Have you ever wondered if multitasking is an effective work strategy? Why we develop prejudices? Whether playing Mozart will make your infant smarter? What the differences between the right and left sides of our brains are? How we deal with cognitive dissonance? In Brain Briefs: Answers to the Most (and Least) Pressing Questions about Your Mind, Art Markman and Bob Duke address all of these questions — and more — in forty 5-10 page explanations.
Based on their successful podcast, Two Guys on Your Head, Brain Briefs draws on Markman and Duke’s expertise as teachers and academics and covers a wide range of common psychology concepts and questions.
Like the podcast, Brain Briefs is constructed with the average-but-interested listener in mind. The book requires no familiarity with psychology or its foundational concepts, but does address common misconceptions — especially entrenched ideas that have been established by pop psychology.
There’s nothing stuffy or condescending about Brain Briefs. Rather, its greatest success is the accessibility of the content and the appealing tone established by the two authors, who are friends and coworkers. Neither authors shy away from a joke at their own expense to clarify a point or to put the reader at ease. Fans of the podcast will certainly recognize their easygoing style and patient explanations.
Each short chapter begins with a question, which the authors then address using anecdotes and personal examples to illustrate their explanations. Each chapter ends with a pithy saying that encapsulates the primary point of the discussion, i.e., as the two point out, “the sort of insight you might cross-stitch on a pillow.”
These range from “you just never know” to “your brain has many facets, but it doesn’t choose sides,” to “better than brain games: learn to make music.” These nuggets are another expression of the accessible tone and approach Markman and Duke take in Brain Briefs.
Readers of any familiarity with psychology can easily grasp their discussions; they may opt to enjoy it in short bursts, or read it start to finish with little difficulty.
The chapters work fairly independently of one another, and don’t necessarily build on each other in a cumulative way, but with some overlap in terms of subject matter. The idea seems to be that readers might skip around as they like or return to connected ideas, such as the ways in which we try to reach our fullest potential.
Three related topics include: “Is it true that we only use 10 percent of our brains?” “Should we play brain games?” And “Does listening to Mozart make us smarter?” While there is a degree of repetition between the points made in these related chapters, Duke and Markman keep their examples fresh—and always provide readers with a new cross-stitch to conclude their points.
In their introduction, Markman and Duke hope that:
“You will find [it] to be a source of entertainment, one that piques your curiosity, prompts conversation with friends, and perhaps a few nuggets of insight. Even better if you can apply what you learn to your own life…”
With this in mind, I would declare Brain Briefs to be a resounding success. It not only provides excellent cocktail party conversation, it also inspires its readers to consider how they approach conflict, how they think about concepts like memory and productivity, how they stimulate creativity, and how they perceive other people. These are all necessary questions to us as human beings and Brain Briefs is an excellent primer.
This book nurtures the very curiosity that might lead someone to pick it up in the first place. And unlike many authors who seek to inform the average reader about psychological principles, Markman and Duke do not devote the bulk of their time to correcting misinformation. Rather they provide accurate, updated explanations of contemporary psychology and foster excitement rather than criticizing outdated or overly popularized ideas. Moreover, they empower their readers to continue their investigations with a diverse but not overwhelming list of references.
In short, Brain Briefs should appeal to anyone with a passing interest in psychology and cognitive science. The wit and wry humor of its two authors provides an appealing introduction to the field and more than a little fodder for personal and social contemplation of the ideas explained within. It is a quick, easy read.
Brain Briefs: Answers to the Most (and Least) Pressing Questions about Your Mind
Art Markman and Bob Duke
Sterling Publishing, October 2016
Hardcover, 278 pages