Delayed gratification and the quest to bridge the person-situation debate

Are we born with self-control? Or does context change our behavior?

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  • Are behaviors innate, or are they shaped by our surroundings?
  • David Epstein poses this question as he examines the person-situation debate through the lens of the famed marshmallow test, an experiment in the self-control of children.
  • Simple strategies can be taught to help delay gratification, which suggests our personality traits can undergo change depending on context.
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How to study better and avoid a test-day disaster

Want to learn better? Here's a lesson from cognitive psychology.

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  • Getting hints makes students feel like they're learning, but a cognitive psychology study on monkeys, specifically on two rhesus macaques called Oberon and MacDuff, has proven that getting hints backfires when it comes to test day.
  • If you're relying on outside help, you're not employing what's called the 'generation effect'. The generation effect refers to the mental effort of generating an answer, which actually primes your brain for learning.
  • How can you study better? Test yourself before you're ready, and know that learning is supposed to be frustrating and difficult. If if feels too easy, it might be a sign you're not generating independent answers.
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Superhuman innovators: How experimentation and struggle fuel new ideas

Why Django Reinhardt might just be the greatest musical innovator you've never heard of.

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  • David Epstein recounts the incredible life of 20th-century Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt, who couldn't read or write and who suffered a horrific accident that made two of his fret fingers useless.
  • Reinhardt didn't stop playing, instead he invented a new style that revolutionized the music scene and gave birth to the modern guitar solo, inspiring artists like Jimi Hendrix.
  • Anyone can innovate, says Epstein, it is in no way dependent on a formal education. In fact, our creative work may fare better if we learn like babies do: through trial, error, and struggle.
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Lateral thinking: The reason you’ve heard of Nintendo and Marvel

Here's why generalists triumph over specialists in the new era of innovation.

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  • Since the explosion of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, generalist inventors have been making larger and more important contributions than specialists.
  • One theory is that the rise of rapid communication technologies allowed the information created by specialists to be rapidly disseminated, meaning generalists can combine information across disciplines to invent something new.
  • Here, David Epstein explains how Nintendo's Game Boy was a case of "lateral thinking with withered technology." He also relays the findings of a fascinating study that found the common factor of success among comic book authors.
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