travel much more slowly than light waves. But if that’s true, why isn’t there always a lag between seeing and hearing? How come you can carry on a conversation with someone at the end of a long hallway even though the light that’s allowing you to see her mouth is arriving well before the sound of her voice?

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YANSS Podcast 029 – How labels affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with Adam Alter

The Topic: Labels

The Guest: Adam Alter

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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I did something this week that I’m sure many people secretly do every day. I stopped, talked to myself for a moment, and checked to see how much slack was in the leash I keep on my tongue.

I was reminded that I need to do that from time to time, or at least I believe that I do, by a bit of news that was passed around for a few days this week. The reports said that one of the government’s most prestigious energy laboratories was working to eradicate the Southern accent – not from the planet, mind you, just from employees who had requested the service.

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YANSS Podcast 028 – The Sanity of Crowds with Michael Bond

The Topic: Crowds

The Guest: Michael Bond

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

A rioter dressed in a Vancouver Canucks jersey cheers on while a car burns - Source: Wikimedia Commons, User: David Elop, Original here: http://bit.ly/1tqXdx6

A scene from the 2011 Vancouver riots, described by the photographer as, “a rioter dressed in a Vancouver Canucks jersey cheers on while a car burns” – Source: Wikimedia Commons, User: David Elop, Original here: http://bit.ly/1tqXdx6

It is a human tendency that’s impossible not to notice during wars and revolutions – and a dangerous one to forget when resting between them.

In psychology they call it deindividuation, losing yourself to the will of a crowd. In a mob, protest, riot, or even an audience, the presence of others redraws the borders of your normal persona. Simply put, you will think, feel, and do things in a crowd that alone you would not.

Psychology didn’t discover this, of course. The fact that being in a group recasts the character you usually play has been the subject of much reflection ever since people have had the time to reflect. No, today psychology is trying to chip away at the prevailing wisdom on what crowds do to your mind and why.

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YANSS Podcast 26 – Maslow’s Hammer

The Topic: Maslow’s Hammer

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Photo by Michael Jastremski – Original here: http://bit.ly/1iqqkjs

Take the YANSS Podcast survey, win a $100 Amazon Gift Card: http://www.podsurvey.com/yanss

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

You’ve heard the expression before. You’ve may have, like myself, smugly used it a few times to feel like you made an intelligent point in an office conversation. It’s one of those great comebacks that we’ve decided is ok to use in professional settings like congressional debates and televised political arguments about everything from gun control to foreign policy. But, it might surprise you to learn who wrote it, how young the above quote is, and why it was written in the first place.

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YANSS Podcast 022 – How we miss what is missing and what to do about it with statistician Megan Price

The Topic: Survivorship Bias

The Guest: Megan Price

The Episode: Download iTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Illustration by Brad Clark at http://www.plus3video.com - available for purchase here: http://bit.ly/1mItekh

Illustrations by Brad Clark at http://www.plus3video.com – available for purchase here: http://bit.ly/1mItekh

The problem with sorting out failures and successes is that failures are often muted, destroyed, or somehow removed from sight while successes are left behind, weighting your decisions and perceptions, tilting your view of the world. That means to be successful you must learn how to seek out what is missing. You must learn what not to do. Unfortunately, survivorship bias stands between you and the epiphanies you seek.

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YANSS Podcast 021 – Christina Draganich explains how anyone can use science as a tool to understand nature, human and otherwise

The Topic(s): Placebo Sleep and Science

The Guest: Christina Draganich

The Episode: Download iTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Photo by Matteo Ianeselli, via Wikimedia Commons,  http://bit.ly/1fAKROj

Photo by Matteo Ianeselli, via Wikimedia Commons, http://bit.ly/1fAKROj

In 1998, The Journal of the American Medical Association published research that debunked therapeutic touch and moved the well-meaning mystical practice out of the kingdom of medicine and into the abandoned strip mall of quackery.

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YANSS Podcast 015 – I read an excerpt from You Are Now Less Dumb

The Topic: Narrative Bias

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

The Ypsilanti State Hospital - Photo Courtesy of Opacity.Us

The Ypsilanti State Hospital – Photo Courtesy of Opacity.Us

In this inbetweenisode I read an excerpt from my book, You Are Now Less Dumb, about a strange experiment in Michigan that tested the bounds of the self by throwing three very unusual men into a situation that won’t likely be repeated ever again by science.

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YANSS Podcast 013 – Clive Thompson and How Technology Affects Our Minds

Time Cyberpunk

The Topic: Technology

The Guest: Clive Thompson

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation’s cyberpunk novel.

However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.

We’ve been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the ’40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.

Is all this new technology improving our thinking or dampening it? Are all these new communication tools turning us into navel-gazing human/brand hybrids, or are we developing a new set of senses that allow us to benefit from never severing contact with the people most important to us?

Clive ThompsonThat’s the topic of this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, and to answer these questions we welcome this episode’s guest, Clive Thompson, who is the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. As the title suggests, he disagrees with the naysayers, and his book is an impressive investigation into why they are probably (thankfully) wrong. Thompson is a journalist whose work can be found published in Wired, The Washington Post, and the New York Times Magazine. You can learn more about him at his website.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about research into how the way you walk can encourage or discourage criminals to attack you.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Joye Swan who submitted a recipe for chewy rosemary sugar cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Rosemary Sugar Cookies

Links and Sources:

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Clive Thompson’s Website

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

Hyperland

Douglas Adams Interview

How to Operate Your Brain

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr Interview

Why The Web Won’t Be Nirvana

The Argument From Antiquity at Neurologica

How the way we walk can increase risk of being mugged

YANSS Podcast – Episode Ten – Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us

The Topic: Perversion

The Guest: Jesse Bering

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

A book, a real book, about making love with dinosaurs

A book, a real book, about making love with dinosaurs

If a world archery champion fell madly in love with the Eiffel Tower, who she considered to be a female, married the monument, and then went on to consummate her union with it, would you consider her a crazy person? How about perverted? Insane? What about a person who can only reach sexual climax by falling down stairs? What about a person who masturbates to wheelchairs or to a recently worn hearing aid?

Well, those people exist. But should we consider those people mentally ill whose sexual desires deviate from the norm? Given what science is telling us about sexuality, how should we adjust our thinking about perversion? That’s the topic we explore in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. My guest is:

Jesse BeringJesse Bering’s new book is “Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us.” In it, he explores what is and is not normal, what is and is not perverted, and whether or not we should care about those things from a legal or moral standpoint. A former professor at the University of Arkansas and former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast, Bering has written for Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, and Discover. His other books are Why is the Penis Shaped Like That and The Belief Instinct. You can learn more about Jesse at his website.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Celeste Lindell who submitted a recipe for cinnamon cardamom snickerdoodles. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Snickerdoodle

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Cookie Recipe

Boing Boing Podcasts

Jesse Bering

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us

Popcorn and Advertising

Pornography Statistics

More Pornography Statistics

Even More Pornography Statistics

Bill Hicks: Relentless

Lamda Legal Homophobia Supercut