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Michael Levine
Michael Levine

Logic and Emotion

Delving into the logical and emotional sides of the human brain.

Decisions are an integral component of our daily lives. On any given day, one could assume we are faced with something like 18 different detergents at the convenience store, four coffee cafes within blocks of each other, and millions of virtual faces around the world to consider befriending. With all of these desirable options staring into our souls, have you ever wondered why or how humans make both the simple and complex choices we do? Why do we decide to marry or stay single? Why do we choose one profession over another? With what mental strategy do we pick a restaurant for our friend's birthday? And what drives a person's desire to indulge in one activity versus another?

It is impossible to quantify the countless decisions we make in one day, since they range from mundane choices, like whether to sit on the sofa or the chair, to as profound as asking someone for their hand in marriage, signing escrow papers, or accepting a job offer across the country. Though these choices may seem insignificant, they are actually adding up, over time, to equal our destinies.

Welcome to "The Divided Brain." My name is Michael Levine, and I welcome you to join me every couple of weeks to further delve into this illuminating topic. As founder of one of the country's most prominent entertainment PR firms for the past 30 years, LCO (Levine Communications Office) in Beverly Hills, I have had the pleasure of representing more than 70 Academy Award and Grammy winners and over 40 New York Times best-sellers; I am also the author of 19 books on topics ranging from PR to self-help to success. My experience with the human psyche, as well as dealing with corporations around the globe, makes me particularly fascinated by what appeals to the consumer culture. I'm looking forward to an intriguing dialogue with the bright readers of Psychology Today.

In the journey we are about to embrace together, we will explore the interesting implications of human behavior, as well as the conflict of forming identity—why people are who they are, do what they do, and what experiences, or lack thereof, are catalysts for their decision-making. All human brains have an emotional and logical side. People come in different proportions. Some are poets, and some are accountants, but we all have this in common—an unending strife in which both sides of our brains are locked in conflict at all times. By bringing this topic to light, we will be able to begin to explore this constant Civil Brain War, thus discovering ways to be more cognizant of the processes and improve upon these skills.

Each time we make a choice, it is my belief that our left-brain arm-wrestles with our right. The left (and more pragmatic side) tells us to act logically, while our right puts up a dramatic fight for following the heart's content. Imagine you are at the dealership with an intent to purchase a sparkling new car. What priorities do you have as you begin this task? Walking in the door, you might be leaning towards a fuel-efficient car. Maybe you are concerned about the safety of your newborn. Perhaps you just want to be sure you have a large enough cup holder for that triple espresso macchiato that accompanies you on your daily commute.

Your eye is suddenly caught by a teal coupe. You've never seen a car this color. Its stunning iridescence shimmers in your eye; your heart skips a beat. You picture how happy your wife will be when she sees this beauty, and suddenly your priorities vanish. This is the car you must have. Cup holder? Who needs one? In Beverly Hills, I frequently see these 90-pound women driving around in huge SUV cars, and when I ask them, "Why?" their answer is safety. I don't know why they feel "safe" in an SUV (and why they don't feel safe in Beverly Hills, California), but some factor of their past, maybe even their childhood, makes them feel the need for this subconscious comfort.

It is said that emotions drive 80 percent of the choices Americans make, while practicality and objectivity only represent about 20 percent of decision-making. Oh, and forget about making a decision when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. The acronym "HALT" is exactly the point here: Don't do it! If you make a decision while feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (or God-forbid some combination of more than one of the above), emotion wins 100 percent of the time and will likely push you in the wrong direction. "It is in the moments of decision that your destiny is shaped," according to Tony Robbins, self-help and motivational speaker. So if that's the case, then we better make some good ones!

In a world where 89 percent of all people in America do not believe in love at first sight, and men look at a quality such as cleavage before trustworthiness, a world where people approach others as guilty until proven innocent, instead of innocent until proven guilty—how are we going to be the judges of good, practical decision-making? Especially when it comes to love and dating, a topic we will continue to delve into further. Here's some food for thought. It's been noted that many single people are afflicted with a flaw-omatic, an internal device that detects shortcomings in potential partners. A man could be brilliant and handsome, but he gets discarded because he has a dirty shirt. A woman, who is attractive and profoundly successful at work, get vetoed because she cackles when she laughs. In this "age of anxiety," singles have overly sensitive smoke detectors.

