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8 Common Mistakes in How Our Brains Think and How to Prevent Them - Belle Beth Cooper

8 Common Mistakes in How Our Brains Think and How to Prevent Them - Belle Beth Cooper | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it

Get ready to have your mind blown.

 

I was seriously shocked at some of these mistakes in thinking that I subconsciously make all the time. Obviously, none of them are huge, life-threatening mistakes, but they are really surprising and avoiding them could help us to make more rational, sensible decisions.

 

Being aware of the mistakes we naturally have in our thinking can make a big difference in avoiding them. Unfortunately, most of these occur subconsciously, so it will also take time and effort to avoid them—if you even want to.

 

Regardless, I think it’s fascinating to learn more about how we think and make decisions every day, so let’s take a look at some of these thinking habits we didn’t know we had.

 

1. We surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs

We tend to like people who think like us. If we agree with someone’s beliefs, we’re more likely to be friends with them. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirm what we already think.

 

This is called confirmation bias. If you’ve ever heard of the frequency illusion, this is very similar. The frequency illusion occurs when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the same car everywhere. Or when a pregnant woman suddenly notices other pregnant women all over the place. It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.

 

Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

 

Not only do we do this with the information we take in, but we approach our memories this way, as well. In an experiment in 1979 at the University of Minnesota, participants read a story about a women called Jane who acted extroverted in some situations and introverted in others. When the participants returned a few days later, they were divided into two groups. One group was asked if Jane would be suited to a job as a librarian, the other group were asked about her having a job as a real-estate agent. The librarian group remembered Jane as being introverted and later said that she would not be suited to a real-estate job. The real-estate group did the exact opposite: they remembered Jane as extroverted, said she would be suited to a real-estate job and when they were later asked if she would make a good librarian, they said no.

 

In 2009, a study at Ohio State showed that we will spend 36 percent more time reading an essay if it aligns with our opinions. "Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs." – David McRaney

 

This trailer for David McRaney’s book, You are Now Less Dumb, explains this concept really well with a story about how people used to think geese grew on trees (seriously), and how challenging our beliefs on a regular basis is the only way to avoid getting caught up in the confirmation bias:

 

2. We believe in the “swimmer’s body” illusion

 

This has to be one of my favorite thinking mistakes I came across. In Rolf Dobelli’s book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, he explains how our ideas about talent and extensive training are well off-track: "Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities."

 

The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. Another good example is top performing universities: are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence?

 

What really jumped out at me when researching this section was this particular line from Dobelli’s book: "Without this illusion, half of advertising campaigns would not work."

 

It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. If we believed that we were predisposed to be good at certain things (or not), we wouldn’t buy into ad campaigns that promised to improve our skills in areas where it’s unlikely we’ll ever excel.

 

3. We worry about things we’ve already lost

 

No matter how much I pay attention to the sunk cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it.

 

The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So, a payment of time or money that’s gone forever, basically.

 

The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow: "Organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains. The sunk cost fallacy plays on this tendency of ours to emphasize loss over gain."

 

This research study is a great example of how it works: Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer created an experiment in 1985 which demonstrated your tendency to go fuzzy when sunk costs come along. They asked subjects to assume they had spent $100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for $50 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?

Over half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater.

 

So, just like the other mistakes I’ve explained in this post, the sunk cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us, and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions—without even realizing we’re doing so:

 

The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.

 

Being such a subconscious reaction, it’s hard to avoid this one. Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past. For instance, if you buy a movie ticket only to realize the movie is terrible, you could either:

a) stay and watch the movie, to “get your money’s worth” since you’ve already paid for the ticket (sunk cost fallacy)

or
b) leave the cinema and use that time to do something you’ll actually enjoy.

The thing to remember is this: you can’t get that investment back. It’s gone.

 

Don’t let it cloud your judgement in whatever decision you’re making in this moment—let it remain in the past.

 

4. We incorrectly predict odds

 

Imagine you’re playing Heads or Tails with a friend. You flip a coin, over and over, each time guessing whether it will turn up heads or tails. You have a 50/50 chance of being right each time.

 

Now suppose you’ve flipped the coin five times already and it’s turned up heads every time. Surely, surely, the next one will be tails, right? The chances of it being tails must be higher now, right?

Well, no. The chances of tails turning up are 50/50. Every time. Even if you turned up heads the last twenty times. The odds don’t change.

