Unconscious Behavior

I was stuck in a traffic jam on I-80 in Pennsylvania coming back from some training I did at Mansfield State University.  The highway was closed down and we just sat there for 2 hours.  Thank goodness for National Public Radio and their thoughtful programing that helped me keep my sanity that afternoon (yes, I am a regular contributor!).

The program I listened to that day was "Science Friday" with Ira Flato and in this episode he was interviewing John Barge, one of the leading authorities on unconscious behavior.  Barge just released a new book, "Before You Know It," and was recounting some of the studies that have been done recently on unconscious behavior.  It was a fascinating interview, and when I finally got home I ordered Barge's book.

The book is filled with really interesting studies and commentaries on the way we behave.  He looks at how hot beverages have been linked with greater trust; or how more attractive candidates for job openings are favored, even when it is just a photo on a resume.  He explores how "priming" (introducing a notion prior to an encounter) will tilt responses toward the priming topic.  Or how attitudes toward political issues such as immigration can be associated with germs and create a sense of fear in some people.  He reviews studies that show that "baby-faced" adults are more likely to b e found innocent and given lower sentences that are other defendants.  He shows studies that have clearly proven that racially prototypic faces cause the defendant to be treated differently; and cited studies that showed where black defendants who had darker skin received sentences that were on average three years longer than did black defendants with lighter skin who committed the same crime.

He states: "We are all guilty of treating attractive people more favorably and with greater friendliness than we treat less attractive people....In one study, viewing attractive faces alone, without judging them in terms of attractiveness, caused the activation of the participants medial orbitofrontal cortex (reward center of the brain).  We naturally and unconsciously like to see attractive faces; they are rewarding and pleasurable to us.

This is an interesting book.  The unconscious ways we behave can be tracked back to early imprinting and exposures.  We sometimes do things that don't make rational sense, but can be associated to some earlier notion of experience. 

As I listened to the interview with John Barge some of the anger I felt at being stranded on the highway started to make some sense.  I wondered if my anger was tied to an earlier experience of not being tended to as quickly as wanted as an infant.  Or maybe the frustration of feeling trapped on that highway triggered some long lost experience of being trapped in my room as a kid. 

Be that as it may, perhaps the deep frustration I felt in that traffic jam on I-80 bore some fruit after all, as I have really been enjoying Barge's book ever since!