Sunday, July 8, 2012

All are D's

There are three Daniels in the Harvard psychology department.  Schacter wrote "The Seven Sins of Memory".  Gilbert wrote "Stumbling on Happiness".  Wegner wrote "White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession and the Psychology of Mental Control".  I read Schacter a couple of times.  I read Gilbert, listened to his book read by him on audio and went through some of it yet again.  I have not read Wegner but I am about to.

The Seven Sins are the main errors that our memories make.  Us seniors may be faced with several but the one that stood out for me was amnesia of the automatic.  The author himself, a Harvard psychologist and a scholar of research on human memory was overtaken by panic when he searched his golf bag after playing a round.  He always put them in the bag and yet they were not there.  Then, he started to think: the golf bag was lying on its side in the trunk of his car.  He had to have had the keys to open the trunk.  He lifted his gaze and there were his keys dangling in the trunk lock where he has just finished using them.  Those things that we have done many times are done almost automatically and are very difficult to concentrate on while performing them.

Gilbert presents tons of evidence that we are generally not good at predicting how we will feel in the future.  We think we will be very happy if our team wins on Saturday but we aren't as happy as we thought we would be.  He has strong evidence that asking others how they feel about a trip produces more accurate estimates of our own future feelings than simply using our imaginations, which always tend to be biased toward our current state and our feelings about our last trip.  Even predicting how someone else will feel and then using that prediction for ourselves has been shown to be more accurate than using our imaginations.

Wegner, as his book title above suggests, has worked on the subject of mental control and the occurrence of unwanted thoughts.  For those who have experienced a traumatic event, the memory of which keeps replaying in their minds, this is an important subject.  The three Daniels have written a comprehensive text on psychology, which is now in its second edition.  

Wegner's web site has some interesting pages.  His main page has links to a page of pictures of monsters carrying women, a page of monsters carrying men and this whimsical quiz: The Hidden Brain Damage Scale.  It is fun to take and won't show you anything important.

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