Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Does it hurt to break a board?
Here’s why. The process of breaking a board is a little more complicated than making a fist and hitting. It involves a certain amount of concentration, commitment, and conviction. You have to believe that you are going to break the board and implicit in that belief is that your hand (or foot, or elbow, ...) is stronger than the wood.
Belief is an amazing force. You are probably aware of the placebo effect - this is the result (the “effect”) that if you give 25 headache victims aspirin, and another 25 headache victims a placebo (essentially a nothing pill) that some number of the placebo recipients will report being cured. What you may not be aware of is just how troublesome the placebo effect is.
According to Jonah Lehrer in his book, “How We Decide,” depending on the medical condition and the nature of the “cure”, the placebo effect can account for 35% to 75% of suffering people to report getting better even though their “treatment” is totally, scientifically, and completely bogus. Let that sink in - up to 75% of sick people get better simply because they believe they will get better.
The placebo effect has been shown up in everything from migraines (not for me, though), labor pains, paralysis, and even joint replacements. Seriously. About the only known condition that has been shown immune to the effect is diabetes. Not even the most believing diabetic can fool his body’s needs for glucose and insulin.
A neuroeconomist at Stanford University combined the placebo effect with our innate sense that things that cost more are of higher quality. A study group was given one of those Energy Drinks and then asked to perform a series of puzzles. Here’s the twist; the participants were required to pay for the drinks, but some of them were given a discount. The participants who paid for and drank the “discounted” energy drinks consistently solved 30% fewer puzzles. No matter how many times the tests were conducted the results were the same.
If you believe that higher priced energy drink will elevate your cognitive capabilities more than a discounted energy drink, then it will. But let’s be clear, this is not about what the participants think.
It’s about what they believe.
I can easily get you to think about a unicorn in your kitchen, but getting you to believe there is one there is a very different thing. If you want to break a board, you have to believe the board will break. No doubt. Period. It.will.break!
Now, if you believe (not think, not suspect, not hope, ...), that the board will break, does that not assume that your hand is stronger than the wood? Would you even ponder how much your hand would hurt if you punched a blob of Jello? No - because you KNOW to the depths of your knowing place that your hand is stronger than Jello.
So.... hitting a board that is weaker than your hand to snap it in two is unlikely to cause any pain because your hand is stronger, and the weaker substance will not cause you pain. If you believe it, it will happen.
In fact what hurts is - NOT breaking the board.
That sets in motion a cataclysmic cascade of cognitive corrections that end with colorful metaphors.