Spanning the globe for insights into human behavior and persuasion.
I mentioned months ago that I had read John J. Ratey's "A User's Guide to the Brain." I read it thinking that I might be able to pick up some hints for persuasion: you know, an insight that would help me gain others' attention, something that would help me persuade. Turns out, the book only solidified widely-held marketing and learning theory conventions--stuff like the brain learns better through repetition, or that emotions stimulate motivation, or that movement is a key driver for memory or that brains are wired to be attracted to novelty and anticipate reward.
Despite that, or perhaps because of that, it's a book I'd recommend to anyone. I have a new appreciation for the wonder of humanity.
"There are more possible ways to connect the brain's neurons than there are atoms in the universe... The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically modifies their patterns" (A User's Guide to the Brain, page 20)
Even more amazing to me than our infinite biological possibilities is that the brain is an ecosystem, one that can grow and change and adapt over time. It is constantly changing, adjusting, reconfiguring based on new experiences. But just like other ecosystems, if one component goes awry, the rest of the system is thrown off kilter. Witness the connection of low neurotransmitter levels to ADHD, or to less easily explained brain disorders with far worse implications, such as autism or Alzheimer's.
But the brain, as Ratey puts it, is plastic. It can re-form. A telling example is of an autistic young woman who practiced approaching and entering a Safeway store's automatic doors. For most of us, walking through these doors is a no-brainer; to this girl, it paralyzed her with fear. But concentration and repetition helped her overcome that fear. Later on in her life she would hearken back to how she learned to approach automatic doors to help her work through paralyzing social anxiety.
I am in awe.