Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations

3.63 avg rating
( 175 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9781591846574: Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations

How our fast-forward minds make something out of nothing
 
We all know expectations matter—in school, in sports, in the stock market. From a healing placebo to a run on the bank, hints of their self-fulfilling potential have been observed for years. But we’ve never fully understood why.
 
Journalist Chris Berdik offers a captivating look at the frontiers of expectations research, revealing how our assumptions bend reality.
 
We learn how placebo calories can fill us up, how fake surgery can sometimes work better than real surgery, and how imaginary power can be corrupting. Mind Over Mind is a journey into the most exciting area of brain research today.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Chris Berdik is a science journalist and a former staff editor at the Atlantic and Mother Jones. He has written for numerous publications, including New Scientist, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He lives in Boston.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

HEAD GAMES

[1 ] RUNNING ON EMPTY

Why are we thrilled by the crack of the starter’s pistol or the referee’s opening whistle? The contest of strength, speed, or endurance has begun. The game is under way. That split second is the pinnacle of sports expectations, which go way beyond who will win and who will lose. Indeed, they push up against our limits. And then they keep going.

On a breezy day in May 1954, a twenty-five-year-old medical student named Roger Bannister stepped onto the soggy track at Oxford University. He knew the time to beat, and so did thousands of spectators who had come to watch him run. The long-standing world record for a mile was 4 minutes and 1.4 seconds. But beating the world record wasn’t enough. Ever since Bannister failed to medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, he’d dedicated himself to running a mile in under 4 minutes.

Bannister knew that some doctors believed his goal was impossible, and possibly life-threatening. In a book about that race at Oxford, Bannister wrote, “I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well. I drove on, impelled by a combination of fear and pride.”

When Bannister finished in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, a jubilant crowd rushed the track. The record Bannister beat was nine years old. His new record stood for less than two months. Remember who beat it?*

The fact is that while few of us will ever run a 4-minute mile, it’s no longer newsworthy. Today it would likely earn no better than ninth place at international track competitions such as the Wanamaker Mile. Bannister’s achievement remains remarkable, because 4 is a nice round number, and because it symbolizes our ability to push beyond limiting expectations and bust the myths of impossibility—like Sir Edmund Hilary scaling Mount Everest in 1953 and Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947. Bannister’s legs powered him through that mile, along with a heart and lungs strengthened by years of preparation. Still, he needed something else to beat 4 minutes. He needed to believe it was possible.

Defining human limits is a mean business, something “the man” has always done to keep us down. Consider how much better the “best” is now than it was a century ago. In 2012, the current high school record for the 200-meter dash beats the 1912 Olympic gold medal time by a full second and a half, and the top high school marathoner would finish more than 13 minutes ahead of the 1912 gold medalist. The assumption that the future promises ever more astounding athletic feats fascinates audiences and motivates competitors. Suggesting that the days of “faster, higher, stronger” are numbered is about as popular as farting in church.

Of course, there are limits, not only for the mile, but for human athleticism more generally. The pace of new world records is slowing in competitions of pure speed, power, and endurance. At some point, these limitations will hold us back despite our steadfast refusal to accept them. What then? Change the rules? Change our bodies? Change the Olympic motto? Or do we need to change our minds?

Reflecting on the final sprint of his legendary mile, Bannister wrote, “My body had long since exhausted all its energy, but it went on running just the same. The physical overdraft came only from greater willpower.”

How far can willpower take a runner’s legs? How much of our muscle power is mind power? As athletes push up against our physical limits, the question looms large.

ARE WORLD RECORDS BECOMING EXTINCT?

In 2004, Nature published a short piece extrapolating the trends in world record times for men and women running the 100-meter dash from 1910 to 2252. Because women’s times were improving faster than men’s, the authors concluded that women would one day be running faster than men, possibly before the end of the century.

Among the article’s many critics was Geoffroy Berthelot, a statistics-minded researcher at Paris’s Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology.

“If you just extrapolate the data, then you eventually say that the 100-meter record will be under one second,” Berthelot says. “But you can’t go beyond the physiological limit. And while we don’t know exactly where that is, we know you can’t go beyond zero. You can’t arrive before the start.”

