Tali Sharot: The Neuroscience of Positivity, How Our Brains Create Our Future | E236

Tali Sharot: The Neuroscience of Positivity, How Our Brains Create Our Future | E236

Tali Sharot: The Neuroscience of Positivity, How Our Brains Create Our Future | E236

While working on her Ph.D. on traumatic memory in New York, Dr. Tali Sharot witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. She set out to investigate people’s memories of the terrorist attacks and discovered that although people felt their memories were as accurate as a videotape, they were often filled with errors. She decided then to focus her research on how emotion affects people’s memories and decisions. In today’s episode, Tali tells us about the ways we are hardwired to be optimists and what determines how, and if, we are able to influence others.


Dr. Tali Sharot is the director of the Affective Brain Lab. She is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Experimental Psychology and The Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry at University College London and on the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Sharot’s research integrates neuroscience, behavioral economics, and psychology to study how emotion and motivation influence people’s beliefs, decisions, and social interactions.


In this episode, Hala and Tali will discuss:

 – Why memories are not as accurate as we think they are

– Why most of us have an optimism bias

– How optimism bias helps us to survive

– Why we’re optimistic about our own lives but not the world around us

– Ways to bolster optimism and better performance

– Ways to deter negative actions in others

– How hope and fear influence people’s beliefs

– Why emotions influence our decisions more than facts

– Why fake news goes viral

– And other topics…


Dr. Tali Sharot is the director of the Affective Brain Lab. She is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Experimental Psychology and The Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry at University College London and on the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Sharot holds a BA in Economics and Psychology from Tel Aviv University and a Ph.D. from New York University. Sharot’s research integrates neuroscience, behavioral economics, and psychology to study how emotion and motivation influence people’s beliefs, decisions, and social interactions.


Resources Mentioned:

 Tali’s Book The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others: https://www.amazon.com/Influential-Mind-Reveals-Change-Others-ebook/dp/B06XC621TK

Tali’s Book Optimism Bias: Why We’re Wired to Look on the Bright Side: https://www.amazon.com/Optimism-Bias-Were-Wired-Bright/dp/1780332637


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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Yeah, fam, you know how we 

here at Young and Profiting love to learn more about how our brains work and how we can harness, donate potential to improve our lives, relationships, and endeavors. Well, today we have a very special guest and someone who spent her life learning more about how our brains help us navigate the world, and especially the other people we encounter around us.

Professor Talley Chert is a neuroscientist and the director of the Effective Brain Lab. She's a professor of cognitive neuroscience in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University College of London, and she's also on the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences At M I T, she's the author of two very popular and influential books, the Optimism Bias, and The Influential Mind.

Today we're gonna talk with Professor Sheri about everything from the ways we're hardwired to be optimists to what determines how and if we are able to influence others. Holly, welcome to Young and Profiting Podcast. 

[00:02:40] Tali Sharot: Thank you for having me. Nice to see you.

[00:02:42] Hala Taha: I am very excited for today's show. But before we get into all your work about optimism and influence, I wanna understand how you got started with the topic of optimism to begin with.

So I heard that it was originally sparked by accident. You were living in New York City years ago. Tell us how you first got interested in the topic of optimism. 

[00:03:04] Tali Sharot: Yeah, so I was doing my PhD in New York City at N Y U. And I was studying emotional memories, specifically traumatic memories. How do we remember the traumatic events?

And while I was doing this, nine 11 happened in New York City. And so we studied people who were on the island doing the attacks after the fact. We studied their memories while we recorded their brain activity to see what, what is the difference between these memories of really arousing traumatic events and just memories of everyday events.

So I completed my PhD and I went to do a short postdoc at Harvard's. And when I got there I saw that people were studying how we imagine future events, which I thought was really interesting. And I was thinking, well, it'll be interesting to see if what I found so far about how we remember traumatic emotional events.

It's similar in terms of how the brain works and brain mechanisms to how we imagine traumatic negative events that can happen us in the future. So I started to do an experiment. I. And the experiment was quite simple. I had people describe negative events that could happen to them in the future. I gave them a prompt.

For example, I said, imagine the breakup of a romantic relationship, right? Negative event. And I was gonna look at their imagination and what happens in the brain. But what I found was that a lot of people, what they tended to do when I asked 'em to imagine these negative events, They switched them into positive events or, you know, negative events that they're managed to correct in some ways.

So for example, if I said, imagine the breakup of a magic relationship. Someone said, I broke up with my girlfriend and then I found a better one. Or if I said, uh, imagine that you're stuck of your apartment and you don't have the keys. And so someone said, okay, I am stuck. I don't have the keys. I called the landlady.

She comes in, she lets me in. Right. So they kept doing these things. And even I also wanted to compare this to just imagining just, you know, boring regular events in the future. But what happened there was again, people twisted those boring events to make them magical. So I said, imagine getting a haircut in the future.

And someone said, I imagine getting my haircuts and donating the hair to Locks of Love, was it Charity for kids with cancer? And then I went to celebrate with all my friends in my favorite restaurant. These boring events in the future seem to be so magical, and the negative events are things that we can solve.

So this was not good for my study 'cause how am I gonna look at what happens in the brain when you imagine really negative events if you're not imagining negative events, right? This was a problem and I tried all sorts of different problems and so on, and it took me a while, which now seems a little bit funny, but at the time, It took me a while to realize that actually this is super interesting.

It's perhaps more interesting than what I originally set out to study what's going on. So I started looking into the literature and it turns out that in this separate field, which I wasn't really knowledgeable about at the time, behavioral economics was a whole literature about this thing called the optimism bias, which is people's tendency to imagine the future as better than the past of the present.

