THE WINNER EFFECT by Ian H. Robertson


The Neuroscience of Success and Failure
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Robertson (Psychology/Trinity College Dublin; Opening the Mind’s Eye: How Images and Language Teach Us to See, 2003, etc.) looks at how success and power affect human behavior.

The author broadly explores the psychological and neurochemical factors behind the human drive for success and how people’s behavior can change once they achieve it. “Why do we want to win so badly, and what makes a winner?” he writes. Robertson examines these questions from several different angles, citing numerous studies. In one section, he writes about children of successful people that were troubled failures, and how some may have been rendered psychologically unmotivated due to unreachable expectations. (The author oddly portrays oil-fortune heir Balthazar Getty as an unsuccessful actor, neglecting to mention Getty's recent stint as a cast member on the ABC show Brothers & Sisters, among other achievements.) In other sections, Robertson examines how some world leaders’ behavior might be explainable, in part, due to the effects of testosterone on their brains, and of how Oscar winners live longer, on average, than Oscar nominees. While the author makes some interesting points, he does so while hyperactively throwing anecdotes at readers—in one six-page span, he writes about African cichlid fish, a study of London financial traders, the 1994 World Cup final and a 1995 Mike Tyson boxing match—making his arguments seem less well-reasoned than scattershot. His prose style can be clunky, as well, and his habit of repeatedly urging readers to take multiple-question quizzes gives the book the feel of a self-help manual at times.

An unfocused analysis of what lies behind the desire to win.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00167-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2012


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