To illustrate this point, there's this wacky story of an affluent man dating three very beautiful women, all of whom are smart, lovely, and accomplished. He is trying with real difficulty to figure out which of these three ladies to marry. A very wise friend advises him to give them each $5,000 and watch what they do with the money. The first of the three women takes the $5,000 and immediately spends it on herself. The second invests the money. And the third spends it on him. Now, the question becomes whom do you think he married?

Let me tell you.

He married his secretary with the surgically enhanced chest. Get the point?

As a lifelong observer of human behavior, particularly in the area of business, a large percentage of the time, emotion wins this ever-going arm wrestle when it comes to purchasing a new car, choosing an item at the supermarket, signing for a new home, or choosing a woman to wed. People purchase or choose what they want, not what they need. When a person is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, the percentage rockets up to 100 percent of the time. As we begin to put the pieces of the enigma of our brain back together, week by week, we will embark upon a journey of the mind, heart, and soul. Surely after all this lecturing, I hope you'll decide to join me for the ride.

About the Author
Michael Levine

Michael Levine is a publicist, motivational speaker and author of 19 books who has represented Hollywood’s most powerful names including Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Nike, and Sean “Diddy” Combs.

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Why I Hate Beauty

Poets rave about beauty. Brave men have started wars over beauty. Women in the world over strive for it. Scholars devote their lives to deconstructing our impulse to obtain it. Ordinary mortals erect temples to beauty. In just about every way imaginable, the world honors physical beauty. But I hate beauty.

I live in what is likely the beauty capital of the world and have the enviable fortune to work with some of the most beautiful women in it. With their smooth bodies and supple waists, these women are the very picture of youth and attractiveness. Not only are they exemplars of nature's design for detonating desire in men, but they stir yearnings for companionship that date back to ancestral mating dances. Still, beauty is driving me nuts, and although I'm a successful red-blooded American male, divorced and available, it is beauty alone that is keeping me single and lonely.

It is scant solace that science is on my side. I seem to have a confirmed case of the contrast effect. It doesn't make me any happier knowing it's afflicting lots of others too.

As an author of books on marketing, I have long known about the contrast effect. It is a principle of perception whereby the differences between two things are exaggerated depending on the order in which those things are presented. If you lift a light object and then a heavy object, you will judge the second object heavier than if you had lifted it first or solo.

Psychologists Sara Gutierres, Ph.D., and Douglas Kenrick, Ph.D., both of Arizona State University, demonstrated that the contrast effect operates powerfully in the sphere of person-to-person attraction as well. In a series of studies over the past two decades, they have shown that, more than any of us might suspect, judgments of attractiveness (of ourselves and of others) depend on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example, a woman of average attractiveness seems a lot less attractive than she actually is if a viewer has first seen a highly attractive woman. If a man is talking to a beautiful female at a cocktail party and is then joined by a less attractive one, the second woman will seem relatively unattractive.

The contrast principle also works in reverse. A woman of average attractiveness will seem more attractive than she is if she enters a room of unattractive women. In other words, context counts.

In their very first set of studies, which have been expanded and refined over the years to determine the exact circumstances under which the findings apply and their effects on both men and women, Gutierres and Kenrick asked male college dormitory residents to rate the photo of a potential blind date. (The photos had been previously rated by other males to be of average attractiveness.) If the men were watching an episode of Charlie's Angels when shown the photo, the blind date was rated less desirable than she was by males watching a different show. The initial impressions of romantic partners—women who were actually available to them and likely to be interested in them—were so adversely affected that the men didn't even want to bother.

Since these studies, the researchers have found that the contrast effect influences not only our evaluations of strangers but also our views of our own mates. And it sways self-assessments of attractiveness too.

Kenrick and Gutierres discovered that women who are surrounded by other attractive women, whether in the flesh, in films, or in photographs, rate themselves as less satisfied with their attractiveness—and less desirable as a marriage partner. "If there are a large number of desirable members of one's own sex available, one may regard one's own market value as lower," the researchers reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

If you had to pick ground zero for the contrast effect, it would be Hollywood. To feed the film industry's voracious appetite for attractive faces, it lures especially beautiful women from around the world. And for those who don't arrive already at the pinnacle of perfection, whole industries exist here to render it attainable, to reshape faces and bodies to the prevailing standard of attractiveness.