Their tendency to imagine the likelihood of positive things happening more than they actually are probably will and discounting the likelihood of experiencing negative events. So I thought that was really interesting. So that study turned into the study of optimism bias, which led to a lot of of studies later on.

[00:06:33] Hala Taha: That's super interesting, and something that I wanna dig on is going back to when you were talking about you being in New York with the nine 11 attacks. From my understanding, you also did a study where you were trying to analyze people's memories, and what happened was is that 11 months later, after the attacks, people remembered the event differently than what actually they had mentioned when they first told you their memory of the event.

So can you talk to us about how their memories changed and why you think their memories changed?

[00:07:05] Tali Sharot: Yeah, so we actually didn't test them at two points in times, but other people did. I. We just tended them later on. But in other studies it has been shown that these memories for traumatic events, including nine 11, they're not as accurate as we think they are.

And to some extent this is not surprising 'cause like No, you know, when you think about your memories, if I ask you like, what you did 11 months ago, and I even if I say, oh, you know, it was June and you were on holiday and you know, can you tell me about what happened on Tuesday? And you are not gonna remember it very well, right?

Or you'll tell me some story, but probably what you're saying is not quite right. It's not exactly. The people that you said were there. So in some ways, like the fact that memories are not an accurate representation of what happened is not surprising. But the reason it's surprising in this case is that when it comes to these really emotional events, like nine 11, I.

We believe that our memories are really accurate when we kind of relive them. It feels like a videotape that you're just pressing play and it just happens. So it feels like, I remember every single thing, what I was wearing, what I was smelling, what I was hearing. But turns out they're not actually more accurate than everyday events.

There's a lot of mistakes, but the difference is they feel accurate, and that's a difference. If it's your, you know, someone's wedding day, you at the birth of a a child or the breakup, a relationship, these kind of emotional memories that stay with us, the car accident, when we think back to these both very positive and very negative events, it feels like we're just experiencing at it as it is.

And so we believe it is, but in fact, it's not. Every time you come up with a memory, And emotional memories. We come up with a lot. We retrieve them and relive them a lot. We're changing them a little bit. Every time we think about whether it's like our wedding, every time we think about that day, we're changing the memory a little bit because we're kind of retrieving it.

But now we're thinking about it in a new perspective. 'cause now, you know, we're older, different things happen, and so that changes a little bit. So next time you're retrieving something that's not quite what happened, and so on and so on, forth. But we're not, we don't realize that that is a case. 

[00:09:15] Hala Taha: It's so interesting to think about and what I'm curious about is how memories evolved from an evolutionary standpoint.

Memories, are they really about remembering the past or do they help us do something else? 

[00:09:28] Tali Sharot: Right. So I guess, you know, if we go back to what I said the beginning that I was studying memory and then, and then I was, well, it's interesting to study imagination and there was a whole kind of literature coming up saying, well, in fact there's a load, a lot of overlap between how you imagine the future.

And how you're a member of the past. Because in order to imagine the future, you have to retrieve memories, right? If I asked you, please imagine your next vacation, you're gonna come up with memories from your past vacations, maybe vacations of other people, things that you've seen on tv, and you're gonna piece in these little pieces of information to create something new.

You on the beach, having a cocktail, right? But really this imagination of something new is basically like a puzzle of old things put together in a new way. So if you think about it like that, that is what memory is for. Memory is in order to enhance and enable us to predict the future. To plan the future, that's why we have our memories.

And if you look at the brain system, that's important for memory, including a region called the hippocampus, which is very important for memory. Those are exactly the same regions that are activated. When you imagine the future, we really have our memory, not so we can like reminiscent of what happened in the past.

But in order so we can plan ahead and if we can plan ahead, we can survive better. Right? We can be prepared for what's about to 

[00:10:49] Hala Taha: come. Yeah. And so would you say that we tend to remember positive events more than negative events that happen in our lives? 

[00:10:57] Tali Sharot: Well, it turns out that it's not that you remember more positive or negative.

What's really important is how arousing it is, how strong, how salient, right? So if you have a very, very positive event, you're gonna remember it very vividly. And if you have a very, very negative event, you're gonna remember that very vividly as well. So it's really about this arousal response that we have 

[00:11:21] Hala Taha: Mm. So that makes sense. So the more aroused an event is, the more likely you're gonna remember it, positive or negative.

So help us further understand this idea of the optimism bias. Can you define it for us? 

[00:11:33] Tali Sharot: Yeah. So it's our tendency to imagine the future to be better than the past and the present, and to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events, such as having a long, happy marriage, professional success, having talented kids and underestimating the likelihood of experiencing negative events such as having an illness.

Getting Covid, being an accident, getting a divorce, things like that. 

[00:12:03] Hala Taha: Yeah. And then, so I have to imagine that having this optimism bias, it was something that happened during evolution so that we could survive. So how does having this optimism bias actually help us survive or helped us survive in the past?

[00:12:17] Tali Sharot: Having these positive expectations of the future means a, that your mental health is better because positive expectations make you happy, reduces stress and anxiety and so on.

And mental health, good mental health is related to good physical health, right? So that's one thing. The other thing, it enhances your motivation. If I think, Ooh, my podcast is gonna be a huge success, you're gonna put more time and effort into it, right? 'cause you think, oh, I'm gonna get tons of people listening.

