December 20th, 2010


Question: Great Expectations

This past semester, I explained to my Introduction to Psychology students that expectations shape perceptions.  For example, the human mind is hard wired to see faces in ambiguous stimuli, which explains all the sightings of Jesus and the Madonna in odd places like this…



I showed them numerous perceptual illusions, demonstrating how easy it is to trick our minds.  Our minds are efficient (or lazy). It attends to the salient bits of information of a scene and fills in the gaps or ignores “irrelevant” information.  For instance, which red dot is bigger?



There both the same size, but the white dots, the noise so to speak, creates a different image, a different perception.


But I don’t want to prattle on about perceptual illusions…well, that’s not entirely true…but I will say it is so I can move it along, get to my question.


The past few months I have read a number of books that were propped up on a pedestal, touted as the next best thing since sliced bread or . . . vampire love stories.  I rushed to the bookstore (knocking over an old lady or two), sped home (hoping it was a speed bump I ran over) and six or eight (or however many) hours later I closed the book, shaking my head.  What was the hype about?  Had I misread the ENTIRE story?  Had steamy vampire novels scalded my literary taste buds, leaving them unable to taste and savor finer cuisine? 


Surely not! 


BUT…people, whom I respected and admired LOVED said books.


Did the noise surrounding the book, lead me expect the book would be better than another book of equal caliber?  I have reflected on times I liked a book before it was really known (i.e., Hunger Games, Twilight), when it was piping hot, just out of the oven; its aroma not yet seeping into the streets.  I was the one singing, “better than sliced bread.”  And my friends Ate. It. Up.  Why did they love it? And would I still have loved the books had I tried them once the “hot now” sign flashed?  I’ll never know.  Then again, I can think of times I enjoyed a book (i.e., Harry Potter) when the aroma had reached the town square, lulling me (and everyone else) to the local bookstore.  My expectations were VERY present and sated.


But I’m still left with the more-often-than-not moments in which my expectations remain empty, a growling stomach.  WHY? What makes the difference?  I know, I know. Maybe the book is just not my thing.  Sometimes that is true.  Maybe it is the writing?  Not, necessarily.  Recently I read a well written, hyped book and felt … meh.  Maybe it is the level of frenzy and hype?  Maybe it’s the person(s) hyping it?  Both are possible.  Is it something else?  I want to know, because one day I will have a book, hot off the presses, and I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about hype.


What do you think tips the scales from realistic hype to over-sensationalizing?