(by David McRaney)

Not so Smart

McRaney is living proof that the best popularisers of scientific theory are not necessarily researchers themselves. His book is one of the best I have ever read! In 48 bite-size chapters he has managed to elucidate 48 important findings from the fields of Psychology.

‘Priming’ comes first – naturally! The idea is that subtle cues in the environment can affect the way we behave. In a fantastic study (p. 11), some subjects had to work with words related to ‘politeness’ – others with ones relating to ‘rudeness’. Later they were asked to see a researcher who was ‘busy’ talking to someone; the former interrupted him after 8.7 min, the latter after only 5.4! (Moral: The school environment and decoration should be full of cues relating to diligence and cooperation; priming does work!)

‘Procrastination’: In another experiment (p. 45) subjects were asked to choose movies that they would have to watch at some point in the future; most chose at least some serious ones. In another condition however, subjects had to choose movies to watch that very evening; guess what – they went for films of the ‘Legally Blonde’ type… (Moral: We tend to put off doing the things we have to do. To ensure students do not do this, get them to commit well in advance!)

‘The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’: In a study that all educators should read (p. 234), some teachers were told that certain kids in their class had performed outstandingly in IQ tests (of course this was a lie – the children had been chosen at random). Sure enough, these kids did exceptionally well at H/W, as the teachers lavished more attention to them. (Moral: Expectations often bring about their own fulfilment; alas, this does not only work for students we think are geniuses…)

Now here is a little gem which can make a huge difference in Classroom Management. In another study subjects were asked whether they would donate some time to a cancer drive. One group were simply asked; they did agree but actually only 4% of them turned up. Another group however were asked to volunteer and then asked again if they thought they would show up – almost all of them did! (Moral: When you ask your students to do something, just ask them an additional Q: ‘Do you think you are going to do it?’)

Usefulness aside, the book opens a huge window into our brain and the way it works… You are guaranteed many ‘a-ha!’ moments and not a few chuckles… You will recognise yourself when reading about the ‘Self-serving bias’ and you will recognise 98% of bloggers when reading about ‘The Dunning-Kruger Effect’! (ooops! I didn’t say that! 🙂 )