If you think, well, no one's gonna listen to this, you're not gonna put time and effort. And it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? And if you think about it, people with. Positive expectations. They go out, they try to do things to get to those goals that they think I can reach. If you think about people who have negative expectations, and a lot of time people with depression tend to have negative expectations.

They think, well, I'm not gonna get that job. I'm not gonna find that relationship that I want. And so they don't try, they stay in bed because if I'm not gonna get it, what's the point really? And again, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you think even about. Humans exploring the rest of the world, leaving Africa to go to explore other continents.

They had to believe that there's something there for them to find and something that's better than what they already have. You know, anytime you, you leave your environment and go and try something else, there's just expectations. Ooh, I have something there for me to find that's better than what I already have.

So that's the evolutionary advantage. It enhances your motivation, your mental health exploration. But of course there's a downside if I'm underestimating the likelihood that I will get covid, the likelihood that I would get cancer, right? I don't take precautionary action.

I am underestimating the likelihood of being an accident. I might not wear a helmet when I bike, and so that can cause negative outcomes as well in the financial domain, right? I'm underestimating my financial risk. Then I might take more risks than I should, and that's a negative part of it. So there's this disadvantage and also advantages, right, to balance out.

So a lot of people have been thinking for a long time. Well, okay, yes, there are disadvantages in their advantages. Probably the advantages overall outweigh the disadvantages, and this is why we have this bias. But in fact, what we have found recently is that we have an optimism bias, but not all the time.

We mostly have an optimism bias when we are in relatively safe environments. If we put people in dangerous environments, then they start changing the way that they process information and they are less likely to have an optimism bias. And if you think about it, that could be evolutionary advantageous.

Because if you're like in the jungle and there's lions all around you, you don't wanna underestimate the likelihood of being eaten up. But if you, you know, relatively safe environment like you and I are in today, okay, it's probably not a bad thing to have an optimism bias, which moves us forward. So it turns out that the brain has this little switch put us in a very dangerous environment.

It reduces the optimism bias put us in realty safe environment. It's like, okay, now it's safe for us. Let's have an optimism bias. We're not necessarily. Have correct predictions about the future. They'll be overly optimistic, but it could be helpful for us, and I think that is what was really advantageous and helped us evolve as a species.


[00:15:38] Hala Taha: Yeah, and I'm really happy that you made that distinction because my initial thoughts when I was learning about the optimism bias was it was so different from what I've heard from other people who've come on the show talking about the negativity bias and how we're more risk averse, and that's how we were able to survive and not get eaten by lines, so, mm-hmm.

It's great that you mentioned that it's really based on the context, your environment.

[00:16:07] Hala Taha: So speaking of it kind of. Evolving over time. How about as we age? How does the optimism bias change as we age? 

[00:16:16] Tali Sharot: Yeah. And that actually takes us back to the same kind of idea of when you're stressed, you have less than optimism bias.

'cause what we find is that the optimism bias is quite high in kids, and then it starts going down, down, down, down, gets to like minimum in your midlife. So people in their midlife almost don't have even the optimism bias. And then it starts becoming bigger again. So as we age, it becomes bigger and bigger and bigger.

And then it reaches quite a high level late in life. So it's a bit of a U-shape like that. Now we don't really know why there's a U-shape, but one hypothesis is that it's amount of stress that we have in life 'cause. Really, it's in midlife that you have the most amount of stress. It's the peak of your professional life as well as you might need to take care of children and elderly parents.

So there's a lot of stressors that are really salient in midlife that are less so in kids and teenagers and the elderly. It's not that you don't have stressors when you're a child and when you're older, but it's really midlife. The people at least report the most amount of stress. 

[00:17:23] Hala Taha: A lot of people think of themselves as pessimists. How many pessimists are really out there, do you think?

[00:17:29] Tali Sharot: Yeah, so there's a huge discrepancy between how someone views themselves and what they actually are. It turns out that we're not very good at assessing our own optimism. More than not, I would say people come in and they say, oh, I'm a pessimist, or I'm a realist.

But then when you test them, you actually have do them the test and quantify it turns out that 80% of us have an optimism bias. Now, it doesn't mean that you're, if you have an optimism that you're optimistic about every single part of your life, right? I mean, there are, you could be like more optimistic about your personal life and not professional life, or vice versa.

But in general, 80% have an optimism bias. Then 20%, the rest of them, half of them have a pessimistic bias. So about 10% of the population in general, Tend to underestimate positive events and overestimate negative events, so they're pessimistic. And then 10% of the general population tend not to have a bias at all.

That doesn't mean that they're good at predicting anything, right? So they have a lot of mistakes when they're predicting, but sometimes the mistake are like overly optimistic. Some they're overly pessimistic, is just cancels each other out. So really just about 10% to answer your question. 

[00:18:38] Hala Taha: Yeah, very, very little, which is, I always thought it was like 50 50 or something, but it's interesting to think that like most people are actually pretty optimistic.

Let's talk about the difference between being individually optimistic about our own lives versus how we view the world. 

[00:18:52] Tali Sharot: Yeah, so that's another really important distinction between, when I say 80% of us has our optimism bias, it's really important to mention that this is true about our own. Experiences in our own life and our own prospects, and perhaps those that are close to us, our children, our family, it's not about the world at large.

In fact, if anything, people have pessimistic view about global issues, leadership in their country, you know, political issues and so on. All of these like social big issues, people, if anything, tend to be pessimistic. So we call this private optimism, but public despair. So people tend to be like, I will be okay.

