Tag Archives: psychology

Book Review: Sway; The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, 2008.

These brothers offer an attractive read that is notably more compelling than most pop-psychology fare. While the book does not clearly delineate a list, MC has bucketed the irrational factors referenced in the book. They include:

1. Loss aversion — the tendency to overemphasize what will be lost, at the expense of what may be gained.

2. Commitment — aka sunk cost. Similar principle to the above, but with time and reputation.

3. Value attrition — favoring preconceived traits and circumstances over objective facts.

4. Diagnosis bias — our reluctance to change our minds once we have decided on someone or something.

5. Rose-colored glasses — dismissal of info that contradicts our hopes.  Overestimating our objectivity.

6. Chameleon effect — predilection to act as we are treated / perceived.  Self-fulfilling prophecies–how your behavior can change an outcome.

7. Procedural justice –the value of a fair process. Willingness to punish someone at our own  expense.

8. The disincentive of money to altruism. Paying people for certain sacrifices can backfire as repulsion.

9. Dissension, and the value of blocking — even incompetent and erroneous blocking.  Breaking the spell of groupthink.

Which one sways you the most?  Write to us!

Inequality Series Part II: Tolerance for Inequality

We all know that the Scandinavian countries are famous for their social welfare programs.

Recently, there was a psychological study that sought to compare and contrast Norwegian and American values around fairness and luck (link below).


  • Americans are more tolerant of inequality, even when it is due to pure bad luck.
  • Both nationalities are more tolerant of inequality due to differences in merit.
  • Both groups were willing to accept some societal costs in order to redistribute inequality-by-luck, but this is less true for Americans.

It has been shown empirically that most Americans believe wealth is possible for them to achieve, which could explain the tolerance of having it–even if it is by unfair means; an attitude of, “Good for you on your wealth, however it happened.”

At the same time, “Americans don’t believe that rich people are happier than they are,” which is why many choose to be happy with what they have.

As for government policies that work toward redistribution while costing money and reducing total wealth,“costs don’t seem to be Americans’ big hang-up with redistribution. Rather, their opposition seems to go to an underlying acceptance of fate and the fortunes it brings.”







Milgram Experiments Proving Timeless

Anyone who has studied psychology is very likely familiar with the work of Dr. Stanley Milgram at Yale University during the 1960s.  Students were assigned to be teachers to a learner in a different room.  The “teacher” read words for the learner to repeat as part of a memory exercise, but the teacher could administer an electric shock to the learner for a mistake.

At a supervisor’s urging, many teachers (65%) increased the voltage to dangerous levels, despite the learner’s apparent screams and unconsciousness.  Only some teachers protested and stopped the experiment early.  It was not until after the fact that the teachers were told that the learner was acting and not actually being shocked.

The experiment has been replicated in similar forms ever since, but the conclusion holds up: under pressure or under an authority’s instruction, many otherwise normal people are capable of harm and evil to fellow human beings.  To put in the context of the 21st century: Nazi soldiers were us in a perfect storm of situation.

So how does this apply to our daily lives?

Saying or thinking, “I would never say/do (whatever someone perceived to be inferior is doing) is not a guarantee that you would not–especially in similar circumstances.  And regardless of circumstance, assuming someone thinks as you, values what you value, and would do what you would do is one of the prime sources of human misery.

Also, just because some one appears to be heartless or devoid of feeling, does not mean it is not in there.  If anything, the lack of demonstrable proof indicates it is deeper and more embedded, with no outlet yet.

Many world religions and Western democratic governments uphold the equality all humans–that no one individual can be better than any other.  Operationally, this rarely holds in defined areas and is only true on a macro, infinite, and academic plane: in work, someone must be perceived and designated as better for a job than other candidates, we pull out friends and spouses from the general population based on their narrow fit to our arbitrary specifications, we get to choose which businesses to patronize and goods to buy and cities to live in based on their relative adherence to our unique preferences.

