Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous Post | Jacket Copy Home | Next Post »

Jonah Lehrer jumps from Wired to the New Yorker

June 7, 2012 | 12:47 pm

Jonahlehrer_2010Jonah Lehrer, the author of the popular science books "Proust Was a Scientist," "How We Decide" and 2012's "Imagine," has left his post as a contributing editor at Wired for the New Yorker, where he'll be a staff writer. He's taken his blog Frontal Cortex with him.

Like Lehrer's books, Frontal Cortex focuses on the science of the mind and how it intersects with daily life. In the latest post, Lehrer writes about the neuroscience of choking -- not in the throat, but in the mind, when forced to perform under pressure.

He visits the case laid out by Malcolm Gladwell -- in many ways, Lehrer is a younger, brain-centered version of Gladwell, making him a natural New Yorker fit -- and then looks at new research that illuminates the choking phenomenon (or, if you prefer, curse).

Using the admittedly blunt instrument of an fMRI brain scanner, researchers watched subjects play a game with an increasing financial reward, trying to see where they choked, and what was going on in their heads when they did.

[R]esearchers argue that the subjects were victims of loss aversion, the well-documented psychological phenomenon that losses make us feel bad more than gains make us feel good. (In other words, the pleasure of winning a hundred dollars is less intense than the pain of losing the same amount.)

In other words, choking is about focusing on possible loss when the stakes get higher, rather than on possible rewards. Lehrer takes that idea and suggests applying it to the workplace.
Whether that's because his own workplace has just changed is an open question. Lehrer's doing just fine in the bookselling marketplace: "Imagine: How Creativity Works" has spent 10 weeks on the L.A. Times bestseller list.


The New Yorker tries Twitter fiction with Jennifer Egan

The New Yorker reboots online book coverage

The New Yorker Festival announces lineup

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jonah Lehrer in 2008. Credit: Thos Robinson / Getty Images for World Science Festival