Actually, Berthelot seems to know fairly precisely where the limits are, at least in some cases. In several swimming events and the sprint competitions in track, he thinks we’ve already reached them. A 2008 paper he coauthored looked at the progression of world records in Olympic events since the first Games in 1896. It concluded that performance in 13 percent of the events had already plateaued, and half of them would most likely max out within two decades. The paper’s title, “The Citius End,” suggests that the Olympic spirit might soon need to be redefined.

In a 2010 follow-up analysis, Berthelot and his coauthors went beyond world records and collected the top ten performances each year for seventy events, including thirty-six track and field events between 1891 and 2008 and thirty-four swimming events between 1963 and 2008. Plotted on a graph, the top performances improve in fits and starts. The steeper slopes hint at something unusual—a war’s end, a game-changing new technique, better equipment. Or doping.

For Berthelot, the fact that some world beaters likely cheated only strengthens his argument that the end is near for pure athleticism. In January 2013, after years of denials, Lance Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his storied cycling career, which included seven victories in the grueling twenty-one-day, 2,000 mile Tour de France.

Even before Armstrong confessed, so many top cyclists had been found guilty of doping, including nearly all of the cyclists who finished second and third behind Armstrong in his Tour victories, that the sport already seemed to have moved to a drug-enhanced level of performance expectations. There’s a tipping point after which the athletes who take drugs are no longer the exception. They become the new normal.

“Things were just getting faster and faster,” said cyclist Frankie Andreu in a May 2011 segment on 60 Minutesabout doping on the U.S. Postal Service’s cycling team, which Armstrong captained. “There’s 200 guys flying over these mountains, and you can’t even stay in the group. And it’s just impossible to keep up.” It was either dope or go home, Andreu said. So he doped.

There are plenty of people who have no real problem with that. They dismiss anti-doping efforts in professional sports as much ado about nothing, a crusade beset by double standards. At its core, the argument over sports doping is about our expectations for athletics. What do sports at the highest levels mean to us?

If the answer is striving for victory, overcoming failure, and, ultimately, pushing the boundaries of human athleticism, then we should try to keep the contests as clean as possible. Roger Bannister was lionized because he embodied a new sense of possibility for what human beings could do—what we could do. That was what captivated the world, not the absolute number of seconds that he ran.

Still, it would be naive to suggest that’s all, or even most, of what we want from top-level sports. We don’t pay good money to sit in the stands and be inspired. We want our team to win. We expect to be entertained. If this is what we want, then why not legalize performance boosters, so long as they’re reasonably safe. After all, dunking a basketball from the foul line is pretty cool, but dunking from the three-point line would be totally unreal.

The Achilles’ heel of the entertainment rationale, though, is that everything gets boring when it becomes routine. Soon enough, it will be obvious that the Wow! threshold is being advanced by drugs rather than effort or dedication or sheer daring. How entertaining would it be to watch contests that boil down to who has the best drugs?

Having said that, what about the Wow? Some sports, particularly the raw tests of speed and endurance, seem at risk of losing their allure, for both competitors and audience. What would it be like to watch, or train for, the Olympics if we knew we’d already seen the best there ever will be?

One can expect cutting-edge equipment to continue nudging some records along, although sports-governing bodies are increasingly wary of allowing technology to set the pace.

In 2008, many top swimmers, such as Michael Phelps, began wearing a new type of full-body swimsuit made of a high-tech, water-repellent fabric. In the eighteen months before the international swimming federation’s May 2009 decision to ban the full-body suits, more than a hundred swimming world records fell, including the seven Phelps set at the Beijing Olympics while winning an astonishing eight gold medals. In the 2012 Olympics, swimmers set eight new world records. That’s a far cry from the twenty-five records that fell in the 2008 Olympics, and at least one record-setter admitted to using illegal “dolphin kicks” during his race. Plus, Berthelot notes that while the federation banned the new swimsuits, it authorized the introduction of angled starting blocks that give swimmers an extra burst of speed as they enter the pool.