There's an extraordinarily high concentration of gorgeous females in Los Angeles, and courtesy of the usually balmy weather and lifestyle, they tend to be highly visible—and not just locally. The film and television industries project their images all over the world, not to mention all the supporting media dealing with celebrities and gossip that help keep them professionally viable.

As the head of a public relations agency, I work with these women day and night. You might expect that to make me feel good, as we normally like being around attractive people. But my exposure to extreme beauty is ruining my capacity to love the ordinarily beautiful women of the real world, women who are more likely to meet my needs for deep connection and partnership of the soul.

The contrast effect doesn't apply just to strangers men have yet to meet who might be most suitable for them. In studies, Gutierres and Kenrick have found that it also affects men's feelings about their current partner. Viewing pictures of attractive women weakens their commitment to their mates. Men rate themselves as being less in love with their partner after looking at Playboy centerfolds than they did before seeing the pictures of beautiful women.

This finding is all the more surprising because getting someone aroused normally boosts their attraction to their partner. But seeing beautiful models wiped out whatever effect the men might have experienced from being sexually aroused.

The strange thing is, being bombarded with visions of beautiful women (or for women, socially powerful men) doesn't make us think our partners are less physically attractive. It doesn't change our perception of our partner. Instead, by some sleight of mind, it distorts our idea of the pool of possibilities.

These images make us think there's a huge field of alternatives. It changes our estimate of the number of people who are available to us as potential mates. In changing our sense of the possibilities, it prods us to believe we could always do better, keeping us continually unsatisfied.

"The perception of the comparison pool is changed," says Gutierres. "In this context our partner doesn't look so great." Adds Kenrick: "You think, 'Yes, my partner's fine—but why do I have to settle for fine when there are just so many great people out there?'" All you have to do is turn on the TV or look at the covers of magazines in the supermarket checkout line to be convinced there are any number of incredibly beautiful women available.

Kenrick puts it in evolutionary perspective. Like us, he says, our ancestors were probably designed to make some estimation of the possible pool of alternatives and some estimation of their own worth relative to the possibilities.

The catch is they just didn't see that many people, and certainly not many beautiful people. They lived in a little village of maybe 30. Even if you counted distant third cousins, our ancestors might have been exposed to a grand total of 500 people in their lifetime. And among those 500, some were old, some were young, but very few were very attractive.

Today anyone who turns on the TV or looks at a magazine can easily see 500 beautiful people in an hour, certainly in an evening. "My pool includes the people I see in my everyday life," explains Kenrick. "I don't consciously think that the people I see through movies, TV and magazines are artificial. Still, seeing Juliette Binoche all the time registers in my brain."

Our minds have not caught up. They haven't evolved to correct for MTV. "Our research suggests that our brains don't discount the women on the cover of Cosmo even when subjects know these women are models. Subjects judge an average attractive woman as less desirable as a date after just having seen models," Kenrick says.

Part of the problem is we're built to selectively remember the really beautiful. They stand out. "That's what you're drawn to," says Kenrick. "It feels good on the brain." And any stimulus that's vivid becomes readily available to memory, encouraging you to overestimate the true frequency of beautiful women out there.

So the women men count as possibilities are not real possibilities for most of them. That leads to a lot of guys sitting at home alone with their fantasies of unobtainable supermodels, stuck in a secret, sorry state that makes them unable to access real love for real women. Or, as Kenrick finds, a lot of guys on college campuses whining, "There are no attractive women to date." Under a constant barrage of media images of beautiful women, these guys have an expectation of attractiveness that is unusually high—and that makes the real people around them, in whom they might really be interested, seem lackluster, even if they are quite good-looking.

The idea that beauty could make so many men so miserable has acquired hard-nosed mathematical proof. In the world of abstract logic, marriage is looked on as a basic matching problem with statistical underpinnings in game theory. Logic says that everybody wants to do as well as they possibly can in selecting a life partner. And when people apply varied criteria for choosing a mate, everybody ends up with a partner with whom they are more or less satisfied. Not everybody gets his or her No. 1 choice, but everybody winds up reasonably content.

