60-Second Mind

What the Experts Still Don't Know

Twenty three world-renowned psychologists write about what they still don't understand about themselves

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

This month the British Psychological Society published the 150th issue of its Research Digest.
To celebrate, they asked 23 world-renowned psychologists the following question: What is one nagging thing that you still don’t understand about yourself? A few touched on consciousness. But many wrote about the conundrum of how understanding behavior does nothing to change behavior.
For instance, Norbert Schwarz commented on how knowing that gloomy weather affects one’s moods (he did experiments) doesn’t stop him from feeling down on dreary days. And Paul Rozin remarked that even though psychologists know we learn from experience, we continue to be terrible at predicting how we happy we’ll be, how we’ll like something, and even how much work we’ll accomplish. He wrote:

“Every night, I bring home a pile of work to do...I’ve been doing this for over 50 years. I always think I will…get through all or most of it, and I almost never get even half done. But I keep expecting to accomplish it all. What a fool I am.”


Robert Cialdini and David Buss also mentioned thoughts along similar lines. Cialdini wrote about never learning to balance. He said, “my most nagging error [is] an inability to gauge correctly the point at which the next possible undertaking - or even golden opportunity - should be firmly rejected. Whenever I've allowed one-too-many responsibilities onto my plate, everything has suffered from the overcrowding…I've no longer had the time or patience to plan, think, or toil hard enough to be proud of the resultant work.”

And Buss coins the problem “overcoming irrationality.” He wrote,

One nagging thing that I still don’t understand about myself is why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware of these biases. One example is my failure at…forecasting, such as believing that I will be happy for a long time after some accomplishment, when in fact the happiness dissipates...Another is…misperceiving a woman’s friendliness as sexual interest. A third is undue optimism about how quickly I can complete work projects, despite many years of experience in underestimating the time actually required. One would think that explicit knowledge of these well-documented psychological biases and years of experience with them would allow a person to cognitively override the biases. But they don’t.

So don’t beat yourself up.  The experts may know what to do. But it doesn’t mean they can do it any better than the rest of us.

—Christie Nicholson

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