Tag Archives: human behavior

Data Apocalypse

Dataclysm (nook book)

Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (Crown, $28.00, 272 pages)

Dataclysm – an unprecedented deluge of digital information reshaping our view of the world.

Christian-Rudder-credit-Victor-G-Jeffreys-II

Christian Rudder is a co-founder and the analytics team leader of the dating site OkCupid. Rudder has made use of the massive amount of data collected by his website. He ventures beyond the two basic and common data use perceptions – government spying and commercial manipulation to encourage purchases. Rather, he has added a third use – an unprecedented look into the nature of human beings.

The OkCupid site data yields not only the responses to its in depth questionnaires but also the transactions and/or communications between the site’s users. Much is revealed regarding our prejudices and preferences through text and graphic depictions.

Data geeks and everyone else will benefit from reading this fascinating mainstream science book. It is definitely not a pop science product. Rudder’s smooth writing style is quite surprising for a data person. Perhaps his Harvard education included writing classes or he has the benefit of an excellent editor. The comfortable sentence structure provides a balance of tech data and human warmth.

Dataclysm (audio)

This is a book that should appeal to those readers interested in how often humans act like pack animals, versus how often they act independently. It’s only fair to add that Dataclysm requires an attentive reader who has a true commitment to the subject matter. The payoff is well worth the effort.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Photograph of Christian Rudder by Victor G. Jeffreys II.

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Peaceful Easy Feeling

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The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life by Judith Orloff, MD (Harmony Books, $26.00, 432 pages)

“Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.”

Judith Orloff is a well-known New York Times best-selling author (Emotional Freedom, Positive Energy) who has earned significant credentials in the field of psychiatry. Orloff is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s medical school. And yet, her nearly breathless and exuberant rush of ideas crammed into the first chapters of The Ecstasy of Surrender read like a girlish first attempt at writing.

Once into her topic and warmed up, Dr. Orloff settles down to a calm, deliberate pace while explaining the ways to self-diagnose one’s own limited behavior. The layout of the chapters is a standard explanatory set up with a questionnaire and practical advice that follows. There are lists, bullet points and quotes throughout.

The reader is encouraged to pick and choose topics from among the 12 surrenders (The First Surrender: Redefining True Success, Power, and Happiness) featured in the book. Each chapter feels like a workshop. Readers would be wise to explore the chapters they may initially deem not applicable to them, as there’s solid information and advice to be gained.

Ecstasy of Surrender (audible audio)

Unless you’re a hermit, you will be in contact with other people and some of them may benefit from reading or listening to this book. It’s clearly meant to be shared.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Ecstasy-of-Surrender

Orloff-Ecstasy-of-Surrender-cover

A review of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life by Judith Orloff, MD.

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In the Mood

Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke (Prometheus Books, $18.95, 275 pages)

Mood

Mood (nook book)

Patrick Burke has written a straightforward and detailed layman’s textbook that explains the importance of recognizing behavioral problems early in life. Before emotions and feelings there is mood. Typically, we think of observable signs like irritability, hostility and withdrawal as key elements associated with psychological issues. What we don’t take into account is that one’s mood is always – for better or for worse – present. For example, it can be happy or anxious. We usually aren’t aware of our mood until it begins to shift.

Mood sets out the scientific explanation of the brain’s structure and the interactions of the physical and chemical elements that allow it to function. There are diagrams and ample text to support the hypothesis that mood exists within us even before we are born. It is the combination of genetic material and environmental influences with mood that are observable as behavior. The accompanying narrative provides the reader with useful, practical information contained within scenarios.

Mood supplies parents and caregivers with valuable guidance that can demystify the difference between occasional behavioral issues in children and/or adults and mental problems that need attention.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. Mood was released on November 11, 2013.

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Have You Ever Been Mellow?

The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller (William Morrow, $27.99, 390 pages)

“When it comes to the human mind, we’ve long had an uneasy relationship with the concept of normal.”

Author Jordan Smoller has written a book with a purpose.   Smoller invites the reader to consider taking a new look at what is considered normal human behavior.   As an associate professor at both the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, he has the background and experience that make this book a compelling read.

There are multiple threads of thought that weave together as Smoller provides a survey of the approaches taken in psychology, psychiatry and biological research since the late 1880s.   Moreover, he states that the notion of normal has historically been viewed from the extremes of abnormality.   Smoller sees a continuum of behavior with abnormality arranged at the ends.   Rather than viewing mental disorders as sitting on one side of a bright line, a new approach would begin at the center of normal and establish how far normal extends before the abnormal is encountered.

A charming phrase that stayed with this reviewer is “the intersection of genes and experience.”   Smoller and others in his field have been examining brain/mind function with the intent of clarifying whether the old nature vs. nurture concept for determining causality for behaviors holds true in the 21st Century.   In light of the recent findings related to the human genome, genes are now seen as present in a person at birth and they are often activated by experience and exposure to nature (nurturing).   That is to say, genes and nature are dependent upon each other for bringing about human behavioral development.

This is a book that approaches textbook status.   A reader is well served to have some familiarity with or a strong curiosity about perceptions of normal.   To his credit, Smoller takes the time to explain in detail the study of genes and experience that he is so committed to recasting in a new format.   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is referenced frequently throughout the text.   It has been a help for practitioners in the past and now, in Smoller’s view, it has become a hindrance due to a universal perception that it is “The” source for determining a diagnosis of mental disorder.

