Three Scholars Worth Your Time: Part 6

8 Mar

Daniel Gilbert

Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of the immensely intriguing New York Times bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. He also gave several intriguing talks at TED.

In one of his talks, he says that human beings have a unconscious cognitive process that could be called “a psychological immune system”. This system helps us change our view of the world so that we can feel about our position in the world.  For example, in an experiment he did, a group of people were asked to rank a series of paintings. Afterwards, they were given a painting that ranked low on their list for free. When these people came back weeks later and were asked to rank the paintings again, the painting they were given rose in rank. This shows that we unconsciously change our preferences according to what we have. His research also shows that when we have too many choices and much longer time to make a decision, we become indecisive and unhappy. This is very similar to the idea Barry Schwartz expressed in his talk The Paradox of Choice.

In addition, Professor Gilbert also does research on mistaken expectations. According to him, sometimes we are wrong about what will make us happy. For example, when there are three bottles of different wine in a store at $5, $20 and $30. We are likely to choose the $20 one, because we do not want to get the most expensive or the cheapest one. However, if there is another $50 wine on the same shelf, which makes the $30 one appear much less expensive than before, we might end up buying the $30. But when once we get home and start drinking the wine, we no longer have a comparison to make and the $30 wine might taste just as good as the $20 one. In a word, comparison changes the value of things when we are appraising a product but not when we are consuming it. This shift could impede our ability to make rational decisions.

Richard Hackman

Richard Hackman is a professor of psychology at Harvard University who conducts research in social and organizational psychology, including team dynamics and performance, leadership effectiveness, and the design of self-managing teams and organizations. In one of his papers, he explores groups as agents of change. He points out how individual development tools are more effective in a group setting than being used individually (attend seminars, going to lectures). An example he gave is the success of Alcoholic Anonymous, where all the support are given out in an intimate group. When the common story I usually hear is how an individual becomes the seed of change in an organization, Professor Hackman talks about how much more effective it is to use a team to lead organizational change.

Ellen Langer

Ellen Langer is  also a professor of psychology at Harvard University. Her research covers topics such as the illusion of control, aging, decision-making and mindfulness theory. Her books written for general and academic readers include Mindfulness, The Power of Mindful Learning, On Becoming An Artist, and Counterclockwise. Her lab’s current work in progress is concerned with the interaction of mindfulness and health, business, and education. In Counterclockwise, Professor Langer discusses an immensely fascinating experiment she did with a group of elderly people. In the experiment, the elders were taken into a setting where they were instructed to live as if they are in 1959. After a week, she discovered that this group of people are acting significantly younger. Their hearing improved, they have stronger grip and more joint flexibility. In Professor Langer’s words:

Mindful health is not about how we should eat right, exercise, or follow medical recommendations, nor is it about abandoning these things… It is about the need to free ourselves from constricting mindsets and the limits they place on our health and well-being, and to appreciate the importance of becoming the guardians of our own health.


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