TED Conversations

Matthew Wieder

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art


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Can we "engineer" our own interests through repeated exposure?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about muscle contraction and how individual muscle twitches build on each other until tetanus (complete contraction of the muscle) is reached. Muscles are made up of small individual contractile units called sarcomeres which when they contract by themselves change the length of the muscle and produce a force that is negligible. However, when the sarcomeres contract in unison, the tension force produced is great enough to allow us to perform all of our normal day to day activities.

We also had a discussion in class about science education and how to get more young people excited about science -- often times in class there was a certain interaction with a role model who provided key influence either in a positive or negative direction.

This led me to think about the idea of life changing experiences. Is it ever a single experience, a specific interaction with a teacher or other role model that leads us to the career choices we make or, are we more influenced by the small events and sets of circumstances that "sum up" and provide this life altering influence?


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  • Mar 29 2012: I'm a student of behaviorism, which looks at the myriad influences on human behavior including genetics and our learned history of reinforcement and punishment. Behaviorism, in lieu of knowledge of specific genetic circumstances, would look to the history of the individual's exposure to an interest. Inevitably, both scenarios have probable influence on shaping the individual's interest, because each individual has such a unique history of reinforcement and punishment. While one individual may have initially been encouraged by a teacher, for instance, another individual may have simply learned he or she was capable in an area by task feedback and pursued subsequent and connected employment. Another individual could have had a combination of both scenarios. This is a question to be answered on an individual basis.
    • Apr 2 2012: I agree that the reason for a person’s career choice varies based on the individual and their history of reinforcement and punishment. It could be one big event, or the sum of many events that leads to a career choice.
      An example could be that Ken Jeong’s, a doctor who turned comedian, life changing influence was during a high school performance where he received positive reinforcement for being funny. His interest in performing comedy never seemed to leave him even when he received his MD, as he continued to perform in comedy clubs on the side which later led to his big break in acting. The repeated exposure he received in comedy clubs was positive, which certainly encouraged him to continue with his interest. Perhaps this is a case of the life altering influence being a combination of both big events and summing small events.

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