 

The gambler’s fallacy is a glitch in our thinking—once again, we’re proven to be illogical creatures. The problem occurs when we place too much weight on past events, believing that they will have an effect on future outcomes (or, in the case of Heads or Tails, any weight, since past events make absolutely no difference to the odds).

 

Unfortunately, gambling addictions in particular are also affected by a similar mistake in thinking—the positive expectation bias. This is when we mistakenly think that eventually, our luck has to change for the better. Somehow, we find it impossible to accept bad results and give up—we often insist on keeping at it until we get positive results, regardless of what the odds of that happening actually are.

 

5. We rationalize purchases we don’t want

 

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. How many times have you gotten home after a shopping trip only to be less than satisfied with your purchase decisions and started rationalizing them to yourself? Maybe you didn’t really want it after all, or in hindsight you thought it was too expensive. Or maybe it didn’t do what you hoped, and was actually useless to you.

 

Regardless, we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that those flashy, useless, badly thought-out purchases are necessary after all. This is known as post-purchase rationalization or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.

 

The reason we’re so good at this comes back to psychology: Social psychologists say it stems from the principle of commitment, our psychological desire to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.

 

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we get when we’re trying to hold onto two competing ideas or theories. For instance, if we think of ourselves as being nice to strangers, but then we see someone fall over and don’t stop to help them, we would then have conflicting veiws about ourselves: we are nice to strangers, but we weren’t nice to the stranger who fell over. This creates so much discomfort that we have to change our thinking to match our actions—i.e. we start thinking of ourselves as someone who is not nice to strangers, since that’s what our actions proved.

 

So in the case of our impulse shopping trip, we would need to rationalize the purchases until we truly believe we needed to buy those things, so that our thoughts about ourselves line up with our actions (making the purchases).

The tricky thing in avoiding this mistake is that we generally act before we think, leaving us to rationalize our actions afterwards.

 

Being aware of this mistake can help us avoid it by predicting it before taking action—for instance, as we’re considering a purchase, we often know that we will have to rationalize it to ourselves later. If we can recognize this, perhaps we can avoid it. It’s not an easy one to tackle, though!

 

6. We make decisions based on the anchoring effect

 

Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist who gave one of my favorite TED talks ever about the irrationality of the human brain when it comes to making decisions.

 

He illustrates this particular mistake in our thinking superbly, with multiple examples. The anchoring effect essentially works like this: rather than making a decision based on pure value for investment (time, money, etc.), we factor in comparative value—that is, how much value an option offers when compared to another option.

 

Let’s look at some examples from Dan, to illustrate this effect in practice:

One example is an experiment that Dan conducted using two kinds of chocolates for sale in a booth: Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt Truffles. The Kisses were one penny each, while the Truffles were fifteen cents each. Considering the quality differences between the two kinds of chocolates and the normal prices of both items, the Truffles were a great deal, and the majority of visitors to the booth chose the Truffles.

 

For the next stage of his experiment, Dan offered the same two choices, but lowered the prices by one cent each. So now the Kisses were free, and the Truffles cost fourteen cents each. Of course, the Truffles are even more of a bargain now, but since the Kisses were free, most people chose those instead.

 

Your loss aversion system is always vigilant, waiting on standby to keep you from giving up more than you can afford to spare, so you calculate the balance between cost and reward whenever possible. – You Are Not So Smart

Another example Dan offers in his TED talk is when consumers are given holiday options to choose between. When given a choice of a trip to Rome, all expenses paid, or a similar trip to Paris, the decision is quite hard. Each city comes with its own food, culture and travel experiences that the consumer must choose between.

 

When a third option is added, however, such as the same Rome trip, but without coffee included in the morning, things change. When the consumer sees that they have to pay 2,50 euros for coffee in the third trip option, not only does the original Rome trip suddenly seem superior out of these two, it also seems superior to the Paris trip. Even though they probably hadn’t even considered whether coffee was included or not before the third option was added.

 

Here’s an even better example from another of Dan’s experiments:

Dan found this real ad for subscriptions to The Economist, and used it to see how a seemingly useless choice (like Rome without coffee) affects our decisions.

