August 6, 2019
The Influential Mind: Tali Sharot
The Influential Mind is unlike any book I have ever read. I tend to read books that involve a storyline and a plot. Tali’s book is more of the understanding of how the brain operates in a person’s everyday thinking; ranging from our beliefs- how they can be influenced, how our actions influence others, and also how power influences our lives. Tali is a cognitive neuroscientist, which she describes as, psychology and neuroscience grouped together. In her book, she thoroughly explains many experiments that she has done which then gives us a better understanding of how and why the brain operates the way it does.
My favorite part of this book was in chapter 3: Should You Scare People into Action? Throughout this chapter, she gave very specific statistics that were completely surprising and almost scary. At restaurants, it is quite obviously the employee’s obligation to wash their hands after using the bathroom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workers traveled to hundreds of restaurants across the U.S, where they recorded the restaurants employee’s hygiene practices. Turns out, 62% of the employees fail to wash their hands. To make matters worse, medical centers are not much better; about 38.7% medical staff members wash their hands. Tali did an experiment and learned that the brain operates differently when it comes to this issue. They first did an experiment where they had cameras set up watching the employees, thinking that this would encourage the employees to wash their hands because they knew they were being, “watched.” It in fact, did not; only one in ten staff members followed the hygiene rules. They tried a new experiment; they set up electronic boards in each room which then provided immediate feedback on how they were doing. When the staff followed the hygiene rules, the numbers on the board went up, providing them positive feedback. This resulted in a 90% increase. Tali learned from these experiments that the brain operates through positive feedback; the staff knows the consequences of spreading disease by not handwashing, so why wasn’t that enough to get them to? Positive emotion and feedback are what motivate a person to do something. This experiment was very interesting to me because the staff knows the risk of the damage they can do to other people, but when they switch the roles to them to see how they are performing on the job, their mindsets change drastically. This topic reminded me of the lecture: Rewards=Reinforcers; by the staff receiving positive feedback, reinforced their performance at work.
In the lecture slides, we discussed a lot about self-control. One small thing that stuck out to me is the marshmallow experiment. In the very beginning of class, we watched the clip of the children participating in the marshmallow experiment, this stuck out to me because I thought it was adorable. As I was reading the book, Tali gave an example of the same experiment. The marshmallow experiment involves children, they are given a marshmallow and are told that they can have a second marshmallow if they wait for the experimenter to come back. Many of the children did wait but how they tried to distract themselves from eating the marshmallow was super interesting. Tali goes more into detail about the after facts of the experiment. When Tali did the experiment, there was one boy who didn’t wait for the second marshmallow. She concluded that the young boy may not have been so convinced that the researcher was coming back with the second marshmallow, maybe the researcher was lying or what if they forget. This resulted in him eating the marshmallow because he was worried that there was a chance he may not get to eat the marshmallow at all. Another example that related to self-control was a story Tali told about a girl named Kate applying to business school for her MBA. She received a fraud e-mail that completely ruined her chances of getting into business school, simply because she could not wait for the results to come in, she had to know. In the first lecture: Self-Control and Impulsivity, slide 13 it states, “Most personal problems with self-control arise because people have difficulty delaying immediate gratification for a better future reward.” Just like the little boy from Tali’s marshmallow experiment, he did not wait for the reward in fear that he might never receive it and the story about the girl Kate who did not get into graduate school because of a fraud email that was sent out to her. Because of the “not knowing” aspect of things, it can lead to people making impulse decisions for immediate gratification which is where self-control comes into place.
In Chapter 6: “What Happens to Minds Under Threat?” Tali Sharot describes how just like animals who are running away from predators, the stress hormones such as cortisol are secreted causing the heart to pump and breath to shorten. She gives a story about how she was in New York City and a man began running down the street who appeared to be in a panic. Suddenly, crowds of people began following him without any idea of what was going on. Even though no one knew what was happening, they all began to follow because of the possible, “what if?” question arising in their own minds. I found a video on YouTube of people pranking others with this exact scenario. It shows just about every person following the person running, even though they have no idea what is happening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNgp9CrQNV0
There are many instances throughout this book that I had related to myself while reading it. It really helped me have a better understanding of the mind/brain and the way it works. Like in my favorite part section, people are motivated by positive reinforcement. I feel this will help me as a school social worker to overcome difficulties with struggling children. Many people think disciplining by negative things such as, “time out” or removing something from them that they are attached to, will help them become better in a sense. This is not the case and does not always work. While taking away negative disciplinary methods and replacing with positive ways to shape a child up, can make great changes to them. If a child is struggling with their school work, telling them what they can do and what they are good at versus getting frustrated with a child for what they do not know can boost their confidence and they will excel. There are so many instances that I related to the book, but I felt that positive reinforcement related to me the most because it is crucially important for the type of work I want to achieve. Overall, this was a great book; Tali Sharot is a very smart and interesting individual and I learned so much from her.