A pop-science tour of the brain and the “systematic mistakes we make when we attempt to change minds, as well as [an illumination of] what occurs during those instances in which we succeed.”
The mind works in strange ways, as Sharot (The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, 2011), founder and director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London, observes. Take a crowdfunding request to support two sick people, one pictured tube-draped in a hospital bed, the other by “a photo of a happy young woman glittering in sunlight”? Who gets the money? Yep: sex and the hint of happiness sell, even in bad times. This is a book full of tricks and stratagems to extend the reach of what good minds should do—namely lead other minds toward doing good—and sometimes the author works against received wisdom in offering them. For instance, reading between the lines, she questions the prevailing “wisdom of the crowd,” strength-in-numbers folderol of recent business and pop-psych books: “even in our world of ratings and reviews, tallying and averaging many views can lead to suboptimal solutions”—suboptimal because, to put it less nicely than she does, the human herd mentality can make us jump on any number of misguided bandwagons. Feel free to think politics there, and Sharot has some useful tips on how to prevail in political arguments by working the priors—i.e., “building on common ground instead of trying to prove others wrong.” The author works with a bit of a grab-bag approach—do we really need to be reminded of the fact that our fears of gruesome ways to die seldom match the gruesome ways to die that are statistically meaningful?—but careful readers will discern plenty of ways to sharpen their abilities to carry an argument.
Good, readable pop psychology that doesn’t get too arcane but explores hidden mental corners all the same.