 

To begin with, there were three choices: subscribe to The Economist web version for $59, the print version for $125, or subscribe to both the print and web versions for $125. It’s pretty clear what the useless option is here. When Dan gave this form to 100 MIT students and asked them which option they would choose, 84% chose the combo deal for $125. 16% chose the cheaper, web-only option, and nobody chose the print-only option for $125.

 

Next, Dan removed the ‘useless’ print-only option which nobody wanted and tried the experiment with another group of 100 MIT students. This time, the majority chose the cheaper, web-only version, and the minority chose the combo deal. So even though nobody wanted the bad-value $125 print-only option, it wasn’t actually useless—in fact, it actually informed the decisions people made between the two other options by making the combo deal seem more valuable in relation.

 

This mistake is called the anchoring effect, because we tend to focus on a particular value and compare it to our other options, seeing the difference between values rather than the value of each option itself.

 

Eliminating the ‘useless’ options ourselves as we make decisions can help us choose more wisely. On the other hand, Dan says that a big part of the problem comes from simply not knowing our own preferences very well, so perhaps that’s the area we should focus on more, instead.

 

7. We believe our memories more than facts

 

Our memories are highly fallible and plastic. And yet, we tend to subconsciously favor them over objective facts. The availability heuristic is a good example of this. It works like this: Suppose you read a page of text and then you’re asked whether the page includes more words that end in “ing” or more words with “n” as the second-last letter. Obviously, it would be impossible for there to be more “ing” words than words with “n” as their penultimate letter (it took me a while to get that—read over the sentence again, carefully, if you’re not sure why that is).However, words ending in “ing” are easier to recall than words like hand, end, or and, which have “n” as their second-last letter, so we would naturally answer that there are more “ing” words.

 

What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability (i.e. whether it’s probable that there are more “ing” words on the page) on how available relevant examples are (i.e. how easily we can recall them). Our troubles in recalling words with “n” as the second last letter make us think those words don’t occur very often, and we subconsciously ignore the obvious facts in front of us.

 

Although the availability heuristic is a natural process in how we think, two Chicago scholars have explained how wrong it can be:

 

Yet reliable statistical evidence will outperform the availability heuristic every time.

The lesson here? Whenever possible, look at the facts. Examine the data. Don’t base a factual decision on your gut instinct without at least exploring the data objectively first.

 

8. We pay more attention to stereotypes than we think

 

The funny thing about lots of these thinking mistakes is that they’re so ingrained, I had to think long and hard about why they’re mistakes at all! This one is a good example—it took me a while to understand how illogical this pattern of thinking is.

It’s another one that explains how easily we ignore actual facts:

 

The human mind is so wedded to stereotypes and so distracted by vivid descriptions that it will seize upon them, even when they defy logic, rather than upon truly relevant facts.

Here’s an example to illustrate the mistake, from researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky:

In 1983 Kahneman and Tversky tested how illogical human thinking is by describing the following imaginary person: Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

 

The researchers asked people to read this description, and then asked them to answer this question: Which alternative is more probable?

 

1. Linda is a bank teller.

2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

 

Here’s where it can get a bit tricky to understand (at least, it did for me!)—If answer #2 is true, #1 is also true. This means that #2 cannot be the answer to the question of probability.

 

Unfortunately, few of us realize this, because we’re so overcome by the more detailed description of #2. Plus, as the earlier quote pointed out, stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds that subconsciously apply them to others.

 

Roughly 85% of people chose option #2 as the answer.

 

Again, we see here how irrational and illogical we can be, even when the facts are seemingly obvious.

 

I love this quote from researcher Daniel Kahneman on the differences between economics and psychology: I was astonished. My economic colleagues worked in the building next door, but I had not appreciated the profound difference between our intellectual worlds. To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.

 

Clearly, it’s normal for us to be irrational and to think illogically, even though we rarely realize we’re doing it. Still, being aware of the pitfalls we often fall into when making decisions can help us to at least recognize them, if not avoid them.


Via Jim Manske
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Troy Crayton's curator insight, October 4, 2013 3:00 PM

Thank you for making us "aware" of this article, Duane....

donhornsby's curator insight, October 7, 2013 9:52 AM

(From the article): Clearly, it’s normal for us to be irrational and to think illogically, especially when language acts as a limitation to how we think, even though we rarely realize we’re doing it. Still, being aware of the pitfalls we often fall into when making decisions can help us to at least recognize them, if not avoid them.