In the DSM, diagnoses are pigeonholed within rigid parameters and, in some cases, arranged and categorized in ways that hinder helpful treatment.   Alternatively, Smoller makes a strong case for exploring methods for effective treatment that are likely found outside of the current framework.   Practitioners are seeking cures at all levels – genetics, re-conditioning therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and pharmaceuticals.   A new view of their methods for determining appropriate treatment seems like a breath of fresh air.

Much is at stake as normal is being fine-tuned.   Differentiating normal from abnormal has a measurable impact when viewed from the perspective of health insurance coverage as well as the setting of qualifying criteria for disability payments.   Hopefully, Smoller and his associates will prevail in their efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and provide better treatment for people whose position on the continuum is outside the range of normal.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Other Side of Normal is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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Help Me

Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time by Paul Hammerness, M.D., and Margaret Moore, with John Hanc (Harlequin, $16.95, 272 pages)

Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers (Riverhead Hardcover, $25.95, 304 pages)

Often the focus of self-help books is the reader’s feelings of discomfort, inadequacy or anger.   That said, the two books reviewed here are pragmatic and filled with specific science-based ideas formulated by well-respected professionals in their respective fields.

The first book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time, was written by the team of Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Paul Hammerness, M.D., Margaret Moore, a certified wellness coach and cofounder of Harvard’s Institute of Coaching with assistance from John Hanc, an associate professor of journalism and communications at the New York Institute of Technology.   The premise of Organize Your Mind is that daily stress is produced by too much to do and this overload, in turn, produces a sense of helplessness.   The book looks at how your conscious actions can bring about a sense of mastery and control to daily life as well as assist in long-range planning.

Each area discussed is introduced by Dr. Hammerness in what he calls “The Rules of Order.”   Each of the rules is about brain functioning and how it relates to ones’ actions and feelings.   The six rules are followed by pragmatic action steps outlined by Coach Margaret.   Accompanying each rule are highlighted sidebars filled with explanations and contextual comments that enhance the reader’s experience.   Dr. Hammerness includes suggestions for readers whose issues extend beyond the scope of the book.   He takes a kindly attitude and suggests that there are situations where professional help beyond that offered in the book is indicated.

The chapters and rules are cumulative which allows the reader to follow along and build skills.   The tone of the authors’ writing is non-judgmental, realistic and yet not a buddy-buddy one.   There are really good puns scattered in the text.   Alas, this reviewer is not able to quote any of them as an advance uncorrected proof was provided by the publisher.

Highly recommended.

The second book, Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World was written by Sam Sommers, a remarkably young-looking psychology professor at Tufts University.   Sommers is also an expert witness who is called upon to testify as to whether actions and statements are racially motivated or merely meaningful descriptors that may be admitted as evidence in court proceedings.

This book is an excellent complement to Organize Your Mind that can be best appreciated if read as a follow-up in the reader’s self-improvement strategy.   Sommers makes good use of scientific findings to support his conclusions.   However, his assertion is that introspection will not bring someone to discover the means to the life they wish to have.   Rather, his focus is on the ways that environmental influences assert significant power over the decisions people make and the actions they take every day.   Watchfulness and awareness of the context (location, group or ethnic background) in which one finds one’s self can lead to a significantly different outcome, such as summoning police assistance, questioning odd behavior or just realizing that people mindlessly parrot what they think is true.   An excellent parallel can be made with reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, particularly Tipping Point.   Several of the studies he cites are common to both books.

The chapter structure of Situations Matter follows that of a survey book.   Sommers does tie back to his beginning hypothesis that we see the world as a “what you see is what you get” sort of place.   (The computer shorthand is WYSIWYG.)   He also makes good use of examples from his university classroom exercises.   The tone of the book is friendly and it reads like a transcript from the psychology class you wish you’d taken.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, $28.00, 400 pages)

Charles Duhigg is a highly educated (Harvard and Yale) business reporter (The New York Times), who is the epitome of the thorough investigative reporter.   In past weeks, Duhigg and his publicist have been circulating a flurry of teaser articles and Twitter posts that include excerpts from his just-released book.   The teasers are eye-catching because most folks in the USA shop at Target, buy household air fresheners (unless they are featured on A&E’s Hoarders) and like to think that the choices they make are acts of free will.   He has also been travelling on an aggressive cross-country tour of major media outlets.

As to whether folks really have the ability to make their own choices, not really, according to Duhigg.   His book supports a hypothesis that most, if not all, daily activities are the result of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine and reward.   This behavior loop is applicable at the personal as well as organizational and societal levels.   Granted, the author has met and exceeded the burden of proof imposed by such a strong theme; however, too much of a good thing is not always the most pleasing event.

This reviewer was immediately interested in the book after reading an excerpt that focused on Target stores and the extensive shopper profiling that takes place thanks to a sophisticated computer program that slices and dices purchasing data.   A quick glance at my to-be-read shelf revealed an advance reader’s edition (ARE) of this very book.   A few chapters into the book, a familiar feeling arose.   It was similar to the one you get after watching a movie that had fabulous trailers/coming attractions but left little for the actual theater experience.   That’s how this reviewer felt – a bit let down, after reading The Power of Habit.   All the catchy and engaging information was in the teaser articles.   Absent these elements, the book became a traditional survey (overview) of the force of habit.

The sonorous, heavy tone of the text may have been lightened with the final editing process.   It’s doubtful that the notes and sources section was reduced.   It occupies nearly 20% of the book!   Hopefully, the charming diagrams made it to the release version.

Recommended for readers who are extremely curious about the force of habit.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Power of Habit was released on February 28, 2012.   The original title on the ARE was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It. 

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