Saturday, June 6, 2009

Free Will and external influence

You're the man! (or woman!)
You believe in free will.
You make your own decisions.
What you are today is because of your efforts and because you were ready for the opportunities that presented themselves.

I don't dispute this. But did you know how easy it is to manipulate you.
"Manipulate me?". you say with a scorn.

Okay. Let us touch on another topic.
Have you heard of 'priming'?

Psychologists have conducted experiments that show that it is possible to make you act differently merely by seeding your brain with relevant words, without your knowledge, of course.

You must have experienced this yourself. At the watering hole you talk to a bunch of guys talking negative. Haven't you come away feeling miserable?

An experiment devised by a psychologist John Bargh shows how this works. If you are given a scrambled-sentence test, such as ...

1. him was worried she always
2. shoes give replace old the
3. sky the seamless gray is
4. sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

The idea is to form 4 word-sentences.

It turns out that people giving this test walked slowly. Their brain was being primed with words, "worried", "old", gray", "wrinkle". These made the brain think of being old.

To quote further from Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell:

Even more impressive, however, is how mysterious these priming effects are. When you took that sentence completion test, you didn't know that you were being primed to think "old." Why would you? The clues are pretty subtle. What is striking, though, is that even after people walked slowly out of the room and down the hall, they still weren't aware of how their behavior had been affected. ... Aronson and Steele [two psychologists] found the same thing with the black students who did so poorly after they were reminded of their race. ... The results of these experiments are obviously quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on autopilot, and the way we think and act - and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment - are a lot more susceptible to outside influence than we realize.

Hmmmm... So, there is merit in listening to 'positive mental attitude' CDs when you drive to work after all. Imagine your effectiveness improving just be listening to something that seeds your brain with words like "can do", "good", "effective", "smart", "positive", and "tops"

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