That’s the title of a post a couple weeks ago by Ezra Klein, in which he interviewed a friend of his who went to Wall Street after Harvard. Having seen this phenomenon from a couple of different angles, I’d say the interview is right on. This is how Klein summarizes the central theme:
“The impression of the Ivy-to-Wall Street pipeline is that it’s all about the money. You’re saying that it’s actually more that Wall Street has constructed a very intelligent recruiting program that speaks to the anxieties of the students and makes them an offer that there’s almost no reason to refuse.”
Scissors for Lefty - Next to Argyle (Editor’s note: If my past music posts were any indication, you’d think all I listened to was oldies. That’s patently untrue. I also listen to gangster rap! Anyways, I know I’m probably previous-level these days when it comes to music…please recommend me some new bands?)
Robert Provine had this deliciously dangerous idea.
The professor of psychology at the University of Maryland remembered the famous Monty Python sketch about a joke so funny that it killed anyone who heard it; The British, naturally, wanted to use it against the Germans, and the Germans vice versa, and both sides furiously pushed to develop the first “Doomsday Joke.”
Professor Provine decided to do the same thing, but not with a joke. He proposed a Doomsday Yawn.
Provine, who has spent 20 years studying laughter and is the author of a well-respected book about why we laugh, is an expert on contagious behaviors. He decided (since he has tenure, and why not?) to try to design a yawn so powerful that it would make everyone who saw it yawn back. That was his goal: the 100 percent contagious yawn.
The 55 Percent Barrier
A number of studies (including his own) found that a medley of ordinary yawns on video played to a classroom for five minutes would induce a responsive yawn in 55 percent of the audience. So that was Provine’s starting point: Could he design a yawn powerful enough to move from a 55 percent response right up to Total Yawn-ness?
Our story (just push on the icon up above and cover your mouth) describes what happened next.
Improving the Gape
Provine figured there had to be a particular trigger, a “sort of ultimate yawn stimulus, the supra-normal stimulus,” that would increase the response rate.
At first, he thought it had to do with the gaping mouth. But when he widened the gape, played with its duration, size, shape and sound, nothing changed. He got no extra yawns.
So he focused on the mouth alone and erased the details of faces, featuring mouths only. The response rate dropped. The gape, apparently, was not the trigger.
Stretching the Stretch
Next, he concentrated on stretching. Yawns and stretches have a long association. In 1923, British scientist Sir Francis Walshe observed people who were paralyzed on one side of their bodies, who couldn’t move a muscle intentionally, yet when they yawned, during the yawn, they could move on their paralyzed side! There is something primal about yawning and stretching, and when you listen to our story you will learn about yawning fetuses, yawning vertebrates and how it is impossible to complete a yawn without stretching.
However, a bigger stretch produced no change in the audience.
The rate stayed at 55 percent and, even more embarrassing, when Provine simply had people read about yawning, with nothing to look at, no visual stimulus, they yawned at roughly the usual rate.
In the end, Provine could not build his Doomsday Yawn. He couldn’t even build a Better-Than-Average Yawn.
(Editor’s note: I like to thing yawning is some vestigial instinct for man’s urge to share.)
“Almost universally they want to find a job that’s not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a Clark University psychology professor who interviewed hundreds of young people across the economic spectrum for his book, “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.”
Not only do they believe these perfect jobs exist, but today’s recent graduates also think they’re good enough to get them. “They see themselves as really well prepared and supremely good candidates for the job market,” says Edwin Koc, director of research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Over 90 percent think they have a perfect résumé. The percentage who think they will have a job in hand three months after graduation is now 57 percent. They’re still supremely confident in themselves.”
For critics, this is irrational exuberance, an example of group psychosis, proof that this generation is headed for a major crash. “It’s not confidence; it’s overconfidence,” Jean Twenge, a professor in the department of psychology at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me,” told me recently. “And when it reaches that level, it’s problematic.” (read the entire article)
Jonah Lehrer on travel as a basic human desire that makes you smarter, more open-minded, and creative:
When we escape from the place we spend most of our time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we’d suppressed. We start thinking about obscure possibilities … that never would have occurred to us if we’d stayed back on the farm. Furthermore, this more relaxed sort of cognition comes with practical advantages, especially when we’re trying to solve difficult problems.
[S]easoned travellers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realise that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world. This in turn allows them to expand the circumference of their “cognitive inputs”, as they refuse to settle for their first answers and initial guesses.
Even though we most often need a holiday after our holiday, it was worth it in the first place to get to the last place.
Bill Withers - Lean on Me (Editor’s note: my moms used to force me to take piano lessons from this corny white dude who made me do really lame christian numbers. I never wanted to practice so by proxy I was a really shitty player. Though I remember teaching myself this song as a kid (this was all pre-internet) and it took me forever because I couldn’t read sheet music, I did it all by ear. The intro is so dope. Bill Withers put out some bangers back in the day.)