You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

This spotlight features the book based off of David McRaney’s blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart. Sparked by our own conversations of politics, mental health, human rationality and interaction, I was recommended this book by a friend from Sociology class.

You are Not So Smart is a book about the human psyche, and it is so intriguing. Each chapter begins with a different psychological or biological Misconception and the actual Truth that often disagrees and/or is much more complex than the Misconception. It is a snippet of summarization before you dive deeper into the topic.

David McRaney’s analogies and dry humor make psychological theories easy for the average person to understand. It draws a direct relation to the reader as if you and McRaney are sitting down for coffee, with him explaining how our brain evaluates risks vs. rewards and why we aren’t actually close with all of our Facebook friends.

Like a casual conversation, McRaney provides great information on dozens of subjects but it isn’t the same as attending a lecture in college or reading academic articles on each individual matter. You Are Not So Smart won’t earn you a degree. It does make you a little more knowledgeable of things you previously didn’t know.

This book isn’t meant to be read in one sitting. You most certainly can, but it may trigger the first stages of an existential crisis. I keep this in the bathroom for those longer potty breaks or whenever I slather on a time-consuming face mask. Most chapters are not very long and I can breeze through two-three chapters before I need to set it down, process what I just read, and think about how much these concepts factor into my life. Still, this book keeps drawing you in because you’re ultimately learning more about yourself.

A dear friend gifted me her paperback copy after she was done reading it. Seeing the highlighted paragraphs and post-its gave me insight on the topics which stood out to her. I particularly loved this chapter about Groupthink she highlighted.

The quote below about self-fulfilling prophecy stood out to me:

When you fear you will confirm a negative stereotype, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy not because the stereotype is true, but because you can’t stop worrying that you could become an example proving it. 

This self-fulfilling prophecy, being only a matter of perception, can be easily sublimated. 

Another study by Steele measured the math abilities of men versus women. When the questions were easy, the women and men performed the same. When they were difficult, the women’s scores plummeted lower than did those of their male peers. When they ran the tests again with new participants, but this time before handing out the problems told the subjects that men and women tended to perform equally on the exam, the scores leveled out. The women performed just as well as did the men. The power of the stereotype–women are bad at math–was nullified.

As McRaney says at the end of the chapter, “The things you think are true will become reality if given enough time to fester” (235). This reminded me of the activity called positive affirmations. Learning about the self-fulfilling prophecy helped me understand the importance of rejecting the stereotypes that others may label me with, because I may otherwise succumb to them if I’m unwise to it. By ingraining into myself positive sentences like “I am smart,” “I am strong,” and “I am resilient,” not only do I combat negative stereotypes but also reinforce positive thoughts so I may subconsciously act more self-assured and confident. 

In all, You Are Not So Smart is a fun and informative read. David McRaney’s explanations are peppered in with humbling jabs at the average person’s decisions, as well as reassuring reminders to combat it before they are made. However much he tries to lighten the subject, as one of the millions of subjects he’s talking about I can’t help but clutch my heart when he hits too close to home. You may want to step away between some paragraphs and reflect inward before continuing reading. Even so, this book demystifies psychological and scientific theories into understandable concepts that anyone can comprehend.

I highly recommend this book if you’re curious or bewildered about why you act how you do; just know that you are most definitely guilty of many of these acts as I am! Thankfully, after reading this I can actually address the things that I do and (hopefully) make the best decisions possible.

Available on Bookshop here through my affiliate link~! You can also view prices for used copies at ThriftBooks here.

Thank you so much for reading! Do you like to read about psychology? This semester, I’m taking a Positive Psychology course, and it is so interesting and useful in my personal life. As always, if you have any book recommendations to share please leave them in the comments below!

(via Pinterest/

Originally published on my old blog, The Plant That Never Blooms (on Blogspot)

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