The 1% Podcast

David Robson

  • 01

    David Robson

    The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life


Our guest on today’s episode is someone that has undertaken some really interesting and quite unique work, culminating in his latest book ‘The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life’. David Robson hails from a background in scientific research and writing, but through two very different books he has delved into how expectations and our experiences in life generally are being unconsciously shaped by our brain. 


He describes how our own expectations and beliefs – however irrational – influence our health, happiness and our survival. He also speaks about how to revolutionise your thinking and make wiser decisions.


Drawing on the latest behavioral science and historical examples from Socrates to Benjamin Franklin, David demonstrates how we can apply our intelligence more wisely, identify bias and enhance our rationality.


Show Notes:


03:00 Why David wrote his latest book ‘The Expectation Effect’

  • He has been a science writer for more than a decade and has been familiar with the placebo effect for a while
  • The concept of self-fulfilling prophecies hadn’t been fully explored before


04:34 The backstory to ‘The Expectation Effect’

  • David was writing about the nocebo effect – which is when a patient develops negative side effects/ symptoms with a drug or other therapy just because the patient believes they may occur
  • He was once prescribed antidepressants, and was warned about migraines as a potential side effect – which as a result he experienced
  • Understanding the nocebo effect helped David to relieve his migraine pain


09:26 The difference between the placebo effect and the nocebo effect

  • They are opposite phenomenon through the same mechanism
  • The placebo effect is when you have positive expectations that can relieve symptoms, and the nocebo effect is when you have negative expectations that can worsen symptoms


12:02 Why the nocebo effect hasn’t been researched as much as the placebo effect

  • Henry K. Beecher first encouraged placebo drugs in clinical trials
  • During the 50s and 60s, placebo drugs were considered more as something to be discounted than used
  • Fabrizio Benedetti’s research helped highlight that we need to take more seriously that placebo and nocebo effects have real physiological effects on the body
  • “We can produce real physiological change through our mindset”


17:19 What is the Expectation Effect?

  • Our beliefs can create self-fulfilling prophecies through three mechanisms: perceptual, behavioral and physiological


20:40 What happens when the mind makes physiological changes in our body

  • The brain is always communicating with the body
  • Long-term inflammation is bad for you, but short-term inflammation is good for preventing infections, etc.


23:54 The role of the prediction process in our brains

  • Our brain’s prediction machines draws on our previous experiences
  • It’s a very efficient way of processing information, as it helps fill ‘the gaps’ of missing information


28:09 The link between conspiracy beliefs and the Expectation Effect

  • “If you’re expecting to see something more sinister, then you are more likely to see something more sinister”
  • The sighting of a drone at Gatwick airport in 2018 caused a huge disruption with over 1,000 flights affected – but no culprit or evidence of drones was found and some have suggested there was no drone but ‘mass panic’


30:58 Is there a difference in brain activity between an experience that is real versus perceived?

  • It hasn’t shown up in any experiment that there is a difference
  • In an experiment with students being told they were going to listen to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, but it was actually just white noise – about 30% reported hearing the song


32:54 The link between the Expectation Effect and people’s supernatural belief systems

  • You are more likely to see a sighting of Jesus Christ if you are religious than if you are an atheist
  • Believing in a God has a positive impact on people experiencing stressful events, as they experience a spiritual support


38:03 Cognitive reframing

  • It is a technique that consists of identifying and then changing the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/ or emotions are viewed
  • When dealing with mild traumas, such as public speaking, reframing is very powerful
  • If you experience stress more positively, it’s easy to enter the rest and digest mode afterwards


42:57 The impact of feeling more grounded when combatting stress

  • Mindfulness helps reduce catastrophic thinking
  • Knowing that there is a bigger purpose and personal growth from a challenge helps you cope with the stressful situation better


48:07 How to embrace winter

  • From researcher Kari Leibowitz’s cultural analysis and psychological insight, she provides concrete strategies for learning to see winter as a time of joy and opportunity
  • Countries like the UK often see mostly the negative effects of winter, which focuses on the things that you can’t be done
  • The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is a mood of coziness and comfort that gives feelings of wellness and contentment, which helps people thrive during the winter


51:04 Strategies for practicing the Expectation Effect

  • Learn to question the negative assumptions you have about yourself
  • Practice self-compassion and accept that things are beyond your control
  • Try self-distancing techniques, e.g. what would you tell your friend if they were in the same situation as you
  • Visualization changes your brain’s simulation of your performance – which makes your physical movements more accurate and efficient
  • The mental training that visualization provides can improve your physical performance by 10%


56:48 On the pursuit of happiness

  • We can’t be happy all of the time because we need to experience a whole spectrum of emotions such as anxiety, anger, etc.
  • Emotions all have a purpose to drive some kind of action
  • You recover quicker from negative emotions when you ‘lean’ into them than if you try to suppress them


01:00:34 Our relationship with diet and nutrition

  • A study of people consuming an indulgent versus a blank milkshake revealed how our mindset – not just nutrients – determine our ghrelin response (aka the hungry hormone)
  • When we enjoy eating our meals, we are able to better absorb nutrients
  • It’s better to eat something that has more calories and you really enjoy, than eat something bland and light, as you will most likely snack more later on if you do the latter


01:05:03 What inspired David to write ‘The Intelligence Trap’

  • Published in 2019, the book looks at why and how intelligent and highly educated people can have blind spots and make significant mistakes and errors in decision making
  • Biochemist Kary Mullis was very intelligent and invented the PCR test, but he also had bizarre beliefs such as having been abducted by a UFO


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