Subliminal | Leonard Mlodinow

Mlodinow has a knack for delving into specific fields of science that do not receive a lot of attention and popularizing them. He did this with randomness in The Drunkard’s Walk, and now he’s back with Social Neuroscience in Subliminal.

The strength of Mlodinow’s writing lies in the way he’s able to make scientific studies accessible. There are experiments galore recounted in his latest book. Here are a few of the ideas that expanded my mind:

  • In the Southeastern United States, people with the most common surnames tend to marry people with the same surname (“Smiths marry other Smiths about as often as they marry people with all those other names [Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown], combined”) (19).
  • Shares on the New York Stock Exchange with easily pronounceable names are funded better (27).
  • 1 in 5 average students whose teachers were informed that they were gifted gained 30 or more IQ points eight months later (114).

In addition to the fascinating experiments, Mlodinow uses compelling stories from his own history, laced with his witty sense of humour.

Unlike The Drunkard’s Walk, however, the structure of this book let me down. Despite the two-part organization in the Contents (“The Two-Tiered Brain” and “The Social Unconscious”), this book didn’t develop along any logical lines I was able to follow. While almost every chapter was interesting, they didn’t flow together or develop any overarching thesis.

In the end, Subliminal is a good popular introduction to the topics studied in the quickly developing field of Social Neuroscience.

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