November 28, 2013

The benefits of social cognition vs the benefits of task-focused processing

In Social: why our brains are wired to connect (also read this post), Matt Lieberman explains that, within our brains there are two quite distinct neural systems for respectively social and non-social thinking. These two systems appear to be antagonistic in the sense that when one of the two is very active, the other is largely inactive. In addition to this he explains that whenever a person is focused on a specific task the non-social system is turned on and as soon as the person stops focusing on the task, his or her social system will turn on. Because this neural system becomes active as soon as one finishes a specific task, it is called the default nework. It seems that when we are not focusing on a specific task we are not doing nothing. We are engaged in social cognition, in other words, thinking about other people and our relationships with them. Lieberman writes:

November 14, 2013

I am not entering a competition

To what extent do you compete with other people? More specifically, to what extent do you think that your work or life is more or less comparable to competing in track running? In track running runners race over a specified distance on an running track at the end of which is a finish line which all runners try to cross first. Is this more or less comparable to the kind of competition you experience in your work, or in your life at large?

November 6, 2013

The Science of Interest

On Annie Murphy Paul's predictably interesting The Brillant Blog, there are two new posts about interest; about what it is, how it develops and what its consequences are (here and here). I'll try to summarize -and paraphrase, here and there- some of the things she writes but do visit her blog to read more.

Annie writes about the emerging science of interest which shows that, when we are interested, we process information better and deeper, we work harder and persist longer. So, when do we find things interesting? It seems that, in order to be interesting, things must be novel, complex and comprehensible. Once we are interested in something, our interest may autonomously grow and develop further because when we know something about our topic of interest, new information we come across may not fit well with what we know. Because we want to resolve the conflict between what we know and the new information, our interest is sustained.

November 5, 2013

People view cooperation as an end in itself

Economic theory and practice has long been dominated by the view that people are driven by self-interest. Research in psychology and in the emerging field of behavioral economics has shown that this model of human motivation is wrong. This research showed that people are not only driven by self-interest. They also have strong tendencies to cooperate. It seems we view others' interests as an end in itself, too. This not only applies to relatives and friends but also to strangers. However, what we are taught about human nature affects what we belief and how we behave. For example, research by Robert H. Frank and his colleagues (1993) has shown that students of economics, as they were more and more exposed to this axiom of self-interest which formed the basis of dominant theories of economics, they became less and less social and cooperative.

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