Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception

Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception

by Joseph T. Hallinan
     
 

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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Why We Make Mistakes, an illuminating exploration of human beings’ astonishing ability to deceive themselves.
 
To one degree or another, we all misjudge reality. Our perception—of ourselves and the world around us—is much more malleable than we realize. This…  See more details below

Overview

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Why We Make Mistakes, an illuminating exploration of human beings’ astonishing ability to deceive themselves.
 
To one degree or another, we all misjudge reality. Our perception—of ourselves and the world around us—is much more malleable than we realize. This self-deception influences every major aspect of our personal and social life, including relationships, sex, politics, careers, and health. 
     In Kidding Ourselves, Joseph Hallinan offers a nuts-and-bolts look at how this penchant shapes our everyday lives, from the medicines we take to the decisions we make. It shows, for instance, just how much the power of many modern medicines, particularly anti-depressants and painkillers, is largely in our heads. Placebos in modern-day life extend beyond hospitals, to fake thermostats and “elevator close” buttons that don’t really work…but give the perception that they do.          
     Kidding Ourselves brings together a variety of subjects, linking seemingly unrelated ideas in fascinating and unexpected ways. And ultimately, it shows that deceiving ourselves is not always negative or foolish. As increasing numbers of researchers are discovering, it can be incredibly useful, providing us with the resilience we need to persevere, in the boardroom, bedroom, and beyond. 
     Provocative, accessible, and easily applicable to multiple facets of everyday life, Kidding Ourselves is an extraordinary new exploration of our mind’s flexibility.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
05/15/2014
Pulitzer Prize winner Hallinan's follow-up to Why We Make Mistakes continues his exploration of the mind's shortcomings. The author outlines numerous psychological and sociological studies that analyze the positive benefits all of us find in everyday—as opposed to clinically psychotic—delusional thinking. Examples and discussions of the placebo effect, mass hysteria, herding, perception, expectation, superstition, social power imbalance, and risk optimism are all covered in this well-documented and approachable work (the evolutionary biology theory content is minimal). Particularly insightful is the reportage regarding the human impulses that create our need for pattern and predictability (our locus of control), and the overarching theme of how self-deception can have concrete, measurable health consequences, which are based on having an optimistic attitude toward life. Similar in scope and chatty tone to Cordelia Fine's A Mind of Its Own, Hallinan's text updates readers on more recent field studies. VERDICT This is a well-researched and accessibly written book on the flexibility of human perception and belief, recommended for undergraduates and casual behavioral sciences readers.—Kellie Benson, Oakton Community Coll. Libs., Des Plaines, IL
The New York Times Book Review - Maria Konnikova
…fascinating…[Hallinan] entertains and provokes in equal measure. And his point is an important one: Our mind is a powerful thing.
Publishers Weekly
03/31/2014
It can be difficult to believe how vastly different our own view of reality can be from others’, but that is exactly what Hallinan (Why We Make Mistakes) tries to get to the core of in his latest book. The Pulitzer Prize–winning author presents an abundance of evidence on how people’s perceptions can vary, and also how easily they can deceive themselves. Take, for example, the citizens of a small town outside of Chicago: one night a woman believed she had been briefly paralyzed by a man using an anesthetic gas. Once it made news headlines similar incidents were reported with increasing frequency each day. No suspect was ever found, however, and when police called the reports “a case of mass delusion,” the attacks completely stopped. People truly believed they had been attacked, but according to Hallinan “we are copycats.” While the studies he presents will entertain any reader, such as why some people really do die of a broken heart or why your boss really is just a jerk, few really astonish. Hallinan’s attempts to legitimize his anecdotes through research and experiment fall flat and often amount to obvious explanations. Nevertheless, it’s accessible pop science that provides a good laugh and some great dinner conversation. (June)
From the Publisher
“Fascinating…an exploration of our mind’s ability to conjure its own reality. [Hallinan] entertains and provokes in equal measure. And his point is an important one: Our mind is a powerful thing.”
New York Times Book Review

“In this brilliant and delightful expose of recent psychological research, Hallinan reveals that self-deception is also a potent drug for boosting hope, confidence, and creativity.  For those of us who have lived by Feynman's first principle, that you must not fool yourself, this provocative book is a shocking and encouraging eye-opener: good things can happen if we just shut up, relax, and believe.”
 Leonard Mlodinow, bestselling author of Subliminal and The Drunkard’s Walk

“Hallinan works in territory similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s: giving fresh twists to familiar assumptions, showing that conventional wisdom may be more conventional than wise. … A genial, occasionally glib guide to both the positive and negative effects of self-delusion.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Accessible pop science that provides a good laugh and some great dinner conversation.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Well-documented and approachable…particularly insightful…a well-researched and accessibly written book on the flexibility of human perception and belief.”
Library Journal

Praise for Joseph T. Hallinan’s Why We Make Mistakes
 
“What an eye-opener!...Hallinan cites numerous studies and experts, but he keeps the book from becoming a stodgy recitation of facts and statistics through the frequent use of illustrative examples and snappy prose. He also throws in a few big surprises….A vastly informative, and for some readers vastly reassuring, exploration of the way our minds work.” 
—Booklist (starred review)
 
“[I]mpressive…intriguing…a lesson in humility as much as human behavior, Hallinan's study should help readers understand their limitations and how to work with them.”
Publishers Weekly 

“Entertains while it informs. Hallinan brings the science of human behavior to life, showing how it applies to us every day.”
—Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-16
A breezy, anecdotal survey of self-deception and how it is not merely inevitable, but helpful and even essential.Former Wall Street Journal writer Hallinan (Why We Make Mistakes, 2009) works in territory similar to Malcolm Gladwell's: giving fresh twists to familiar assumptions, showing that conventional wisdom can be more conventional than wise. Journalists call this a "conceptual scoop," when a writer isn't the first to report facts but the first to provide (or popularize) a different framing or interpretation that challenges what most people think they know. In this case, the author begins with the inarguable premise that what we believe, experience and anticipate is dependent upon how we perceive things and that we often perceive things less the way they are than how we want them to be. However, plenty of good can result from our penchant for deluding ourselves, feeling more optimistic than the situation warrants and believing we have more control than in fact we do. "Seeing things accurately, by which we mean seeing things ‘as they are,' is not always a plus," writes Hallinan. "Sometimes it's a hindrance, and this is especially true when things are really bleak. There is, for instance, a strong connection between depression and realism. Decades of research suggest that if you want a realistic assessment of things, ask someone who is depressed." Looking on the bright side not only makes us happier (if deluded), but also more productive, and it can even have predictive effects on outcome (the self-fulfilling prophecy). Hallinan's survey ranges all over the map, rarely stopping anywhere for more than a couple of paragraphs or pages, as he fits nearly everything under a big umbrella, from a variety of urban myths (and mass delusions) to the effectiveness of placebos to the refusal of some conservatives to admit that Barack Obama is not a foreign-born Muslim.A genial, occasionally glib guide to both the positive and negative effects of self-delusion.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385348690
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
05/20/2014
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,264,210
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

JOSEPH T. HALLINAN, a former writer for The Wall Street Journal, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three children.

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