“Kidding Ourselves” By Joseph T. Hallinan: On Self-Deception

Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception is the newest book by Joseph T. Hallinan, author also of Why We Make Mistakes (2009).

From the publisher: “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.”

Hallinan tells Nicole Frehsee, Oprah.com, how self-deception “gives us the illusion of control” and why this is so important: “Research suggests that a feeling of control is essential to well-being. When you feel powerless, stress hormones can flood your system, and over time, they may wear your body out. One study found that workers who had little say over their schedules died earlier than people who could, for example, decide when to eat lunch. If you can make your situation more tolerable—by, say, telling yourself that your assigned lunchtime is when you’d eat anyway—your health will likely be better for it.”

Other examples of our ability to get a boost from self-deception:

  • The placebo effect—certain medications work better, or at all, because of our belief that they will.
  • Believing terrible circumstances will eventually improve helps survival.
  • Believing a thing like a golf ball is “lucky” improves your ability.

And, some ways self-deception isn’t so helpful:

    • As told to Frehsee: “Ever heard the phrase ‘drunk with power’? Research suggests that feelings of power can suppress the parts of the brain that govern inhibition, with an effect similar to that of alcohol. This is why we see influential people do incredibly stupid things.”
    • From Greyman’s review: “…(U)nderestimating probable risk (while it might enhance your mental and physical health, the optimism bias can also lead you to engage in unhealthy behavior, like smoking).”

Publishers Weekly, reviewing Kidding Ourselves: “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.”

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