Contrary to popular belief, experiencing anger may make a person more optimistic and more likely to change long-held opinions. Swelling with pride can increase agreeability, while growing lusty could make a person more attentive, more creative and even more charitable, suggests Laham in this promising debut.
With a provocative wit (in the first chapter he encourages readers to grab a bra so that they can experience a study firsthand), Laham, an experimental psychologist, reveals how indulging in the seven deadly sins can be advantageous. After briefly explaining the history of the deadlies — Pope Gregory the Great, elaborating on the work of monks, popularized them in the sixth century — Laham explores recent research into the “fascinating complexity” of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy and pride and their effects on the human psyche.
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In his chapter on envy, Laham describes an experiment in which participants, some of whom read a brief description of an extremely successful peer, were asked to imagine novel uses for a brick. “The envious, upwardly comparing participants were more creative, thinking of more things to do with a brick than the controls,” he writes. Laham’s favorite use for the brick: as a mock coffin at a Barbie funeral.
As he discusses psychological studies, Laham provides expert analysis without bombarding readers with technical terms. It’s a fun, rapid read, but also a probing look at an engrossing field of scientific inquiry.Three Rivers Press, 2012, 224 p., $14