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Thursday, July 06, 2006

July 6: Lake Wobegon Day

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the radio show the Prairie Home Companion. The show was conceived by Garrison Keillor, who has hosted the variety show modeled after the Grand Ole Opry since its premier in 1974. Today’s Keillor’s show is broadcast over 580 public radio stations and has an audience of over 4 million.

In addition to music and commercials for imaginary products, each week’s show features a monologue by Keillor about his mythical hometown Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each monologue begins the same: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” but the stories that Keillor tells about the colorful Lake Wobegon residents are always different. Keillor’s colorful descriptions, humor, and realistic insights into the human condition bring his characters to life and bring listeners back each week.

In addition to using the same opening, Keillor also uses a stock concluding line each week for his monologue: “That’s the news for Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.”

It’s the last part of Keillor’s concluding line, “all the children are above-average,” that has captured the imagination of sociologists who have adopted Keillor's fictional town in what they call the Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect is the tendency for groups of people to overestimate their achievements and competence in relation to other groups.

The term entered the lexicon in 1987 when Dr. John Cannel published a study that revealed that every state claimed that their students’ test scores where above the national average. This humorous and absurd finding became publicized as the Lake Wobegon Effect. The fictional town in Minnesota became a metaphor of a state-wide phenomenon.

Often we think of metaphor as the exclusive tool of poets. The fact is, however, every good communicator understands and uses metaphor to connect the known to the unknown. Scientists, business people, psychologists, sociologists, and doctors all turn to metaphor to communicate their ideas, theories, and discoveries.

This is done so frequently that there is an entire book of these metaphors called The Babinski Reflex. The author, Phillip Goldberg, calls them metaffects:

“. . . a recognized effect, law, or principle whose official meaning can be transferred to another context. The Babinski Reflex, for example, is a term describing an automatic response in the foot of an infant, thought to be a vestige of our primate ancestry. As such, it resonates metaphorically with certain forms of adult behavior that might be considered primitive or infantile . . . .” (1).

Today’s Challenge: Metaphors Be With You
See if you can match each Effect below with its correct definition from Phillip Goldberg’s book, The Babinski Reflex.

Cocktail Party Effect
Eureka Effect
Butterfly Effect
The False Consensus Effect
Hawthorne Effect
Boomerang Effect
Bandwagon Effect
Barnum Effect

1. The effect of workers becoming more productive after being signaled out or made to feel that they are special.

2. The phenomenon in which attempts to change attitudes in a particular direction produce shifts in the direction opposite that intended.

3. The tendency of some people to withhold their opinions until they know the majority’s view, at which time they merrily announce that they feel exactly the way almost everyone else does.

4. The idea that small changes can become magnified over the course of a subsequent chain of events and culminate in a major, large-scale happening.

5. The tendency of people to accept as accurate, for them personally, a generalized statement (especially a flattering one) that might in fact characterize just about anyone.

6. The rejection of unwanted messages by the senses in favor of more pertinent or interesting information.

7. The tendency of a solution of a problem to come when not directly involved in trying to solve it.

8. The tendency for people to believe that their own desires, beliefs, and even personal problems are shared by the majority (1).


Quote of the Day:
Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people. –Garrison Keillor

Answers: 1. Hawthorne Effect 2. Boomerang Effect 3. Bandwagon Effect 4. Butterfly Effect5. Barnum Effect 6. Cocktail Party Effect 7. Eureka Effect 8. False Consensus Effect

1 - Goldberg, Phillip. The Babinski Reflex: and 70 Other Useful and Amusing Metaphors from Science, Psychology, Business, Sports ... and Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.

2 comments:

Beth Warner said...

I so enjoyed the quote of the day by Garrison Keillor but discovered this site while looking for a way to find Jeremy Tarcher. I am currently reading Goldberg's book re: The Babinski Reflex and have concluded that I was taught some metaffects by my dad who is now deceased and has been for the past 14 years. Doesn't seem like he's been gone that long.

One of my dad's metaffects had to do with what he called "Oskie Questions". Oskie was his nickname for my eldest sister, short for Oskie Ann and shorter for Oscar. My father threatened to name a male child (if my mother gave birth to one) strange or rather unusual names. My eldest sister would have been called Oscar.

My next eldest sister would have been called Murphy.

For some reason my name would have been Ophie but this seemed to be short for Ophelia so this never made much sense to me. Ophelia is a girl's name, not a boy's. Perhaps just Ophie could have worked for a boy.

My eldest sister, Oskie, was an anxious child of my dad's three girls. As the first, she was doted upon and an only child for five years. On the day that my mother went into labor with my next eldest sister, Oskie declared that she wanted to go to the Metropolitan Opera House to see a performance. She showed no interest in her new sister and in fact tried to smother her.

Oskie developed strange obsessions primarily to obtain or divert attention to herself. Who knows why her jealousy was so intense, perhaps it had to do with being an only child for five years but I do know that she was toilet trained too early or rather my mother was trained. She was often forced to eat certain foods as she was a picky eater in general not very cooperative. My mother wasn't the best of cooks. Oskie is now a gourmet cook.