Have you come across any other interesting mistakes we make in the way we think?

Lawrence Lanoff's curator insight, December 30, 2013 12:18 AM

This article is dense, but profound. Worth chomping on if you have some time. 

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The Science of What Makes an Introvert and an Extrovert

The Science of What Makes an Introvert and an Extrovert | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Do you like to make small talk? Do you prefer one-to-one conversations or group activities? These questions and many others often show up in personality quizzes to reveal how introverted or extroverted you are, but what does that really mean?
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Alejandro Melo-Florián MD's comment, September 17, 2013 7:03 AM
Interesting, I publish in https://www.facebook.com/groups/161366980592425/
MAF's curator insight, September 21, 2013 6:55 PM

"Researchers have found that the brains of introverts respond to faces in a similar way that they respond to images of flowers, whereas the extroverts' brains show a stronger response to faces — this suggests that human faces, or people in general, hold more significance to extroverts (which, perhaps, partially explains why they seek out other people's company)."

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The Trouble With Bright Girls

The Trouble With Bright Girls | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
For women, ability doesn’t always lead to confidence. Here’s why.
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

So glad for some supportive teachers, a group of other bright girls to hang with, and some boys in our classes who were not at all bullies.  I suppose it helped that we were the generation that was supposed to save American from Russia in the sciences and engineering, so they were desperate to interest girls in math and science....

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Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You - SlumberWise

Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You - SlumberWise | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Once you go back before the 1800s, sleep starts to look a lot different. Your ancestors slept in a way that modern sleepers would find bizarre.
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Researchers Debunk Myth Of Left-Brained and Right-Brained Traits

Researchers Debunk Myth Of Left-Brained and Right-Brained Traits | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
A new study completed by University of Utah neuroscientists concludes there is no evidence existing within brain imaging that pinpoints a difference in the way humans use specific sides of their brains.
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

This is about personality traits, not about whether the left and right brain have somewhat different specialties ... 

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The neuroscience of dying: Brain activity continues up to 30 seconds after blood flow stops

The neuroscience of dying: Brain activity continues up to 30 seconds after blood flow stops | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
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Philippe Vallat's comment, August 14, 2013 6:04 PM
Materialim is (still) not dead. There is still no explanation for conscious experiences (not "visions") during NDE, despite that kind of studies. See http://sco.lt/5BQ9XV
Shannon Kiernan's curator insight, December 15, 2013 4:07 PM

Our brain lives on! ...For 30 seconds anyway

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Love Hormone Oxytocin Can Cause Emotional Pain, New Study Says | Neuroscience | Sci-News.com

Love Hormone Oxytocin Can Cause Emotional Pain, New Study Says | Neuroscience | Sci-News.com | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
New research says that oxytocin can cause emotional pain - an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.
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Heribert Watzke: The brain in your gut | Video on TED.com

Did you know you have functioning neurons in your intestines -- about a hundred million of them? Food scientist Heribert Watzke tells us about the "hidden brain" in our gut and the surprising things it makes us feel.
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Boost Your Brain and Memory by Singing

Boost Your Brain and Memory by Singing | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Of the many memory hacks and techniques available to us to boost our brains, this one might be the most enjoyable: Learn a new song and sing.
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Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People

Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People:

 

HABIT 1: TALK WITH STRANGERS

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we allhad as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

HABIT 2: CHALLENGE PREJUDICES AND DISCOVER COMMONALITIES

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927.Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.

In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

HABIT 3: TRY ANOTHER PERSON’S LIFE

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model. After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his bookDown and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

HABIT 4: LISTEN HARD—AND OPEN UP

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

HABIT 5: INSPIRE MASS ACTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

HABIT 6: DEVELOP AN AMBITIOUS IMAGINATION

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.

Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathyinitiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.


