The Jam of Thinking


Think about strawberry jam—the sweet, gooey, red stuff that gets slathered on toast. Or maybe a bagel.

Strawberry jam.


(Simple so far, no?)



In the 1980s, food technologists at Consumer Reports conducted

extensive taste tests on 45 types of strawberry jam.

That’s a lot of jams.

The experts rated five jams as the best.

That’s it.

(Still pretty simple, no?)


**Not Experts**

Professor Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia—same guy who would do an experiment proving people would rather self-administer electric shocks than sit still—decided to replicate the 45-jam taste test with his undergraduate students.

He chose the jams ranked by the experts as 1st, 11th, 21st, 31st, and 41st and then asked hundreds of participants to rate the five.

Students consistently rated their preference of jams, first to fifth, identically to the experts’ ratings.

(Still, this is working out, right?)

Wilson then taught his students 16 characteristics that the experts had used to rate the 45 different strawberry jams.

  • Spreadability
  • Sweetness
  • Aroma
  • Color
  • Chunkiness
  • Thickness
  • etc.

When the students were given the same jams to rate, but were asked this time to use the new vocabulary in their evaluations, the ratings went haywire.

Jams previously enjoyed were poorly rated, and midrange jams went up and down in ratings.

In trying to concoct academic explanations as to why they liked one jam more than another, the students were rating jams with their minds.

(Things got complicated by too much thinking, right?)

** Kids **

I remember taking my kids to the park when they were little ones, and each would immediately befriend a kid or two at the playground.

How did they decide who they liked?

With a ledger sheet? Using logic?


They just knew.

Without a lot of thought.

(Sometimes it’s easier if we don’t overthink things.)


** End **

Here’s a life hack: when you have found something on a menu that you think you would enjoy, close the menu.

It will help you from overthinking.

Trust yourself–not your thinking–more.

With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box, an internet-based, global group of 3.3K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.

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