More than anything, Oskie was deathly afraid of becoming lost. Perhaps this stemmed from the displacement from being an only child, that this change brought about by a sister created a sense of loss in her that was deep and transposed into other situations.

There were incidents in which my father would lose track of Oskie, while walking with her along a small town street. If my dad would step into the corridor of a shop's doorway display so as to admire something, he would temporarily lose sight of my sister if she remained by the shop's street windows. He learned that he could not ever do this because if he did, Oskie would immediately disappear on him and he would find her speaking to the nearest police officer, reporting herself lost and missing.

Whenever a car trip was taken anywhere she would query my father regarding whether or not they were lost. Repeatedly. "Are we lost dad? Huh? Are we lost? Dad, are we lost? Are we lost Dad? Do you know where we are? Are we lost dad, are we lost?"

My father coined a term for my sister's obsessive questions. He called them Oskie Questions. Oskie Questions were questions that needed no answers, questions that had no answers or were questions that did not need to be answered. What was happening that another question was truly being asked: I am scared/worried/anxious and can you just talk and reassure me? In other words when my sister asked "Are we lost dad? Are we lost? Huh? Dad, are we lost? Are we lost dad?" mostly what she was doing was releasing anxiety, a sort of verbal anxiety attack minus vomit and my father's repeated answers of "No" or "No we are not lost" did not suffice for very long because within a short amount of time my sister would ask again "Are we lost, are we lost dad huh are we lost?"

When my sister grew older this habit then turned into a different sort of questioning ritual with my father. She would ask him questions knowing full well that there were no answers to the questions but she would ask them anyway just to keep conversation rolling and a sense of security in place. "Dad what day do you think I will receive an acceptance or rejection letter from this college?" Other times a typical Oskie Question would begin with "What do you think might happen if this happens?" In other words as she grew older it was apparent that her anxiety now took place in ways where she was projecting into the future and wanting to know what lay ahead. She began expecting my father to be able to read minds, predict the future, see outcomes in advance, know for sure the end results of something before it had even begun.

Sometimes my father would fall into the trap of her Oskie Question, particularly if it was asked when he was weary or she was extra sincere. He would give serious consideration to what my sister was saying but then realize that no answer could be found by any human. "Oh Linda (my sister's real name) I know you are anxious and want to know but that's just an Oskie Question. There is no answer...no yet, not now, just wait. I know you want to know but I don't know, no one knows, no one can know and there is no answer...you just have to wait." Patience for my sister was next to impossible, certainly not a virtue for her.

Oskie Questions were, for her, simply a form of releasing plenty of angst and free flowing anxiety. It's not easy sometimes to simply accept, wait, let go, let time pass. For my sister that cake that required so many minutes to bake no matter how anxious you were to eat sometimes just couldn't wait. She wrecked a science project by getting bubbles into a barometer they had worked on for weeks, she ruined things by other acts of impatience, ran up debts, was fiscally irresponsible, had no understandings of money or waste or how to check the oil in a car. If you had to wait a required number of minutes, my sister not only didn't want to wait but would ask questions, Oskie Questions are always asked in some effort to speed up what can't be hastened, to expedite what can't be rushed, to understand what can't be understood until all data is compiled, until all fruits are ripe, until all things are gathered together. For my sister it seemed she HAD to know what could never be known. For my sister it HAD to be done before it was not quite ready but might be in the future.

Oskie Questions are not legitimate. Oskie Questions may eventually have answers but BECAUSE THEY ARE OSKIE QUETSION THEY HAVE NO ANSWER. The answers are never present when asked nor are the answers possible in the very near future. Oskie Questions have no answers and indicate impatience, an unwillingness to accept what is and a preoccupation with the unknown future. Oskie Questions deny the here and now; demonstrate an ignorance that is laughable due to their blatant disassociation with the present, the current moment. Oskie Questions, once they are labeled such are often recognized by the person who persists in asking them. The asker eventually recognizes their own folly and with this acknowledgment, finds or admits when asking an Oskie Question or Questions that these questions "Probably don't have an answer but I'm going to ask it/them anyway".

Yes, for some reason, most likely a desire to share anxiety, Oskie Questions are still asked, although the asker is sometimes snickering at themselves in the process.

Beth Warner said...

I so enjoyed the quote of the day by Garrison Keillor but discovered this site while looking for a way to find Jeremy Tarcher. I am currently reading Goldberg's book re: The Babinski Reflex and have concluded that I was taught some metaffects by my dad who is now deceased and has been for the past 14 years. Doesn't seem like he's been gone that long.

One of my dad's metaffects had to do with what he called "Oskie Questions". Oskie was his nickname for my eldest sister, short for Oskie Ann and shorter for Oscar. My father threatened to name a male child (if my mother gave birth to one) strange or rather unusual names. My eldest sister would have been called Oscar.

My next eldest sister would have been called Murphy.