Via Jim Manske
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John Michel's curator insight, July 26, 2013 10:58 PM

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

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Oops! When “Autism” Isn’t Autistic Disorder: Hyperlexia and Einstein Syndrome

Oops!  When “Autism” Isn’t Autistic Disorder: Hyperlexia and Einstein Syndrome | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
The good news is that occasionally one reads about children who have ‘recovered’ from, or who have ‘out-grown’ their ‘autism’.  And that’s great.  Not to detract ...
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The Neuroscience of Everybody's Favorite Topic: Scientific American

The Neuroscience of Everybody's Favorite Topic: Scientific American | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Why do people spend so much time talking about themselves?
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Here's Why Behavior Changing Apps Don't Work - Business Insider

Here's Why Behavior Changing Apps Don't Work - Business Insider | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Here's Why Behavior Changing Apps Don't Work Business Insider Schell points to neuroscience research showing “there are different channels in the brain for seeking positive consequences and avoiding negative consequences.” When faced with “haftas,”...
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Strange Case of 'Hyper Empathy' after Brain Surgery

In a strange case, a woman developed "hyper empathy" after having a part of her brain called the amygdala removed in an effort to treat her severe epilepsy, according to a report of her case. Empathy is the ability to recognize another person's emotions.

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Shannon Kiernan's curator insight, December 10, 2013 9:36 AM

Interesting. A woman has part of her amygdala removed to treat epilepsy and forms hyper epilepsy - she feels people's pain severely!

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The Social Life of Genes: Shaping Your Molecular Composition

The Social Life of Genes: Shaping Your Molecular Composition | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Your social life has the power to shape the molecular composition of your body. (Plan your day accordingly.)
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

“We think of our bodies as stable biological structures that live in the world but are fundamentally separate from it. That we are unitary organisms in the world but passing through it. But what we’re learning from the molecular processes that actually keep our bodies running is that we’re far more fluid than we realize, and the world passes through us.”

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Martin Shirley's curator insight, September 17, 2013 11:19 AM

Prompts me to think of the fact that, in essence, we are waves at the particle physics level... everything is affected by everything in that respect.

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The Anorexic Brain

The Anorexic Brain | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it

Years of psychological and behavioral research have helped scientists better understand some signs and triggers of anorexia. But that knowledge hasn’t straightened out the disorder’s tangled roots, or pointed scientists to a therapy that works for everyone. “Anorexia has a high death rate, it’s expensive to treat and people are chronically ill,” says Kaye.

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The Real Neuroscience of Creativity

The Real Neuroscience of Creativity | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
So yea, you know how the left brain is really realistic, analytical, practical, organized, and logical, and the right brain is so darn creative, passionate, sensual, tasteful, ...
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

Seems logical.  ;-)

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John Michel's curator insight, August 20, 2013 1:26 PM

The latest findings from the real neuroscience of creativity suggest that the right brain/left brain distinction is not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain. Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.


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Crosswords don’t make you clever

Crosswords don’t make you clever | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
NICHOLAS SPITZER is a professor of neuroscience at the University of California. His research concentrates on the ways in which neurons take on specialised functions...
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New Study Confirms Link between Poor Sleep and Obesity

New Study Confirms Link between Poor Sleep and Obesity | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
According to a study published in journal Nature Communications, sleep deprivation can make us crave junk food more than healthy food.
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Sapolsky Breaks Down Depression

Sapolsky Breaks Down Depression | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford biologist, is currently one of the most publicly accessible science writers in the country, perhaps best known for his book on stress, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
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7 Brain Hacks to Keep Your Mind as Young as Your Body

7 Brain Hacks to Keep Your Mind as Young as Your Body | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
The phrase “use it or lose it” applies to nothing quite as well as it applies to the human brain.
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Why Optimists Seem To Handle Stress Better

Why Optimists Seem To Handle Stress Better | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Ever wondered how it is your optimistic friend always seems to be unfazed by stress? Scientists may have pinpointed a possible reason for why.
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Susan Jarvis's comment, September 12, 2013 9:02 PM
They keep moving forward...
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Psychopaths 'have empathy switch'

Psychopaths 'have empathy switch' | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research, which could explain how psychopaths can be both callous and charming.
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

This makes a lot of sense.  Probably on a continuum with normal -- as we probably need ways to avoid the mirror neurons getting overloaded in very emotional environments.

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When feeling anxious, it really does help to get more sleep | The Scicurious Brain, Scientific American Blog Network

When feeling anxious, it really does help to get more sleep | The Scicurious Brain, Scientific American Blog Network | Mind and Brain | Scoop.it
It seems like the worst sort of cycle. The less sleep you get, the less effective you are. Then you have more to do, get more ...
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RSA Animate - The Empathic Civilisation

Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has sh...
Jone Johnson Lewis's insight:

The scientific basis of empathy!

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