Sunday, 7 March 2010

You Are What You Think

John Bargh, Mark Chen and Lara Burrows gave word puzzles to 30 psychology undergraduates. The undergraduates were give one of two word-based puzzles to complete. The words in one of the puzzles were associated with the elderly - for example "Florida", "ancient" and "wise" and the words in the second puzzle were neutral, with no firm associations. The students were asked to complete the puzzle and then leave the test room and exit the building.

The research team had no interest the results of the word-puzzles themselves. What they were interested in was the impact of the words in puzzle upon subsequent behaviour. What the researchers did was to discreetly time the subjects on their exit from the assessment room, down the hall to an elevator:
  • "Students who had been given the puzzle featuring elderly related words took, on average, a whole second longer to make the walk - an increase from 7.3 to 8.3 seconds. They had picked up one of the perceived traits of the elderly: slower walking speed." (Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb)

This idea fascinates me (the experiment itself is given another airing with a bit more analysis in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink) . What I especially like is that just as using a simple 'desert island' concept to convey the whole notion of the paleo diet (to the extent that ANYONE can pretty much 'get it' in the course of a minute, the romanticised connotation which subsequently come to mind can lead to a positive feed back mechanism which supports the approach. This is in stark contrast to the standard food pyramid and it prescription of hunger or narcissistic pursuit of muscle (which may lead to or be an expression of body dysmorphia).

The cold showers, the fasting, the Vibram Five Fingers, the sprinting in the woods and the Kill Carries - all tick the paleo cliches - but serve to bolster my application and resolve to train. To train hard and to train well. To focus beyond appearance and beyond the self, on towards the immediate environment around and our interaction with it.

Sounds like a recipe for success to me!

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