Thursday, 30 May 2013

Review: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney

Recently I have been making an attempt to expand my knowledge of stuff, and have been setting aside a few books about stuff to swat up on. My first area to look at is psychology, particularly how our brains work.


So, You Are Not So Smart is a book designed to prove to you that your brain lies to you, and you frequently deceive yourself in everyday matters. David McRaney goes through over 40 different delusions and lies that we tell ourselves, and presents the reality behind these situations.  Each idea or theory is clearly set out in a chapter, and McRaney uses numerous studies and other psychology books to put forward his ideas, and explain the implications for you, and how you are not so smart... And if you think that you are not one of the average people that makes up this mass of people who form the subjects of these studies, who all fit into these neat little psychological boxes... well, McRaney has a whole chapter to prove that you may not think you are one of those who contribute towards the definition of the average, but you really are. 

Listening to the book was actually quite an interactive experience. McRaney poses questions and ideas directly to the reader, and makes comments about your most likely reactions to the questions he raises. In fact, he is worryingly good at making you admit to doing many of the behaviours that he mentions. For example, he lists a large number of ways in which you think you are better than other people around you, such as being smarter than your co-workers or better looking than your friends, and just as you start to say to yourself "I don't think I am better than everyone around me", he pauses, and says "I bet you are thinking 'I don't think I am better than everyone around me'. Well, do you think that you are more honest than everyone around you? Because you aren't, you are a liar."

And just as each behaviour is proved as something that a lot of people do, and you start to feel bad that you participate in these lies and self delusions, even though many of them are on an unconscious level, the author then explains how this is an evolutionary step, that has formed as a method to survive in the wild, or to ensure the preservation of resources, or to choose an ideal mate and survival of the species via reproduction, or to prevent your ego from curling up in a shrivelled ball and sending you insane.

Overall, I couldn't decide if I felt like I was learning or not.... Scratch that... I was definitely learning, but it didn't feel like I was being educated- the information was presented fairly informally, and there was a clear sense of humour that emerged consistently through the book. However, it was a book that I couldn't listen to for too long at a time, because of information overload. Luckily, other than the first and last chapters, every chapter runs between about 5 and 15 mins, making it easily digestible. In terms of the recording, it wasn't read by the author, but the speaker's voice was melodic and fairly matter of fact, which contrasted almost humorously with the tone of the writing itself. Definitely worth a read or a listen if one is interested in how one thinks based upon a psychological perspective, without getting too overbearing with the science lingo.

Conclusions: Delusions keep us sane.
We remember what we want to remember.
Every behaviour ever has some cool psychology name.
You Are Not So Smart.

8.0 stars. Mmmm, learny goodness. 

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