A few days ago I got a bit wet in one of the perennially unexpected showers that Bangalore is endowed with. Starting to shiver a bit, I got on to a bus, which was a First for me in this city. Not a good start to attempt a First surely. My language handicap coupled with my haggard state slowed me down which in turn turned up the conductor’s temper. With a shiver that was starting to spread speedily now, I managed a ticket which would get me somewhere familiar. My eyes darted for a seat and zeroed in on two targets: one was a fragile, middle aged lady holding a ‘1by2 kaafee’ (typically, Bangaloreans are found enjoying their coffee in tiny glasses, hence the name 1by2) and the other was a young girl, iPod pumping through her head and a blank face staring into nothingness. I found myself sitting down next to the old lady. Typically I would have chosen the young lady holding the promise of knowing a language that I could converse in. Suddenly, two words flashed across my mind and I believe I found an interesting explanation for what I’d just done. The words were – “Attribute Substitution”.
More than a couple of months back, I’d stumbled across this concept and since then would consciously try to see if it actually worked like it did on paper. It refers to a phenomenon whereby we judge something seemingly more complex (target attribute) on the basis of our understanding of something comparatively easier (heuristic attribute); meaning that we take a simple judgement, like noting a warm or cold day, and apply it to a larger, more complex one, like whether the planet is headed for global meltdown.
“This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system rather than the more self-aware reflective system.” Extending this funda to our day-to-day situations throws up interesting inferences. Multitude tests were conducted in this regard which included: a stranger holding a cup of hot coffee when compared to one holding iced coffee, yielded more positive responses from people when asked to rate the person. Reminds us of our own 1by2 lady, eh?
A more scientific explanation for this intriguing occurrence is through this part of our brain called Insula which acts like a cross over between the outside world and our experience with it. So sensations like disgust at a gory scene or craving for a chocolate can be blamed on this. It’s also your social guide wherein it hints us when to feel guilty or joyful or embarrassed. Now this tiny, peach shaped entity holds the key to some of our unconscious behavior - warmer the temperature, greater the level of trust exercised. Sunnier days amplify trading of riskier stocks. Waiters’ pockets are heavier when it’s warmer. Think about yourself and recall your moods on sunless winter days. I tend to hear a lot more cribbing, overcast thoughts rule the skies, and in general merry making slips. If you Wiki it, you’d get to know many other such examples, each with its own sense of intrigue. For the lazier ones out of you, here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attribute_substitutionThis is yet another display of how much our unconscious governs our lives and how at times, we are mere puppets of our own selves. It explains why and how our biases and prejudices grow within us and take root, without us even knowing. Why the picture of our minds bears unwanted blotches. This also goes to to display how our physical manifestation, our bodies are connected to that which we can't see, our unconscious. I could go on and on about this, but keeping certain readers in mind (especially you, Alan Sama), I’ll cut it here and leave you with a song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle, "Dust in the wind". Uncoil... :)