Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Review: A Mind of Its Own

In A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, psychologist Cordelia Fine examines a wide range of empirical evidence suggesting that one’s behavior is often greatly influenced by one’s unconscious mind. A classic example involves showing subjects a variety of words, several of which are associated with the elderly (“wrinkled,” “retired,” etc.). The subjects never consciously recognize a theme, and yet they walk more slowly (re: more elderly-like) after the experiment is complete than do subjects who are not exposed to these geriatric-related terms. Presumably, priming these subjects to think subconsciously about the elderly causes them to emulate, to some degree, elderly behavior.

As fascinating as this research may be, this is all material that has been covered equally well in a variety of other books, from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink to Jonah Lehrer’s vastly superior How We Decide. For that reason, there is little to recommend Fine’s tome in particular. Not that the book is without strengths. Foremost among them is the straightforward organization of content, with chapters like “The Deluded Brain,” “The Weak-Willed Brain,” and “The Bigoted Brain” clearly demarcating the kinds of research that will be discussed therein. That being said, any advantage the book’s organization may hold is offset by Fine’s writing. The author is so determined to win over her audience that the first several chapters are virtually drowning in whimsy. The relentless and cloying cutesiness of Fine’s prose is almost unbearable, though, thankfully, it tapers off quite a bit as the volume continues.

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