THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 16

Subject: Spotlight Effect – Barry Manilow T-shirt

Event:  Birthday of Thomas Dashiff Gilovich, 1954 

In an old joke attributed to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, it is said that more people fear public speaking than fear death.  This means that at a funeral the majority of people would rather be in the casket than at the podium delivering the eulogy.

While it is true that many people fear public speaking, it’s doubtful that it is a fate worse than death.  What is true, however, is that we all tend to let our imaginations overestimate how much our actions and appearance are noticed by others in public situations.   Proof of this comes from the research of psychologist Thomas Dashiff Gilovich, who was born on January 16, 1954.  

In Gilovich’s best-known study, he had his subjects put on a shirt with a big picture of Barry Manilow on the front.  Gilovich wanted the t-shirt to feature the picture of someone who most subjects would be embarrassed to be associated with.  Manilow, the ‘70s singer known for schmaltzy pop, fit the bill. Telling his subjects that he was conducting a memory study, Gilovich had the t-shirt-clad subjects walk into a room.  As they entered, what they saw was a room full of seated students facing them.  After the subjects left the room, Gilovich asked them to estimate what percentage of the students in the room would remember their t-shirt.  Gilovich also asked the students in the room if they remembered whose face was on the t-shirt.  

The results revealed that the t-shirt-clad subjects grossly overestimated how much they were noticed.  They estimated that just under half of the students would remember the shirt; in reality, fewer than a quarter remembered seeing Manilow’s mug.

Gilovich also conducted the study by having subjects wear t-shirts that were considerably less embarrassing.  Even in these cases, though, the subjects drastically overestimated how many people remembered the shirt.

Gilovich dubbed his discovery the “spotlight effect,” an appropriate name to describe how inaccurate our perception of reality is.  Naturally, since we experience the world from our own first-person point of view, we put ourselves at the center of our own universe — in the spotlight.  This egocentrism distorts reality; the truth is that others are focused much more on themselves than on us (1).

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the spotlight effect, and how did Gilovich’s study show the difference between perception and reality?

Challenge – Spotlight PSA:  Write a public service announcement that informs the audience about the spotlight effect and that persuades them that public speaking is nothing to fear.

Sources:  

1-Gordon, Amie M.  “Have You Fallen Prey to the ‘Spotlight Effect’?Psychology Today 21 November 2013.

January 16: Eponymous Adjective Day

El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.jpg
Title Page of the First Edition

On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.

The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to become one himself.  Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.

Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks windmills, thinking they are hulking giants.  Ordinary inns to Quixote become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.

Literary critics call Don Quixote the first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing.   William Faulkner read Don Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don Quixote his favorite literary character (1).

Often when an idea or a style originates from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a noun but as an adjective.  There are many examples of these proper nouns that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:  Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque.  When proper adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic), but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.  Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character.  Check any dictionary and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, or impractical.”

Today’s Challenge:  Autobiography of an Adjective

What are some examples of adjectives that derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary?  Select one of the eponymous adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the biography of the person behind the word.  Then, imagine the person behind the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or her name became an adjective.  Also, have the person explain the meaning of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Arthurian, Byronic, Chauvinistic, Darwinian, Dickensian, Epicurean, Faustian, Hippocratic, Jeffersonian, Kafkaesque, Leninist, Lutheran, Marxist, Newtonian, Oedipal, Orwellian, Platonic, Pyrrhic, Reaganesque, Sisyphean, Stentorian, Trepsicordian, Victorian, Wilsonian, Zoroastrian

Quotation of the Day:  It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes

1- Bloom, Harold. The Knight in the MirrorThe Guardian. 12 Dec. 2003.