Octavo Dia

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: When Markets Collide

El-Erian, Mohammed. When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change. NY: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Whatever point he made have had was lost in his turgid, jargon-swollen prose.


Book Review: Emotions Revealed

Ekman, Paul. Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life. Henry Holt & Co., 2004.

I had expected this book to be much more detailed than it was—the first hundred pages or so are just background material, and you don’t get into the meat of the text until almost half way through. Even then, it spends much more time on the “emotions” aspect, and much less on the “revealed” portion.

According to his research, there are seven emotions that are linked to universal facial expressions. For the skeptics in the audience, he demonstrated experimentally that (a) congenitally blind children—who have never seen a facial expression—make the same expressions, (b) people typically don’t realize that they made a facial expression, and (c) when in a private setting, people around the world make the same expressions for these emotions.[1]

What is emotion? According to Ekman, emotion is an intuitive response to a vital life event, an autopilot, if you will. Emotionally, we can respond long before we become consciously aware—we may, in fact, never become consciously aware of what is causing our emotions.[2] He describes our senses working with our emotions as “auto-appraisers” that scan our environment for pertinent information that we either react to emotionally, or pass on to our conscious mind for evaluation.[3]

That emotions are displayed in the face is self-evident. What is less so is that facial expression can be a reliable indicator of emotion. Particularly since the expressions typically last for about 1/5 of a second before the conscious mind assumes control. Ekman argues that these micro-expressions are reliable indicators, but he also adds enough caveats to his claim that it casts doubt on his conclusion. For example:

· People who make a habit of controlling their emotions may be able to control their micro-expressions as well. This usually uses positive commands such as “Stay calm,” rather than “Don’t panic.” This approach does require training and practice.

· People can mask their emotions by dwelling on an event with an appropriate emotion, i.e., reimagining a happy experience to maintain a happy expression.

· People rarely display a pure emotion. It usually is a mixture or melding of multiple emotions and expressions.

· The intensity of an emotional display varies. Emotion, like expression, varies in its length and intensity, and the micro-expression can vary as well.

· Even given all of the above, detecting emotion via a micro-expression does not tell you why the person is experiencing the emotion, where the emotion is directed, and how life experiences change individual reactions.

In conclusion, it is amazing what you notice when you’re looking for something. Knowing that micro-expressions exist, and watching for them, is just another piece of the puzzle. Watch their face as you ask a question, and see if the reaction matches the rest of the story, or if a deeper look is needed.

[1] Consider, then, that if people’s emotional displays vary the world over, emotional translators would be as common as language translators.

[2] For example, humans are capable of smelling adrenaline, but we do not become conscious of it. When your hackles rise, it’s likely that you’re sensing someone’s adrenaline.

[3] Ekman believes that there is “species constant learning,” or those threats which our ancestors faced are more likely to be perceived as a threat. Thus snakes, for example, are unconsciously noticed as a threat, whereas a firearm is not.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Book Review: Day of Empire

Day of Empire.

Chua's thesis is that a hyperpower becomes so by absorbing the talents of the world, and it does so by what she terms "strategic tolerance." A hyperpower recognizes and utilizes talent in whatever form it takes, which requires overlooking differences in race, ethnicity, religion, etc. A hyperpower then declines when a society becomes closed and xenophobic. She uses comparative case studies to chart the rise, and the fall, of hyperpowers, as well as using a few counter examples of highly successful, insular powers.

She's on the right track, but her terminology seems off to me. I think that societies rise on a meritocratic basis, and the fall on an aristocratic basis. When anyone can rise based on merit, a society will prosper, whether it draws from its own or from everywhere. The larger the pool of talent to draw from, the greater the resulting society will be.

I guess my real dislike of her terminology is that "tolerance" has become a loaded word in American politics. The societies she describes were tolerant, but probably only on an elite level. The transfer of population was too limited for there to have been any great mixture--in that regard the United States is probably without parallel.