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The Fall of Jonah Lehrer — Over-Positive Thinking?

Not Jonah Lehrer, but conveying the stress If this seems like gobbledy-gook, please read last Wednesday’s post and it will make more sense. The picture is NOT Jonah Lehrer, but conveys the stress he might be feeling. It’s just a stock photo from fotolia.

Here’s the concept — in brief — that Jonah Lehrer wrote about in his terrific article, “Don’t” in the New Yorker several years ago. In research with young children, Walter Mischell, Ph.D ( now at Columbia University) looking for knowledge about ability to delay gratification, or will power, or self-control, determined that strategic allocation of attention was actually the operating mechanism. You’ve probably read about the research before, often referred to as “the marshmallow study”, originally conducted in the 40s. Kids who distracted themselves from the tempting marshmallows could delay gratification more successfully than those who paid a lot of attention to them.

Lehrer went on to explain the subsequent research that followed and the conclusion that people who were able to strategically allocate attention as children, turned out to be more successful as adults. There’s an irony here after Lehrer’s recent firing/resignation from The New Yorker. I guess he hadn’t learned the skills of strategic allocation of attention and strategic resistance to distraction when self-management and emotional regulation were needed.

Here’s what Todd Gitline, a professor of journalism and solciology at Columbia said about Mr. Lehrer in reaction to his firing for the Bob Dylan quote blunder in his 2012 Imagine.  “. . . not only had Mr. Lehrer carved out a career in the popular niche of brain science, but he had created a persona that is perfectly suited to a 21-st century media environment.

‘Conjure me up a guy who talks science winningly, who shows you how that everything is transparent, and does it in a self help-y spirit,’ he said. “In our age, a guy who looks cute and wonky is better positioned to get away with this than others.”

My take? Lehrer must have been lying to himself somewhere along the line! It’s sad. Seems to me that many men foil themselves with delusions of grandeur, sense of entitlement, or just plain over-egoism. Maybe women do it/have it/ too, but it’s not quite so publicly and frequently displayed. Is it self-deception or over the top positive thinking or just dumb? I don’t know. Do you?