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Are We There Yet?  vol. 184 Thumbnail

Are We There Yet? vol. 184

Does the number that an athlete wears impact their performance or our perception of them? A recent NPR Morning Edition story suggested that the numbers that athletes wear make them look leaner and faster. Kevin Seifert, who writes for ESPN, noted that prior to 2004, wide receivers in the NFL could only wear numbers in the 80s, but in 2004, the rules changed and allowed them to also wear numbers between 10 and 19. Seifert took a poll of players and found that about 80% of them changed to the lower numbers, and the players noted that they felt faster and slimmer in the lower numbers.

Seifert decided to investigate this further and talked with Ladan Shams, a UCLA psychology professor. She decided to run a study where people are shown football players of varying body types, and the participants then rate the player’s slenderness. Sure enough, lower numbers were strongly associated with the perception of how slim a player is. “Even a tiny difference mattered—17 was seen as slimmer than 19.”

Professor Shams theory was that people have a learned association that bigger numbers equate with bigger size. A 10-pound bag of sugar is bigger than a 2-pound bag of sugar. Professor Shams stated, “Our brains keep track of the statistics and the regularities in our environment. And then (our brains) use that information, and that forms expectations that shape our perception."

In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, he noted that our “fast” thinking, which he labeled System 1, is automatic, intuitive, and error-prone. “Fast” thinking is necessary because we would otherwise never get anything done. The learned association to which Professor Shams refers seems to be a System 1 response. While the association of low numbers with small size or faster speed seems benign, this learned association seems to be ripe for manipulation in the modern world. The proliferation of scam emails and texts trying to get us all to click without thinking is a good example. In our fast-paced world, stepping back and thinking a little more may be our best defense against our System 1 decision-making. 

Take care and stay safe.


The Traitor by Ava Glass

An MI6 operative is found dead, locked in a suitcase inside his own apartment. Despite an exhaustive search, no fingerprints are found at the scene. Emma Makepeace and her handler, Ripley, know an assassination when they see one, and such an obvious murder can mean only one thing: Someone is sending a message.

As she digs into his past, Emma discovers that the unfortunate spy had been investigating two Russian oligarchs based in London. He’d become obsessed with the idea that the two were spies, aided by a third man—whose identity he had yet to uncover. When he shared his findings within MI6 in the weeks before he died, the response came back fast and clear: Drop the investigation and move on. Had he uncovered a secret that cost him his life?

To pick up where he left off without ending up in a suitcase of her own, Emma goes undercover on one of the oligarch’s million-dollar yachts, scheduled to set sail from the Côte d’Azur to Monaco. Under other circumstances, this would be a dream vacation. But if Emma’s real identity gets discovered, it’s a death sentence.

As Emma’s work reveals secrets she’d be safer not knowing, the danger ratchets up. The killer may be closer to home than any of them imagined, and Emma won’t be safe until he—or she—is caught.