Tag Archives: human brain

The Science of Consequences

The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World by Susan M. Schneider (Prometheus Books, $21.00, 383 pages)

Consequences motivate: Newborns work to hear their mother’s voices. Toddlers graduate to turning lights on and off for that lovely, surprising feeling of control.


The title of this book proclaims that much information will be gained by the reader – and how! My review copy is festooned with flags marking the three main components: Part I, Consequences and How Nature – Nurture Really Works; Part II, There’s a Science of Consequences?; and Part III, Shaping Destinies.

Consequences shape our choices, and our choices shape us and our societies.

Susan M. Schneider is a biopsychologist whose expertise in nature-nurture relations and the principles of learning from consequences has garnered an international reputation. While Ms. Schneider has the ability to provide detailed and esoteric writing on her favorite subject, she proves that she is capable of presenting the same information in a specific and detailed way that is user-friendly for a curious reader.

The Science of Consequences falls somewhere midway on a scale that would measure pop culture on one end and scientific literature on the other. Charming illustrations lend a human and grounding touch to the text. Ms. Schneider uses personal references that soften the somewhat text book denseness of her work. Her references to past and future paragraphs tend to point up the casual approach that this reader took in reading the book. It’s a bit unsettling to consciously accept that a review reading is not prompted by a personal need. Regardless, the flow and logical elements separating the basic concepts being presented make for a comfortable reading experience.

Rest assured that a reader who seeks out this book for its subject matter and relevance to personal interests will certainly benefit from using it as a guide. The extensive chapter notes, bibliography and index all support the material being presented.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


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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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Big Girls Don’t Cry

The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhaun

This book is a take on helping women in the business world to break through the so-called glass ceiling.   The key is to use a male-oriented approach in the workplace – it’s business, not personal.   Author Shaunti Feldhaun goes to great lengths to establish her credentials and the sampling methodology she and her team used to produce this book.   She also touts her wildly successful career as a consultant; a bit of overkill.   During this disclosure, Feldhaun emphasizes majority versus minority responses to her carefully crafted written survey that forms the basis for many of her conclusions.   At the outset, the reader is repeatedly offered allusions to the findings in later chapters.   These allusions are not the least bit tantalizing.

The world featured in this book is acknowledged as private sector; there was no exploration of the public sector – government.   This is a shortcoming, for government and its employees, albeit civil servants, factor mightily in the economy of the United States.   Many opportunities for female advancement exist in this sector.   Although civil service is dominated by testing and exam rankings, the interview and subsequent probation period following a hire determine whether women are upwardly mobile (just as is the case in the private sector).

The version of the book being reviewed here is the “Christian” one.   It contains many references to workplaces that are operated as Christian enterprises or Christian male employers and coworkers in secular businesses.   Feldhaun over generalizes and portrays Christians in a homogenous way that is presumptuous.   The “Christian” community is comprised of many permutations and is no more alike than an “Asian” or “Muslim” community.

The men who graciously agreed to being interviewed by Ms. Feldhaun (her own characterization) come off as strangely schizophrenic, following one set of norms at the office and another during their personal lives.   Apparently, because the workplace was established by men, the rules are not going to change.   Women, particularly those who she views as most in need of reading this book, are chastised for not perceiving the difference.

There are ample references to scientific studies that established the differences between male brain activity and female brain activity.   Males are described as 100% focused and not able to multi-task, while women are eager, willing and able to lay the groundwork, illustrate the concept and come to a conclusion while performing multiple activities.   No kidding!   Anyone can easily use this finding to justify why human males do not bear the babies or provide their nourishment for the first few months.

There are italicized comments placed at what the reader assumes are teachable moments in each section of the book; however, they are repetitive extracts from the immediately preceding text.   While these statements are obviously intended to be pearls of wisdom and learning points, they come off as slogans or watchwords to use on business trendy flashcards.

Sadly, a reader who would most benefit from the best parts of this book (yes, there are some) is not only fully committed to her view of the “good old boys’ network,” she is too emotional to wade through the dry narrative.   A lost opportunity but two stars for the attempt.

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House.

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The Sway of Conventionality

Thinking like the crowd won’t help me now.   Oh Girl (song written by E. Record)

No one is likely to win a popularity contest by playing the devil’s advocate.   Sway

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior might have been subtitled The Force of Conventionality.   That’s because the pair of brother-authors clearly establish that while following the crowd may make you popular, it is less likely to make you rich or right.   One of the brothers had the idea for this book while sitting in a business school graduate level class and hearing a professor state, “People aren’t rational.”   That is something I also heard in graduate school.   Who, after all, would need a legal/criminal justice system if people acted rationally 100% of the time?

In this book we learn why college football coaches so often lose games when they’re playing not to lose (doesn’t the prevent defense always prevent the team from winning?).   And we learn why presidents enter wars they know they cannot win.   Also, we’re made to understand why we so stubbornly remain in losing situations – whether gambling our fortunes or gambling in love – instead of wisely cutting our losses early on.

One of the ways in which the Brafman brothers explain the notion of loss aversion is that the part of our brain that experiences and seeks pleasure tends to often defeat the part that is responsible for judgment and caution.   The controlling part of our brain, unfortunately, seeks short-term gains rather than adopting a saner long-term view.   As the authors note, “When we adopt the long-term view…  (the) immediate potential losses don’t seem as menacing.”

Most importantly, the authors explain the hazards of group thinking at work and in our society.   Group think so often results in poor, consensus based, decisions that the role of the sole and brave devil’s advocate is essential – he or she should be given a medal rather than castigated.   For the devil’s advocate represents the “…brakes that prevent a group from going down a potentially disastrous path.”   This “can literally save lives.”

To their credit, the authors present numerous examples of poor decisions in many fields from aviation to education and – naturally – the business world.   They also present many examples of exemplary and innovative thinking.   As a bonus, they throw in an explanation of a theory about the four roles that a person can assume within a family (personal or business).   One can be an initiator, a braker, a supporter or an observer.   The reader will enjoy trying to decide where he/she fits in…   I think I’m an observer-braker and occasional supporter.

I’m very rarely engaged by review (or survey) books that cover a lot of territory as I find they often make questionable connections between events of different times and places.   No, I’m not a fan of “connection” based works.   But this book is interesting from page 1 all the way through to page 181.

Reading this book offers the reader lessons which will likely make him/her a better – and certainly more rational – person.   There are also critical lessons to be learned by our society in general; let’s just hope it’s not too late.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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