Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Biased Mind

Michel De Lara (below left) is a researcher concerned with the mathematical and economic aspects of risk. Jérôme Boutang (below right) is a communication professional with expertise in environmental threats such as air pollution and climate change. Together with the Paris School of Economics, they started a research project on risk perception which soon developed into the Biased Mind project. In this post they introduce their new book The Biased Mind, which is published in the Copernicus popular science collection of Springer.

Why is it that the French eat snails but not slugs? What makes the number 7 so special? Will your recent marriage last? Why is it that Batman, Superman and Spiderman fearlessly defeat evil monsters, but are hopelessly shy when it comes to women? And why is it that we crave sugary and greasy food, even though we know it's not healthy? The answer to these questions is that our mind is like a smartphone, filled with adaptive software, whose different modules operate alternatively or engage in struggle among themselves.

Metaphors like this, as well as other short stories, anecdotes and images—the deeply rooted language elements that speak to our mind—are presented in this book to ensure that it is accessible to a wide readership. The book provides insight into the workings of our brain and useful tips on how to steer clear of its pitfalls.

During the "tour of the mind" provided by the book, we try to provide answers to a much-pondered question: what makes people tick? We draw on experience and material from many different research areas such as economics, cognitive science, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. We defend the claim that human behavior is largely shaped by our brain's adaptations, which result from past environmental pressures. We argue that many of our mental biases make sense, whereas many other adaptations are outdated and even obstructive in our modern world. Human beings tend to have strong first impressions and find it hard to change our views; we often suffer regret and waver between gut instinct and reason; at other times, we may feel as if just the right chords have been struck in our mind. Knowing where those adaptations come from sheds light on how the mind operates. It might even help us overcome our biases and outsmart our own brain.

 The outcome is a collection of enlightening stories and anecdotes that show our adapted brain at work. On top of an entertaining read, the book offers a compilation of practical tips on how to navigate through the modern world with a Pleistocene brain. With this, we should be better equipped to understand ourselves and others, to interact in different social contexts, reach better judgments, make better decisions, avoid manipulation, and communicate more efficiently. In addition to applications in daily life, The Biased Mind gives plenty of insights to professionals such as marketers, communication specialists, and designers. 

The Biased Mind is Psychology Book of the Month on the website All About Psychology by David Webb, January 2016.

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