Human nature | etcetera Blog

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Human nature

David Lindsey

by | February 21st, 2012


Recently I read two articles that address the ever changing/never changing kaleidoscope of human nature. I think both articles are worth sharing.

The first article deals with the quirky confusions of the puzzle that is the adolescent mind.  What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind? , written by Allison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, appeared in the Wall Street Journal in January of this year. As we all know, adolescence has always been trouble, and now, for reasons that are not altogether understood, puberty is kicking in at an earlier and earlier age, causing even more confusion for every one. Dr. Gopnik discusses how this new phenomenon is changing the way we think of the developing human mind. It’s a thoughtful article, and if your life touches the life of an adolescent in any way, you’ll want to read this.

The second article was the cover story in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday. How Companies Learn Your Secrets by Charles Duhigg, discusses what has now become a common practice of almost all major consumer related businesses from grocers to investment bankers (and, though he didn’t say it, intelligence services as well). That is, the practice of employing the science of “predictive analytics” to cunsumer psychology.  This is the “golden age” of behavioral research. Never before in history have so many known so much about so many. We can thank the new digital age for that last odd sentence. There are few secrets anymore, and anyone who believes their lives are “private” in the sense that we understood it twenty years ago, are badly misinformed. But Duhigg’s article discusses one particular aspect of our human nature that is becoming increasingly understood–and exploited–by all of those in this consumer obsessed society who want to sell us something: habit. You’ll probably be astonished to learn that “habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day.” And that statistical fact contains a treasure trove of information for everyone who wants something from you and me…for whatever reason…for good or ill. As always, it’s a blade that cuts both way.

Both articles discuss how behavior actually shapes our brains. To say that we are “hard-wired” to be a certain way is a vast overstatement. It’s true that habit is a predominate driver of the way we live our lives, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. In fact the human brain is enormously sensitive and responsive. Our social and cultural life shapes our biology. If we learn that certain habits are detrimental to us, then we can change the way we live, and thereby change our habits, and thereby change our lives. Self awareness is the first step in becoming the captain of our own destiny.

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David Lindsey

David L. Lindsey is an American novelist, working primarily in the mystery, thriller, and spy genres. He has published fourteen novels in a writing career spanning 25 years.

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