Reconciling the fact that we are all equal, and that a number of us are capable of horrific things, and therefore we are all capable of horrific (or great) things, is a mystery still lacking a satisfying conclusion.  Neither religion nor psychology has yet been able to shut down the debate.  If we accept the premise that all men are created equal, then we must accept that we are all a couple turns away from being torturers.  Filling in the line in between those dots is still work ahead for most of us.


Are Your Emotions from You?

Your level of emotional dialecticism (ability to experience contrasting feelings simultaneously) and emotional differentiation (ability to separate and communicate various emotions) may be products of the country you live in.

Societies that are more into interdependence are also more emotionally healthy and complex.

Therefore, exercising interdependence with your social network may boost wellbeing, much more than locking oneself into self-reliance.


Experiencing Emotions from the Outside In

Cultural norms, and different languages, change how we feel emotions, and even what emotions are identified.  A recent article in The Atlantic discussed this. Once the vocab is known, one may be able to experience the known quantity more fully.

Some examples of emotions we do not identify directly in English (that you will likely now experience more fully) are: Homefulness: “the feeling you get when you turn the corner of your road or your airplane lands and you know you’re near home. It’s a lovely combination of relief and belonging.”  Awumbuk: “what you feel when your visitors leave and you get a feeling of heaviness in the household.”

True health and wellbeing is experiencing the range of emotions, not simply focusing on happiness and joy.  Acknowledging alternative aspirational states is key to the human event.



Frank Underwood, Dexter, Patrick Bateman, Norman Bates.

Americans have a pop culture obsession with male sociopaths, psychopaths, and devious leaders.  What is the difference?  Sociopathy marks antisocial, manipulative behavior.  Psychopathy is the same but with an awareness of others and their desires, and thus the ability to it cover up with the imitation of empathy, which is arguably even more frightening.

1 in 25 leaders, and 1 in 100 people overall, has psychopathy.  Our economy rewards it.

Yet there is a parallel trend, especially in America, of the “medicalization of society,” where the normal range of human behavior is getting labeled as a disorder, with mental illness being a prime field for such movement.

The below TED talk is perhaps LIR’s personal favorite, and it discusses the challenge of proving sanity over the challenge of proving insanity.

Jon Ronson’s point is that at the border of normality is the complexity in humanity.

I believe those on the clear ends of the spectrum hold less mystery, and thus less interest, to us for entertainment value as those who are questionable.  They also provide a measuring stick for ourselves, most of whom value the illusion of normalcy–if not the thing itself–and thus can feel the solace of personal virtue when confronted with a TV antihero.  The drive to study and categorize personalities is perhaps what makes us attracted to those we know are deviant but who do not appear so at first.

The Adulthood of Magical Thinking

Our minds have evolved to think “magically” about certain things, particularly by appearance.

In one experiment cited in the article above, students throwing darts at various pictures performed significantly poorer when aiming at a picture of an emotionally favorable object (for example a baby).

We associate images with the object they represent, and what happens to the image can feel like an action against the subject–think of tearing up a picture of someone unpleasant.

Intelligence does little to overcome this gut association.  Alief is the term for an habitual reaction that is at odds with consciously held knowledge. It is why our heart rate increases while watching a car chase on TV, or why we wince at eating bug-shaped candy.  It is easy to appreciate how and why these instincts evolved into our psychology–these impulses were once very telling for survival.

Illogical subconscious associations can be studied either as a human weakness, or a charming illustrator of evolutionary psychology.  We much prefer the latter.

An Introduction to the Psychology of Political Moderation–Part II: Old Habits Die-Hard

In my previous article, I explored the topic of introductory political psychology and how the majority of Americans adhere to a neutral standpoint regarding their political behavior. Although I explored and introduced the topic of political moderation, there exists a much deeper question which I left posed at the end of my last article. Why do we cling to our political parties despite not fully embracing the ideologies? In truth, this question is incredibly difficult to answer, mostly for the reason that the concept of political moderation is a subjective one. And for this article the emphasis will be placed more so on the science of psychology rather than analysis of political behavior.

