by Chris Berdik
A collection of studies on how expectations and belief can control our performance, even our very biology. Investigating the fields of sports psychology (especially the reasons for top athletes’ “choking” in the clutch), medicine (with its use of placebos and their lesser-known opposites, nocebos), wine tasting (breaking down not only the experts’ claims for superior sensory discrimination but also their consistency), and others, Berdik shows the many and varied ways in which what we expect, even what we are explicitly told to expect, can influence our perception and ability. From actual fear reactions during virtual reality experiences to being rated as more leader-like simply after striking a certain pose, these studies confound and delighted me, as they do all those interested in how we can use the hard-wired functions of the brain to improve our everyday lives.
I don’t like reviewing a book for what it is not (which is like saying “this cupcake is bad, because it is not a donut”), but I was expecting there to be a practical aspect to all these studies: now that we know, for example, that studies prove that most people are overconfident about their abilities, what do we do? How does can we adapt these findings – such as that people who play taller, handsomer avatars in video games act more attractive in real life – to our work lives? Instead it was study after study, with no conclusion or general thesis. Fascinating, but not particularly cohesive or utile.