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Festival of Books: How our fears and habits shape us

April 22, 2012 | 11:31 am

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksThe L.A. Times Festival of Books panel titled “Who Says? Habits, Fear & Why We Think the Way We Do” began Saturday afternoon with this sobering reminder: While so much of an individual’s life can be manipulated to the point that nothing about them seems original, they often still are able to distinguish themselves.

“All these messages that we’re receiving about ourselves, where are they coming from?” asked moderator Nick Owchar, deputy books editor for the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Barry Glassner, author of “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things” and president of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., spoke about why people have “excessive fear” over some issues, such as child kidnapping, and how such paranoia can infiltrate social and political spheres.
 
Charles Duhigg, a writer for the New York Times and author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” described how and why a near-riot in Iraq once fizzled and what it says about human behavior.

Duhigg also talked about investigating Target’s use of technology to identify pregnant women by comparing their shopping habits with historical buying data from mothers-to-be who had registered at the store.

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

“When companies know how to manipulate us, they’re often times delivering to us manipulations that we actually want,” Duhigg said of this level of marketing to parents-in-waiting.
 
Patricia Cohen, who writes for the New York Times and published “In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age,” responded that it’s difficult to “balance that ability, that kind of feeling of control and empowerment, yet at the same time not be at its mercy.”

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--Ari Bloomekatz

Illustration by Charles Waller / Getty Images

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