We cling to previous political ideologies based off of a series of psychological factors, which are affected by society, friends, and overall perceptions of political systems. One psychological factor that highly affects the American populace is the minimal group paradigm effect, which has overarching effects and consequences for voters.

Essentially, the minimal group paradigm effect creates an in-group bias for individuals associated with a particular similarity. This similarity can be trivial, or esoteric; despite its complexity individuals will favor others with similar beliefs. For example, a democrat voter will favor a democrat candidate based solely on the fact that the candidate is a democrat. Despite a republican candidate having a more impressive history of achievements, the democrat voter will vote for the democrat candidate simply because he is a democrat. This in-group bias is an engrained psychological mechanism, and is very difficult to eliminate.

So the question is, how can we minimize in-group bias of the minimal group paradigm effect and establish a more contralateral viewpoint for voters? The voters must be educated on the obvious null discrepancies between average democrats and republicans. Therefore without an established group to identify with, they will not bias one particular party or the other. Although the answer is simple, the common application to solving this problem is extremely difficult. The American populace must be educated to value the core values and logic behind a politician’s platform, rather than the blatant appeal of patriotism associated with a particular political party. Once we establish an equal, unbiased viewpoint we can finally choose politicians based off accolades and logic, rather than bias and familiarity invoked by the bipartisan political system.

Let Good Thoughts Be Your Sword and Shield

The world can be a stressful place for a woman. Especially a young, intelligent bread-winner like Lady in Red. Here’s how she proposes combatting the daily stresses of everyday Modern Life. -ModCon

In psychology, we are taught that the key to happiness is self-delusion and ignorance. Studies have shown that many of the “happiest” people have inaccurate conceptions of reality.  If you have an accurate grasp of the world, odds are that you have an increased risk of being depressed, anxious, or some other psychological malady. As Hemingway once said:

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

I don’t think that this is limited to just the smart people in the room. If truth is important to you, then this cruel world can break you. The truth of this life is that all of us will be afflicted by some sadness at some point. To think otherwise might make you happy, but it also makes you wrong.

But we here at ModCon love us some truth.  The world needs people that see the good and the bad, and remember both.  If you tend to remember both, you may be less happy in the short-term, but will be more fulfilled overall. Note, one can remember without dwelling.  I see the latter significantly afflicting the young, talented women that I associate with.  I’ve been in that negative, re-living situation too, wondering how to stop myself from this self-destructive thinking.  I’ve been searching for an answer for them and myself for quite some time, and the answer lies in the classics.

In studying the philosophical classics, we learn the importance of truth-seeking for accurate actions and for realizing full potential.  This Lady knows that happiness is not all there is to life.  We are meant for more than for being insatiable consumers of things and experiences only to die and never know this world.  Blessings are important, but we are also meant to struggle, to build, to work, to help. This can be happy, but oftentimes it’s not. You have to experience the bad to truly appreciate the good. All major world religions indicate these dual experiences as part of life’s meaning.

So don’t get tripped up by stress or sadness or hard times; it’s a guarantee and literally why you are here.

The key to rising above is (like all things) being prepared. Train your fortitude, not your forgetfulness. How do we do that, you ask? Well, in psychology we also learn that cognitive training is integral to overcoming the emotional downturns of every-day life. Creating mental algorithms to navigate your brain’s sad place is helpful. With a sound mind, you can achieve much contentment.

Personally, my brain is my most valuable asset. Like most of Upward America, it’s what pays the bills. But sometimes, I treat it as a garbage pail;  letting worry, worst-case scenarios, comparisons, dread, doubt, anger, and fear come in almost unchecked.  What makes me great at my job also drives a compulsion to think through every thought that pops up, even if harmful.  It’s like watching weeds grow in the garden, only killing them after they have choked the flowers.

Our minds direct our lives, and so must be tended to if we are to self-actualize.  Like brushing your teeth, daily mental training can help you experience the negative but revel in the positive. All creativity, will, love, discernment, movement, learning—almost everything worthwhile is filtered through the mind. So I start there. Continue reading Let Good Thoughts Be Your Sword and Shield