The Influential Mind – What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others.
Author - Tali Sharot
The Influential Mind – What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others was written by Tali Sharot who is an associate professor of cognitive neuropsychology. Throughout this book Sharot discusses neuropsychology research in everyday language and then she relates these studies to everyday situations and experiences. Many of examples used by the author are presented as a story which makes them engaging and relatable. Sharot explains the underlying assumption of the book which is that our brain makes us who we are. As such, every thought we have had, every feeling about our experiences and every decision we make are determined by the brain and the firing of neurons. The Influential Mind is organized by chapters that discuss the seven critical factors that impact one’s efforts to change someone’s mind which includes prior beliefs, emotion, incentives, agency, curiosity, state of mind, and other people.
I found the chapter entitled (Curiosity) What Do People Really Want to Know? to be the most interesting. Sharot explains that people pay attention when they are presented with information that includes positive emotions. She uses the example of how we tend to ignore the pre-flight instructions that are presented in a negative manner such as a plane crash, but when the same information is presented in an animated, fun manner, people will stay focused. The chapter also discusses how “information gaps” make us feel uncomfortable. When we are told that we do not know something, we are then want to know. In fact, research proves that we are driven by the same neural principles that drive one to gain water, food, and sex. Furthermore, we prefer to gain or seek information that will make us feel good, rather than information that makes us feel bad. Sharot uses the example of the stock market and showed that when the market is doing well, people check their portfolios frequently. When the market is doing poorly, people check their portfolio less frequently. So basically, if we want people to listen to us and pay attention to what we are saying, we must reframe our message so that it provides hope, rather than despair.
In Chapter 4, How You obtain Power by Letting Go (Agency), Sharot explains that one of the ways that we express control is by making a choice. In fact, the association between a reward and a choice is so powerful in our minds, the choice itself is rewarding. Sharot discusses that humans have a strong desire to make a choice even when choosing does not improve an outcome for them. For the most part, this is true except when we are faced with too many choices. The author went on to discuss Iyengar and Lepper’s jam study that found that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams when they have only six options, rather than twenty options. Sharot indicated that when we are given too many options, we become overwhelmed and do not choose anything. This conclusion is similar to Barry Schwarz discussion about the paradox of choice and why sometimes “more is less.” Schwartz explains that when we have so many choices, we become paralyzed with our decision making, and it will take us a lot of time to choose and sometimes we cannot decide at all.
The chapter entitled, (Emotion) How We Persuade to Reach for the Mood explained the role that emotion plays when we try to influence others. I found a number of videos about Tali Sharot’s book, The Influential Mind. On the Today Show, neuroscientist, Tali Sharot, explained how the key to influencing others starts in our brain. In the attached video clip, Sharot used the example of the presidential debate where Carson provided facts and research information about the benefits of vaccinations. In contrast, Trump told a story about a 2 ½ year-old child who was vaccinated and became ill several days later. Although Carson used facts and figures to provide information, this was not enough to convince people since our brains are wired to be influenced by emotion. This video showed MRIs that depict the changes that occur in the brain during negatively charged emotions which causes a person to “shut down” and not listen to what is being explained to them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-pRAxrc1vM In general when we evoke emotion, we can communicate our ideas and get others to share our opinions whether we are talking to just one person or to a large audience.
One of the things in this book that I found to be most useful was the information about the state of mind (or one’s level of stress) and how it impacts decisions and attention. Stress has been shown to impact the digestive system, immune system, and reproductive system and to alter the brain. Basically, when we are under a great deal of stress, any type of negative news will have a large impact on us. When we are stressed out, we focus on what can go wrong and we become overly pessimistic which influences our decisions. This information was very powerful to me because it made me realize that I should be careful about making personal and work-related decisions when I am under a lot of pressure. With regard to influencing others, Sharot indicates that there should be a match between our opinions and the state of mind of the person we are trying to influence since a person’s emotional state will affect how receptive they are to what we are saying. In other words, it is important to understand another person’s emotional state whenever we are trying to convince or influence them. Overall, I highly recommend this book since it provided so much useful information about relating to others and how to get them to listen and to accept my point of view.