Friday, May 28, 2010

The Language Test

So I was riding my biking to work yesterday while listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. Just as I had ridden over the West Seattle Bridge to turn onto Alaska Way, Gladwell asked me to imagine that he was a professor and I was walking down a long hallway into his office. When I reached his office, I was to piece together a four-word sentence from each of these 5-word groups:

01 him was worried she always
02 from are Florida oranges temperature
03 ball the throws toss silently
04 shoes give replace old the
05 he observes occasionally people watches
06 be will sweat lonely they
07 sky the seamless gray is
08 should now withdraw forgetful we
09 us bingo sing play let
10 sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

As I was forming the sentences, I got a little distracted. I started thinking about how tired I was. I didn't want to ride anymore. I had planned on riding the longer route to work along the beautiful Myrtle Edwards Park, but now I was thinking about cutting across downtown. Or maybe just throw the bike on a bus. "The sky is gray." The 26 and 28 both head from downtown to Fremont. "Let us sing bingo." No, that's too cumbersome. I'll just ride it out, and maybe take a nap under my desk when I get there.

Here's what Gladwell had to say about the list:

"That seemed straightforward, right? Actually it wasn't. After you finished that test -- believe it or not -- you would have walked out of my office and back down the hall more slowly than you walked in. With that test, I affected the way you behaved. How? Well, look back at the list. Scattered throughout it are certain words, such as "worried," "Florida," "old," "lonely," "gray," "bingo," and "wrinkle." You thought that I was just making you take a language test. But, in fact, what I was also doing was making the big computer in your brain -- your adaptive unconscious -- think about the state of being old. It didn't inform the rest of your brain about its sudden obsession. But it took all this talk of old age so seriously that by the time you finished and walked down the corridor, you acted old. You walked slowly."

Or, in my case, rode slowly. On a sunny day when I was feeling perfectly healthy, I contemplated putting my bike on a bus--something I've done only once in the pouring rain.

I'm just glad that nothing else affects me on a subconscious level, or I'd be worried about being manipulated.


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