However, you know, the rest of us not so, and you see this again and again if there's like a market collapse or so, people think, okay, I'm gonna be fine. But in general, the world is going downhill. Even when you talk about climate change, there are studies that show that people say yes. There's climate change and it's gonna have terrible effects on most of the world.

But then when you ask about their own little town, they think, oh, that is, we're gonna be fine. Right? We're not quite, there's always a reason why their little town will be okay. They will be okay. So when you go online and you see all these very negative opinions, and so it's not about usually people's own prospects, but about the general state of the world.

Yeah, and 

[00:20:19] Hala Taha: I'd love to hear more about the pros and cons of this optimism bias when it comes to our own lives. So what are the consequences of having an optimism bias, as well as what are the benefits of having it, 

[00:20:33] Tali Sharot: as we say, the big benefit? It's enhanced your motivation, and that causes you to go out and try things, take actions, right?

If you think I can. Get ahead and get, um, a promotion at work, then you try harder and the likelihood that you will get it is greater. If you think, yes, I can find my perfect partner, you're more likely to go ahead and have lots of dates and stuff and, you know, 'cause you try things rather than if you just have a negative view.

And in fact, it's been shown that entrepreneurs tend to be more optimistic than the rest of the population, which makes sense. They need to be right in order to 'cause, because the chances of succeeding as entrepreneur is quite low. And so you have to overestimate your chances in order to go out and put the effort and really, really try.

So that's really the benefit as well as just maintaining good health. There is in fact a correlation between depression and pessimism. So one symptom of depression is pessimism. So having optimism is good for just your mental health. And it turns out that people who are successful in all sorts of fields tend to be optimistic, whether it's in business, in academia, it's sports.

CEOs are way more optimistic than the rest of the population. So these are all the benefits. And then the, uh, negative part of it is not taking enough precautionary action to protect yourself because you're underestimating rare risk, whether it's health risk, whether it is financial risk. If we underestimate it, then we tend to not take enough precautionary action.

And so that can put us in danger. And I think the solution that. I usually talk about is you don't necessarily need to, change your views. You don't necessarily need to have negative expectations, and even if you wanted to, it's really hard to do that.

What you want is to say, okay, I think I'm gonna be fine, but I know that there's an optimism bias, so I'm gonna put in a policy in place to protect myself. For example, the British government has a book that they call the Green Book. Which is recommendations for Project Appraisers. And they say in the Grin book that there's an optimism bias.

And because of that, people tend to underestimate how long projects will take to complete and how much they would cost. And I'm sure every listener can think about such instances in your own life, whether it's in business, right? That happens all the time. But also in your personal life, you're renovating a house always takes like 10 times longer than you imagined, right?

You're planning a wedding, whatever it is. It always takes longer and always costs more. And so in the Green Book, they say, okay, in order to try to correct that, we need to adjust all the budgets in the, uh, British government for the optimism bias. The way that they do that, and for example, they did it for the London Olympics, they looked at similar past projects in these case, past Olympics, looked at the predictions of how long it will take, how much it would cost, and then the actual how long did it take?

How long did it cost? Calculated the average bias and then added it to their own estimates. It was actually a very long P D F on how they do it. So it's not as simple as I described, but that's a principle of it. So that's a great example. They didn't say, you know, change what you actually think is gonna happen.

Right? Write now what you think is gonna happen. Okay, now go back and adjust it according to what we know from past. Experience is a likely error is a likely bias. You can do that by looking at past events that other people were involved in, like other Olympics. But also if it's something you are trying to correct your own estimates and something that you do again and again, you could just have a record of this is what I think if it's investment, right, this is what I think, uh, the profit is gonna be, and then later, okay, this is the, what the profit was, this is what I think.

This is where the profit. And if you do that enough time, you can actually see for yourself, okay, this is the bias that I usually have. Or like you're hiring people, let's say, you know, so you, you write down your expectations and then your actual evaluation of them after the fact and see what the error was.

It's also helpful to see why did you have that mistake? Is it that you didn't have enough information? Is it that you were overconfident? So while making your estimate, it's good to also record what do I know at the moment upon which I'm making this prediction? How confident am I in this prediction? And then later on, then you might be able to pinpoint.

What is the source of an error and then correct it by ing a policy to help you. 

[00:25:03] Hala Taha: This is really great. It's really practical in terms of how to make sure that we don't have the consequences of the optimism bias. But what if we're on the other spectrum and we feel like we're not optimistic enough? Is that something that we can change?

[00:25:16] Tali Sharot: It is possible to change to some degree, and one of the most common suggestions is based on studies conducted by Martin Seligman. What Marty Seligman did, he took a group of individuals who were pessimistic. Most of them did have depression to some extent, maybe mild, and he trained them to think like an optimist.

What does that mean? Well, one thing that optimists tend to do is they tend to evaluate positive events in an optimistic manner. What does that mean? Let's say something good happened to you, you got a job that you really wanted. What the optimists tend to do is say, Ooh, I got the job because of traits that are stable within me.

I got the job 'cause I'm really good with people, right? And so if I'm really good in people, that means I'm gonna be good with people in the future too. So this means like I'll get more jobs in the future. And also it means not only will I get a good job, I'll probably have more friends. And so now they generalize it, right?

So something good happens, they interpret it, it happened because of something that is personal. It's stable, it can generalize. When something bad happens, they tend to do the reverse, right? So you didn't get a job. They tend to say, well, it's not so much me per se. They happen to be a better candidate, or, I didn't have time to study for the interview this time, and this is why it happened.

And so what this means, it's this negative event has no consequences to other things in their life. They don't, right? It is like, well, I didn't learn for this specific why I didn't study enough, but this doesn't mean that I'm gonna not study next time. It doesn't mean that this is gonna affect how many friends I have.

