Reasons to ignore what others think

I just finished listening to How to Become Batman and while all of Invisibilia's first season is great, this one struck a chord with me. If you haven't listened to the podcast yet, take a hour. Trust me, it's better than an episode of House of Cards. Here be podcast spoilers...

The show opens with a study of rats' performance in a maze by Bob Rosenthal. If the human handling the rat believed the rat was smart, the rat would perform much better than if the human believe the rat was dumb. Yes. Simply believing the rats would do better actually made them better. Not to worry though, there is an explanation beyond telekinesis. The handlers who believed their rats would do better unconsciously treated their rats more gently. It's now known that a rat's performance in a maze is greatly affected by how they're handled. [1]

Lulu Miller then takes this a bit further by introducing Daniel Kish, a man that sees using echolocation. Daniel believes that all people have this ability, blind people especially, and that the only thing holding them back is the societal expectation that they can't see.

In the show, Daniel's ability to see despite his blindness is mostly attributed to his mother's willingness to let her son explore the world unaided, as a sighted child. I think that's half the story, probably less. His expection of his abilities led to his being able to see. His mom was not the only one who controlled others' perceptions of what Daniel could do. It's unlikely that the other kids and parents in the neighborhood stopped themselves from helping a blind child when they sensed danger. His expectations could have been affected by these people, but they weren't. He controlled his expectations.

I believe we can also control our expectations. But, the rats required external validation for their performance. Rats don't have executive function over their perceptions, we do. If we change or maintain high expectations of ourselves, while ignoring others' expectations, we can grow. It's not a new idea, but this podcast validated it.

Other thoughts

I've noticed that employees who are just starting at their first serious jobs out of college seem to work harder than average, and learn more rapidly. Are they simply unaware of the expectations of the workforce they've joined?

Does this podcast prove our low expectations of the lower class actually affect their performance?

In the future, we'll have more online education. Is it possible to show the children their grades in such a way that they never feel too discouraged to improve? Online education will remove the affect of the teacher's expectations, so will students improve?


[1] Rosenthal, R., & Fode, K. (1963). The effect of experimenter bias on performance of the albino rat. Behavioral Science, 8, 183-189.