Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Language Experiment

In her book Counterclockwise Ellen Langer sites studies where people's performances in taking tests were directly affected by priming through language. Since reading her book, I have come across some very interesting research on how we can be influenced without our becoming consciously aware of it happening. This extract from, below, confirms her findings.

External influences
It’s no surprise that we take cues from the environment – they allow us to make assumptions that can usefully guide our behaviour in an uncertain world. We associate suits with professionalism, an unlit shop is a sign that it is closed, a person’s tears betray unhappiness. But cues like these don’t just provide us with predictive information, they also directly affect our behaviour in ways that we’re not conscious of. Consider a study by Aaron Kay and colleagues in which people were asked to participate in a brief financial game. Those who sat at a table with a briefcase strategically placed on it played the game far more competitively and selfishly than did participants who sat near a backpack. Yet afterwards, when asked what factors they felt had influenced their playing style, none of the participants mentioned any aspect of the physical environment (Kay et al. 2004).
Or consider an experiment conducted by John Bargh of Yale University and others, in which participants played a computer-based fishing game requiring them to choose how many fish to return to a lake, so preserving stocks for others. Prior to the game, the participants performed a separate task in which they had to form sentences from randomly arranged words. For half the participants, a fraction of these words pertained to cooperation, and (you guessed it) these participants went on to behave more cooperatively in the fishing game. Once again, post-experimental questioning indicated the participants were unaware of the influence the earlier words had had (Bargh et al., 2001).
Even the simple act of holding a cold or hot drink can exert a powerful effect on your reasoning. In an as yet unpublished study by Lawrence Williams and John Bargh, university students were asked to hold a cup of either hot or iced coffee by Williams while they answered a few questions. Next they had a brief chat with another researcher. He left and the participants were asked whether they would recommend him for a job. The participants who several minutes earlier had held the cold drink said they wouldn’t hire him, whereas those who’d held the warm drink said they would. The potential practical applications are startling (Williams & Bargh, 2007). Read the full article Here

All the evidence of how unconsciously we tend to operate confirms how important it is to develop practices which enhance our conscious awareness. Becoming more attuned to our thoughts, emotions and our environment paying attention and noticing what is new and different affords the possibility of coming off automatic pilot and actually making more conscious choices and decisions in all areas of our lives.
We all have a lot more power when we become conscious participants in our lives rather than puppets controlled by unconscious primes from our environment. To gain this power we need tools to train our minds and bodies , we need to practice conscious living . We are lucky to live in an age where these tools are widely available.  I have found the practice of T'ai Chi  to be a wonderful tool in awakening me to my body and mind. Lester Levenson's releasing really awakens our sense of discrimination so we can make more conscious choices. Even Ellen Langer's advice to notice new things each day can make a huge difference in one's level of consciousness and increase one's quality of life.

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