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The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives Paperback – August 31, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Washington Post science journalist Vedantam theorizes that there's a hidden world in our heads filled with unconscious biases, often small, hidden errors in thinking that manipulate our attitudes and actions without our knowing it. Autonomy is a myth, he says, because knowledge and rational intention are not responsible for our choices. This thesis is not news— since Freud, psychologists have taken the unconscious into account—but Vedanta argues that if we are influenced sometimes, then why not all the time, whether we're launching a romance or a genocide. This is a frightening leap in logic. In anecdotal, journalistic prose, we learn that, through bias, rape victims can misidentify their attacker; people are more honest even with just a subtle indication that they are being watched; polite behavior has to do with the frontotemporal lobes rather than with how one was raised; and that we can be unconsciously racist and sexist. Though drawing on the latest psychological research, Vedantam's conclusions are either trite or unconvincing. (Jan. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A Washington Post science writer, Vedantam explores the findings of social psychologists about unconscious bias. Recounting people’s stories, he grips attention immediately. Introducing a rape victim whose mistake in identifying her assailant was revealed by DNA evidence that exonerated him, Vedantam establishes his theme of how people get things wrong (in the crime-and-punishment category, he adds death-penalty cases involving possible misidentification) or behave seemingly irrationally. After each individual story, the author repairs to relevant psychological studies. To Vedantam, the studies reveal that subtle biases unconsciously coexist alongside people’s conscious convictions that they are free of prejudice. He cites examples such as Senator George Allen, whose racial remark ended his career; the electorate’s perception of candidate Barack Obama; and the sexual discrimination case of Lilly Ledbetter. Branching into other arenas, such as crowd behavior during crisis situations and the minds of suicide bombers, Vedantam highlights a mental battle of which, he wants his readers to learn, they are largely unaware. This work has strong appeal for the psychology audience. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
That said, the author's own "hidden" biases are on full display as well. His chapter on racist bias immediately and definitively sets about showing that racism exists - the author relaying his own personal experiences with it as a minority - and then explores why. In fact, he has a couple of chapters that deal with racism in a fairly masterful way. Those are worth a read. However, in the chapter on sexism, he spends a few pages rambling on about how there's no real way to establish in any useful form that sexism is behind any individual incident that involves a woman. He eventually did get it together and pull out of his spiral to discuss sexism as experienced by trans individuals, but not without the disclaimer that a lot of that discrimination might be attributable to bias against alternative sexuality. Having read substantial amounts of - yes, scientific - as well as less rigorous studies into sexism, I found that chapter sloppy and poorly assembled. It was clearly not the priority for him that racism was. And being dismissive of 51% of the global population is probably a poor strategy for success. I'd have more respect for his book if he simply said, "I'm going to focus on racism since it's where my interest lies," and then not addressed sexism at all. Fair enough - we tend to speak to what we know. But to throw in a sloppy, poorly assembled chapter on sexism, and then act as if it could barely be quantified as a societal force - despite the massive crowds of people globally saying otherwise - felt insulting and dismissive. Definitely a turn-off.
All in all, I can't give this a huge thumbs up or down. It's okay. But if you're only going to read one book in this genre, I'd recommend "Mistakes were Made But Not By Me" or "Dataclysm."
Freud likened the mind to an iceberg with its tip (above the water ) being the conscious mind and the bulk of it (under the water), being the unconscious mind. This is significant as it implies that most of mental work is done by the unconscious mind. Later research and development showed this to be true. Indeed some psychologists believe that only 25 percent of our mind's work is accomplished by our conscious mind. What is curious about this arrangement is that the conscious mind is mostly unaware of the actions of the unconscious mind. This is not only surprising but also mystifying. In other words , after having made a seemingly conscious decision we would be told it was really the hidden brain that had done the work,or at least had guided us to the decision. If someone is told that he does not understand how his mind works he is likely to be offended, yet, this has become an acceptable fact in psychology.
The contents of this unconscious mind have been somewhat of a mystery. Freud thought it is a reservoir containing our feelings, concerns, fears, and memories which are outside the scope of our awareness. The reason they are suppressed down below is because their surfacing might be disturbing or annoying, e.g. like remembering an ugly crime . How can one access this reservoir? One way is through psychoanalysis as Freud had done using the power of reasoning and allowing several sessions to unravel a patient's background. More often the contents surface in dreams or else through hypnosis. On reading about this strange arrangement one cannot help but wonder: Was this an integral part of our creation, or did it evolve in us over time?
Although we are accustomed to think of the unconscious mind at the personal level, the author gives it another dimension by demonstrating its effect in groups and institutions. He does this using anecdotes and case studies. The danger here is that often the anecdote is in itself so exciting that it overshadows the psychological analysis. One issue dealt with here is racial bias which is presumably generated by our unconscious brain. One researcher in Canada, G. Aboud, tried to trace the origin of this issue by showing little children a picture of a white man and a black man. She would tell the little 3-5 years-old stories about a robbery, or any other offending event, and ask the children to point to the possible culprit in the picture. Invariably most of them would point to the black man . No matter how the question was repeated the result was the same. Where did this bias come from? Parents? Teachers? Friends? She wondered. And would it be embedded and sealed in their hidden reservoir until it surfaces later in life creating our modern-day problematic racial discrimination?
Surely, there is a lot more research to be done on this mystifying unconscious mind.
Fuad R. Qubein