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 You need to consistently update and refactor the perspectives they offer to protect yourself against outdated models that offer more error than clarification.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

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Listen: Scientists re-create voice of 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy

Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
  • With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
  • The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

A rendering of the XMM-Newton (X-ray multi-mirror mission) space telescope.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast