YANSS 045 – The Emotional Lives of Doctors with Danielle Ofri

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The Topic: Doctors

The Guests: Danielle Ofri

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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In this episode, we talk to Danielle Ofri, physician and author of “What Doctors Feel” – a book about the emotional lives of doctors and how compassion fatigue, biases, and other mental phenomena affect their decisions, their motivations, and their relationships with patients.

You’ll also hear Ofri discuss emotional epidemiology, the viral-like spread of fear and other emotions that can lead to irrational panics like those we’ve already seen surrounding Ebola, the Swine Flu, SARS, and other illnesses.

danielleofriDanielle Ofri specializes in internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Her articles and essays have been published at the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and others. She has appeared on CNN and NPR, and her lectures are popular around the country. She is the author of several books about the lives of doctors and their relationships with patients including “What Doctors Feel” and “Intensive Care.

After the interview, I discuss a news story how meat-eating humans see animal minds much differently than do vegetarians and vegans.

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YANSS Podcast 033 – The psychology of forming, keeping, and sometimes changing our beliefs

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The Topic: Belief

The Guests: Will Storr, Margaret Maitland, and Jim Alcock

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud – Transcript

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Put your right hand on your head. Unless you are near a mirror, you can no longer see your hand, but you know where it is, right? You know what position it is in. You know how far away it is from most of the other things around you. I’m using the word “know,” but that’s just for convenience, because you don’t actually know those things. That is, you can’t be 100 percent certain your hand is on your head. You assume it is, and that’s as good as it is going to get – a best guess. We’ll come back to that. You can put your hand down now.

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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.

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