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

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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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You Are Now Less Dumb now out in paperback!

fbbookHere are just a few of the hundreds of new ideas you’ll stuff in your head while reading You Are Now Less Dumb:

* You’ll learn about a scientist’s bizarre experiment that tested what would happen if multiple messiahs lived together for several years and how you can use what he learned to debunk your own delusions.

* You’ll see how Bill Clinton, Gerard Butler, and Robert DeNiro are all equally ignorant in one very silly way that you can easily avoid.

*You’ll learn why the same person’s accent can be irritating in some situations and charming in others and how that relates to poor hiring choices as well as avoidable mistakes in education.

*You’ll finally understand why people wait in line to walk into unlocked rooms and how that same behavior slows progress and social change.

*You’ll learn why people who die and come back tend to return with similar stories, and you’ll see how the explanation can help you avoid arguments on the internet. You’ll discover the connection between salads, football, and consciousness.

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THE STORY BEHIND THE GOOSE TREES

Before I explain where the idea came from, I’d like to endorse the people who did the hardest work. If you need a video, please contact Plus3. They made the trailers above, and they are great to work with. You can visit their website at http://www.plus3video.com.

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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 027 – The New Science Communicators with Joe Hanson

The Topic: Science Communication

The Guest: Joe Hanson

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

I recently collaborated with Joe Hanson of the YouTube channel It’s Okay to be Smart and helped him write an episode about pattern recognition.

The video is all about how our hyperactive order-generating brains can lead to us to incorrect assumptions, and how those assumptions can lead to widespread, social phenomena causing millions of people to do completely ridiculous and futile things, sometimes for generations. In our video, Joe talks about blowing in Nintendo cartridges to get them to work (totally pointless, and damaging), but you can substitute that behavior with a lot of other silly things that we did until science came along and tested to see if we were wrong.

I thought it would be great to bring him on the show and interview him in an episode all about the new science communicators, the people who grew up with Carl Sagan and Bill Nye, who are now watched by millions of people online as they explain everything from why some sounds are scary to whether or not Spanish delivers more information per minute than does English. Most of those YouTube channels get more viewers per episode than any FOX News program. Many YouTube science shows, numbers-wise, are far more popular than Game of Thrones.

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YANSS Podcast 25 – How the clothes you wear change your perceptions and behaviors with Hajo Adam

The Topic: Enclothed Cognition

The Guest: Hajo Adam

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

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When you work from home, do you produce better results in pajamas or professional attire? Do casual Fridays damage productivity? Does a jeans-and-T-shirt startup have an edge over its business-casual competitor?

Researchers are just now getting to the bottom of questions like these. The answers depend on the symbolic power the particular item of clothing has in the mind of the particular wearer, but the answer to each question is never “not at all.”

Up until now, most psychological investigations into clothing have dealt with how clothes communicate status or facilitate rituals. For instance, if you put a person in a police uniform and have them ask questions or make demands you’ll get completely different results than if you had the same person wear a pirate costume. But what about the person in the uniform or the costume? Are the clothes affecting his or her behavior, thoughts, judgments, and decisions? The evidence collected so far suggests that yes, the clothes we wear affect our minds in ways we never notice. In fact, it’s likely the same person in the same situation in the same clothes will behave differently depending just on the color of those clothes.

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YANSS Podcast 023 – What you can learn about dealing with differing political views from bloodthirsty, warring tribes of children

The Topic: The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

A photo from the Robber's Cave Study - Source: York University, Toronto

A photo from the Robber’s Cave Study – Source: York University, Toronto

In the 1950s, in an effort to better understand group conflict, a team of psychologists nearly turned a summer camp into Lord of The Flies.

The story of how and why it was so easy to turn normal boys into bloodthirsty, warring tribes (and how those tribes eventually reconciled and became peaceful thanks to brilliantly conceived cooperative exercises) can teach you a lot about a common mental phenomenon known as the illusion of asymmetric insight – something that helps keep you loyal to certain groups and alters the way you see outsiders.

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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 020 – James Burke and Matt Novak ponder the future and why we are terrible at predicting it

The Topic: The Future

The Guests: James Burke and Matt Novak

The Episode: Download iTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

If you love educational entertainment – programs about science, nature, history, technology and everything in between – it is a safe bet that the creators of those shows were heavily influenced by the founding fathers of science communication: Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, and James Burke.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with James Burke and discuss the past, the present, and where he sees us heading in the future. Burke says we must soon learn how to deal with a world in which scarcity is scarce, abundance is abundant, and home manufacturing can produce just about anything you desire.

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YANSS Podcast 019 – Placebo sleep and other new discoveries in placebo research

The Topic: The Placebo Effect

The Guest: Kristi Erdal

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Photo Illustration by Candy (it's aspirin)

Photo Illustration by the artist known as Candy (it’s aspirin)

How powerful is the placebo effect? After a good night’s sleep could a scientist convince you that you had tossed and turned, and if so, how would that affect your perceptions and behavior? What if a doctor told you that you had slept like a baby when in reality you had barely slept at all? Would hearing those words improve your performance on a difficult test?

In this episode we learn the answers to these questions and more as we explore how research continues to unravel the mysteries behind the placebo effect and how it can drastically alter our bodies and minds.

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