So they do the exact opposite for negative. So that's what Martin Seligman trained these group of individuals to do. He trained them every time something positive happened. Let's interpret in the, this kind of optimistic matter. When a negative thing happened, interpreted in the positive manner and his data suggests that he was successful to some degree.

[00:27:09] Hala Taha: They became more optimistic and as a result, actually were healthier physically and mentally. So less appointments to the doctor and, and things like that. Talk to us about how we learn differently, whether we're getting positive information or negative information. 

[00:27:24] Tali Sharot: One of the reasons that we tend to have an optimism bias is, What do we do when we have information in front of us? Right? So this is actually what we discovered which is when you learn something that's better than what you expected.

For example, you think there's gonna be like a million listeners, and I say, you know what? My data suggests there's gonna be 2 million listeners. Then you quickly change your estimate and you say, oh, well okay, in that case, you know, maybe 1.9, right? So you change it quite a bit. 'cause I told you something that's better than you expected.

But if you say, I think we're gonna have a million listeners, and I say, you know, uh, according to my data only 50,000, so this is way worse than what you expected, then you would say, yeah, she doesn't really know what she's talking about. She doesn't have the right data. I. And so you don't change your estimate much.

You might say, well, maybe not a million, maybe 900,000. But you don't adjust it much when there's negative information versus positive information. So when we do this, we see this again and again. People learn much more. It's not that they don't learn from negative information, they do, but they turn to learn much better, quicker when they hear something that's really better than what they expected about their own prospects than something that's negative.

And if you kind of walk around the world doing this all the time, Well, that explains why you have these predictions that are better than what reality really is. These kind of little shift in how you learn from the positive versus the negative causes us to have this bias in our predictions of the future.

[00:28:55] Hala Taha: And it's helpful to understand that because now when we come up with our own conclusions, we can look at it with that lens and understand like maybe I'm being overly optimistic here and I need to pay attention to other signs or facts and data, rather than how I'm feeling about it internally. So let's move on to another topic here.

You've talked about one of the ways to bolster optimism and better performance in ourselves. Is through positive feedback. So what happens in our brains when we hear something positive on something? 

[00:29:26] Tali Sharot: The same study that I just told you about how we learn more from unexpected, positive and negative. When we looked at people's brain activity while we were giving them information, we saw that regions in the brain where encoding information that's better than expected, much more precisely than information that was worse.

So when I told you, oh, 2 million listeners, The activity in your brain. We could use statistics and math to show. It's really registering the difference between how good the information is that I gave you and what you expected, right? When I gave you information. That's worse than expected. When I said only 50,000 listeners, the brain wasn't really encoding very well.

This difference between what you expected and what I gave you, because you think that I'm not giving you right information, so your brain is like not bothering us, is like, you know, S is bss. It's not encoded as well. So that's what happens in the brain. And what this means then it means that if you want someone to learn, if you want to give someone information and you want them to change your beliefs, you need to really think carefully about how you're framing the information.

Because if you just give them negative information, like if you smoke, you'll get cancer. People are think, well, you know, I have good genes. My grandma smoked until she was a hundred. So they kind of discount this information. 

So you might try to think about how can I give people information in a way that will get them to where I want them to go, but can I frame it to highlight the opportunity for progress rather than decline?

so for example, instead of telling someone if you take Route A, you will lose time and manning, which is highlighting the negative, you might say, if you take route B, you will gain time and money. So highlighting what needs to be done to get to the goal is just reframing 

[00:31:10] Hala Taha: Okay, so if we want somebody to do something, we wanna try to phrase in a positive way, but then on the opposite end of the spectrum, if we wanna deter somebody to not do something, how do we frame 

[00:31:21] Tali Sharot: it?

This actually relates to a whole different phenomena that we've also saw that there's this relationship in the brain because of how we evolved between expecting good things and action. So let's say I'm thirsty. I wanna drink, I need to move my hand and drink, right? I need to take an action in order to get my reward, which is a coffee.

This is the way life is often. To get what you want, you have to do something. I need a promotion. I need to work right. I need, I need to go, wanna eat that piece of chocolate. I need to go and I need to get it to get some, you need to do something in country, often, not always, but often. In order to avoid the bad stuff, you often need to just not do anything.

Just stay. Away. You know, you wanna avoid bad people, you wanna avoid poison, you wanna avoid dip waters, you need to not do anything. and also you can overcome this, but this is why, because of this tie between action and reward and not action and punishment, our brain has evolved to tie these things together.

And so now when we. Have a reward. It's easier to act, to get it right. And so that's why, to motivate people, you, you wanna do them to do something, you want them to work harder. You want your kids to tidy up the room. You'll say, well, if you tidy up the room, you'll find your favorite toy at the bottom of the pile, right?

So you highlight, this is a report that you can get if you act. On the other hand, if we want someone not to do something, Your kid not to eat the cookie, then you might threaten them with kind of punishment. Right? Or if you want someone not to share confidential information, then maybe a punishment will be more effective.

Because in our brain, punishments are related to not action and rewards to action. So that's another thing to think about when we are trying to frame our message, is it that we want people to do something or not to do something? But of course I have to say in all of these things, these are kind of very broad mechanisms that we find when we look at how the brain works.

We're very sophisticated creatures. We can overcome all of this, right? So these are kind of the basic broad strokes that we should consider when we're thinking about how to provide feedback, how to frame our messages. But of course, it doesn't mean that if you tell someone, if you are not sharing confidential information, I'll give you some money.