New and better equipment has always been a part of superior athletic performance. At a certain point, however, drawing some admittedly arbitrary line makes sense. It would feel just as lame to root for the athletes with the best technology as it would to cheer those with the best muscle juice.

Another way to keep some of these competitions exciting might be to slice victory by the thousandth of a second. After all, since American sprinter Jim Hines first beat ten seconds at the 1968 Olympics, there have been fifteen world records in the men’s 100-meter dash thanks to measuring to the hundredth of a second, rather than the four measured in tenths of a second.

“But you’re just resampling the curve. It doesn’t change the dynamic,” counters Berthelot. By dynamic, he means the great slow-down of human athletic progress. “You’re still reaching the plateau, but you’re more precise in describing that plateau.”

True, but Olympic sprinters don’t run (and we don’t watch them run) in order to ratchet up the slope of human athletic progress. The quest is to do it faster. Period. If more precision allows afiner determination of this, then scale may not matter. They didn’t time races to the hundredth of a second in 1921 when the American sprinter Charley Paddock ran 100 meters in 10.4 seconds, two tenths of a second faster than the old record. Was Usain Bolt’s world record in 2008 less celebrated because it edged the old time (also Bolt’s) by only three hundredths of a second?

Swimming and track events are still marquees on the Olympic schedule. Still, appealing to an audience is one thing, and motivating the athletes is another. Most of the events on Berthelot’s watch list are contested in relative obscurity. Olympic audiences might find the prospect of a new record, even one notched by a thousandth of a second, worth a sliver of their television viewing time every four years. Will it be enough to motivate runners, though, who must train for years to compete for an ever-diminishing chance at greatness?

Berthelot isn’t too worried. “If there are no more world records,” he says, “then maybe we’ll have to focus on the competition itself.”

OUTSMARTING FATIGUE

If athletes truly are approaching our natural limits and if surpassing these limits thanks to drugs and technology feels hollow, then higher, faster, stronger may increasingly depend on the mind’s ability to wring the last drops of speed, strength, and endurance from the muscles, heart, and lungs.

This won’t be easy, according to traditional exercise physiology, where the standard account of fatigue is purely physical. At a certain point, our lungs and hearts just can’t keep up with the muscles’ demand for oxygen and nutrients. Lactic acid builds up as a last-ditch energy source. Then our muscles start to quit. Our bodies do all they can, and then can do no more.

Archibald Vivian (A. V.) Hill, a Nobel-winning British physiologist, came up with the basics of this explanation in the 1920s, and it remains the core of textbook accounts. In the late 1990s, however, a South African sports physician and exercise physiologist named Timothy Noakes started to question whether the heart, lungs, and muscles truly governed fatigue.

If a body just kept exercising, on and on, until it was utterly spent, he wondered, why weren’t more athletes succumbing to heat stroke, heart attacks, and fatal dehydration? Why weren’t more competitors collapsing and even dying from exertion? Noakes found his first clue in a paragraph of Hill’s original writings that had been largely overlooked for decades.

“When the oxygen supply becomes inadequate, it is probable that the heart rapidly begins to diminish its output, so avoiding exhaustion,” Hill wrote. To prevent serious damage to the heart, he suggested that “some mechanism (a governor) slows things down, as soon as a serious degree of [oxygen] unsaturation occurs.”

Hill speculated that this mechanism might be part of the heart muscle itself or in the brain. Noakes suspected the latter, and he went further. While Hill thought the protective slow-down kicked in when things reached a crisis point, flipping the emergency off switch when catastrophe was at hand, Noakes proposed that the brain sees fatigue coming and that an anticipatory “central governor” (named for Hill’s “governor” concept) rules endurance via these expectations.

Noakes and his colleague at the University of Capetown, Ross Tucker, built on the theory of “teleoanticipation” proposed in 1996 by German exercise physiologist Hans-Volkhart Ulmer. According to Ulmer, it’s all about the finish line. The exercising brain starts there and works backward to regulate exertion.

Let’s say you’re an experienced, albeit recreational runner of 10K races. Before every race, your brain’s central governor uses previous running experience to predict when your lungs will start to burn, how your legs will feel, and how long you’ll need to exert yourself. If it’s really hot out, or if you’re already a little dehydrated, then the central governor takes that into account and sets a safe pace.

