You Are Now Less Dumb | David McRaney

Summary of: You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself
By: David McRaney


Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of human perception and cognition with the book summary of ‘You Are Now Less Dumb’ by David McRaney. This compelling read will take you on a journey to understand how our thoughts, decisions, beliefs, and emotions are often influenced not by logic and rationality, but by our brain’s inherent biases and the subconscious ways in which it processes the world around us. Learn about the Benjamin Franklin effect, the Halo Effect, the placebo effect, and the backfire effect, among other intriguing concepts. By grasping these ideas, you can develop a greater awareness of your own thought patterns and behaviors, making you better equipped to outsmart yourself and navigate life more intelligently and consciously.

The Deceptive Nature of Perception

Our brains often deceive us by making us believe in things that aren’t true. Our view of the world is unique, making it difficult to establish a universal truth. A study conducted on perception in 1951 revealed that alternate realities exist depending on our attitude and what we support. The research showed that every student had a different version of reality about an important football game between Dartmouth College and Princeton University. They interpreted the game based on their attitudes and the school they supported, even though they watched the same game. This difference in perception can be compared to the difference between how humans and bees perceive things. As humans, we need to be aware of this deceptive nature of perception and recognize that what we see is not always the absolute truth. This will help us become less naive and have a better understanding of the world around us.

The Psychology of Attitudes and Actions

The way we behave not only reflects our attitudes but also influences and reinforces them. This concept is called the Benjamin Franklin effect, and it explains how doing a favor for someone creates a positive bias towards them. Similarly, our behavior towards objects or situations can affect how we perceive them. Pulling is associated with positivity, while pushing with negativity, influencing how we judge things. Our attitude can change our behavior, but our behavior can also shape our attitude.

The problem with our brains

Our brain often falls into the “because of that, this happened” trap, known as the post hoc fallacy. Our brains automatically seek out reasons to justify events and create frameworks. But this logic doesn’t always make sense and can lead us to draw the wrong conclusions. For example, the placebo effect is similar to the post hoc fallacy in the sense that participants associate their “medicine” with their improved state. A research team proved this by applying an anesthetic cream to participants’ arms, which didn’t contain any effective ingredients. Yet, when heat was applied, brain scans of the participants showed that they experienced less pain. Participants were convinced the cream had worked because their brain expected an effect. The post hoc fallacy explains why we tend to infer that the earlier event influenced the later one when two events happen one after another.

The Halo Effect

Our first impression of a person can shape our opinion of their personality. This is referred to as the Halo Effect. A single positive trait can influence our perceptions of other characteristics, even if they do not correlate. For example, in a study, army officers rated better pilots higher in leadership skills despite no evidence to support this. Physical appearance also influences our attitudes towards others, as we are wired to assess potential mates based on their physical characteristics. This can cause us to ignore negative traits and perceive attractive individuals as smarter. Understanding the Halo Effect can help us make more objective judgments and avoid being swayed by superficial factors.

Digging Deeper: The Truth Behind Our Emotions

Our brains always need a reason for events, but we often misinterpret our emotions. A study on the Capilano Suspension Bridge found that fear was misread as attraction. So, the next time you feel something, dig deeper for the real reason behind your emotions.

The Backfire Effect

When we hold strong beliefs, we tend to defend them even more fiercely when presented with contradictory information. This is known as the backfire effect. We may also be more sensitive to negative comments than positive ones. In one study, participants were given a strip of paper to test for a pancreatic disorder. The group who believed the strip would turn green if they were at risk stopped looking at it when it didn’t change, while the group who believed the strip would turn green if they weren’t at risk waited longer and even re-tested. This demonstrates how invested we can be in confirming our beliefs.

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