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Does What We Watch Really Affect Us?

I got flack from a college student when I released the first Habitudes book that included an image called, “Personal Laptop.” This principle teaches that our minds operate much like a personal laptop computer: they go with us everywhere we go and record the content we put in them. Our minds store information and experiences that influence our decisions. Garbage in, garbage out. Positive in, positive out.

The university student felt it was silly to think that when students consume content it could affect them. He wasn’t rude. Just naïve. He felt that people are not affected by what they watch or read, be it porn or violence or you name it.

I believe the data just doesn’t back this assumption up.

What Research Says

If this student was right, no company would advertise on television or on social media sites. But they do. Those companies are banking on the fact that their ad will influence readers and they have data proving which locations will yield the best results. Then, there is research that’s come in more recently:

  • The University of Indiana published research on how violent content causes viewers to think and act more aggressively. Video gamers and movie viewers were tracked and found to be affected by what they saw.
  • In 2017, when the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why” aired, showing a teen girl actually following through on her suicide, suicides among teens rose 13 percent in the months that followed, according to JAMA Psychiatry.
  • When a school shooting occurs and gets air time, “copy-cat” shootings are common in the days and weeks that follow. Something happens when our imaginations are cued by an emotional scene.

My explanation?

Our minds do work a bit like personal laptops. They’re portable and they record what they consume. It’s not that we can’t choose our behavior. It’s simply that the more we fill our minds with a certain type of content, the more apt we are to emulate it. The movies we see in cinemas are rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, cautioning parents about allowing children to see certain content. We intuitively know our mind, will and emotions are impacted by content we see. And content that’s repeated over and over has a more profound impact.

It’s actually what makes leaders so influential.

Your Leadership

A leader, a teacher or a parent can make the greatest speech, motivating kids to behave in certain ways, but if their behavior betrays that speech, good luck getting the kids to follow the words. As humans, kids are more likely to imitate actions. We emulate example more than speeches. Our minds are visual, we think in pictures, and, according to 3M, our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. The very nerves in our brains are tied to our eyes’ retina.

Consequently, good leaders naturally cultivate good cultures by their examples, and poor leaders contagiously foster negative cultures. People watch leaders.

So, as you prepare for the next time you’ll be in front of students (even your own kids), may I suggest you put just as much time into planning what you’ll do as what you’ll say? What example will you provide that backs up the conduct you’ll look for in your listeners?  My friend, assistant principal Kirsten Baker, said recently that she wanted her kids to continue reading while they’re off from school this summer. So, she suggested a family policy: everyone reads at least 30 minutes a day. This means, she does as well. Kids are more apt to emulate an action than a speech.

  • Question: What are you feeding your mind consistently?
  • Question: What are your young people feeding their minds upon?
  • Question: Do you see any correlation between their consumption and action?

Let’s not kid ourselves. The fact is—our minds are like personal laptops.

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Does What We Watch Really Affect Us?