Talking oneself into heroics

A study at Columbia and Harvard, reported in TIME, suggests that acting powerful makes a person powerful in fact.  When tested before and after spending fifteen minutes in aggressive, macho, top-dog postures (the two on the left)—

—the (male) reporter’s testosterone level doubled.  Doubled!

I can believe this.  I am by nature an introverted, even shy person.  I am more than happy to sit by myself in a corner or in one-to-one conversation, but you would not know it by seeing me speak in public.  I appear comfortable—no, I am comfortable, standing in front of a hundred strangers to talk about my books.  Yet in high school speech class, I stood with my shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, head down, and spoke in what the long-suffering teacher could only describe as a mumble.

Pretence affects reality.  If you pretend with commitment that you are a certain person, physiology makes an effort to go along with it.  If you position your body to mimic the man in the room with the largest male appendages, the body does its best to provide the backup.  And if you pretend that you’re at home before a group, if you do not begin your speech by apologizing for being such a lousy speaker, if you ignore your own blushes and awkwardness and mimic the straight spine, raised chin, and comfortable gestures of people who do public speaking really well, after a while the body may decide to tag along after the brain.

I haven’t seen the movie about George VI yet, since I seem to live at the far reaches of civilization when it comes to media, but in general, stuttering is treated (this is, please note, a drastic oversimplification) by training the person to act as if he doesn’t stutter.  The unlearning process that underlies various behavioral therapies does not work for everything, of course—and when it is not effective, it has the added cruelty of making the sufferer feel that not only are they sick but they are a failure as well—but when applied to certain links in the mind/body relationship, it can be powerful.

Which makes me wonder: Do the behavioral patterns of crime fiction serve to reinforce actual behavioral patterns?  In reading about heroism, are we nudged towards heroic behavior?  Does Ginger Littleton

read way too many thrillers?

Comments

  1. I find this very interesting because when I read the Mary Russell books, the one thing that pushes believability in some instances are the physical heroics of Mary.

  2. ” The unlearning process that underlies various behavioral therapies does not work for everything, of course—and when it is not effective, it has the added cruelty of making the sufferer feel that not only are they sick but they are a failure as well”

    Or finally take a 4yr old child easy going, severely autistic child… to claw his therapist…

    Behaviour therapy done under the pretence that one needs to be changed due to failure to fit some mold, does a lot of harm. Opting to learn and change one’s own behaviour, can add a lot to one’s self esteem. But the difference is “choice”.

  3. Ginger’s purse was probably filled with Mary Russell novels.

    Seriously though, that takes alot of love and concern for others to risk your life like that. I’m surprised the others didn’t bum rush the gunman after she took the initiative.

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