As you run, your brain adjusts its initial expectations using feedback from your senses and bodily systems to ensure that you have what it takes to finish with a little bit, but not too much, to spare. Then, to keep your pace in line with these expectations, the brain quietly adjusts the number of “go” signals it sends to your muscles. Accordingly, when you’re surprised by how far you are from the finish, that sluggishness that washes over you is protective. It’s the brain cutting the throttle in anticipation of trouble.

For example, Noakes and Tucker had expert cyclists ride a stationary bike at whatever speed translated into a constant rate of perceived exertion (RPE). For reference, the RPE for exercise tests can go from 6 “very light” to 20 “maximum,” and the cyclists pushed themselves to an RPE of 16, between “hard” and “very hard.” They were told to stay at that level until the researchers stopped them. Meanwhile,...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Buy New View Book
List Price: US$ 16.00
US$ 5.99

Convert Currency

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.

Destination, Rates & Speeds

Add to Basket

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Berdik, Chris
Published by Penguin Books 2013-09-24 (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
BookOutlet
(Thorold, ON, Canada)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Books 2013-09-24, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Bookseller Inventory # 9781591846574B

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 5.99
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Chris Berdik
Published by Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository US
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. How our fast-forward minds make something out of nothing We all know expectations matter--in school, in sports, in the stock market. From a healing placebo to a run on the bank, hints of their self-fulfilling potential have been observed for years. But we ve never fully understood why. Journalist Chris Berdik offers a captivating look at the frontiers of expectations research, revealing how our assumptions bend reality. We learn how placebo calories can fill us up, how fake surgery can sometimes work better than real surgery, and how imaginary power can be corrupting. Mind Over Mind is a journey into the most exciting area of brain research today. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 12.76
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

Berdik, Chris
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Paperbackshop-US
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2013. PAP. Book Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # VP-9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 8.78
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Chris Berdik
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Random House. Book Condition: New. Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 1591846579

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 9.30
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.50
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Chris Berdik
Published by Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback Quantity Available: 10
Seller:
Book Depository hard to find
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. How our fast-forward minds make something out of nothing We all know expectations matter--in school, in sports, in the stock market. From a healing placebo to a run on the bank, hints of their self-fulfilling potential have been observed for years. But we ve never fully understood why. Journalist Chris Berdik offers a captivating look at the frontiers of expectations research, revealing how our assumptions bend reality. We learn how placebo calories can fill us up, how fake surgery can sometimes work better than real surgery, and how imaginary power can be corrupting. Mind Over Mind is a journey into the most exciting area of brain research today. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 13.49
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Chris Berdik
Published by Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. How our fast-forward minds make something out of nothing We all know expectations matter--in school, in sports, in the stock market. From a healing placebo to a run on the bank, hints of their self-fulfilling potential have been observed for years. But we ve never fully understood why. Journalist Chris Berdik offers a captivating look at the frontiers of expectations research, revealing how our assumptions bend reality. We learn how placebo calories can fill us up, how fake surgery can sometimes work better than real surgery, and how imaginary power can be corrupting. Mind Over Mind is a journey into the most exciting area of brain research today. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 13.49
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

Berdik, Chris
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Quantity Available: 4
Seller:
Pbshop
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2013. PAP. Book Condition: New. New Book.Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # IB-9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 9.55
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Berdik, Chris
Published by Current
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Mediaoutlet12345
(Springfield, VA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Current. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 1591846579 *BRAND NEW* Ships Same Day or Next!. Bookseller Inventory # SWATI2132180368

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 11.38
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Berdik, Chris
Published by Current 9/24/2013 (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback or Softback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
BargainBookStores
(Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Current 9/24/2013, 2013. Paperback or Softback. Book Condition: New. Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations. Book. Bookseller Inventory # BBS-9781591846574

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 16.05
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Berdik, Chris
Published by Current (2013)
ISBN 10: 1591846579 ISBN 13: 9781591846574
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Current, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # 1591846579

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 14.33
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 1.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book