Editor’s note: Robert Duke and Art Markman, psychologists at the University of Texas and hosts of an NPR radio show, will be the next speakers in the Robert and Russell Moody Lecture Series, which explores consciousness and the life cycle of the brain. Professor Markman talked about the lecture.
Q. You guys are known for “Two Guys on Your Head,” a radio show that examines some of the baffling aspects of human behaviors. First, tell us about the show. What “Click and Clack” does for cars, you show does for minds — is that an accurate description? What are you trying to do with public radio listeners?
A. That is right. We want to bring a little bit of the science of psychology into people’s week. The beauty of psychology is that most people can find an immediate application of these principles to their lives. We aim to make the science relevant and fun. The show is done in a lighthearted tone. The science may matter a lot, but it is still fun.
Q. You both have doctorates in different areas: one with expertise in psychology and marketing and one with expertise in music and learning. Is that part of the success of the show — the start from different viewpoints?
A. I think that the success of the show comes from a combined 50-plus years of experience in our fields. Both of us are generalists in our approach to psychology. Despite the particular areas of research we have focused on individually, we both read widely within the field and think integratively about how the mind works. That enables us to tackle a wide variety of topics.
Q. The Moody Lecture Series in Galveston has focused on the development of the brain, and we’ve had speakers talk about infants, toddlers, children and younger adolescents. How about the older kids — high school students and college freshmen? How do they make decisions?
A. The fascinating thing about older kids is that for many of the important decisions in their lives, the process doesn’t feel like a stereotypical decision. When someone goes to the store to buy tomato sauce or perhaps a video game, they are confronted with a set of options. They compare and contrast those options and select items based on the most important differences. With choices like where to go to college, what to major in, or what field to work in, students often go through options sequentially. They try a particular school/major/career choice on for size for a while and stick with it if they like it. Otherwise, they switch to another possibility — perhaps influenced by a class, mentor, or other experience. It is rare that students report that they were actually choosing from among a set of options.
Q. And your talk is going to be about happiness. Is it something we create?
A. Happiness is a mix. About 50 percent of the difference between people in levels of happiness results from genetic factors. So, people don’t have complete control over how happy they are overall. That said, people can also engage in many habits that increase their happiness. For example, focusing on positive memories and expressing gratitude are habits that can make people happier. People can also manage their environments to make them happier. Minimizing commute time to work and hiring people to do things people don’t want to do will make them happier.
Q. Also, you have a book out called “Brain Briefs.” Please tell us about that.
A. “Brain Briefs” is like the show. It is a collection of short chapters organized around topics that range from deeply important (like can we make ourselves happy) to not-so-important (like why people like kitten videos so much). The aim was to teach a little psychology in a way that is fun and can be consumed in short doses.
Q. Is the talk in Galveston going to be like the show?
A. Yes. Whenever Bob and I get together, we just start talking. In many ways, these talks follow the format of the show. We also like to leave a lot of time for people to ask questions. After all, people don’t always have the chance to ask a psychologist or two any question they want.