Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe
Hardcover – August 5, 2014
by Jim Davies (Author)
Why do some things pass under the radar of our attention, but other things capture our interest? Why do some religions catch on and others fade away? What makes a story, a movie, or a book riveting? Why do some people keep watching the news even though it makes them anxious?
The past 20 years have seen a remarkable flourishing of scientific research into exactly these kinds of questions.
Professor Jim Davies’ fascinating and highly accessible book, Riveted, reveals the evolutionary underpinnings of why we find things compelling, from art to religion and from sports to superstition. Compelling things fit our minds like keys in the ignition, turning us on and keeping us running, and yet we are often unaware of what makes these “keys” fit. What we like and don’t like is almost always determined by subconscious forces, and when we try to consciously predict our own preferences we’re often wrong. In one study of speed dating, people were asked what kinds of partners they found attractive. When the results came back, the participants’ answers before the exercise had no correlation with who they actually found attractive in person! We are beginning to understand just how much the brain makes our decisions for us: we are rewarded with a rush of pleasure when we detect patterns, as the brain thinks we’ve discovered something significant; the mind urges us to linger on the news channel or rubberneck an accident in case it might pick up important survival information; it even pushes us to pick up People magazine in order to find out about changes in the social structure.
Drawing on work from philosophy, anthropology, religious studies, psychology, economics, computer science, and biology,
Davies offers a comprehensive explanation to show that in spite of the differences between the many things that we find compelling, they have similar effects on our minds and brains.
“A fascinating analysis of what we find fascinating.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Moments that jolt or delight us punctuate our lives. But whereas shock might be salutary in an art gallery, it can trigger blind belief in other contexts, points out cognitive scientist Jim Davies. Expounding his theory of ‘compellingness foundations’, Davies synthesizes research on what makes us susceptible to gripping stimuli, such as our drives to discover patterns and to find incongruity, and our attraction to hope and fear. Scepticism, he argues, can help us to build resistance to riveting ideas that turn out to be duds.” ―Nature
“Davies’s book is not meant to be a “how-to” manual for artists. He’s not sure it’s even possible to engineer a work of art based on these principles of compellingness. What the book may do, he says, is help creatives “understand the basis of their intuitions.” Riveted…presents a unified theory of compellingness.” ―Fast Company
“In the battle to grab attention, you should heed the musings of Jim Davies in Riveted…Davies attempts a grand unified theory of compellingness…What [Riveted] show[s] is that while media culture can be overwhelming, it also provides a great platform from which to observe the endless mysteries and absurdities of human nature.” ―New Scientist
“To describe Riveted as riveting sounds cliché, but I predict that Jim Davies could be the next Malcolm Gladwell.
Integrating scientific findings with compelling stories across the wide spectrum of the human experience–art, music, literature, comedy, magic, quotes, sports, conspiracy theories, gossip, religion, and science itself–Davies weaves a central theme throughout to explain what makes them all so compelling. You can read Riveted for five minutes or five hours and be enriched at multiple levels, and the book itself explains why. How recursive.” ―Michael Shermer is the
Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, and The Science of Good and Evil
“What makes a song, a piece of art, a tabloid or even a silly romantic comedy film trailer so enthralling? What is it about these things that draw us in, even when we may (or at least should) know better? In Riveted, Jim Davies tackles this complex question by proposing a thoughtful, interdisciplinary framework to illuminate the qualities of compellingness,’ the very attributes of riveting things that have the power to sway our beliefs and attention. By tying together psychological, anthropological, cognitive science, and evolutionary biological studies, he provides a thorough and persuasive context to help us understand how the compelling can fascinate (and sometimes manipulate) the human mind.”
―Kayt Sukel, author of Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships
“My life’s work as an experience designer has been to rivet audiences for Universal, Disney, Sanrio, Broadway as well as to train soldiers, surgeons, and other high-risk job holders for life and death situations. So I know how and what makes an audience ‘riveted,’ but not until reading Jim Davies’ book did I understand WHY audiences are RIVETED. This book is a delightful read through the many diverse and nuanced drivers of human experience, influences, and choices. It is a must read for anyone who is looking to influence these strange beasts we call humans and keep them captivated.” ―Christopher Stapleton, Experience Designer and Creative Venture Catalyst, Simiosys
“Accessible and entertaining. Davies draws fascinating insights from a wealth of diverse material.” ―Jeanette Bicknell, Ph.D., author of Why Music Moves Us
“Riveted lives up to its title as a compelling investigation into the properties of our lives, the origins of which can be traced to the kind of species we are: why we plan, imagine, invent imaginary worlds, weep and laugh in chorus, delight in puzzles and incongruities, respond to patterns, rhythms, and repetitions, cluster in groups and create outsiders, seek attractive partners, and crave status. To a better understanding of human nature, this book is a brilliant guide.”
―Donald Beecher, Chancellor’s Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa
About the Author
Jim Davies is a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science of Carleton University, and director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory. He has been featured in Skeptic and Nautilus magazines, and has presented at Pecha Kucha Ottawa and TEDx on his theories of imagination. He writes a Psychology Today blog called The Science of Imagination. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (August 5, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
Jim Davies is an associate professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University. Director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory, he explores processes of visualization in humans and machines and specializes in artificial intelligence, analogy, problem-solving, and the psychology of art, religion, and creativity. His work has shown how people use visual thinking to solve problems, and how they visualize imagined situations and worlds.
In his spare time, he is a published poet, an internationally-produced playwright, and a professional painter, calligrapher, and swing dancer. He is the author of “Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make us Laugh, Movies Make us Cry, and Religion Makes us Feel One with the Universe.”