But the world has changed since mathematicians first tackled the matching of people with mates in the early 1960s. Films, television and magazines have not only given beauty a commanding presence in our lives but have also helped standardize our vision of attractiveness. Enter Guido Caldarelli, Ph.D., of the University of Rome, and Andrea Capocci, Ph.D., of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Once they introduced into their mating equations what they call the "Vogue factor"—a measure of the influence of beauty—they found that people become dissatisfied with their sexual partners.

"When the concept of 'most beautiful' people in the world tends to be the same for everyone, it becomes more and more difficult to make more people happy," say the researchers. The same few beautiful people top everyone's list of desired partners—clearly an impossibility—and no one comes close to being matched with any of their choices. So people become unhappy with their partner possibilities.

Alas, it's not simply a theoretical issue. Sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa, Ph.D., finds that real-life consequences of the contrast effect exist, such as divorce. The contrast effect not only undermines marriages; it then keeps men single—and miserable.

Kanazawa, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, wondered: "If men found themselves being less attracted to their mates after being exposed to eight or 16 pictures in a half-hour experiment, what would be the effect if that happened day in, day out, for 20 years?" It immediately occurred to him that high school and college teachers would be prime candidates for a study; they are constantly surrounded by young women in their reproductive prime. The only other occupation he could think of where the overwhelming majority of people men come in contact with are young women, was Hollywood movie directors, as well as producers and actors—a group not known for their stable marriages. But there was not an available body of data on them like there was on teachers, from a general population survey.

What Kanazawa found was summed up in the title of his report published in Evolution and Human Behavior: "Teaching May Be Hazardous to Your Marriage." Men are generally less likely to be currently divorced or separated than women, and overall teachers are particularly unlikely to be divorced or separated. But being a male teacher or professor wiped out that advantage. And not just any male teacher is at risk. Male kindergarten and grade school teachers were contentedly monogamous. "There appears to be something about male teachers who come in daily contact with teenaged women that increases the likelihood of being currently divorced or separated," Kanazawa says. He adds that these men remain unmarried because any adult women they might meet and date after their divorce would pale in comparison to the pretty young things constantly around them.

"Most real-life divorces happen because one or the other spouse is dissatisfied with their mate," says Kanazawa. "The contrast effect can explain why men might unconsciously become dissatisfied. They don't know why they suddenly find their middle-aged wives not appealing anymore; their exposure to young women might be a reason."

It would be blissfully easy to point a finger and claim that such infatuation with the young and the beautiful is the fault of the media and its barrage of nubile bodies. But it would also be incorrect. They're just giving us what we are naturally interested in.

All the evidence indicates that we are wired to respond to beauty. It's more than a matter of mere aesthetics; beauty is nature's shorthand for healthy and fertile, for reproductive capacity, a visible cue that a woman has the kind of prime partner potential that will bestow good genes on future generations. One of the prime elements of beauty, for example, is symmetry of body features. Research suggests that symmetrical people are physically and psychologically healthier than their less symmetrical counterparts.

If we're now all reeling from a surfeit of images of attractiveness, well, it's a lot like our dietary love affair with sugar. "We want it. We need it. And our ancestors didn't have enough of it," observes Kenrick. "They were more concerned with starving. As a result, we have very hypersensitive detectors for it. And modern technology packages it and sends us doses that are way too large for our health."

There are, of course, beautiful women in other parts of the country. But L.A. is a mecca, attracting the most beautiful. Women don't look like this anywhere else in the country, and certainly not in the quantity they do here.

L.A. is an adopted city for me, as it is for many. Born in New York, I wonder from time to time what shape my life would have taken if I hadn't moved here in the 1970s. Whatever else, I would not have been saturated with the sight of so many beautiful women on a daily basis. But then I remember; these are the women whose images are broadcast all over the globe. While most people do not live in L.A., they visit it every day when they turn on the TV or go to the movies. It is safe to say that, to one degree or another, we all live in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.

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Why I Hate Beauty
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<p>Beauty makes us miserable.</p>
Men are barraged with images of extraordinarily beautiful and unobtainable women in the media, making it difficult for them to desire the ordinarily beautiful.
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