It won't work, right? It's just. These very broad principles to consider. 

[00:34:00] Hala Taha: I'm curious to understand your perspective on like, let's say we're a marketer for like a government or something and we're trying to get people to wear their seat belts. What would be the way that you would recommend that they write their marketing messaging for that?

[00:34:13] Tali Sharot: There's many different elements that could work. One is actually social information, what other people are doing. That's very helpful and people use it all the time saying something like, 90% of individuals wear their seatbelt when they get into a car. And even better, 90% of individuals in your neighborhood wear a seatbelt.

And that's been used a lot. If you go to the airport and you put water in your bottle, it says, you know, 2 million people put water in the bottle today. So it's telling you about the good behaviors of others, and that's really motivating. You're like, oh, all these people are doing this. Good thing. I wanna do it too.

I wanna be part of the big number. So that's one very helpful way if marketers want to influence what people are doing. Another is progress monitoring. People use this a lot with like health apps, right? How many steps did I take today? It's monitoring your progress all the time and that kind of, it's rewarding.

You're like, oh, I did like 10,000 steps a day. Or like, oh, you do a few steps and you see the numbers go up, and that's really motivating for people. You have that in health apps, but you can have it in a lot of different domains as well. I mean, you could imagine a device where you go in the car and every time you click it says, well done.

You did the safe thing. Right? An automatic tap in the back kind of thing. And what's helpful is that if those positive feedback or other rewards are immediate, you did something immediately. It tells you like, good job. Rather than like, you can imagine I put the belt in. Then by the end of the ride it tells me good job.

Right? So that's not great. 'cause really to be most effective, you want a really strong connection in time between what it is that you did and the feedback that you got. This is why social media is so addictive. It's because it's using all of these tricks all the time. You post something, you get immediate rewards from other people.

It is monitoring the number, you can see the number of likes, and they go up. You can see what other people are doing. So it basically is taking all these things that we know shape human behavior and putting it together in this one platform. 

[00:36:25] Hala Taha: It's so interesting, that stuff. So I wanna stick on this idea of influencing people.

How about hope and fear? How does hope and fear play into the way that we could potentially influence people? 

[00:36:35] Tali Sharot: Emotion is definitely, uh, something that is important in the actions that we choose to do, right? We choose to do actions in order to feel good or to avoid feeling bad, and so if you highlight that to people, that would be something that can motivate them.

As we said before, action is usually related with kind of an anticipation of reward. So if you want to induce action, highlighting the hope, highlighting the goal is better. Fear, on the other hand, as we mentioned before, can cause freezing. Inaction. I'm afraid of the deep waters. I'm afraid of poisoning, causing me inaction, and so if you want to motivate people to act, to go out and vote to put a helmet on and so on, then in fact highlighting the good that can come out of it is more helpful regardless of that, of just how effective it is.

You also like need to consider, do I want really want. To, um, stress people out, right? Is it something that I really need to do is there's no other way? Because if you cause fear, that has a negative effect on people's mental health, so you need to think about, is this really worth it in this instance? Is there something else that I could do?

[00:37:41] Hala Taha: Let's talk about influencing others and get into some of the content in your book from the influential mind. So I think one of the most head turning things that you talk about is how our brains are not wired to be very persuaded by facts and data. Can you talk to us about how people are not driven by facts?

[00:37:58] Tali Sharot: Yeah. So I mean, we see this all the time, whether it's looking at things like. Effect sea of vaccines or climate change or, you know, there's all this data and all this numbers, but that's not necessarily what is influencing people's beliefs. And if you think about it, it makes sense. If we look back at evolutionary perspective for most of our existence as a species, we didn't understand math and statistics.

We didn't really have these ways of putting together graph and, and like calculating the exact percentage. It wasn't something that we at least not this like big data kind of ability that we have now. And so the way that we really used to learn is we looked around at our little community, our little group of people and just noticed, oh, this person did this, and you know, now they're ill, this person did this and they seem happy.

 we hear someone said, oh, you know, this person made a berry and now they're dead. We would take these like anecdotal examples and that's how we learned. And it makes sense that yes, you know, we have evolved and we can use numbers and so on. But our instinct is if you tell me a story that is just like much more impactful in general, or at least the first instinct is, Ooh, I'm really moved by that.

And a lot of times, one of the reasons is that usually when you tell a story, it's about a specific individual and it becomes much more emotional. If it's more emotional, I pay more attention. I'm more interested and so I learn better. Numbers are usually a little bit dry, so even if you say 8,000 people got ill from drinking polluted water, versus, tell me about this one person.

You know, Maria has two kids. She drank the water, she got ill, and so now it's like, I can imagine it as vivid. It like talks to you. It, it elicits emotion and so that's why it's very impactful. So it doesn't mean that we don't want to have the data, we don't wanna have the numbers. We want to have them and we want to share them.

We just need to make sure that we are not relying on them on the numbers and data when we're describing, when we're sharing to others. Only that, right? If we could add to that, an example to just illustrate, that's always helpful. It's helpful in anything, right? If I describe my science, I can show you my graphs or I can give you an example.

Oh, how this relates to your life. If I give you this specific information, it's always just easier for us to understand and therefore to remember as well. 

[00:40:29] Hala Taha: Yeah, humans, we love stories, right? Storytelling is our favorite thing, so let's talk about how we pick and choose the information that we wanna consider when we're making a decision or determining a belief.

