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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New York City’s Placebo Buttons and The Post Hoc Fallacy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpYP7tfqr8g&feature=youtu.be

I’m so excited to reveal the latest book trailer for my new book, You Are Now Less Dumb. Here is a link to learn more about the book.

Once again, the fantastic production crew at Plus3 Video created this wonderful video. You can learn more about them at this link.

You can see all the videos we’ve made together right here on the YANSS Youtube Channel: link to videos.

The video is inspired by a chapter in the book which mentions placebo buttons, a topic covered here on YANSS a few years back which you can read about at this link.

YANSS Podcast – Episode Eight – The Psychology of Video Games

The Topic: Video Games

The Guest: Jamie Madigan

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

Last of Us Friend or Foe

A scene from “The Last of Us”

“The Last of Us” is a video game, a work of interactive art, and a question will arise in the back of your mind while playing, “What would I do in this situation?” and the answer will make you feel emotions no other art form can elicit.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, 20 years after the fall of mankind, in a world nature has mostly reclaimed, where resources are few and trust is scarce. Hope is the commodity in shortest supply. Most everyone has given up on rebuilding the old world. This is just how it is now. Every encounter with strangers pings that most primal of judgments under uncertainty: “Is this a potential friend or foe?”

Familiar? Sure, it’s a theme being explored all over in fiction. Something in the zeitgeist has us fretting over these things again, but in a game you have the opportunity to actually test yourself in a virtual reality, to see what you would do when the stakes are as high as possible. Would you trust others? Would you help strangers? Would you kill to survive?

In addition, “The Last of Us” explores something the gaming world calls ludonarrative dissonance. Many modern games have detailed stories with great writing and well-acted scenes interspersed between what amounts to bursts of mass murder. It can make a player feel like his or her agency in the world has been stolen by the storyteller, that the characters you are asked to portray live in two realities, one you control and one you do not. This can feel really off-putting when the characters are jaunty, smarmy, and noble in the cutscenes, but then you are asked to use those people to do terrible things. In an effort to solve this problem, Naughty Dog, the developers of “The Last of Us”, crafted an experience where you and the character feel justified when pushed to do harm, but afterward you, the gamer, feel disgusted with yourself and horrified by the power of the situation to change your behavior and shift your moral center. You find yourself quickly learning to avoid violence – a behavior I was astonished to see evoked in myself inside a game world, and was thrilled to experience. That’s something you won’t get watching “Breaking Bad.”

Watch a teaser trailer showing a friend-or-foe scenario here: Link

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In this episode of the YANSS podcast, we explore games and their potential to reveal our self delusions. I interview Jamie Madigan, the curator of psychologyofgames.com, who writes about the behaviors and cognitions that games both exploit and uncover. It’s a great interview. We discuss everything from the motivational nudging in “Candy Crush Saga” to the power of endowed progress when endorsing people on LinkedIn. Please forgive us for geeking out so hard during it. I promise, non-gamers will learn plenty in this episode. Links to the things mentioned in the episode are at the bottom of this post.

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 the new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Violet Sinnarkar who submitted a recipe for white chocolate oatmeal cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 12.51.51 PM

White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Links:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Boing Boing Podcasts

Psychology of Games

Papers, Please

Spent

Newsgaming

Underground Railroad Game

The Walking Dead 

Narco Guerilla 

The Last of Us

Candy Crush Youtube Video 1

Candy Crush Youtube Video 2

Candy Crush Youtube Video 3

Candy Crush Youtube Video 4

The study concerning the cognitive load of poverty

Formal Sweatpants Procrastination Comic

Josh Mecouch over at Formal Sweatpants created a new comic based on a YANSS post a while back on procrastination. Thanks, Josh. This is great. That post discussed the concept of future self vs. present self, and how present bias affects your ability to predict how you will behave and make choices over time.

You may see some future collaborations between YANSS and FS, stay tuned. Until then, here is the comic:

Links:

Formal Sweatpants

Procrastination

Procrastination Video

Ego Depletion

The Misconception: Willpower is just a metaphor.

The Truth: Willpower is a finite resource.

Forever Alone by Lysgaard
(Source: Lysgaard)

In 2005, a team of psychologists made a group of college students feel like scum.

The researchers invited the undergraduates into their lab and asked the students to just hang out for a while and get to know each other. The setting was designed to simulate a casual meet-and-greet atmosphere, you know, like a reception or an office Christmas party – the sort of thing that never really feels all that casual?

The students divided into same-sex clusters of about six people each and chatted for 20 minutes using conversation starters provided by the researchers. They asked things like “Where are you from?” and “What is your major?” and “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Researchers asked the students beforehand to make an effort to learn each other’s names during the hang-out period, which was important, because the next task was to move into a room, sit alone, and write down the names of two people from the fake party with whom the subjects would most like to be partnered for the next part of the study. The researchers noted the responses and asked the students to wait to be called. Unbeknownst to the subjects, their choices were tossed aside while they waited.

The researchers – Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan DeWall, Natalie J. Ciarocco and Jean M. Twenge of Florida State, Florida Atlantic, and San Diego State universities – then asked the young men and women to proceed to the next stage of the activity in which the subjects would learn, based on their social skills at the party, what sort of impression they had made on their new acquaintances. This is where it got funky.

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