Rory Sutherland on Perceived Value

Rory Sutherland is one of my favorite TED Talkers (ahem, "Speakers"). He's a former advertising executive who is concerned with psychology -- specifically, how people perceive what is valuable, and how that perception can actually become tangible value. This makes for some interesting quotations, like from this talk: “Where economists make the fundamental mistake is they think that money is money.” Sutherland is talking about how it matters to us where the money we spend is going: if we spend money thinking it's going to good people doing good work, we're more willing to part with it than if we think it's going to incompetent buffoons. And he's right.

In this eighteen-minute talk, Sutherland leads us through a series of examples in "re-framing" situations. Some of these are simple and obvious, like the observation that retired people are, as a group, happier than unemployed young people -- despite similar circumstances (not much money and not much to do all day), retired people are generally retired on purpose. Their frame of reference is different, so their experience of life is different. Some of Sutherland's examples are much more subtle, like his observation that a main reason Google initially succeeded at being a search engine was because it just did search, rather than take the "portal" approach all other Internet companies tried. (And people like single-purpose services; we think companies tend to be best at doing one thing well.) Frankly I think there's something to that, and his point is further proved by Google's current attempt to do "everything" and its growing creepiness.

For: anyone interested in how we think, or looking for a few interesting anecdotes. (For example, apparently South Korean red lights have a countdown timer, which has been shown to reduce traffic accidents and incidents of road rage -- when you know how much longer you have to wait, the waiting is less painful.)

Language alert: Sutherland drops a single f-bomb around 1:20. I think it's hilarious, but your mileage may vary.

See also: Turning Squares into Diamonds, from our Lectures for a New Year series in January.

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Yoga and Meditation May Lead to an Inflated Ego

If you’ve been exasperated for years by that one self-righteous, yoga-obsessed friend, take note: Regular yoga practitioners experience inflated egos after a session of yoga or meditation, according to a forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers found that yoga and meditation both increase "self-enhancement," or the tendency for people to attach importance to their own actions. In the first phase of the two-part study, researchers in Germany and England measured self-enhancement by recruiting 93 yoga students and having them respond to questionnaires over the course of 15 weeks, Quartz reports. Each assessment was designed to measure three outcomes: superiority, communal narcissism, and self-esteem. In the second phase, the researchers asked 162 meditation students to answer the same questionnaires over four weeks.

Participants showed significantly higher self-enhancement in the hour just after their practices. After yoga or meditation, participants were more likely to say that statements like "I am the most helpful person I know" and "I have a very positive influence on others" describe them.

At its Hindu and Buddhist roots, yoga is focused on quieting the ego and conquering the self. The findings seem to support what some critics of Western-style yoga suspect—that the practice is no longer true to its South Asian heritage.

It might not be all bad, though. Self-enhancement tends to correlate with higher levels of subjective well-being, at least in the short term. People prone to self-enhancement report feeling happier than the average person. However, they’re also more likely to exhibit social behaviors (like bragging or condescending) that are detrimental in the long term.

So if you think your yoga-loving friends are a little holier than thou, you may be right. But it might be because their yoga class isn’t deflating their egos like yogis say it should.

[h/t Quartz]

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Have You Heard? Trading Gossip Can Be Good for You
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Like picking your nose or re-using a dirty coffee cup, trading petty observations and suspicions about others is a function of life no one takes any particular pride in. You might have been told by parents not to say anything about someone "behind their back," and gossip often involves some degree of schadenfreude. In terms of keeping a positive outlook, there's not much to be said for chattering about whether someone got a facelift or if a divorce might be imminent.

Or is there? Ben Healy of The Atlantic recently aggregated compelling data that points to gossip having surprising benefits. When two people discuss negative feelings about a third, they tend to bond over the shared hostility more than if they were sharing pleasant thoughts about him or her. The badmouthing parties also tend to enjoy a sense of accomplishment by reflecting on their own positive traits compared to the failure of others. They might even take a "lesson" from an anecdote about someone's catastrophic life, using it as a cautionary tale. If the gossip has a positive slant, it might be used as inspiration to pursue self-improvement.

That's the other surprising thing about gossip: 96 percent of the time or more, it's not overly negative. Among adolescents, it's usually used to vent about frustrations or to create conversation in pursuit of a bonding experience.  

If gossip truly is good for the soul, most of us are in luck. Talking about an absentee third person is what accounts for two-thirds of all conversation.

[h/t Atlantic]

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