For some reason my name would have been Ophie but this seemed to be short for Ophelia so this never made much sense to me. Ophelia is a girl's name, not a boy's. Perhaps just Ophie could have worked for a boy.

My eldest sister, Oskie, was an anxious child of my dad's three girls. As the first, she was doted upon and an only child for five years. On the day that my mother went into labor with my next eldest sister, Oskie declared that she wanted to go to the Metropolitan Opera House to see a performance. She showed no interest in her new sister and in fact tried to smother her.

Oskie developed strange obsessions primarily to obtain or divert attention to herself. Who knows why her jealousy was so intense, perhaps it had to do with being an only child for five years but I do know that she was toilet trained too early or rather my mother was trained. She was often forced to eat certain foods as she was a picky eater in general not very cooperative. My mother wasn't the best of cooks. Oskie is now a gourmet cook.

More than anything, Oskie was deathly afraid of becoming lost. Perhaps this stemmed from the displacement from being an only child, that this change brought about by a sister created a sense of loss in her that was deep and transposed into other situations.

There were incidents in which my father would lose track of Oskie, while walking with her along a small town street. If my dad would step into the corridor of a shop's doorway display so as to admire something, he would temporarily lose sight of my sister if she remained by the shop's street windows. He learned that he could not ever do this because if he did, Oskie would immediately disappear on him and he would find her speaking to the nearest police officer, reporting herself lost and missing.

Whenever a car trip was taken anywhere she would query my father regarding whether or not they were lost. Repeatedly. "Are we lost dad? Huh? Are we lost? Dad, are we lost? Are we lost Dad? Do you know where we are? Are we lost dad, are we lost?"

My father coined a term for my sister's obsessive questions. He called them Oskie Questions. Oskie Questions were questions that needed no answers, questions that had no answers or were questions that did not need to be answered. What was happening that another question was truly being asked: I am scared/worried/anxious and can you just talk and reassure me? In other words when my sister asked "Are we lost dad? Are we lost? Huh? Dad, are we lost? Are we lost dad?" mostly what she was doing was releasing anxiety, a sort of verbal anxiety attack minus vomit and my father's repeated answers of "No" or "No we are not lost" did not suffice for very long because within a short amount of time my sister would ask again "Are we lost, are we lost dad huh are we lost?"

When my sister grew older this habit then turned into a different sort of questioning ritual with my father. She would ask him questions knowing full well that there were no answers to the questions but she would ask them anyway just to keep conversation rolling and a sense of security in place. "Dad what day do you think I will receive an acceptance or rejection letter from this college?" Other times a typical Oskie Question would begin with "What do you think might happen if this happens?" In other words as she grew older it was apparent that her anxiety now took place in ways where she was projecting into the future and wanting to know what lay ahead. She began expecting my father to be able to read minds, predict the future, see outcomes in advance, know for sure the end results of something before it had even begun.

Sometimes my father would fall into the trap of her Oskie Question, particularly if it was asked when he was weary or she was extra sincere. He would give serious consideration to what my sister was saying but then realize that no answer could be found by any human. "Oh Linda (my sister's real name) I know you are anxious and want to know but that's just an Oskie Question. There is no answer...no yet, not now, just wait. I know you want to know but I don't know, no one knows, no one can know and there is no answer...you just have to wait." Patience for my sister was next to impossible, certainly not a virtue for her.

Oskie Questions were, for her, simply a form of releasing plenty of angst and free flowing anxiety. It's not easy sometimes to simply accept, wait, let go, let time pass. For my sister that cake that required so many minutes to bake no matter how anxious you were to eat sometimes just couldn't wait. She wrecked a science project by getting bubbles into a barometer they had worked on for weeks, she ruined things by other acts of impatience, ran up debts, was fiscally irresponsible, had no understandings of money or waste or how to check the oil in a car. If you had to wait a required number of minutes, my sister not only didn't want to wait but would ask questions, Oskie Questions are always asked in some effort to speed up what can't be hastened, to expedite what can't be rushed, to understand what can't be understood until all data is compiled, until all fruits are ripe, until all things are gathered together. For my sister it seemed she HAD to know what could never be known. For my sister it HAD to be done before it was not quite ready but might be in the future.

Oskie Questions are not legitimate. Oskie Questions may eventually have answers but BECAUSE THEY ARE OSKIE QUETSION THEY HAVE NO ANSWER. The answers are never present when asked nor are the answers possible in the very near future. Oskie Questions have no answers and indicate impatience, an unwillingness to accept what is and a preoccupation with the unknown future. Oskie Questions deny the here and now; demonstrate an ignorance that is laughable due to their blatant disassociation with the present, the current moment. Oskie Questions, once they are labeled such are often recognized by the person who persists in asking them. The asker eventually recognizes their own folly and with this acknowledgment, finds or admits when asking an Oskie Question or Questions that these questions "Probably don't have an answer but I'm going to ask it/them anyway".

Yes, for some reason, most likely a desire to share anxiety, Oskie Questions are still asked, although the asker is sometimes snickering at themselves in the process.