Σάββατο 31 Οκτωβρίου 2015

Giving you the break you never had (or “When Alex Cross came across the Golem and the Pygmalion Effects”)

   What might you be thinking about yourself when your father has abandoned your mother, the last one is a drug addict who cannot cater even for herself, and you’re only a thirteen-year-old teenage girl? Obviously, things don’t seem shiny to you. It is very probable that you’ll be watching the world through a set of looking glasses shaded with gloom.

   One such girl is Ava in James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. In his novel ‘Cross My Heart’ -which is number 21 of the series by the way- Ava breaks your heart. She’s been helpless throughout the thirteen years of her short life. She’s not capable of opening herself up to receive the love she needs so much. 

   Fortunately, there’s Alex Cross, a detective with the homicide unit in Washington D.C., who’s opened up the doors to his family for her. But no matter how hard he tries to cheer her up, to make her feel she’s capable of anything worthwhile she might think of, they end up in a dead-end. Ava can’t get out of the perilous loop she’s been thrown into in her first thirteen years of her life. The only thing she’s familiar with is rejection, misery and everyone telling or showing her that she’s not capable of anything.

   This is the Golem Effect at its extreme. It’s a psychological phenomenon that you’re already familiar with. You may have witnessed it occurring in classrooms, in the workplace, in your family, probably everywhere human interaction is involved. But what is this Golem Effect? It’s been found that whenever we place lower expectations upon individuals, this has a certain negative effect on their performance as well as how they perceive themselves. It’s all about a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, research did show that employees or students who were treated -arbitrarily- with low expectations did perform worse that those who were in the high-expectancy tier.
   The Golem Effect was named after the golem, a clay creature that was given life with its sole purpose to protect the Jews of Prague, the capital of the current Czech Republic in central Europe. Eventually, it had to be destroyed because it had run out of control.
   The exact opposite of the Golem Effect is the Pygmalion Effect. This is the positive self-fulfilling prophecy and it has been studied more extensively than its negative counterpart. It was named after Pygmalion who -according to the ancient Greek mythology- was a sculptor who fell in love with his statue. His love was so desperate that he asked the gods to give life to her. He saw in a cold, lifeless piece of marble something more, something that could become a true marvel. The gods -Aphrodite in particular- made his wish come true, and one day when Pygmalion returned to his home he stopped in his tracks, his mouth gaping, his breath leaving him for good. All this due to Galatea, the statue that became his wife.  
   But let's go back to Alex Cross' world. Ava and the kids like her, have -more than anyone else- the need for a constant and steady support. They have to be kept close to Pygmalion and as far away as possible from the Golem. And this should probably apply to adults who never had the chance to steer away from the detrimental effects of the Golem when they were young. And why not apply this to a society in general as well? History has taught us that entire nations can do wonders when they’re encouraged to do so and even more so when they're portrayed with a shining light around them.
   So why not give everyone the break they need? Remember to make use of the Pygmalion effect as much as you can and avoid the Golem effect like nothing else. Keep in mind that such kind of behavior is highly contagious, but let's keep this stuff for another article. 
   Had Alex Cross’ stalking psychotic enemy not messed up with his personal life, I’m sure he would have succeeded with Ava one hundred percent.

   P.S.: Remember to check out Chris Dellian's new short story 'The Halo Trap'!

Δευτέρα 5 Οκτωβρίου 2015

Let me tell you a story about the Halo Effects in our lives

Imagine a world without mind fallacies. How would it be? Have you thought about it? A world where kids would be learning at school about the absurd paths our mind sometimes treads on. Luckily, scientists have bunched those behaviors into neatly folded categories, subcategories, sub-subcategories, and stashed them into even more neatly arranged shelves (digital shelves maybe). 

Some of them have made it their life’s purpose to disseminate the -relatively- newly acquired knowledge for the sake of the many. There’s also another set of folks who’ve been trying their best to simplify the jargon and spread the word to everyone who’s there to hear them. 
This shouldn’t be done that way.  
I believe this is a serious task. And it can’t get any more serious. I’m a firm believer of de-formalized formalization of knowledge (by that I mean knowledge that is part of a lesson at school with a more digestible than usual form, like a story, a game, or both).  
I believe that cognitive biases have a place in our society and this place should be the curricula of our schools and not in the lives of people (to the extent this is -humanly- feasible).
A new society will emerge if we manage to educate our children and teach them that their mind is not infallible. That there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid if they don’t want to get bogged down into the gaping holes of irrationality.

And you probably already know that there’s an excellent way to do that, namely, stories. Think only of Aesop’s fables and his animal heroes, and what a great tool they’ve been for thousands of years in the rearing of youngsters. Think about the Bible and the strength and fervor with which its ancient authors infused its pages.

It’s the tales, the parables, the myths, the stories, the fables, the narratives that shape us, shape our society, inform us of who we are. And we should use the same -familiar to all of us- tool if there’s any progress to be made at all. Why not explain to our kids what a cognitive bias is by telling them stories? Simple just like that.   

That’s what ‘The Halo Trap’ is here for.  A short story -or trip if you prefer- into our mind’s recesses. It is the outset of Mr. Tilman’s great vision (a Visio Magna, as he likes to refer to it).

Mr. Tilman, a high school teacher in his forties, single, has always been passionate about his work. It is in the end of the school year that he comes up with a game that he calls ‘the Endgame’. His curiosity to find out how his class of fourteen-year-olds will fare, coupled with his eagerness to not only educate them, but make out of them better human beings, are the backbone of his motivation.
The kids will soon inevitably confront one of their minds’ numerous weak spots, that of the halo effect.
Sooner or later, everyone does. The question is how well we are prepared for this, both as a society and as individuals.
By the way, ‘The Halo Trap’ marks the first steps of ‘Mark in the Failing-Mind Land’ short-story series into a more luminous future, and is coming out in November, 19th. You can preorder at Amazon.com.