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Tali Sharot – The Power of Noticing What Was Always There

Look Again: The Power of Noticing What Was Always There (book cover)

Have you ever noticed that what is thrilling on Monday tends to become boring on Friday? Even exciting relationships, stimulating jobs, and breathtaking works of art lose their sparkle after a while. People stop noticing what is most wonderful in their own lives. They also stop noticing what is terrible. They get used to dirty air. They stay in abusive relationships. People grow to accept authoritarianism and take foolish risks. They become unconcerned by their own misconduct, blind to inequality, and are more liable to believe misinformation than ever before.

But what if we could find a way to see everything anew? What if you could regain sensitivity, not only to the great things in your life, but also to the terrible things you stopped noticing and so don’t try to change?

Now, neuroscience professor Tali Sharot and Harvard law professor (and presidential advisor) Cass R. Sunstein investigate why we stop noticing both the great and not-so-great things around us and how to “dishabituate” at the office, in the bedroom, at the store, on social media, and in the voting booth. This groundbreaking work, based on decades of research in the psychological and biological sciences, illuminates how we can reignite the sparks of joy, innovate, and recognize where improvements urgently need to be made. The key to this disruption — to seeing, feeling, and noticing again — is change. By temporarily changing your environment, changing the rules, changing the people you interact with — or even just stepping back and imagining change — you regain sensitivity, allowing you to more clearly identify the bad and more deeply appreciate the good.

Tali Sharot is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and MIT. She is the founder and director of the Affective Brain Lab. She has written for outlets including the New York Times, Time, Washington Post, has been a repeated guest on CNN, NBC, MSNBC, a presenter on the BBC, and served as an advisor for global companies and government projects. Her work has won her prestigious fellowships and prizes from the Wellcome Trust, American Psychological Society, British Psychological Society, and others. Her popular TED talks have accumulated more than a dozen million views. Before becoming a neuroscientist, Sharot worked in the financial industry. She is the author of award-winning books: The Optimism Bias and The Influential Mind. Her new book, co-authored with Cass Sunstein, is Look Again: The Power of Noticing What Was Always There.

Shermer and Sharot discuss:

  • the best day of her life
  • the evolutionary origins of habituation
  • habituation at work, at home, and in the bedroom
  • Why don’t we habituate to extreme pain?
  • Twilight Zone episode: criminal Henry dies and goes to heaven where he gets everything he wants but grows bored and wants to go to the other place
  • Conflicting Problem: Why is it that even when we have wonderful things in our life – a great job, a loving family, a comfortable house – those things don’t necessarily bring us daily joy when they really should? Why is it that even when terrible things are happening around us — sexism, racism, cracks in our personal relationships, inefficiencies at the workplace – we often carry on and perhaps don’t even notice, and therefore don’t try to change these things?
  • midlife crisis
  • marriage, romance, monogamy, infidelity
  • depression
  • happiness and variety
  • Negativity Bias
  • social media
  • creativity and habituation disruption
  • lying and misinformation
  • Trump: habituation to his lies, lawsuits, etc.
  • Illusory Truth Effect: the tendency to believe repeated statements
  • Truth Bias: the tendency to believe what we are told
  • Tali’s experience getting scammed in London
  • risk habituation
  • discrimination, anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry
  • tyranny
  • moral progress: we have to overcome the habituation of lacking rights (women in the 1970s)
  • preference falsification: people often fail to say what they like and think because of existing social norms
  • pluralistic ignorance and the rise of the Nazis.

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This episode was released on February 27, 2024.

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