Upgrade Your Operating System: Building A Better Understanding of Psychology

Upgrade Your Operating System: Building A Better Understanding of Psychology

Whenever I work with a company or talk to people in the business world, I’m always asked for a model or a set of scientific formulas that can “solve” behavior problems for them. While there are models of human behavior, habit formation, and cognition that can give us insight into our nature, any model is by definition a simplification of the world as it actually exists. Models are also a concretization of our understanding at a single moment in time. Every single day, there is research that adds to and updates our understanding of how the mind works. While these findings might feed back into existing models, they usually sit outside of the canonical explanations taught in textbooks and popular sciences books for some time.


But we’re in love with simple and tidy explanations for complex phenomena. We love it when Malcolm Gladwell tells us about conscious and unconscious thinking or Daniel Kahneman paints a picture of the mind in all its contradictions and quirks. We love how much of our daily experience can be explained by these simple frameworks. 

This is great for the popularization of science and for understanding how our mental processes break down and fail us. But it would be folly to take any single model as the sole basis for one’s business, marketing, or life decisions. A model can be an enlightening framework but does not - and cannot - fully encompass the mind's complexity.

This is why, if you’re serious about making the best business and life decisions you can, you should make it a priority to study the behavioral sciences continuously and thoroughly throughout your life. You need to consistently update and refactor the perspectives they offer to protect yourself against outdated models that offer more error than clarification.

In other words, you need to undo the faulty models that you carry with you through life, starting right now. Each of us has had an immense amount of folk psychology passed down to us through our culture, our parents, and our education. While many of these ideas may be consistent with current research, most of them are not.

For example, most people think that we act according to our "beliefs". However, study after study has shown that we make our decisions based on a variety of factors, such as ease and placement, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations for the choices we make. In other words, we don’t always buy something because we like it; we also like something because we buy it. We might think we purchase Snickers bars because we think they’re tasty. In reality, though, Snickers might be the only thing available at eye-level at the of the grocery store checkout. But when asked, we claim we were just craving a caramel and chocolate combination. We’re very good at this sort of storytelling.

So many of us are filled with these sorts of misconceptions. But we can’t help it. Cutting-edge behavioral science is not a central component of our education. Instead, we need to take the initiative to build and rebuild our understanding of human cognition and behavior by reviewing the latest research as it arises. The beautiful thing about this incremental approach is that it will change the way we think about our problems, our friends, and our lives as they evolve. It’s like upgrading your operating system to more closely match reality. It’s one of the most important things we can do, and the only surefire way to accurately apply psychology to our lives.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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