[00:40:44] Tali Sharot: It's always been the case that we don't treat all information equally and really we shouldn't. Right? I mean, there's some more reliable information than than others, and that means like, you know, who do we talk to? How reliable they are. But it, it really is, it became more clear now in the information age because we go online and there's just like an infinite amount of information.

How do I know what it is that I'm gonna believe? What is it that I'm gonna actually just read and. So I think it became more of a problem, these biases that we have in how we go out to select what information to consume and also what to do with that information. Is it gonna change my beliefs or not?

There's two really strong biases that we've seen in the literature. One is called a confirmation bias, which is our tendency to go out and seek and believe information that already confirms what we think is true. And this could be like, it can be in politics, but it can be anything. If I have a a, a belief and you're just telling me something that fits well, I'm like, Ooh, okay, yeah, that definitely works.

I can see that 'cause it fits what I already believe. So that's a confirmation bias. We're much more likely to take in that information that confirms what we already believe, that information that goes against it. The other is called the desirability bias, which is a little bit like the optimism bias that I described, which is if I give you information that.

You want to believe it makes you happy. It tells you something good about yourself. You're gonna take it in more than information that's negative, and you're also gonna go out and seek it. There's a really, uh, great study that was done by free behavioral economists. What they wanted to do is see when do people log into their accounts to check on their stocks?

And what they found is that in general, when the market was going up, people logged in more without any intention of making a transaction or anything like that. They could control for that. They could show. It's like not with that intention and the reason if is a market's going up, you're like, Ooh, I probably gained some money and I want a bit of a sniff of the good news.

When the market was going down, people avoided logging in, right? It's like, I don't wanna know. I don't wanna know how much I lost. And that was true as long as the negative information could be reasonably avoided. So when you do have like big falls in the market, people do then log in and start freaking out.

And usually it's a bit too late by that time. But these like little ups and downs, if it's up, I go in, I'm like, oh, got some more. If it's down, it's like, well, I'm not gonna look today. So it makes sense. We wanna, you know, in some ways it makes sense. We wanna feel good. And one thing that makes us feel good is good information, good news.

[00:43:27] Hala Taha: Yeah, and I'd love to, to actually ask you a follow-up question to that. Why is fake news so viral? 

[00:43:32] Tali Sharot: it is very hard. On average to know what's fake and not, because

the people who design.

These kind of misinformation, fake news. They have a good understanding of psychology. Mostly they understand what type of information do people want and who wants it so they can design that piece of news to make it more viral. They're like, well, let's add this kind of emotion to it. Let's target people who in general, that's their point of view.

So confirmation bias kicks in, disability bias kicks in. They can have other people who are like part of it, try to. Show that actually other people believe it. So they're very aware of these things and they use them. So that is a problem. And I think regardless, a huge problem is there's just not enough incentives not to do that.

There is not enough oversight, there isn't enough punishment, and so people are just not incentivized not to go ahead and spread these types of uh, content

[00:44:40] Hala Taha: And so, knowing all this Tali, how can we actually protect ourselves a bit and think more rationally? Is that possible? 

[00:44:47] Tali Sharot: I. First is knowledge, right? To know about how your mind works, how you make decisions, how you process information. That's the first important thing. It's not enough, but it's a beginning.

Now that you, you know about these biases which you can learn from podcasts such as this books, talks online, is to think about, okay, how is this likely to impact my life, my specific job, my specific line of work? Or, you know, something that's important to me in my personal life. Once you figure that out, then you can ask yourself, okay, is there something that I can do, a policy that I can put in place to protect myself?

So for example, I like to work if I like, well, it's sometimes I like to work every day. I don't always put a helmet on, right? And this is not good. And so I can say, okay, part of the reason I don't do it is I'm underestimating my risk. So how am I gonna correct for this? I can correct for this with knowledge of other behavioral phenomena.

So, for example, I can tell myself, look, every time you get to work and you have a helmet on, you can give yourself an immediate reward. 'cause we just said immediate rewards, super powerful. Have a little chocolate every time you go to work and you don't have the helmet on, you have to give money to a charity that you dislike, right?

So you kind of like a little punishment. So if we know these things, we could figure out what we could do to overcome the potential negative outcomes. Or for example, you, you know that you wanna work out, but you don't really like doing it and also you're underestimating the negative impact of not working out.

Then you say, okay, let's again, we could use a little immediate reward. Every time I go on the treadmill, I will allow myself to watch some like reality TV that I usually don't allow myself to watch. Right? So it's a little treat that you get. The other really important thing to say is that it's a little bit difficult for us to see the biases in ourself.

Confirmation bias is our ability bias, how much we're influenced by other people, that when we're stressed, we kind of concentrate more on the negative and the optimism bias goes away. But we can see that in others all the time. I think now, especially now that we've learned about it, you could look around and it's like, oh, they're not listening.

'cause that's like, it's contrary to their belief or it's not telling them what they wanna hear or like, you know, you can see this every day basically. And so knowing about these biases and how our brain works means that we'll be better able to at least frame information to others and advise them using this knowledge.

Because for example, as we said, that you want people to do something, maybe highlight the goal, right? The actions that they need to take, don't focus on the threats. 'cause people tend to discount fret. And so we're not only helping ourselves, but we can also help each other. 

[00:47:27] Hala Taha: I love 


[00:47:28] Tali Sharot: see, you have a new book coming out. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah, so I have a new book coming out the end of February, 2024. So in a few months it's called Look again, the Power of Noticing What is already there and it's co-written with Cast Sunstein. It just up now on Amazon for pre-orders. And it looks at this phenomena by which when things are kind of constant.

