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Social Animals and Systems 1 and 2

Your pupils are dilated!

Your pupils are dilated!

I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. The basic idea is fairly simple: we are not alone. How we interact with each other strongly influences who we are and what we become.

Often, however, we don’t recognize just how strong those social forces are. Many of them operate at subconscious levels. Citing Strangers to Ourselves, by Timothy Wilson, Brooks estimates that our minds can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given time. But we’re only aware of 40 of them, at most. Wilson writes that, “Some researchers … suggest that the unconscious mind does virtually all the work and that conscious will may be an illusion.”

Brooks compares the conscious mind to a “… general atop a platform, who sees the world from a distance…” while the unconscious mind is “…like a million little scouts.” The scouts “… maintain no distance from the environment around them, but are immersed in it.”

Brooks also cites Daniel Patrick Moynihan in writing that “… the central evolutionary truth is that the unconscious matters most. The central humanistic truth is that the conscious mind can influence the unconscious.”

If you think that this sounds like System 1 and System 2 that Daniel Kahneman writes about (click here), well… you’re probably right. System 1 is always on, it’s automatic, and it makes quick decisions, often without your realizing it. System 1 is the default setting. Unless System 2 intervenes, System 1 will spin merrily along, running your life. While System 1 is right most of the time, it can make systematic mistakes.

While Brooks’ writing covers similar territory, he approaches from a different angle than Kahneman. He treats not only the influence of the two systems but also the influence of others. How we behave is remarkably influenced by other people.

I expect to write more about Brooks and Kahneman and how they compare. Today, however, I’ll just summarize some interesting tidbits that I’ve picked up from Brooks.

  • You can’t consciously control the ends of your eyebrows. When you smile (genuinely) the ends of your eyebrows dip a bit. If you’re faking a smile, they don’t. It’s a clue that’s subconscious to both the sender and receiver – but is usually seen and correctly interpreted.
  • You’re sexier when your pupils are dilated. It’s a subtle, subconscious sign of attraction that is usually correctly interpreted even if we aren’t aware of it. (Greek women seemed to understand this and used eye drops to dilate their pupils). As Kahneman points out, dilated pupils also indicate a high level of System 2 activity. So, if you want to look sexy, just do some complex math in your head. Your pupils will dilate and people will think you’re more attractive.
  • In general, women are less visually aroused than men. Mena are looking for (visual) fertility clues. Women are looking for evidence of stability.
  • Women, on average, are “… 60 to 70 percent more proficient than men at remembering details from a scene and the locations of objects placed in a room.” Simply put, women are more observant.
  • People can make judgments about a person’s trustworthiness in a tenth of a second. “These sorts of first glimpses are astonishingly accurate in predicting how people will feel about each other months later.”
  • Height is important, at least for men. According to one study, “…each inch of height corresponds to $6,000 of annual salary in contemporary America…” Other people’s height influences our behavior.

I hope these tidbits capture your imagination. They certainly have captured mine and I’ll write a lot more about Brooks and Kahneman in the coming weeks.

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