We tend to see them less, feel them less, notice them less. So for example, let's say you have a wonderful career, which you do. And at first it was super exciting to have this like great podcast and you know, but over time you kind of got used to it, so maybe it doesn't make you as happy as it did, right?

So these positive, amazing things that we have in life, whether it's a wonderful family or partner, a nice house,a job that we've always wanted, but then we get it and well after a while we get used to it. What was kind of thrilling on Monday is a bit boring on Friday. And that's a problem because we're not as like maybe as happy as we could be.

And so we talk a lot about what can we do to make us feel these things again? Notice them again. And then on the other side, it's also true for these bad things, there's some really bad things around which we kind of get used to it, like social media, a lot of terrible way that people talk to each other on social media or like things around us.

That are pollution, air pollution, there's all these things, but because they've been there for so long, we got used to them and we don't notice them. Now, on one hand you say, well, maybe that's good. So it doesn't make us sad. And it's like, it's good that we don't notice. But on the other hand, if you don't notice, you don't try to change.

So then you know half of the book is about the positive, and then the other half is like, well, how can we notice, again, these things that we kind of got used to and we can't see, but how can we see it again in order to enhance change? To make things better. 

[00:49:18] Hala Taha: Awesome. Well, that sounds super fascinating.

We'll definitely have you back on the podcast with your co-author to talk about that book. So I end the show with two questions that I ask all my guests. The first one is, what is one actionable thing our young and profits can do today to become more profitable tomorrow? 

[00:49:35] Tali Sharot: Aha. Okay. One thing that they could do is write down what it is that they want, the one thing that they want, and it doesn't have to be huge.

And then write maybe like five steps of how to get there. So then, you know you have a, a really specific plan. Now that's helpful for two reasons. One is you could follow the plan, but the second reason is once you have a plan that makes you think that you're more likely to get there, it enhances optimism and that means you get more motivated.

 if you think through how am I gonna get to where I wanna get, it changes your prediction of your likelihood to get there. 'cause it makes me things more vivid, more detail.

And so it enhances your optimism and as a result, your motivation and if it enhances your motivation, enhances optimism, you're more likely to take action. 

[00:50:24] Hala Taha: I love that one. And what is your secret to profiting in life? And this can go beyond just financial. 

[00:50:31] Tali Sharot: I think one thing that is important to me, uh, I definitely do it in my life, and this is something that we talk a lot in the new book, is change and diversity.

I mean diversity in your own life. So not just being in the same place all the time, every year, all year. Do whatever you can to change things around. I. And it can be to different amounts. I mean, I actually kind of change locations. So now I am in California, which I'm all, it's not where I live, but I spend like, you know, four weeks a year here.

It is totally different from where I usually am. And that change in the environment means I feel things differently. I think about things differently. Right. So it can be a change of thoughts sort in your environment or just change in like the schedule of how you do things. Even just taking yourself during the day from like the chair that you usually sit in.

Go sit somewhere else, go work in a coffee shop for an hour. Like there's a lot of data and a lot of studies showing that changes your thought process and is more likely to elicit innovative ideas. So diversify. Don't just do the same thing old thing all the time, even if it's great. Just diversity alone is kind of a component for a good life.

[00:51:46] Hala Taha: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Tali. This was such a wonderful conversation. I really enjoyed hearing all your wisdom about optimism and influence. Human behavior is one of my favorite subjects, so it was a real honor to have you on the show.

[00:51:57] Tali Sharot: It was a pleasure. Thank you for all your questions.

[00:51:59] Hala Taha: I really love to learn about our brains and how we can harness our brains to reach our full potential. Most of us, as Tally told us, have brains that are hardwired to be hopeful. We're born optimists, and this phenomenon is kind of counterintuitive, but has some fascinating aspects. First, we have a tendency to imagine a future that is better than our past.

As a result, we are prone to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events, like having a happy marriage or professional success, while underestimating the likelihood of experiencing negative events like getting sick, being in an accident, or getting a divorce. But because the advantages of this optimism bias outweigh the disadvantages, we have evolved to become this way.

It's literally encoded into our brains. Having this optimism bias helps us not to just survive, but it propels us forward, makes us take actions to achieve our goals. This cognitive bias can thus be especially useful as an aspiring entrepreneur.

The optimism bias means that we tend to view our own life and prospects as promising. But can remain skeptical about the world around us, Tali calls this private optimism, but public despair.

In other words, the world is going downhill, but I kind of like my personal chances. This, of course, can also make us prone to believing the worst about the world around us, whether it's grounded in reality or not. Tali says that emotions are more effective than facts at motivating our beliefs and actions.

This is something we can also use to our advantage if we're trying to influence others. Knowing how our brains work and what types of information other people prefer can actually help us frame our communications better. Also, if you tap into someone else's emotions, they pay more attention to what you're saying than if you're just throwing out facts and figures at them.

It's more impactful. We love stories as humans, and the best influencers are also the best storytellers. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Young and Profiting Podcast. If you listen, learned and profited from this episode, be sure to share it with your friends and family and drop us a five star review on Apple Podcasts.

I love reading your reviews. It is my favorite thing to do every single morning, so please drop us a review on Apple if you never have, and if you like watching your podcast videos, you can find all of our episodes on YouTube. You can also find me on Instagram at Yap, with Holla or LinkedIn by searching my name.

It's Holla Taha. I wanna shout out my production team. Thank you for all your hard work on the show. It really shows. Really appreciate you guys dedicating every day to Younger Profiting podcast. This is your host, Hala Taha, signing off.

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